Spotlight

129 min.

Great fun, a film about child abuse in the catholic church! And it’s based on true facts, yay! It’s a crude introduction to a subject one doesn’t enjoy thinking about, which was precisely the problem in this real life case: too many people shoving it under the carpet.

film poster spotlightEven the Boston Globe, the newspaper that unearths the story and publishes it, isn’t free from blame. The catholic church is a powerful monolith, Boston is a catholic filled city, churches are everywhere. To stick to the theme: Goliath was easily found, but was David even going to show up?

Spotlight isn’t a quick, bright film, it shows how (research) journalism and a newspaper work(/used to work) and how much time such a thing takes. As a retired journalist it was bittersweet to watch, for those that don’t have that connection it might be a look behind the curtains of what so many people already view as history.

I watched it in two parts, you could even watch it in four if your life is so serialised. Either way, it’s a story worth remembering or discovering. Both for the subject and the process.

Spotlight, Anonymous Content 2015

Freshwater

The first time our mother came for us, we screamed.

Sometimes a book leaves you with a feeling instead of easy-put-into-thoughts words. Freshwater is exciting, eerie, scary and frustrating, both the story and the story telling. It’s a book you’d recommend with a long disclaimer.

Main character Ada (or the Ada) is born with one foot in the other world, she’s possessed by creatures/things/ghosts, and they have quite the impact on her health, her life and her loved ones. It’s not just her that gets to speak either, it’s the ‘we’ and others that get to control the human Ada from time to time, or at the very least debate her decisions.

It makes for a creepy, aggravating story that isn’t always easy to get through, like it’s not just Ada that’s being dragged down and manipulated by the other ones. At the same time it’s such a balanced story about a culture (Nigerian) that doesn’t view all this as too exotic, but at the same time has elements that prevents Ada from speaking the truth. So there’s different layers to her straddling two worlds, even when she hasn’t has her creatures involved.

Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi, Grove Press 2018

The Boat People

Mahindan was flat on his back when the screaming began, one arm right-angled over his eyes.

This isn’t a particularly uplifting story. Reading is escapism, isn’t it? Unless you never have any media-intake that won’t be the case with this novel. The subject is a three-step ladder of contemporary news: racism in politics, war zones and (boat) refugees.

These three angles are showcased through the points of view of different people: a refugee, the people helping them, and those that need to make sure that no refugee brings danger into the country (Canada, in this case). It’s easy to view the latter as the villains of this piece: they start out with a negative angle and won’t be swayed. But in today’s society it would be naive to act like that negative angle hasn’t landed on fertile land, and what does that say about us?

The same can be said from the ‘good’ immigrants that lament these refugees for not doing immigration “the right way”. We all need thoughts to comfort us, so who’s to blame for acting upon them?

Of course, nothing happening in this novel will make you think: yes, let’s deny every refugee asylum, yay! but it very much shows the booby-trapped labyrinth immigration and asylum (laws) have become. With an all too human face to it, on all sides.

The Boat People, Sharon Bala, McClelland & Stewart 2018

Pretend I’m Dead

For months he was just a number to her: she counted his dirties, he dropped them in the bucket, she recorded the number on the clipboard, and he moved down the line.

Some stories aren’t pleasant to read, but so compelling that you don’t want to give up on them ether. Mona isn’t easy to love or follow, even though it could have been with such a mercy- and pity-inducing history.

Mona is a twenty-something with a bad youth and/or possibly some mental illnesses. There are clear symptoms, but there’s also the consideration of how much comes from her background. She cleans houses for a living, even though her aunt and her sort-of-boyfriend tell her that she should change things, start living. Develop.

But that’s not easy, especially when you’re not exactly willing to do so. Mona’s got a lot of thoughts, maybe too many, and the author doesn’t let the reader off easy. This is an annoying, disgusting, frightening protagonist that might make you feel more empathetic to those neurotically atypical, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing annoying either.

Pretend I’m Dead doesn’t give answers, it just shows. I didn’t find the ‘laugh-out-loud funny’ a blurb claims, but I did want to stick around. Maybe in some way, Mona will notice.

Pretend I’m Dead, Jean Beagin, Oneworld 2018

The Word for Woman is Wilderness

The space probe Voyager 1 left the planet in 1977.

Wow. Maybe as much impact on me, albeit in a slightly different category, as Het achtste leven (voor Brilka). I’m still a bit fuzzy around the edges after having finished it. And as often with those on the edges of opinion (very good, very bad), I’m struggling a little bit with how to put into words what I like so much about this.

Because with the premise, it just as easily could have gone on to be terribly navel-gazing and Philosophical without foundation (ie fake deep babble). A young English woman deciding on going to travel ‘to the wild’ by herself, through Iceland, Greenland, Canada and Alaska. During, she’s often (very) conscious about her privilege, place in the world, safety and future, but not without keeping her eyes turned outwards. And what a beautiful, mesmerising outwards it is.

So, what does happen in this book that left me reeling slightly? It’s the insights, but also the recognisable feelings about living without a buoy, and/or direction. It’s the worries about environment and society and how you seemingly can’t have any impact on it, yet never turns into something completely depressing. And with the conclusion, it all slides into perspective.

Maybe that’s the biggest thing: it offers such a broad perspective that keeps narrowing down, without offering you the light at the end of the tunnel. It just gives you the knowledge about all that’s around you.

The Word for Woman is Wilderness, Abi Andrews, Profile Books 2018

After the Party

When I came out of prison my hair was white.

When we don’t learn from history something something repeat something something. Who would have thought that a book about fascism would be all too relevant again in the twenty-first century? Look, it even has women and children being brainwashed through children and ‘good people’ while parroting that above all “it’s about patriotism!”.

The title can be interpreted in two ways, I realise only now. Protagonist Phyllis returns to England when the second world war is just a spot on the horizon. She joins her sisters in a world of high(er) society, and so what if there’s stories about a very charismatic Leader whose party will take care of making Great Britain greater (I kid you not)? Parallels, anyone?

The time-hopping kind of spoils how Phyllis’ story goes, and I would have appreciated more focus on details about this “patriotic” party and their place in society. Now it’s mostly a slice-of-life look of a certain people and how easily they step into the “we just want the best (for people like us)” trap. A study of humanity – and their refusal to learn from history.

After the Party, Cressida Connolly, Viking Press 2018

Internment

I strain to listen for boots on the pavement.

Looking back after having finished this novel I realise how naive and privileged it is of me to have thought “well sometimes she’s exaggerating a bit”. Something about how we are doomed to repeat history if we don’t learn from it, etc.

In this case the lesson is ‘Do not imprison innocent people for the sole reason that their religion, skin colour and/or ancestral background is different from yours’. Shown in the Second World War, the States did it with Japanese Americans, and Samira Ahmed does it a few decades later with American Muslims. Because in Internment a president – very alike of the one the USA has right now – comes in power, and he’s much more effective in getting his racist ideas turned into actions. American Muslims are put into camps on American soil.

And just like before, there are plenty euphemisms going around. None can cover up that the camp is surrounded by barb wire, that every guard has a weapon and that any sign or sound of protest is violently taken down. Here comes my conclusion from the first paragraph in: isn’t this put down all a bit too extremely? I should know better. We all should.

It’s good that the novel is less than 300 pages, because there’s no escaping the terror the characters are put through. Not just the mental and physical torture; also the shock of seeing how fast people get used to it. Again, as we should know.

All this makes for a bitter pill that as many as possible of us should swallow.

Internment, Samira Ahmed, Little, Brown & Company 2019

Knock down the House

87 min.

Aan de ene kant helemaal geweldig hoe rah-rah! je wordt van deze documentaire want potverdorie wat zijn deze mensen goed bezig om de (politieke) wereld te veranderen. Aan de andere kant pijnlijk in hoeverre dat nog nodig is, omdat de bestaande politici vastgegroeid zitten tussen lobby en eigen belang.

Knock down the House posterDeze documentaire is niet alleen over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, ook al wordt haar naam en beeltenis gebruikt om de aandacht te trekken. Het gaat hier om grass-roots, om de mensen (meestal vrouwen) die er helemaal genoeg van hebben dat zij op geen enkele manier vertegenwoordigd worden in de politiek. Er zitten karakters tussen die zo verdomde inspirerend bent dat je je afvraagt waarom ze niet al [x aantal] jaar in een functie zitten waar ze de wereld ook kunnen verbeteren. Nou, dat legt de documentaire ook fijntjes uit.

Je hoeft heel weinig van Amerikaanse politiek te snappen of interessant te vinden om deze documentaire te waarderen; het gaat hier om verandering vanaf de bodem. Hier in Nederland heeft men de mond vol van elite – deze docu laat zien op welke manier dat woord wél vies kan zijn. Dan mag Netflix volgend jaar over de mensen van Stem Op Een Vrouw documenteren.

Knock down the House, Netflix 2019

One of Us

95 min.

Waarom haten mannen vrouwen toch zo en zetten ze er zo vaak godsdienst voor in? Nu is de orthodoxe invulling van een geloof gelukkig (nog) de minderheid binnen een samenleving, maar toch. Zoals One of Us laat zien, geven deze mensen niet om de samenleving, alleen om hun controle er op. En ieder die niet toegeeft aan die controle, wordt bevochten.

One-of-us-posterOne of Us is een documentaire over orthodoxe Hadisic Joden in het New Yorkse Brooklyn, en dan vooral de mensen die geen onderdeel meer van ze uit willen maken. En vooral in het geval van vrouwen, kan deze orthodoxe gemeenschap hun verlies slecht nemen. Bij de afvallige mannen is er nog enige vorm van communicatie; men kijkt de andere kant uit wanneer ze heidens gedrag vertonen. Vrouwen worden bedreigd. Rechtszaken worden ingezet (op die manier mag de heidense samenleving schijnbaar wel gebruikt worden).

De documentaire geeft geen oplossingen, alleen maar een kijkje in een wereld die zo succesvol gesloten is en veel doet om dat ook vol te houden. Dat dan slachtoffers maakt, heeft een lagere prioriteit.

One of Us, Netflix 2017

The Talented Ribkins

He only came back because Melvin said he would kill him if he didn’t pay off his debt by the end of the week.

Now how to talk about this one. There’s a fantastical element in this story (several, if you consider all the individuals involved), but I definitely wouldn’t call it a story from the fantasy genre. Maybe more magic realistic? Anyway, these talents can come in quite handy, but brought ruin to almost every owner – every member of the Ribkins family.

The Ribkins are a black family, with one generation starting out as activists (during the Civil Rights Movement) but seeming to have ended up in crime. Each of their stories rub against historical facts, which makes the people with extraordinary powers trope so much more realistic, and keeps the focus on those people, instead of what they do with their powers.

This is combined with a playground (Florida) that somehow manages to make all of it more surreal and real at the same time. Of course the main character needs to dig up money he hid around the state, of course their last name has a wonderful background. Ladee Hubbard bakes all of it together, and it tastes strange, but good.

The Talented Ribkins, Ladee Hubbard, Melville House 2017