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

Wanda Sykes: Not Normal

66 min.

I’m not a fan of comedians and their shows. Usually it’s too long, and there’s too much secondhand embarrassment to balance out the funny parts. I rejected several of the recommended shows on Netflix: some I couldn’t even handle for ten minutes. But I was cleaning up my list, this was the last remaining one – okay, I’ll try it.

Wanda SykesThe last comedian show I watched on Netflix was Hannah Gadsby’s. There’s barely no comparing here, which is good for both parties involved.

Wanda Sykes is about American politics and her personal life as a wife, a mother and a woman going through menopause. It’s stone cold sober with a large amount of questions: not very strange considering the subjects.

My biggest relief was that she doesn’t do the thing most male comedians do: wait for laughter. Sykes doesn’t go out with the aim of Being Hilarious – it’s her story telling and her subjects that make you snort.

And talking about length? I only checked how much time I had left once.

Wanda Sykes: Not Normal, Netflix 2019

This is Going to Hurt

In 2010, after six years of training and a further six years on the wards, I resigned from my job as a junior doctor.

There’s very little joy to be found here, but heck – even the title tells you that. Besides that, it’s non-fiction and about the NHS (Britain’s national health). Even if you don’t know anything about that subject, the sum of these must ring a small alarm bell.

Adam Kay isn’t a doctor anymore, and these are his diary notes that have led up to that decision. Mostly it’s terribly politics and how hospitals deal with it, but patients don’t go scot-free either. This way even the awkward giggles feel bad because there’s lives at stake here and only those that can’t do anything about it, seem to care.

There are bits when Adam sounds a bit too full of himself, and maybe some more background would be nice, but this is a man’s personal story. Use it as motivation to do your own background research. If you’re sure that you want to know more about the state NHS is in, anyway.

This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay, Picador 2017

Invisible Women

Most of recorded human history is one big data gap.

Good gravy, just when you thought you already knew, things turn out to be so much worse. Next to a sexist gap in pay, safety and health there is a huge one in the thing that drives pretty  much all of society: data.

Why is the default ‘he’? Why is there still a riddle about a doctor whose husband died, and why do too many people involved with design viewing women as ‘men with boobs’? Well, because societies worldwide have made it so, and not enough people in powerful positions protest it. And it turns out to be lethal for women.

Invisible Women isn’t particularly uplifting material: there’s just so many numbers and anecdotes on things that went wrong and are going wrong and men not giving a damn about it. How do we rally for change when the entire history of humanity is against us?

Because in some cases and in some countries things have changed and are changing. And you can never change something you don’t know anything about. And because it might save your life to know.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez, Abrams Press 2019

The Square

108 min.

Het is alweer bijna tien jaar geleden dat Egyptenaren Tahrir square overnamen in de hoop op een revolutie die naar een betere samenleving zou leiden. In deze documentaire wordt zichtbaar hoe dat ging, en hoe dat fout ging.

the square posterWat ook nadrukkelijk zichtbaar wordt, is wat wij hier allemaal maar aannemen als gewoon, en dat niemand van de gefilmde protesteerders om veel vragen. Men wilt geen basisinkomen, gratis elektrische auto of luxe appartement in het centrum van de stad. Nee, de Egyptenaren vragen om brood, gelijkheid, de kans om als een eervol lid van de maatschappij beschouwd te worden, in plaats van steeds maar weer omlaag getrapt te worden. Ze vragen om een einde van corruptie.

Naarmate de revolutie verloopt, zie je ook de naïviteit langzaam verdwijnen. Zó’n verenigd blok zijn de mensen ook weer niet, en sommigen kiezen de makkelijkste weg in plaats van de meest hoopvolle. Maar ook hier het punt: makkelijk oordelen vanuit onze veilige invalshoek.

Mensen zijn vermoord door de overheid die hen zou moeten beschermen, omdat ze om beter vroegen. Maar een klein beetje beter. The Square draait daar niet omheen en weigert ook andere partijen de schuld kwijt te schelden. Het is een verlammende documentaire; deze geschiedenis is nog zo recent en alweer zo ver vergeten door hen die er geen onderdeel van zijn.

‘Viva la revolucion’ wereldwijd, zolang ze maar te behappen is. Want wie weet nu hoe het tegenwoordig in Egypte is?

The Square, Netflix 2013

Spotlight

129 min.

Great fun, a film about child abuse in the catholic church! And it’s based on true facts, yay! It’s a crude introduction to a subject one doesn’t enjoy thinking about, which was precisely the problem in this real life case: too many people shoving it under the carpet.

film poster spotlightEven the Boston Globe, the newspaper that unearths the story and publishes it, isn’t free from blame. The catholic church is a powerful monolith, Boston is a catholic filled city, churches are everywhere. To stick to the theme: Goliath was easily found, but was David even going to show up?

Spotlight isn’t a quick, bright film, it shows how (research) journalism and a newspaper work(/used to work) and how much time such a thing takes. As a retired journalist it was bittersweet to watch, for those that don’t have that connection it might be a look behind the curtains of what so many people already view as history.

I watched it in two parts, you could even watch it in four if your life is so serialised. Either way, it’s a story worth remembering or discovering. Both for the subject and the process.

Spotlight, Anonymous Content 2015

The Boat People

Mahindan was flat on his back when the screaming began, one arm right-angled over his eyes.

This isn’t a particularly uplifting story. Reading is escapism, isn’t it? Unless you never have any media-intake that won’t be the case with this novel. The subject is a three-step ladder of contemporary news: racism in politics, war zones and (boat) refugees.

These three angles are showcased through the points of view of different people: a refugee, the people helping them, and those that need to make sure that no refugee brings danger into the country (Canada, in this case). It’s easy to view the latter as the villains of this piece: they start out with a negative angle and won’t be swayed. But in today’s society it would be naive to act like that negative angle hasn’t landed on fertile land, and what does that say about us?

The same can be said from the ‘good’ immigrants that lament these refugees for not doing immigration “the right way”. We all need thoughts to comfort us, so who’s to blame for acting upon them?

Of course, nothing happening in this novel will make you think: yes, let’s deny every refugee asylum, yay! but it very much shows the booby-trapped labyrinth immigration and asylum (laws) have become. With an all too human face to it, on all sides.

The Boat People, Sharon Bala, McClelland & Stewart 2018

The Goblin Emperor

Maia woke with his cousin’s cold fingers digging into his shoulder.

I hate to copy someone’s review but yes: if you’re about court stories, intrigue and politics in a fantasy setting, this one will do you real good. No need to call it Game of Thrones but with goblins: there’s not enough mass slaughter and incest for that. It (looks to be) is a stand alone as well, which doesn’t happen to often in fantasy either. And how often do goblins get their chance in the sun?

Well, in this book not all the time either. These are elvish countries after all, and freshly made emperor Maia is …not like the usual people in charge. He’s far from prepared for his new role, and there’s little people eager to help him out.

That’s where politics and intrigue come in. Sometimes there’s so many names and roles that it’s best just to cling to the story line, but it never turns into a list of characters. The glances at the world throughout make you long for more; another main story line about ordinary life in this steam punk-ish world would have been welcome.

All in all, it’s a solid, traditional built and written fantasy with some freshness coming from the steam punk elements (could have been more, but that’s world-building-loving me) and goblins in the spotlight.

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison, Tor 2014

Knock down the House

87 min.

Aan de ene kant helemaal geweldig hoe rah-rah! je wordt van deze documentaire want potverdorie wat zijn deze mensen goed bezig om de (politieke) wereld te veranderen. Aan de andere kant pijnlijk in hoeverre dat nog nodig is, omdat de bestaande politici vastgegroeid zitten tussen lobby en eigen belang.

Knock down the House posterDeze documentaire is niet alleen over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, ook al wordt haar naam en beeltenis gebruikt om de aandacht te trekken. Het gaat hier om grass-roots, om de mensen (meestal vrouwen) die er helemaal genoeg van hebben dat zij op geen enkele manier vertegenwoordigd worden in de politiek. Er zitten karakters tussen die zo verdomde inspirerend bent dat je je afvraagt waarom ze niet al [x aantal] jaar in een functie zitten waar ze de wereld ook kunnen verbeteren. Nou, dat legt de documentaire ook fijntjes uit.

Je hoeft heel weinig van Amerikaanse politiek te snappen of interessant te vinden om deze documentaire te waarderen; het gaat hier om verandering vanaf de bodem. Hier in Nederland heeft men de mond vol van elite – deze docu laat zien op welke manier dat woord wél vies kan zijn. Dan mag Netflix volgend jaar over de mensen van Stem Op Een Vrouw documenteren.

Knock down the House, Netflix 2019

Bad Blood

November 17, 2006

I’m fond of the sentence ‘truth is stranger than fiction’, but this time the truth is so recognisable that the fictional version of it would have been waved away for being too boring. Ignorant people sticking to ignorance because it can possibly make them money? Sounds familiar.

This time there’s health involved though, which makes the schadenfreude slightly less because you know people might suffer more than a hurt ego and an empty savings account. Main villain is a young woman that decides she wants to be the next Steve Jobs, and as soon as possible. This leads to material that never works, a very tense work atmosphere and so much lies and threats towards both supporters and criticisers that you wonder if anyone involved has energy for daily life left.

So while you can laugh about all the dumb rich people that keep throwing more money at this company which is basically just a collection of shams, you’re confronted with the reality that this isn’t new. That companies work like this, that people out there will work harder for fame then for bettering society.

Yes, it’s a wild ride, but not an uplifting one. Just another argument for knowing that it’s truth: no clear cut happy ending in which everyone deserving of it get their comeuppance.

Bad Blood, John Carreyrou, Borzoi