Evening swept through the Delta: half an hour of mauve before the sky bruised to black.
I read books situated in South America and Asia and Africa to remember that Western culture and/or society isn’t the only one on this planet. With Welcome to Lagos I sometimes felt like I was ready a satire of how people think about African cultures. Surely it isn’t really like that? But when a (semi-)local is writing about it, you might take their word for it. And see that some known things about African countries aren’t exaggerated.
In this story the reader follows people from different walks of life that come together in Lagos. And Lagos is a creature, not just a city. The country of Nigeria is a beast, and the different people living in it are sometimes prey, sometimes predator. I’m not just talking about literal, military violence, but about poverty and corruption as well. And yet, these people find each other and connect in some way.
It’s a story about people functioning (in some way) in a country that isn’t even half way there on the road to whatever. As an ignorant white person I was surprised by the casual poverty and people abusing it, by the reach of the corrupted in power. As mentioned before – is it really that bad?
It’s with credit to the author that it doesn’t turn into one long complaint about the city and its civilians. Welcome to Lagos feels like something you could read for Anthropology class: to make sure you see the people not the system.
Welcome to Lagos, Chibundu Onuzo, Faber & Faber 2017
The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no.
Watching the series Underground, The Knick and than reading this book, gives you a triangle of black American history. If you’re not a complete dunce, you can recognise that these three are slavery-related, because that’s a large part of black American history. And as I often ask myself with books about ugly subjects; why should you read it? Don’t we know already?
This time the underground railroad to the saver surroundings up north is really an underground railroad, but that doesn’t make an escape easier. Main character Cora is followed through different states and escapes, and even when it looks safe, it doesn’t mean it is. Sometimes the violence against black people is written down so detached, it’s easy to believe all the slavery-wasn’t-horrible stories some people still try to taut. Only for this author to proof them wrong, again and again. This book isn’t just about the violence, it’s about the impact on human lives.
The railroad gives it a slightly fantastical shade, but an escape is an escape, whatever way used. Sometimes the author veers off a little in style, rails to a dead end, but Cora’s story needs to be seen through.
And if people know already, even about South Carolina, even about the mass sterilisations, maybe they can just pass this story on for those that don’t.
The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead, Doubleday 2016
When people ask me what I do–taxi drivers, hairdressers–I tell them I work in an office.
Seems like my streak of entertaining and enthralling reads is still going on. Hurray for making the right decisions!
Some people told me that this was a romance, making me frown a bit when getting to know Eleanor Oliphant. First of all, she isn’t in the right state of mind for a romance, secondly, a romance with whom? Do women always need a romantic relationship to show personal growth?
Luckily those people were wrong, Eleanor shows growth because she has to and wants to, and -gasp- is allowed a relationship with a man that isn’t a romantic one. Apologies, that’s a mild spoiler.
As I say so often: if this would have been written by a male author, and the protagonist male, it might have been viewed as Deep and slice-of-life instead of the quick rejection of calling it chicklit because it involves women living life. Eleanor Oliphant showcases character building, motivations and lessons learned without any of it being obnoxious. While being funny from time to time as well.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman, Viking 2017
Amber Patterson was tired of being invisible.
This was insanely fun, until it got serious, and then luckily got fun again. A story like a roller-coaster, no matter how big a cliche that is. It’s fast, gets a bit scary/ugly at some times, and gives you no break from it.
It starts out with Amber, who’s planning to take a rich woman’s husband and with that, a woman’s life. Take over, there’s no need for murder, although Amber definitely has some murderous thoughts from time to time. She feels grossly neglected by faith and luck and life, so honestly – shouldn’t she grab whatever she can?
Then there’s Daphne Parrish, the delicate rose whom refuses to recognise how good she’s got it, no matter how often she says she does. It’s easy to view Amber as a bit of an angry Robin Hood, but the Constantine sisters (the author exists out of a duo) flip that around, having the reader end up in the ugly part.
And all this with such a tempo that it feels like the story is being poured straight into your brain. I honestly can’t remember downsides to it; it just leaves you with such a ‘FUCK YEAH’ feeling that blemishes are blown away.
The Last Mrs. Parrish, Liv Constantine, Harper Collins 2017
I like to think I know what death is.
There’s a kind of story that is elevated by the surroundings its in. Even though this is the case in Sing, Unburied, Sing, it isn’t always saved by those surroundings. The story is dark and muddy, and there’s no air bubbles to be found in this morass.
Here’s a small, hurting family in the societal backgrounds of the USA. They hurt because of deaths past and future, addictions and crimes. Jojo is the young teenager who the story evolves around, but his drug addicted mother gets to share her angle as well.
If there’s not enough unhappiness around these two, death starts interfering with the living, and the story starts to feel like something the ancient Greeks would use as an example for hell. No matter what you do, misery will follow.
I’m slightly disgruntled because of having read this. Not because it’s badly written or a sloppy story, solely because it’s just full of disgruntlement, big and small. You could read it for the slice of depressing life, but don’t expect any uplifting experience.
Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward, Scribner 2017
As Amar watched the hall fill with guests arriving for his sister’s wedding, he promised himself he would stay.
Finally, a story that grabbed me again. One of those that makes you ache for the characters involved, making you wish that you could reach out to them and shake some sense into them.
At first, I got a bit frustrated by the lack of chronology; a story line is never finished before a memory (from another character) intervenes. It took me until much later that this is how humans work: our bodies might follow a chronology, our minds are always connecting things to thoughts past and future dreams. You learn so much about this family because of all the things they remember, worry about and wish for. But gosh darn it, why don’t they just TALK to each other?
Maybe it’s because it’s a Muslim family that uses their traditions as a wall, a shield and a safety net. Maybe it’s because they’re immigrants in the USA, some of them growing up during and after 9/11. Maybe it’s culture and surroundings and character and fears.
But gosh darn it, do you root for them. Do you wish for more pages to set things right, because surely a happy ending is in order here. Until then, you’re stuck with a lump in your throat.
A Place for Us, Fatima Farheen Mirza, Penguin Random House 2018
Once upon a time, before the whole world changed, it was possible to run away from society, disguise who you were, and fit into polite society.
It’s the book that your mother loves. Or, like, the book the mothers love in movies about small, sleepy towns and antagonists that dream about a more exciting life but are told by those mothers that you shouldn’t want that because look what could happen. If someone would have told me that this book was written in the nineties, I would have believed it. It’s absolutely stale, and I don’t even mean this in a very negative way, but just because it feels like you’ve seen this movie a hundred times already. It’s comfortable, but never thrilling.
The Rules of Magic is the (“long awaited”) prequel to Practical Magic, which was a book before it was a movie with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock. Both are about a family of witches, The Rules is just a few decades earlier, so you get New York city of the sixties and seventies, which might be one of the things that make the story appealing. The Owens family is cursed to destroy those they love, so it’s moping about that, destroying (unwittingly) and avoiding anything remotely looking like love. Although it seems to only be about romantic love, else there wouldn’t have been a family at all.
Anyway, there’s nothing wrong about this book, it’s not just very exciting. I wasn’t eager to read on and stay up late, and it’s been a while since I had that with a book which might have made me more impatient.
The Rules of Magic, Alice Hoffman, Simon & Schuster 2017