In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her.
This is an author of which I like his stories, and usually his detached way of writing, yet find it hard to put into words what I precisely like about both things mentioned.
This time he manages to make the refugee story (people fleeing versus people accepting and or fighting their addition to their familiar surroundings) slightly magical and/yet apocalyptic. Because the main characters are refugees, but they manage to leave their country through a door, a black hole, that can appear behind any door. This means that people from all around the world appear all around the world without the lethal trips and troubles.
But after that, there’s still acceptance to fight for. The book is pretty evenly divided between before, during and after the migratory moves and changes. This way you don’t have to think about the ever after, Hamid provides.
In the end, it’s kind of a hopeful story with plenty of realism to make you feel better about the subject.
Exit West, Mohsin Hamid, Hamish Hamilton 2017
It is nearly dawn, and the semi-darkness casts strange shadows along the footpath.
Do you need to use trigger warnings when the trauma shown is part of history? White Chrysanthemum is about (Korean) comfort women, used in the Second World War. If you don’t know what that means, it means rape.
White Chrysanthemums are flowers of mourning (for the Koreans), so don’t expect a clean escape as a reader either. This is a story of one of the many, both of the side of those left behind and those taken.
And yet, or maybe because of that, Mary Lynn Bracht manages to show such an appealing, visually attractive and easily to envision world and surroundings. Maybe to show that through it all, the environment will continue existing. Maybe to show that no matter how ugly the actions of humans, the world will keep turning. Maybe the author is just really good in descriptions.
The stories of Emi and Hana are worth your time. Not just to learn, but maybe also in a way – to mourn. That they were far from the last female victims of war crimes, even if it was less than hundred years ago.
White Chrysanthemum, Mary Lynn Bracht, Chatto & Windus 2018
They were saying that all appointments were canceled, indefinitely, that it was the end of everything, but why would they assume that?
Last time I read this author I wasn’t quite sure how to recommend the book, and this time it isn’t much different. There’s an appeal to his writing, but the story? Not just a collection of too human people (you start with the honeymoon phase and you end up wanting to throttle them), but mostly not much happens? So why would I still, pretty surely, recommend this novel?
Maybe because it offers an uncensored view of “normal” Americans outside one of the well known states. Small town in Massachusetts in the aftermath of 9/11, but soon moving their attention back to their small town politics and each other. Not even the rich outsider can change that (permanently).
I like family sagas, following the same people through time and (family) issues. Usually I try to pick less familiar surroundings than western society, but these people are so alienating in their paranoid and petty thoughts, that things turn out pretty exotic after all.
The Locals, Jonathan Dee, Random House 2017
On the day of the new president’s inauguration, when we worried that he might be murdered as he walked hand in hand with his exceptional wife among the cheering crowds, and when so many of us were close to economic ruin in the aftermath of the mortgage bubble, and when Isis was still an Egyptian mother-goddess, an uncrowned seventy-something king from a faraway country arrived in New York City with his three motherless sons to take possession of the palace of his exile, behaving as if nothing was wrong with the country or the world or his own story.
The first #readathon book, my second Rushdie. I picked this book because a review made it sound like satire about the present American president. You could say that a character shows up with definite resemblance to the man, but he’s a side character of a side character. And with the actions of this president … there’s a thin line between satire and reality here.
So what is The Golden House about? The family Golden, rich immigrants come to New York City. They’re leprechaun gold, new money, and it mesmerises main character René, a (script) writer. Mesmerised turns into obsessed and entangled, which makes an exciting story, but makes several victims.
In the end you might agree with this being satire about the present American president, maybe not so much solely him, but also the world he came from and the inhabitants of that world who are sure that everything can be bought. The very rich society of Manhattan is almost as alien as creatures from a science fiction story, these just have more influence on our media and politicians.
The Golden House, Salman Rushdie, Random House 2017
Zolang de historische mensheid bestaat, heeft zij het tafereel gekend van een eenzame man, oog in oog met zijn vernietiging, belichaamd tegenover hem in een college mannen, dat de samenleving vertegenwoordigt.
Om ons te schamen, hoeveel opmerkingen en ideeën uit dit boek (uit 1962) zo in het hedendaagse geplakt kunnen worden. De schuld die bij de slachtoffers gelegd wordt, “kunnen we nu er niet eens over ophouden”, het afschrijven van acties als ‘monsterlijk’ of ‘onmenselijk’ om zo geen verantwoordelijkheid te nemen. Combineer dit met de afwisselende beelden van Israël en hoe men zich er doorheen beweegt (van de Amerikaanse toeristen tot de journalisten) en je kan heel dit boek makkelijk afschrijven als te vreemd/grof/surrealistisch om waar te zijn.
Maar ja, tussendoor is er nog een zaak tegen Adolf Eichmann in Israël, de zaak uit de titel, de nazi die één van de hoofdverantwoordelijken was voor de Holocaust. Het boek is gedateerd, door de taal en sommigen van de gedachten, maar de conclusies zijn duidelijk.
Je zou denken dat we ten eerste dit allemaal al weten en ten tweede er ook naar leven, maar haha. Net zoals de herdenking elk jaar weer wordt betwist, is het lezen van zulke boeken, zo’n zestig jaar later, zeker ook nog nodig. Omdat beide opties niet als waarheid zijn aan te nemen.
De zaak 40/61, Harry Mulisch, De Bezige Bij 2010
“I can’t believe you ordered that.”
This gives you much more to think about than you might expect looking at the cover and summary. All that, and some fun and heart!
Main character Janey is told by her friend and business partner Beau that she’s getting fat and that he can’t have that. Because of their toxic relationship, she just doesn’t laugh in his face, but attempts to change her “fat” body. Probably also because he doesn’t want her in the office until things change; it’s that kind of toxic relationship.
What follows is all kinds of exercise someone with less free time on their hands probably couldn’t come up with. This happening in New York City makes the divide between satire and reality quite thin sometimes.
But the best part is probably how much Janey discovers about herself, her body and how society views it. How she starts to have fun with food, dating and exercise (all is that one based on dodgy ground). Maybe you’ll be motivated to start exercising, but have at least your take away from this novel be that it’s your body and your decisions.
Fitness Junkie, Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza, Doubleday 2017