A little too emotionally indistinct, especially in the majority of its depiction of Memory's relationship with Lloyd, but the ending and the revelatioA little too emotionally indistinct, especially in the majority of its depiction of Memory's relationship with Lloyd, but the ending and the revelation of Memory's family's full story hit me with the sort of emotional wallop I'd been craving. ...more
Less about the abductions themselves (which is good, given how much is and would have to be speculative) and more about the abductions in the contextLess about the abductions themselves (which is good, given how much is and would have to be speculative) and more about the abductions in the context of Japanese-Korean (Japanese-North Korean, specifically) modern-day history; not knowing much about that context, I found the book easy to read, informative, and engaging. ...more
So, Nguyen knocked it out the park with a literary technique that, when executed well and with purpose, I really enjoy: dialogue without quotation marSo, Nguyen knocked it out the park with a literary technique that, when executed well and with purpose, I really enjoy: dialogue without quotation marks. This is a novel about double-consciousness, internal-external divides, and the creation & maintenance of self- and social-narratives, and Nguyen's text--barren of quotation marks, refusing to over-grant significance to what is said--scrupulously gives equal weight to the internal and the external, to what is thought and what is acted. Also, it adds a slipperiness and a need-for-alertness to the reading experience, which was also evocative for the thematic work the novel was doing. This added a layer of enjoyment to the novel. (I'll admit, I often find the lack of quotation marks unnecessary or pretentious, but this is a great use of the technique. Attention, MFA hacks: The Sympathizer is now the gold standard for justifying its use.)
The last parts of the novel also had some excellent slipperiness in POV and in structure, and I thought Nguyen was really rocking the technical things: not too showy, always weaving in with the thematic stuff being developed. There was some five-star writing going on (I kinda want to quote the entire passage about the clock as an example), but at times, there was just too much writing, too much repetition, and even considering the conceit of the novel (most of the book is in the form of a confession), I think I'd have appreciated some trimming.
Aaaaand I guess starting my review with a rave about technique is a clue that I was underwhelmed by the content. The plot was interesting, the world-building was vivid and engaging, but the characters weren't dynamic enough--no one did anything unexpected, really, and I wasn't surprised by any plot-mandated character motion, either--to keep me from really loving this, and most of the women in particular got the short shift in terms of hinting at their own subjectivity. ...more
A solid, satisfyingly complicated mystery. I haven't read any other books from this series, and I found this one did stand alone well. There were niceA solid, satisfyingly complicated mystery. I haven't read any other books from this series, and I found this one did stand alone well. There were nice flashes of humor and enjoyable historical engagement. I loved how photography was used, too.
I prefer my crime fiction to have either a stronger voice or a stronger emotional heft, however, and this didn't really stand out on either of those qualities. ...more
I loved the characters (scientists! all of them--and Sly, I hope she sticks around--too well-rounded and too interesting to be stereotypical even forI loved the characters (scientists! all of them--and Sly, I hope she sticks around--too well-rounded and too interesting to be stereotypical even for a moment!) but had to suspend some disbelief regarding clinical trials and some of the mechanics of the plot, like (view spoiler)[the dead villain having addressed a long letter to the protagonists explaining all the actions he undertook--though I appreciate that the investigative gang also independently confirmed things he said (hide spoiler)]....more
It's been nearly six years since I've read a Dorothy Koomson novel, and I'd forgotten just how fantastic she is at pacing character development. She'sIt's been nearly six years since I've read a Dorothy Koomson novel, and I'd forgotten just how fantastic she is at pacing character development. She's so good at making character changes in her protagonist believable turns, all rooted in personality and a juggling of worst-selves & best-selves and sympathetically rendered struggle.
The previous books by her that I've read fell squarely into what gets called "women's fiction" (or "upscale chick lit" or "commercial fiction," though those terms aren't great, either), and I'd still shelve it there, but this book has a definite thriller aspect: who killed Marcus? Is Poppy right, that she was convicted for a crime that Serena actually committed? Now that Poppy's out of prison, what lengths will she go to force Serena to confess? But Koomson, wisely, also weaves in a more delicate emotional thread: what is it going to take for Serena and Poppy to let go of the past, to forgive themselves?
Koomson excelled at the more emotional parts of the book and less so on the murder plot aspect. I tried to excuse some of my "but what about...?" and "seriously, the investigation didn't...?" questions with "Well, it was the 1980s, things were different then!" but I felt way too forgiving at times. And while Serena and Poppy were always understandable characters to me, I struggled more with some of the supporting characters and their reactions, and sometimes character confrontations got a little too Lifetime movie for me. On the other hand, Koomson treated the topic of domestic violence in a sensitive but straight-forward manner, and the flashbacks to Serena and Poppy being groomed by this sexual predator were often terrifying....more
I'm a sucker for museums, apparently. I really enjoyed all those details about working on the administrative side of a museum/library/historical archiI'm a sucker for museums, apparently. I really enjoyed all those details about working on the administrative side of a museum/library/historical archive. I liked the mystery in this better than the first book, and I liked that (view spoiler)[it ends somewhat ambiguously (hide spoiler)] (I am a terrible reader of cozy mysteries, honestly, but I'm trying--I want to learn how to appreciate them!). I like that Nell is pretty boring and blandly efficient. In both books so far, characters bring their problems to her because She Gets Shit Done, which is a good excuse as any for why she keeps investigating stuff. I didn't like how most of the book is expository filler and there's so much ridiculousness (Nell's whimsical hiring decisions wtf)....more
So in the musical Hamilton (aka the only and every thing that I love), this exchange occurs as the cast narrates the conclusion (warning: profanity) oSo in the musical Hamilton (aka the only and every thing that I love), this exchange occurs as the cast narrates the conclusion (warning: profanity) of the Battle of Yorktown:
JOHN LAURENS Black and white soldiers wonder alike if this really means freedom
GEORGE WASHINGTON Not. Yet
As of this writing, the Genius annotations for these two lines discuss the rich interpretations of this exchange, and I thought it's a good illustration for the complexity of what the American Revolutionary War meant for black Americans at the time, both free and enslaved, soldier and civilian--and what it might mean for present day Americans and the historical traditions we revere, retell, reject. (I've been thinking a lot about this because of Hamilton. I decided to read this book because of Hamilton, actually.)
Gilbert's book traces black participation in the two concurrent (and sometimes contradictory) revolutions: American's freedom from Britain, and black Americans' freedom from slavery. Probably unsurprisingly, the short summary is this: the Patriot and the Loyalist sides both challenged and reinforced slavery in their pursuit of victory, for reasons both pragmatic and principled, and both sides incorporated blacks in their military, but to different extents and with lackluster documentation. Despite the latter, Gilbert writes a thoroughly researched account--and account it is; Gilbert discusses documentation and then analyzes and defends his interpretations well. It's very readable but also a very dry read at times because of So Many Lists, So Many Stories. It got reeeaally dry at times. Since Gilbert's a political theorist and not a historian by training, I had actually expected more political theory (that's my academic background), but this is definitely a history.
The footnotes are extensive and also sometimes wonderful, as that's where Gilbert manages to contain his polite and professional comments that challenge other researchers for their racism and for their other blinders. (He footnotes a passage of his that basically calls b.s. on white slaveowners claiming their slaves loved them sincerely, and in this footnote, dutifully references a historian who has previously argued otherwise, and calmly adds, "but I am skeptical.") There was one time in his own text that I was kind of taken aback (Gilbert compared Colonel Tye to a mountain lion, in a positive fashion, which I thought was weird and an unnecessary dehumanization when no one else was getting their skills compared to an animal's), but for the most part, Gilbert wrote from a solidly and unapologetic anti-racist position.
And, yeah, I learned a lot from this book and I can recommend it for a learning experience but not necessarily a reading experience (although, read the footnotes if you do read this, they're lovely). It's a good non-fiction read-along with or follow-up to The Book of Negroes. Given the difficulty many Americans have as conceptualizing the Civil War as about slavery, it's probably not an easy sell to demonstrate the extent of how the Revolutionary War was about (for whites) protecting the practice of slavery (I mean, I came to the book pretty cynical and I was still surprised by the extent), and how the Patriots come off even worse than the British in this corner of Great Hypocrisies in History, but I hope this book does get read, and that the stories in here are part of what we think about when we think about American liberty....more
Good biographical overview of fifty-two successful and influential women (predominantly white and Western) in the sciences. Lots and lots of interestiGood biographical overview of fifty-two successful and influential women (predominantly white and Western) in the sciences. Lots and lots of interesting anecdotes. The writing itself was often clunky and superficial, but the subject matter was engagingly portrayed....more
Sad and funny, and almost cluttered with perfect little details and anxiously ambivalent interactions, but I think I need to take a break from litficSad and funny, and almost cluttered with perfect little details and anxiously ambivalent interactions, but I think I need to take a break from litfic (minus Ferrante) for a while. I want stories, not experience portraits that reflect real life's inconclusiveness....more
Mostly meh. The characters were too flat for this to be above-average literary-fic-with-speculative-fic elements, and the conceptual stuff was far tooMostly meh. The characters were too flat for this to be above-average literary-fic-with-speculative-fic elements, and the conceptual stuff was far too dull and predictable to be good speculative-fic-with-literary-elements. The prose was fabulous, though....more