How to Love a Jamaican

The first time I saw Cecilia, she was the only other black girl in our small group during freshman orientation.

I like pleasant surprises.

After a frustrating couple of hours concerning my e-book reader app, I ended up with Libby. To make sure it was the app and not my tablet (six years old), I borrowed something to make sure the novel would show. How to Love a Jamaican was that novel, and it showed.

It’s also a collection of (short) stories, for those that are apprehensive about those (like myself). They all involve a Jamaican, Jamaica and love in some kind of way – self, family, friendships, romantically.

I know that PoC authors and their stories are all too often described as “colourful” or “vibrant” so I’m going to refrain and say that these stories were fun, even when they subject wasn’t. There was a certain kind of life in them, even when you can’t recognise the situation mentioned. Immigration is a part of these stories, but not the story, and – what a surprise – all protagonists go through the same things people in white authored stories go.

All in all, this was a great start with my new reader app and it better continues delivering.

How to Love a Jamaican, Alexia Arthurs, Ballantine Books 2018

Hasse Simonsdochter

O, de suizelende wind door het jonge riet!

Het aanbod in minibiebjes is zeer, zéér wisselend, maar een paar weken geleden had ik een Thea Beckman-jackpot. De boeken over Thule liet ik voor een ander staan (puur om die geweldigheid met anderen te delen), maar van deze titel twijfelde ik of ik het ooit gelezen had.

Nu ik ‘m uit heb, weet ik het nog steeds niet, maar daar lees je dan ook tachtig boeken per jaar voor. Dat maakt ook helemaal niet uit, ik heb genoten en dat is belangrijker.

Thea Beckman is een instituut, maar ik maakte me toch een beetje zorgen of de nostalgie sterker was dan mijn herinnering van kwaliteit. Bestaat dit genre sowieso nog wel, historische Europese avonturen voor tieners en jong-volwassenen? Dit zijn avonturenboeken zoals ze zouden moeten zijn.

Zo lukte het mij ook heel snel om mijn volwassen-bril af te zetten (want oef, de taal soms, en de opmerkingen soms!) en voluit mee te gaan in Hasse’s avonturen die als vreemd ‘elfenkind’ toch maar mooi zich bij huurlingen aansluit, mensen en dieren redt en bijna helemaal leeft zoals ze wilt. En dat in de vijftiende eeuw.

Hasse Simonsdochter, Thea Beckman, Lemniscaat 1983

 

My Sister, the Serial Killer

Ayoola summons me with these words — Korede, I killed him.

This is why I don’t read hyped up books. So much excitement and build up and no-one who mentioned the sheer disappointment of most of it but definitely the ending.

And that’s impressive for a story that’s only 200 pages and with a plot – see title – that could definitely provide a lot of thrills, philosophising and secondary story-lines.

Instead you get a repetitive, stagnant story filled with passive characters. There is very little motivation (why does she kill, why doesn’t she put a stop to it, why doesn’t she actively participate in her daughters’ lives), no-one seems to learn. Even the lack of different surroundings doesn’t provide anything to the story or even a sense of claustrophobia, only slightly more boredom.

The end – always a risky business – is sheer “Ma’am, I’m done with my assignment!” in hopes of being allowed to leave early.

And just like that it’s 200 pages of hoping for ‘so much more’ wasted.

My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite, Doubleday 2017

Split Tooth

Sometimes we would hide in the closet when the drunks came home from the bar.

I struggled with this one, even though ‘struggle’ feels like too weak a word while at the same time sounding like a complaint.  While I was definitely annoyed, made uncomfortable and felt disgusted by this book, ‘struggle’ feels like I was fighting with the structure or built of the book. While it was the story, the actions, the implications, the anger and danger.

Yeah, all this was a lot.

And if it wouldn’t have been for the ending in which all of it came together so perfectly, so cleansing, so enlightened – I wouldn’t even have reviewed this on Goodreads. I would have been left behind with the aforementioned feelings.

Because Split Tooth isn’t a chronological story or just an ~experience~ or something in between: from time to time I felt like I was reading along with the notes of some world-building deity, but definitely one on a bad day. So much anger and frustration for humanity, but so much love and awe for nature. Is there even a main character, and is she an active or terribly passive one?

Split Tooth doesn’t provide answers or pointers, it’s just there while at the same time clawing at your brain to be allowed to reside there permanently.

Split Tooth, Tanya Tagaq, Viking 2018

The Dutch House

The first time our father brought Andrea to the Dutch House, Sandy, our housekeeper, came to my sister’s room and told us to come downstairs.

I changed my mind on this book maybe three – four times. Pretty cover -> meh summary -> positive reviews -> where is this story going? -> Oh. Oh wow.

Wasn’t that an exciting trip to go on?

This book is the house it’s about, but at the same time its story never gets as bright and colourful as the interior of the house. Even before the big thing that changes everything happens, there’s a thick gray layer over not just the people of this story, but the story itself.

It doesn’t make the story less appealing, but it did make me long towards that version of the story: if Ann Patchett would halfway flip to the owners under whom the house prospered, I wouldn’t even have minded and this coming from the woman who despises different times – same houses stories.

Still, the story as it is found its way under my skin. On family, on bitterness, on deciding what you need for yourself instead of for someone else. And in the end – yes: oh wow.

The Dutch House, Ann Patchett, HarperCollins 2019

This Is How It Always Is

But first, Roo was born.

“This sounds like it’s going to hurt. I’m so excited!” Me, after almost two months of disappearing books.

There’s a lot of book clubs connected to this one, and the summary has definitely housewife-novel potential. A happy woman with a house full of boys only to realise – dum dum dum – that her youngest doesn’t want to be a boy. Maybe.

But instead you get what Ducks, Newburyport tried to be. The inner life of a frantic mum who tries and fails to keep all balls up in the air.
Because how do you take care of five children, your job and your husband even with ignoring your own needs and fears?

This Is How It Always Is sets you to thinking about gender and how we view it, how different societies look at the subject differently.

And it definitely shows what the life of a mother entails, how kids and their lives are on one’s mind all-the-time.

It left me staring into the distance after finishing it, considering everything.

This Is How It Always Is, Laurie Frankel, Flat Iron Books 2017

This is Going to Hurt

In 2010, after six years of training and a further six years on the wards, I resigned from my job as a junior doctor.

There’s very little joy to be found here, but heck – even the title tells you that. Besides that, it’s non-fiction and about the NHS (Britain’s national health). Even if you don’t know anything about that subject, the sum of these must ring a small alarm bell.

Adam Kay isn’t a doctor anymore, and these are his diary notes that have led up to that decision. Mostly it’s terribly politics and how hospitals deal with it, but patients don’t go scot-free either. This way even the awkward giggles feel bad because there’s lives at stake here and only those that can’t do anything about it, seem to care.

There are bits when Adam sounds a bit too full of himself, and maybe some more background would be nice, but this is a man’s personal story. Use it as motivation to do your own background research. If you’re sure that you want to know more about the state NHS is in, anyway.

This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay, Picador 2017

Girl Runner

This is not the love song of Aganetha Smart.

I can point out the different disappointments in this book clearly: the biggest one being the obvious twists to prevent explaining a plot line. This can happen maybe once or twice and should be done well – not something that basically amounts to ‘BUT FIRST’.

For starters, I’m not too fond of two story lines in different times, especially not when brought together through a seemingly random connection. Jump through time or let people age; it’s not that hard. In this case I accepted it because I was curious about the subject: first long distance female runner at the Olympics. Canadian history. Canadian writer. Bring it.

But it’s Aganetha young and very old, and a story line tacked on that isn’t explained – and just barely – until the last ten pages. With Aganetha not being the most charming protagonist, it doesn’t make caring easier. Give me more about the world she grew up in if you can’t or won’t sell me on your main character.

All this creates the feeling of “this could have been more”, which might be more frustrating than this entire novel is.

Girl Runner, Carrie Snyder, Harper 2015

Empire of Wild

Old medicine has a way of being remembered, of haunting the land where it was laid.

I like the work of this author – all two books I’ve read by her. Not just because she writes about Canada and a Canada I know little about (of indigenous people), but there is something lush about her writing style. Organic, flowing. And yes, using those clichés makes me feel a little bit iffy.

Empire of Wild uses indigenous stories and mythology again, again in a contemporary (bit less apocalyptic) setting. A lost man is found again, but doesn’t recognise his wife nor their life together. Something wolf-like skulks around. White people threaten the land.

You could call it magic-realistic, but somehow it feels too down to earth for it. These people are so used to living the way they do with the stories they know, that adding whispering winds or lounging ghosts would make things silly instead of magical.

Honestly, I’m just curious to what Cherie Dimaline does next. We’ve had post-apocalyptic and contemporary. Something from the (distant) past?

Empire of Wild, Cherie Dimaline, Random House Canada 2019

Truly Madly Guilty

This is a story that begins with a barbecue,” said Clementine.

I think I don’t have to summarise this story if I’d tell you that this author is the one behind Big Little Lies as well and that she definitely carved out a spot for herself in the ‘What’s Really Happening Behind the Doors of Seemingly Happy Families’-niche. A niche I very much enjoy, so no negative comments there.

The negative comments here are solely plot related. When my thoughts turn to “this is filler, just give me the twist/clue”, the story is going on just a tad too long. If all that build-up leads to not that much, you need a stronger conclusion. Maybe that’s just the burden of reading so much that surprise is hard to find.

Because there’s nothing otherwise wrong with this story: it doesn’t pretend to provide something more than it offers. It’s entertaining, it fits the bill, it’s escapism.

And it might make you want to visit Sydney.

Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty, Flatiron Books 2016