We Need New Names is an exemplary piece of post colonial fiction; but even that understates its personality. It eloquently questions how we develop concepts of home, when the country we knew is not only far away, but unbelievably unfamiliar within a new cultural experience. This wonderful strangeness of foreign viewpoints is magnified by the narrators' youth in Bulawayo's vibrant debut novel.
Starting in Zimbabwe as a young girl, Darling traverses her territory with street smarts from having experienced too much political upheaval and bloodshed, accompanied by her gang of friends that, however different their geography, would resemble any gang of children anywhere in the world. The novel sees her through immigrating to America, to a place her friends back home only know as "Destroyedmichygen," where Darling believes her life will be full of Lamborghinis and Kim Kardashian.
Despite a landscape marred by decades of post colonial political unrest and AIDS, the novel begins with the camaraderie of Darling's friends scavenging for guavas. They naively mock foreign affairs and international power structures with their "Country Game," aware that countries like the United States or France mean strength to the international community, whereas their own country is broken and poor. They innocently hope that getting rid of Chipo's stomach means she will no longer be pregnant at an age when American children would be attending middle school; a pregnancy brought upon her by her own grandfather. Readers experience the sadness of watching children stealing guavas from neighborhoods where food is thrown away in large quantities, political groups destroy an entire community's housing, clothing falls apart to the point of no longer being functional, and children tend to parents ravaged by AIDS. Yet Darling's gang perseveres, dreaming of sports cars and Lady Gaga.
The youthful misunderstandings of English and pop culture bring another layer of wry commentary and linguistic brilliance on the part of Bulawayo, creating humorous anecdotes amidst despair. "The problem with English," for herself and many Africans, Darling says is that, "when we talked, our tongues thrashed madly in our mouths, staggered like drunken men."
It is when Darling moves to Detroit to be with her aunt that the pigeoning begins to be buffed out as she learns how out of her depth she is, her dreams of Hollywood personalities and iPods tempered by snow and gang violence on the streets. She dreads relaying the truth of life in America to her mother and friends back home. The gap that was once just geography widens with experiences they cannot share with Darling as she comes of age in Michigan, with President Obama's campaign and earlier years in Office, Internet pornography, and shopping malls.
Yet not even in this new country does she feel that she belongs, constantly belittled by strangers whose ignorance of African politics and diversity confuses and alienates Darling. At a wedding, she is needlessly questioned about the state of things in the Congo, as if being of the African continent make her an emissary of all countries, and perhaps worse, a young girl would want to chit chat about the violence and chaos that made her virtually a refugee with a total stranger. Her boss at the grocery store she clerks at during high school joins in with the patronizing talk; "I know you've seen all sorts of crazy shit over there." Bulawayo captures the frustration of trying to fit in with great authenticity.
Darling brims with strength and dignity, and NoViolet Bulawayo's debut unfolds intelligently, ushering in a youthful perspective on the modern trials that face immigrants coming to America. This is a novel that proves that while we may live in a world that seems smaller thanks to Skype, international phones, and enhanced communications, we can still be separated by immense barriers, and typically have far more to learn from the rest of the world than we may be conscious of. Thankfully, here is a fierce, sharp author happy to remind us, who I am thrilled to see short listed for the 2013 Man Booker!
I fell in love with comics at a young age, but it took a more educated, experienced mind to appreciate the emotional dep...moreIntoxicating and masterful...
I fell in love with comics at a young age, but it took a more educated, experienced mind to appreciate the emotional depths that graphic novels and comics can evoke with their combination of literary story telling and breathtaking illustrations. Craig Thompson, as the author of multiple graphic novels including the award winner Blankets, weaves an ambitious web of art and myth in his 2011 publication, Habibi.
Habibi tells the story of an escaped slave girl, Dodola, who escapes with another slave's baby, Zam, and raises him in poverty with the stories of Islamic and Eastern lore. Their love and devotion to each other is tested by their various shared and individual experiences, as sex, power, and racial identity threaten to tear them apart.
Indeed, Habibi features some intense instances of violence, racism, and sexual savagery. There's quite a lot to be said about this novel in terms of its mature content. For the sake of not trying to lead anybody's personal reading experience, all I will say is that this is a work to be celebrated for it's dramatic imagery, and complex amalgamation of language scripts, iconography, and Eastern art.
The intertwining of Dodola and Zam's histories with stories and myths make for a complex, earthy reading experience, massive in scope. I don't recommend reading this novel as any sort of depiction of modern Arabic culture, but rather as it's own narrative, enhanced by the rich story telling tradition of the Middle East.(less)
"Bring up the bodies!" the famous cry to bring the accused of London's Tower to stand trial, words uttered the days of Anne Boleyn's trial, as well as the cases of those accused of treason alongside her. Hilary Mantel won a second Man Booker in 2011 for this novel, steeping even greater anticipation upon a novel retelling such a dramatic turn of events; Henry VIII can not divorce a second wife yet would be rid of the tempestuous Anne Boleyn, despite the great lengths he resorted to in making her Queen of England. I will spare you more back story; yet Mantel breathes furious energy into a histoical moment that has become 'old hat' in modern fiction.
Mantel's characterizations are even more important in the follow up novel to Wolf Hall, as Anne's fiery personality goes under the microscope as the mousy Jane Seymour attracts the King's attentions. And so Thomas Cromwell is called in again, to make legal the parade of women it may take Henry to get a son, an heir to the throne. Tensions burn even hotter in this novel, and the pacing increases as Mantel tells this particular story with even more dialogue, relishing in the various personalities and their power-mongering ways. It makes for a more accessible read than Wolf Hall did, with less background and slow simmering, but all of the elegance in phrasing of Wolf Hall.
Master Cromwell shows his first signs of fear, as he knows that his loyalty to the King will not protect him from all of the ambitious courtiers, especially when he moves to put the grasping Anne aside the only resounding way possible: execution.
The political witch hunt as Mantel portrays it may not have every last historical detail. It's an overwhelming chess board of names and titles, and I personally don't believe that Mantel's fiction loses any power or integrity by dropping some subtle elements of the history. Better to pace it just so, flesh out wholly what is represented, than become tedious, especially as so many have commented that they found Wolf Hall such work.
What a thrill for me, to have an opportunity so early in the existance of this blog to share an author I have never written about yet truly enjoy, with the release of her most recent book! Margaret Atwood is an incredible writer, who has truly changed the way I read. She effortlessly creates such complete dystopias, from the classic stand-alone novel The Handmaid's Tale, to the trilogy that finishes.
“There's the story, then there's the real story, then there's the story of how the story came to be told. Then there's what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too.”
MaddAddam: A Novel is a spellbindingly deep dystopia. The world has been ravaged by a devastating virus created by the mastermind Crake, wiping out humanity with a flood-like efficiency to clear the way for Crake's newest bio-engineered creation, the dangerously naive "Crakers." The few human survivors of the plague are a ragtag ensemble of former bio-engineers, God's-Gardiners (a farming co-op that takes the idea of hippy culture to an almost Jainist level), and Pleeblanders. Threatened by the violence and untrustworthiness of other potential survivors and their weaponry, as well as the dangers of wildlife, including bioengineered creatures like liobams and Pigoons, the group of survivors that came together in Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood are left trying to protect themselves and the Crakers, whose simplicity and youthfulness makes them such easy targets.
This installment is a delicious ode to the power of storytelling, as former Gardiner Toby regales the Crakers with the histories of the plague, as well as their own creation, continuing from where Oryx and Crake's Snowman left off. She is bound by their deeply religious understanding of how the world as they know it came to be, as well as their painful reverence of Crake and Oryx. How to tell them the damage Crake's machinations truly created, without upsetting their sensibilities? How to tell them anything, when they were created without concepts like ownership, writing, or even sexual control. The story telling becomes very mythological and darkly comic, as Toby is intermittently offering poignant reasonings for the very things we take so for granted as parts of 'human nature.'
There is so much beauty in the interactions between the survivors of the plague and the Crakers; even within the dark end-of-the-world circumstances, the community that has come together shares food, shelter, and attempts to move forward with love. Couples bond, women become pregnant, and despite a narrative delving so deep into such a tragic past, the tone of this trilogy's conclusion is one of bittersweet hope.
Margaret Atwood has concocted an incredibly full future setting, bursting with creative nunaces and details. Atwood's acknowledgements at the end of the novel include the following: "Although ‘MaddAddam’ is a work of fiction, it does not include any technologies or bio-beings that do not already exist, are not under construction or are not possible in theory.” Now isn't that terrifying! This novel is set within our own century, and if that doens't make you savor every fine detail of this trilogy, nothing will. When fiction can participate in conversations about future technologies and bio-engineering ethics so insightfully, it is our responsibility to take note, especially when presented to us so respectfully by the prolific Margaret Atwood!
Atwood is always razor sharp, but in Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam: A Novel, her darkly comic insights pack the pages, offering so much for discussion. Maybe you'll think twice about what's in that wrinkle preventative skin cream you use nightly, or read more about the preservatives in your food. Not to be too morbid, but this is the effect good fiction should have. Techies, science enthusiasts, literature lovers, all can unite in this brilliant dystopia creation!
Sabina Berman touchingly illuminates social interactions from the clearly focused, often times cutting perspective of Karen Nieto, autistic erudite sp...moreSabina Berman touchingly illuminates social interactions from the clearly focused, often times cutting perspective of Karen Nieto, autistic erudite specializing in cruelty free tuna-fishing.
Karen grows up without language or socialization until her mentally-ill mother's death results in her being adopted by her aunt. Karen slowly learns to become conscious of herself and her behavior, beginning with learning the words "me" and "you," to a lifelong fascination with Descartes, Darwin, and her commitment to the fundamental rights of all creatures.
That someone could so completely imagine such a different way of thinking and foreign self-awareness is incredible, and Berman creates Karen with such a careful, steady voice that you never doubt her "different abilities" (as Karen herself refers to her autism). This is not a novel so fixated on Karen's genius with the development of stress-free tuna harvesting that it pays no attention to the problems her condition make for her. Indeed, Karen rarely fantasizes, can't lie, and is as blunt as you could fathom, yet the depth of her emotional experiences and integrity make for a stunningly unique picture of human nature.
Karen is a character who brilliantly exposes the nuances of people purportedly better suited for social interactions than herself. Sometimes it seems as if others' vices, greed, naivety, or self interest are magnified by her viewpoint, and this is the most cutting element of her story. It's a bittersweet commentary on how we value life, in all of its varieties.(less)
Contemporary literature takes on Italy's Years of Lead and the art community of NYC in Kushner's sophomore release, with style and speed. I wasn't eve...moreContemporary literature takes on Italy's Years of Lead and the art community of NYC in Kushner's sophomore release, with style and speed. I wasn't even a third of the way through this novel before the manic fever to track down what branch of my library system had an available copy of her first novel, Telex from Cuba, kicked in.
The Flamethrowers follows Reno, newly graduated from art school and racing across the country on her sport motorcycle, photographing her cycle's tracks in the salt slicks of Nevada as she makes her way back to NYC and the wild art community that she has found herself amidst. It's a reactionary group of fakes and performance art so self-involved and ambitious that even the oh-so cool Reno can appear incredibly naive and out of her depth.
Kushner artfully creates an explosive cast of characters. New York's art community isn't just humming with life in this novel, it's stomping on your ceiling like an unruly neighbor's weekend party. The secondary characters' vignettes give Manhattan true vivacity from Reno's youthful perspective, as she searches for her niche amidst this rampaging assault of ideas and artistic/political statements. Simultaneously, the ventures of Sandro Valera's industrialist father after the fall of Mussolini concisely sets the scene of Italy's post fascist, decades long struggle.
It's Sandro Valera, Reno's Italian boyfriend, and his enigmatic friend Ronnie who inadvertently send her into the heart of violent political upheaval while visiting Sandro's mother near Milan. The riots and kidnappings in Rome hit extremely close to home as Reno gets pushed into the wrong group at a vicious time. By the end, you feel like Reno's excitement and curiosity have been weathered dramatically, as she seems even more the bewildered bystander than when she first found herself in NYC.
This novel is enormous with vitality and vulnerability. I think that's why I liked it so much. It beautifully conceives of the strength inherent in braving the unknown, even when you could potentially be taken so off course. (less)
A jaunt so precisely described, so effortlessly kinetic, that you assume you can catch a ride down to your favorite university hangout and find these...moreA jaunt so precisely described, so effortlessly kinetic, that you assume you can catch a ride down to your favorite university hangout and find these folks at the bar... oh, I wish! Chabon always manages to create such affable, yet misfiring protagonists. Grady is superbly described. I'm in love.(less)