It was the first day of my humiliation.
I’ve read some Zadie Smith before and I think I can repeat a previously used sentiment: Zadie Smith doesn’t write plots, she creates characters. Although this time, in Swing Time there definitely might be some plot-like features to be found.
There’s the growing up of a mixed girl in eighties England on the (edge of the) estate, her sort-of friendship with an equal in skin colour but very different in background and surroundings and their shared passion of dancing.
There’s the woman who’s an assistant of a world-famous pop-star who gets entangled in the lives of West-African villagers (maybe Gambian) in an attempt of charity work.
And then there’s the woman who can’t seem to do right by the dreams and ambitions of her mother, who in turn decides to pursue them herself.
It’s all the same woman, so you might get what I mean. It’s a slice of life but life is firmly on the background, even when the protagonist (unnamed) interacts with it and the people part of it. It’s all very much in her head, even when, or maybe especially when you would appreciate a bird’s eye view.
But the title is ever so fitting, the story providing a certain kind of rhythm that makes the book easy to pick up and stick to.
Swing Time, Zadie Smith, Hamish Hamilton 2016
The first time our mother came for us, we screamed.
Sometimes a book leaves you with a feeling instead of easy-put-into-thoughts words. Freshwater is exciting, eerie, scary and frustrating, both the story and the story telling. It’s a book you’d recommend with a long disclaimer.
Main character Ada (or the Ada) is born with one foot in the other world, she’s possessed by creatures/things/ghosts, and they have quite the impact on her health, her life and her loved ones. It’s not just her that gets to speak either, it’s the ‘we’ and others that get to control the human Ada from time to time, or at the very least debate her decisions.
It makes for a creepy, aggravating story that isn’t always easy to get through, like it’s not just Ada that’s being dragged down and manipulated by the other ones. At the same time it’s such a balanced story about a culture (Nigerian) that doesn’t view all this as too exotic, but at the same time has elements that prevents Ada from speaking the truth. So there’s different layers to her straddling two worlds, even when she hasn’t has her creatures involved.
Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi, Grove Press 2018
I must leave this city today and come to you.
I typed and deleted the start of this blog for about four times. It’s an impressive story, a frustrating one, not a happy one but a hopeful one? Here’s me scoring high on cliché bingo.
So, okay. Stay with Me is about a Nigerian couple that can’t conceive and because offspring is very important, is offered (‘offered’) a second wife to make sure offspring does happen. But this is liking saying Lord of the Rings is about some rings, there’s much more to it.
It’s not just a slice of life, it’s a slice of culture. It’s for everyone who isn’t familiar with Nigeria and Nigerians, a look behind the scenes. Yes, we all have relationships and romances, but how, why, and in what way? What sacrifices are desired (by the partners, their families, their surroundings), and who are you if you’re not parents of a child/children?
I was warned beforehand that the subject could get pretty heavy, and there have been times I cursed out outdated ideas and the people still clinging to them. But as an anthropological view, as a psychological view, and to freaking root for Yejide.. this story has a strong pull.
Stay with Me, Ayobami Adebayo, Alfred A. Knopf 2017
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
He’d never been asked to wear a suit to a job interview.
First of all, I’d like to mention that this is a book from Oprah’s Book Club. Mostly because the ebook file I had, would mention it in the most random ways.
Anyway, I discovered that my Ottawa library had another online service, which finally got me this one. Express, so I had to finish it in seven days. I finished it in two.
Behold the Dreamers is about the American dreamers, the immigrants who enter the country (kind of) legally and overstay their welcome in hope of a better life for themselves and their family. Jende and Neni are from Cameroon, escaping their town because of disapproval of their relationship and with dreams of more. For such a long time things go well (there is a job, education, money shared left and right) that the reader can almost get comfortable; maybe this family is the one that will slip through.
The story plays out during the start of the financial crisis. With Jende being the chauffeur of a high up Wall Street man, it’s clearly shown that suffering can always reach another level. The book is so full of (naive) hope that it gets tougher and tougher to swallow that the dream may just stay that: a dream.
Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue, Random House 2016
I’ve had Jidenna’s Long Live the Chief stuck in my head ever since leaving the theater for the Black Panther showing, and I think that could give you a bit of a clue about the film and how it leaves you. Assuming you don’t hate superhero movies, and aren’t racist or sexist. P.S.: the song isn’t in the film, the soundtrack is cool and fitting (either way).
The character of Black Panther has been shortly introduced in previous Avengers/Marvel movies, but finally he and his country get their own movie. Which of course comes with a moderately interesting villain, love interest, family issues and hardships he has to work through.
But, and here where it turns out not to be a black Captain America; the director doesn’t take one step back on the blackness and African-ness of it all. It’s in the music, it’s in the accents, it’s in the attitude; for once there’s a story in which an African people are by far the superior ones. With special mention to all the women that are allowed in the spotlight, showing all the things they can do without needing (the leadership of) men.
So even though it’s still a Marvel movie in many more colours, it’s cooler and feels less plastic. And the soundtrack, that soundtrack.
Black Panther, Marvel 2018
The night Effia Otcher was born into the musky heat of Fanteland, a fire raged through the woods just outside her father’s compound.
A much recommended book that didn’t disappoint one bit. How often does that happen (rhetorical question)?
I often appreciate a family epistle, using people to show history through the centuries. Sometimes their surroundings are more interesting, something the characters and their impact on later generations are the elements that make the story.
Homegoing does both. It starts in Ghana, with the time when white people were just a minor element, a mark in between tribal issues. It goes on into the twenty-first century. So that means kingdoms rising and falling, slavery, wars, segregation, the American civil war and civil rights movements, fear for lives solely because they’re being lived in dark(er) skins. And during all that, people. Likeable people, confusing people, people you worry for. There’s their family mythology, but Yaa Gyasi never makes you forget that these are (just) humans.
It’s ugly, how close to the skin it plays. Colorism, racism, the superiority feelings of white people. This is reality, and there’s no judging tone; the situations speak for themselves. Doesn’t mean this story is non-stop hard to read, just another gold star for in Gyasi’s book. All in all, add me to the voice of recommendations.
Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi, Alfred A. Knopf 2016
The world is a global village: how else would I have discovered a Nigerian movie (and had been able to watch it through Netflix, thanks Netflix)?
The glorious years of endless amounts of fun romantic comedies seem to have come and gone, so I take everything recommended. It’s not essential, it adds some fun variety between everything Marvel churns out versus Oscar material. The Wedding Party
was recommended with ‘Not as dramatic and all over the place and most Nigerian movies. And cute.’ So yes, sure, why not.
If this wasn’t ‘not as’, I’m curious about the usual level of hysteria and dramatics. Because in this movie there’s plenty of yelling, fake fainting, (muttered) insults and musical introductions. As in – families are introduced with dancing. This might be a regular Nigerian wedding thing, but it definitely changes up the well known wedding mile. Anyway, the drama has a valid reason (of course): the husband’s family doesn’t think his future wife is good enough for him, the wife’s family handles the insult with as much grace as a hippo in a mini pool.
It’s fun though. It’s loud and weird and kind of all over the place, but it’s clear what everyone’s place is and how this story is going to end. In case you need a romantic comedy, here you go.
The Wedding Party, FilmOne 2016
Vaak genoeg proberen actiefilms de Gevoelige Momenten de kijker door de strot te duwen: “hier, kijk, we zijn meer dan explosies en geweld!” Chappie doet dat beter, maar maakt er op andere gebieden weer een onherleidbaar zooitje van. Is dit een science fiction film, een buddy movie, avontuur? En waren de artiesten van Die Antwoord echt essentieel?
Nu is ‘essentieel’ bij een film als deze natuurlijk een woord dat heel los gebruikt kan worden. Een verhaal over politierobots en artificiële intelligentie en nature versus nurture had op een niveau terecht gekomen waardoor je er nog een maand over doorpraat. Het werd Chappie
. Een Johannesburg waarin de politie gesteund wordt door robots en zo (eindelijk) flinke successen tegenover misdaad kan behalen. De slechterik is de jaloerse meneer die liever zijn robot gebruikt ziet, terwijl de ingenieur van de robots liever nog wat menselijkheid aan ze toevoegt. De mislukte criminelen (Die Antwoord plus één) zijn de katalysator die het bij elkaar brengen. Zij willen namelijk ook wel zo’n robot, maar door het experimenteren van de ingenieur krijgen ze eentje met zoveel AI dat ze ‘m helemaal moeten opvoeden.
Zo zijn er gecharmeerde glimlachjes door Chappie‘s acties, maar vooral een boel vragen. Hoe lang is dit al bezig, waarom communiceert dit bedrijf zo slecht (intern), ALLEMENSEN hoeveel criminaliteit is er wel niet in deze stad? Is dit iets hoopvols, een aanklacht, en zo ja, waartoe precies? En moeten we nu wel of niet bang zijn voor AI?
Het zwabbert door tot het einde, om af te sluiten wanneer het interessant wordt. Lap, weer geen District 9 van Neil Blomkamp.
Chappie, Kinberg Genre 2015
Lisette Toutournier sighed.
Well, it could make an amazing looking TV-show. The world building is there, it’s bright and diverse (both in surroundings as represented race and sexuality). It’s just the plot that ..not really isn’t.
Everfair is the name of the reclaimed, bought Congo and later parts of surrounding countries. With steampunk elements and money from societies and countries world wide, Africans, Europeans, Americans and Asians build up a country without colonial rule. Cool, original, awesome idea.
And that’s about it. The author seems to be in a hurry to showcase the rise and fall of this young country, hopping ahead in time like she was told not to use too much pages on character development. The story only gets sadder because of this as well, pulling the reader out of the freshly created fantasy.
I’m very fond of stand alone books, definitely in the fantasy series, but maybe Everfair could have done better with being a two-parter.
Everfair, Nisi Shawl, Tor 2016