Oddly enough, this is such a well-written and well-told book that the things that I didn't like stood out in more stark relief. I am not generally a faOddly enough, this is such a well-written and well-told book that the things that I didn't like stood out in more stark relief. I am not generally a fan of historical fiction, and I find that many books written about WWII don't hold my interest. This one, however, kept me returning, taking tastes and slices of the book whenever I had a few minutes to spare. What I liked best was the synesthetic descriptions of the world through Marie-Laure's perceptions. The author richly describes sound as color, drawing a beautiful portrait that doesn't let us forget that she is blind, but doesn't blind us to her experience of her world. A rather remarkable translation between non-seeing and sighted. I also appreciated the way the author built the slow drip of evil, the tiny steps that certain characters (and the nation of Germany) took to succumb to the banal horrors of fascism. The author gives us somehow sympathetic characters who face moments of reckoning and fail in their morality - and yet provides some redemption by giving us a view inside their confusion. I also appreciated the way the book was written in glimpses, like slides shuffling through a slide projector - short chapters that jump around. I found the time leaps a bit maddening. In part, they held suspense, but there were times, especially in the cellar of the Hotel of Bees, where the leaps between time and space frustrated me. I also found the end a bit rushed. We spent so much rich time growing up with the characters that it felt tacked on to leap ahead 30 and 50 years just to find out what happened. And at the same time, the payoff at the very end - the final chapter with the grandmother musing as her grandson is playing a game on his phone - the juxtaposition of the present and past was a beautiful insight into the way we respond to our own history and the way that "some griefs can never be put right."...more
I was lucky enough to find this at my local library in the "Lucky Day" section (I was number 50-something on the waiting list). And Ta-Nehisi Coates wI was lucky enough to find this at my local library in the "Lucky Day" section (I was number 50-something on the waiting list). And Ta-Nehisi Coates was not wrong in his praise.
The author manages to distill a sweeping and horrific history of colonialism and the impacts of slavery into a series of vignettes in the lives of generations of West Africans from the 1700s to today. With each new chapter and subsequent character, she captures unique voices and perspectives. Some characters are all in their heads, while others have more poetic or textural experiences. Some are told through mental illness or addiction, while others told through shame or hope. Throughout the stories, the author gives new dimensions to the realities of colonialism and slavery as experienced on the side of the stolen and enslaved people brought through the slave castle at Cape Cost to the US; while also giving voice to those who were complicit with the Europeans in enslaving their neighbors. She does not shy away from the harsh realities of our history, but she also does not lose the thread of hope and survival that, miraculously, continues to emerge.
This is a smartly-written expose of dating and relationships in the technologically-connected world. Combining research in sociology and psychology wiThis is a smartly-written expose of dating and relationships in the technologically-connected world. Combining research in sociology and psychology with first-hand narrative, personal musing, and research on comedy tours and subreddit, the author delivers a surprisingly balanced view of how internet and smart phone technology have shifted dating and romance for better and for worse. Witticisms abound - some as groan-worthy as a video dating app, some as zany as....putting the Rock over your ex's face on facebook. He takes a few food-motivated side trips to Buenos Aires and Tokyo, and somehow turns it all into some pretty solid advice about how to navigate a world with boundless choices that somehow are likely to make us feel worse about our options....more
In this inventive story, the reader is plopped into the middle of a world that is somehow very familiar yet quite different from our own - a work of aIn this inventive story, the reader is plopped into the middle of a world that is somehow very familiar yet quite different from our own - a work of almost cultural anthropology. The author remarkably gives very little background, and yet somehow the world of Leiodare emerges almost as a work of cultural anthropology. There is wealth and poverty, shiny and mysterious technology in the middle of a very grounded physical reality. There is unexplained magic (that perhaps is simply new techology), strange paranoia and civic customs, and a religion born from surviving climate change and sea level rise. And there are the characters, falling in love, fulfilling their own ideas of destiny - grappling with social and political events that no longer make sense. Anna, who guards her past and her secrets even as she falls in love with a performer whose voice she recognizes. Eugenio, the scientist and desk bureaucrat who survived his own disaster and seems rather obsessed with uncovering the roots of a different disaster. And there is Rory, the remnant of a rich playboy cocooned by trauma but willing to redeem himself. These characters (along with others) are far from stock players - they are as richly imagined as the world of Leiodare and the neighborhood of Smoketown (which has survived since the American Civil War). I look forward to reading more by this author....more
This is a direct, deceptively simple book that is ostensibly about trading, but actually about overcoming internal barriers and challenges. The authorThis is a direct, deceptively simple book that is ostensibly about trading, but actually about overcoming internal barriers and challenges. The author is quite astute about how internal experiences and emotions can create barriers - to traders and investors, or to anyone. I actually found this book helpful in thinking about relationships, work, and more....more
An intriguingly complex book about a variety of Zimbabweans living in Edinburgh. The novel tracks the experiences primarily of three men of different cAn intriguingly complex book about a variety of Zimbabweans living in Edinburgh. The novel tracks the experiences primarily of three men of different circumstances, the the various people connected with them. What starts as a rather straightforward stroll through their lives turns into, at different times: a political intrigue, a descent into madness, explorations of existential angst from multiple angles, a social commentary on youth, a postmodern romance, and a family drama. The author blends elements from multiple genres into a satisfying whole. His account spans a dizzying number of issues with a light and deft hand.
It contains one of the best, though concise, descriptions of descent into homelessness I have read, and it deals accessibly with the complex discombobulation of emigration that throws class, gender, and race up in the air - recounting the stories of arbitrary (or not?) winners and losers.
This is not exactly a beach read, although you can read it there. It gets a bit heavy in places, but the pace keeps moving in surprising directions. ...more
This is different sort of novel about colonialism and culture than I've read before. Rather than focusing on what happened in a literal sense, this stThis is different sort of novel about colonialism and culture than I've read before. Rather than focusing on what happened in a literal sense, this story circles around the early impacts of German, British, and French colonialism in what would become Cameroon. By focusing on the stories of Sara and Nebu, I got a different view of the rather nonsensical way that colonialism forced its way into the lives of ordinary people who were influenced by cultural exchanges and shifts between their own communities (as well as by Christian missionaries who are also described with a rather bemused eye).
The Sultan's story is also revealing in the way that Cameroonian leaders might have tried to adapt or weather the Europeans' insertion of themselves where they didn't belong - and the sometimes tragic ways that leaders tried to adapt to something they expected would be over soon enough.
The frame story - a historian interviewing the elderly Sara - provides the anchor and a level of joy and sadness in the discovery lost history, culture, and art. And the primary stories are told with a sort of nostalgic, sort of magical tone that memories might have when they are rarely spoken out loud.
Finally, another great thing about this book is that it describes historical figures like Sultan Njoya and Charles Atangana, even as it spins a fictional story instead of an exact historical account. ...more
The main character in this book is charming, creepy, wise, and sometimes wildly out of touch with reality - as I was at age 12, as are probably most 1The main character in this book is charming, creepy, wise, and sometimes wildly out of touch with reality - as I was at age 12, as are probably most 12-year-olds with a few toes dipped in the pool of adulthood. The author anchors the story in the mundane details of his life in a suburban Indian family in Ohio, and weaves it through with Kiran's fierce understanding of his own uniqueness and possible godhood in the face of the usual social ostracism and teasing. This is not your average social outcast coming-of-age story, and it misfires once or twice (his sudden realization about gayness seems out of place), but it is one of the best depictions of tween-ness that I have read. You will cringe as Kiran makes terrible choices, laugh at his forthright logic, and find yourself rooting for him, and even his parents, despite his occasional vandalism, lying, mean-spiritedness, and brushes with porn....more
A touching, poetic, dream-like book about the ordinariness of extraordinary loss. This book starts in the beginning as the narrative of a child, witnesA touching, poetic, dream-like book about the ordinariness of extraordinary loss. This book starts in the beginning as the narrative of a child, witnessing and understanding things from his child-sized point of view. He describes his observations of the world and responds with childish self-centeredness and understanding. He describes everyday scenes - life in detailed glimpses of memory, haunted at the edges by his awareness of the disappearance of his brother. And then, somehow, toward the end, you begin to understand that it is a story not only about the boy's brother, but also about their home village, and about Nigeria itself. Somehow, in plain and simple language, the book becomes quite deeply about the losses experienced by those who have left home - in part by choice and largely by circumstances beyond them. Books like this can risk torturous inward journeys and philosophical meditations - but this one makes the same journeys and same meditations by drawing together memories and simply remembered and carefully described events of daily life....more
Jemisin comes through again. While the first book of the series was excellent but felt a little short on the character development, this one rounds ouJemisin comes through again. While the first book of the series was excellent but felt a little short on the character development, this one rounds out its characters more fully, telling the second half of the story begun in The Killing Moon. The characters from the first book are present - often in the form of ghosts and legacies, in a further exploration of cultural blending and change. Jemisin's brilliant development of religo-cultural civilization is on fully display as cultural values and norms bump against each other, and cultures shift. The characters of Hanani is a particular interesting exploration of a gender pioneer, as the first woman in the historically all-man Hetawa. The shifts in Gujaareh brought about by the Kisuati occupation and the cross-cultural pollination of the Banbarra are also very well drawn and interesting. Jemisin's exploration of the medical/dream humors is also given further exploration as a nightmare plague sweeps through the city. And of course the political and interpersonal dramas keep the pace nicely....more
The author has a gift for crafting imaginary worlds that fall somewhere between what I'd call fantasy and science fiction. The worlds seem inspired byThe author has a gift for crafting imaginary worlds that fall somewhere between what I'd call fantasy and science fiction. The worlds seem inspired by historical civilization research but are not based on our own time and place. They are not technological in the sense of space-based fiction, or advanced computer and star wars style technology - and yet they are grounded in a clearly defined scientific, technological, religious, and political systems. It is clear that the author does her homework, crafting complete geo-political, scientific/magical worlds. In the humorous and illuminating brief self-interview in the back, the author talks about how the setting of this book was inspired by her study of ancient Egypt, as well as her study of Jung, Freud, psychodynamic theory, and dreams.
Set all that aside, and you have a fast-paced tale of political intrigue, corruption and power, religious devotion, and the powers of love and friendship. The characters are distinctive and well-drawn, and even the worst of the "bad guys" somehow have more complex motivations, even drawing sympathy at times. While the book is very good, it wasn't my favorite of what the author has written. The social castes and political units confused me at the beginning (I should have consulted the glossary more carefully), and the characters weren't as fully fleshed as in other Jemisin books. What was most exciting for me, and maybe for the author as well, was the religio-political system. What if dreams allowed us to heal? What if a political system was built around securing peace above all else? What is it like to live in a society that welcomes death while also affirming life? What if the world is a moon orbiting a gas giant - what religious understanding might its people have of their place in a cosmology of the Dreaming Moon? That imagination is what makes this book so good....more
Yes this is a story about the reinvention of self, about personal journeys of liberation within a social hierarchy that has somehow convinced you thatYes this is a story about the reinvention of self, about personal journeys of liberation within a social hierarchy that has somehow convinced you that its abusiveness is for your own good. It is a story about grief and anger and love and fear. And it is so good at telling you these three stories - Essun, Damaya, and Syenite - as they slowly twist toward their common connection points. But this is also a story about a science and civilization, where the mythology says the earth hates life, where tectonic activity repeatedly threatens extinction, and the lore is coded with means of survival (and yet is also in the hands of the empire). There are two types of humanoid, and many races of people bound by a central empire's culture and conquering, and special people born with gifts that are powerful and stigmatized by fear and forced (with acquiescence as a means of survival) under a cruel thumb. The author has created a world and a culture that is familiar enough to read and relate, but with such inventiveness - the creatures and cultures, the civilization's mythologies and its social orders, the earth science and histories. I do hope there are more in this series, because I could barely put this book down....more
I've never been into Shakespeare and know little about King Lear. But I have been stranded in an airport, wonA post apocalyptic meditation on humanity
I've never been into Shakespeare and know little about King Lear. But I have been stranded in an airport, wondering what would happen it all just stopped. This fantastic book skates back and forth across time, across the divide of a flu pandemic, before & after. The plot is tied by its opening scene, characters connected to the actor who had a heart attack on stage (who gains a kind of fame that no one could have imagined), and a comic book rendering of a broken world. It's not the action that grips, but the contrast between what was and what is. The way people adapt, and the definition of mundane and normal. The many ways we can twist the story of our survival into giving life or taking it. The way we may be always be trying to be home, or make home. ...more
Honest, humble exploration of Islam and Western secular thought
Too often we think of Islam and the West as separate, distinct, and opposing. This bookHonest, humble exploration of Islam and Western secular thought
Too often we think of Islam and the West as separate, distinct, and opposing. This book layers a secular American liberal point of view with an honest and respectful exploration and a gentle, yet firm view of the Quran in Muslim life. The narrator willingly acknowledges her own limits and blind spots, a rare glimpse of humility from an American point of view. She is matched by the graceful, clear-speaking, and thoughtful scholar. Rather than a textbook or a history, this book is a meditation on the meaning of spirituality itself, and of a pious, carefully considered life. I appreciate the way the author and her friend illuminate the limits of secular, Euro-American imagination when it comes to understanding the Quran and the cultures and communities of those who follow it. ...more