Before We Were Yours

My story begins on a sweltering August night, in a place I will never set eyes upon.

Adoption isn’t an easy subject, but the historical story line of Before We Were Yours shows at the very least how it definitely shouldn’t be handled.

There are two story tellers in this novel about an “orphanage” that basically stole children from poor people and sold them to rich families. One is the girl and her siblings that go through it, the other connected to her through different generations. This element sometimes makes it a little bit Lifetime-ish, although her motivations for discovering more are at first more political than personal. ie the sob story starts later into the story.

Weaved in between these two is a romance that isn’t quite necessary, but not horribly done either. I feel like the subject is what elevates this novel from being just another one of the paperbacks your gran reads and pushes upon you because it’s “so exciting”. It’s an easy, accessible read, but the horror of the “orphanage” and the reality on which its based, is what gives the story its pull.

Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate, Penguin Random House LLC 2017

Ali’s Wedding

110 min.

Did I watch this before, or is the story just too familiar? Which would be sad, because why are multiple people in the twenty-first century still telling their children which career and which life partner to pick?

Alis Wedding imdbThis story is based on real life events, with the author playing the male lead – and I guess originator of the confusion created by lying. First he lies about getting into medicine (he doesn’t), then ends up engaged to someone he doesn’t want to be engaged to, and then there’s the temporary marriage to someone else. Oh, and being banned from the USA for a play, but that might have been the result of the man’s honesty.

All this might make it sound like a comedy of errors, but underneath always runs the line of being stuck between cultures. Ali’s Iraqi in Australia, and no matter how much his father knows about many things; he doesn’t understand that his son doesn’t want to become a doctor and doesn’t want an arranged marriage. He’s not the only one suffering, and the film gives a bit of room to others to show so.

This time, there’s a happy ending (in a way), but this film might serve as a reminder that there’s plenty people stuck, and that some things can’t be solved by musicals in mosques (honestly, does that happen? The more you know).

Ali’s Wedding, Netflix 2017

 

 

Het achtste leven (voor Brilka)

Eigenlijk heeft dit verhaal meer dan één begin.

Is het te vroeg in het jaar om te zeggen dat ik mijn beste boek van 2019 heb gelezen? Want oef, dit is een boek zoals je het wilt hebben, dat je het niet weg kunt leggen, dat het stukjes in jezelf raakt waarvan je niet eens af wist (of af wilt weten). Tegelijkertijd begrijp ik dat dit gigantisch persoonlijk is, hoe een boek je aanspreekt.

Dus raad ik dit boek aan voor de mensen die van familie ‘epics’ houden: verhalen die decennia overbruggen binnen één familie. Het boek is ook voor mensen die in geschiedenis geïnteresseerd zijn: een heel groot deel van het boek speelt zich af in twintigste-eeuws Sovjet plus Georgië (dat natuurlijk ook om de zoveel tijd onder de Sovjet viel).

En dan kan ik het ook nog aanraden omdat alle hoofdpersonen vrouwen zijn. Ja, niet de vriendelijkste, vrolijkste types, en ze maken ook dingen mee die je geen mens toewenst. Maar als je eenmaal begint, is het moeilijk stoppen. Het achtste leven is voor Brilka, al die anderen zijn voor de lezer.

Het achtste leven (voor Brilka), Nino Haratischwili, Atlas Contact 2017

Coco

109 min.

Is de kerstvakantie compleet zonder een animatiefilm? Voor hen die dat ook voelen: Coco nu op Netflix te vinden.

coco_2017The Book of Life deed het al een paar jaar geleden: Dia de Muertos gebruiken. Deze keer komt Miguel in het land der doden terecht omdat hij zijn familie probeert te ontsnappen (zij haten muziek, hij wilt alleen maar muziek maken), en ontdekt daar dingen over zichzelf en zijn familie. Zoals dat gaat.

Het ziet er allemaal weer heel mooi uit (zeker aan de dode kant), en enkele keren lijkt het zelfs meer dan het standaard plastic randje dat elke grote animatiestudio zo graag schijnt te gebruiken. Waarom heb ik alleen weer het gevoel dat Disney waar voor je geld wilt leveren, en de film weer net iets te lang is? Op deze manier wordt het tempo uit het verhaal gehaald, waardoor het meer een gevalletje ‘Oh wat mooi’ wordt in plaats van ‘Oh wat emotioneel/spannend/gaaf’.

Aan de andere kant; ruimte voor een plaspauze – zeker als je het met jongere kinderen en/of veel drankjes kijkt – is nooit weg.

Coco, Disney 2017

 

Run, Hide, Repeat

I was running along the Upper Blandford Road this morning, watching the little islands emerge from the morning mist, when I came upon a fisherman stacking lobster traps by his shed.

Truth again turns out to be stranger than fiction in this story that might make you repeatedly check if it really isn’t a dramatised/fictionalised version of events. That also means that pretty much everything I will put down here could be considered as spoilers, but at the same time you could look up the author and possibly learn the entire story without ever opening the book. Hm.

During a big part of her childhood, Pauline, her mother and her brother are on the run. She’s told why in her early twenties, but that doesn’t exactly put a halt to the running. There’s two large twists (do you call it twists when it happens in real life?) in this story, and Dakin writes with the right amount of insecurity (is it me, is this really happening?) to – as a reader – keep doubting things as well, even when rationale starts popping up.

This way it continues to feel like a slightly laughable and surreal story, instead of paint-by-numbers memoir of someone growing up in seventies Canada. The Mounties don’t even show up until the end.

So, you could read this one for several reasons. If you like memoirs, if you like truth-is-stranger-than-fiction, if you like a detective element without any detectives involved, if you want a slice of life view of seventies Canada.

Run, Hide, Repeat: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood, Pauline Dakin, Viking 2017

Welcome to Lagos

Evening swept through the Delta: half an hour of mauve before the sky bruised to black.

I read books situated in South America and Asia and Africa to remember that Western culture and/or society isn’t the only one on this planet. With Welcome to Lagos I sometimes felt like I was ready a satire of how people think about African cultures. Surely it isn’t really like that? But when a (semi-)local is writing about it, you might take their word for it. And see that some known things about African countries aren’t exaggerated.

In this story the reader follows people from different walks of life that come together in Lagos. And Lagos is a creature, not just a city. The country of Nigeria is a beast, and the different people living in it are sometimes prey, sometimes predator. I’m not just talking about literal, military violence, but about poverty and corruption as well. And yet, these people find each other and connect in some way.

It’s a story about people functioning (in some way) in a country that isn’t even half way there on the road to whatever. As an ignorant white person I was surprised by the casual poverty and people abusing it, by the reach of the corrupted in power. As mentioned before – is it really that bad?

It’s with credit to the author that it doesn’t turn into one long complaint about the city and its civilians. Welcome to Lagos feels like something you could read for Anthropology class: to make sure you see the people not the system.

Welcome to Lagos, Chibundu Onuzo, Faber & Faber 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

When people ask me what I do–taxi drivers, hairdressers–I tell them I work in an office.

Seems like my streak of entertaining and enthralling reads is still going on. Hurray for making the right decisions!

Some people told me that this was a romance, making me frown a bit when getting to know Eleanor Oliphant. First of all, she isn’t in the right state of mind for a romance, secondly, a romance with whom? Do women always need a romantic relationship to show personal growth?

Luckily those people were wrong, Eleanor shows growth because she has to and wants to, and -gasp- is allowed a relationship with a man that isn’t a romantic one. Apologies, that’s a mild spoiler.

As I say so often: if this would have been written by a male author, and the protagonist male, it might have been viewed as Deep and slice-of-life instead of the quick rejection of calling it chicklit because it involves women living life. Eleanor Oliphant showcases character building, motivations and lessons learned without any of it being obnoxious. While being funny from time to time as well.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman, Viking 2017