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.

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.

Tick… Tick.. BOOM!

115 min.

To start things off, I didn’t expect there to be so many songs. I did know this was based on a theater-piece (right?), but not musical theater. Nor that the main character was based on someone who really exists. Yeah, this is what you get when you just follow the hype.

Add the run time of almost two hours on top of this and I was ready to be let down again (earlier I didn’t particularly care about Hand of God and Goodfellas was too long as well).

Yes, it took me a bit to get used to the amount of sudden singing. And Jon’s (the protagonist) anxiety is quite anxiety-inducing as well, and I’m not even 29-I-have-to-make-it-big-before-30 anymore. Still, Andrew Garfield sells it all and sells it well. He’s almost manic, can’t stop even though he knows he should if he wants to keep relationships healthy, friendships alive and the lights on.

This reminded me of Rocketman from time to time: also someone suffering because of talent and anxiety. Tick.. Tick swings less, but definitely touches you as well.

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’.

Crying in H Mart

Ever since my mom died, I cry in H Mart.

Crying in H Mart, Michelle Zauner, Borza 2021

Another memoir, and I didn’t even consciously make that decision. This title buzzed around online accompanied by sentiments like “so good. Cried so hard.” and who wouldn’t view that as a recommendation?

In Crying in H Mart, Michelle’s mother dies. Her mother being Korean, Michelle being Korean-American and their time together having been.. all over the emotional wheel add layers to that ordinary story.

Not to sound glib, of course. We all die. But Chongmi does so at a too young age and suffering terribly. How can you give yourself room to say goodbye when you’re just taking care(/attempting to) full time?

Yes, there’s crying. Zauner doesn’t have things dawn on her; they crash on her. Hope, delusion and fight: none work. As the reader you take every hit to prove you’re wrong: there is no escaping that first sentence.

But this book is more than a memorial. It’s the memoir of an American family with Korean roots, a love for Korean food (those descriptions, get me those meals!), and a very honest look at what family does to and for you.

All that, and more than 50% shorter than the previous memoir read.

The Death of Stalin

107 min.

Een film die alleen in het achterhoofd zit á la ‘Als ik ‘t ooit eens tegenkom’ kan ook stukken minder tegenvallen. Voorlopig vind ik dat Movies & Series van Ziggo wel handig.

The Death of Stalin is potsierlijke onzin die al begint bij de cast. Amerikaanse en Britse acteurs die gewoon hun eigen accent behouden terwijl ze Russen spelen, bijvoorbeeld. De Russen die Stalin om zich heen verzamelde (zolang ze nut hadden), maar hier zijn ze compleet stompzinnig en incompetent. Gelukkig hoeft Stalin er niet lang getuige van te zijn.

Daarna volgen demonstraties van stupiditeit aan de hand van situaties uit de geschiedenis. Het is allemaal gênant en slapstick maar hee: wel gebaseerd op de realiteit.

Is dit een wereldverbeterende film die iedereen moet ervaren om completie te ervaren? Neuh. Heb ik mij vermaakt? Ja zeker.

It’s Not Like It’s a Secret

“Sana, chotto… hanashi ga arun-ya-kedo.”

It’s Not Like It’s a Secret, Misa Sugiura, Harper Collins 2017

It warms y heart to see YA that 1. doesn’t involve inappropriate relationships; 2. doesn’t have damaging ideas about body, romance and society; and 3. has queer protagonists. And it seems to happen more often!

Sana isn’t sure about her sexuality yet, and her life gives her plenty of reason to be distracted: a state-swapping move, her father possibly having an affair and her Japanese mother rejecting everything that would make both of their lives easier.

Her problems are not necessarily teen-related: it’s to Misa Sugiura’s merit that she doesn’t make them bigger or smaller because of the protagonist’s age. And yes, there are oh-my-god-teenagers moments, but the author sells those well as well. Honestly, this is a YA novel that deserves the blurbs and attention.

De leeuw van Alpi

Kil was het, en het motregende.

De leeuw van Alpi: Handel en wandel van een beestenman, Arie van den Berg, Atlas 2021

Denk niet dat ik eerder een geschiedenisboek in één dag uitlas. De leeuw van Alpi helpt daar wel mee door bijna honderd pagina’s aan bijlagen en noten te hebben, plus ook nog bundels aan beeld. Misschien heb ik dus ook boek van 120 beschreven pagina’s in één dag uitgelezen.

Meneer Alpi is een type in de achttiende eeuw waaraan verhalen over menageries en het begin van de dierentuin rond die tijd wordt opgehangen. Er is weinig over hem bekend, maar genoeg over hoe ‘exotische’ dieren naar Europa kwamen en hoe deze werden ontvangen door adel en het volk. En dat is vermakelijk.

Van den Berg heeft duidelijk zijn huiswerk gedaan, maar het boek blijft het leeuwendeel van de tijd meer roman-achtig dan de verzameling van feitjes waar non-fictie zo vaak in verzandt. En zo sloot ik 2021 nog af met nieuwe kennis ook.

Leave the World Behind

Well, the sun was shining.

Leave the World Behind, Rumaan Alam, Bloomsbury 2020

I don’t scare easily, but am still a little bit rattled because of this one. While the blurb about this being on the level of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go made me not expect to: I’m not fond of or impressed by the man’s writing.

But Rumaan Alam, okay. Idyllic family holiday in the middle of nowhere that gets disturbed by two strangers and only gets much stranger to completely unwind from that point on. In the falling apart way, not the relaxing way.

With all that delicious build-up, surely it can only disappoint? Reader, not this time.

That also makes for a short post: I don’t want to tell you more and risk the pleasure of that unheimlich feeling of disaster happening. If you love that feeling: Leave the World Behind is right there for you.

Fyra ar till

87 min.

Ik zeg het maar alvast: deze film heeft nogal outdated en genante ideeën over homoseksualiteit en biseksualiteit. Ook geuit door homo’s.

En toch raad ik deze film niet af, en dat zegt iets over het aanbod van queer romances.

De relatie tussen de twee mannen is aandoenlijk, humoristisch, realistisch. Laat deze variatie op Romeo & Julia je op weg naar het happy end iets leren over Zweedese politiek. Vergelijk 2010 met nu en zwijmel mee met deze sukkels.

Oftewel; roeien, riemen, etc. Als je homoseksuele romantiek wilt die eens niet in dood of ziekte eindigt, doet Fyra ar till (Four More Years) het zo slecht nog niet.