This read was for the 2012 Theme Park book club, July theme: Women Writing Fantasy in 2011-2012
Let's get one thing out of the way: I absolutely adoreThis read was for the 2012 Theme Park book club, July theme: Women Writing Fantasy in 2011-2012
Let's get one thing out of the way: I absolutely adore this book! So of course, it's going to be difficult to talk about it in any constructive and coherent way. However, despite my absolute endorsement of this book, I can see how it's not for everyone and there are some not so positive reviews out there. In most cases, I can understand the reviewer's points but they don't resonate with me, if that makes any sense. This book moved me in so many ways that even when its flaws are pointed out, I can see them, I won't deny them, but they don't change the way I feel about it. They can't change my reading experience. Is that clearer? It's a bit like loving someone I guess. No one's perfect and you love them, all of them, flaws and all.
There was something reassuring and comforting about Mori's narration and yet, the reader can't quite shake the feeling that she's also a very unreliable narrator. Any fan of the genre will easily relate to her because of her love of books and science fiction and fantasy specifically. Although I hadn't read a lot of the books she mentioned, it didn't hinder my reading in any way. In hindsight, I do wonder if perhaps having that foreknowledge would have shed some light on some of the novel's most obscure moments. I do think this is one that would benefit from a second read but perhaps that would be best kept for a time when I've read more of the classics mentioned in it. The author has compiled a list of works that are made reference to in the novel so that's a good place to start in case you're interested:http://papersky.livejournal.com/50927...
The novel is constructed as Mori's journal, which I find is often tricky, especially in terms of pacing as it makes it delicate to avoid repetitions and to sustain readers' interest - I must say though it wasn't the case here as I couldn't put the book down. The diary device also means that the reader is entirely dependent on what Mori wants to tell us, her interpretation and perception of events. And it's for all those reasons that this choice of narration works so well for this novel.
Let me explain. Magic is presented in a very interesting way: it's everywhere, there for the world to see but when given the choice, the world will always resort to rational explanations rather than recognizing that magic is at works. This ambivalence is at the novel's core. While Mori makes no attempt at hiding this - she believes in magic, she knows what it can do, she knows most don't believe - but can we believe her when all we have is her take on events? Is magic really responsible for what happened to her and her twin or is it simply a metaphor there for her to deal with her loss? Worse still, did she even have a twin?
At some point in the book, it becomes clear that Mori is not Morwenna but in fact Morganna. Morwenna is the one who died in the car accident and Morganna the one who survived and since no one could really tell them apart, no one has actually noticed the switch. Mori took on her sister's identity so that the latter could keep on living in some way through her but she soon realizes that this was naive as she can never live for two (this is part of the grieving process I suppose). As we only learn this half-way through the novel, it does make you question what else Mori has been keeping from us. She is so secretive and protective of her journal (she writes certain entries backwards in case it should fall into bad hands) that it does not seem entirely impossible for her not to be entirely honest with her readers.
Mother/daughter relationships are never easy, especially when you're growing up. It might be easier to think of your mother as an evil witch (this is in fact interesting because I'm currently watching the first season of Once Upon Time which is similar in that regard) then actually dealing with the reality of things.
The diary aspect lulls you into a false sense of security. After all the big battle has already taken place and the one who was to die is already dead, it's all about dealing with what comes afterwards, isn't it? Dealing with grief, loss and moving on. But what if there's more to it? Everyone deals with grief in different ways. What is Mori's? Wanting to believe in magic? Finding refuge in a world that's closer to the books she reads? Portraying her mother as an evil witch? Taking on her twin's identity? Imagining a twin and then her death to hide the truth?
With all this in mind, it's interesting to read Ursula le Guin's blurb:
'Funny, acute, and impassioned... Magic in Walton's novel functions magically, yet can always be seen and explained as nothing unusual. This is a large, interesting idea, well worked out. Walton's trying hard to do what I call moving the boundary: to alter, or make more permeable, the wall between the possible and the impossible. I think she almost succeeds.'
I think Walton is also blurring the boundaries between literary fiction and speculative fiction. Not that I've ever found that one excluded the other but I can see how this book could appeal to non genre readers, despite all the many references to SF&F books. This book is short and I devoured it but it's clear that there's a lot more to it then meets the eye and I'm sure that reading it again, I'll stumble upon things that I missed the first time around.
I must also mention that there are some amazing descriptions in there of nature and specifically fairies. There was also in interesting cast of characters that gave quite a bit of food for thought. Mori's relationship with her father is very strange and disturbing at one point. Her coming back to meet with her old school mates was also difficult but fascinating scene. There was something really disturbing about the aunts but again because all we have is Mori's point of view and she can't even tell them apart or cares much for them, the reader's perception is biased. Are they petty minor witches or bitter old ladies that never had much in their lives apart from each other or both? I also found it interesting that Mori couldn't tell them apart when no one could it seems tell her apart from her twin. Are the sisters a possible version of Mori and her twin sister had the latter lived?
The prevailing ambivalence present in the story gives the novels a slippery feeling. Just like in life, there are no definitive answers, only multiple possibilities; many things will be left unanswered and in the end, it's up to you and what you choose to believe. I can understand that it can be frustrating for some readers but that's exactly the reason why I loved this book. I don't want to give off the impression that the story didn't feel grounded in reality or authentic. Quite the contrary, Mori's story, her loss, her pain, her difficulties in school, her falling in love, felt very real to me and that's why I was able to connect with her so easily. But there is a dream-like feel to this novel, something that you can't quite grasp, a magical feeling that makes you questions your own boundaries, that makes you want to believe that there's more out there, that this is just to tip of the iceberg.
I was familiar with Jo Walton only through her columns on tor.com but I'm really thrilled to have had the opportunity to read some of her fiction and I can 't wait to read more. Real or not, metaphorical or not, I loved Mori's world and I embraced it whole-heartedly. As with any diary, a lot is left hanging and unanswered. While I would've like to know more, I do see that the book is not about answers which would give an impression of closure when in fact as I finished the book, it felt like something else what opening up, like the magic in the book had somehow slipped through the pages and was pointing to new possibilities, new truths right here and now. So of course, I can only recommend Among Others, it's refreshing and original novel that will lead you into a dream-like world of possibilities and multiple truths.
ETD: I also completely forgot to say that this is one of the rare books that has a main protagonist with a disability that's portrayed in a believable manner and that's really worth pointing out!
ETD 2: I've just stumbled upon this conversation where Jo Walton discusses what would have happened to Mori ten years after the end of the book. She also mentions that she never meant for anything in the book to be ambiguous despite the fact that many people found it to be the case. This is interesting because I really thought it was intentional but clearly it's not. I guess that's just another magical side-effect of the book! http://io9.com/5922140/ask-jo-walton-......more
This read was for the 2012 Around the World in 12 Books Reading Challenge hosted by Shannon at Giraffe Days (July: Iran)
One note on the French editionThis read was for the 2012 Around the World in 12 Books Reading Challenge hosted by Shannon at Giraffe Days (July: Iran)
One note on the French edition though: the copyright page says that it was translated from the English translation produced by Ghasal Mosadecq. That being said, I've searched on line for an English translation of this amazing and enlightening graphic novel and couldn't find one so perhaps it was never actually published in English. If so, that's a real shame and I really do hope that an English language publisher is going to pick this up very soon.
Mana Neyestani's graphic novel is autobiographic. Neyestani was born in Tehran in 1973. He started his career as a cartoonist working in different cultural and political magazines. He soon became cataloged as a political cartoonist and had to turn to drawing for children in order not to draw to much unwanted attention from governmental authorities. He thought he was safe. He was unfortunately wrong.
In 2006, Neyestani drew a cockroach in one of his cartoons. The drawing was unfortunately taken out of its context and interpreted as being an insult to the Azeri ethnic group which occupies the northern part of Iran and consist of people of Turkish descent. This group is often the target of insults from Iranians and so the government was only to happy to blame the subsequent riots, material damage and deaths on Neyestani's drawing. Neyestani and his editor-in-chief were soon arrested and taken to the Evin prison, even though they hadn't actually broken any law. An Iranian Metamorphosis is the tale of the events that lead to this arrest, as well as Neyestani's time in jail and his attempts at clearing his name, ending up with him and his wife seeking political refuge in a Western country. Neyestani and his wife, Mansoureh, now live in France but this took some time and the French government (as well as other European and Western governments) didn't initially help them get out of Iran despite the threat of more time in prison for Neyestani, death threats and the implication of Iranian secret services.
It is frustrating of course to see how slow Western bureaucracy is and how in the end, it made it impossible for Neyestani and his wife to get out of the country through legal means. They had to resort to dealing with a smuggler who was meant to guarantee them and other Iranians safe passage to a European country because no embassy accepted to grant them the status of political refugees in time! In the end, nothing goes smoothly and it's a long, difficult and stressful process that finally led them to France. But imagine the pain of never being able to go back to your country, the pain of not really being able to say goodbye to your loved ones because they had to keep their escape secret.
What's beautiful is that Neyestani and his wife stayed together and united throughout the whole ordeal. While they did contemplate splitting up for a moment because they didn't have enough money for them to both make their way to Canada, they decided to go as far as Europe instead if that meant they could stay together.
Neyestani's wife, Mansoureh, helps him every step of the way. She's portrayed making phone calls, chasing embassies and political organizations, dealing with the smuggler among other things. Neyestani makes Mansoureh a central character to his story and there are a few scenes where the stress of the situation gets to them and they snap at one another but then quickly apologize. I thought it was brilliant to have included these short domestic scenes in the tale. They helped ground the story in reality and make it clear that this is something happening to real people, to a real couple that behaves like any couple.
An Iranian Metamorphosis is not a dry account of autobiographical events. In fact, there are quite a few humorous scenes and the recurrence of the cockroach and references to Kafka is both tragic and comic, rendering the entire work sarcastic. This is after all the story of a man being forced into exile because he drew a cockroach in a children's cartoon!
This was a fascinating and enlightening read on so many levels. As an outsider, there's a great deal to learn about Iran in this graphic novel. First of, while it seems pretty obvious that it would be the case, I didn't know that there were different ethnic groups and that some were regarded as lesser than others. Also, while this is only brushed on, there are quite a few allusions to brutal and violent "interrogation techniques" shall we call them. It's fortunate for Neyestani that he didn't have to go experience any, but honestly the solitary confinement he and his editor-in-chief had to go through seemed horrible enough as it was. You also get a nice insight of Iranian legal procedures and processes. It doesn't inspire much trust to be quite honest and it definitely gives the impression that this is a country best not to be arrested in.
I would really recommend this graphic novel, not just to graphic novel readers. I think this is one of those reads that worth getting out of your comfort zone to experience....more
Before I get into the heart of the matter, I'd like to say a few words on the author and the English edition of the work which contains two introductions, that of the English edition but also that of the Spanish edition. While I wasn't aware of this when I first purchased the book, Afro-Cuban Tales was first published in French in 1936 under the title Les Contes Nègres de Cuba. Lydia Cabrera was born in May 1899 in Havana and settled in Paris in 1927. While she originally wrote the book in Spanish, she first translated and published it in French. That being said, I'm quite pleased to have read the English edition because the translators have clearly worked from both the French and Spanish editions and included several notes where these two differed. I felt this gave readers a much broader view and you could sometimes question why Cabrera decided to rewrite certain passages in the French translation.
All the tales collected here were told to Cabrera by some of her Afro-Cuban friends. She put them into writing but the reader can clearly see that some tales need to be read out loud and even sang. As it is often the case in African tales, rhythm and rimes are essential.Cabrera's work is not merely that of transcription as Isabel Castellanos explains in her introduction: in some cases, the author has modified stories by adding incidents and characters while others are clearly stories based on old Afro-Cuban songs and in those cases, music is central to the stories. These are not merely legends and tales collected by an anthropologist, it is clearly part of a creative process. It's fiction that incorporates Afro-Cuban traditions and folklore.
A lot of the stories are of Yoruba origin and the translators have done a wonderful job at giving the reader as much context as possible without ending up with half pages long footnotes. The unfamiliar reader (like me!) will get to learn more about Yoruba saints and divinities and in fact, the way they interact and interfere in human affairs really reminded of Greek mythology.
Cabrera's Afro-Cuban Tales are not fairy tales and in the beginning I was somewhat put off by the fact that in some stories, the bad guy wins and an innocent gets punished for no reason at all. Morality is not what you expect or what westerners are used to, but once you've grasped this, you're only beginning to see the richness of the world in which Cabrera's tales are set.
Boundaries are not where we would expect them to be: some protagonists are animals, others plants, gods and humans and all interact with one another, talking to one another, marrying one another regardless of whether they are man, woman, tree, turtle or earthworm. And yet, everything is solidly anchored into the real world as some stories refer to mulattoes, black people and white people, others refer to slavery and to the class system it left once after its abolition. Some religious practices are carefully detailed, some characters express themselves in creole and others Cuban vernacular. While this is fiction, there's no doubt that it is also thoroughly researched and aims at authenticity.
This strange and delicate balance between reality, authenticity and fiction, magic and folktale is at the heart of Afro-Cuban Tales. As Isabel Castellanos explains is in her introduction "What is unreal becomes real, and what is real, unreal" or in Cabrera's own words "the reality of unreality". And in that regard, it appears that Cabrera's work can be interpreted as a forerunner of magic realism.
Afro-Cuban Tales is a rich and seminal piece of fiction that mixes anthropology, history and ethnography, one that I would recommend to readers of speculative fiction and those interested in Cuban and African cultures alike. ...more
This read was for the 2012 Theme Park book club, May theme: The Final Frontier
While C.J. Cherryh needs no introduction to genre readers, I must admitThis read was for the 2012 Theme Park book club, May theme: The Final Frontier
While C.J. Cherryh needs no introduction to genre readers, I must admit that this great lady is one of those classic scifi authors I had yet to actually read (there are quite a few others which I shall not name just yet...). So when this Hugo winning novel turned out to be the result of May's poll, I was delighted!
I dived into Downbelow Station and was really amazed by the scope of the prologue which provides readers with all the background information they need regarding the Company, its fleet, the different stations and the Union. Prologues, especially when they serve as info dumps (which is the case here) generally put me off. However, Downbelow Station is such a dense book that I am not sure there was any way around it.
Despite quite a few typos, problems with grammar and syntax (but perhaps my edition was a bit dated), I was really gripped for the first 200 pages and not terribly bothered by the elliptical and unsmooth writing style. There was so much going on, so many characters and points of view, a lot of material to digest... possibly too much. And then, despite the fact that I really wanted to know how the events turned out, I found myself reading comics.
Let me explain, I generally turn to comics when I need a break: sometimes it's when I have enjoyed a book so much that I don't feel ready to dive straight into something else just yet and am in need of something short and sweet to catch my breath; at other times, it's when I can't get into a book and this generally happens at the beginning of a book rather than at the end. Neither was really the case here but I got tired of reading the novel and finishing it came as a strange relief.
Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy this book on some levels and I would recommend it to scifi fans but definitely not to anyone outside the genre. If you have never read a space opera before and are not familiar with the terms specifically related to the genre, Cherryh is not going to make it easy for you. She's not the type of writer who's going to take you by the hand and explain faster than light travels and the way a space station operates. You either already know it from previous reads or figure it out quickly enough so as not to lose interest in what's going on. This debatable approach has probably put off more than one reader and I think that was the case for a quite a few participants in the book club. I am generally quite self-disciplined (apart from the comics breaks) and not the type of reader who gets frustrated if I don't understand every single detail, but my boyfriend is and that's probably the reason why he and I don't enjoy the same scifi books.
Another thing that frustrated me throughout my reading of the novel and which I think is really the main cause of my eventual exasperation was the constant change in view points. There are A LOT of characters in this novel, most of which I found very interesting and while I didn't like all of them (and I don't think you're meant to), I felt that they were never taken to their full potential. That's part of the reason why I felt so engaged for the first 200 pages. I felt like the story and its character were going to bloom into something spectacular but they never actually did. Instead, I got tired of the constant change of view points. This is definitely one of the hardest things to pull off and part of me wonders if Downbelow Station had been written now, what type of editorial changes would have been made to Cherryh's initial manuscript compared to the ones that were made in the 80s. I do think that books are a lot more character driven now than they used to and I do try to bare that in mind when reading a classic scifi novel. It's interesting to think that perhaps, my difficulties with this novel stem from a new fashion trend in genre literature and that had I read it when it came out (well had I been born and old enough to), I wouldn't have encountered the same frustrations.
And yet, while I was initially puzzled (by the typos, grammar and syntax), a part of me does see why it won the Hugo prize (although I really don't know how it compares to the other novels nominated). The scope of the novel made me want to read the rest of series and I feel like it's not so much the novel itself that deserves the prize as the author's world building and perhaps the rest of the series. It's so vast and so brilliantly conceived that I think it's difficult not to want to know more if you've managed to finish the novel. The problem for me was really the characters and how the author's characterizations skills felt diluted among all of them so that not one really stood out and felt fully fleshed out.
Perhaps, it's the nature of the endeavor itself that makes it impossible to go from large and vast to small and detailed. And yet, I felt like a few changes could have achieved this. It would be interesting to know if other scifi series with a similar ambitions suffer from similar flaws. I am not well-read enough in the space opera genre to be the judge of this.
What I can say is that I feel like reading Cherryh's other titles in her Company Wars series and more broadly in her Alliance-Union universe as a history books or as non fiction rather than fiction. I want to know what happens to Pell, the Fleet, the Union, how they evolve and change over the centuries but I'm not sure I can bare another narration constantly alternating view points with characters I don't really get a chance to know in-depth. I do intend to try though so welcome any recommendations.
Cherryh's talent at world building is unquestionable and perhaps that's the reason why readers feel like they could expect more from her characterization. I do think a good proofreader was also required but then as I mentioned my edition was probably a bit dated so perhaps more recent edition do not suffer from this. At any rate, this was challenging read on more than one level and although the novel is not without its flaws, I thought it made for a nice introduction to Cherryh's Alliance-Union universe and do plan on reading more works by this author....more