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My life in books

Martyn Coles is principal of the City of London Academy, Southwark, London

Martyn Coles is principal of the City of London Academy, Southwark, London

What I'm reading

The Poisonwood Bible

By Barbara Kingsolver

This is one of those books I have been waiting to read for 10 years but never got around to: in a head's busy life it is so much easier to read crime fiction. The Poisonwood Bible is one of the most ambitious and impressive novels about Africa that I have read. Its story of an American missionary family in the Congo at the time of independence in 1959 and for 30 years afterwards is a powerful one of blind faith, western ignorance against African wisdom and ultimately the understanding that this accumulated wisdom has a power that western "civilisers" ignored at their peril.

The book I loved as a child

The Jungle Book

By Rudyard Kipling

I loved adventure stories and the most enduring favourite was, and is, The Jungle Book. It is powerfully told, takes you to another country and fires your imagination with the exotic. Kipling's wonderful prose is, I now realise, so much a part of the success of the book. You are there in the book, in the jungle, with the main character, Mowgli. One cannot ask for more from a children's novel.

Read this before you die

A Suitable Boy

By Vikram Seth

This is one of the great modern novels: an epic story set in India at the time of independence. It is a social and political satire that draws the reader into a great country finding its way after hundreds of years of colonial rule. Against this background, the central theme of the story is Mrs Rupa Mehra's quest to find a "suitable boy" to marry her daughter. The characters are wonderfully portrayed and, through them, this picture of an India at the crossroads of tradition and independence is wonderfully painted.

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