Papyrus

Mysterieuze groepen mannen te paard trekken over de wegen van Griekenland.

Papyrus: Een geschiedenis van de wereld in boeken, Irene Vallejo, Meulenhoff 2021

De geschiedenis van boeken, de geschiedenis van de wereld aan de hand van boeken. Irene Vallejo heeft een lijvig boek geschreven en het merendeel ervan heeft niet eens de Middeleeuwen bereikt: moet je nagaan hoeveel er te vertellen is en hoe diep Vallejo is gegaan.

Omdat ze dit doet op een fijne, lichte toon waarin haar interesse en devotie hoorbaar is (complimenten voor de vertaler, aangezien het origineel in het Spaans is), wordt het geen moment een naslagwerk waar je doorheen moet ploegen. De auteur is duidelijk ‘van de taal’ en kan bij andere taligen het enthousiasme vergroten maar zaait zeker ook bij beginners het zaadje.

A Girl is a Body of Water

Until that night, Kirabo had not cared about her.

A Girl is a Body of Water, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Tin House 2020

What stuck with me most is how well Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi communicated the surprise and shrugs Ugandans had/felt about European ideas like time and religion. Might sound silly and/or narrow-minded but yes: not everyone cuts days into twelve hours and decides that one way of going at it is the right way. It’s all been decided before somewhere, and doesn’t mean that elsewheres should go along.

A Girl is a Body of Water plays out in a different time – Uganda in the nineteen-seventies and -eighties – and in a different world. The plot is familiar: absent parent decides to bring first child into second family. But Kirabo has plenty of other things on her mind; Sio, the mother who refused her, familial issues between her grandmother and the village witch and adjusting to private school and the city after growing up in a rural village.

Makumbi makes it all feel a bit like a fairy tale; even when dire reality sets in (war, death), it seems like something our princess has to get through to get to her happy ending. This absence and style takes some getting used to, but after you’re all in: we want the Stories of Kirabo; and we get them.

Light Perpetual

The light is grey and sullen, a smoulder, a flare choking on the soot of its own burning, and leaking only a little of its power into the visible spectrum.

Light Perpetual, Francis Spufford, Faber 2021

Sounds pretty dystopian, doesn’t it?

What if four children – who died in a WW2 bombardment – didn’t? The children aren’t extraordinary, they’re simply ‘allowed to’ play out their lives. What follows are slices of life of post-war England.

The characters make the novel, especially when the writing lacks a bit. It’s a history novel as history should be looked at: through the eyes of regular humans.

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.

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.

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.

Fiebre Topical

Buenos dias, mi reina.

Fiebre Topical, Juliana Delgado Lopera, The Feminist Press 2020

Well, this wasn’t at all what I expected. I thought I was going to get a YA romance about discovering your queer identity while struggling through immigration, but.. I kind of got all that, minus the romance, plus depressed family members, a much more serious (and desperate tone) and a lot of Spanish. Without translation.

That took some time adjusting, and I still don’t know if I liked the novel. It was definitely an original experience, and I think the story told was genuine and heartfelt. The way it was told was sometimes hard to follow and frustrating.

Protagonist Francisca moves from Colombia to Miami, where she quickly loses half her family to a pretty extreme version of Christianity. She isn’t clear on what she wants, but she knows what she doesn’t and it is this; but how to fix it? And how to feel about the pastor’s daughter?

All this happening in a sweaty, oppressive Miami doesn’t make things easier. I felt like I had to step outside into the cold after having finished Fiebre Topical.

The Anomaly

It’s not the killing, that’s not the thing.

The Anomaly, Hervé le Tellier, Other Press 2021

I was promised an intelligent thriller, but hm-meh. This was definitely a very basic science-fiction story that tried to elevate it through some (faux) philosophy. Which is allowed, but don’t blow it up like this.

The thing is: a plane lands in March after experience extreme weather. The exact same plane, with the exact same people on it experiencing the exact same thing lands in June. With the flyers thinking it’s still March. Where were they? And how come there’s now two of them?

It’s surprising how quickly and effectively the American government decide on what’s going on and act upon it. It also takes away from the story: the flyers get some room to react to the situation, but there’s a lack of urgency that makes this story horror or social commentary. What do we need to take away from this; look at your surroundings, do you trust them? Never to late to start over?

Maybe I just don’t understand all the layers, but for now I’m sticking to ‘meh’.