I strain to listen for boots on the pavement.
Looking back after having finished this novel I realise how naive and privileged it is of me to have thought “well sometimes she’s exaggerating a bit”. Something about how we are doomed to repeat history if we don’t learn from it, etc.
In this case the lesson is ‘Do not imprison innocent people for the sole reason that their religion, skin colour and/or ancestral background is different from yours’. Shown in the Second World War, the States did it with Japanese Americans, and Samira Ahmed does it a few decades later with American Muslims. Because in Internment a president – very alike of the one the USA has right now – comes in power, and he’s much more effective in getting his racist ideas turned into actions. American Muslims are put into camps on American soil.
And just like before, there are plenty euphemisms going around. None can cover up that the camp is surrounded by barb wire, that every guard has a weapon and that any sign or sound of protest is violently taken down. Here comes my conclusion from the first paragraph in: isn’t this put down all a bit too extremely? I should know better. We all should.
It’s good that the novel is less than 300 pages, because there’s no escaping the terror the characters are put through. Not just the mental and physical torture; also the shock of seeing how fast people get used to it. Again, as we should know.
All this makes for a bitter pill that as many as possible of us should swallow.
Internment, Samira Ahmed, Little, Brown & Company 2019
He only came back because Melvin said he would kill him if he didn’t pay off his debt by the end of the week.
Now how to talk about this one. There’s a fantastical element in this story (several, if you consider all the individuals involved), but I definitely wouldn’t call it a story from the fantasy genre. Maybe more magic realistic? Anyway, these talents can come in quite handy, but brought ruin to almost every owner – every member of the Ribkins family.
The Ribkins are a black family, with one generation starting out as activists (during the Civil Rights Movement) but seeming to have ended up in crime. Each of their stories rub against historical facts, which makes the people with extraordinary powers trope so much more realistic, and keeps the focus on those people, instead of what they do with their powers.
This is combined with a playground (Florida) that somehow manages to make all of it more surreal and real at the same time. Of course the main character needs to dig up money he hid around the state, of course their last name has a wonderful background. Ladee Hubbard bakes all of it together, and it tastes strange, but good.
The Talented Ribkins, Ladee Hubbard, Melville House 2017
Did I watch this before, or is the story just too familiar? Which would be sad, because why are multiple people in the twenty-first century still telling their children which career and which life partner to pick?
This story is based on real life events, with the author playing the male lead – and I guess originator of the confusion created by lying. First he lies about getting into medicine (he doesn’t), then ends up engaged to someone he doesn’t want to be engaged to, and then there’s the temporary marriage to someone else. Oh, and being banned from the USA for a play, but that might have been the result of the man’s honesty.
All this might make it sound like a comedy of errors, but underneath always runs the line of being stuck between cultures. Ali’s Iraqi in Australia, and no matter how much his father knows about many things; he doesn’t understand that his son doesn’t want to become a doctor and doesn’t want an arranged marriage. He’s not the only one suffering, and the film gives a bit of room to others to show so.
This time, there’s a happy ending (in a way), but this film might serve as a reminder that there’s plenty people stuck, and that some things can’t be solved by musicals in mosques (honestly, does that happen? The more you know).
Ali’s Wedding, Netflix 2017
I like to think I know what death is.
There’s a kind of story that is elevated by the surroundings its in. Even though this is the case in Sing, Unburied, Sing, it isn’t always saved by those surroundings. The story is dark and muddy, and there’s no air bubbles to be found in this morass.
Here’s a small, hurting family in the societal backgrounds of the USA. They hurt because of deaths past and future, addictions and crimes. Jojo is the young teenager who the story evolves around, but his drug addicted mother gets to share her angle as well.
If there’s not enough unhappiness around these two, death starts interfering with the living, and the story starts to feel like something the ancient Greeks would use as an example for hell. No matter what you do, misery will follow.
I’m slightly disgruntled because of having read this. Not because it’s badly written or a sloppy story, solely because it’s just full of disgruntlement, big and small. You could read it for the slice of depressing life, but don’t expect any uplifting experience.
Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward, Scribner 2017
So much fun, so sparkly, so cute, so many beautiful people. What do you mean, you’re going to need more than that to go watch it? Or go read it? The Crazy Rich trilogy got a movie, and most of the first book has been used for this movie.
Anyway, this is a romantic comedy about a woman who discovers that her boyfriend is just about a couple of million times richer than she knew. And she discovers this because he invites her over to his family home.
This story line is literally and figuratively brightened up with a lot of beautiful mansions, houses, cars, outfits and colourful side characters. The majority of the cast is lovely to look at as well.
Is any of it groundbreaking? Possibly how the complete cast has an Asian background, but this movie will satisfy your romcom-need all the same. And if you can’t wait for the sequel: there’s the books.
Crazy Rich Asians, Warner Brothers 2018
De film is indrukwekkend Nieuw-Zeelands, en niet alleen door de omgeving en de humor. Misschien is het omdat ik het herken, misschien is het omdat ik ander werk van de regisseur heb gezien (Thor: Ragnarok, What We Do in the Shadows). Hoe dan ook, het is ‘indie’ maar dan nog net een beetje anders. Droger, waarschijnlijk.
Terwijl het onderwerp van de film het makkelijk een slopende tranentrekker had kunnen maken. Een pleegkind krijgt een laatste kans; op een klein boerderijtje in de middle of nowhere. Hij is een ongemakkelijke puber, maar zijn pleegmoeder breekt er snel doorheen. Zijn pleegvader niet.
Laat dat nu degene zijn waarmee hij vandoor gaat om te voorkomen dat hij de jeugdgevangenis in moet.
Een groot deel van de film speelt zich af in de wildernis, met maar twee acteurs, maar door tempo en dialoog wordt het geen moment rustig. Beiden komen uit hun schulp omdat het wel moet, hoe pijnlijk het ook is.
En zo klopt van begin tot einde een hart in deze film. Met af en toe zulke gortdroge momenten dat dat hart even de hik krijgt.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Piki Films 2016
“I know you hate surprises, Stella.
A romance involving a poc love interest and a protagonist with Asperger’s; look at the genre entering the twenty-first century!
I know romance is (usually) frowned upon, but looking at it (this and fantasy), it might be the category that gives room most easily to someone other than the white heterosexuals. Good for them, good for us.
Stella is on the spectrum, and after another push of her parents with regards to dating she decides to approach sex and romantic relationships the way she does everything else: fully logical and mathematical. That includes hiring an escort and To Do lists to tick off.
But of course! Lust and love happens, and both are described in delicious ways. The only sour note in the entire story is Michael’s actions near the end of the story; they could have prospered with a better motivation and/or argumentation for accepting it. Don’t let that keep you from a lovely, sexy romance.
The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang, Penguin Random House 2018
Why did Mindi want an arranged marriage?
And yes, the erotic stories are shared. Just because of the title, I expected comedy, some coming of age and Learning Life’s Lessons, but I got much more. It’s a credit to Jaswal’s writing that I wasn’t disappointed by that, sooner the opposite.
Yes, there’s definitely comedy, and main character Nikki (Mindi’s sister) needs to discover what she wants to do in live and how she’ll do that without hurting her Punjabi family (and surroundings, in a way). This is definitely a story about the two lives immigrants/children of immigrants live, but it’s never just that. Nikki thinks she’s going to teach the widows Creative Writing, the widows prefer to share their creativity in another way.
Alongside that is a plot line that at first might feel tacked on. Missing girls, bitter feuds, really? But then it all starts to connect and this isn’t just a comedy any more, this is an all too realistic calling card to look at misogyny. Suddenly the tempo is picked up and the reader has to juggle several plot lines colliding.
But as mentioned before, Balli Kaur Jaswal does it well. Making this novel all-round entertaining and informing.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, Balli Kaur Jaswal, Harper Collins 2017
In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her.
This is an author of which I like his stories, and usually his detached way of writing, yet find it hard to put into words what I precisely like about both things mentioned.
This time he manages to make the refugee story (people fleeing versus people accepting and or fighting their addition to their familiar surroundings) slightly magical and/yet apocalyptic. Because the main characters are refugees, but they manage to leave their country through a door, a black hole, that can appear behind any door. This means that people from all around the world appear all around the world without the lethal trips and troubles.
But after that, there’s still acceptance to fight for. The book is pretty evenly divided between before, during and after the migratory moves and changes. This way you don’t have to think about the ever after, Hamid provides.
In the end, it’s kind of a hopeful story with plenty of realism to make you feel better about the subject.
Exit West, Mohsin Hamid, Hamish Hamilton 2017
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