Pretend I’m Dead

For months he was just a number to her: she counted his dirties, he dropped them in the bucket, she recorded the number on the clipboard, and he moved down the line.

Some stories aren’t pleasant to read, but so compelling that you don’t want to give up on them ether. Mona isn’t easy to love or follow, even though it could have been with such a mercy- and pity-inducing history.

Mona is a twenty-something with a bad youth and/or possibly some mental illnesses. There are clear symptoms, but there’s also the consideration of how much comes from her background. She cleans houses for a living, even though her aunt and her sort-of-boyfriend tell her that she should change things, start living. Develop.

But that’s not easy, especially when you’re not exactly willing to do so. Mona’s got a lot of thoughts, maybe too many, and the author doesn’t let the reader off easy. This is an annoying, disgusting, frightening protagonist that might make you feel more empathetic to those neurotically atypical, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing annoying either.

Pretend I’m Dead doesn’t give answers, it just shows. I didn’t find the ‘laugh-out-loud funny’ a blurb claims, but I did want to stick around. Maybe in some way, Mona will notice.

Pretend I’m Dead, Jean Beagin, Oneworld 2018

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

Running the Rift

Jean Patrick was already awake, listening to the storm, when Papa opened the door and stood by the side of his bed.

Why would you even try to come up with an idea when reality has many horrible ones? Running the Rift tells about Hutu versus Tutsi at the end of the twentieth century. How from one day to another neighbours and colleagues turned on each other because of what? A different body type, a different ancestry. Because some people rather ripped up a country in the hope of ending up top then “suffer” a normal life next to a people you didn’t recognize as your own.

Running the Rift is the coming of age story of Jean Patrick, a Tutsi. He discovers that he likes to run and that he’s really good. But when his passion becomes entangled with politics, with “being on the right side” while his loved ones are on the other side, he can’t use it as an escape from reality any more.

Naomi Benaron manages to make Jean Patrick’s struggle, between desperately not wanting to be part of the (political) situation while at the same time having his world spin a 360, so believable that there were multiple moments of frustrated huffing. It again shows that not every person is a straight up hero. That humans prefer what they’re used to and will cling to it in such a way that in some situations it will earn you the title of showing ostrich behaviour or being a loser.

Running the Rift was impressive.

Running the Rift, Naomi Benaron, Oneworld 2012

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky

“You’re my lucky piece,” Grandma says.

A mixed race girl moves in with her black grandmother after a family tragedy. Suddenly she discovers how important society thinks the colour of her skin is. While trying to adjust to that, she has to come to terms with being the only one of her family left.

It’s an utterly depressive premise and yet this book is spiked with glimmers of hope. It’s so easy to root for the main character, to tell her to not fall into temptation of the easy escape, to become everything she can be while the reader can do nothing more but watch her stumble.

It’s also -for me as a white person- a new, raw experience to read what a big part skin colour is for some people. The ‘real’ black people don’t want her, the white people don’t understand where she fits in. Her grandmother just wants her to turn into a ‘good woman’ who will make a husband happy (and therefore her). The main character lets herself be shaped by her surroundings while at the same time trying to disappear from this world without her family.

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky leaves you with questions, but also a small glimmer of hope. Outside that, you will just have to take this story inside you and carry it around.

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, Heidi Durrow, Oneworld 2010