Lessons in Chemistry

Back in 1961, when women wore shirtwaist dresses and joined garden clubs and drove legions of children around in seatbeltless cars without giving it a second thought; back before anyone knew there’d even be a sixties movement, much less one that its participants would spend the next sixty years chronicling; back when the big war were over and the secret wars had just begin and people were starting to think fresh and believer everything was possible, the thirty-year-old mother of Madeline Zott rose before dawn every morning and felt certain of just one thing: her life was over.

Lessons in Chemistry, Bonnie Garmus, Doubleday Canada 2022

Oh, I had fun with this one! It’s history and a commentary on society’s sexism (in the sixties), there’s a bit of romance but more importantly female friendships and why one should invest in it and oi – there’s chemistry.

Literally.

Elizabeth Zott, our protagonist, is a scientist, a single mother and an opinionated voice on telly. Neither of those are approved of by a lot of people.

Author Bonnie Garmus throws a lot at her, but she manages to do so that it doesn’t turn into a melodrama, but someone’s life story (which happens, there are very tough breaks). Also essential is the speed and style of the story; nothing feels frilly or extra.

I flew through the 300+ pages in a day.

Breasts and Eggs

If you want to know how poor somebody was growing up, ask them how many windows they had.

Breasts and Eggs, Mieko Kawakami, Europa Editions 2019

Why didn’t I read the blurbs: Haruki Murakami loved it, and it used to be a short novella. I think that shows very clearly: the second ‘book’ is more coherent and easy to read, although mostly in comparison with the first book – not others.

Once again this is an “I feel like I should like this more”-story, but there’s something that just left me lukewarm. Yes, interesting views on motherhood and surrogacy in Japan, but did it have to be put down like this? Hard to chew on, tough to invest in.

Honingeter

Dit hier is een plaats waar mensen smelten als kaarsvet.

Honingeter, Tülin Erkan, Pelckmans 2021

Tsja. Je moet deze sowieso niet lezen als je graag een duidelijke conclusie hebt en pointers naar wat er op zijn minst aan de hand is.

Is het sowieso wel echt, Sibel die doelbewust op het vliegveld van Istanboel verblijft en dat bijna niemand opvalt? Zijn de mensen die haar op den duur ‘ontdekken’ wel echt? En waarom heeft ze een stethoscoop bij zich?

Voor zij die wat vreemde, donkere-kanten-van-het-brein narigheid wel kunnen hebben of zelfs waarderen, en men die het niet erg vindt kop noch staart te hebben; Honingeter heeft wel iets.

Ben is Back

103 min.

For a Hollywood film they are surprisingly realistic about addition. Ben is back for the holidays, but not every family member is supportive of this development.

Probably the nicest is that the few Life Lessons aren’t supported by a swelling soundtrack and slow-motion close ups: they just slip past.

That makes this film frustrating, nerve-wrecking and probably more genuine than many other stories about an addicted family member asking for an umpteenth chance and having to deal with being mistrusted.

Infinite Country

It was her idea to tie up the nun.

Infinite Country, Patricia Engel, Simon & Schuster 2021

Less than 160 pages and I still walk around with it a couple days after finishing it. I don’t know if I consciously gravitate towards migrant stories and the generations after, but once again it doesn’t disappoint.

What Infinite Country adds is the clear question of “What’s so great about the USA anyway?”. It’s not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for anyone involved, and the place the family comes from (Colombia) isn’t viewed as a crap shoot essential to escape from.

Combine this with a family literally ripped apart based on their place of birth and there’s something fresh and uncanny about this short story.