Leiden International Studies Blog

International Studies tips for an inspiring winter break

International Studies tips for an inspiring winter break

Every year, Judith Naeff collects recommendations for books and films by lecturers of International Studies to inspire students and colleagues during the long dark days ahead of us.

Not enough tips in this list? You can find previous editions here, here and here, including tips about the Middle East by Karène Sanchez, four Latin American film tips by Natalia Donner and a beginners' guide to East Asian punk by Casper Wits. The International Studies Blog wishes you a relaxing and inspiring winter break.

*** Please consider ordering your books at your local bookstore ***

The Secret History (Donna Tart, 1992)
Ninth House (Leigh Bardugo 2019)
and all books by Agatha Christie
Recommended by Isabelle Duijvesteijn

In her seasonal greetings, the chair of our programme discusses the genre “dark academia”. These are books that romanticize higher education as a cloistered time and space during which eager students explore and uncover buried knowledge and wisdom, their futures full of promise. Revel in “the musty glamour of hushed libraries full of undiscovered tomes” with these reading tips, classic or contemporary.

White Innocence (Gloria Wekker, 2016)
Recommended by Flor Gonzalez Correa

If I could give everyone a Christmas/Sinterklaas gift, it would undoubtedly be the book White Innocence in which Prof. Gloria Wekker explores the particularities and origins of racism in the Netherlands. When I have used it as material for one of my classes, students have had a range of reactions - anger, disbelief, sadness, confusion - that an academic book rarely elicits, which is a testament to its relevance and actuality. As a non-white foreigner living in the Netherlands, I think we do not give enough space and importance to discuss this issue and how widespread and insidious it is. For this reason, I proposed it as one of our readings for the "Critical Reading Group," which some interested students and I created as a space to read and discuss ideas that matter to us. If you are interested in joining, please get in touch with me.

Braiding Sweetgrass (Robin Wall Kimmerer, 2013)
Recommended by Fleur Zantvoort

Braiding Sweetgrass is an essential read for anyone interested in ecology, nature, our relationships to the earth and honestly, some kind of liveable future on this planet. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation who bridges scientific and indigenous knowledges to ask how we can come to understand and live reciprocally with other beings. What I really appreciate about this book is that by telling us stories of her life and her relationships to the plants, rocks, people and places that surround her, we get a glimpse of how relationship to earth can be and already is practised differently.

Four African productions
Recommended by Tirza Schippers

Night of the Kings (Philippe Lacôte, 2021) - available on Netflix
A young man is sent to “La Maca", a prison of Ivory Coast, in the middle of the forest ruled by its prisoners. With the red moon rising, he is designated by the Boss to be the new “Roman" and must tell a story to the other prisoners. A fascinating film that one can watch several times to fully appreciate the beauty.

The boy who harnessed the wind (William Kamkwamba, 2009) - available on Netflix
Against all the odds, a thirteen-year-old boy in Malawi invents an unconventional way to save his family and village from famine. I would recommend reading the book but the film is worth watching too, because it gives a good impression of life in Malawi.

The Perfect Nine (Ngugi wa Thiong'o, 2020)
A glorious epic about the founding of Kenya's Gikuyu people and the ideals of beauty, courage and unity. This book has been longlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize. You won't regret reading this book!

Fatuma (Jordan Riber, 2018) available on YouTube
For students who would like to watch a movie in Swahili I recommend Fatuma. A story with a message to girls who want to go to school.

Film stills:
1. Night of Kings; 2. Tomboy; 3. Wasteland; 4. The boy who harnessed the wind; 5. Alamar

Tomboy (France, 2011)
Alamar (Mexico, 2009)
Recommended by Flor Gonzalez Correa

I watched several memorable movies this year, but two stand out for their beauty and messages: Tomboy (France, 2011) and Alamar (Mexico, 2009). Both heart-warming films touch upon the themes of "belonging" and "self-discovery". Tomboy tells the story of a biologically female kid who identifies and introduces himself as a boy unbeknown to his parents. When one of his friends finds out and spreads the word, it unleashes a range of reactions: from loving acceptance and understanding to mockery and rejection.

Alamar also tells the story of a child, Nathan, who makes the trip from Italy, where he lives with his mother, to the idyllic Chinchorro reef in Mexico to visit his father, a fisherman of Mayan heritage. Like many of our BAIS community members, Nathan had to learn how to navigate two different contexts with their own logic, values, languages and traditions. This movie is like a balm to the soul; its slow pace gives us time to connect with the characters' emotions, and the beautiful photography captures the stunning beauty of my country.

Catherine the Great and Potemkin (Simon Sebag Montefiore, 2016)
The Circle (Dave Eggers, 2013)
Recommended by Pelin Onar Valk

“Catherine the Great was a woman of notorious passion and imperial ambition. Prince Potemkin was the love of her life and her co-ruler. Together they seized Ukraine and Crimea, territories that define the Russian sphere of influence to this day.” As a person not very familiar with the Russian history, I find the following interview with the author of the book interesting: Potemkin's remains in Kherson.

Another book which is on my list of books to read is The Circle (Dave Eggers, 2013). "When Mae is hired to work for the Circle, the world's most powerful internet company, she feels she's been given the opportunity of a lifetime. Run out of a sprawling California campus, the Circle links users' personal emails, social media, and finances with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of transparency." In the high time of internet and more specifically social media, this book may push us to some sort of awareness on the perils of the Internet (or the company / companies that control it), which sounds like an interesting and relevant theme. I'm curious about this book!

The lack of light (Het Schaarse Licht) (Nino Haratischvili, 2022)
The Dove’s Necklace (Raja Alem, 2010)
Recommended by Judith Naeff

I am looking forward to reading two big fat books by two women writers from different parts of the world. Sinterklaas gave me the second novel of Nino Haratischvili which is now out in Dutch, and will soon be in English. I loved immersing myself in her famous The Eighth Life which narrates the lives, tragedies and romances across generations of a family in Georgia against the background of the fall of the Russian Empire, the Soviet repression of dissidents and the post-Soviet era. I hope this new book will be just such a treat.

For our Middle East reading group, we are reading the Saudi crime story The Dove’s Necklace by Raja Alem, which won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2011. It is a complex novel, weaving fact and fiction and mythologizing the Meccan space, a city so far oddly absent from literary fiction, despite having dominated travelogues for centuries. Please drop me an email if you want to join our reading group.

Four tips on labour
Recommended by Stefano Bellucci

As a teacher of labour studies I recommend the following:

The Wasteland (Ahmad Bahrami, 2020) tells the story of a group of Iranian families in a village where a factory producing bricks (in an ancient way) is closed because houses are now built with prefabricated, and very toxic, materials.

La Superba, a book by Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer, about migration and labour, set in Italy, Genoa. I did not read this yet, but it will be my novel for Xmas.

Listen to the podcast How did the British Empire write the rules of today’s economy?, a conversation with the author of Uncommon Wealth: Britain and the Aftermath of Empire, Dr. Kojo Koram, which also includes further reading tips.

Please meet the new subject librarian for International Studies: Nathaniël Linssen. Nathaniël recommends the following five novels set in the US. They are all available in the University Library. Do you know books that should be made available to all staff and students of International Studies, but are not in our library collection yet? Please use the library purchase request form explain why this is essential reading for our programme. If he is convinced, he will buy it for the collection.

The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula LeGuin, 1969)
Le Guin's Hainish series begins with the assumption that centuries ago humanoids from the planet Hain ventured through the solar system establishing colonies on various planets including Earth. For mysterious reasons these colonies lose all contact and knowledge of each other until the 21st century when an attempt is made to establish a galactic league. Individual stories in this loosely organized series explore the inherent communication difficulties in the mingling and clash of cultures that, over the centuries of separation, have developed widely disparate social and political structures as well as a range of biological differences.

A Scarlet Pansy (Robert Scull, 1932)
First published in 1932, A Scarlet Pansy is an extraordinarily vivid and richly textured depiction of American queer life in the early twentieth century, tracing the coming-of-age of androgynous Fay Etrange. Born in small-town Pennsylvania and struggling with her difference, Fay eventually accepts her gender and sexualnonconformity and immerses herself in the fairy subculture of New York City. A self-proclaimed “oncer”—never tricking with same man twice—she immerses herself in the nightclubs, theaters, and street life of the city, cavorting with kindred spirits including female impersonators, streetwalkers, and hustlers as well as other fairies and connoisseurs of rough trade. While reveling in these exploits she becomes a successful banker and later attends medical school, where she receives training in obstetrics. There she also develops her life’s ambition to find a cure for gonorrhea, a disease supposedly “fastened on mankind as a penalty for enjoying love.”A Scarlet Pansy stands apart from similar fiction of its time—as well as that of the ensuing decades—by celebrating rather than pathologizing its effeminate and sexually adventurous protagonist. In this edition, republished for the first time in its original unexpurgated form, Robert J. Corber examines the way in which it flew in the face of other literature of the time in its treatment of gender expression and same-sex desire. He places the novel squarely within its social and cultural context of nearly a century ago while taking into account the book’s checkered publication history as well as the question of the novel’s unknown author. Much more than cultural artifact, A Scarlet Pansy remains a uniquely delightful and penetrating work of literature, resonating as much with present-day culture as it is illuminating of our understanding of queer history and challenging our notions of what makes a man a woman, and vice-versa.

In cold blood (Truman Capote, 1966)
In Cold Blood is a non-fiction novel by American author Truman Capote, first published in 1966. It details the 1959 murders of four members of the Clutter family in the small farming community of Holcomb, Kansas.

Girl, Woman, Other (Bernardine Evaristo, 2019)
The twelve central characters of this multi-voiced novel lead vastly different lives: Amma is a newly acclaimed playwright whose work often explores her black lesbian identity; her old friend Shirley is a teacher, jaded after decades of work in London's funding-deprived schools; Carole, one of Shirley's former students, works hard to earn a degree from Oxford and becomes an investment banker; Carole's mother Bummi works as a cleaner and worries about her daughter's lack of rootedness despite her obvious achievements. From a nonbinary social media influencer to a 93-year-old woman living on a farm in Northern England, these unforgettable characters also intersect in shared aspects of their identities, from age to race to sexuality to class. Sparklingly witty and filled with emotion, centering voices we often see othered, and written in an innovative and fast-moving form that borrows from poetry, Girl, Woman, Other is a polyphonic and richly textured social novel that reminds us of everything that connects us to our neighbors, even in times when we are encouraged to be split apart.

There There (Tommy Orange, 2018)
Here is a story of several people, each of whom has private reasons for travelling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life together after his uncle's death and has come to work at the powwow to honour his uncle's memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil Red Feather, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and unspeakable loss.

Practicing your Arabic with a short story
Recommended by Hossam Ahmed

I would recommend a couple of short story collections – this way readers can invest as much or as little as they like and can.

Those who are interested in feminism can find Nawal Saadawi’s complete works are now available via Hindawi. The link to أدب أم قلة أدب

Those who want a lighter reading can check out Mohamed Hussein Heikal’s قصص مصرية for some Nasser-era nationalist short stories, also available on PDF.