Little Birds

Manuel and his wife were poor, and when they first looked for an apartment in Paris, they found only two dark rooms below the street level, giving on to a small stifling courtyard.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Classic. And I don’t expect Anaïs Nin to be on the same high school to-read lists like Jane Austen or Mark Twain, but I’m certain she can be called a Classic (the capital is necessary). So, like with other Classics, I picked the slimmest novel of the author and ended up with Little Birds, a collection of (very) short stories.

Erotic stories. Published after her death, so sadly I’ll never know if she gave a damn about being different like that. Maybe people in the 1940s didn’t give a damn either, the preface of the Penguin Classics version doesn’t touch upon any of it. But besides that, does this author deserve the title of Classic?

That’s not easily said after reading just one piece of work, but Little Birds definitely has a certain appeal. The writing is accessible, there is a certain easy rhythm in the short stories that can almost be put to music. And, very important to erotica, there are barely any (horrible) metaphors for genitals.

And maybe most important: Little Birds made me curious about more Anaïs Nin.

Little Birds, Anaïs Nin, W. H. Allen & Co. 1979

We Are All Made Of Glue

The first time I met Wonder Boy, he pissed on me.

Marina Lewycka has a way with making the extraordinary human and vice versa. An old exotic woman with a fairy tale house turns out to be just someone living through all the things (war, lost love, age) life throws at her. A doormat housewife becomes a crusader for elderly rights. And none of this happens with any characters turning into caricatures.

The friendship between Georgie (doormat) ans mrs Shapiro (old woman) is the axis of this story. Through reduced prices, estate agents, a witch of a social worker and a handyman who swaps b’s with p’s and vice versa the reader gets a slice of life served up.

And throughout the entire story Lewycka balances a thin line. Just when there’s the risk of frustrations, anger or confusion (the character does what?), she swoops in and makes the characters (likeable) humans again.

Right now it feels like I could pick any of Lewycka’s books and be pleasantly surprised again. Which is never a bad feeling to have.

We Are All Made Of Glue, Marina Lewycka, Fig Tree 2009

The Camel Book Mobile

The child, wide-legged on the ground, licked dust off his fist and tried to pretend he was tasting camel milk.

American librarian becomes part of a project to bring – by camel – books to Kenyan tribes. Some of the tribes-people like the act of reading and the new worlds that are opened to them, while others worry that tribe values will be replaced by written, fictional ones.

When two books aren’t returned to the book mobile (breaking one of the many rules surrounding the project), therefore risking the future of the book mobile – it’s clear that everyone, pro- and against, are influenced by what the book mobile brought and changed in their little village.

Masha Hamilton shows the small village as normal and the nearest big city as alien. It’s all in the eye of the beholder and what he or she is used to, after all. The main character realizes she is far from home, but doesn’t turn the strange into the wrong. All this comes together to create a fairy tale that is quite close to what any human experiences on a daily basis.

The Camel Book Mobile, Masha Hamilton, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2007

Sinners and the Sea

They say it is the mark of a demon.

Reading a book about a Christian figure, while being atheist. Most of my arguments against this book are probably based on that. So many frustrations about a cruel God and the disinterest and cruelty of Noah. And yet, I think I liked it.

Probably because from time to time the Christian parts are backstory instead of front and center. Noah’s wife is a sad girl growing into a sad woman, viewed as a demon because of the mark on her face. She expects little from life, is loving and passive and doesn’t understand all Noah’s fuss. Sinners are still human after all, are they not? The author manages to show that with some of the characters, while others are clearly considered lost. There is no grey in this world, only black and white. Besides that, Rebecca Kanner does a nice job of world-building. It is hot and sandy and the nearby city is a hell-hole full of sin.

If you’re okay with knowing how a story ends before finishing it, and if you can ignore the extremely outdated ideas about sin, a woman’s place and a man’s rights ..you might as well enjoy this story. If those things make you see red before even opening the book – let it be.

Sinners and the Sea: The untold story of Noah’s wife, Rebecca Kanner, Howard Books 2013

Jane Austen Stole My Boyfriend

‘I hate Jane Austen!

Cutesy. This could be called fan fiction for everything Jane Austen wrote, but it doesn’t (after a while) feel like a cheap rip off. Main character is Jenny, a cousin of Jane. We follow her through her diary entries.

Just like in Austen’s stories, life in a certain society and commentary upon it, is what’s the meat of the novel. Parties and marriages (for love or for money), fantasies about adventures and a lot of men. Jenny wants to marry Captain Williams, but her older brother and sister-in-law (the very clear bad guy of this story) waylay her plans.

Jane Austen Stole My Boyfriend is colourful and shiny and feels like Jane Austen for (pre-)teens. A step up to start on one of the in the book mentioned stories by Austen.

Jane Austen Stole My Boyfriend – A Secret Diary, Cora Harrison, Macmillan 2011

On Beauty

One may as well begin with Jerome’s e-mails to his father.

Zadie Smith doesn’t write plots, she creates characters.

On Beauty is an every-day-of-the-life story of the Belsey family. Mother, father, two sons and a daughter in an university town. As the father is white, the mother black and the children (therefore) mixed, daily life involves judgment against skin colour as well. Especially Levi, the youngest son, spends a lot of thought (and action) on his place in society and how his skin colour influences it.

In this daily life there are troubles at the university, affairs, trying to create friendships and children who can’t find their spot in society.  There is no apocalypse, no aliens. Only, almost paralysing painful, human daily life.

This takes some getting used to. The only way the story moves is through time and character depth. Some of the characters keep making the same mistakes, and they are human and threedimensional enough to get under your skin. Don’t read this for an adventure, read this to get to meet new people.

On Beauty, Zadie Smith, Hamilton 2006

The Taliban Cricket Club

He hadn’t forgotten me.

Karo from Persephone Magazine tries on a regular basis to get us interested in cricket. It’s one of the reasons I took this book from the library. Another is that I’m always on the lookout for writers and stories from outside my known Western culture. A novel is an easy way to peek behind the curtain, especially when it comes to countries that – in the not-novel world – are still inaccessible.

Rukshana used to be a bright, curious journalist. Than the Taliban took over and locked her up inside her burqa, but she is determined to let the real story come out and continues to write under a pseudonym. The story that tells about how innocents are being shot in the streets and discarded as trash. How the religious police will take offense in everything just so they can be violent and steal. Rukshana’s daily life and that of her small family is a war zone.
A very small light at the horizon comes from news about Afghanistan starting a cricket team. The winners of the national competition may go to Pakistan for international games. Basically, way out of this world. Of course Rukshana can’t play, she’s a woman, but she knows how to and she thinks this is the chance for her brother and cousins to escape. Training them in a burqa is impossible, so she dresses up as a young man.

Other worries and threats loom, laced with details of the country’s history. It’s lost potential in the most cruel way. Every character knows that their life is in danger in Afghanistan, yet find it so very hard to leave.

And the cricket? Much more interested, but still don’t understand much about it.

The Taliban Cricket Club, Timeri N. Murari, Ecco 2012