Plum Rains

Angelica was hurrying toward the crowded crosswalk, determined to get back to her elderly client Sayoko-san before the deliveryman arrived, when the view of buildings and business suits in front of her dissolved.

Plum Rains, Andromeda Romano-Lax, Soho Press 2018

Probably already this year’s winner for coolest author name, no matter if it’s her own or a pen name.

I judged this book by its cover, its title and its author name and it — didn’t necessary end badly. I don’t know if I’d recommend this, though.

At first, the story seems original. The blurb says it’s about a Philippine caretaker in Japan in the nearby future, she worries about being replaced by robots and we’re promised different moves through time across the globe.

But the women suffer. Not just regularly day to day suffering, but – without wanting to spoil – in the way women do. There’s a tiny bit of room for creating a world in which we’ll all be replaced by AI, but the rest of it is about suffering.

And I know that those stories need to be shared as well, especially with the Western audience, but I would have loved a science fiction story in which the (Asian) women aren’t just victim, caretaker, responsible and tired.

So, if you want to read it (because Japanese history, insight in life on the Philippines), you might still enjoy it if you focus on that. If you’re looking for science fiction, expect a dystopian one.

The Salt Path

There’s a sound to breaking waves when they’re close, a sound like nothing else.

The Salt Path, Raynor Winn, Penguin Random House 2019

Is this man really, really really called Moth? I mean, there’s a lot to this story about an older couple going hiking after bankruptcy and illness hit them, but why won’t anyone tell me if it’s a nick name? No-one acknowledges it as being random or quirky, the reader just has to endure a grown man, not a particularly weird grown man, being called Moth all the time!

Okay, it’s out of my system.

The Salt Path must have been welcomed by the UK Tourism Board (I’m sure such a thing exists). Even though Winn writes about plenty of hardship (in detail), I still want to do the hiking path they did, and visit plenty of the villages they did. With a bit more comfort though, that’s true.

Because, as mentioned before, for Raynor and Moth it’s a move out of desperation, not a holiday. They lose their home and work, Moth loses his health and the hike is not so much as a conscious decision as it is running away.

So, besides those descriptions of the country and the path, are there also plenty of musings on work, the future, health and family. Winn shares what life has thrown at them (a lot!), and sometimes her musings get a bit too navel-gazing, but the circumstances… you’d probably cut her some slack.

All that turns this book into some kind of saga, the Odyssey but very, very British. Maybe that’s how we should just view the decision to call a man Moth as well.

Foster

113 min.

Documentaire over Amerikaanse pleegouders en de organisatie die daar (letterlijk en figuurlijk) achter zit.

Van adoptie is veel bekend, maar ik heb het idee dat men vaak vergeet wat pleegouders en -familie allemaal doen. Nu zal het in Nederland vast wel (iets) anders zijn, maar voor iemand die wel eens in contact komt met uithuisplaatsing, ruzie met pleeggezinnen en dergelijke vond ik het interessant genoeg om over de landsgrenzen te kijken.

Mooi van deze documentaire vond ik dat de toon heel neutraal blijft (geen “alles is kut” noch “dit is werk van engelen”), en dat alle betrokkenen aan het woord komen. Organisatie, pleegouders, pleegkinderen maar ook de rechtsorganen die er mee gemoeid zijn. Het draagt allemaal bij aan het plaatje van hoeveel (mensen)werk het is.

Verschillende casussen worden gevolgd en zo kom je zonder een spectaculair hoog tempo aan bijna twee uur film.

En het klopt: het is verre van perfect, maar zeker noodzakelijk en een verbetering van de status quo. Gegoten in een interessante vorm, (ook) voor hen die er misschien nooit mee te maken zullen hebben.

The Nickel Boys

Even in death the boys were trouble.

The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead, Doubleday 2019

I read stories by Colson Whitehead before and even though I know their subjects are heavy (Black American history, racism), there’s a certain atmosphere to them that still makes them easy to read. Like there’s a layer between the reader and the story, but the reader can feel how fragile it is.

This time it’s about a Correctional Facility (add air quotes at your own convenience) in Florida that was created in times of segregation and still works along those lines when the reader gets there. Entwined with that story are also jumps back and forward in time to show black American lives and the impact incarceration (directly and indirectly) has on them.

What I liked on top of everything else is the nicely hidden away twist: I felt like a numpty to not have picked it up, and that means that it was worked in without any fanfare nor heralded with a complete orchestra. It gives an extra punch in case you were strangely complacent with all the horrors you read.

Interior Chinatown

INT. GOLDEN PALACE

Ever since you were a boy, you’ve dreamt of being Kung Fu Guy.

Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu, Vintage Books 2020

I don’t really know how to review it and this time that’s a good thing. It’s original and awkward and confrontational. With racism and hate directed at Asians (in the diaspora) it’s also very, very relevant.

And in between: fun. Throwing you off balance, not being what you expected. It’s not something I experience often, and for that alone I’d recommend this novel.

De kat en de generaal

Ze keek naar de lucht.

De kat en de generaal, Nino Haratischwili, Meridiaan Uitgevers 2019

Ik geloof dat het andere boek dat ik van deze auteur las op elk “Best of” lijstje kwam dat ik dat jaar heb opgetypt, en door deze zinsopbouw is misschien al duidelijk dat De kat en de generaal niet hetzelfde effect had. Deze keer waren het maar een schamele 700 pagina’s, maar ik denk dat ik langer over De Kat heb gedaan dan Het achtste leven.

Misschien omdat er minder geschiedenis is? De vorige keer kan ik me herinneren dat ik zoveel leerde over de landen rondom de Kaukusus, en dat ik verrast was dat ook daar het gewoon zo’n zooi is/was/was geweest. Deze keer is er minder aandacht voor geschiedenis en meer wat voor impact het op het heden heeft.

Kat is een actrice die wordt ingezet door een duister figuur om nog duistere figuren te vangen die iets naars hebben gedaan in het verleden. Het duurt enkele honderden pagina’s voordat we leren wat dat naars was: daarvoor is het vooral het leven van Kat en de duistere figuren die mogen laten zien hoe ze zich door hedendaags Berlijn bewegen.

Er waren meerdere momenten dat ik dacht van “laat maar” en alleen doorlas omdat de auteur mij eerder zo’n geweldig boek had gegeven. Helaas kwam De Kat voor mij er nooit bij in de buurt, verre van.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

Lala comes home and Wilma is waiting, having returned early from visiting Carson at the hospital.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, Cherie Jones, Harper Collins 2021

I liked this one, but I didn’t like this one. It’s a story far away from me; both geographically and in experience, so that’s good – that’s a reason I read. But for once I wish that those kind of stories were happier, lighter, more fun.

In How the One-Armed Sister (etc.) there’s not a lot of fun. A line of women view themselves and/or their daughters as cursed and life seems to agree with that view. There’s relational abuse, stealing, death – and very little light at the end of the tunnel. Jones shares beautiful imagery of the island, the houses, the sheds, making the (emotional) violence only starker.

Of course, these stories need to be told, deserve to be told, and so on. To me it sometimes just feels that writing from a woman of colour has to be synonymous to suffering. I know there are romances and fantasy by people of colour, but why are the family sagas so often so tough? Is this the only way of life or the only thing that publishers will support?

Both ideas left me uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean that this novel isn’t worth your discomfort.

The Voting Booth

I don’t like it when people make hyperbolic statements, so I really mean it when I say I’ve been waiting for this day my entire life.

The Voting Booth: Make it count, Brandy Colbert, Hyperion 2020

A YA-novel that wants to tackle the American voting system, (and) voter suppression. While adding a budding romance, because would it be YA without a romance?

Brandy Colbert manages to pull it off for her target audience. Older eyes may be rolled because of ‘found-love-in-a-day’, or Marva’s utter devotion to improve the system, but for those of her age it might well be uplifting and motivating. And the novel is almost as run-on as that one sentence.

Yet it never gets overly preachy, nor naive. Marva wants to help someone to vote, and discovers how hard that can be. The person she helps is a cute guy, but that’s only a slightly distracting factor. Something else sabotages her, but the story turns convoluted nowhere.

As a teacher, I’d definitely view this as an option to educate about the (American) voting system, but as a softie for teen romance I’d definitely recommend it to everyone who wants a not-saccharine shot of that.

Amnesty

All of the coastline of Sri Lanka is indented, mysterious, and beautiful – but not place is more mysterious than Batticaloa.

Amnesty, Aravind Adiga, Picador 2020

I finished this not long after watching White Tiger, the film that’s based on Aravind Adiga’s previous novel. Without much of a plan – it just came together like that.

Amnesty poses the question about how to follow the law when you’re not following it to start with. Sort of. Danny has overstayed his visa in Australia and is viewed as an illegal immigrant, but he also thinks that he knows who the murderer of one of his cleaning clients is. Will his wrong be righted by doing the right thing?

I was embarrassed by the amount of time it took me to recognise that this isn’t a crystal-clear-cut situation. If you’re viewed as illegal, society thinks it owns you nothing and will throw you out as soon as you’re noticed. One good action won’t outbalance the horrible (air quotes) action of you outstaying your welcome. Danny flits through life and always has to wonder where the hits will come from. He’s surviving, not thriving because he’s invisible – not seen by authorities and government, moving below the surface.

You can’t yell at him to stop picking up the phone and go to the police right away: he’s just trying to keep his feet on Australian soil.

Queenie

I locked my phone and carried on looking at the ceiling before unlocking it and sending a follow-up “xx.”

Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams, Scout Press 2019

Just as with Luster I sometimes felt like this book wasn’t for me, that I shouldn’t read it. Should a white person even accept the ever-so-honest soul-baring of a black woman, even though – as a reviewer put it – it’s “reminiscent of Bridget Jones”?

Of course, I still stuck my nose in it. And it stayed there. Because even though sometimes it was very uncomfortable at times – Queenie has some less than healthy coping mechanisms for what life throws at her – you root so hard for this woman. Not because she’s written in a fun, recognisable way but because of what she’s experienced and is still experiencing and still trying.

What I also appreciate – and I’m sure that if both author and protagonist would have been male, this would have gotten a lot of attention as Great Coming of Age novel – is that there’s no easy way out. Neither mince words, the happily ever after is the slightly-alright-half-way-there. To manage that, and still be funny and have a realistic outlook on life: good stuff.