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
7 x 45 min.
Also known as Most Beautiful Thing, and it definitely is pretty to look at. With it being centered around a musical café it’s not bad to listen to either.
But what’s going on? A Brazilian housewife in the fifties follows her husband from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro only to discover he disappeared with all her money, leaving her indebted and without direction. Now what? Her image destroyed, her bank account empty, time to find a new husband!
Except she doesn’t want to. They had dreams of starting a restaurant, now she decides on starting a jazz club. As a naive little housewife there are plenty of things she has to learn while working against sexism, the previous mentioned debts and her parents. Good thing there are female friends that suffer (in other ways) along with her.
And all that in beautiful, bright surroundings (are so many shows and films so dark these days or is it just my screen settings?) that add a little bit extra to the trope of ‘woman recognises her worth and comes into her own’. Oh and yes, it’s in Portuguese, so you might have to get used to the idea of reading subtitles.
Coisa Mais Linda, Netflix 2019
This school year they’ve upped the To Read ante: eight books and four short stories. After having read the eight books in the past three weeks, I can say the following: so called classics are hella depressing and the themes are all the same: love, aggression, money. With ‘class’ being a good runner up.
Which ones did I read?
- The Great Gatsby
- Great Expectations
- A Clockwork Orange
- The Handmaid’s Tale
- The Importance of Being Earnest
- A Streetcar Named Desire
And the short stories:
- The cask of Amontillado
The Force of Circumstance
A Room of One’s Own (chapter 3)
The Garden party
Which ones did I like? Well, about that. Reading the lot of them in one go really drives how similar they are. A Clockwork Orange is much more violent than the others, but it’s all about unhappy people – usually men – in a world that isn’t all that either. The comedies were a breath of fresh air, and Othello wins for most well-meaning but utterly naive protagonist.
All the short stories seemed to have in common was superficiality (and some unhappy men). I’m glad Victoria Woolf didn’t disappoint, although it was frustrating to see how recognisable her thoughts and issues (from almost a century ago) are.
I have yet to discuss these in a school setting, so who knows which insights might still follow, but for now? We need new classics.
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
13 x 30 minutes
For someone who doesn’t have children, nor wants them, The Letdown has plenty recognisable situations that make you think that mothers aren’t a completely different species (yes, I know!).
In this Australian show the viewer follows around different (new) mums from different backgrounds and in different surroundings. But even though they are introduced through a mum-related event, the show doesn’t turn them solely into ‘mothers’. Children have upended the lives of these women (and their partners), and that’s where the relatable part comes in.
Even when these women are in different times in their lives, they all struggle (more or less) with romance, health, personal time, family etc. It’s small things, frustrating things, and sometimes so secondhand embarrassing that it’s hard not to look away. Please, just admit that you were wrong, right or uncomfortable, aren’t you too old for such behaviour come on.
I guess not, and that’s also what elicits chuckles besides rolling eyes. Good thing you can’t blame children or partners on bad decisions, no matter how old you are. There’s plenty of us that do so, and it’s nice to see that.
The Letdown, Netflix 2017
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
How much better would this movie have been with a female main character, and are there are well-known singers that have covered The Beatles?
Of course, it’s considerate that they didn’t make the entire cast of this film about one guy bringing The Beatles music to the masses white. The Beatles were white, after all. All this playing out in England, with a large immigrant population – why not have the protagonist be of Indian descent? Is it sad that we have to applaud this happening? Yeah.
Anyway, the plot. After a strange occurrence is Jack the only one that recognises The Beatles and their impact on music and pop culture. Having struggled as an artist before, he decides on bringing their music into the world again, working hard to remember all those lyrics. And getting incredibly famous on the way because wow – what music!
Along the way there are some Life Lessons and sometimes you wonder why Jack makes the decisions he does, but in a world where every other movie is a sequel or a reboot, it’s a slight fresh breath of air in the theatre. Or on any streaming service it will soon hit, no doubt.
Yesterday, Working Title 2019
They say there’s a fine line between love and hate.
Queer teenage witches! And it shows, in this YA, littering the story with some bad decisions and Very Emotional Moments. Because: teenagers.
Main character Hannah is a real witch, living in Salem, and trying to keep her and her family’s magic a secret from those that are ordinary humans. It gets harder when attacks start to happen, her ex-girlfriend attempts to get her back while at the same time moving on with someone else, a cute new girl arrives and her coven puts down the law on magic use. Basically ordinary teenage life, indeed.
It might be testament to Isabel Sterling’s writing that sometimes it’s all very teenager, making everyone and their decisions a bit too annoying and young for this reader. This is balanced out by Hannah’s sweet thoughts and emotions about her sexuality and crush(es), and honestly – hasn’t anyone had their Teenage Moments.
As is my usual complaint; more world building would have been welcome, but for those that are always on the look out for more queer YA: These Witches Don’t Burn is a proper one.
These Witches Don’t Burn, Isabel Sterling, Penguin Random House 2019
Maia woke with his cousin’s cold fingers digging into his shoulder.
I hate to copy someone’s review but yes: if you’re about court stories, intrigue and politics in a fantasy setting, this one will do you real good. No need to call it Game of Thrones but with goblins: there’s not enough mass slaughter and incest for that. It (looks to be) is a stand alone as well, which doesn’t happen to often in fantasy either. And how often do goblins get their chance in the sun?
Well, in this book not all the time either. These are elvish countries after all, and freshly made emperor Maia is …not like the usual people in charge. He’s far from prepared for his new role, and there’s little people eager to help him out.
That’s where politics and intrigue come in. Sometimes there’s so many names and roles that it’s best just to cling to the story line, but it never turns into a list of characters. The glances at the world throughout make you long for more; another main story line about ordinary life in this steam punk-ish world would have been welcome.
All in all, it’s a solid, traditional built and written fantasy with some freshness coming from the steam punk elements (could have been more, but that’s world-building-loving me) and goblins in the spotlight.
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison, Tor 2014