The Jasmine Throne

In the court of the imperial mahal, the pyre was being built.

The Jasmine Throne, Natasha Suri, Hachette Book Group 2021

Honestly a little bit surprised by how much I didn’t care for this book. It has fantasy with a non-western background, gay women, and attempts some world-building. Why so demanding, brain?

Because all of it feels like it’s been generated instead of created. I didn’t care for any of the characters or what they went through. Childhood abuse? Oh. Your brother trying to sacrifice you? Okay. Fighting for independence? Uhuh. Fighting a disease that turns you into a tree? Are there images?

None of it touched me because there’s this weird imbalance of continuously adding new characters while trying to flesh out previous ones. And the plot: it felt like I was reading a game concept, not a novel. Like someone wanted the epic world-building of a Tolkien, a Martin, but forgot to put the silly, appealing and terrible in.

And of course; it’s a set up for sequels. I might catch up if it’s ever turned into a TV-show.

Nine Days

124 min.

Heartbreaking and heartwarming. Someone somewhere gets to decide who gets a life on earth. Something that could have turned very philosophical (“are they souls?”, “where are we before we’re born?”, “who deserves life?”) is kept very approachable — probably because of the two main characters.

Will and Kyo are very different from each other. Kyo thinks that is because Will used to be alive once, while he never lived. Will doesn’t share his thoughts on the subject, as he is wont to do with almost every subject.

He judges, though. Judges and tests to see who’s the right fit (“good enough” is another discussion). Again, I’m aware that none of this sounds very enticing, but this is actors showing their skill through emotions, text and body language. And do so without things becoming “floaty”.

Of course there’s something between Will’s very tough exterior, and it’s a cheeky-to-annoying young woman to get to it, but that’s about the only cliché this film offers.

Oliebollen-Nel

“Je zou eigenlijk eens achter Oliebollen-Nel moeten aan gaan.”

Oliebollen-Nel: De Oorlog van een kermisdiva, Michèl de Jong, Nijgh & Van Ditmar 2021

Dit is non-fictie. Er is heel veel informatie over de Tweede Wereldoorlog, het verzet, maar ook het kermisleven aan het begin van de twintigste eeuw. Het is een compliment voor de auteur dat dit bijna nergens taai of encyclopendie-ig wordt.

Oliebollen-Nel is een vrouw van de kermis die van publiekstrekker uitgroeit naar verzetsheldin. Of verrader. Nel is namelijk nogal een bijzonder, larger-than-life type met een flink ego, maar maakte dat haar naïef of veinste ze dat alleen?

Aan de hand van Nel wordt het Nederlandse verzet (vooral in Den Haag) gevolgd. Een verhaal waar Hollywood haar vingers bij af zou likken, maar dus allemaal gebeurd. Tot aan de laatste hoofdstukken houdt De Jong het tempo erin en de scènes kleurrijk: pas bij de verslagen van de rechtzaken gaat gevoelsmatig de rem erop.

Desalniettemin een aanrader voor iedereen die ook maar enigszins nieuwsgierig is naar één van de behandelde onderwerpen.

La grande belezza

142 min.

Ja, het is allemaal mooi, inclusief het feit dat deze film om heel weinig draait en daar toch iets van kan bakken.

Hoofdpersoon is een oudere, Italiaanse man die van zijn stad geniet: Rome. Natuurlijk, er zijn wel wat andere dingetjes des levens maar het gaat om de man en het gaat om zijn stad.

Die ziet er wel heel goed uit voor eentje met een imago van absolute vuilnisbak. Het schijnt en glittert en heeft meer kleur dan het menselijk oog kan verwerken en dat is vast op het conto van Paolo Sorrentino te schrijven. Lang leve vriendschappen, maar de echte liefde is voor de stad.

Mooi, leeg, toch wel op een vreemde manier aantrekkelijk. De film, bedoel ik.

Bolla

Having made the world, God began to regret his creation.

Bolla, Pajtim Statovci, Pantheon Books 2021

Delivered on its promise of being “Brokeback Mountain in Eastern Europe”. Except there’s no cowboys, and an even larger divide because of war going on, so throw in some Romeo & Juliet in there as well.

Arsim, Albanian, married falls for Milos (single, Serb) in nineties Kosovo. If that isn’t enough of a challenge, both his wife’s pregnancy and the regional war follow soon.

Bolla is a small story – less than two hundred pages – yet somehow manages to make this romance very intimate and a window to look through at the (developing) war. War is people, war is ideas but it’s also societies that just try to keep moving on, staying upright. But love needs more than ‘staying upright’ and Statovci shows it full of ache and longing. Neither characters make good/great decisions, but do they have any other options?

Not something you’d call a nice read, but definitely a good one.

How to be an Antiracist

I despised suits and ties.

How to be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi, Penguin 2019

With certain books you feel bad about not loving it. This is important information, this is something to learn from, and I struggled from beginning to ending.

That’s partly because of the style of this book: much too often it felt like I was paging through a dictionary because definitions are added to everything and repeated often. It could be that I spend too much time online that I am already familiar with plenty of terms, but no matter if it’s for rookie or the more experienced: the message has to be delivered in an attractive way. And I know repetition is key to learning and remembering things, but now I just remember the repetition; not the message.

Kendi combines his own story with the story of racism and anti-racism and doesn’t protect himself in either. Maybe it’s better to look at this like a part of encyclopedia instead.

The Inheritance Games

When I was a kid, my mom constantly invented games.

The Inheritance Games, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Little Brown and Company 2020

Two things YA novels could easily do without: the first person POV and the endless need to add (implied) heterosexual romantic relationships to it.

The Inheritance Games is the first book of a trilogy (possibly, who knows how long Barnes will make this last?) which uses the Knives Out story and gives it to a teen. Avery inherits a lot of money from an unknown billionaire, but why?? And why are there so many male grandchildren??

Anyway, except for some plot holes due to sloppy writing, and the aforementioned unnecessary heterosexual activities, it’s all quite entertaining. When I know how many books she’ll get out of this idea, I’ll read the last one for the clue so I can satisfy the smidge of curiosity that obvious cliffhanger left me with.