Winter Counts

I leaned back in the seat of my old Ford Pinto, listening to the sounds coming from the Depot, the reservation’s only tavern.

Winter Counts, David L. Weiden, Ecco 2020

Do you want a Lone Vigilante story, but with a Native American protagonist and surroundings? Here you go!

Breasts and Eggs

If you want to know how poor somebody was growing up, ask them how many windows they had.

Breasts and Eggs, Mieko Kawakami, Europa Editions 2019

Why didn’t I read the blurbs: Haruki Murakami loved it, and it used to be a short novella. I think that shows very clearly: the second ‘book’ is more coherent and easy to read, although mostly in comparison with the first book – not others.

Once again this is an “I feel like I should like this more”-story, but there’s something that just left me lukewarm. Yes, interesting views on motherhood and surrogacy in Japan, but did it have to be put down like this? Hard to chew on, tough to invest in.

Ben is Back

103 min.

For a Hollywood film they are surprisingly realistic about addition. Ben is back for the holidays, but not every family member is supportive of this development.

Probably the nicest is that the few Life Lessons aren’t supported by a swelling soundtrack and slow-motion close ups: they just slip past.

That makes this film frustrating, nerve-wrecking and probably more genuine than many other stories about an addicted family member asking for an umpteenth chance and having to deal with being mistrusted.

Infinite Country

It was her idea to tie up the nun.

Infinite Country, Patricia Engel, Simon & Schuster 2021

Less than 160 pages and I still walk around with it a couple days after finishing it. I don’t know if I consciously gravitate towards migrant stories and the generations after, but once again it doesn’t disappoint.

What Infinite Country adds is the clear question of “What’s so great about the USA anyway?”. It’s not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for anyone involved, and the place the family comes from (Colombia) isn’t viewed as a crap shoot essential to escape from.

Combine this with a family literally ripped apart based on their place of birth and there’s something fresh and uncanny about this short story.

Accidentally Engaged

For most urban dwellers, Sundays were a day of rest and relaxation.

Accidentally Engaged, Farah Heron, Hachette Book Group 2021

First of all: where was the editor? Within two pages letters missing, names being spelled differently? Oof.

Anyway, the best part these days about romantic novels is the build-up and characterisation. After the two get together, especially when it’s a heterosexual couple – my interest fades.

In this case it’s (surprise) food. Reena stress-bakes and cooks, and the descriptions are good albeit overly detailed after a certain amount of pages. Faking an engagement is a fun trope as well, but because we’re only told what Reena isn’t, there’s very little investment or even emotion when things implode (because of course they do).

Maybe I should just stop trying reading romance with the aim of being satisfied.

The Island of Missing Trees

Once upon a memory, at the far end of the Mediterranean Sea, there lay an island so beautiful and blue that the many travelers, pilgrims, crusaders and merchants who fell in love with it either wanted never to leave or tried to tow it with hemp ropes all the way back to their own countries.

The Island of Missing Trees, Elif Shafak, Penguin Random House 2021

There’s just something about Shafak’s writing that turns the big into small and the small into world-impacting. I liked her previous one better – or well, was more stunned and impressed by it, but this one also makes you think and makes you feel.

Because Ada isn’t the first child to lose a parent and having to deal with feeling alienated by the living one, but add Cyprus and suddenly it’s the first story ever told.

I want the best for Ada, eat fresh figs and I want to visit the island.

Dollface

20 x 25 min.

Very American, but short and charming enough to ignore that most of the time. Jules is the dollface who realises when her relationship ends (without her agreement) that she’s been neglecting all of her female friends. Her way back to them is a large part of the show. The rest of it is about life as a twenty-something, finding your way, feminism, sexuality, goals — a friendlier and less brazen Sex and the City.

What was cute in the first season – Jules has a fairy godmother in the shape of a snarky cat lady (literally a woman with a cat head), sees visions of all the ways in which she is a bad female friend – sometimes goes on for too long in the second season. In the second season her friends get a bit more room for development, and it definitely shows that Jules ..doesn’t have much of that.

Maybe the third season, which I’m sure will happen because Americans can just never leave a (good) thing alone.

The Inheritance Games

When I was a kid, my mom constantly invented games.

The Inheritance Games, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Little Brown and Company 2020

Two things YA novels could easily do without: the first person POV and the endless need to add (implied) heterosexual romantic relationships to it.

The Inheritance Games is the first book of a trilogy (possibly, who knows how long Barnes will make this last?) which uses the Knives Out story and gives it to a teen. Avery inherits a lot of money from an unknown billionaire, but why?? And why are there so many male grandchildren??

Anyway, except for some plot holes due to sloppy writing, and the aforementioned unnecessary heterosexual activities, it’s all quite entertaining. When I know how many books she’ll get out of this idea, I’ll read the last one for the clue so I can satisfy the smidge of curiosity that obvious cliffhanger left me with.

The Anomaly

It’s not the killing, that’s not the thing.

The Anomaly, Hervé le Tellier, Other Press 2021

I was promised an intelligent thriller, but hm-meh. This was definitely a very basic science-fiction story that tried to elevate it through some (faux) philosophy. Which is allowed, but don’t blow it up like this.

The thing is: a plane lands in March after experience extreme weather. The exact same plane, with the exact same people on it experiencing the exact same thing lands in June. With the flyers thinking it’s still March. Where were they? And how come there’s now two of them?

It’s surprising how quickly and effectively the American government decide on what’s going on and act upon it. It also takes away from the story: the flyers get some room to react to the situation, but there’s a lack of urgency that makes this story horror or social commentary. What do we need to take away from this; look at your surroundings, do you trust them? Never to late to start over?

Maybe I just don’t understand all the layers, but for now I’m sticking to ‘meh’.

Crying in H Mart

Ever since my mom died, I cry in H Mart.

Crying in H Mart, Michelle Zauner, Borza 2021

Another memoir, and I didn’t even consciously make that decision. This title buzzed around online accompanied by sentiments like “so good. Cried so hard.” and who wouldn’t view that as a recommendation?

In Crying in H Mart, Michelle’s mother dies. Her mother being Korean, Michelle being Korean-American and their time together having been.. all over the emotional wheel add layers to that ordinary story.

Not to sound glib, of course. We all die. But Chongmi does so at a too young age and suffering terribly. How can you give yourself room to say goodbye when you’re just taking care(/attempting to) full time?

Yes, there’s crying. Zauner doesn’t have things dawn on her; they crash on her. Hope, delusion and fight: none work. As the reader you take every hit to prove you’re wrong: there is no escaping that first sentence.

But this book is more than a memorial. It’s the memoir of an American family with Korean roots, a love for Korean food (those descriptions, get me those meals!), and a very honest look at what family does to and for you.

All that, and more than 50% shorter than the previous memoir read.