De onmisbaren

Als je studeert en hard genoeg werkt, dan kun je alles worden wat je wilt.

De onmisbaren – een ode aan mijn sociale klasse, Ron Meyer, Prometheus 2021

Sommige mensen zijn bang voor alles dat (mentaal) schuurt. Niet dat ik doelbewust op zoek ga naar oncomfortabele situaties, maar als je wilt leren, moet je confronteren. En nu we al jaren ervaren hoe “Ad en Ria” worden misbruikt door populisten, is het misschien eens tijd om bij hén achter de deur gaan kijken.

Dat wordt soms nogal melodramatisch gedaan, maar Ron Meyer verbindt wel het recente nieuws en (politieke) ontwikkelingen soepeltjes aan de (nieuwe) realiteit. Ik wist al een boel, maar nog niet alles. Voor hen die nog minder weten, zou dit verplichte kost moeten zijn.

Honingeter

Dit hier is een plaats waar mensen smelten als kaarsvet.

Honingeter, Tülin Erkan, Pelckmans 2021

Tsja. Je moet deze sowieso niet lezen als je graag een duidelijke conclusie hebt en pointers naar wat er op zijn minst aan de hand is.

Is het sowieso wel echt, Sibel die doelbewust op het vliegveld van Istanboel verblijft en dat bijna niemand opvalt? Zijn de mensen die haar op den duur ‘ontdekken’ wel echt? En waarom heeft ze een stethoscoop bij zich?

Voor zij die wat vreemde, donkere-kanten-van-het-brein narigheid wel kunnen hebben of zelfs waarderen, en men die het niet erg vindt kop noch staart te hebben; Honingeter heeft wel iets.

Ben is Back

103 min.

For a Hollywood film they are surprisingly realistic about addition. Ben is back for the holidays, but not every family member is supportive of this development.

Probably the nicest is that the few Life Lessons aren’t supported by a swelling soundtrack and slow-motion close ups: they just slip past.

That makes this film frustrating, nerve-wrecking and probably more genuine than many other stories about an addicted family member asking for an umpteenth chance and having to deal with being mistrusted.

Infinite Country

It was her idea to tie up the nun.

Infinite Country, Patricia Engel, Simon & Schuster 2021

Less than 160 pages and I still walk around with it a couple days after finishing it. I don’t know if I consciously gravitate towards migrant stories and the generations after, but once again it doesn’t disappoint.

What Infinite Country adds is the clear question of “What’s so great about the USA anyway?”. It’s not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for anyone involved, and the place the family comes from (Colombia) isn’t viewed as a crap shoot essential to escape from.

Combine this with a family literally ripped apart based on their place of birth and there’s something fresh and uncanny about this short story.

The Island of Missing Trees

Once upon a memory, at the far end of the Mediterranean Sea, there lay an island so beautiful and blue that the many travelers, pilgrims, crusaders and merchants who fell in love with it either wanted never to leave or tried to tow it with hemp ropes all the way back to their own countries.

The Island of Missing Trees, Elif Shafak, Penguin Random House 2021

There’s just something about Shafak’s writing that turns the big into small and the small into world-impacting. I liked her previous one better – or well, was more stunned and impressed by it, but this one also makes you think and makes you feel.

Because Ada isn’t the first child to lose a parent and having to deal with feeling alienated by the living one, but add Cyprus and suddenly it’s the first story ever told.

I want the best for Ada, eat fresh figs and I want to visit the island.

Shuggie Bain

The day was flat.

Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart Grove Atlantic 2020

Been a while since I read someone writing so vividly. This is an appealing story because of its style and imagery, and also severely depressing because of its images and stories.

The depictions of addiction, recovery and sabotage (intentionally and unknowing) is rough and tough, a trainwreck that just refuses to stop.

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.

Nine Days

124 min.

Heartbreaking and heartwarming. Someone somewhere gets to decide who gets a life on earth. Something that could have turned very philosophical (“are they souls?”, “where are we before we’re born?”, “who deserves life?”) is kept very approachable — probably because of the two main characters.

Will and Kyo are very different from each other. Kyo thinks that is because Will used to be alive once, while he never lived. Will doesn’t share his thoughts on the subject, as he is wont to do with almost every subject.

He judges, though. Judges and tests to see who’s the right fit (“good enough” is another discussion). Again, I’m aware that none of this sounds very enticing, but this is actors showing their skill through emotions, text and body language. And do so without things becoming “floaty”.

Of course there’s something between Will’s very tough exterior, and it’s a cheeky-to-annoying young woman to get to it, but that’s about the only cliché this film offers.