Beautiful, poetic and lyrical. This is such a wonderful and touching novel centered around a widow who's husband was lost at sea four years ago, a sto...moreBeautiful, poetic and lyrical. This is such a wonderful and touching novel centered around a widow who's husband was lost at sea four years ago, a story of how myth and legend can help mend grief and sorrow.(less)
In Black Milk, Elif Shafak tells her readers about her postpartum depression following the birth of her first child. I think it to be a very sensitive...moreIn Black Milk, Elif Shafak tells her readers about her postpartum depression following the birth of her first child. I think it to be a very sensitive subject to approach. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to open up and tell your insecurities about being a mother to the rest of the world. Especially, when most of the world still assumes that if you are a woman, you will be a mother at some point. That is after all what you were made for, weren't you? Whoever said "one is not born a woman, one becomes one" really didn't what they were was talking about!
But Black Milk is not just an intimate account of the author's experience before, during and after her pregnancy, it's also a wonderful insight into the lives of female writers throughout the ages and how, each in their own way, tried to resolve this dilemma posed by motherhood. In Black Milk, you will read about the lives and works of Sylvia Plath, Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Ayn Rand, Anais Rand, Doris Lessing, Lou Andreas Salomé, Rebecca West, Audre Lorde, Sandra Cisneros, George Eliot, Toshiko Tamura, Yuko Tsushima, Carson McCullers, to quote but a few. In that aspect, I found the book to be a great introduction to feminist criticism and literature. I've compiled quite a list of female writers that I need to get to. Elif Shafak interweaves her personal experience with that of these writers of the past and present to try and comprehend the notions of womanhood, motherhood and how they can be balanced with the life of a writer. I'm no writer, but I know these questions hit home and so, her approach has more to do with personal space and the need to continuously grow as a human being, than simply the activity of writing.
All mothers will at least agree on this, having a child changes everything, for better or for worse. And so, at some point in your life, are you supposed to simply stop being you to become a mother, entirely dedicated to childrearing? Can you ever get back what you lost (I'm aware that motherhood is not without its rewards, but come on, you have to at least sometimes reflect nostalgically on the moments when you could sleep late and step out of the house on a whim with nothing but your purse). How do you balance the needs of a little one, entirely dependent on you, with your own needs? And does the fact that I'm worrying about this means that I will be a bad mother? These are questions I've been asking myself for quite some time and even more so now that most of my friends are getting married and having children of their own and I don't feel ready for that. And it's reassuring to know that I'm not the only one!
I was amazed at the extent to which I could relate to Elif Shafak's experience. It's true that, at first glance, apart from being born in the same city 14 years apart and having traveled quite a bit from an early age, our lives don't have much in common. And yet, I could completely relate. I've always been one who enjoyed solitude and never get bored when I'm left to my own devices. I think it's a good thing my parents had a second child after me, otherwise I fear I might have felt even more alien than I do now! I'm too often caught up in my own little world and never seem to be on the same page as everyone else. One has to be very precise and specific when addressing me, if there's any ambiguity, consequences may be tragic. For that reason, I'm really bad at getting jokes. When everyone will understand Meaning A and see that there's also a Meaning B which makes the joke a joke, I will find a Meaning C without having understood A or B. Yes, it's that bad.
Dating and living with someone that's very practical, down-to-earth and logical in everything that he does (my complete opposite) has been very enlightening in that respect. And it's the source of daily miscommunication and misunderstandings that while most of the time are funny, can also offend or hurt people when I don't really mean to. In brief, I am socially retarded! How can I ever possibly be a good mother?! I sincerely fear for the child. And to get back to Black Milk, it's something Elif Shafak asked herself and part of the reason behind her postpartum depression was because she didn't feel that she would be up to the task. She feared that she would lose herself, her writing, her career, her intellect and not even manage to be a good mother in return.
One thing that bewilders me in our society is how when you are young, people encourage you to complete long studies, during which you read in vast quantities, discuss, debate and write about a variety of issues, only to find a job that is mostly admin and repetitive (as most jobs are) and expect you to be happy about i!. I stayed in university for seven years and while I wasn't quite sure why I was there the first three, my master's degree changed everything. It gave me a chance to formulate questions about identity, race and gender that I had carried with me for years but didn't have the tools to express. I know a lot of people remember their university years as parties and getting pissed, I did do that, but it also felt like my brain was buzzing, like I was being intellectually challenged on a daily basis, because I had the time and luxury to think. Let's face it, when you come home from work, you're not going to sit down and read philosophy (well at least my brain can't process much at the end of the day!). You merely switch on your TV and let others do the thinking for you.
It's sad to realize at 25 that your best days are behind you and that you will never have that freedom of thought back. It's simply not compatible with society as it is. I've been thinking that working part-time is probably more suited to my personal needs, but besides the financial impossibility of that, there's also the pressure that I need to have a career and that working part-time will leave me an assistant ten years from now! Imagine, adding a child into the mix! When will I find the time to read, blog, think and live inside my little bubble? (But then, ten years ago if you'd told me that I would be in a stable relationship and sharing a flat with roommates, I wouldn't have believed you!)
If Elif Shafak seems to have resolved these issues, I've yet to. It's fascinating to see the author's fragmented selves argue and lash at one another and finally come to some sort of a peaceful understanding, at least for a little while. I know this is a bit of a weird review, it's a very subjective and personal reaction to this book, but that's what it triggered in me. It does not read like non-fiction at all. It's both a powerful and emotional account of a woman's journey into motherhood and a writer's historical analysis of the lives of female writers of the past. I can't recommend it enough. (less)
Though I've had What I Loved on my shelf for over five years now, The Summer Without Men is actually the first book I've read by Siri Hustvedt and con...moreThough I've had What I Loved on my shelf for over five years now, The Summer Without Men is actually the first book I've read by Siri Hustvedt and considering the extent to which I was blown away, I can easily affirm that it won't be the last!
This short tale is part literary criticism and part feminist manifesto, but very little of it is actually a novel in the traditional definition of the genre. There is a story, a main character, a set of secondary characters more or less developed, there is an intrigue, though admittedly, not much goes on in terms of action. This is definitely a cerebral novel if such a thing exists. It's a bowl of fresh air, one that I will gladly re-read in a few years time and take notes next time.
Though this is not the first time this has happened, I am always amazed when an author manages to make his readers identify with a character who is miles away from them. Mia Fredricksen and I have a very little in common and yet, I understood and felt all that she was going through and took pleasure in following her progression throughout this summer without men. A pleasure owed to the author's talent.
There are so many parts I wish I'd bookmarked so that I could quote here to give you a feel of this peculiar novel. Here's one:
"It is not that there is no difference between men and women; it is how much difference that difference makes, and how we choose to frame it. Every era has had its science of difference and sameness, its biology, its ideology, and its ideological biology, which brings us, at last, back to the naughty girls, their escapades, and the instruments of darkness. We have several contemporary instruments of darkness to choose from, all reductive, all easy. Shall we explain it through the very special, although dubious otherness of the female brain or through genes evolved from those "cave women gathering food near the home" thousands of years ago or through the dangerous hormonal surges of puberty or through nefarious social learning that channels aggressive, angry impulses in girls underground?"
As you can see, the novel's intrigue serves as an overall reflection on women, their position and perception in society. Here, Mia's poetry teenage students have pulled a nasty little prank on one of the class' members. These are questions that I often ask myself, to what extent are our action our truly our own or socially-constructed?
The book is not out yet but there are already a few mixed reviews online, proof that every reading experience is different and resonates in a specific way with its reader. For me, this pushed all the right buttons.(less)
This self-published has an interesting story. In 2009, Siobhan Curham was offered a two-book deal and turned it down. She self-published Dear Dylan in...moreThis self-published has an interesting story. In 2009, Siobhan Curham was offered a two-book deal and turned it down. She self-published Dear Dylan in April 2010 and in November, it won the YoungMind Book Award. Earlier this month, it was acquired by Egmont as part of a two-book deal and it will be relaunch in July.
Dear Dylan is the last novel I read for my previous job and I consider myself very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to read it.
It's not often you encounter YA 'issue novels' that are a) engaging and b) not actually depressing. That is not to say that I don't enjoy a nice tragic story once in a while, but there seems to be this trend, especially in YA, of novels that are just a succession of tragic events with no light at the end of the tunnel. And these novels tend to leave me feeling hollow, depressed and wondering 'what's the point?' I'm not a partisan of the 'every YA/children titles should have a happy ending' argument, but if I can't find any purpose to the endless stream of suffering, something to take away with me as I turn the last page, then I'm not a happy reader. I'm glad to say that Dear Dylan is not one such story.
The novel's format is unusual and presents a great many challenges for any author. The story is entirely told as a series of emails, recounting the life of 13-year-old Georgie whose Summer holiday is just about to begin when she decides to write to her favorite TV actor, the young Dylan Curltand via his website. And well, she's quite surprised when she starts receiving responses to her fan mail. Oh go on now, admit it, the teenager in you has fantasized about this... more than once, I think it's safe to say...
I'm not going to say anymore than that because there's no point in ruining the surprise.
I admit I was a bit skeptic about the whole epistolary aspect. I didn't think it could work throughout the novel. Surely, at some point, the author would have to find a clever way around this or risk the overall pace of the novel slowing down and the whole thing collapsing on itself. Well, it didn't. The narration stayed strong till the very end.
The very element that endangers the whole exercise is also what makes the novel's original and so engaging in the first place. The main character's voice is a strong one and the words flow, accessible, light and funny. You can't help but tun the pages to know what's going to happen next, but it's also just to follow the voice.
And yet, the story is far from being light and carefree. Curham broaches some very delicate and important issues, similar to those raised by Jacqueline Wilson or Melvin Burgess. In fact, there seems to be a discrepancy between the level of writing, the age ground targeted, and the maturity of the issues raised. Again, this goes to prove that children's writing is not and should not all be all teletubbies and smiley faces. I think most kids are able to approach and comprehend delicate issues, it's all a question of presentation or representation. And I must say that in Dear Dylan, it's done brilliantly.
I would recommend this to those looking for something different in children's literature, something a bit heavier than you'd initially expect it to be, but whose package you just can't resist.(less)