Have you ever read a book so beautiful, so engaging, so elegant and gorgeous that you long to keep reading it, even after you've finished? A book that...moreHave you ever read a book so beautiful, so engaging, so elegant and gorgeous that you long to keep reading it, even after you've finished? A book that you wish you could immediately re-read except that it made such a strong impression the first time that you feel you've already memorized all the words? A book that essentially ruins all other books for you, because nothing seems as good as the book you just read?
If not, you probably haven't read Erick Setiawan's debut novel, Of Bees and Mist.
It's a fable, it's a love story, it's a story of life and love and marriage and loss, it's a series of elaborate plays on words that somehow manages to avoid being silly or hokey. In fact, it's positively heartbreaking. Erick Setiawan creates a world in which the daily hurts of family life take physical form, in which the walls that spring up between couples become actual walls that must be toppled, in which the lure of a mistress becomes a corporeal mist that blows into a home and destroys all happiness within.
This book changed me. I think I could only honestly say that about a few dozen books--Dante's Inferno, Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, among them--but this book has earned its place among the stories that will forever live in my heart. Erick Setiawan is an artist and a master of language and storytelling.(less)
Richard C. Morais' debut novel, The Hundred Foot Journey, is a travel book for anyone who has ever watched The Food Network and thought, "Wherever tha...more Richard C. Morais' debut novel, The Hundred Foot Journey, is a travel book for anyone who has ever watched The Food Network and thought, "Wherever that kitchen is, that's where I want to go."
Food is the language of this book. The character of Hassan Haji sometimes struggles with issues of identity and belonging as he travels from Mumbai to London to Lumiere to Paris, but always this struggle is phrased in terms of food: to make curry or frogs legs, to seek out tiffin boxes or fish and chips. Even his Muslim identity is mentioned rarely except when relating to diet: to eat pork or not. Ultimately Hassan's true identity is food. His religion is food. His ethnicity is food. His blood runs with curry and wine and butter and garlic and the jus of fresh oysters.
It's as though Pi Patel from Life of Pi was experiencing some sort of cosmic opposites day: an Indian boy, instead of trying to find his way home while adrift and alone, is continually travelling further afield while being wrapped in the memories and support of his family; where Pi invented stories to quell his loneliness, Hassan sometimes longs for solitude so he may study the stories of the ancient cookbooks which surround him; where Pi's starvation was his constant companion, Hassan's one constant is food.
Laila Ibrahim's debut novel, Yellow Crocus, follows the story of Mattie, a slave in pre-Civil War Virginia who is taken away from her young baby in or...moreLaila Ibrahim's debut novel, Yellow Crocus, follows the story of Mattie, a slave in pre-Civil War Virginia who is taken away from her young baby in order to act as wet nurse to Lisbeth, the daughter of the couple who owns her. Mattie must trust the care of her own newborn to the other field slaves while she spends her time in the Big House raising another woman's child. It is a story of heartbreak and loss, love and loyalty. Above all, it is a story of slavery. Laila Ibrahim works hard to stay true to the characters she has created without letting it turn into yet another story of a white lady swooping down and fixing the problem of racism (bookstores and movie theatres are already overflowing with that story, told a hundred ways). She has been compared to Kathryn Stockett (The Help) but, frankly, Kathryn Stockett wishes. Laila Ibrahim does not turn her black characters into caricatures and her white characters into heroes. If I do have a criticism, however, it is that she does not go far enough into the grim reality of slavery and racism. She loses her nerve, wishes too much for her characters to all have resolutions that leave the reader feeling comforted and comfortable. I don't want to reveal too much, but I do think the story would have been even more powerful than it was if some of the characters, particularly Lisbeth, hadn't turned out to be quite so sympathetic. But either way, I do urge you to decide for yourself and read Yellow Crocus (a recommendation I never would have made for The Help, by the way).
Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley.com. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own. (less)
I sincerely love when authors--and, perhaps more accurately, publishers--expand their notion of traditional storytelling by writing a book that follow...moreI sincerely love when authors--and, perhaps more accurately, publishers--expand their notion of traditional storytelling by writing a book that follows a slightly different format: novels in verse, illustrated novels for adults, stories that are told in a multitude of media. Sometimes the risk doesn't always pay off, but I really enjoy the effort. Jodi Picoult's novel, Sing You Home, falls into that category by being the first novel that I've read that comes with its own soundtrack. The book has a CD included that acts as a companion to the story being told.
The novel's main protagonist is Zoe Baxter, a music therapist who uses music in every aspect of her life, both professionally and personally. While the novel isn't really about music, the author felt that the reader should hear Zoe's voice, since the character uses music and singing so much. Jodi Picoult's good friend Ellen Wilber acted as the voice and musical composer behind all of the tracks on the CD.
While I don't think the novel really needed the soundtrack and the resulting CD is probably not one I would buy just to listen to, I really like the idea behind it. I like the multi-media approach very much. And the novel certainly isn't hindered by the music, even if it does stand up perfectly well on its own.
The story centres around Zoe's failed attempts at conceiving and carrying a child to term, followed by her divorce and subsequent remarriage to a woman named Vanessa. Her lesbian relationship and her attempt to find a way to have a child with her new wife brings a world of criticism from her community and her ex-husband Max, a recovering alcoholic who "finds Jesus" in the form of an anti-gay Evangelical Christian church. The narrative is divided into sections that correspond to the tracks on the CD and the individual chapters are from the first-person perspective of Zoe, Max and Vanessa alternately. The "Max" chapters were actually a little difficult to read sometimes because they were written with such detail and sincerity but what his character was saying and feeling was so hateful and anti-gay.
In the end, though, the book was an incredibly rewarding read. I was emotionally invested in all of the characters, even the ones whose opinions I found challenging. More than once I found myself in tears, particularly by the end. Granted, it hit me on a lot of points personally: as an educator, an atheist with many very religious loved ones, an advocate for gay rights, a parent who also has friends who struggle with infertility, a proponent of women's reproductive rights and a person--like most--who has struggled with the meaning of love marriage. I felt like the novel was written for me personally. But I also felt like a lot of people would feel exactly the same way when they read it.(less)
September 11th and the Holocaust are two subjects that are easy use if you are an author looking to add emotional weight to your novel, but are diffic...moreSeptember 11th and the Holocaust are two subjects that are easy use if you are an author looking to add emotional weight to your novel, but are difficult to use well. Nobody proves this better than Jonathan Safran Foer in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
The novel follows Oskar, a nine-year-old Manhattan boy (I'm basing my assessment that he is nine years old solely on the book jacket; I don't recall his age ever once being mentioned in the story, although he is allowed to wander the streets of New York by himself at all hours of the day and night without anyone raising a fuss, which seems odd for a nine-year-old) who lost his father in the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. Oskar finds among his father's things a small key and the word 'Black' scribbled on a paper. From this he deduces that the key belongs to someone named Black and that he must find that person, for surely they will have vital information about his late father, and--for reasons never explained--he decides that he will approach ever person in New York City with the last name Black alphabetically. This last point seems to be a plot device designed solely to keep the story from being told in a thirty page short story instead of a full-length novel.
The novel is full of convoluted storylines (including a B-story about Oskar's grandfather and his experience during WWII) that never really make the emotional statements the author seems to intend, and are often downright precious (not in a good way). This novel is entirely too amused with itself, too self-congratulatory of its own cleverness instead of concerning itself with the intelligence of the reader. I was very relieved that the last dozen or so pages are just photos because it meant I was done with this book that much sooner.(less)