Het geluid van vallende sneeuw

Van bovenaf gezien leek Japan alle beloftes in te lossen.

Net zoals met Krekel, krekel was dit een boek dat ik gedeeltelijk wilde lezen om meer buiten de westerse wereld te lezen. Het geluid van vallende sneeuw scoort daar iets minder op omdat het door een Nederlandse wordt geschreven.

Dit is dan ook één van de punten die ik heb tegen het boek. Vooral in het begin kruipt er af en toe nog wat ‘Rare jongens, die Japanners’ in. Natuurlijk oordelen we vanuit wat we kennen, maar het is toch lastiger kijken naar het onbekende wanneer iemand anders zegt ‘Jeetje, wat vreemd’ voor je zelf dat besluit kunt maken.

De andere punten dan? Die paar pagina’s over Regnerus’ achtergrond halen de complete Huh, Japan-ervaring omlaag, maar dat is het ook wel. Verder laat het verschillende kanten van het land zien, topografisch en sociaal, is de taal benaderbaar en de invalshoek (voor een kunstenaarsbeurs naar de andere kant van de wereld) iets origineler dan Zoek Jezelf.

Niet slecht dus, voor een kijkje in een Aziatisch land. Maar dat zeg ik als onwetende Nederlandse.

Het geluid van vallende sneeuw, Jannie Regnerus, Wereldbibliotheek 2006

Just In Case

The view is fine up here.

Dit was helemaal niet wat ik had verwacht. Er was geen kafttekst en geen bonnetje aan de binnenkant maar ach, het stond in de YA kast en de eerste pagina sprak best aan. Kom maar op dan, het kan alleen maar tegenvallen. En verrassen dus, op het onaangename af.

David maakt iets mee waardoor hij er van overtuigd raakt dat Het Lot het op hem gemunt heeft. Hij verandert zijn naam (Justin) en zijn kledingstijl in de hoop onder de radar te blijven. Een onzichtbare hond en instabiele relaties volgen. Voor een lange tijd laat Rosof het onduidelijk of Justin nu gek is, gelijk heeft, of mentaal aan het lijden is.

Wat wel frappant is, is hoe bijna heel zijn omgeving toelaat dat hij steeds verder ontravelt. Zijn ouders hebben een baby, dus dat hun oudste bij andere mensen slaapt en zijn naam heeft gewijzigd? Och. De ouders van een vriend waar hij blijft? Oh, ja hoor. Niemand die eens tijd investeert in die arme jongen. Behalve zijn jongere broertje, maar die wordt door niemand begrepen.

Het is ruwer en ongemakkelijker en verdrietiger dan verwacht van “maar een YA”, bijna thriller-achtig om sommige momenten. Voor de meer robuuste lezer.

Just In Case, Meg Rosoff, Penguin Books 2006

A Boy’s Guide to Track and Field

Lem woke with a sudden snort.

Ik wist niet wat te verwachten en werd toch teleurgesteld. Nou ja, zelfs teleurstelling is een te groot woord. Het begon interessant en frustrerend, maar verwaterde snel naar een loshangend iets dat alleen bij elkaar werd gehouden omdat het dezelfde karakters bevat.

De 25-jarige Lem zit weer thuis bij zijn moeder en stiefvader. Hij is niet blij met zijn baan, zijn vrienden, zijn liefdesleven .. hij is niet blij. Maar wel op een passieve manier.
Er is een flinke hoeveelheid navelstaarderij tussen terugblikken en conversaties waar Lem altijd te laat aan deelneemt. Het eerste eenderde deel gunt nog een blik in het mannenbrein maar daarna ..komt de lezer terecht in de aantekeningen van de auteur.

Misschien ben ik gewoon niet de lezer voor navelstaarderij en uitzichtloosheid.

A Boy’s Guide To Track And Field, Sabrina Broadbent, Chatto & Windus 2006

Wizard of the Crow

There were many theories about the strange illness of the second Ruler of the Free Republic of Aburiria, but the most frequent on people’s lips were five.

With over 700 pages and a lot of ugly truths about Africa and (Western) society sometimes I lot to work through, but definitely not a book to give up on easily. Because besides the truths and the amount of pages there is humor, a gritty yet warm world-building, satire, lessons about the African continent and some small history lessons.

The Wizard of the Crow has several story lines going on at the same time, but the main ones center on the title character, the woman he meets and the dictator of the country they live in. Turning to magic, having the right and wrong people believe in it, coups, rebels, an insane leader with a God-syndrome and a super religious couple are the cherries on the milkshake.

This book is a – sometimes awkward/uncomfortable – encyclopedia to underline the fact that people outside your culture aren’t less human, weirder or scarier. In the end and beginning of all things, they’re human beings that try to get by in their daily life, in any which way. Even in the fictional country of Aburiria.

The Wizard of the Crow, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Harvill Secker 2006

Black Swan Green

Do not set foot in my office.

How do you review a book in which “just” life happens? Teenage life, to up the ante?

In this semi-autobiographical bildungsroman (Wikipedia’s words, not mine) the reader looks over the shoulder and into the mind of Jason Taylor, a child in the early eighties. At first he’s a floater, not a hero but not a loser either. Things happen and he sinks to the bottom of the food chain. Bullying wasn’t more or less cruel in past years, it still destroys a life.

I really like David Mitchell’s work, how complicated and intricate the story lines are. With some authors it’s risky of them to move from adult to YA/teenager stories, but with Black Swan Green it never feels like Mitchell keeps his foot on the brake or dumbed down his style. There is a feeling of magic realism to all of it, without any hint of the supernatural. The stories of the ordinary, viewed through a new lens.

Black Swan Green, David Mitchell, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd 2006

A Darkling Plain

Theo had been climbing since dawn: first on the steep roads and paths and sheep-tracks behind the city, then across slopes of shifting scree, and up at last on to the bare mountainside, keeping where could to corries and crevices where the blue shadows pooled.

The end of the series. Wars, disputes and moving towns versus static towns come to a climax.

The characters we know are traveling into the four corners of the world, adding more world-building and diverse detail to the known story. Time has passed, the conflict has hardened, conspiracies have bubbled to the surface and the city where it all began – London – seems to be not so very dead after all.

The 500+ pages (about 200 more than the earlier books) may look impressive, but with Reeve’s light, easy style it is impossible not to breeze through them. The characters stick to their characteristics instead of clogging the story up with unnecessary redemptions. Real life happens in a very fantasy world and there’s an ending that will make you weepy. A satisfying conclusion for an original series.

A Dark Plain, Philip Reeve, Scholastic Press 2006

Infernal Devices

At first there was nothing.

Just when you thought Philip Reeve was getting close to stale (more unlikely adventurers and humans-can-be-this-evil bad guys), he turns things upside down and creates with Infernal Devices just another thrilling fantasy novel.

This one starts with a ‘[amount of time] passed’ angle, risky because it can look sloppy (was the author bored of his own work?), but pulls it off with keeping the story close to that in the previous books. This time the protagonist is a daughter of the previous ones, and – not entirely willingly – she drops head first in a lot of adventure.

The world has evolved to war (again), the resistance is fleshed out some more and new parties give the now familiar experience some extra shine. There’s corruption, pirates and (double-)spies, slaves and coming-of-age lessons.

What I continue to like from these books is that one of the main characters is very unlikeable. She has some excuses for her behaviour, but is never woobified or excused. It is what it is and some people simply never change. All too often every character has likeable features, regularly even when it’s the bad guy. Hester continues to be black/white and adds some spice to the story that way.

Infernal Devices, Philip Reeve, Scholastic 2006

On Beauty

One may as well begin with Jerome’s e-mails to his father.

Zadie Smith doesn’t write plots, she creates characters.

On Beauty is an every-day-of-the-life story of the Belsey family. Mother, father, two sons and a daughter in an university town. As the father is white, the mother black and the children (therefore) mixed, daily life involves judgment against skin colour as well. Especially Levi, the youngest son, spends a lot of thought (and action) on his place in society and how his skin colour influences it.

In this daily life there are troubles at the university, affairs, trying to create friendships and children who can’t find their spot in society.  There is no apocalypse, no aliens. Only, almost paralysing painful, human daily life.

This takes some getting used to. The only way the story moves is through time and character depth. Some of the characters keep making the same mistakes, and they are human and threedimensional enough to get under your skin. Don’t read this for an adventure, read this to get to meet new people.

On Beauty, Zadie Smith, Hamilton 2006

The Fledging of Az Gabrielson

The airbus touched down outside the Museum of Arts, Sciences and History and opened its doors to let out thirty students from High Haven senior school.

The fun YA just keeps on coming. This time lodged in a future world where the human race split in two: the Airborn, living in cities high in the sky, supported by huge columns. And the Groundlings, the unlucky few that didn’t evolve into winged humans. Protagonist Az is Airborn, but born without wings, which makes him little better than a Groundling. Good thing that the odd one out usually ends up being the hero.

The Groundlings provide the Airborn with coals, wood, and other things you can’t find kilometers up in the air. But things are changing, less provision is coming up and Az is asked to go down and look around. Of course he discovers more than the authority told him to, he ends up in a revolution and has to run to save his world.

A nicely written world. I can always appreciate proper world-building and although some of the world below reminded me of Mortal Engines, Jay Amory quickly puts you into the thick of it. Light and bright above, dark and drab below. A challenge to put such worlds together.

As first part of a series it’s unclear if Amory will manage to keep the combination of world-building and fun characters up, but even as an one-off, The Fledging of Az Gabrielson is an entertaining read.

The Fledging of Az Gabrielson – The Clouded World Book One, Jay Amory, Orion 2006

The Stolen Child

Don’t call me fairy.

I wanted to read this book as soon as I read a review about it seven years ago. I liked the combination of mythology, the lost children trope and the fairy tale feeling to the entire novel. So now, having read it seven years later, I’m glad it didn’t disappoint.

The Stolen Child is about changelings, children that are stolen and replaced by hobgoblins. In this novel, the reader gets both sides of the stories, the thief and the stolen one. The hobgoblin becomes Henry Day, a seven year old human boy. Henry Day becomes Aniday, the youngest hobgoblin of a small group of them.
Henry Day needs to get used to human life again, needs to remember to age physically, while Aniday needs to get used to nature all around him, no privacy, no hygiene and the loss of his family.

Both of them are aliens ruled by time. Henry Day needs to keep up, while Aniday loses all grip on it. The other hobgoblins, children from other centuries don’t care for it, are fine with their lives and their possible returns to the human world. Because that’s the only goal in life: find a child to change with and become part of a family again.

There is a melancholy to both of their stories, a heaviness that comes with the better (non-Disneyfied) fairy tales. I wish both of them a happy ending.

The Stolen Child, Keith Donohue, Doubleday 2006