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.

Group

The first time I wished for death – like, really wished its bony hand would tap me on the shoulder and say “this way”- two bags from Stanley’s Fruit and Vegetables sat shotgun in my car.

Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life, Christie Tate, Avid Reader Press 2020

I guess that mental health is a theme of mine now. With The Midnight Library, Crazy Ex Girlfriend and this one, you could call it a mental-health-trilogy. This one is the only non-fictional one of the three, although Rachel Bloom has admitted to her own issues with mental health inspiring CEG.

In Group, Christie has a collection of them. Issues with relationships, families, romance and food all lead to that first sentence. Therapy isn’t new to her either, but without effect, so why even try the worse option of group therapy?

As someone with little therapy-experience, some of the things her therapist put her through are wild. Some of her reactions to it are even wilder. Is this how (group) therapy works in the USA? There’s a strong truth-is-stranger-than-fiction vibe, but it also shows that when it comes to mental health that desperate measures are the only measures sometimes.

It’s sad and frustrating how stuck Christie is, and impressive how she turned her story into something appealing and entertaining. This isn’t a pamphlet for group therapy or a complaint about society’s ideas about adulthood, relationships and therapy. It’s the story of a group, and it’s a good one.

Well, that’s pretty depressing

Sometimes it seems like your unconscious makes the decision for you. Or my Netflix-list just needs some sparkle. Either way, some recently watched films that aren’t particularly.. happy.

First of all, an Asian award-gatherer: the Taiwanese A Sun. In a family the younger son is a screw-up, the older son tries to pick up behind him, the father pulls away from every family member while the mother – pretty passively – despairs. How utter sadness can look beautiful in a solemn way.

Next there’s Jonas, or another edition to the Bury Your Gays trope. This French film could have been an adorable coming-of-age, slice of life story of a homosexual (or bisexual?) teen discovering his identity, but instead we get violence.

Okay, maybe something non-fiction? With The Edge of Democracy you soon wish it was fiction. How absolute power can destroy democracy while people dance in the streets because media and moguls told them that this is the right way. Brazil, I’m so sorry.

Well, at least this post is international: my last offer is Nigerian Prince. The set-up sounds a bit like a comedy: American teen is sent to Nigeria to become familiar with his origins while one of his cousins is a scam-artist that takes him under his wing.
But no. The lack of communication between the teen and his parents hurts; the reality of having to scam Americans and Europeans because there is no other way to make money if you’re not part of the corruption is depressing; the open ending might make you anger without anywhere to put it.

Pfew, I’m going back to The Bold Type now.

Killers of the Flower Moon

In April, millions of tiny flowers spread over the blackjack hills and vast prairies in the Osage territory of Oklahoma.

Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage murders and the birth of the FBI, David Grann, Doubleday 2016

With some books, it’s clear how it could be turned into a film or TV-series. Some seem to be written for that transition, this one doesn’t. And yet: guess which story is turned into a film.

This could be a deep-digging, terrifying and beautiful look at the wild west in the USA and the horrible treatment of native people; there’s so much happening that you might wonder how it could have all happened in just a couple of years. That also means that plenty of those details are going to be cut out: this film isn’t going to be six hours long, of course.

Because in the beginning it’s simple: Osage people are killed by white people because of their riches. Corruption and racism reign the small towns, including the law enforcement. How is crime solved when the victims are viewed as less than human? The murders are blatant, the villains are almost cartoon-y evil, and the incompetence is staggering.

It all makes for a very detailed western – the birth of the FBI is really the least interesting part of the entire story. It’s – besides the spotlight on corruption and racism – a demonstration of journalism and research: the author just kept on digging and flourished by other people’s needs to document their lives.

Truth is stranger than fiction, indeed.

Luster

The first time we have sex, we are both fully clothed, at our desks during working hours, bathed in blue computer light.

Luster: A Novel, Raven Leilani, Bond Street Books 2020

I don’t know if this is going to be a review about Luster or a confession.

Luster works hard, while simultaneously not doing shit to get the reader to feel something about its protagonist. Do we pity her, get angry at her, are grossed out by her? Can we blame her decisions or outlook on life when you see what she’s been dealt and the society she lives in?

It’s the kind of book I can’t get any grip on, an endless frustration that I can’t steer in any direction. I want a conclusion, no matter how unhappy. I want a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s a coming train. What I don’t want to be is infected by the manic, the passivity, the ugliness of it all.

This isn’t about bad relational decisions or how rudderless my generation is, it’s how Raven Leilani puts her hand on your neck and keeps forcing you to watch and think and experience.
Is that not something I enjoy? Am I a cookie-cutter reader?

Or is it simply that the confrontation is too big, the despair too overwhelming, and the possible life line too brittle?

I’m angry at this novel. I’m frustrated by the impact I allowed it to have on me and how I feel I have to defend myself. A happy ever after wouldn’t even have satisfied me at the end, I want to put this growth to bed so I can calm down again.

A confession it is, then.

CapharnaĆ¼m

124 min.

I watched this entire film with focused energy and still don’t know why this is the title. It’s not the only thing lacking: the summary says this is about a street kid suing his parents for being born. It really is about Zain and his lack of control over things, plus his attempts to change that.

He tries to save his sister, he tries to save a left-behind toddler, he tries to save himself a bit. The streets of Yemen provide little, but Zain tries to take all of it.

It’s hard to believe that this is fiction, that it’s only actors that were put through this. Especially the boy playing Zain pulls story-lines off that would have been scoffed or laughed at with a lesser actor.

After, you’ll be glad that this time it was fiction. It just won’t make it easier to acknowledge that this way of living is reality for plenty of people.

And the court case? Or the title? Meh, I can do without.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

Only idiots aren’t afraid of flying.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, Scaachi Koul, Doubleday 2017

I didn’t know about this woman’s existence before reading this collection of articles/slices of life. Possibly it was the title that caught my attention, and I always consciously try to read more by women of colour. Another thing I appreciated was how her view of India juxtaposed with the one mentioned in The Far Field. As someone who wants to visit India one day, it was nice to hear that it’s not an unsafe for white people pile of trash after all.

But I deter; this is about Scaachi Koul, not me. A Canadian woman with Indian parents and the body, hangups and cultural differences that come with it. She discusses these in a dry tone and also explains why: women have little room – women of colour even less to have any kind of emotion that isn’t desired.

In under 200 pages she shows both her life as that of an immigrant daughter, a brown woman in Canada, just another person growing up.

Some articles are very recognisable, some might make you cringe. As far as insights go: consider me further insighted.

The Farm

The emergency room is an assault.

The Farm, Joanne Ramos, Doubleday 2019

I expected this to be sharper. Almost halfway in I commented that I was hoping that the author would deliver on what she was promising. She didn’t. This is a clear example of a novel that would have blown the mind of someone less well-read and well-informed. I know that sounds snobbish, but it’s the truth in this case: the ideas used in this novel are quite Body Sovereignty 101 and What Are The Limits of Capitalism 101. You might be curious about learning more, but for those that already did, it leaves you feeling a bit without direction.

The Farm is a very luxurious place where (implied illegal) immigrant women are surrogates for very rich families. For nine months they are pampered, kept from their usual lives and financially rewarded for several reasons. They’re also not allowed to have too many emotions, share too much personal information and contact anyone outside. They’re endlessly (physically) checked out and basically just viewed and handled as walking wombs.

Jane comes from the Philippines, is a young mother and tries to better her life for her daughter. She starts out as a nanny, but something happens which cuts off that line of work.

Sharing more would spoil some of the plot lines that are nicely knitted together, but simply miss spark. Do I need to be angry? Horrified? Was this all just a pamphlet?

I guess I’m still in the market for something that teaches me more about surrogacy and/or rich people that need to be stopped.

Seven Fallen Feathers

You see, the giant Nanabijjou made a deal.

Seven Fallen Feathers; Racism, death and hard truths in a Northern city, Tanya Talaga, Anansi Press 2017

I honestly don’t understand why there isn’t a massive uprising worldwide because of all of the abuse indigenous people have been put through. Well, I do understand, but I don’t. No, this isn’t a light, happy read.

Seven Fallen Feathers are seven indigenous teenagers that are mauled, killed and spit out by a society that doesn’t have any room for them and doesn’t care about it either. This is Canada, but I’m sure it can be applied worldwide. Tanya Talaga gathers information about cases in the past decade that have been – one after another – just written off as accidents while plenty of signs point to the opposite. While doing that, she also shows life for indigenous people in Canada, their history and contemporary reality of endless racism and abuse and the government that is supposed to care be absolutely uncaring.

It’s an endless train wreck; after a while you just know not to expect better from police, society and government. The hand dealt is five fingers short and rotten thoroughly, but only excuses follow.

For someone who fell in love with the country, it’s an ugly eye-opener. But looking away leads to ignorance, and that’s never a good thing. Through all this, Talaga manages to show the beautiful sides, the strange and wonderful sides of the indigenous people. If only more would see.