Little Fires Everywhere

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone round the bend and burned the house down.

Writing this review made me feel like reading the book for the second time, consider me a fan of Celeste Ng’s (you pronounce it as ‘ing’) work.

Again it’s a seemingly lovely, decent family of which the image (they project) slowly starts to show cracks. This time it’s literally and figuratively a small town story, and even though something quite big happens, there’s such a subdued, rosy-tinted tone to everything that even the moment when it all boils over, you don’t feel more like a soft ‘huh’. Because it wasn’t inevitable, but mostly because Ng writes in such a way that you’re swaddled, embedded into these lives and can almost feel the possibilities pass left and right. Maybe Izzy (Isabelle) will find her way sooner than later, maybe Mia and daughter Pearl will air out the secrets between them and for once put roots down somewhere. Maybe Mrs. Richardson can become a person again, instead of a connection between others.

So you wait, and hope while things crash and literally burn, while still ending on a high note. Because Celeste Ng is good like that.

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng, Penguin Publishing 2017

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms


I’m so glad I gave this author another chance. The Fifth Season may have been a bridge too far or simply not the right book at the right time (when you read so many books, sometimes it’s weird to accept that you can’t ‘crack’ one right away), but girl, was The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms the cool, easy accessible fantasy you just might need.

With accessible I mean that the story line is (mostly) chronological, the lines drawn between good and evil are (mostly) clear and that the world building takes enough of a back seat to not confuse you about which surroundings you’re supposed to read a situation in.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms starts with an unlikely hero, a young woman brought to the royal family. But instead of letting her work her way through the fitting tropes, N.K. Jemisin quickly turns it around, and keeps adding little turns to the regular ideas.

What I really liked was the mythology used, and although this is the reason that does make the book less clean cut towards the end, by then you’ll be too enamored to want to give up.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin, Hatchette Book Group 2010

Behold the Dreamers

He’d never been asked to wear a suit to a job interview.

First of all, I’d like to mention that this is a book from Oprah’s Book Club. Mostly because the ebook file I had, would mention it in the most random ways.

Anyway, I discovered that my Ottawa library had another online service, which finally got me this one. Express, so I had to finish it in seven days. I finished it in two.

Behold the Dreamers is about the American dreamers, the immigrants who enter the country (kind of) legally and overstay their welcome in hope of a better life for themselves and their family. Jende and Neni are from Cameroon, escaping their town because of disapproval of their relationship and with dreams of more. For such a long time things go well (there is a job, education, money shared left and right) that the reader can almost get comfortable; maybe this family is the one that will slip through.

The story plays out during the start of the financial crisis. With Jende being the chauffeur of a high up Wall Street man, it’s clearly shown that suffering can always reach another level. The book is so full of (naive) hope that it gets tougher and tougher to swallow that the dream may just stay that: a dream.

Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue, Random House 2016

De melancholie van het verzet

Aangezien de stoptrein die in de vorst verstarde plaatsen op de Zuidelijke Laagvlakte tussen de rivier de Tisza en de voet van de Karpaten met elkaar verbond, ondanks de warrige uitleg van de verdwaasd lans de rails drentelende spoorbeambte en de alsmaar stelliger beloften van de nerveus rondrennende stationschef nog steeds niet was aangekomen (‘Tja, weer eentje opgelost in het niets…” zei de spoorbeambte met wrange spot), vertrok er een vervangende trein, bestaande uit een afgekeurde, gammele 424 en twee krakkemikkige, met houten zitbanken ingerichte wagons, die slechts in dergelijk zogenaamde ‘bijzondere situaties’ mochten worden ingezet; daarmee zouden de lokale reizigers, die het uitvallen van de vergeefs verwachte stoptrein uit het westen betrekkelijk onverschillig en met halfslachtige berusting opnamen –

En zo ging de zin nog even door, en dit is niet de laatste die hele pagina’s in zal nemen. Ik vind het Oost-Europese redelijk herkenbaar in toon, maar De Melancholie van het verzet voegt een toon van het absurdistische sprookjesachtige toe. Het verhaal is misschien wel bruin en solide, maar dan in tinten en patroontjes. Misschien heeft het boek ook wel mijn kunnen om een rechtlijnige review te schrijven ondermijnd.

Want wat gebeurt er precies? Er komt een vreemd circus naar een schijnbaar (door de autoriteiten) verlaten en verwaarloosde stad. Geruchten en opstootjes maken het allemaal nog iets surrealistischer, en daar tussendoor sluipen, paraderen en stiefelen figuren als vanuit een kijkdoos. Is het massahysterie, of een zeer goed georganiseerde opruiming?

Het is geen boek voor de lezer met weinig geduld, noch degene die een duidelijke conclusie eist. Mocht je open staan voor iets surrealistisch tussen te lafhartige mensen … plan er tijd voor in.

De melancholie van het verzet, László Krasznahorkai, Wereldbibliotheek 2016

The Tortilla Curtain

Afterward, he tried to reduce it to abstract terms, an accident in a world of accidents, the collision of opposing forces – the bumper of his car and the frail scrambling hunched-over form of a dark little man with a wild look in his eye – but he wasn’t very successful.

And the prize for Most Depressing Book read in January goes to.

The tortilla curtain is the border between Mexico and the USA. The Tortilla Curtain is about the people on that thin line that just want to have a comfortable life, but are prevented from having it by paranoia, racism, and society. The one side is simply much more privileged than the other, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they could have an easier life (add a note of sarcasm here).

I had to read this one for school, because we’re doing a course called Aspects of the USA and well, racism definitely is one.

The book’s well written, luring into supporting one side until everybody just shows how ugly their thoughts and prejudices are. The one side is just allowed more, under the guise of honesty and worry. It’s over twenty years old, but the story can definitely be retold today.

The Tortilla Curtain, T.C. Boyle, Bloomsbury 1995

Een zachte hand

De baby is dood.

De bibliotheek had mij eerst het origineel (Frans) aangeboden, maar dat ging mij net iets te ver, met een Frans vocabulaire dat niet verder reikt dan mij voorstellen en zeggen wat ik wil drinken. Dit was een boek dat op twee verschillende plekken werd bezongen, waardoor ik nieuwsgierig genoeg werd om ‘dan maar’ Nederlands te lezen.

Terwijl de omschrijving niet meer was dan ‘het gaat goed mis, nadat het zo lang zo goed leek te zijn’ bij een verhaal van een jong gezin dat een oudere, ietwat vreemde vrouw als nanny inneemt en in hun dagelijks leven verweeft.

Met een opbouw die niet in een horror zou misstaan, wordt dan wel getoond waarom dit een slecht idee is. In 189 pagina’s word je er van overtuigd nooit meer een vreemde in huis te nemen, en zeker niet wanneer je kleine kinderen hebt.

Een zachte hand, Leïla Slimani, Nieuw Amsterdam 2016

The Power

Dear Naomi,

I’ve finished the bloody book.

And Dud Read in February goes to The Power. If there wouldn’t have been some well timed critiques read, I would have walked headfirst into disappointment, because so many people were so_positive about this one.

I mean, Margaret Atwood supported the author in this (at least, that’s what’s mentioned in the acknowledgments), critics mentioned a science fiction story that would make you question patriarchy, the poison of the male fragility, how power corrupts and so on. All that, and teenage girls managing to shoot electricity from their hands.

But then there’s the execution, and the execution is crummy. There’s no fiber, no rhythm, no connection between the characters, the chapters, the paragraphs. It’s an idea dump, sketches of world building that are deserted before you can imagine the image. There’s no push to care about these characters, the worlds they (try to) destroy or build up. It’s not refined enough to add men(‘s right activists) without making it feel like the story is excusing them, and the conclusion of Power Corrupts is clear from early on.

Just don’t bother; I’m sure there are books out there with similar themes that do manage to come out more balanced.

The Power, Naomi Alderman, Hachette 2016