An American Marriage

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home, and those who don’t.

Layers upon layers to uncover and think about in a book that could just be summarised by its title: yep, it’s about a marriage. Between Americans. But these Americans are Black, one of them is wrongfully incarcerated and what is a marriage if it’s largely between people of one is in prison?

This way, Tayari Jones looks at the prison system, racism, the institution of marriage, the first ones in families to go study and the burden that comes with it. This is a story that creeps under the skin, leaves you staring in the distance afterwards – empty and fulfilled at the same time.

Because what would have happened if Roy wouldn’t have been locked up? The marriage wasn’t perfect, but which one is? What if they would never have married? What if they would have grown up in another state or even another country? In what ways is the USA to blame for this entire situation? How is ancestry to blame (if so)?

It’s a testament to Jones’ writing that none of this adds an essay-like feeling to the novel: it’s a story first. A painful one, with glimmers of hope.

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones, Harper Collins 2018

Pastorale

Oscar liet de woorden van de leraar los – hij wist alles al.

Ja, tsja, ja, wat is dit nu precies? Ook al zitten er een paar eeuwen tussen, deed Pastorale mij soms aan Hasse Simonsdochter denken. Misschien dezelfde omgeving plus dat typische ‘Ha, lekker Nederlands’-gevoel? Het is in ieder geval niet dat er veel meer overeenkomsten zijn.

In Pastorale gaat het om een kleine gereformeerde gemeenschap waar in/tegenaan Molukkers gedumpt zijn ten tijde van KNIL. Het woord segregatie valt maar een paar keer, maar alle acties spreken duidelijk genoeg: zowel de Molukse Nederlandsers als de inboorlingen beschouwen het als een tijdelijke situatie.

Daarnaast is er Louise. Zij gelooft niet meer. Ze is terug thuis, maar een compleet buitenstaander. Hoe ze daar mee omgaat, en vindt dat ze daarmee om moet gaat, wisselt nog al.

Oscar zweeft tussen dat alles door, of is hij juist zo passief dat zijn complete zijn bewegingloos is? Hij komt in contact met de Molukse inwoners en leert er meer dan hij op school voorgeschoteld krijgt.

Nergens wordt nadrukkelijk genoemd in welke tijd dit speelt, en omdat dit kleine dorp al zo stil in de geschiedenis ligt, wordt het verhaal en haar karakters nog een tikje meer vervreemdend. Dit is een geschiedenisboek, maar net alsof het de geschiedenis van een andere versie van Nederland geeft.

Dus, wat is het? Je tijd waard.

Pastorale, Stephan Enter, Uitgeverij van Oorschot 2019

Niemand vertelt je hier ooit wat

Ze gaan me opereren vandaag.

Het was een situatie waarin vijf sterren een realiteit waren, en die situatie maak ik niet vaak mee als veel-lezende zeur en extra kritisch persoon op Nederlandse auteurs. Maar verdorie: Erik Nieuwenhuis was mijn intense hekel aan open eindes vergeten. Lap, het boek had zelfs langer gemogen wat mij betreft!

Spoiler. Misschien is het niet eens een echt open einde, het verhaal kan best als afgesloten beschouwd worden. Maar er gebeuren vreemde dingen in het verzorgtehuis waarvan Michiel zich niet eens kan herinneren hoe hij er is gekomen en waarom hij er is. En er wordt steeds meer lucht gepompt in de ballon van ‘WAT DAN?’ maar de ballon ontploft maar niet.

Mensen die wel beter los kunnen laten, of het niet erg vinden om zelf de gaten in te vullen, zullen zeker genieten van het lachwekkende want langzaam in unheimlich verandert.

Is dit nu al het tweede Nederlandse boek dit jaar waar ik positief over ben?

Niemand vertelt je hier ooit wat, Erik Nieuwenhuis, Brooklyn 2019

De buitenvrouw

Leerlingen in de eindexamenklassen vonden Theo Altena de minst erge die je voor Nederlands kon krijgen.

Enkele uren nadat mijn moeder mij wees op de Joost Zwagerman-essay prijs (ik twijfel nog over een onderwerp), vond ik dit boek in een buitenbiebje. Toeval bestaat niet?

Dit was mijn eerste boek van de auteur: Nederlandse schrijvers, zeker mannelijke, kunnen mij niet bekoren. Hoogste tijd was daar een uitzondering in, maar ook weer niet op zo’n manier dat ik mij voorlopig een Mulisch-fan noem.

Naast het essay-toeval was het de samenvatting waarvoor ik het boek wel wilde proberen: man wordt zich bewust van racisme in zijn directe omgeving en man is docent Nederlands op het voortgezet onderwijs. En volgens de recensies beschrijft Zwagerman beide dingen zoals het is!

Ik ben docent Engels op het MBO dus ik kan niet alles vergelijken, maar verder is het toch wel zeer regelmatig best confronterend. En het ‘dat is niet racistisch!’ waar je ook bij anders normaal nuchtere mensen tegen aanloopt – ook.

Natuurlijk, ik had de precieze details niet nodig van de lichaamsdelen van Theo’s minnares, maar verder was ik zeer verrast door hoe makkelijk dit boek was en hoe vermakelijk ik het vond.

De buitenvrouw, Joost Zwagerman, De Arbeiderspers 1994

Split Tooth

Sometimes we would hide in the closet when the drunks came home from the bar.

I struggled with this one, even though ‘struggle’ feels like too weak a word while at the same time sounding like a complaint.  While I was definitely annoyed, made uncomfortable and felt disgusted by this book, ‘struggle’ feels like I was fighting with the structure or built of the book. While it was the story, the actions, the implications, the anger and danger.

Yeah, all this was a lot.

And if it wouldn’t have been for the ending in which all of it came together so perfectly, so cleansing, so enlightened – I wouldn’t even have reviewed this on Goodreads. I would have been left behind with the aforementioned feelings.

Because Split Tooth isn’t a chronological story or just an ~experience~ or something in between: from time to time I felt like I was reading along with the notes of some world-building deity, but definitely one on a bad day. So much anger and frustration for humanity, but so much love and awe for nature. Is there even a main character, and is she an active or terribly passive one?

Split Tooth doesn’t provide answers or pointers, it’s just there while at the same time clawing at your brain to be allowed to reside there permanently.

Split Tooth, Tanya Tagaq, Viking 2018

The Dutch House

The first time our father brought Andrea to the Dutch House, Sandy, our housekeeper, came to my sister’s room and told us to come downstairs.

I changed my mind on this book maybe three – four times. Pretty cover -> meh summary -> positive reviews -> where is this story going? -> Oh. Oh wow.

Wasn’t that an exciting trip to go on?

This book is the house it’s about, but at the same time its story never gets as bright and colourful as the interior of the house. Even before the big thing that changes everything happens, there’s a thick gray layer over not just the people of this story, but the story itself.

It doesn’t make the story less appealing, but it did make me long towards that version of the story: if Ann Patchett would halfway flip to the owners under whom the house prospered, I wouldn’t even have minded and this coming from the woman who despises different times – same houses stories.

Still, the story as it is found its way under my skin. On family, on bitterness, on deciding what you need for yourself instead of for someone else. And in the end – yes: oh wow.

The Dutch House, Ann Patchett, HarperCollins 2019

This Is How It Always Is

But first, Roo was born.

“This sounds like it’s going to hurt. I’m so excited!” Me, after almost two months of disappearing books.

There’s a lot of book clubs connected to this one, and the summary has definitely housewife-novel potential. A happy woman with a house full of boys only to realise – dum dum dum – that her youngest doesn’t want to be a boy. Maybe.

But instead you get what Ducks, Newburyport tried to be. The inner life of a frantic mum who tries and fails to keep all balls up in the air.
Because how do you take care of five children, your job and your husband even with ignoring your own needs and fears?

This Is How It Always Is sets you to thinking about gender and how we view it, how different societies look at the subject differently.

And it definitely shows what the life of a mother entails, how kids and their lives are on one’s mind all-the-time.

It left me staring into the distance after finishing it, considering everything.

This Is How It Always Is, Laurie Frankel, Flat Iron Books 2017

This is Going to Hurt

In 2010, after six years of training and a further six years on the wards, I resigned from my job as a junior doctor.

There’s very little joy to be found here, but heck – even the title tells you that. Besides that, it’s non-fiction and about the NHS (Britain’s national health). Even if you don’t know anything about that subject, the sum of these must ring a small alarm bell.

Adam Kay isn’t a doctor anymore, and these are his diary notes that have led up to that decision. Mostly it’s terribly politics and how hospitals deal with it, but patients don’t go scot-free either. This way even the awkward giggles feel bad because there’s lives at stake here and only those that can’t do anything about it, seem to care.

There are bits when Adam sounds a bit too full of himself, and maybe some more background would be nice, but this is a man’s personal story. Use it as motivation to do your own background research. If you’re sure that you want to know more about the state NHS is in, anyway.

This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay, Picador 2017

Invisible Women

Most of recorded human history is one big data gap.

Good gravy, just when you thought you already knew, things turn out to be so much worse. Next to a sexist gap in pay, safety and health there is a huge one in the thing that drives pretty  much all of society: data.

Why is the default ‘he’? Why is there still a riddle about a doctor whose husband died, and why do too many people involved with design viewing women as ‘men with boobs’? Well, because societies worldwide have made it so, and not enough people in powerful positions protest it. And it turns out to be lethal for women.

Invisible Women isn’t particularly uplifting material: there’s just so many numbers and anecdotes on things that went wrong and are going wrong and men not giving a damn about it. How do we rally for change when the entire history of humanity is against us?

Because in some cases and in some countries things have changed and are changing. And you can never change something you don’t know anything about. And because it might save your life to know.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez, Abrams Press 2019

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Let me begin again.

Golly gosh, how to explain this? It’s a memoir, it’s a fever dream, it’s an obituary – maybe? And did I like all of it, any of it, only the parts that I read at night? It was, in a way, beautiful, though. A kind of experience hard to put into words.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is one of those titles that seem to be singing around in ‘Serious Reader’ circles for a while. It’s not loud enough to feel like it’s been hyped, nor is a celebrity book club attached, but there is the vibe of “Haven’t you read it yet?” around it. To me, anyway.

Ocean Vuong wrote poetry before, and it shows in his descriptions, his look on life, how it feels like he weighed every word before putting it down. It’s in juxtaposition with the subjects he writes down: the suffering of his grandmother and mother, the lack of family, being an immigrant child, being the only different one while growing up. All of it feels absolutely anchor-less.

Can you have an opinion about something that runs through your mind like sand through your hands? I’m sure you can, but I’m just going to stick with ‘an experience’ and a weird feeling of honour that Vuong allowed you in.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong, Penguin Random House 2019