A Place for Us

As Amar watched the hall fill with guests arriving for his sister’s wedding, he promised himself he would stay.

Finally, a story that grabbed me again. One of those that makes you ache for the characters involved, making you wish that you could reach out to them and shake some sense into them.

At first, I got a bit frustrated by the lack of chronology; a story line is never finished before a memory (from another character) intervenes. It took me until much later that this is how humans work: our bodies might follow a chronology, our minds are always connecting things to thoughts past and future dreams. You learn so much about this family because of all the things they remember, worry about and wish for. But gosh darn it, why don’t they just TALK to each other?

Maybe it’s because it’s a Muslim family that uses their traditions as a wall, a shield and a safety net. Maybe it’s because they’re immigrants in the USA, some of them growing up during and after 9/11. Maybe it’s culture and surroundings and character and fears.

But gosh darn it, do you root for them. Do you wish for more pages to set things right, because surely a happy ending is in order here. Until then, you’re stuck with a lump in your throat.

A Place for Us, Fatima Farheen Mirza, Penguin Random House 2018

The Luminaries

The twelve men congregated in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel gave the impression of a party accidentally met.

This is over 800 pages, I’m just going to share that before anything else. And the first 300 – 400 are basically just world building and giving you the background of the characters involved. If I wouldn’t know better (Tolkien isn’t a kiwi author), I’d say kiwi authors can’t write short and to the point.

The point here is a detective mystery. Some people show up dead in this nineteenth century gold miners town, some things go missing, some relationships are destroyed and made. Before the reader gets to the conclusion of this mystery, they might be worn down by all the endless details shared leading up to it.

If you start this novel knowing that a very long game is being run here, you might enjoy it in an almost encyclopedic way. I didn’t know before that there was a New Zealand gold rush, I enjoyed the descriptions of nineteenth century New Zealand and the immigrants living there. I can’t remember precisely how the mystery was solved, though.

The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton, Granta 2013

All Our Wrong Todays

So, the thing is, I come from the world we were supposed to have.

If the main character wouldn’t have been female, this book wouldn’t have been published or written of as chick lit and get none of the acclaim this one had. And ‘acclaim’ here is the categories my CloudLibrary put it in, so maybe it’s only Canadian acclaim, but still.

Anyway. I picked All Our Wrongs Today because it was time travel with a bit of The Jetsons and environmentalism sprinkled all over it. What’s not to like about that?

Well, probably the fact that all that is merely a background for half of the book, because protagonist Tom just whines about his life, his family, his actions (and inactivity), his life, his family and how his original surroundings are so much better than where he’s now. Mixed through that the reader gets a few female characters that are clear points to hang the plot on: mother, ex(es), (unattainable) love of his life.

But wait, it’s not just the women in Tom’s life that are merely plot points!

And like that, the reader might start hoping for Tom to time travel into nothingness, rendering this entire disappointing story non-existing. Or at the very least with 80 percent less navel gazing.

All Our Wrongs Today, Elan Mastai, Penguin Random House 2017

Half the World

He hesitated just an instant, but long enough for Thorn to club him in the balls with the rim of her shield.

It’s like a bodice ripper with barbarians. Usually I’m fine with what Joe Abercrombie has on offer; brutish fantasy with some comedic relief. Nothing highbrow or what you have to put your brain to work for but still, entertaining. Not so much this time.

The unlikely hero is a young woman that wants to fight, but she’s a woman so she’s laughed off and despised for being better than most. It is also repeatedly mentioned that she’s ugly and not-feminine. Anyway, she ends up as part of a trip around the world and both she and the (male) people around her learn that there’s more to her anger, violence and unappealing face.

This time even the world building just seems to be filler between the fight scenes and insult filled dialogues. I know that sequels are always viewed as to be a bit more challenging, but this was just a slog. If you want barbarian fantasy, try some of his other series.

Half the World, Joe Abercrombie, HarperCollins 2015

Sugar Money

I was tethering the cows out by the pond when a boy came into our pasture saying that Father Cléophas himself want to see me tout suite in the morgue.

And even based on true events, although I have to admit that the note from the editor(s) and shared background information took away from the story, for me anyway. I could have not read them, of course.

The story here is how two slaves on Martinique are sent to another island to bring back the slaves the French Fathers think they own while the island is English now. Sounds like nothing could go wrong, right? Nothing fishy at all at sending two slaves to silently invite slaves to move islands.

Lucien and his brother Emile are the ones that are tasked with this, and Lucien is the one telling the story of these few days. He does so in a mix of English, French and Creole, which works well with their surroundings and situation.

The only gripe I have with the story only being about this one event, is that as the reader you feel slightly dropped into someone’s lives and left behind when you (probably) only want to learn more. Maybe Jane Harris should have gone with a bit more creative freedom there. But what she writes, she writes appealingly.

Sugar Money, Jane Harris, Faber & Faber 2017

Lean on Pete

When I woke up that morning, it was still pretty early.

I didn’t know there was a book before the film. Now I know the story, I’m … going to skip the film. There are amounts of pain/trauma you don’t want to go through twice. See also: The Green Mile.

Lean on Pete is a horse, but it’s Charley’s story, and it’s a collection of miseries. Charley and his little-good father move through the USA to wherever work is, his mother is mostly unknown and there’s never enough money, furniture or food.

Because his father disappears from time to time, and it’s the summer holiday anyway, Charley (15 years old) goes looking for a job. He finds one in taking care of race horses, with a dodgy fellow, because those seem to be the only kind in his life.

The story is hailed for being Americana, humane, a slice of life and so on, but for a large amount of time it is just sadness upon badness upon abuse. Don’t mistake this book to be something for horse fans, either.

The only reason I’d call this a summer read because in winter there isn’t even nice weather outside to distract you from the shit luck Charley has, again and again. Yes, all of it is nicely written, but just consider the sacrifice of happiness.

Lean on Pete, Willy Vlautin, Faber and Faber 2010

Black Panther

135 min.

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).

Black Panther film posterThe 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