Beschavingen

Er was een vrouw, de dochter van Ketil Platneus, die Aud de Diepzinnige heette en koningin was geweest.

Beschavingen, Laurent Binet, Meulenhoff 2020

Ik ben een grote fan van ‘wat-als’-verhalen, en Binet’s vorige was mij ook zeer positief blij gebleven, maar in dit geval leverden beiden niet wat ik verwachtte: een boek dat je niet opzij kunt leggen.

Deze keer gaat het om kolonisatie en dan vooral van Midden- en Zuid-Amerika. Wat als Europeanen dat niet was gelukt, en de Inka’s deze kant op waren gekomen? Een flinke ‘wat-als’, en op deze manier eens de bekende geschiedenis bekijken: prima ja graag.

Het eerste dat mij stoorde was de aanwezigheid van de auteur, die heb ik er nooit graag bij. Daarna zwalkte de toon soms naar geschiedenisdocent in plaats van roman; encyclopendieën lezen nu eenmaal minder lekker weg.

Tot slot, al is dit zeer persoonlijk, vind ik het jammer dat er maar een klein tijdbestek is ingezet. Hoe had dit impact op gouden eeuwen, de VOC, Noord-Amerika en andere continenten? Wanneer ging het mis, als het mis zou gaan?

Dit voelde vooral als een opzetje dat Michael Bay of Mel Gibson gaat gebruiken voor een verfilming in weinig meer dan naam zodat er veel bloed kan vloeien. Amalfi (Italië) zal ze vast verwelkomen voor mooie plaatjes.

The Farm

The emergency room is an assault.

The Farm, Joanne Ramos, Doubleday 2019

I expected this to be sharper. Almost halfway in I commented that I was hoping that the author would deliver on what she was promising. She didn’t. This is a clear example of a novel that would have blown the mind of someone less well-read and well-informed. I know that sounds snobbish, but it’s the truth in this case: the ideas used in this novel are quite Body Sovereignty 101 and What Are The Limits of Capitalism 101. You might be curious about learning more, but for those that already did, it leaves you feeling a bit without direction.

The Farm is a very luxurious place where (implied illegal) immigrant women are surrogates for very rich families. For nine months they are pampered, kept from their usual lives and financially rewarded for several reasons. They’re also not allowed to have too many emotions, share too much personal information and contact anyone outside. They’re endlessly (physically) checked out and basically just viewed and handled as walking wombs.

Jane comes from the Philippines, is a young mother and tries to better her life for her daughter. She starts out as a nanny, but something happens which cuts off that line of work.

Sharing more would spoil some of the plot lines that are nicely knitted together, but simply miss spark. Do I need to be angry? Horrified? Was this all just a pamphlet?

I guess I’m still in the market for something that teaches me more about surrogacy and/or rich people that need to be stopped.

Recently watched

A collection of films that definitely show my versatile watch list and/or all-over-the-place taste.

Jane Wants a Boyfriend – romcom with the main character being on the spectrum. The acting and dialogue isn’t all that, and some dialogue is (quite) outdated, but changing just one element shows that that you don’t need much to add a bit of fresh air to the genre.

If anything happens I love you – twelve minute animation about parents of a child killed in a school shooting. In case you need a quick sob.

My thoughts during Bloodshot:
– why is Vin Diesel still trying the humorless tough guy thing?
– Did Amalfi (Italy) get some kind of Hollywood deal? It’s everywhere!
– The villain gets a musical number?
– Woman fridged? Check.
– Don’t watch this if you’re not good with creepy crawlers.
– At least there’s no pretense here: this is for everyone who wants six minute long action scenes, again and again.
– A twist! Without a satisfying pay off!
All this could have happened in the early 2000s, but I guess companies weren’t clamouring to turn every comic book into a mediocre action film then.

Bumblebee

114 min.

I wrote ‘Hailee Steinfeld surprised me again’ in a review, fully believing that I had already reviewed this film and therefore could connect to it. Reader, I didn’t. Maybe because I was too surprised about liking a Transformers-film? I can hear my brothers sneering that “robots aren’t so dumb after all, eh?”. Anyway, this is a review for the film Bumblebee.

I can still remember the director of this mentioning how this would be an origins-film with heart, similar to The Iron Giant. I can remember because I scoffed at that, loudly. After Michael Bay’s nonsense with endless fight scenes, explosions and jokes about primary and secondary sexual body parts, the bar was below the floor. Try not to have your Transformer sound like a black rapper-cliché first before saying such things, director (they’re two different people, Michael wasn’t involved in this one). Not pestered by nostalgia, I was ready to watch this film with half an eye and still complain the entire way (I’m sure sometimes we pick films/series that can be followed with just half of our interest).

Except for the first couple of minutes, there’s very few robots in this, and because of certain reasons the main one can’t even talk. That’s one point in their favour. Next is – I will absolutely admit it – the fact that Bumblebee is quite adorable and main character Charlie (Steinfeld) really plays well off him. There’s so many charming moments that this could be called a “boy and his dog”-film, instead of it being Actiony Adventure (capitals essential). Bumblebee (not his first name, by the way) is on the run, Charlie is feeling alone and misunderstood, of course they find each other.

Another plus in my book is that there’s room for development of their relationship. Not just a five minute montage to quickly move on to fighting robots and exploding buildings – we get a glimpse at Charlie’s motivations and what’s going on with Bumblebee. Wow.

The run length completes my compliment-trifecta (not going to read back to see if I have three compliments): yes, it’s almost two hours, but you don’t notice because aforementioned room for development. I would have zoned out by number three of six action scenes in a row, but now I didn’t even want to pause for a bathroom break. This film had me.

And yes, just like The Iron Giant, it also made me cry at the end.

Edge of Seventeen

104 min.

I really didn’t expect to like this so much: just another American teen movie about a girl that’s struggling through growing up. Yes, we all did or do, boohoo. Honestly, I was expecting so little that I picked it so I could watch it with one eye on the screen and the other my book/phone/tablet.

Instead, I got a film that hit so close to home that it made me squirm. Good gravy, I was a brat. Good god, and not even an original one, look at Nadine go. Gosh darn, at least she has some solid excuse for this behaviour.

Because she does, partly – and it’s not just ‘puberty’, but I don’t want to spoil things. Hailee Steinfeld pleasantly surprised me again, all characters involved deserved their spot and managed not to be complete stereotypes: I’m still flabbergasted, I think.

So, maybe, only watch this without remembering how I admit to being almost a carbon copy to this main character. Or cut me some slack: you were probably a teen some time during your life as well.

Aria

Mehri opened her eyes.

Aria, Nazanine Hozar, Alfred Knopf 2019

This one also stemmed from a positive review. And okay, the beautiful cover that looks like there’s fabric involved – here we judge books by covers.

Aria plays out through several decades in Iran, ending in the 1980s. For a lot of unhappy elements (the baby is left behind to be found by an unhappy family, for starters) it’s not Aria’s story that makes this novel from time to time depressing: it’s the world around her.

There’s a lot of different tribes and people living in the country, and they all want revolution in different ways. In the same way there’s struggles between religions and different ways of poverty. The things Aria is put through mirror these issues, but she’s never just a metaphor. Sometimes she’s such a brat that the society that made her is easy to forget – good God, teenagers.

This novel made me more interested about the country, its history and the author. I read its entirety from a phone screen (thanks, Libby!) and still managed to do so in under a week (over 800 pages). There’s a clear appeal here.

So now I’m back to where I started: you never know if you can trust a positive review.

Trust Exercise

Neither can drive.

Trust Exercise, Susan Choi, Henry Holt and Company 2019

What an utter load of twatwaffle no doubt disguised as High Literature because there is a load of teens fucking in it, it described in all kind of visuals and all this done by a female author.

What a disappointment. This is one of those titles that drew my eye, lost my attention because of the summary, only to regain it because of a solid review – I think (I can’t even remember). This isn’t just a love story between different worlds, there is A Twist and boy – hold onto your panties for that one! When does the twist happen? In the last forty pages out of the 250. Is it satisfying and/or satisfyingly explained? No. Are there any explanations for the behaviour of these Cool Guys and Girls? Barely. Is all this written in such a way that you understand that this is DEEP? Sadly, yes.

Boo, I hate such a severe disappointment. The twist could have done something, but I was browbeaten into absolutely passive not-caring long before that. Yes, I’m going to make a bad pun to finish this off: this trust exercise failed massively.

Seven Fallen Feathers

You see, the giant Nanabijjou made a deal.

Seven Fallen Feathers; Racism, death and hard truths in a Northern city, Tanya Talaga, Anansi Press 2017

I honestly don’t understand why there isn’t a massive uprising worldwide because of all of the abuse indigenous people have been put through. Well, I do understand, but I don’t. No, this isn’t a light, happy read.

Seven Fallen Feathers are seven indigenous teenagers that are mauled, killed and spit out by a society that doesn’t have any room for them and doesn’t care about it either. This is Canada, but I’m sure it can be applied worldwide. Tanya Talaga gathers information about cases in the past decade that have been – one after another – just written off as accidents while plenty of signs point to the opposite. While doing that, she also shows life for indigenous people in Canada, their history and contemporary reality of endless racism and abuse and the government that is supposed to care be absolutely uncaring.

It’s an endless train wreck; after a while you just know not to expect better from police, society and government. The hand dealt is five fingers short and rotten thoroughly, but only excuses follow.

For someone who fell in love with the country, it’s an ugly eye-opener. But looking away leads to ignorance, and that’s never a good thing. Through all this, Talaga manages to show the beautiful sides, the strange and wonderful sides of the indigenous people. If only more would see.

Recently on Kanopy

A summary.

Free Fall (Freier fall) “The German Brokeback Mountain“. Sweet, sometimes sexy, but sadly also straight from the Gay Drama Clichés Play Book – including biphobia.

Kedi a Turkish documentary about the special connection the city Istanbul (and its inhabitants) has with (street) cats. Prepare yourself for burly men softened up by kittens, beautiful shots and a whole other view on Turkey.

What will people say (Hva vil folk si) shows a Norwegian teen getting the short stick in the culture clash between I- and we-cultures. It’s sad and frustrating and completely carried by the main actor.

De paradox van geluk

Voorjaarssneeuw, holten in de grond verstild tot witporseleinen kommen.

De paradox van geluk, Aminatta Forna, Nieuw Amsterdam 2018

Van sommige boeken is het makkelijk onthouden dat je ze hebt uitgekozen door een recensie, zeker als dat recent is gebeurd. Jammere in dit geval is dat ik niet weet wat mij aanstond in die recensie om dit boek te kiezen, en dat ik na het lezen van het boek nog steeds niet weet waarom die recensie schijnbaar zo positief was.

Het flauwste is dat dit boek niet slecht is: het is niet slecht geschreven, naar of saai. Er zijn elementen die het echt op hadden kunnen trekken naar een boek dat je de adem beneemt en je helemaal toegewijd maakt aan de levens van de hoofdpersonen. In plaats daarvan is de stijl zo koeltjes, de karakters zo passief dat het allemaal maar kabbelt.

En dat met een Amerikaanse die in Londen is gaan wonen om stadsvossen te onderzoeken. Een man die jarenlang in oorlogsgebieden heeft gewerkt met psyche en nu in Londen verschillende draden probeert op te pakken en aan andere eindjes te knopen. Een vermist kind, de verschillende klassen in de stad en de angst van de mens van ‘wilde natuur’. Er zijn verschillende onderwerpen en vraagstukken die interessant zijn en tot denken aanzetten, maar dan alweer uit beeld worden geschoven of halfhartig worden afgehandeld.

Niet elke auteur kan meerdere plots even succesvol jongleren en overeind houden. Als Aminatta Forna (of haar redacteur) wat duidelijker keuzes had gemaakt, hadden we de diepte in gekund. Nu is er alleen gedobber, met wat schouderophalen.