10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, Elif Shafak, Penguin Random House UK 2019

Wow. Meestal schrijf ik Engels-gelezen verhalen ook in het Engels op, maar deze keer (en mogelijk het tijdstip – laat opgebleven om het uit te lezen) voelt de taal ontoereikend. Wat een mooi boek, wat een mooi verhaal terwijl er zoveel lelijke gebeurtenissen zijn. Wat een hoeveeheid liefde: voor de hoofdpersoon, haar zelfgekozen familie en ook de stad Istanbul. Wat een plaatjes, ook van de gruwelijke dingen en nare situaties. Wat een alles.

Tequila Leila is dood. Vermoord. Behalve haar laatste tien minuten mogen we ook haar leven en haar beide families – bloed en liefde – ontmoeten. Een meisje dat opgroeit halverwege de twintigste eeuw in een klein dorpje, bijna in de knop gedingest voor ze kan bloeien, en dan nog Istanbul in. Waar ze leeft, overleeft, geeft. Het zou zonde zijn om meer te vertellen, alleen erover vertellen geeft mij al de neiging om het boek opnieuw te beginnen.

Het is een fragiel sprookje, een mozaïek van een levende stad (ook iets waar ik zo van houd, de stad als personage), een ode aan eigenheid. Bovenal zo mooi, zo goed, zo sprankelend prachtig.

Interior Chinatown

INT. GOLDEN PALACE

Ever since you were a boy, you’ve dreamt of being Kung Fu Guy.

Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu, Vintage Books 2020

I don’t really know how to review it and this time that’s a good thing. It’s original and awkward and confrontational. With racism and hate directed at Asians (in the diaspora) it’s also very, very relevant.

And in between: fun. Throwing you off balance, not being what you expected. It’s not something I experience often, and for that alone I’d recommend this novel.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

Lala comes home and Wilma is waiting, having returned early from visiting Carson at the hospital.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, Cherie Jones, Harper Collins 2021

I liked this one, but I didn’t like this one. It’s a story far away from me; both geographically and in experience, so that’s good – that’s a reason I read. But for once I wish that those kind of stories were happier, lighter, more fun.

In How the One-Armed Sister (etc.) there’s not a lot of fun. A line of women view themselves and/or their daughters as cursed and life seems to agree with that view. There’s relational abuse, stealing, death – and very little light at the end of the tunnel. Jones shares beautiful imagery of the island, the houses, the sheds, making the (emotional) violence only starker.

Of course, these stories need to be told, deserve to be told, and so on. To me it sometimes just feels that writing from a woman of colour has to be synonymous to suffering. I know there are romances and fantasy by people of colour, but why are the family sagas so often so tough? Is this the only way of life or the only thing that publishers will support?

Both ideas left me uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean that this novel isn’t worth your discomfort.

The Voting Booth

I don’t like it when people make hyperbolic statements, so I really mean it when I say I’ve been waiting for this day my entire life.

The Voting Booth: Make it count, Brandy Colbert, Hyperion 2020

A YA-novel that wants to tackle the American voting system, (and) voter suppression. While adding a budding romance, because would it be YA without a romance?

Brandy Colbert manages to pull it off for her target audience. Older eyes may be rolled because of ‘found-love-in-a-day’, or Marva’s utter devotion to improve the system, but for those of her age it might well be uplifting and motivating. And the novel is almost as run-on as that one sentence.

Yet it never gets overly preachy, nor naive. Marva wants to help someone to vote, and discovers how hard that can be. The person she helps is a cute guy, but that’s only a slightly distracting factor. Something else sabotages her, but the story turns convoluted nowhere.

As a teacher, I’d definitely view this as an option to educate about the (American) voting system, but as a softie for teen romance I’d definitely recommend it to everyone who wants a not-saccharine shot of that.

Amnesty

All of the coastline of Sri Lanka is indented, mysterious, and beautiful – but not place is more mysterious than Batticaloa.

Amnesty, Aravind Adiga, Picador 2020

I finished this not long after watching White Tiger, the film that’s based on Aravind Adiga’s previous novel. Without much of a plan – it just came together like that.

Amnesty poses the question about how to follow the law when you’re not following it to start with. Sort of. Danny has overstayed his visa in Australia and is viewed as an illegal immigrant, but he also thinks that he knows who the murderer of one of his cleaning clients is. Will his wrong be righted by doing the right thing?

I was embarrassed by the amount of time it took me to recognise that this isn’t a crystal-clear-cut situation. If you’re viewed as illegal, society thinks it owns you nothing and will throw you out as soon as you’re noticed. One good action won’t outbalance the horrible (air quotes) action of you outstaying your welcome. Danny flits through life and always has to wonder where the hits will come from. He’s surviving, not thriving because he’s invisible – not seen by authorities and government, moving below the surface.

You can’t yell at him to stop picking up the phone and go to the police right away: he’s just trying to keep his feet on Australian soil.

Queenie

I locked my phone and carried on looking at the ceiling before unlocking it and sending a follow-up “xx.”

Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams, Scout Press 2019

Just as with Luster I sometimes felt like this book wasn’t for me, that I shouldn’t read it. Should a white person even accept the ever-so-honest soul-baring of a black woman, even though – as a reviewer put it – it’s “reminiscent of Bridget Jones”?

Of course, I still stuck my nose in it. And it stayed there. Because even though sometimes it was very uncomfortable at times – Queenie has some less than healthy coping mechanisms for what life throws at her – you root so hard for this woman. Not because she’s written in a fun, recognisable way but because of what she’s experienced and is still experiencing and still trying.

What I also appreciate – and I’m sure that if both author and protagonist would have been male, this would have gotten a lot of attention as Great Coming of Age novel – is that there’s no easy way out. Neither mince words, the happily ever after is the slightly-alright-half-way-there. To manage that, and still be funny and have a realistic outlook on life: good stuff.

Trickster Drift

The clouds finally broke into a sullen drizzle after a muggy, overcast day.

Trickster Drift, Eden Robinson, Alfred A. Knopf 2018

I can’t remember the last time I was so consciously waiting for a book. I read Son of a Trickster a long while ago, so why library – why did it take you two years to get me a sequel that was written in the year I read the prequel? Rhetorical question, I don’t need an answer.

With the first novel it took me a while to adjust to the story and appreciate what I took from it. With that knowledge, I expected to struggle again this time, but get a satisfying pay-off. Except – no struggle in sight. The e-book is almost 600 pages and I flew through them. Maybe Robinson found her flow, maybe I did, but I didn’t want to stop reading.

Jared has escaped some of the wild, eerie, lethal shit that was braided through his life and surroundings, but not all of it. And now he’s adding sobriety and study to them. So even though it seems like there’s more love and care around him, we should probably give him a break when he doesn’t immediately (positively) react to it (I tried, boy – did I try).

As it been two years since I’ve read the previous book, I can’t say if this one got scarier or more gory, but gosh – there’s a fine line between things that should only be myths and our reality in Robinson’s world.

It’s deliciously eerie, and can the library please get the completing novel in soon?

The City We Became

I sing the city.

The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin, Orbit 2020

I keep giving N.K. Jemisin chances, to sound delightfully dramatic. Like they care. I mostly care because on paper (heh) she’s got everything I desire, but the click continued to miss. This time the click was loud. A bit delayed, but loud all the same.

In The City We Became there’s cities that come alive and people that are cities, multiple dimensions (a bit like an onion, but maybe more like a pastry), human beings (bigotry) being the scariest enemy and oh sh- is that a Cthulhu reference?

It’s like Jemisin inhaled all that I love (close to reality, eerie as hell, new ideas with familiar roots) and coughed up this creation written so well that I was worried about this not being fiction at all. I don’t want her to be the person showing us behind the matrix.

Only downside? “This first part of a trilogy”.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

Only idiots aren’t afraid of flying.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, Scaachi Koul, Doubleday 2017

I didn’t know about this woman’s existence before reading this collection of articles/slices of life. Possibly it was the title that caught my attention, and I always consciously try to read more by women of colour. Another thing I appreciated was how her view of India juxtaposed with the one mentioned in The Far Field. As someone who wants to visit India one day, it was nice to hear that it’s not an unsafe for white people pile of trash after all.

But I deter; this is about Scaachi Koul, not me. A Canadian woman with Indian parents and the body, hangups and cultural differences that come with it. She discusses these in a dry tone and also explains why: women have little room – women of colour even less to have any kind of emotion that isn’t desired.

In under 200 pages she shows both her life as that of an immigrant daughter, a brown woman in Canada, just another person growing up.

Some articles are very recognisable, some might make you cringe. As far as insights go: consider me further insighted.

The Farm

The emergency room is an assault.

The Farm, Joanne Ramos, Doubleday 2019

I expected this to be sharper. Almost halfway in I commented that I was hoping that the author would deliver on what she was promising. She didn’t. This is a clear example of a novel that would have blown the mind of someone less well-read and well-informed. I know that sounds snobbish, but it’s the truth in this case: the ideas used in this novel are quite Body Sovereignty 101 and What Are The Limits of Capitalism 101. You might be curious about learning more, but for those that already did, it leaves you feeling a bit without direction.

The Farm is a very luxurious place where (implied illegal) immigrant women are surrogates for very rich families. For nine months they are pampered, kept from their usual lives and financially rewarded for several reasons. They’re also not allowed to have too many emotions, share too much personal information and contact anyone outside. They’re endlessly (physically) checked out and basically just viewed and handled as walking wombs.

Jane comes from the Philippines, is a young mother and tries to better her life for her daughter. She starts out as a nanny, but something happens which cuts off that line of work.

Sharing more would spoil some of the plot lines that are nicely knitted together, but simply miss spark. Do I need to be angry? Horrified? Was this all just a pamphlet?

I guess I’m still in the market for something that teaches me more about surrogacy and/or rich people that need to be stopped.