**spoiler alert** i am not sure what the biafra war is doing in this book. i am not sure what the death of a beloved parent who can no longer fight fo**spoiler alert** i am not sure what the biafra war is doing in this book. i am not sure what the death of a beloved parent who can no longer fight for survival is doing in this book. i am not sure what a mother's breakdown and subsequent abandonment are doing in this book. i am not sure what a child's servitude is doing in this book.
once you are done, once you get to the end, this feels very much like a book about being a young gay girl and the a gay woman, but there are all these other things too. they are woven together in a lovely and flowing narrative that feels entirely unforced. it feels easy, as if the composing of it were the most natural thing in the world. this makes it a fast read. this is a book one reads fast.
but then you wander what all those things are doing in the story. you also notice how much temporal back and forth there is.
life is not linear. gayness is not its own story. gayness happens in context. a dead father. an abandoning then punishing mother. servitude. schooling.
this is what i got out of this book beside the joy i took from just reading it:
if you are gay in a gay-hating place you will internalize the hatred and feel abominable. your mom, who loves you so much, will turn against you and try to de-gaify you. you will marry a man, have his children, and be raped night after night by someone you don't desire. you will feel like sex is owed to him. you will feel like your desires must be eradicated. you will despair. you will pray. you will cry. you will become numb to your own child.
so many of ijeoma's experiences resonated with me, even though there are differences between our lives. what resonated was the intolerable horror of being stuck. also, the intolerable horror of seeing one's beloved parent turn against one.
thank you chinelo okparanta for making this story end well. i could not have borne it had it ended in misery.
i enjoy the heck out of deon meyer and i really think of him as a really, really good mystery writer, but i like him better nowadays, when he has dropi enjoy the heck out of deon meyer and i really think of him as a really, really good mystery writer, but i like him better nowadays, when he has dropped most of the sexism. all this commenting on women's physical attractiveness is a major pain in the neck. (view spoiler)[the denouement, also, is fucking brutal. (hide spoiler)] still, i wish his novels were inexhaustible. ...more
at first it presents you with The World as It Should Be and Maybe Has Never Been but We Can Dream of It:
exhausted, this book is a brutal fairy tale.
at first it presents you with The World as It Should Be and Maybe Has Never Been but We Can Dream of It:
exhausted, traumatized, mutilated physically and spiritually by a brutal war, villagers come back to their destroyed village. the first are a couple of elders, who take on the essential job of burying the dead. soon more people return: families, ex-child soldiers, pregnant girls. The elders are the moral and civic center of the village and hold it together with storytelling. they understand the wounds of the returned and honor them with silence and kindness. secrets are never pried open, but storytelling turns them into parables (how many terrible secrets are there after all? the nature of a secret is not its unguessability but the holder's unwillingness to disclose it) and the community heals. gently, slowly.
the school re-opens. people find small jobs and rebuild their houses. there is a lot of poverty and hunger, but families support each other. they sit on their porches at night and laugh.
the school is run by a corrupt principal but what is new? this is sierra leone. corruption is the name of the game.
then, as always on the wake of war, international corporations come in. they don't know and don't respect the earth. they raze open the land to create streets the land is not ready to absorb. the land has its rhythms, its paths. these absurd, dusty, muddy, unwalkable streets plow right through the rhythms of the land. they violate the gentle communing between the villagers and their physical environment.
the corporation's riches are a scandal to the careful living of the poor villagers and their humble and generous sharing. SUVs travel up and down the new scarry roads and kids and teachers can no longer wear their regular clothes to school because they will be unwearable by the time they get there. instead, they pack their clothes in bags and wash and change once they get to school.
the mining corporation is manned by white men in dark sunglasses. these men are not human beings the villagers can relate to. we can't related to them either. they have no faces. they are machines who have checked their humanity at the front office. their cars run roughshod over people and their precious few belongings. if someone is hurt or dying, they don't stop. the complete disregard for the humanity of the villagers reminded me of holocaust narratives.
the villagers, though, have each other. storytelling is hard now, but there is still love, sharing, a community.
then the corporations steal villagers away from their humble but dignified jobs and lure them to work in jobs where, again, their value is only that of muscled machines. this lure is irresistible because families must be fed.
you know how this goes. you know it because you buy into it every day. you hear that garment workers are burned alive at their workplace in thailand. you stop buying gap or banana republic or macy’s for a week, a month. then you go back. the machine is amoral. the machine makes you amoral. this is not a story about africa. this is the story of a world of rich people with nice things and poor people whose existence is kept as hidden as possible from the rich people with nice things.
i read this story as being about me. about my phone and my computer and the metals needed to make them. these metals are under the homes and feet of villagers i come to love through books but are otherwise kept constantly out of my sight (out of sight out of mind).
and when i read this story i thought, what can i do? the answer is, as always, nothing. there is nothing i can do. i can't vote for politicians who won't invest in companies like this, or stop them, because the political system is owned by these companies. i can't stop buying computers and phones and other things whose prime components live under the feet of people whose land i have no business raiding, because the society in which i live has made them indispensable.
i am a man in a black SUV who wears dark sunglasses and sees the death of a child or a man or a woman by the side of the road, in a mine, or in a sweatshop just as a barely registerable accident. ...more
i am, doubtless, doing a grave injustice to this book, which will be probably rectified the moment i read reviews and secondary material on it. but ii am, doubtless, doing a grave injustice to this book, which will be probably rectified the moment i read reviews and secondary material on it. but i have a prejudice against alice walker. she seems to me, for an accumulation of reasons none of which sits discreetly in my mind, identifiable, a sloppy writer. say this book. the story is powerful and powerfully told. but then there's a whole lot of anthropology thrown in, and some etymology, and some sort of grand historical theory of patriarchy and the submission of women, and when you scratch the surface a tiny little bit you realize that it's made up. i didn't scratch the whole surface, so it's entirely possible that some of it -- the core of it? -- may not be made up. but when i scratched i found sloppiness or unabashed invention (some invention is openly acknowledged in the postscript) and, well, i am not sure i liked it.
i could be persuaded, but, right now, i don't see why alice walker needs to come up with an invented nomenclature (say) for stuff that truly exists. she doesn't offer any reason and i don't see a reason myself.
so this is what took the book south for me. the first part is beautiful, but then, well, i stopped being engaged, because i felt i was being taken for a ride, and i become unconvinced with everything. what is the relationship between adam and lisette all about? what is its narrative purpose? how do people (reviewers, etc.) know that tashi is treated by carl jung? are the clay figurines for real? do women really leave refugee camps because otherwise they'd be asked to work? what?
nice treatment of post-traumatic mental pain, and powerful, powerful indictment of genital mutilation. i thought i knew about it but i didn't know a thing. genital mutilation must stop. ...more
what i liked most in this book, what kept me electrified from the first sentence, is the language. i loved the language. wow. poetic passages with notwhat i liked most in this book, what kept me electrified from the first sentence, is the language. i loved the language. wow. poetic passages with not a shred of tiresomeness. originality of vision. beautiful.
in the last third, the story got in the way. truth be told, i was all about kweku. his tragedy, told almost indirectly, through his kids' stories, through the flashbacks he's having as he's dying, is powerful and delicate and so poignant. a brilliant man, an accomplished man, an african living in america: you know he doesn't stand a chance. you know the land of opportunity will chew him and spit him out.
the twins' story robs the limelight in a way that is not to advantage, in my opinion. maybe it belonged in another book?
but i read it breathlessly till the end, and if you like language half as much as i do, read this extraordinary book as well. ...more
i am not sure this book does or says something meaningful about the human condition*, but it sure is a hell of a read. it's divided in 4 related partsi am not sure this book does or says something meaningful about the human condition*, but it sure is a hell of a read. it's divided in 4 related parts, and while the set up in the first part is a bit slow (but the book is almost 500 pages!), the rest is really engaging and fascinating. post-apartheid south africa is a place where organized crime seems to have blossomed with great generosity, to the point that the international organized crime world sees it (south africa) as a nice safe haven. at least that's the sense i got. deon meyer, a white afrikaner, doesn't delve too much into social/racial issues, but he does show south africa from an afrikaner's point of view, which is something i had never gotten. it's amazing and crazy how insular race-based points of view can be. you think, south africa, totally mixed country, the cast is guaranteed to be mixed. and it is. but the point of view, and the main actors, are solidly afrikaner.
but then you think of america, of how racially diverse it is, and still white authors manage to write books without a single non-white character in them.
it's a crazy world, getting crazier every day.
anyway, let me re-iterate: really engaging, interesting, well-plotted, complex, and fascinating spy thriller. you won't guess anything. and that's part of the beauty. treat yourself.
*other than: people will rob you blind and, if they have to, will kill you, and all because of some very stupid thing like money or power or wanting to get ahead. and sometimes they'll be nice to you, but don't count on it because it hardly ever happens and when it does it's probably fake. which, all of the above, is the basic premise of any spy-thriller ever written. ...more
this book is good and engaging and fun and informative. it has the mainstay-ish worn-out alcoholic cop and the mainstay-ish young female victim, but uthis book is good and engaging and fun and informative. it has the mainstay-ish worn-out alcoholic cop and the mainstay-ish young female victim, but unlike in most american thrillers, the story is complicated by the interracial dynamics of post-apartheid south africa. also, the female victim (not the one they kill right at the beginning, the other one) totally kicks ass.
i didn't know many things about south africa and now i know some. they are pretty basic things, like that afrikaans is a language and those who speak it are called afrikaners (i thought the language was called afrikaan and the people afrikaans). it was pretty dumb of me not to know this but what can i say, i'm not proud. i also know that there are at least two black african ethnic groups: the xhosas and the zulus. yeah, i didn't know that either.
i think i want to see cape town. it sounds gorgeous from a natural point of view and interesting from an urban point of view. the downside is that it seems hot as hell. but the book is set in january so i can hope that the winters will be coolers.
mostly, though, i couldn't put the book down. it's 500 some pages but it went so fast. my days went smoothly because i knew i had this book to come back to. i'm going to read all of this guy's books. at the end, i'll know so much about south africa, i will know all about the various temperatures in the various seasons, languages, ethnic groups, history, the bar scene, traffic patterns, power cut patterns, slang. frankly, i can't wait. ...more