Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away

Father was a loud man.

Nigerian city family moves to their family in a rural town. The culture shock, proximity to oil companies, lack of money and ever-present violence chance every family member.

I like to read novels set in Africa, how they show the different picture mainstream (Western) media neglects to use, how the people there just want the same things from life as the people here. Sometimes that comes with uncomfortable truths. Timi and her children can’t stay in the city because her employer only wants married women as employees and Timi’s husband left her. White foreigners are prospering from Nigerian oil and the corruption around it while their factories pollute the environment and create a violent atmosphere in small towns. Wives have no say in the decision of their husbands, boys are allowed an education while girls should do ‘female’ things.

The reader looks through the eyes of daughter Blessing, a twelve-year-old who is torn between loyalty to her direct family and the adventures of the unknown, provided by her wise grandmother.

It’s a colorful, easy-to-read story that packs several punches.

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away, Christie Watson, Other Press 2011

Oh Dear Silvia

He sits with a sense of being watched, although he himself is the watcher.

I should have known better than to pick the book with the comedy genre sticker on it. Just like trying to find a fantasy book that isn’t part of a series, I continue to look for a book that deserves its comedy genre sticker.

It’s not that oh Dear Silvia is completely without laughs. It’s just all of them stem from awkward and cringe-worthy situations. Silvia is in a coma after a fall from her balcony. Every chapter is for someone from her life, visiting her in the hospital, showing a different side to the patient. Is she a selfish mother, a life-saver, a role model, a loveless monster or all of them combined? Or none of the above?

All the anger directed at Silvia seems definitely deserved, until the plot shows its backside and you remember that there’s always more to the eye than one can see. It’s not funny, but it’s reality. And with or without Silvia, the people around her will continue to build their own version of it.

oh Dear Silvia, Dawn French, Joseph 2012

The Elephant Keeper’s Children

I have found a door out of the prison.

Darn, a lot of things happen here. It’s a bit exhausting, really. There were times when I just didn’t want to open this book because you have to work hard to follow every plot line.

The one big plot line is about how three Danish siblings, living on an island, have to go through the disappearance of their parents. For the second time. But this time the police is on them right away, several religious leaders show an interest, the authorities try to split the siblings up and because the youngest two are absolute geniuses, they right away know that something’s wrong. Adventures follow.

Two things that I didn’t like about this story: the two youngest characters being absolute geniuses. They have very accurate insights, always have ideas to get out of tight spots, fool every adult and are just in time to save the day several times. Second is that this insight means that with every action, protagonist Peter falls back on an anecdote, a “feeling”, something “deep”. It makes the story incredibly cluttered.

And yet all those details, side plot lines and rubble create a smorgasbord that might not be that accessible, but certainly are entertaining. It’s a decision the reader has to make: work a bit harder to understand or leave this whirlwind of information, detail and silliness on the road’s side.

The Elephant Keeper’s Children, Peter Høeg, Harvill Secker 2012