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White Ivy

Ivy Lin was a thief but you would never knew it to look at her.

White Ivy, Susie Yang, Simon & Schuster 2020

White Ivy is all over the place. As the summary and blurbs say it’s coming of age, a (second generation) migrant story, but Ivy manages to elevate (and worsen) all of it.

Because Ivy doesn’t fit into any mold. Maybe she doesn’t even have one. It’s maddening how she sabotages and destroys, but looking at her experiences and upbringing… maybe not that strange. Because how do you handle being left in a country only to meet your parents again after several years? Being the only Asian-Canadian in white surroundings? Having a violent tiger-mother and (mentally-)absent father? Lesser people would have gotten some trauma from that.

Again, sometimes you’re talking to Ivy to just unclench for once, give herself something, let go of all she’s carrying. Please, to give the reader some air to breathe as well.

I won’t share if she does, but it’s been a while since I’ve so rooted for and so disliked one and the same fictional character.

Greenwood

They come for the trees.

Greenwood, Michael Christie, Scribe 2020

It is well-known (here) that I’m a fan of family epics. There’s always the risk that the dullest character gets the most attention but still: throw in clear images of different eras and I’m in.

Michael Christie’s adds trees to his. From cutting to protecting, wood working and dendrology (- yes, I learned a new word), these Greenwood generations are willingly and unwillingly connected to the lungs of the earth.

The story ranges from 1908 to 2038 and with almost 500 pages – goes far and wide through Canada and characters.

The only thing that slightly bothered me was the imbalance between male and female characters and how the latter were all connected to motherhood somehow. I know that some of the historical settings limit female independence and freedom or maybe the male author simply didn’t dare but.. I would have liked to know more about them and their surroundings.

Except for Jake’s. Her 2038 is a loud, environmental warning we should all hope doesn’t turn into reality.

The Jane Austen Book Club

106 min.

Can I still call it contemporary when the film is fourteen years old – anyway it’s “story is based in the same time it’s been filmed”. Not changing the tag, that’s way too long.

They don’t make films like these anymore: wholesome without looking and feeling plastic. Yes, you can see everything coming from a mile away, but it still seems genuine (and all quite brown-ish, but that might just have been the 2010s). It’s also super easily-written sequel material, but I guess there’s no interest for book-focused romances in the 2020s (2030s?).

Female friends at different stages of their (romantic) lives come together for a book club. Solely for Jane Austen books, yes indeed. Time is divided pretty evenly between the four main characters, and none of the story lines are horrible and/or boring.

It all leads to an end with a dopey smile: look at books making things better. Honestly Netflix; I’ll write the sequel for you if the original author doesn’t want to.

Wish Dragon

98 min.

Also known by Aladdin or any other story involving a genie and/or three wishes. Even ‘it’s not laugh, I just want her attention through wealth’ is used. It’s not a bad film, it’s just impressively mediocre.

This time the story is set in a contemporary Asian city and the princess is a young celebrity. She and Din grew up together before her father moved them to have a better chance at life. Meanwhile Din is struggling to get by and basically working to make enough money so he can meet Li Na on “her level”.

Even the genie, this time a wish dragon, paints by numbers. First he’s snotty, than confused, than finally learns that there’s more to life. He’s well-created and okay-ish voiced but – meh. A lot more of the myth(s) behind it would have elevated it to something more; now the entire film is nothing more than the uninspired decision for a rainy Sunday during which we have to slightly entertain the kids until dinner.

Anxious People

A bank robbery.

Anxious People, Fredrick Backman, Simon & Schuster 2020

“This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots.” – don’t say Fredrick Backman didn’t warn you.

A bank robbery turns into a hostage situation but everyone involved is completely incapable of being a decent, well-functioning part of society. The bank robber takes over an apartment viewing, but everyone is more annoyed by this situation than terrified. And the bank robber is nervous and apologetic.

With flash-backs and flash..sides? we learn slightly more about this collection of fools and what made them this way. Backman does this in a quirky way, but manages very well to balance it before it gets annoying. This turns it into a comedy without having claimed to be a comedy, but there’s plenty of saddening details to add layers and depth to “Haha, weirdos!”.

It had me crying at the end. They might be idiots, but weren’t they made that way by situation and society? Saying more would ruin the few (small) surprises; read this for a solid laugh.

Homeland Elegies

I had a professor in college, Mary Moroni, who taught Melville and Emerson, and who the once famous Norman O. Brown – her mentor – called the finest mind of her generation; a diminutive, cherubic woman in her early thirties with a resemblance to a Raphaelesque putto that was not incidental (her parents had immigrated from Urbino); a scholar of staggering erudition who quotes as easily from the Eddas and Hannah Arendt as she did from Moby-Dick; a lesbian, which I only mention because she did, often; a lecturer whose turns of phrase were sharp as a German paring knife, could score the brain’s gray matter and carve out new grooves along which old thoughts would reroute, as on that February morning two weeks after Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, when, during a class on life under early American capitalism, Mary, clearly interrupted by her own tantalizing thought, looked up from the floor at which she usually gazed as she spoke – her left hand characteristically buried in the pocket of the loose-fitting slacks that were her mainstay – looked up and remarked almost offhandedly that America had begin as a colony and that a colony it remained, that is, a place still defined by its plunder, where enrichment was paramount and civil order always an afterthought.

Homeland Elegies, Ayad Akhtar, Little Brown and Company 2020

I should have seen it coming with such a first sentence. With some books you feel bad about not clicking with it; this has such positive reviews, it’s such an eye-opener etc. etc., so why am I not latching onto and never letting go?

Well, for starters the summary and the story don’t have a lot in common. There are so many descriptions of everything and everyone (the author seems to know that he does this, but still keeps doing it). And there’s much more descriptions of women’s vulvas than expected.

“Life as an American Muslim from 9/11 to Trump”. Sorta, but much more. And before as well, but not after. And very much, maybe all of it, about the author’s life. Even though there is a disclaimer about every character being fictional.

This offers insights about the (American) Muslim diaspora and ideas about the Islam which were new to me and explain some things, but there’s no clear line or plot wherever. Are these independent stories or a chronological build up? Trump might be mentioned on five of the three-hundred pages, was this a marketing decision? And why the sex diary?

But it’s “unputdownable” and by a Pulitzer-winning author, so I probably just don’t understand.

Ernest et Celestine

79 min.

Wat een zalig, mooi getekend en grappig filmpje. Met een rebellerende muis en een knorrige (ook wel rebellerende) beer maakte ik me een beetje zorgen dat het een heel kinderlijk en daardoor kinderachtig filmpje zou zijn, maar neen.

In een wereld van beren en muizen (die elkaar niet mogen) is Ernest een slampamper en Celestine een lastpost die te veel vragen stelt en niet hard genoeg werkt. Ze vinden elkaar door zijn honger (fysiek) en de hare (naar meer in het leven). En tanden, maar dat legt de film wel uit.

Misschien lijkt het alleen maar getekend, maar dan nog is het weer eens een animatie die stukken vriendelijker is voor het oog dan het felle platte dat tegenwoordig zo de standaard is. Het draagt ook bij aan hoe hartverwarmend en zacht dit verhaaltje en film is. Ondanks alles is het niet mierzoet en zitten er genoeg kleine grapjes in dat meekijken makkelijk ‘voor je zelf’ kijken wordt.

De vrolijke verrader

George Blake had zich al veertig minuten in een doorgang net binnen de muren van de Londense gevangenis verscholen.

De vrolijke verrader, Simon Kuper, Nieuw Amsterdam 2021

Echt geen idee wat vrolijk is aan dit verhaal of al het verraad eigenlijk, maar dat kan ik ook gewoon gemist hebben.

Simon Kuper levert namelijk een grote berg informatie over spion George Blake die een dubbelagent (Engeland/Sovjet) was tijdens de Koude Oorlog. Het boek gaat niet alleen over Blake maar over misschien wel de beste tijd in de wereld van spionage. Als een complete leek het boek in was best een uitdaging; gelukkig waren er ook hoofdstukken die zo uit een John le Carré-boek kwamen en wat tempo en spanning toevoegden.

Tegelijkertijd blijft het bizar dat dit ten eerste non-fictie is en ten tweede nog niet eens zo lang geleden allemaal gebeurd is. Ook blijft Blake een apart figuur dat het hele verhaal allemaal net iets vreemder en daardoor aantrekkelijker maakt.

Maar wanneer hij nu vrolijk was door zijn verraad? Misschien allitereerde het te lekker om te negeren.

The Shape of Family

Karina sat outside the principal’s office, kicking her feet against the wooden bench.

The Shape of Family, Shilpi Somaya Gowda, Harper Collins 2019

This probably pulled me in with its promise of ~dark~ family problems, but it turns out that the problems are dark in the most sad and depressing way and as a reader you’re just the bystander of seeing trauma tear a family unit into half-drowning islands.

The thing is: it’s not unrealistic that people that have bad things happen to them continue to have bad things happen to them. Sometimes they just seem to be magnets. But it is written in such a focused way that it seems only to be about scoring sadness points. {this is were mild spoilers follow} From death to separation to self harm and relational abuse: a large part of the 300 pages is just heaping it on. What am I reading this for: to learn how bad things happen?

Besides that; if it would have been written wonderfully and mind-blowing: okay. There’s no original idea in the world left anyway. But this just felt like we were going through the motions in hope of attaining some emotional response. I honestly should start writing down where I get my recommendations from.

Fighting With My Family

108 min.

Can you call a story clichéd if it’s based on a true story? Because Fighting With My Family goes through several well-used tropes (unlikely hero, successful comeback after a lowest moment), but uh – guess it all really happened, so do you judge a story on it?

The family mentioned is a boxing family from Greenwich. All four are in the ring (the fifth is in jail), but the children aim for the gold: becoming a part of WWE. The family expects the son to get it (at least), but it’s the daughter. This causes a rift.

One that will be mended through True Familial Love, after some solo hardships and end with a successful comeback. It’s marketed as a comedy, but I’d say “slice of life”/”coming of age” with both siblings learning what they want and can expect from life. With some laughs, that’s true.