An American Marriage

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home, and those who don’t.

Layers upon layers to uncover and think about in a book that could just be summarised by its title: yep, it’s about a marriage. Between Americans. But these Americans are Black, one of them is wrongfully incarcerated and what is a marriage if it’s largely between people of one is in prison?

This way, Tayari Jones looks at the prison system, racism, the institution of marriage, the first ones in families to go study and the burden that comes with it. This is a story that creeps under the skin, leaves you staring in the distance afterwards – empty and fulfilled at the same time.

Because what would have happened if Roy wouldn’t have been locked up? The marriage wasn’t perfect, but which one is? What if they would never have married? What if they would have grown up in another state or even another country? In what ways is the USA to blame for this entire situation? How is ancestry to blame (if so)?

It’s a testament to Jones’ writing that none of this adds an essay-like feeling to the novel: it’s a story first. A painful one, with glimmers of hope.

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones, Harper Collins 2018

Pastorale

Oscar liet de woorden van de leraar los – hij wist alles al.

Ja, tsja, ja, wat is dit nu precies? Ook al zitten er een paar eeuwen tussen, deed Pastorale mij soms aan Hasse Simonsdochter denken. Misschien dezelfde omgeving plus dat typische ‘Ha, lekker Nederlands’-gevoel? Het is in ieder geval niet dat er veel meer overeenkomsten zijn.

In Pastorale gaat het om een kleine gereformeerde gemeenschap waar in/tegenaan Molukkers gedumpt zijn ten tijde van KNIL. Het woord segregatie valt maar een paar keer, maar alle acties spreken duidelijk genoeg: zowel de Molukse Nederlandsers als de inboorlingen beschouwen het als een tijdelijke situatie.

Daarnaast is er Louise. Zij gelooft niet meer. Ze is terug thuis, maar een compleet buitenstaander. Hoe ze daar mee omgaat, en vindt dat ze daarmee om moet gaat, wisselt nog al.

Oscar zweeft tussen dat alles door, of is hij juist zo passief dat zijn complete zijn bewegingloos is? Hij komt in contact met de Molukse inwoners en leert er meer dan hij op school voorgeschoteld krijgt.

Nergens wordt nadrukkelijk genoemd in welke tijd dit speelt, en omdat dit kleine dorp al zo stil in de geschiedenis ligt, wordt het verhaal en haar karakters nog een tikje meer vervreemdend. Dit is een geschiedenisboek, maar net alsof het de geschiedenis van een andere versie van Nederland geeft.

Dus, wat is het? Je tijd waard.

Pastorale, Stephan Enter, Uitgeverij van Oorschot 2019

How to Love a Jamaican

The first time I saw Cecilia, she was the only other black girl in our small group during freshman orientation.

I like pleasant surprises.

After a frustrating couple of hours concerning my e-book reader app, I ended up with Libby. To make sure it was the app and not my tablet (six years old), I borrowed something to make sure the novel would show. How to Love a Jamaican was that novel, and it showed.

It’s also a collection of (short) stories, for those that are apprehensive about those (like myself). They all involve a Jamaican, Jamaica and love in some kind of way – self, family, friendships, romantically.

I know that PoC authors and their stories are all too often described as “colourful” or “vibrant” so I’m going to refrain and say that these stories were fun, even when they subject wasn’t. There was a certain kind of life in them, even when you can’t recognise the situation mentioned. Immigration is a part of these stories, but not the story, and – what a surprise – all protagonists go through the same things people in white authored stories go.

All in all, this was a great start with my new reader app and it better continues delivering.

How to Love a Jamaican, Alexia Arthurs, Ballantine Books 2018

The Half of It

105 min.

And that’s how you do a coming-of-age, finding-your-way film for teenagers in a way that isn’t bubblegum colours, dubious voice-overs and an aggressive soundtrack.

half of it posterThat might make The Half of It dull for some people. Protagonist Ellie goes through life in the shadows and not in the Everyone Notices The Wallflower-way but really: in the background of everything. Her fellow pupils only notice her because of her essay writing skills, and one of them decides to use those skills for a more romantic endeavour. ‘Romantic’, as this is a teenage story and Cyrano de Bergerac-ing a relationship is never a good idea.

But that’s what happens, and Ellie is confronted with things that hang out with her in those self-chosen shadows. Do I make it sound too much like a horror film like this? I swear it isn’t!

Although looking at the poster.. that’s a bad poster.

Anyway, focus. The Half of It is a film for the children of immigrants, the half-orphans, those who have ever been confused with their identity, and those that didn’t view high school as the highest point of their life’s experience. It’s sweet in a cool way.

Worry it’s all too teenager for you? Watch Saving Face by the same director.

The Half of It, Netflix 2020

There Will Come a Darkness

In the moonlit room overlooking the city of faith, a priest knelt before Ephyra and begged for his life.

Am I going to say it? I’m going to say it. This is another ‘I thought this would be a stand-alone fantasy YA’ failure on my part. Of COURSE it’s part of a series, rookie mistake!

The nice thing is that you don’t really notice until it’s too late. The question of ‘how is this going to be cleanly rolled up in so little pages left’ doesn’t show up until 3/4 into the book, and even then Katy Rose Pool doesn’t use neon-light warnings to guide you to the open ending. The ending isn’t even that open, which to me – avid hater of open endings – is a relief.

Except for the ages of the protagonists, it’s not very YA either (little romance, little teen-specific issues) and the fantasy part delivers. Scary cult, people with gifts, threatening apocalypse, royals et cetera. The world-building makes you wonder if this is supposed to be our past or our distance future: just look at the map used.

With five protagonists it sometimes feels a bit like some get more time in the spotlight than others; it also makes it easy to quickly get a preference. Maybe in the next book(s) the attention will shifts and you might feel more for other characters.

All in all, a nothing-wrong-with fantasy. If I’d see the sequel in the library, I wouldn’t ignore it.

There Will Come a Darkness, Katy Rose Pool, MacMillan 2019

The Marrow Thieves

Mitch was smiling so big his back teeth shone in the soft light of the solar-powered lamp we’d scavenged from someone’s shed.

I don’t like post-apocalyptic stories; they make me very nervous. With the way the people in power are ignoring environmental and societal issues, it’s – for me – not that hard to believe that sooner than later we’ll be scavenging food and fighting for survival. It’s not something I enjoy thinking about, so why did I still start The Marrow Thieves?

Because of the author and the point of the view of the story: indigenous people. I always try to read more by indigenous writers, books using indigenous stories (although that’s a whole other (potentially sticky) kettle of fish), and this one made it sound more sci-fi-ish than “the world has gone to the crapper and humans are terrible”. We all make mistakes, sometimes.

Cherie Dimaline keeping the story short (less than 200 pages) and the characters very recognisable and deserving of your support prevents you from leaving this story feeling absolute despair. Yes, humans are terrible. Also yes: humans have family, hope and determination.

I still hope we don’t need those in a post-apocalyptic setting.

The Marrow Thieves, Cherie Dimaline, Cormorant Books 2017

Dora the Explorer and the Lost City of Gold

102 min.

Now why would I go to the Dora the Explorer movie? Because offerings are sparse right now, my theatre pass is unlimited and it kind of looked like a kiddie Indiana Jones, and I enjoy adventure movies that don’t just revolve around white people. That’s why.

Dora the Explorer and the lost city of gold posterI wasn’t wrong about the kiddie Indiana Jones part; there’s just a give-or-take twenty minute long fish-out-of-water introduction before we get there. Dora grew up in the jungle (for those that don’t know the original material), has to move to a big city in the States and adjust to high school before she is catapulted back into the jungle again. Where she can show her worth.

What saves this film from firmly being for age group 9 – 14 only are the winks. Small moments in which the film gets a little bit meta, breaking the fourth wall (except not completely) and second guessing Dora’s behaviour because boy – there’s a lot of chipper energy in there.

All that makes Dora the Explorer and The Last City of GoldĀ a wholesome combination of Mean Girls and Indiana Jones: except with more people of colour. Will it blow you away because of its cinematography, plot and dialogue? Very probably not. Will it entertain you? I believe it might.

Dora the Explorer and the Lost City of Gold,

Internment

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

The Talented Ribkins

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

Ali’s Wedding

110 min.

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?

Alis Wedding imdbThis 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