kaberett: A drawing of a black woman holding her right hand, minus a ring finger, in front of her face. "Oh, that. I cut it  off." (molly - cut it off)
[personal profile] kaberett
This came into my possession via the latest Humble Ebook Bundle, and I am so glad it did. This is how glad I am: I am about two-thirds of the way through it and I can't wait to finish before I tell you all how good it is.

The protagonist, Hanna, is sixteen, manic depressive (and explicitly, canonically prefers that descriptor to "bipolar", Because Reasons), and Finnish-"island girl" (Hawaiian?), raised (for most of her life) in Dallas. She describes herself as biracial and bicultural, and she's bilingual in English and Finnish - and the codeswitching is genuinely plausibly represented.

The dude she ends up hanging around with a lot is the same age, Latino, and bilingual in Spanish and English - again, really nicely represented.

The story takes place in creepy smalltown Texas. It's sub/urban fantasy and abusive parents and a critique of the medical-industrial complex and teenagers having (complicated, not always happy) sex lives all tied up in tight, funny monster-killing brilliance. It's lovely.

Content notes. )
[identity profile] mizchalmers.livejournal.com
Hi! It's been an unforgivable eleven months since I last posted, so you've probably all forgotten me or had a generational change and transcended to become godlike beings, in which case, good for you! Try to be benevolent. Anyway! I didn't come close to reading 50 books last year or this, but my involvement in this community definitely changed my reading habits for the better, permanently, so, you know, thanks for that.

34. Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

In my defense I read this long before I realized there was going to be a film (which I will probably end up seeing anyway, because Keira Knightley's cheekbones, guh.) Strange, haunting setup as what seems to be no more than a slightly weird British boarding school novel turns into something science-fictional and appalling. I think it works brilliantly as a critique of late-capitalist society, in which we are all fungible body parts intentionally distracted by trivialities while being fed into the rotating knives. But then I always say that.

35. Nora K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Finished it. Didn't fly for me, not sure why, since everyone I know and respect adored it. Will try it again.

36. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Pitch-perfect on the revolting excess and absurdity of the Iraq war. An excellent companion piece to Rory Stewart's The Prince of the Marshes.

37. Gene Yang, Prime Baby

Having loved American Born Chinese with a fond love, I picked this up for Kid #1, who is a prime number enthusiast with a baby sibling. The book - which features an older brother figuring out that his baby sibling is an alien through her strategic deployment of primes - was an instant hit with its target demographic, and has since been taken up by Kid #2 in turn.

38. Kamila Shamsie, Burnt Shadows

Contrived Coincidence.

39. Mei Ling Hopgood, Lucky Girl

40. Jane Jeong Trenka, The Language of Blood

Nothing galvanizes your curiosity about transracial adoption like your best friend adopting transracially (unless, I guess, it is you that is adopting transracially. But I always get the two of us mixed up.) These two adult adoption memoirs are often recommended as point and counterpoint, which is a little unfair to Hopgood, an adult adoptee who was born in Taiwan. Her Lucky Girl is competent and her story extremely interesting, if sometimes too digressive (I am here for the reunion, I am not very interested in the geography of Taiwan right now) and too reliant on journalistic tricks (please do not telegraph your plot twists in advance, thanks, the management.) Hopgood ends up deciding she was better off adopted, which makes her book the darling of adoptive parents who don't really want to hear the bad news.

Trenka: not so much! Her circumstances are very different, for one thing. For another - and this is what makes the comparison unfair - while Hopgood is a perfectly serviceable reporter, Trenka is an extraordinarily gifted writer, and her story is harrowing on any number of levels. I finished The Language of Blood sitting in my favourite cafe with tears and snot running down my face, and it is still with me. Trenka engaged me far beyond my original need to know about international adoption and its injustices and outcome. I'll read everything she writes.

Bonus round! Whether you consider the following writers white or not probably depends on where you grew up. The Australia in which I grew up was so overwhelmingly white that people of Greek ancestry tended not to identify, or to be identified, as "Anglo." That hair-splitting racial tension is ever-present in The Slap and nowhere in Logicomix, not surprisingly, because the latter book is not Australian! But I couldn't figure out a consistent way to include or exclude these two until I decided to list them both as extras, and so here we are!

Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou, Logicomix

If you love mathematics and history and especially the history of mathematics, call me! Or at least walk over broken glass to get your hands on this beautiful, brilliantly-researched graphic novel, which follows the life of a personal hero of mine, Cambridge mathematician Bertrand Russell.

Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap

This book was big news when it was published in Australia last year, and then again in the UK when it was longlisted for the Man Booker. In the English reviews especially there was a lot of handwringing about how awful some of the characters are, especially the deliverer of the eponymous slap. This was very amusing to me, because those characters tended to be note-perfect depictions of the kinds of men I grew up with. Anyway, to conflate the author's opinion with that of a character he is clearly satirizing is to fail lit crit 101. Get on that, London reviewers! More substantial criticisms addressed the sometimes-flabby prose and the invariably-squicky sex scenes. But. But!

Tsiolkas means a lot to me. He has been publishing novels since I was a fresh-out-of-uni candy raver in Sydney. He started in the gay ghetto and this is his first real crossover novel, and I am probably overidentifying more than a little, but I found it quite exhilarating that a writer of more or less my exact generation could take on such an ambitious project and nearly, almost pull it off. It's flawed, sure, but it's picaresque and panopticonic and high realist and it's groping for a Dickensian or Trollopian critique of all of Australian society. I love the book for being at once unapologetically provincial and unashamedly serious. And yet it's also very funny. I'm rambling! But I liked it a lot! Maybe you would too!
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
 #30. Luba: The Book of Ofelia (Vol. 2 in the Luba trilogy; Vol. 21 in the Complete Love & Rockets)

2005 (material originally published 1998-2005), Fantagraphics Books


Warning: Long and obsessive plot details ahead!  This is a crazy long book -- 240 pages -- and incredibly dense, for a graphic novel.  Also, the storytelling modalities are highly refined and self-referential, full of interweaving, flashback and allusion; and also it's Part 2 of a three-part series-within-a-series.  So I take these reviews as an opportunity to parse the plot, to assure myself that I've actually followed what the hell is going on.
 

So!  This is the second part of Gilbert ("Beto") Hernandez's trilogy about the latest adventures of Luba, his protagonist, in America.  (For basics about Luba, you can see my earlier post about the previous book in this series.)

At this point in time, Luba and her children are in the United States, but her husband Khamo is stuck in immigration limbo.  Luba continues her quest to figure out what she must -- or can -- do in order to untangle his shady past, police record, and hazy criminal associations, so that she can bring him to join them.  (Like most of Luba's accomplishments, this is not really hindered -- and is perhaps made more impressive -- by that fact that, like some of the other main characters living in the United States, she still can't speak a word of English.)

 

Much of this section's narrative mechanics is fueled by the announcement that Ofelia, Luba's long-suffering older cousin, has decided to finally try being the writer she has always wanted to be.  This in-progress "book of Ofelia" gives, perhaps, the collection its title, although the phrasing also seems to imply (in its Biblical cadence) that she is instead the main subject of the book.  (Except that she isn't, really; she's not present throughout.  I keep thinking about the way that, in Spanish -- as I think I understand it, anyway -- this phrase, "el libro de Ofelia," does not make a distinction between the book *by* Ofelia and the book *about* her.  So this book, perhaps, is both.)

 

(On that note: one other thing I like is how much of the book's dialogue and internal thought-monologues are in Spanish.  The switches back and forth are frequent but consistent: the Latin American-born children tend to speak in fluent English to each other, but use Spanish with their parents, and to think in it when introspection is called for; the American-born children and adults think in English, although they frequently and fluently use Spanish with their relations.  Hernandez indicates the switches with the widely used comics convention of putting the "second-language" dialogue within brackets (and, in this book, some double-bracketing for other languages, like French).  When Hernandez' stories were set entirely in the Central American village from which many of the characters hail, he used to just put a note at the bottom of the first page that everything was in Spanish unless otherwise indicated -- a convention that Jaime has also sometimes used, e.g. in stories set among recent immigrants and jornalero workers -- but now that they've migrated to America, there's a lot more use of both tongues.)

 

So.  What's happening in the Book of Ofelia?

 

 

Obsessive plot details! Avoid if you fear spoilers! )

 


[Tags I'd like to add: a: hernandez gilbert, i: hernandez gilbert, california, children [*not* "children's"], magic realism, disability, meta-literature]


[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#20[b]: A Right to Be Hostile: The Boondocks Treasury, Aaron McGruder
2003, Three Rivers Press

This is hilarious. I remember reading The Boondocks on and off while it was running in newspapers (more off than on; I was moving around a lot and not all my papers carried it), and I remember being sometimes impressed but often lukewarm on it. I remember formulating the impression that it was presumably the strip's controversy value and what Amazon somewhat coyly calls its "notoriety" that made it such a big success. (What "notoriety" means here is, among other things, visibly black characters talking about visible black issues, often with no white people in sight(!), and, with enormous daring, going so far as to claim the aforementioned right to be hostile. In America's newspapers! In the funny pages!)

Anyway, reading this compilation, I'm forced to dramatically revise my opinion. This is fabulous stuff. McGruder's incisiveness, cutting wit, characterization and sense of timing are often nothing short of brilliant. The strip really does bring to mind the eminent predecessors McGruder cites as influences in the foreword (Trudeau, Watterson, Breathed). (All of which leaves me unsure why I didn't find the strip quite so awesome at the time, except that it does come to mind that collections allow authors the luxury of picking and choosing; McGruder may have wisely left out a lot of duds. ;)

Anyway. What is awesome about this strip?  Let me tell you! )



[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#25. This Bridge Called My Back, ed. Cherríe Moraga & Gloria Anzaldúa
1981/'83, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press

This is another book that is so full of... ideas and thinking and newness, and that has so many visions and so much emotion in it, and that contains both so much I can identify with and so much that seems deeply foreign -- I don't mean only the experiences and attitudes of the women who wrote it, but also, which is harder for me to assimilate, the lens through which they view the world: the moment of history, cultural and political, in which thy formulated these ideas and these manifestoes -- that I feel overwhelmed when I try to think about posting a review of it.

But I also feel kind of like a coward for backing out of reviewing it. What to do? I think I will let it simmer for a while. I may also read the much more recent companion book to it (this bridge we call home, used, I see, as an icon for this group ;), and see if that helps me understand, and bridge the thirty years of historical difference between these women and me.

[tags I would add if I could: assimilation, sociology, spirituality [or: religion/spirituality], puerto rican, a: morales rosario, a: rushin donna kate, a: wong nellie, a: lee mary hope, a: littlebear naomi, a: lim genny, a: yamada mitsuye, a: valerio anita, a: cameron barbara, a: levins morales anita, a: carillo jo, a: daniels gabrielle, a: moschkovich judit, a: davenport doris, a: gossett hattie, a: smith barbara, a: smith beverly, a: clarke cheryl, a: noda barbara, a: woo merle, a: quintanales mirtha, a: anzaldua gloria, a: alarcon norma, a: combahee river collective, a: canaan andrea, a: parker pat] 


(Also, apropos of nothing: Whoo! Halfway through! This book feels like an appropriate one for that milestone.)


[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#22. Good as Lily, by Derek Kirk Kim (writer) and Jesse Hamm (illustrator)
Marvel Comics (Minx imprint), 2007

I ordered this book from the library on the strength of the short-story collection The Eternal Smile (reviewed in a previous post), the 2009 collaboration between Derek Kirk Kim and Gene Luen Yang. I have already had a taste of Yang's solo work (in American Born Chinese), and I liked The Eternal Smile well enough that I became eager to check out Kim's solo work as well. So I asked the library for Same Difference and Other Stories, which is Kim's debut collection, published in 2003; and Good as Lily, which is a graphic novel published in 2007 by Marvel's short-lived Minx line for tween girls. (AAARGGH I HATE THAT NAME.)

Anyway. Good As Lily isn't bad, although I don't like it as much as Kim's earlier book (for reasons I will elucidate). Here's why... )

All in all a very interesting book, one of the more successful pieces I've seen from the Minx line. (I STILL HATE THAT NAME! And I can't help being glad they got served for it. ;)

[Tags I wish I could add: i: hamm jesse, coming of age, california, magic realism.]
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
18. Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Danticat
Vintage, 1994

Another writer who's long been on my to-read list.  Breath, Eyes, Memory is Danticat's first novel; it chronicles part of a girlhood in Haiti, the experience of moving to New York to rejoin her mother, and, later, as an adult and young mother, returning to Haiti to see her aunt and grandmother again.

As a novel, the book is very loosely plotted; it has a number of characteristic first-novel traits, including a certain uncertainty about its direction and themes, and some clumsiness in construction.  But Danticat is a good writer -- not yet skilled, here, but good -- and the kind of writer I like: the uncertainty usually doesn't lead to contrivedness, but lends an honest ear to mystery; it is seeking rather than trying to make things clean.

I found the book's heavy use of (snippets of) Haitian Creole very interesting -- I know French well, so parsing the meaning and looking up words and phrases was very cool -- and was moved and troubled by the book's exploration of the "virgnity cult" with which the generations of Haitian women in the book are so obsessed, trying to preserve their daughters' 'purity' in ways that seem shocking and violent to a reader like me.  Also -- and I don't know whether or not this was deliberate -- I find the evocations of daily life in Haiti extraordinarily illuminating, not so much for the descriptions of weather, customs, flora and food (although those are there) but for the differences between its material culture and my own.  Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere (a fact I looked up, not a point underlined in the book), and the ordinary people in this book do not have things surrounding them in the way that Americans do.  They live in houses with one room and one bed, they have outhouses and outdoor firepits, they cook their food in banana leaves, they sleep on the same mat they use to pile their beans to sell at market.  They walk miles in the dark to save fare on the collective taxis.  I don't think they have electricity; they light lanterns after dark.  All these things are normal to the narrator, and, I guess, to the people as well, but they are amazing, collectively, to a reader like me, at least when paying attention.

Summary: I like Danticat, and her lyricism; I like the odd, bold, lyrical, very unusual title of this book.  Any recommendations for other, later works of hers?

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