Early on, the narrator of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour tells us that "everything was always something, but something--and here was the rub--could ne...moreEarly on, the narrator of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour tells us that "everything was always something, but something--and here was the rub--could never be everything" (5), and this sets the tone for the type of existential philosophizing that takes place throughout the book. Paul O'Rourke is a dentist who is desperate for a sense of belonging and community, the type that he never received from his broken family structure and something that he sees as possible only in the religious faiths of those around him. The problem is that his epic pragmatism dictates that he believe in nothing as an atheist. He tries to find solace in doomed affairs with women and their families, cultural Judaism, and an obsession with the Red Sox, but he discovers each leaves him feeling just as empty as before, a discovery that is often foisted upon him by others.
As he makes his way through the early twenty-first century, the social connectivity of the Internet only makes matters worse. At one point, he tells another character that "streaming all the clips of [other people living their lives], commenting on how lucky they are to be doing all those things, liking and digging and bookmarking and posting and tweeting all those things, and feeling more disconnected than ever? Where does this idea of greater connection come from? I've never in my life felt more disconnected. It's like how the rich get richer. The connected get more connected while the disconnected get more disconnected. No thanks, man, I can't do it. The world was a sufficient trial...before Facebook" (32). So when a website and various social networking accounts start popping up online in name proselytizing something that looks suspiciously Biblical, he is sent on a wild goose chase to discover who has stolen his identity and why this new version of himself is questioning the integrity of his unquestioning atheism.
Over the past few years, Ferris has become one of my favorite contemporary authors, and while this book doesn't quite soar to the heights of his first novel Then We Came To The End and neither does it create the page-turning suspense of his second book The Unnamed, he does create some terrific commentary through sardonically engaging characters and utilizing the all the tools of fiction at his disposal to compose a thoughtful and cohesive piece. The story is set in New York, a city the narrator describes as having "almost nothing else to offer" but "eating and drinking," which prompts him to contemplate "what it was like in lesser cities, or the suburbs, or the small rural towns where so many people are clerks or farmers" and to conclude that this is why the "country has become a nation of fat alcoholics and the nurses and therapists who tend to them" (38). Morbidly honest commentary like this sprinkles Ferris's work and keeps me thinking and reading and hungry for more.(less)
After enjoying most of the massive dystopian novel The Children's Hospital, I was looking forward to this contemporary reimagining of A Midsummer Nigh...moreAfter enjoying most of the massive dystopian novel The Children's Hospital, I was looking forward to this contemporary reimagining of A Midsummer Night's Dream set in the park in San Fransisco. I was fairly disappointed though. The links to Shakespeare are fairly trite; Titania is mourning the loss of a child and she sends her freaky fairies out to screw with people. The best parts of this book are when Adrian provides backstory on his hapless mortals (one of these was originally published in The New Yorker when he was named one of that magazines "20 Under 40" a few years ago. Likewise, his exploration of Titania's grief over the death of her "changeling" child is one of the few times I feel he takes the seeds of the original play and provides some additional importance to the classic. For the most part though when the magical elements come into play, it seems little more than an opportunity to release some sexual angst, as there are extremely graphic depictions sexuality here, including flying sexual organs and lots of nudity. While the sexual subtext is certainly present in Shakespeare's work (and okay it's even explicit at times), playing it all on the surface in a contemporary work comes across as a little crass.(less)
I can certainly see why publications like The New Yorker are all abuzz about Karen Russell. She certainly has a knack for magical realism and creates...moreI can certainly see why publications like The New Yorker are all abuzz about Karen Russell. She certainly has a knack for magical realism and creates characters that are sympathetic and realistic, even the more outlandish ones. However, I've yet to get really invested in any of her writing. I read Swamplandia! a few years ago, and I felt the same way I did while reading this collection of ten short stories. I really wanted to like them, but I never really became totally invested.
As with Swamplandia!, each of these stories features adolescents in transition, usually from their own perspective. Some are grappling with extremely normal trials of maturity: the death of a younger sister in "Haunting Olivia" or making the difficult choice between friends and family in "The Star-Gazer's Log of Summer-Time Crime." Others delve into the mystical realities of her characters, just like the second half of Swamplandia!. In an excerpt from Children's Reminiscences of the Westward Migration, a young boy travels west in a covered wagon pulled by his minotaur father. Yes, his MINOTAUR father. This fact is completely accepted by all the characters, and the way in which the father and the entire family are shunned by the other pioneers is clearly an exploration of societal marginalization. I like that Russell incorporates these elements without apology, so maybe it's merely the abbreviated nature of these pieces that left me feeling somewhat cold. (Swamplandia! itself felt like a collection of short pieces rather than a fully realized novel.)
There are pieces here that are stand outs of course. I did enjoy "The City of Shells" in which a pre-adolescent girl falls into a giant conch shell in an act of rebellion gone awry. The ne'er-do-well park attendant falls in trying to save her and they keep each other company throughout the night while a storm brews outside. I also really enjoyed "The Star-Gazer's Log of Summer-Time Crime," one of the few stories to employ a natural realism as the teenage male protagonist joins forces with the local bully to wreak havoc on a small resort island. Beyond that, there are elements that are appealing in each piece. Two brothers' search for their sister's ghost after she is lost at sea is poignant and almost moving. An old man's affair of the heart with a teenage delinquent in "Out to Sea," made me smile. Overall though, I still wanted more in each piece, and maybe this is something that will develop as I mature more as a reader or Russell matures as a writer.(less)
I’m fast becoming a huge fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Her adult fiction is intelligent and important, and Americanah is no exception. Here she deta...moreI’m fast becoming a huge fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Her adult fiction is intelligent and important, and Americanah is no exception. Here she details the seemingly doomed relationship between two Nigerians: Ifemelu and Obinze. Their affair begins in Africa and seems destined to fail once Ifemelu moves to America, but through a fragmented storyline that opens in the present and fills in the holes via flashbacks and shifting narrative perspective, Adiche provides a refreshing and unique point of view on how race truly is a social construct that mutates between cultures and continents.
Early on, Ifemelu quips “How easy It was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives that we have imagined” (17). Upon her move to America, she suffers that traditional immigrant experience of feeling a part of two worlds and failing to feel at home in either. However, as an African immigrant in a country where blackness defines social standing, she provides a new frame of reference. Ifemelu finds a type of fame in the United States as an anonymous blogger on race, but her authority on the matter is rather suspect according to American standards. She is hired to give speeches on race only to be told that her ideology is flawed and anonymous posters regularly start flame wars on her website. The sister of her African American activist Ivy League professor boyfriend summarizes the issue when she somewhat spitefully suggests that the reason “Ifemelu can write that blog [is] because she’s African. She’s writing from the outside. She doesn’t really feel all the stuff she’s writing about. It’s all quaint and curious to her. So she can write it and get all these accolades and get invited to give talks. If she were African American, she’d just be labeled angry and shunned” (336). In reality, she has to learn the hard way that there is immense truth in what her aunt tells her upon her arrival to America: “You are in a country that is not your own. You do what you have to do if you want to succeed” (119). Ifemelu suffers considerably in a number of ways, and she fails to come to terms with the reality of her success until late in the novel, particularly her reliance on a white family that find her friendship an important collectible tchotchke for their mantle of liberalism.
Meanwhile, Obinze is shut out of her life after her move, and he must find his own path to success. He struggles with immigration abroad in his own way, only to find a path to economic success and a traditional family back home. The only problem is that “he was no longer sure, he had in fact never been sure, whether he liked his life because he really did or whether liked it because he was supposed to” (21). Upon Ifemelu’s return to Lagos late in the chronology of the story—a plotline that is revealed rather early in the novel however—he questions whether or not he can stay in the life he has created now that his past has returned to him. When he contemplates leaving his life behind in order to create a new future with Ifemelu, he is told by a friend “many of us didn’t marry the woman we truly loved. We married the woman that was around when we were ready to marry. So forget this thing. You can keep seeing her, but no need for this kind of white-people behavior. You can keep seeing her, but no need for this kind of white-people behavior. If your wife has a child for somebody else or if you beat her, that is a reason for divorce. But to get up and say you have no problem with your wife but you are leaving her for another woman? Haba. We don’t behave like that, please” (472).
This “white-people behavior” is the soul of the Americanah—the native Nigerian who returns after having lived abroad in a Western culture that unintentionally marginalizes traditional African life. Ifemelu joins an Americanah Club upon her return and realizes that “It’s as if we are looking at an adult Nigeria that we didn’t know about” (429); her new outlook on her homeland is mature, but the conflict of embracing Western culture and her native way of life is a difficult one to overcome. Such is the crux of this post-colonial tale: how does a country with such promise move beyond the devastating effects of colonialism without embracing the power that exists in the Western world? When Ifemelu tells her American ex-boyfriend that “race doesn’t really work here. I feel like I got off the plane in Lagos and stopped being black” (476), there is both truth and falsehood wrapped up in that statement. Blackness is a construct in America born of a oppressive legacy that many refuse to face, and having lived so long within that culture, how can Ifemelu possibly shed the trappings of that identity even upon her return to a country without the same social constraints? (less)
While the experience of reading this book probably rates three stars, I'm giving it an extra star for the sheer magnitude of Adrian's endeavor. This 6...moreWhile the experience of reading this book probably rates three stars, I'm giving it an extra star for the sheer magnitude of Adrian's endeavor. This 600+ page book attempts to cover some momentous ground when a large hospital populated by hundreds of sick children, vigilant families, and overworked doctors becomes a modern day Noah's Ark one stormy night, floating on a vast ocean that covers the surface of Earth seven miles below. As the hospital converts into a medical cruise ship of sorts and a "preserving angel" (22) lives within the walls, providing for what remains of humanity via Star Trek-like replicators that have magically appeared in the many rooms of the hospital.
File this book under magical realism for sure; Adrian creates truly believable characters placed in insanely fantastic situations. His protagonist Jemma is a troubled young doctor dealing with her own tremendously heavy emotional baggage while navigating the pediatric sickness that confronts her around every corner. Her partnership with Rob, another young intern is beautifully written and the fate of the characters nearly (but not quite) brought tears to my eyes.
There are definitely portions of the book I learned to skim, primarily some of the abstract diatribes of various angels, one who seems to be an embodiment of Jemma's strange older brother who committed suicide when she was younger. (I say "seems" only because I was too annoyed by those portions to go back and really make sense of them; and I don't think my understanding suffered significantly for my laziness.) Similarly, I found the flashbacks to Jemma's childhood equally tedious; there just wasn't enough of the puzzle available to get a truly perfect picture of the impact of her past on her present. Then there are the unnecessarily long passages, such as the nearly eighty pages of Jemma using a newfound supernatural power to cure the children's ailments. The narration in this section goes into great detail about every body part, organ, and cell involved with a wide variety of illnesses. However, whenever things threatened to become devastatingly dull, Adrian twists the plot just enough so that you plunge ahead much like his fictional hospital floating on the vast ocean in search of an unknown destination.
In the end though, the commentary on parenting and sin and redemption and so much more did in fact make this a rich read upon reflection. (I'm glad I waited a few days to write my review in fact.) Here is one passage I highlighted that illustrates these thematic nuggets that are interspersed throughout: "But as surely as the moon rises and the sun sets, depravity passes down through the ages, because there is always a gap between who we are and who we should be, and our parents, molested by regret, conceive us under the false hope that we will be better than them, and everything they do, every hug and blow, only makes certain that we never will be" (300). This depth of contemplation on the complicated parental duty is at the heart of the novel, and while it's clear from passages like this that the commentary is not necessarily validating in a traditional sense, the novel does create an interesting discourse on the subject, among many others.(less)
After a recent disappointing experience reading Shteyngart's first novel The Russian Debutante's Handbook, I only read Super Sad True Love Story becau...moreAfter a recent disappointing experience reading Shteyngart's first novel The Russian Debutante's Handbook, I only read Super Sad True Love Story because several friends had said they loved it even in spite of disliking the other. I did have to initially overcome the confusion of narrators that are far too similar between the two novels--and narrators that are far too similar to the persona of Shteyngart himself as I experienced at a reading a few months ago--but once I let go of that frustration, I ended up enjoying my experience with this book.
I won't say I loved reading it, only because Shteyngart's vision of the near future is incredibly scary in that it plays upon elements of our society that are already here: a sexually-desensitized youth culture, socialization ruled by technology, indecipherable boundaries between corporations and government, among other frightening elements. (Although the accuracy with which he paints this dystopian reality gives me hope that educated people do in fact see where we're headed, I wonder how those less politically-minded view these ideas.)
The politics here are all humorously represented for the most part, which certainly makes them much more palatable. Most people wear small "apparati," which constantly stream news, gossip, announcements, and scores about other the owners of other nearby apparati, including credit scores, net worth, personality, and even "fuckability" (89), with scores being ranked based on who is within the immediate vicinity. Along the same lines, New York City is lined with Credit Poles which announce one's credit scores to the world.
Much of the sexual humor is crass--major retail stores include AssLuxury and JuicyPussy--but the cavalier manner in which these elements are conveyed is precisely where the commentary lies. The pendulum of American sexuality in this world has swung as far away from Puritan repression as possible. A minor character, Hartford Brown, streams "a political commentary show intermixed with his own hardcore gay sex," providing coverage of "the Governor of the People's Bank of China-Worldwide" on a visit to America's all-powerful Secretary of Defense Rubenstein while engaging in various sex acts "on top of...a yacht near the Dutch Antilles" (155). One of the main characters compares a love interest to "the old man who molests teens on the beach" in "those porns [they] used to watch when [they] were in kindergarten" (226). These nonchalant references to explicit sexual acts that occasionally pop up throughout the narrative are clear indications of a sexually numb society.
And this quotidian approach to sex is precisely why the true love story of the novel is so super sad. Lenny and Eunice, the authors of the narrative's two epistolary strands, are in many ways totally reprehensible. And yet their love affair thrives, albeit unhealthily, amidst all the dysfunction and dehumanization of their society. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, we should all be so lucky, for as with all great dystopian fiction, the true commentary here is that love can thrive under such similar circumstances in our own world.(less)
I was a unreasonably excited to read this book. Reviews were over the top for this first novel from a ridiculously young writer. I had just finished a...moreI was a unreasonably excited to read this book. Reviews were over the top for this first novel from a ridiculously young writer. I had just finished a slew of mediocre novels and was anxious to really like something, but The Tiger's Wife unfortunately did not work out like I hoped. Obreht is a masterful technician of language and creates some beautiful prose (all the more impressive considering she was twenty-five when the book was first published), but there is little to propel the reader forward in what is essentially a partial portrait of the narrator's grandfather.
Set amidst the war-ravaged Balkans of the late twentieth century, Obreht does offer some interesting musings on the nature of family, death, and faith, but none of it is tied together with an engaging or cohesive storyline. The framework of the story centers on Natalia, a young doctor traveling to a poor orphanage miles from home in order to offer medical assistance where it is almost unwanted by the locals. Within the context of this storyline though, virtually nothing of interest happens. Early on, Natalia is notified of her grandfather's death, and the rest of the novel is made up of flashbacks to life with her grandfather and folktale-inspired reports of his youth long before she was born. While the two portions of the novel provide an opportunity for an interesting paralleling of theme and content (Natalia encounters a field of peasants attempting to lay to rest the soul of a dead family member more than a decade after his departing), but that is an opportunity that is never fully realized. Obreht plays with her narrative technique here, providing doses of magical realism amidst histories of characters about whom Natalia could never have discovered an ounce of truth, but this is all done with little warning about the threads that link this all together until long after I lost interest as a reader.(less)
Even though I laughed out loud several times while reading this novel, Shteyngart's first, it is a painfully long satirical romp that could not sustai...moreEven though I laughed out loud several times while reading this novel, Shteyngart's first, it is a painfully long satirical romp that could not sustain its sardonic wit over the course of its whopping 500 pages. The irony begins with the title, which has nothing to do with a sexy and stylish young immigrant as the cover art would suggest but rather a nerdy Russian-born Jewish American whose self-deprecating demeanor and loose scruples hardly provide for a compelling protagonist; in fact much of Vladimir's antics border on the offensive, including his numerous acts of adultery, cheating on the likes of live-in girlfriend and full-time dominatrix Challah, wealthy socialite Francesca and her uber-liberal parents, and Midwestern girl-next-door turned terrorist Morgan. Perhaps his struggles with understanding the trappings of heterosexual romance stem from an early determination that "a man and a woman can claim to love one another, they may even rent real estate in Brooklyn as a sign of their love, but when they take time out of a busy day to walk through the air-conditioned aisles of a drug mart to pick out a nail clipper together, well, this is the kind of relationship that will perpetuate itself if only through its banality." In spite of these amusingly awkward thoughts on the subject, he is strangely successful in attracting the opposite sex, albeit usually women with questionable pathology, which makes it all the worse when he so quickly self-destructs these liaisons.
Similarly, his homophobic reaction to an indecent proposal from a closeted drug czar and his subsequent attempts to evade said suitor in which he dupes a psychotic Russian immigrant and starts a ridiculously successful expatriate pyramid scheme in Eastern Europe provoke further feelings of ambivalence for the subject matter. These situations all provide the perfect setups for some hilarious punchlines, but lack sufficient character development to create a truly engaging overall narrative. Along the way he learns the inherent truth in the "useful axiom: it is far better to be patronized than to be ignored" and his father relates to him that "ultimately...making compromises may be a necessity, but it's the constant weighing and reweighing of these compromises that becomes an illness." Little pearls of wisdom like this, each slightly twisted with a wry smile, are peppered throughout the text in a strained effort to amuse.
The entire work reads like The Corrections meets The Namesake as Shteyngart captures the mocking tone of Franzen early twenty-first century work and Lahiri's immigrant-in-search-of-identity sensibility, the combination illustrated in the omniscient narrator's initial assertion that at the end of his journey, "he would have reached, all by himself, the final destination of every immigrant's journey: a better home in which to be unhappy."
This all is perhaps simply due to my particular tastes when it comes to satire: I like it short and sweet. I am the type of person that relishes Yossarian's plight in Catch-22 but wishes that Heller has stopped at 200 pages. (I adore Voltaire's Candide for example.) Shteyngart has a terrific wit, one that I look forward to experiencing in his well-reviewed Super Sad True Love Story, but one that becomes overly politicized and far too personal in this first novel for my liking.(less)
This started out so incredibly promising: the initial narrator is Ava, the pre-adolescent youngest daughter of three in a family that lives deep in th...moreThis started out so incredibly promising: the initial narrator is Ava, the pre-adolescent youngest daughter of three in a family that lives deep in the Florida swamplands and runs a pseudo circus show for gullible tourists. Early on, Ava's mother dies of cancer--ironic since she regularly swims with and wrestles alligators--and the pain and lack of understanding in this young character over the loss is realistically palpable and touching. The family quickly devolves after the death, and unfortunately so does Russell's novel. When Ava's sister Ossie begins dating ghosts and allegedly loses her maidenhood to these spectral visitors, I wasn't sure how seriously I was supposed to be taking this story that up until that point captured the verisimilitude of loss and loneliness exquisitely. Later, the narration splits into alternating chapters narrated by Ava and her search for her sister after the latter elopes with a dead suitor and those with an inconsistent third person narration detailing their older brother's adventures on the mainland as he attempts to save the family from financial ruin. The stories never truly converge, and when Ava joins up with a creepy "Bird Man" (a character she doesn't recognize as creepy until it is far too late) to journey to the underworld, there is little to connect these disparate characters and their oddly plotted journeys. Russell has a great style, but I'm anxious to read some of her shorter pieces since the trappings of the novel, particularly the sustained development of plot and character, are far too elusive for her to capture here.(less)
This collection of short stories mostly center around coming of age pieces in which African-American adolescent protagonists face important elements o...moreThis collection of short stories mostly center around coming of age pieces in which African-American adolescent protagonists face important elements of self-discovery, although a few also focus on adults and their own struggles with identity. The first story entitled "Brownies" begins with the one of the most fantastic opening lines I've ever read: "By our second day at Camp Crescendo, the girls in my Brownie troop had decided to kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie Troop 909." The story then follows a terrifically unexpected trajectory to create a truly delightful opening to this collection. Other stories are well crafted although none quite live up to the perfection of "Brownies." In "Our Lady of Peace," Lynnea decides to become a teacher in an urban district and suffers the consequences; in "Ant of the Self," the narrator travels to the Million Man March with his derelict father; "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" follows young Dina during her freshman year at Yale where she refuses to accept her budding sexuality; and the title character in "Doris is Coming" begins the journey of rejecting her family's oppressive religious devotion at the dawn of the Civil Rights Era. Two stories, "Speaking in Tongues" where a young girl runs away in search of her biological mother and "Geese" in which a young woman moves to Japan where she stays in spite of her destitution and expired Visa, aren't quite as enjoyable as those outlined above, and "Every Tongue Shall Confess" is too deliberately understated to convey the importance of the rest of the book.
This debut collection at times becomes a bit heavy handed, particularly around some of Packer's proper noun choices like "Camp Crescendo" noted above and a teacher named "Mrs. Ampersand," but the narration and perspective of her pieces make it clear why The New Yorker chose Packer as one of their "20 Under 40".(less)
Even though I only gave this book four stars, I still loved it and I love Joshua Ferris. The story is riveting: Tim, a successful New York lawyer, suf...moreEven though I only gave this book four stars, I still loved it and I love Joshua Ferris. The story is riveting: Tim, a successful New York lawyer, suffers from what one doctor describes as "benign idiopathic perambulation," essentially a condition which causes Tim to walk and walk and walk--with no control over his destination or path--until he passes out due to exhaustion. Specialists and medical professionals can find no reason for the condition or its causes and Tim, his wife Jane, and their daughter Becka are all at the mercy of when it surfaces. Tim's struggles with this unnamed disease are painful, as are Jane's and Becka's efforts to support him while battling their own disbelief in his condition, all of which eventually takes its toll on Tim's psychological well being, something that is mirrored in the deconstruction of the third person narration late in the novel. There is an underdeveloped subplot centering on a wealthy client facing murder charges that Tim is defending when the walking resurfaces, but to extend the narrative into that territory would have relegated the story into the ludicrous kingdom of John Grisham. I give the book five stars for the concept and characterizations, but only four for the lack of resolution in its final chapters.(less)
During the first half of this book, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The sardonic and morbid wit Ferris employs to convey the absurdly ironic world of a C...moreDuring the first half of this book, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The sardonic and morbid wit Ferris employs to convey the absurdly ironic world of a Chicago advertising agency floundering in the plunging economy of the early twenty-first century creates a humorous text in the vein of Catch-22. However, as with Heller's novel, I found myself worrying about the sustainability of such a tone for a long novel like this. Where Heller refocuses his text through the fragmentation of chronology, Ferris instead shifts tone at exactly the right moment. Midway through his book, his narration moves from pure satire to a moving focus on a character who has until that moment been purely peripheral (as most characters in this book are). A shift in tense signifies the change in style and this beautiful portion of the book provides an important weight to Ferris's work. The second half of the book melds the two tones, culminating in a brilliant plot device that some might view as heavy-handed but in the context of these postmodern shifts in perspective is actually quite brilliant. The final chapter of the book marks a return to the gorgeous and important tones of that midpoint chapter, and I found myself near tears in those closing pages.(less)
This absolutely fantastic collection of short stories demonstrates that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the sharpest talents around in contemporary...moreThis absolutely fantastic collection of short stories demonstrates that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the sharpest talents around in contemporary fiction. The stories are each distinct, some set in the United States, others set in Nigeria, but each contains an emotional transparency that holds the reader whether Adichie spins the tale of a well-off medical student holed up with a peasant during a rebel incursion or zooming in on the life of a Nigerian immigrant forced to take a nannying job with an affluent family in the suburbs. I've read Adichie has been referred to do as the "literary daughter" of Chinua Achebe, and the final story in this collection proves the link is more than conjecture. In "The Headstrong Historian," Adichie imagines the a final chapter for Achebe's Things Fall Apart, providing a female protagonist who is a direct descendent of one of the characters in that novel exploring her family and cultural heritage.
I've also seen Adichie referred to as one of the greatest writers to come out of Africa in recent memory, and I argue that she is clearly one of the greatest writers to enter the literary scene regardless of her continent of origin. She's a fabulous African writer, she's a fabulous female writer, and she's simply a fabulous writer!(less)
I was introduced to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie during a workshop a few months ago where we watched her TED speech, "The Danger of a Single Story." The t...moreI was introduced to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie during a workshop a few months ago where we watched her TED speech, "The Danger of a Single Story." The talk brilliantly highlights the need to read outside one's reality in order to rid ourselves of stereotypes and myths, as well as the false belief that we understand an entire people based on a single story. I knew that the moment my reading shelf had an opening, I'd choose one of her novels.
I really wanted to love this novel, and I did. Centered on the 1960s secession of Biafra from Nigeria and the ensuing war that joined the country back together, Adichie creates a moving story of a handful of characters whose lives are drastically altered by the war. Her characters are intricately drawn and vividly realized, and her fragmented story construction and shifting points of view create a swift read. (I did not give it five stars, however, because I did feel it was a tad bit long.)
This book is precisely why I love fiction; it educates through an empathy that only a deep fictional narration can achieve, a penetration of multiple characters' psychologies combined with carefully structured plot devices--something that nonfiction, even memoirs, just can't match. Having read this so closely after the similarly Nigerian-themed novel Little Bee I am reminded of the importance of reading authentic voices who can write with authority. Whereas Little Bee is written by a white British male journalist, Half of a Yellow Sun is written by native Nigerian and trained fiction writer Adichie. Where Little Bee felt like the story construction and character development were second to the author's political message, Half of a Yellow Sun is precisely the opposite, a book in which the craft of storytelling quietly leads you down a path to political and moral understanding almost by surprise.(less)
I am such a huge fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I really wanted to love this book. I was introduced to Adichie in a multicultural literature cla...moreI am such a huge fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I really wanted to love this book. I was introduced to Adichie in a multicultural literature class when we watched her TED Talk entitled "The Danger of a Single Story." Her eloquent speech is required viewing now in my classes, and I eagerly sought out her writing. I first read her other novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, and several of her short stories that were published in The New Yorker. I found them mostly brilliant, yet they differ from Purple Hibiscus in that they are much more adult themed than this novel. Perhaps that is what this piece lacks. What I've found in Adichie's other works is a mature and subtle understanding of the layered lives we live, and she writes about them from an Nigerian perspective that provides truth to the universality of our daily struggles worldwide. Since Purple Hibiscus centers on a fifteen-year-old protagonist and her devoutly religious and abusive father, I found the story all too boring. The storyline and structure were tired and contrived in much the way an actual fifteen-year-old girl would write--maybe that was her intent? I had to force myself to finish this book, and I was immensely sad at feeling that way. I am still in love with Adichie though, and I look forward to her future work!(less)
I absolutely loved this book. I found Oskar an endearingly quirky character, and I relished reading his wonderful narrator’s voice. The story takes some unexpected and fantastic turns that I would be far less forgiving of were it not for Foer’s substantial talents in creating an intricate story that really speaks to contemporary American society. I won’t get in to too much more because I don’t want to spoil it for people who have yet to read it! Just go read it!(less)
The first chapter of this book is totally brilliant. The first person narration for the elderly New Yorker and Holocaust escapee Leo Gursky is witty and riveting. And yet. Most of the novel alternates between Leo's first person narration, an adolescent girl named Alma Singer who writes in an annoying list format, and a third person narrator that follows an initially disjointed piece of the story. The shifts were very disconcerting for me, and I was even more upset when Krauss installed yet another narrator (Alma's brother) in the final chapters of the book. I found myself eagerly anticipating the Gursky chapters while slogging through the others. (Part, yet not all, of my irritation and confusion may have been that I read this all just before bed each night.)
The purpose of the fragmentation in Alma's chapters escaped me entirely, and when her brother is introduced as the final narrator, all I could think was that this was a poor man's Oskar Schell, Krauss's husband's brilliant protagonist in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Throughout the entire novel, Krauss works really hard to be clever, yet the connection to overall meaning seemed secondary to her interesting use of form. While I didn't hate reading this book, it doesn't make me want to run out and buy Great House...although to be honest I probably will just to give her another chance.(less)