Hot Milk

Today I dropped my laptop on the concrete floor of a bar built on the beach.

I honestly don’t know what to make of this, and I finished it two days ago. What’s the genre? How do I feel about it? Would I recommend it, and to whom? Well, at least it’s original (urgh, worst argument)!

Hot Milk is the story of Sofia and Rose. Sofia is the daughter taking care of her mother, who has strange symptoms no-one can diagnose in a successful way. Rose is the mother, the ball and chain of her adult daughter, suffering all kind of mental and physical aches. They end up in Spain for a specialist that might be their last chance.

Sounds pretty straight forward, but the story quickly goes of the rails in an almost fevered matter. The relationship between Rose and Sofia is far from healthy, but Sofia’s relationship with the world outside of Rose is unstable and confusing as well. Then there’s the specialist, whom seems to go for something between mad scientist and rich hermit. It feels a bit like an ugly, depraved version of magic realism, with the heat and discomfort sensible.

So …you could read it, if you don’t mind feeling annoyed and uncomfortable from time to time. It gets under the skin, I just can’t say if you’d like it there.

Hot Milk, Deborah Levy, Penguin Books 2016

The Help

Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960.

There was a book before the film. And yes, this is another one for college. Also another one I prefer over The Catcher in the Rye.

It’s the segregation years of the sixties in the USA. White women are housewives, black women are housemaids. They are expected to do everything, but are rewarded by little to no appreciation and always have being fired hanging over them. The majority of them are little more than paid slaves, which is something that Skeeter also discovers when she comes up with the idea to write the stories of housemaids. It doesn’t land well with a lot of people.

In the book there’s not just Aibileen’s point of view, but also Minny’s, and Skeeter’s. With the first two the reader gets two different minds and views on the same subjects, while Skeeter is the alien out.

The Help is such an easy read that when the uglier subjects pop up and disasters happen, it almost shocks you out of the pale pastels and superficial happiness everyone seems to abide by.

I expect I have to read it for the vocabulary used, I read it to discover if it was less coddling than the film. It was.

The Help, Kathryn Stockett, Penguin Group 2009

Year of Wonders

I used to love this season.

This is the first of the books I have to read for school. Lies of Silence, Catcher in the Rye, The Help and The Tortilla Curtain will follow.

Looking at that list, and having already read two of those, I know I could have done a lot worse.

Year of Wonders is about the plague. An English village in the 1660s gets hit by the disease and decides to quarantine itself, an element that’s based on a real story. Of course that doesn’t go well with everyone, and doesn’t the plague refrain from laying waste to it.

Main character Anna is not completely inner circle, but not a complete outsider either, giving a(n usually) sensible view to the happenings of small village life. When she loses her control of her emotions, it’s all the more painful and uncomfortable; because if she can’t handle it any more, who else will?

It’s a book on ordinary happiness, family life, small minded judgment, feminism and religion. Maybe I’ll change my mind about appreciating it when I have to write a 2000 word essay on it, but for now; an addition for many to read lists.

Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks, Penguin Books 2002

The Shore

When news of the murder breaks I’m in Matthew’s, buying chicken necks so my little sister Renee and I can go crabbing.

A collection of stories all involving The Shore, a group of islands near the coast of Virginia. Some characters move through different stories, others only get a few pages. There’s whiffs of magic for some, (post)apocalyptic disaster for others. It’s a collection of island stories, throughout time.

The Shore seems to devour the people that want more, know more, creating a bubble inside the already bubble-like surroundings. Better to keep your mouth shut, your eyes down, your dreams small.

Yet this never makes the stories bitter; the majority seem to be light and fragile like the bubble it plays in. Is this really such a bad life, or just like any of those on the mainland?

The Shore starts strongly, but could have moved the stories around more to keep the appeal up. Now there’s a too clear peak with the feeling of an okay-ish aftermath.

The Shore, Sara Taylor, Penguin Random House 2015

Remarkable Creatures

Lightning has struck me all my life.

I don’t particularly feel like going to hunt fossils right now, but I am curious about the small village of Lyme Regis. Tracy Chevalier has a style in this novel that makes you forget you’re reading digital. The pages take on structures, the story adds a physical sensation, like the book shelters touchable details.

Main characters are spinster Elisabeth, wild and poor child Mary, and the beaches, fossils and water of Lyme Regis. In this short story (under 300 pages, which seems to be a common denominator in last books read), the reader goes along for the fossil hunt and discovering skeletons from creatures previously unknown. This is early nineteenth century England, crocodiles are the height of exotic creatures.

It’s a novel for the senses, filled with a variety of female characters. It’s lovely.

Remarkable Creatures, Tracy Chevalier, Penguin Books 2010

In Order to Live

On the cold, black night of March 31, 2007, my mother and I scrambled down the steep, rocky back of the frozen Yalu River that divides North Korea and China.

Autobiografieën boeten vaak in op stijl over waarheid. Het voelt dan oppervlakkig om commentaar te leveren op de warboel van het geschreven materiaal, wanneer het geschreven materiaal zo extreem, eng, bizar, enzovoorts is. Maakt het echt uit hoe mooi/lelijk het verhaal is opgeschreven, als het verhaal aantoont hoe gruwelijk het leven in Noord-Korea is?

Auteur Yeonmi Park is er opgegroeid, ontsnapt het voor andere horror in China en Mongolië, om vervolgens in Zuid-Korea aan te komen en beschouwd te worden als tweederangs burger. Noord-Koreanen zijn tenslotte achterlijke, gehersenspoelde arbeiders. Hoe dat komt, laat Yeonmi ook niet achterwege. Als het idee dat Noord-Korea een achterlijk doch aandoenlijk land is nog bestond, kan dat nu definitief vernietigd worden. Het is een kamp waarin de overgrote meerderheid langzaam afsterft om er voor te zorgen dat de rijke, machtige meerderheid een bordkartonnen idee van succes en geluk overeind kan houden. Men is gehersenspoeld, maar hoe kom je daar achter tot je omgeving verandert?

Het maakt het geen makkelijk, opbeurend, leesbaar verhaal, maar om je wereldbeeld te verbreden, wel essentieel. De vermakelijke, spetterend geschreven roman kan een andere keer wel weer.

In Order to Live:  A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, Yeonmi Park, Penguin Press 2015

Hand To Mouth

In the fall of 2013, I was in my first semester of school in a decade.

Zoals ik al eens eerder heb gezegd: sommige boeken moet je lezen voor de POV, de (onbekende) invalshoek. Wat weet je als Nederlander nu echt van Amerikaanse armoede?

Tirado is arm op een manier die hier onbekend is. Meerdere banen, maar nog de keuze tussen benzine of eten. Een slechte gezondheid omdat een behandeling te duur is maar ook te veel tijd kost. Ze laat zien dat er geen uitgang is bij deze vicieuze cirkel, omdat er nooit genoeg ruimte is voor een pauze, sparen, egoïstisch zijn.

De auteur doet dit wel op een agressieve manier. Haar woede is begrijpelijk, want men kijkt nog steeds op armen neer, en zeker de Amerikaanse samenleving blijft maar vasthouden aan de illusie dat je er met hard werken wel komt. Er wordt regelmatig gevloekt, en ze weigert excuses te geven voor haar keuzes en gedachten.

Zacht gezegd is het dus geen pretje, dit boek. Maar het schopt wel flink tegen ouderwetse ideeën waar wij aan vast houden om geen verandering door te drukken.

Hand To Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, Linda Tirado, Penguin Books 2014