Behold the Dreamers

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

The Tortilla Curtain

Afterward, he tried to reduce it to abstract terms, an accident in a world of accidents, the collision of opposing forces – the bumper of his car and the frail scrambling hunched-over form of a dark little man with a wild look in his eye – but he wasn’t very successful.

And the prize for Most Depressing Book read in January goes to.

The tortilla curtain is the border between Mexico and the USA. The Tortilla Curtain is about the people on that thin line that just want to have a comfortable life, but are prevented from having it by paranoia, racism, and society. The one side is simply much more privileged than the other, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they could have an easier life (add a note of sarcasm here).

I had to read this one for school, because we’re doing a course called Aspects of the USA and well, racism definitely is one.

The book’s well written, luring into supporting one side until everybody just shows how ugly their thoughts and prejudices are. The one side is just allowed more, under the guise of honesty and worry. It’s over twenty years old, but the story can definitely be retold today.

The Tortilla Curtain, T.C. Boyle, Bloomsbury 1995

The Big Sick

124 min.

Hallelujah, another romcom. With some coming-of-age elements. And fish-out-of-water, because this romantic comedy largely involves an immigrant family in the USA. Which means there’s people of colour involved as well, score! I know this could be read as sarcastic, but I feel like romantic stories are even more often super white than other The-Big-Sick-postermovie genres.

Kumail and Emily meet when he’s doing a standup show, both decide that this meet up is going to be an one time thing.  Good thing we know there’s way too much chemistry between the two of them to believe that.

Romantic gestures, fights, breaks ups and make ups are (mostly) thrown aside for a much bigger game changer: Emily becomes seriously ill. How does a relationship work with/around that?

Kumail goes through some Life Lessons, while Emily is (more) fleshed out through the presence of her parents. It’s their chemistry that doesn’t make you ask too much questions, just look at the darn cute of them. The other characters are everything you need in a romantic comedy.

The Big Sick, FilmNation Entertainment 2017

Disappearing Moon Cafe

He remembered that by then he was worn out from fighting the wind.

Sometimes you are simply (already) invested in a novel because you struggled to get it. Or like ‘struggle’; it’s not like I had to climb trees and survive the Sahara to get to it. It was just a tough-to-acquire eBook with a picky view of in which app to work. Anyway.

This was an experience, opposed to just another novel. Maybe I’m simply not used to Asian actors and their certain style yet, maybe it was simply because the jumps through time got me bewildered a few times.

There’s over a century of stories within the family, from second(/third/fourth?) cousins to daughters-in-law, first sons and grumpy (great-)grandmothers. A Chinese family in Canada, Chinese-Canadians and the Chinese family members left behind in the other country.

It’s a family tree book with immigration, racism and sexism mixed in. The not-western point of view doesn’t alienate, because everything that happens is simply too familiar. Everyone’s got a family, some roots just grow further and wither slower.

Disappearing Moon Cafe, Sky Lee, Douglas & McIntyre Ltd. 1990

Preparation for the Next Life

She came by way of Archer, Bridgeport, Nanuet, worked off 95 in jeans and a denim jacket, carrying a plastic bag and shower shoes, a phone number, waiting beneath an underpass, the potato chips long gone.

It took me four days after finishing this before I felt like I could shape an opinion about this story. At first I was just hugely relieved that I was done.

This novel is closer to a news bulletin, a history story or a sociological essay. This isn’t entertainment or escape, it’s too brutal and slogging, the number of light and happy moments much too little.

So why would you? How many people pick a book that will darken their day considerably? As with non-fiction: to know. To remember that there is a world outside the familiar one. And in Zou’s path there can be find a little spark of motivation, while Skinner’s fall just shows the urgency of supporting veterans mentally. With my previous reads of De Gele Vogels and Terug naar normaal this month’s themes turn out to be mental health and war.

I agree with other reviews that the addition of a certain character is unnecessary, and his chapters could be skipped. They just add more violence, despair, and lack of reasons for existence.

Preparation for the Next Life, Atticus Lish, OneWorld 2014

Memory Mambo

I’ve always thought of memory as a distinct, individual thing.

For me it’s always tougher to argument why I didn’t like a book, especially when I felt like I should. I’m always up for more female, not-white, not heterosexual stories, and the lives of (first generation) immigrants interest me as well.

So what’s lacking with Memory Mambo? From the start it’s unclear who the main character is, what she does and why the reader has to root for her or dislike her. Juani is an extra in her own life, but is so incredibly passive that we don’t know if it’s willingly or because it’s the easiest.

And which story is the reader following: her lamenting her ex, or the happenings of her family? Why does it all fade into each other (okay, that’s daily life, always a challenge to make that look appealing) until A Real Big Thing less than twenty pages from the ending? Was it supposed to be a longer story but cut off for some reason?
Reading is someone’s effort, and this time it didn’t pay off.

Memory Mambo, Achy Obejas, Cleis Press 1996

We Never Asked For Wings

It wasn’t too late to turn back.

I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker. A new book? From the Express Collection (meaning you have to read it in one week so everybody gets a chance)? A New York Times bestselling author? This would put me on the book of my read-better-books resolution, wouldn’t it? What a rookie mistake.

We Never Asked For Wings isn’t a horrible, bad, ugly book, it’s simply closer to the Happy Family trope of any Harlequin book than literature with a capital L. Which is fine, but what I had not set out for. With a plot about an absent mother having to returning to her children because her Mexican parents leave, the threat of poverty and deportation ever present elements in their lives, I was ready for some lessons I’d never experience in my privileged world. Sure, there was mention of a “She Will Have To Chose” plot line, but love doesn’t necessarily pulls down the quality of a novel.

The easy shocks and the quick solutions, the dramatic turns that are neatly tied up in the next chapter, the annoying, two-dimensional characters, do. It felt like I was reading a beginner’s steps into telenovela writing. Entertaining but flat.

This just shows you can’t even trust librarians these days. Maybe I should have gone for The Marriage of Opposites after all.

We Never Asked For Wings, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Ballantine Books 2015