Upcoming posts:
Every Day is for the Thief – Teju Cole (Nigeria)
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)
Nervous Conditions – Tsitsi Dangarembga (Rhodesia/Zimbabwe)
Disgrace – J. M. Coetzee (South Africa)
Heart of Redness – Zakes Mda (South Africa)
The Bone People – Keri Hulme (New Zealand)
The Farming of Bones – Edwidge Danticat (Haiti)
Translations – Brian Friel (Ireland)
The White Tiger – Arivand Adiga (India)
Surfacing – Margaret Atwood (Canada)


Memoirs of a Polar Bear Review

Title: Memoirs of 51yc2deibll-_sx355_bo1204203200_a Polar Bear
Author: Yōko Tawada
Genre: Fiction
Country: Germany
Rating: 3/5

Tawada includes to real-life polar bears in her creative book about 3 generations of polar bears. Tosca and Knut are both based off polar bears of the same name found at a German zoo. In fact, Knut is internationally known as the face of climate change.

Anyway, the story starts out with the grandmother who is writing her autobiography after being a hit circus performer. Out of all the three, her story is the most engaging. Following her story is her daughter, Tosca’s, story. Instead of seeing through Tosca’s eyes, we see through her trainer’s eyes instead. I found it easier to connect with part two than part one but found the grandmother’s story to be more engrossing. Finally, there is Knut, Tosca’s son. He’s a carefully monitored zoo polar bear, raised by humans until he becomes a danger to his own keepers.

Tawada’s story is heavily based on surrealism. The polar bears have access to their own computers and are able to write. They may not be able to verbally communicate, but they make up for it through email or the written word. From circuses to zoos, Tawada forces readers to look at the polar bears as equals. The separation of human vs. animal is made clear in laws that the writer challenges.

This novel is highly metaphorical and I feel that I’ve missed a lot. But even if things went over my head, there are obvious things, like seeing laws decide who or what has human rights. It also includes unions and the discussion of worker rights, socialism, and many other political ideologies. From the USSR to exile, Germany to Canada, and back to Germany, readers will each see the political climate of these countries during 3 different generations.

Tawada effortlessly includes real-life events into a tale that is almost hard to imagine. But she trusts her readers and if you just go with it, it makes it all the better.

So why the 3 stars?

Mostly I felt a huge disconnect, even to the grandmother. I found it hard to suspend my expectations, particularly when these polar bears had their own computers (even in their own cages). That’s probably a metaphor. Besides that, it was hard to feel a connection to the characters. Certain themes became too repetitious for me and didn’t flow. And by the third part (Knut’s), I found it hard to pay attention.

But I would recommend this book to anyone who likes the surreal. I’ve never read a book quite like this.

Red Scarf Girl Review

Title: Red Scarf Girl
Author: Ji-li Jiang
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Country: China
Rating: 3/5

Jiang writes in a very straightforward fashion which is more telling than showing. I immediately felt a disconnect and found myself often confused and bored with the progression. Instead of feeling in the middle of the action, I felt on the outskirts and couldn’t seem to push past this. Even though the book picks up pace and gets better after the middle, the disconnect remains.

Nevertheless, Red Scarf Girl gives a good glimpse of life during Mao’s Revolution. It’s a time period that I’ve glossed before in classrooms, but never read further than that. Jiang is a young girl who wants to be the best and wants to stand out in Mao’s revolution. She wants to please the government, but with a dark family secret looming, she has more hurdles than most in proving herself and her loyalty.

The writing is never quite engaging and I think that’s what really turned me from really liking and diving into this book. While the end part is better, it still doesn’t stand up to other memoirs I’ve read, and that’s why I gave it a 3-star rating. Usually I’d rate it lower, but Jiang includes a lot of global themes, such as finding one’s place in the world, dealing with family secrets, and fighting to survive. Those themes really resonated with me as a reader and perhaps this was the one identification that led me to pushing through the book.

If you want to know a personal experience in Mao’s revolution that doesn’t go smooth, you might find this book insightful. Otherwise I would suggest looking elsewhere for a better and clearer picture.

In the Country of Men: Review

63657Title: In the Country of Men
Author: Hisham Matar
Genre: Fiction
Country: Libya
Rating: 4.5/5

Libya 1979. Nine-year-old Suleiman lives with his parents although his father is frequently out on business trips. During his father’s absence, Suleiman witnesses his mother’s illness flare and listens to her disturbing stories pertaining to the past. One day, while his father is supposedly on a business trip, Suleiman sees him within the city. From that point, Suleiman’s neighbor gets arrested, his father disappears, and a man sits in a car outside Suleiman’s house. The family must do what they can to survive.

The writing style of this book is simplistic but it captures so much. Although we are limited to a nine-year-old’s perspective, we witness terrible things innocently. We see Suleiman come to understand the injustices in the world and him coping with witnessing his first death. Suleiman grows as a character within a short span of time.

He has to become his mother’s caretaker at times and tries to bring her out of her illness bouts. He comes to understand the injustices women face in his culture. And most of all, he has to grapple with his own evil. From abusing a homeless man to mocking his best friend, Suleiman has to reconcile his actions to himself.

There are several beautiful quotes within the novel, including some of my favorites:
Grief loves the hollow; all it wants is to hear its own echo. Be careful.
Now dusk, now a parting glance, from the sun leaning fatigued against the hills. Now, blackness.
Can you become a man without becoming your father?
She had always seemed captive, captive in her own home, continually failing to prepare herself for anything else.
“And that was how I knew it was over. A word had been given and a word had been received, men’s words that could never be taken back or exchanged. My eyes were no longer yawning, I could focus well now. I remembered his beatings and felt my back grow taller at the realization that they had forever ended. I looked down at my knee touching his and was amazed at how able and enduring the human body is.”
Nationalism is as thin as a thread, perhaps that’s why many feel it must be anxiously guarded.
Why does our country long for us so savagely? What could we possibly give her that hasn’t already been taken?

When I first began reading this book, I realized that I knew snippets of Libyan history. If you don’t know much about the Libyan revolution before reading this book, take some time and read a little bit about it. It’ll give you better footing and more appreciation for the novel. For all the success Ghaddafi brought the country, there’s always something missing from the narrative, and this book helps fill in the gaps.

Overall, a fantastic novel that I enjoyed and learned a lot from. It’s heartbreaking and very vivid, and I think its brilliant that Matar chose a nine-year-old to tell the story.

Truly Madly Guilty Review

Titl9781743534915e: Truly Madly Guilty
Author: Liane Moriarty
Genre: Fiction
Country: Australia
Rating: 2/5

Summary: Clementine and Erika have been friends since childhood and continue to keep one another in their lives. Erika is the godmother of Clementine’s children, even. But one day when they get invited to Erika’s neighbor’s barbecue, something goes terribly wrong that shapes three families for the rest of their lives. Complete with secrets, dysfunctional families, resentment, and drama, Truly Madly Guilty dives into the ugly and the beautiful of the human condition.

My Reaction: Truly Madly Guilty begins during Clementine’s presentation about what happened at the barbecue through Erika’s perspective. Readers are left in the dark as to what actually happened at the life-altering barbecue until ~60% into the book. Moriarty does not spare any details from the mundane lifestyles of both Clementine and Erika. The perspectives alter in each chapter although the book is written in third person limited.

The mystery of what happened at the barbecue is supposed to fuel the reader’s imagination and interest into the novel, but unfortunately, Moriarty’s need for describing every little detail of every little thing we do in life outweighs the excitement of anticipation. We are left in the dark grappling for: what the hell happened? It’s frustrating and I often wanted to give up on the book.

When it gets to the last 40% of the novel, the pace picks up very nicely. Suddenly readers can spiral into the drama of what happened that day and how / why it changed all three families involved. Compared to the beginning of the novel, the ending is like finally jumping off a plane to skydive while the beginning is like the anticipation but mostly dread of actually getting to the jumping part.

It is the end that saved this book from a 1/5 rating. Moriarty does do very well on describing the human condition and the human psyche but she does it in such a dull, mundane way that I struggled in caring. I did enjoy some of the backstories, mostly Erika’s, but it isn’t a saving grace for the novel by any means.

Unfortunately there were no quotes I liked well enough to highlight and I do not believe this would by any means qualify for literary fiction. There is nothing very insightful that Moriarty gives me as a reader.

The author also has a penchant to tie everything together with a nice little bow on top, and while it’s generally nice that author’s can tie things in together, it’s on the rather dull/obvious side of things. For instance, it’s raining throughout the entire novel until one day it clears up and the sun is out. The metaphor is tiring and trite at best. The other tie-ins are eye rolling ones that aren’t complex at all. And then there are some things, like Clementine’s mother’s resolve at the day of the barbecue that never come to light. There are many things left unsaid or unfinished in the novel.

By the very end things return to the mundane and there were probably about 100 pages of actual good, exciting writing. Not that Moriarty is a bad writer by any means, her prose is generally good by qualifications, but it’s boring and not insightful. But this book could have easily lost 200-300 pages and it would have been a good novella.