The Shape of Family

Karina sat outside the principal’s office, kicking her feet against the wooden bench.

The Shape of Family, Shilpi Somaya Gowda, Harper Collins 2019

This probably pulled me in with its promise of ~dark~ family problems, but it turns out that the problems are dark in the most sad and depressing way and as a reader you’re just the bystander of seeing trauma tear a family unit into half-drowning islands.

The thing is: it’s not unrealistic that people that have bad things happen to them continue to have bad things happen to them. Sometimes they just seem to be magnets. But it is written in such a focused way that it seems only to be about scoring sadness points. {this is were mild spoilers follow} From death to separation to self harm and relational abuse: a large part of the 300 pages is just heaping it on. What am I reading this for: to learn how bad things happen?

Besides that; if it would have been written wonderfully and mind-blowing: okay. There’s no original idea in the world left anyway. But this just felt like we were going through the motions in hope of attaining some emotional response. I honestly should start writing down where I get my recommendations from.

Fighting With My Family

108 min.

Can you call a story clichéd if it’s based on a true story? Because Fighting With My Family goes through several well-used tropes (unlikely hero, successful comeback after a lowest moment), but uh – guess it all really happened, so do you judge a story on it?

The family mentioned is a boxing family from Greenwich. All four are in the ring (the fifth is in jail), but the children aim for the gold: becoming a part of WWE. The family expects the son to get it (at least), but it’s the daughter. This causes a rift.

One that will be mended through True Familial Love, after some solo hardships and end with a successful comeback. It’s marketed as a comedy, but I’d say “slice of life”/”coming of age” with both siblings learning what they want and can expect from life. With some laughs, that’s true.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, Elif Shafak, Penguin Random House UK 2019

Wow. Meestal schrijf ik Engels-gelezen verhalen ook in het Engels op, maar deze keer (en mogelijk het tijdstip – laat opgebleven om het uit te lezen) voelt de taal ontoereikend. Wat een mooi boek, wat een mooi verhaal terwijl er zoveel lelijke gebeurtenissen zijn. Wat een hoeveeheid liefde: voor de hoofdpersoon, haar zelfgekozen familie en ook de stad Istanbul. Wat een plaatjes, ook van de gruwelijke dingen en nare situaties. Wat een alles.

Tequila Leila is dood. Vermoord. Behalve haar laatste tien minuten mogen we ook haar leven en haar beide families – bloed en liefde – ontmoeten. Een meisje dat opgroeit halverwege de twintigste eeuw in een klein dorpje, bijna in de knop gedingest voor ze kan bloeien, en dan nog Istanbul in. Waar ze leeft, overleeft, geeft. Het zou zonde zijn om meer te vertellen, alleen erover vertellen geeft mij al de neiging om het boek opnieuw te beginnen.

Het is een fragiel sprookje, een mozaïek van een levende stad (ook iets waar ik zo van houd, de stad als personage), een ode aan eigenheid. Bovenal zo mooi, zo goed, zo sprankelend prachtig.

Foster

113 min.

Documentaire over Amerikaanse pleegouders en de organisatie die daar (letterlijk en figuurlijk) achter zit.

Van adoptie is veel bekend, maar ik heb het idee dat men vaak vergeet wat pleegouders en -familie allemaal doen. Nu zal het in Nederland vast wel (iets) anders zijn, maar voor iemand die wel eens in contact komt met uithuisplaatsing, ruzie met pleeggezinnen en dergelijke vond ik het interessant genoeg om over de landsgrenzen te kijken.

Mooi van deze documentaire vond ik dat de toon heel neutraal blijft (geen “alles is kut” noch “dit is werk van engelen”), en dat alle betrokkenen aan het woord komen. Organisatie, pleegouders, pleegkinderen maar ook de rechtsorganen die er mee gemoeid zijn. Het draagt allemaal bij aan het plaatje van hoeveel (mensen)werk het is.

Verschillende casussen worden gevolgd en zo kom je zonder een spectaculair hoog tempo aan bijna twee uur film.

En het klopt: het is verre van perfect, maar zeker noodzakelijk en een verbetering van de status quo. Gegoten in een interessante vorm, (ook) voor hen die er misschien nooit mee te maken zullen hebben.

The Nickel Boys

Even in death the boys were trouble.

The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead, Doubleday 2019

I read stories by Colson Whitehead before and even though I know their subjects are heavy (Black American history, racism), there’s a certain atmosphere to them that still makes them easy to read. Like there’s a layer between the reader and the story, but the reader can feel how fragile it is.

This time it’s about a Correctional Facility (add air quotes at your own convenience) in Florida that was created in times of segregation and still works along those lines when the reader gets there. Entwined with that story are also jumps back and forward in time to show black American lives and the impact incarceration (directly and indirectly) has on them.

What I liked on top of everything else is the nicely hidden away twist: I felt like a numpty to not have picked it up, and that means that it was worked in without any fanfare nor heralded with a complete orchestra. It gives an extra punch in case you were strangely complacent with all the horrors you read.

De kat en de generaal

Ze keek naar de lucht.

De kat en de generaal, Nino Haratischwili, Meridiaan Uitgevers 2019

Ik geloof dat het andere boek dat ik van deze auteur las op elk “Best of” lijstje kwam dat ik dat jaar heb opgetypt, en door deze zinsopbouw is misschien al duidelijk dat De kat en de generaal niet hetzelfde effect had. Deze keer waren het maar een schamele 700 pagina’s, maar ik denk dat ik langer over De Kat heb gedaan dan Het achtste leven.

Misschien omdat er minder geschiedenis is? De vorige keer kan ik me herinneren dat ik zoveel leerde over de landen rondom de Kaukusus, en dat ik verrast was dat ook daar het gewoon zo’n zooi is/was/was geweest. Deze keer is er minder aandacht voor geschiedenis en meer wat voor impact het op het heden heeft.

Kat is een actrice die wordt ingezet door een duister figuur om nog duistere figuren te vangen die iets naars hebben gedaan in het verleden. Het duurt enkele honderden pagina’s voordat we leren wat dat naars was: daarvoor is het vooral het leven van Kat en de duistere figuren die mogen laten zien hoe ze zich door hedendaags Berlijn bewegen.

Er waren meerdere momenten dat ik dacht van “laat maar” en alleen doorlas omdat de auteur mij eerder zo’n geweldig boek had gegeven. Helaas kwam De Kat voor mij er nooit bij in de buurt, verre van.

Queenie

I locked my phone and carried on looking at the ceiling before unlocking it and sending a follow-up “xx.”

Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams, Scout Press 2019

Just as with Luster I sometimes felt like this book wasn’t for me, that I shouldn’t read it. Should a white person even accept the ever-so-honest soul-baring of a black woman, even though – as a reviewer put it – it’s “reminiscent of Bridget Jones”?

Of course, I still stuck my nose in it. And it stayed there. Because even though sometimes it was very uncomfortable at times – Queenie has some less than healthy coping mechanisms for what life throws at her – you root so hard for this woman. Not because she’s written in a fun, recognisable way but because of what she’s experienced and is still experiencing and still trying.

What I also appreciate – and I’m sure that if both author and protagonist would have been male, this would have gotten a lot of attention as Great Coming of Age novel – is that there’s no easy way out. Neither mince words, the happily ever after is the slightly-alright-half-way-there. To manage that, and still be funny and have a realistic outlook on life: good stuff.

Never Have I Ever

The game was Roux’s idea

Never Have I Ever, Joshilyn Jackson, P.S. 2019

This was a snack novel that turned out to be one of the better snacks you can get. Like – you were aiming for something sweet, but suddenly there was flavour as well, you know? Like that.

I’ve mentioned before how I’m a sucker for Rich Community Problems and that’s what sucked me into Never Have I Ever as well. Our main character has a lovely life in a perfect community but Oh no! a disruptive presence appears. Her lovely life is based on not-so-lovely things. Mama Bear has to come out! Etc., you know how it goes.

Which made me write a post about it (there’s books I don’t write blogs about – plenty) is that there’s a surprise. And Jackson pulls it off well. Thing about surprises is that you need little to kill them, so I’ll end with this: for a fun ride with this trope, try this novel.

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.

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.