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).
The 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
APPEARANCE OF COUNT ALEXANDER ILYICH ROSTOV BEFORE THE EMERGENCY COMMITTEE OF THE PEOPLE’S COMMISSARIAT FOR INTERNAL AFFAIRS
This was a book like a sofa. I feel like I’ve used this compliment before, which means that I have to go start looking for a new comparison. But spacious, comfortable and easy to stay put in.
Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is a Former Person in the Soviet Union, which basically means that he’s part of all that was awful before the enlightened bolsheviks showed up. Because he wrote an amazing, wonderful, beautiful poem, they can’t just depart him. Instead, they tell him he can’t ever again leave the hotel he’s been staying in (logical!).
And that’s where the book plays out, in a hotel. But luckily, not just any hotel. And the Count isn’t just any ordinary man. Time moves, people come and go, the Soviet changes, but the gentleman in Moscow is there.
I have yet to find a book involving Russia that doesn’t fascinate slash baffle me. This is one man’s story, this is a part of history. While being an appealing reason to sit down.
A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles, Viking 2016
PROBLEM NO. 1
Your regular table at the fabulous restaurant on the exclusive island where you own a beach house is unavailable.
Follow up from Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend, now with even some issues that everyone that isn’t a billionaire or millionaire could relate to. Maybe.
Does one read books of these series for recognising situations from their own lives? Probably not. Bring in the details about the clothes, the planes, the houses, the spending.
Again, there’s so many characters that the genealogy in front of the book can be helpful. The author ramps up the amount of notes as well, this time using them (more often) to comment, instead of to explain. But in between all of that is a brightly coloured, very expensive (looking) story full of dramatics and diamonds. It’s silly, it’s superficial, it’s quite delicious (especially in between Year of Wonders and writing essays about The Catcher in the Rye).
Rich People Problems, Kevin Kwan, Doubleday 2017
The night Effia Otcher was born into the musky heat of Fanteland, a fire raged through the woods just outside her father’s compound.
A much recommended book that didn’t disappoint one bit. How often does that happen (rhetorical question)?
I often appreciate a family epistle, using people to show history through the centuries. Sometimes their surroundings are more interesting, something the characters and their impact on later generations are the elements that make the story.
Homegoing does both. It starts in Ghana, with the time when white people were just a minor element, a mark in between tribal issues. It goes on into the twenty-first century. So that means kingdoms rising and falling, slavery, wars, segregation, the American civil war and civil rights movements, fear for lives solely because they’re being lived in dark(er) skins. And during all that, people. Likeable people, confusing people, people you worry for. There’s their family mythology, but Yaa Gyasi never makes you forget that these are (just) humans.
It’s ugly, how close to the skin it plays. Colorism, racism, the superiority feelings of white people. This is reality, and there’s no judging tone; the situations speak for themselves. Doesn’t mean this story is non-stop hard to read, just another gold star for in Gyasi’s book. All in all, add me to the voice of recommendations.
Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi, Alfred A. Knopf 2016
In a single year, my father left us twice.
This was work. I don’t know how I managed to read two similarly build up novels (the other one being Disappearing Moon Cafe), but this one was the tougher of the two. Maybe because the comparison material was so recent. Both left me wondering how I’d like something contemporary written by an Asian actor.
Anyway, time moves every way but chronologically in Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Keep your head with you, because there’s a lot of characters going through a lot of things. The most brutal one, probably Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ and the horrors of Tiananmen Square.
These aren’t light, bright stories. There seems to be no end to what a family can be put through, and the small, mythology-like side steps only make the difference starker. How did anyone come out alive?
It’s a novel to take in in small doses, to learn and see through another set of goggles.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien, Granta 2016
Oh dear, what is this? A mockumentary, although the people starring are small-mindedly human enough to be straight from reality. And what is it about? Sport mascots, the people that dress up as animals (and other things) at sport games. The featured mascots are preparing for a world championship of mascots and accompanying con. The people attached to that are ..maybe even weirder, and in the worrying way.
Especially when sex and furries are added. It moves the not-documentary from ‘people very passionate about an unfamiliar hobby’ to ‘how many weirdos can we gather’.
In the end this made me more curious about the people in mascots, the real ones. Surely they’re not as annoying and frown-worthy as this lot. And hopefully they perform without a dancing poop.
Mascots, Netflix 2016
‘Thomas, Thomas! Wake up!’
Well, Dan Vyleta got the Victorian-feel of it down pat. Several times I paged back to the front to check the year of first publication.
This could be viewed as a compliment, but as I expected something else going in, it took me a long time to adapt. Smoke is as straight-edged as its characters, afraid of anything that could be viewed as sin or a wrong emotion, any form of entertainment that could ‘evoke’ something.
This element makes the novel dystopian, a strict society in which something or someone will give sooner than later. Not just that, but on top of the societal mystery, there’s a mysterious group that’s kind of powerful, but not powerful enough to have a clear enough message. Or maybe the smoke just got in between.
Even when adventure is added, the feeling doesn’t get very urgent. Power hungry people want to keep things the way they are, maybe some light sins aren’t that horrible, okay, okay. It could have been a short novel, a foundation for a television series, but as a hefty book there’s just not enough spark.
Smoke, Dan Vyleta, Weidenfeld&Nicholson 2016