Dandelion

My father’s older sister Auntie Choo Neo placed chicken satay sticks on the backyard barbecue.

Dandelion, Jamie Chai Yun Liew, Arsenal Pulp Press 2022

If you’re still looking for children-of-immigrant stories. This time, the mother disappears and stays gone. It makes for an incredibly frustrating story; can’t the suffering be put on pause for a bit? – but it never takes over Lily’s story.

Dandelion shows all the small ways of feeling alien and does it well.

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!

The Books of Jacob

Once swallowed, the piece of paper lodges in her esophagus, near her heart.

The Books of Jacob, or: A Fantastic Journey Across Seven Borders, Five Languages, and Three Major Religions, Not Counting the Minor Sects. Told by the Dead, Supplemented by the Author, Drawing from a Range of Books, and Aided by Imagination, the Which Being the Greatest Natural Gift of Any Person. That the Wise Might Have It for a Record, That My Compatriots Reflect, Laypersons Gain Some Understanding, and Melancholy Souls Obtain Some Slight Enjoyment, Olga Tokarczuk, Riverhead Books 2022

Loved The Silmarillion? House of Leaves? And 17th century mid-European history? This 900 page novel might just be the thing for you!

You don’t? Avoid this.

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.

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.

Shuggie Bain

The day was flat.

Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart Grove Atlantic 2020

Been a while since I read someone writing so vividly. This is an appealing story because of its style and imagery, and also severely depressing because of its images and stories.

The depictions of addiction, recovery and sabotage (intentionally and unknowing) is rough and tough, a trainwreck that just refuses to stop.

A Girl is a Body of Water

Until that night, Kirabo had not cared about her.

A Girl is a Body of Water, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Tin House 2020

What stuck with me most is how well Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi communicated the surprise and shrugs Ugandans had/felt about European ideas like time and religion. Might sound silly and/or narrow-minded but yes: not everyone cuts days into twelve hours and decides that one way of going at it is the right way. It’s all been decided before somewhere, and doesn’t mean that elsewheres should go along.

A Girl is a Body of Water plays out in a different time – Uganda in the nineteen-seventies and -eighties – and in a different world. The plot is familiar: absent parent decides to bring first child into second family. But Kirabo has plenty of other things on her mind; Sio, the mother who refused her, familial issues between her grandmother and the village witch and adjusting to private school and the city after growing up in a rural village.

Makumbi makes it all feel a bit like a fairy tale; even when dire reality sets in (war, death), it seems like something our princess has to get through to get to her happy ending. This absence and style takes some getting used to, but after you’re all in: we want the Stories of Kirabo; and we get them.

Light Perpetual

The light is grey and sullen, a smoulder, a flare choking on the soot of its own burning, and leaking only a little of its power into the visible spectrum.

Light Perpetual, Francis Spufford, Faber 2021

Sounds pretty dystopian, doesn’t it?

What if four children – who died in a WW2 bombardment – didn’t? The children aren’t extraordinary, they’re simply ‘allowed to’ play out their lives. What follows are slices of life of post-war England.

The characters make the novel, especially when the writing lacks a bit. It’s a history novel as history should be looked at: through the eyes of regular humans.

Tick… Tick.. BOOM!

115 min.

To start things off, I didn’t expect there to be so many songs. I did know this was based on a theater-piece (right?), but not musical theater. Nor that the main character was based on someone who really exists. Yeah, this is what you get when you just follow the hype.

Add the run time of almost two hours on top of this and I was ready to be let down again (earlier I didn’t particularly care about Hand of God and Goodfellas was too long as well).

Yes, it took me a bit to get used to the amount of sudden singing. And Jon’s (the protagonist) anxiety is quite anxiety-inducing as well, and I’m not even 29-I-have-to-make-it-big-before-30 anymore. Still, Andrew Garfield sells it all and sells it well. He’s almost manic, can’t stop even though he knows he should if he wants to keep relationships healthy, friendships alive and the lights on.

This reminded me of Rocketman from time to time: also someone suffering because of talent and anxiety. Tick.. Tick swings less, but definitely touches you as well.