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.

Pride

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up.

Pride, Ibi Zoboi, Balzer + Bray 2018

It’s embarrassing how angry this book made me. At myself. Being confronted with racist, classist and other thoughts wasn’t what I was suspecting from reading a YA retelling of Pride and Prejudice, set in contemporary Bushwick (New York City, USA).

So, first of all: “Why has it to be such a big family?” Because it’s just like the original material.

“Why is protagonist Zuri so angry and unyielding all the time?” Because she’s a teenager, of colour, gentrification and poverty.

“Why doesn’t Darius try harder to fit in with the majority?” … and this from a person that proudly called herself ‘alternative’ in high school. Shame on me.

Good thing is that all the frustration was directed at me, because I feel like Zoboi did really well with this. It’s no carbon copy, there’s all the right emotions and worries (now fitting because of puberty and a quickly changing surroundings), and Bushwick and its inhabitants as a welcome third party. Which such people, no wonder Zuri is willing to fight.

A novel like this is the YA that should be heavily promoted and adapted, instead of book 234 out of the CC club. Because a good story comes with insight (of the self), which is a good thing for all ages.

Unreliable narrators and obsession

They must think I don’t have long left, because today they allow the vicar in.

Bitter Orange, Claire Fuller, Fig Tree 2018

I first saw Freya at my high school.

The Swap, Robyn Harding, Simon & Schuster 2020

New template, new way of posting? I read the second book to have something different from the first (because my previously planned book was also in a historic setting), turns out I got another portion of unreliable narrator and obsessive behaviour. Oh, well.

All protagonists are female, how often does the combination of unreliable narrator and obsession happens with male characters? Frances is close to forty, while Low and Jamie are a teen and a thirty-something. The set time period is different as well, but both books end in murder (or do they?).

The Bitter Orange covers up the thriller/mayhem part better, masquerading for a long time as a story of a woman as exciting as a dry black bean in technicolour surroundings. She has to evaluate gardens of a neglected mansion and finds people who have to do something similar, but don’t really do it. They make her think that she could be technicolour, instead.

The Swap on the other hand starts out with a clear manipulator; an ex-social media influencer for Pete’s sake. She twists everyone around her pinky finger, but some you don’t want around your pinky or other body parts…

Both stories have appealingly-written surroundings, dramatic characters and don’t attempt to make you root for them. It’s train wrecks waiting to happen, with an extra point to The Bitter Orange for a more subtle lead-up to the twist.

Neither are stories that will end up on your Best Of-list (probably), but they’re good for what they attempt to be.

She-Ra

65 x 24 min.

Yes, I know, I’m surprised as well. This animated TV-show definitely took me a while to warm up to, and during the first two season (there’s five of them) I wouldn’t even have considered writing a blog about it. Somewhere near the end of season two, and/or the start of season three, it grabbed me. It grabbed me good.

She-RaBefore starting this show, I knew little about the previous incarnations of it and therefore didn’t feel the need to complain about how She-Ra isn’t a full-grown woman this time, nor about the lack of butt and boob shots (in an animated show, yes I know). It also means that I didn’t have any connection to it, and had to invest some time and energy to feel the connection.

She-Ra is fantasy, people with magic, bad guys that want to take it, colourful stuff, talking horses, but also teenagers, queer love, building your own family and views on power and the (ab)use of it. Especially when watching several episodes in a row you might notice some repetition, but as someone who skipped a few (there’s a character I could barely handle) I can say that you can still follow the main plot without confusion.

It’s also fun and bright and there’s so much heart in it, even though the shows of it sometimes made me feel a bit outside of the target audience/too old. Oh, and the animation is nice, instead of that try-hard, ugly as possible “adult” animation we have to suffer all too often.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Netflix 2018

An American Marriage

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home, and those who don’t.

Layers upon layers to uncover and think about in a book that could just be summarised by its title: yep, it’s about a marriage. Between Americans. But these Americans are Black, one of them is wrongfully incarcerated and what is a marriage if it’s largely between people of one is in prison?

This way, Tayari Jones looks at the prison system, racism, the institution of marriage, the first ones in families to go study and the burden that comes with it. This is a story that creeps under the skin, leaves you staring in the distance afterwards – empty and fulfilled at the same time.

Because what would have happened if Roy wouldn’t have been locked up? The marriage wasn’t perfect, but which one is? What if they would never have married? What if they would have grown up in another state or even another country? In what ways is the USA to blame for this entire situation? How is ancestry to blame (if so)?

It’s a testament to Jones’ writing that none of this adds an essay-like feeling to the novel: it’s a story first. A painful one, with glimmers of hope.

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones, Harper Collins 2018

Trail of Lightning

The monster has been here.

More Charlaine Harris (True Blood and the like) than Eden Robinson, but you can’t always win,and at least I was entertained. Maybe I should have known better when discovering that there had been criticisms about this novel, but I very much enjoy the stories of indigenous people, so I was willing to risk it. On the other side, how could I have known if the author was doing something right or wrong with the very little I know about (North-American) indigenous people?

Anyway, hindsight is 20-20 and it wasn’t her representation of the Navajo – wrongfully or otherwise – that bothered me about this novel. It’s the characters, specifically the main character.

I understand that you’re a pretty tortured soul when you’ve gone through what Maggie has gone through and is still going through, but when it only leads to moping and lamenting – all the goodwill evaporates quickly. There are other characters that are more exciting, I would have loved to learn more about the world this plays out in, but instead I get ponderings-while-looking-in-the-mirror. If there would have been more sex and blood, I would have called this a Laurell K. Hamilton.

Coming down largely on the side of ‘meh’, you can skip this one for your dystopian, sci-fi and or not-just-white story needs.

Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse, Simon & Schuster 2018

Rafiki

83 min.

Eindelijk. Rafiki heeft Rafiki omdat het het Swahili-woord voor ‘vriend’ is en homoseksuele koppels vaak als vrienden moeten leven om niet (geweldadig) uit de samenleving verwijderd te worden.

Rafiki film posterDus geen relatie tot de Lion King.

Deze film was voor verschillende festivals uitgekozen en ik kon bijna meer de frustratie herinneren van het te missen in Rotterdam dan wat het verhaal ook al weer was.

Het verhaal is simpel. Twee jonge mensen bevrienden elkaar en worden verliefd op elkaar, maar omdat het allebei vrouwen zijn, zijn er heel veel mensen die dit helemaal gruwelijk vinden.

Daarin ligt ook mijn enige frustratie: wanneer krijgen lesbiennes eens een luchtig niemandalletje (schrijf je dat zo?) van een film waarin het alleen om kalverliefde gaat? Als films met heteroseksuele romances net zo’n hoog percentage van geweld zou hebben, zou de politiek er waarschijnlijk vragen over stellen. Enfin.

Rafiki was het wachten waard door de twee hoofdrolspelers, en door de boodschap waar het mee eindigt.

Rafiki, Shortcut Films 2018

How to Love a Jamaican

The first time I saw Cecilia, she was the only other black girl in our small group during freshman orientation.

I like pleasant surprises.

After a frustrating couple of hours concerning my e-book reader app, I ended up with Libby. To make sure it was the app and not my tablet (six years old), I borrowed something to make sure the novel would show. How to Love a Jamaican was that novel, and it showed.

It’s also a collection of (short) stories, for those that are apprehensive about those (like myself). They all involve a Jamaican, Jamaica and love in some kind of way – self, family, friendships, romantically.

I know that PoC authors and their stories are all too often described as “colourful” or “vibrant” so I’m going to refrain and say that these stories were fun, even when they subject wasn’t. There was a certain kind of life in them, even when you can’t recognise the situation mentioned. Immigration is a part of these stories, but not the story, and – what a surprise – all protagonists go through the same things people in white authored stories go.

All in all, this was a great start with my new reader app and it better continues delivering.

How to Love a Jamaican, Alexia Arthurs, Ballantine Books 2018

Split Tooth

Sometimes we would hide in the closet when the drunks came home from the bar.

I struggled with this one, even though ‘struggle’ feels like too weak a word while at the same time sounding like a complaint.  While I was definitely annoyed, made uncomfortable and felt disgusted by this book, ‘struggle’ feels like I was fighting with the structure or built of the book. While it was the story, the actions, the implications, the anger and danger.

Yeah, all this was a lot.

And if it wouldn’t have been for the ending in which all of it came together so perfectly, so cleansing, so enlightened – I wouldn’t even have reviewed this on Goodreads. I would have been left behind with the aforementioned feelings.

Because Split Tooth isn’t a chronological story or just an ~experience~ or something in between: from time to time I felt like I was reading along with the notes of some world-building deity, but definitely one on a bad day. So much anger and frustration for humanity, but so much love and awe for nature. Is there even a main character, and is she an active or terribly passive one?

Split Tooth doesn’t provide answers or pointers, it’s just there while at the same time clawing at your brain to be allowed to reside there permanently.

Split Tooth, Tanya Tagaq, Viking 2018

The Death of Superman

81 min.

When you realise that you already watched this story, just not animated, five minutes before the end of the film.

the death of supermanI like the animated stuff DC Comics provides. Their style (usually) works, the voice acting works and because I’m not familiar with the majority of the stories, I can’t get frustrated over a film or series “getting it wrong”.

So, yes, this isn’t just a comic but large parts of the plot were used for one of the recent DCEU films as well (Superman? Superman 2?). Yet that one didn’t make enough impact on me to remember the name of, so just stick around for the animation and better dialogue.

I think the thing about DC animation is what gets me is that it reminds me of the excitement you felt as a child: when animation styles were still appealing and the plots exciting. It gives me that Wednesday-afternoon feeling, opposed to the dumbed down stuff that’s around now way too often.

Yes, the comic did it first. But moving pictures and hearing voices add a lot.

Oh, and what it’s about? Superheroes, and villains. Duh.

The Death of Superman, DC 2018