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] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
2. Sarita Mandanna, Tiger Hills

Devi is a beautiful, strong-willed young girl, growing up in Coorg, a rural, mountainous area of South India, in the late 1800s. She's in love with Machu, a warrior famous for having killed a tiger single-handedly. Devanna, Machu's younger cousin, is a quiet, intelligent boy, studying to be a doctor, who's in love with Devi. As you might expect, things don't turn out well.

This novel has some beautiful descriptions of scenery (apparently Coorg- spelled Kodagu today- is known as 'the Scotland of India'), but the plot is a bit over-the-top, with tragedy following tragedy. I enjoyed reading to pass the time on a long bus trip, but I'm not sure I can genuinely recommend it, unless you're looking for something to read that won't require a lot of thought.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
11. Farahad Zama, The Marriage Bureau for Rich People

Mr. Ali, a recently-retired Muslim man living in a city in South India, finds he has too much time on his hands. So, what to do but open a marriage bureau? It's sort of like a dating service, but with an emphasis on caste instead of personality-matching quizzes (emphasis on looks and occupations are universal, though). Secondary characters include Mr. Ali's estranged son, Rehman, who is a human rights activist; Aruna, a poor Hindu girl he hires as a secretary who is secretly worried about her own marriage prospects; and, of course, Mrs. Ali.

This book is being marketed to fans of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series, and I have to agree that if you like them, you will almost certainly like this new book as well. They share a similar simplistic-but-charming writing style, a focus on traditional values, and evocative descriptions of the beauty in rural and natural scenes. Zama's book is a bit marred by a heavy reliance on "As You Know, Bob" language to convey information about Indian weddings and marriages to the reader, but hey, if you don't know much about that topic, it's certainly an easy way to learn.

A fun, breezy book, with a very predictable happy ending. However, it's clearly aiming itself at an audience who's only looking for light reading, and it achieves its goal of being pleasant read.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
8. Anne Cherian, A Good Indian Wife

Leila is a teacher in a small South Indian town, who's beginning to worry that she might be too old to find a husband. Suneel is a doctor in San Francisco with a white girlfriend and no interest in returning to India. However, when Suneel goes to visit his sick grandfather, family machinations arrange a marriage between the two almost before they know what's happened. Now Leila has to adjust to her new husband and life in America, while Suneel strives to change as little as possible (including continuing the relationship with the girlfriend) and plots ways out of the marriage.

This book is a bit of a fairy tale, but despite that, it was a fun, quick read. I never felt very sympathetic to Suneel (HE'S TOTALLY A JERK, COME ON, HE DIDN'T BREAK UP WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND), but Leila is a great, interesting character, and I really enjoyed spending time with her. The writing is very good, and I was okay with the predictable plot for the sake of the vivid descriptions of food, clothing, sight-seeing, and Leila's gradual adjustments.

Not a deep book, but an enjoyable one. Recommended.
[identity profile] zara-capeverde.livejournal.com
The Final Passage by Caryl Phillips

Tells the story of Leila, a young woman from an unspecified Caribbean island, her doomed marriage and later migration to England.

Phillips' style is very poetic. There are some flat-out beautiful descriptions of the sea and the colours of the island, which are later contrasted strongly with the monotone grey of London. The connection between the environment and the state of Leila and Michael's marriage is cleverly intertwined the whole way through - as they cast off to sea it seems their relationship has a breath of futurity, but then the weather and poverty of life in England begin to make it claustrophobic again. Here for instance: The sky hung so low it covered the street like a dark coffin lid. The cars that passed by were just blurry colours, and the people rushed homeward, images of isolation, fighting umbrellas and winds that buffeted their bodies. . The book is much more focussed on tone than plot, however, and it ends quite abruptly. It is intentionally timeless, and it is a good exploration of the trials of emigration, but I think if it was less vague it would possibly have more authenticity and meaning. I enjoyed it though.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

Zhaung flies to the UK to learn English, then falls in love with an English man and discovers that the language of love is even harder to comprehend.

I absolutely loved this book. I loved Z. It's been a while since I read a female protagonist who is as smart, funny and bold as she is. I think this book might annoy some people because of the way it starts with deliberately broken English, but I am a word geek and I adored all the discussions about English vs Chinese words (there's a particularly moving section where Z and her English lover exchange the words for different plants). I am a sucker for romance, and I liked that it felt sort of clumsily natural and that there were problems and miscommunications, because that is real love. This book also had really great descriptions of London (like The Final Passage): The morning wind is washing my brain, and my small body. This is a city with something really heavy and serious in its soul. This is a city which had big wars in the history. And, I feel, this is a city made for mans, and politics, and disciplines. Like Beijing. Highly recommend this novel, I'll be checking out more of her writing asap.

Legacy by Larissa Behrendt

Simone is a young Aboriginal lawyer researching the legal arguments for Indigenous sovereignty. Her father is a prominent Aboriginal activist. The two have a troubled relationship due to his chronic infidelity. The novel explores the dynamics between all the people in Simone's life, as well as the legacy of Aboriginal dispossession. I have a heart that has been quick to fall in love with ideals ... but I’ve never been as willing to love realities

I struggled a little bit to get into this book because I thought some of the literary/historical references were forced in toward the beginning but by the middle, and certainly throughout all of the second part, the story really took off and I couldn't put it down. Again, Simone is a strong and sympathetic leading character, and it was great to see a female lead with such integrity. Behrendt is very talented at writing in more than one voice, she allows every character to have their say on the truth and to redeem themselves. I haven't read a book that was so good at heart for a long while. It is lighter than you might expect given some of the subject matter (not that it shies away from it or anything, just that it is the familial/romantic relationships that are the core of the plot not the political issues) and it is a great book if you just want something uplifting to read.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
3. Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Wench

Whew, this is a depressing book. But well worth reading; the characters are all very believable and engaging, and the situation is compelling. It's a novel, but one based on a real-life situation: Tawawa House, a popular summer resort in the early and middle 1800s, located in Ohio but frequented by rich men from southern states. The story focuses on four black women, all slaves, and all brought by their owners to Tawawa House over repeated summers. Because, see, Tawawa House has a particular reason for being popular: it's a place where slave-owners can bring their black mistresses, leaving their wives behind.

This is a hard book to describe, because there's not much of a plot; most of what changes over the course of the novel is the slow shifts in Lizzy's (the main character) attitude toward her life and the other people in it. Wench is excellent at describing the tangled situation she and the other women find themselves in, their feelings about each other, other people back home on their plantations, and finding themselves in Ohio- a free state- while still being a slave. Each of the four women has differing attitudes towards their men, ranging from Lizzy (the main character), who really believes her owner loves her and her children, to Mawu, who would kill her owner given the chance. Lizzy's efforts to make a better life for her children shape her character and result in some of the most heart-breaking scenes in the book, while her time in Ohio tempts her to leave them behind and make an escape attempt.

Not a fun book, but an excellent one. I recommend it.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
36. Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country. Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker.

A classic novel of Japanese literature, this book was cited as one of the reasons the author won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1968. The plot concerns a small hot-spring town in the mountains. A rich, lazy young man comes to visit several times over the course of a year or two, carrying on a relationship with a local geisha who is in love with him. The book has lots of very beautiful descriptions of landscapes- mountains in snow, fall leaves on the trees, bugs dying against a window in the summer; the translator even compares the novel to haiku- but not much plot. There are a lot of conversations where no one quite says what they mean, and most of the important developments take place in the subtext. That's interesting in some ways, but it's also very distancing, and I never felt very attached to the characters. On the other hand, this is a very short book, so if you want to try out a famous Japanese novel, it's definitely an easy read.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
35. Diana Abu-Jaber, Crescent

Oh, this book. I wish I could quote the entire thing at you; the language is gorgeous and perfect and there are so many bits of it floating in my head. This is the most wonderful thing I've read in ages. Okay, just a few quotes:

Describing Sir Richard Burton: He did, however, like so many Victorians, have an aptitude for ownership, an attachment to things material and personal, like colonies and slaves- he especially enjoyed owning slaves while living in someone else's house.

Two people discussing a fairy tale: I didn't know that business about the Queen of Sheba. That she was so beautiful. That it could make you go crazy.
It was one of her more salient characteristics.


Describing food: The potatoes are soft as velvet, the gravy satiny. It is as if she can taste the life inside all those ingredients: the stem that the cranberries grew on, the earth inside the bread, even the warm blood that was once inside the turkey.

The food porn in this book is amazing. I was left with a deep craving for hummus with olive oil, mjaddarah, lamb with garlic... all the amazing Middle Eastern food Abu-Jaber describes.

I suppose I should actually describe what this book is about. Sirine is a mixed-race woman, her father Iraqi and her mother European-American, who was born and has never left Los Angeles. She works as the chef at a Lebanese restaurant in the Iranian section of LA, and lives with her uncle, who is a professor at a nearby college. When she meets Han, a writer in exile from Iraq, they start a relationship and she has to deal with questions of exile, home, secrets, and so on. Interspersed with and weaving through the main plot is a long-running story told by Sirine's uncle, supposedly about his cousin, but which reads more like a fairy tale or a Sufi parable (though the uncle insists that it has no moral), full of mermaids, djinns, the Mother of the Nile, and lost tribes of Bedouin. The book is set in 1999, which means the political situation is a bit different from today; I kept being confused until I figured out when it was set.

But a description of the plot doesn't do much to capture the book, since, really, relatively little happens in it. It's full of beautifully described ordinary moments, lush cooking scenes, vivid evocations of both LA and Iraq (having only been to LA once, I can't say how accurate those scenes are, though they're amazing to read. The Iraq scenes, though, captured exactly my memories of Syria and made me long to go for a visit). It can be hilariously funny at points (I loved the mythical Hal'Awud), though it's a fairly serious book overall. The language is so poetic that reading it made me feel dreamy and content.

This post is getting long, so let me just say that I highly, highly recommend this book. I'll be seeking out other things by the author.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
32. Geling Yan, The Lost Daughter of Happiness, translated by Cathy Silber

This novel is about a real historical figure, Fusang, a Chinese woman who was a prostitute in San Fransisco in the late 1800s. Although the narration focuses on Fusang and her relationship with others, particularly Chris- a young white boy from a German merchant family in love with Fusang- and Da Yong- a Chinese gangster who is influential in Fusang's life- Fusang herself ultimately remains a blank. She's never given motivations, inner dialogue, or even much emotion. And this is deliberate. The narrator- who, as a Chinese writer living in America in the modern day, may or may not be the voice of the author herself- often breaks into the story, explaining the impossibility of truly knowing another person, especially when that other person is a historical figure with only brief mentions in texts. At other times, the narrator speaks directly to Fusang, asking her to move a certain way or to reply to a question. I found this distancing effect to be really intriguing, but in other reviews people seem to have been annoyed by it, so your mileage may vary.

The language is beautiful and vivid; the plot is compelling. The novel explores racism, sexism, and violence, often explicitly linking events of the historical period depicted to the modern day. Highly recommended.
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
 #28.  Skim, Mariko Tamaki (writing) and Jillian Tamaki (art)
2008, Groundwood Books

Another book that I found through reviews on this comm.   (Thanks again to all of you: you keep leading me to wonderful books.)

I enjoyed the book for many of the same reasons others did, especially those mentioned by [livejournal.com profile] kyuuketsukirui[livejournal.com profile] sanguinity and [Bad username or unknown identity: puritybrown .]   As regards the art style, I also loved, as someone else mentioned, that it clearly evokes Japanese aesthetics and the Japanese artistic tradition... but the influences it draws on are not manga.  There's something about that, especially given the often troubling aspects of gender representation in mainstream manga (I'm thinking of exaggerated gender dimorphism, neoteny, and hypersexualization), that I found profoundly refreshing and even kind of inspiring.

Very highly recommended.  I'm putting Mariko Tamaki's other graphic work, Emiko Superstar, on my to-read list, and I'd love to see other work from Jillian Tamaki.  (Actually... let's see.  Her website is here, there's an interesting illustrated interview with her here, and I see mention of a 2006 book called Gilded Lilies.  Has anyone read it?)

[Tags I would add if I could: spirituality (or: religion/spirituality), high school]

Hey, by the way: [Bad username or unknown identity: puritybrown ,]did you ever send the Tamakis that fan letter?

[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#27. The Education of Hopey Glass (The Complete Love & Rockets, Vol. 24), Jaime Hernandez

2008 (material originally published 2005-'08), Fantagraphics Books

 

Okay, here I go about Love & Rockets again.  I feel a little dumb writing in so much detail about each new volume of the series I devour (being on a ten-year catch-up binge as I am), since I'm not sure anyone else is interested.  But at the same time, it's hard for me to resist it.  Half of the books -- the ones by Jaime Hernandez, about his post-punk ambisexual working-class Latina chicks in L.A. -- I've been following for so many years and love so much that I can't help gushing on and on.  And the ones by Gilbert Hernandez, about his ever-more-convoluted Lynchian psychosexual post-magic-realism Mexican American and Central American émigrés in L.A. -- the ones who all seem to sport big breasts, huge butts, impressive penis sizes, and an increasingly complicated array of fetishes... well, those are so involuted that I can't really follow the story line unless I break it all down for myself.

 

So here we have  Volume 24, all about Maggie's best friend and one-time lover Hopey Glass.  The overarching narrativethrust comes from the fact that Hopey has a new job.  It's a real job, which is really strange for her!  As long as we've known her, Hopey was living either with or on other people; or playing bass with a band; or off a small inheritance; or, more recently, bartending and working odd jobs.  But apparently she recently took up temping, and now she has -- of all things -- studied for, taken, and passed an exam to become certified as a teaching assistant in the state of California.  It's a new school year now, and her job is about to begin.

What this volume's all about... )
 
[identity profile] sweet-adelheid.livejournal.com
Black Chicks Talking by Leah Purcell (Hodder Headline, 2002)

This book is going on my personal "learning about Australia 101" list. I'm going to badger all my friends into reading it if they haven't already. Because this book is ... I can't think of any better word: this book is awesome. It fills me with awe.

These ten women - the nine interviewees plus Purcell herself - share so much of themselves in this book, and so openly. And yet also so matter-of-factly. They don't pull punches about the awful parts of life, but what shines through so clearly is the shared humanity of all of us. Which is why it's going to be top of my 101 list.

It's close to impossible to choose a favourite interview or interviewee, or even a 'most influential' one. Cilla Malone (mother of five - I think) left me breathless and amazed by what she does in caring for her children and her community; Tammy Williams has done a staggering amount; Deb Mailman is just so strong and centred, as is Rachel Perkins only in an entirely different way; and Liza Gooda-Frazer in a different way again. Kathryn Hay - who in many ways seems the most fragile of the group - has such grace in letting that fragility show, along with another core of strength that is there as well.

I just love the way this is written (put together), along with the Black Chicks painting (all in shades of pink!) and the portraits of all the women, and Leah's description of their dinner together as the culmination of the project.

Tags needed: a: purcell leah, and I'd love an "interviews" tag or similar, too.
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#19.  Locas in Love, Jaime Hernandez (The Collected Love & Rockets, Vol. 18)
2000, Fantagraphics Books (material originally published in Penny Century, Measles, and Maggie & Hopey Color Fun, 1996-2000)

As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, I have loved Love & Rockets since I was about thirteen.  It's one of the great joys of my life that this series (that's what it is, a black-and-white comics series written and drawn by California-based Mexican-American brothers Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez) is, despite all odds, still going; that it has no obvious end in sight, and that I can imagine (though I realize it's unlikely) that it may be with me all my life.

My ability to follow the series closely has varied with my own circumstances, and with the circumstances of its publication.  Since about 2000, for various reasons -- the brothers were publishing several different series, the schedule was irregular, I was out of the country -- I have only been able to read issues every now and then, when I came across them in a shop; or, occasionally, spend several hours in a bookstore reading whatever recent compilations they had on hand.  With the double inspiration of this 50books project, though, combined with the realization last month that the university library to which I have access (through my job) is willing and able to get even graphic novels for me -- quickly and easily! -- through interlibrary loan, I've begun a binge of catching up.  This is freaking awesome, people.

So, even though I have already read Vol. 22 (Ghost of Hoppers, which I own), and the last post I made was on Vol. 20 (Dicks And Deedees), this post is about backtracking all the way to Vol. 18, Locas In Love, which I figured I should read anyway because I thought there might be some material in there I'd missed.  (I'm only talking about even-numbered ones here because those are the ones collecting Jaime's work and storylines; the odd-numbered ones are Gilbert's collections.  Um, I realize this is incredibly involuted.  That's because I'm a comics dork, OK???  And I own all the volumes up to #15, Hernandez Satyricon, so...  OK YES I AM A DORK!)

So anyway.  Below are some spoilers.

Spoilers, spoilers... )

I LOVE LOVE & ROCKETS, PEOPLE.  And I still hold out hope that someday, someday, those stupid MacArthur people will get their heads out of their butts and do something for the Hernandez Brothers.

[Note: Tags I would like to add, when it becomes possible: superheroes; magic realism.]
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#11.  Shortcomings, Adrian Tomine
2007, Drawn & Quarterly

I keep trying to like Adrian Tomine, and he kind of just keeps leaving me cold.  Cool, anyway.  I'm not really sure what else to say about it. 

I read Shortcomings in the space of about an hour; and thought about it; and then I reread it, trying to be sure to catch whatever I might have missed.  Tomine's work is  much more technically accomplished now than it used to be, and sometime he even gets daring or lyrical in his framing.  But his characters are kind of... they leave me untouched.  What can I say?  I know plenty of people who love his work.  But I keep comparing his spare, skillful black-and-white comics about humans in relationships to the spare, skillful black-and-white comics about humans in relationships of Jaime Hernandez, and I'm like, "Man.  One of these artists I keep going back to and his characters live in my imagination.  And the other one... I close the book and they're gone."

Which is probably just as well, because they were assholes anyway.  Nobody in Shortcomings is very likable, including the protagonist -- which is, I suppose, one of the strengths of the book.  Ben, who (like Tomine) is Japanese-American, is having a rocky time in his relationship with his girlfriend Miko.  Miko, also Japanese, suspects that Ben has a wandering eye for white women (by which both she and he appear to mean "blonde and blue-eyed," which apparently describes all the eligible Caucasian females in California).  Ben denies it... and then concedes that maybe, yeah, he's been culturally conditioned to find that sexy, but it that his fault?  Ben is intensely defensive, and never seems to give a moment's thought to Miko's well-being.  Which is why, when the relationship gets rocky, it comes as no surprise...

An interesting book about interesting issues, and certainly a protagonist and perspective we don't see much -- or enough -- of.  I just wish... I wish I could find an emotional heart in Tomine's work.  It's so cool and cynical, it stands so far away while it dissects, that it's hard for me to care.  A story about emotions that refuses to become emotionally engaged is... it's not something that can really become meaningful for me.

[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#9.  The Eternal Smile, Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim
2009, First Second

 

The Eternal Smile is a collaborative anthology by comics artists Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim.  Before reading this, I had read Yang's American Born Chinese (which won the Eisner award in 2007, and which I recommend highly, albeit with a few reservations).  I hadn't previously read anything else by Kim; after reading The Eternal Smile, though, I went and added his earlier books to my reading list (Same Difference and Other Stories, which won the Eisner and the Harvey in 2004, and Good As Lily, which was published by Marvel's tween Minx imprint in 2007).

 

It's a little hard to know how to review this book, partly because what it really is is a compilation of three different stories which differ so widely in style and tone that it would be a stretch to call this a cohesive work.  You can make an argument, though (as did my brother, who also read this book) that they treat one or two of the same core themes, and that their collective comment on these themes is more complex than any of the pieces would be alone.

 

I can't really go into much thematic criticism without spoiler-ing the stories, so I'll confine myself to other aspects.
 

Here we go... )

 

[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
13. Lori L. Tharps, Kinky Gazpacho

This is a memoir about Lori, a young black girl growing up in Milwaukee. Attending mostly private schools, she is often the only black kid in her classes, and in this atmosphere she becomes obsessed with Spain, learning about it through her Spanish classes and picturing it as "another world when this one got to be too much. She finally gets to go there when she spends a year studying abroad in college and, as you can probably guess, it does not match her expectations.

This book was very light, but I enjoyed it. It has some very funny parts, and I found it very interesting to see race discussed in the context of a society outside the US. This is more of a beach read than something deep, but it's quite fun for what it is.

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