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[personal profile] yatima
Ian McEwan's acclaimed novels On Chesil Beach and Saturday both take place over the course of a single day, in an improbably lily-white version of England. Race-bending this formula is the fundamentally good idea beneath Black Bread White Beer. When we meet Amal and his white wife Claud, they have just lost a pregnancy in the first trimester, but they go ahead and visit Claud's parents in East Sussex as planned.

The novel is at its sharpest and funniest when Amal is reporting his Pakistani parents' reactions to his horrible in-laws:
‘What she means is, we wish you all the luck in the world, Amal, but you must watch your back. Her people look like a bunch of backstabbers. Never trust them for an instant.’

There are also some moving passages where Amal imagines what he and Claud would be like as parents:
Theirs would not be paraded about like Sussex show ponies. There were plenty of cool, funky children they could take as their template.

or what their lives would be like child-free:
They could buy a holiday home abroad. Two. One on each hemisphere if that is what would make her happy. He racks his mind to think of the childless couples they know – not the kids from the office; guys their age and older – but cannot dredge any up. In their immediate circle, there are no trailblazers, only conformists. No matter. They are taste makers, she and him. They can set the precedent.

As with McEwan, though, I found these characters difficult to warm to. Amal and Claud both struck me as joyless corporate drones, preoccupied with status, their world devoid of beauty and pleasure. A technically adroit book, but not for me.
sumofparts: picture of books with text 'books are humanity in print' (books)
[personal profile] sumofparts
Sort of a mid-year update. It's been a while since I read some of these so I've just written short impressions but feel free to ask about any of the books.

33. Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali
34. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
35. The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson
36. Valmiki's Daughter by Shani Mootoo
37. Skim written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
38. Henry Chow and other stories edited by R. David Stephens (white)

Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali
This was a well-written book but ultimately disappointing because it just didn't feel like it was going anywhere. Judging from the Goodreads reviews, this was a departure from Brick Lane, which I'll still try eventually.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Like other posters on the comm, I enjoyed this book but it was not without its flaws, which I think everyone else has covered pretty well.

The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson
I liked the book but I don't feel everything gelled very well for me. I did like how the main character wasn't always the most sympathetic.

Valmiki's Daughter by Shani Mootoo
Gorgeous writing and evocative descriptions but similar to The New Moon's Arms, something didn't quite click for me. Still, I'd definitely try this author's other books.

Skim written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki.
Very detailed and beautiful drawings that really capture the story. Equal credit should be given to author and illustrator.

Henry Chow and Other Stories by various authors, edited by R. David Stephens
Enjoyable but uneven collection of short stories for teenagers. I liked the different story settings and character perspectives. From the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop.

a: ali monica, a: hopkinson nalo, a: mootoo shani, a: mariko tamaki, i: tamaki jillian, w-e: stephens r david, short stories, fantasy, lit fic, young adult, coming of age, graphic novel, bangladeshi-british, latin@, dominican-american, caribbean-canadian, jamaican, trinidadian, asian-canadian, chinese-canadian, japanese-canadian, glbt, women writers
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com

It's been a dog's age since I've updated in this community. A bunch of things happened: I applied for and got a job in another country, I moved to Japan, I adjusted to life in the middle of a wild nowhere, I turned out to have a lot of trouble settling back in to important old routines like doing writing, and reading in English. Anyway, I'm getting back into it now. Then there was a death recently and that bumped me.

So anyway, I'm back and really quite glad to be picking up the thread of this. I obviously totally did up not wind up reading 50 books by people of color in under a year, but it's such a valuable project (for me, anyway, and maybe even beyond myself, I cannot be sure but I also haven't ruled that possibility out), and I am happy to be tucking back into it. (The thread of this project being co-integrated with getting back into reading books, books, books, generally.)This entry is for Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. This is actually the second of Ishiguro's books I have read over the past year and I will get to updating with a post on Never Let Me Go, which I read almost a year ago, a little later on.

I am sorry to say that I have been profoundly disappointed by both Ishiguro's books, and by Ishiguro in general. 

Let me tell you why. )

tages: japanese-english, english, lit fic, novel

[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
I've been meaning to read this book since I first heard of it back in 2006, when it won the Giller beating out odds-on favourite De Niro's Game (which would go on to win the Booker). The reason it took so long for me to eventually get around to reading it was because it had two things against it: Bloodletting is a collection of short stories and everyone knows short story collections are a chore to plow through* and the stories were written by a doctor, who had set his stories in the medical community. The book sounded dreary and so I kept passing up chances to read it until finally, prompted by a desire to finish this challenge, and a second personal challenge to try and read all the Giller winners, I picked up the book.

Bloodletting is a bit unusual in that it is a short story cycle: the short stories are all loosely linked by four doctors, introduced in the first two stories: Fitz, Ming, Sri and Cheng. 

There is something here for everyone though the opening story How to Get into Medical School Part I was easily my favourite. How to opens with two University of Ottawa students struggling through finals. Ming and Fitz have been study partners, but they both feel their relationship deepening into something more. Ming is quick to put a stop to this, sighting a dedication to getting into medical school as a cause, though she is also put off by the fact that Fitz is white, something her Chinese family would never approve of.  Lam does a brilliant job of unfolding the delicate dance between Ming, who is all sensibility, and Fitz who is all sense as they try to deny their attraction at the same time as they give in to it. The story works completely on its own, but there is a great follow up How to Get into Medical School Part II, which is equally worth reading. 

However Lam has greater ambitions than to simply follow the personal dramas of his collection of doctors. As the book branches out the doctors become secondary characters and the patients begin to take over although this is brilliantly reversed as the book draws to a close as in later stories the doctors contract diseases themselves, slipping into the position of patient as they weaken and eventually die.

A gritty, interesting work, and a peak at the vulnerability of doctors who snap at patients, who go through the motions, who sometimes barely understand it is that they are doing.

*Sarcasm for all the times I have been told this. Once I started actually reading short story collections I realized I loved them, and the people who denounce them are usually people who have never read one in their life.
[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
Through Black Spruce was the 2008 winner of the Giller award (Canada's top literary prize for those not in the know). I've only read a handful of the winners and nominees over the years, but Through Black Spruce easily tops my list as my favourite of those I've read.

In Moosonee, Ontario a middle aged man lies in a coma. His name is Will Bird and over the course of the novel he narrates the events of the past year of his life, slowly building up to the event that led to his coma. While he is in a coma his niece Annie Bird talks to him, telling him about the past year of her life, when she left the town she had lived in all her life in order to travel to Toronto, Montreal and New York in an attempt to track down her missing model sister Suzanne who ran off two years ago with her drug-dealing boyfriend Gus.

The novel alternates between Will and Annie's voices and it's a testament to Boyden's strength as a writer that each story is equally compelling. There was no sense of disappointment when a new chapter began and Will's story ended and Annie's story continued or vice versa. The missing Suzanne is also a compelling character, her abscence spurring on Annie's quest and having devastating consequences for Will. Suzanne is what weaves these two stories together despite the fact that we never "see" her within the novel.

There is also a lot of detail about Cree life and what it means to keep the traditions alive in an increasingly modern world. Will and especially Annie represent a bridge between traditional Cree culture and Western culture. Boyden is able to eloquently capture the negotiation between modern and traditional and the compromises that his characters must make in order to feel comfortable within themselves are woven elegantly into the story. 

FYI: Boyden wrote this as a loose sequel to his first novel Three Day Road (Will is the son of the main character of Three Day Road) and has announced that he intends to write a third book to form a trilogy.
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)
[personal profile] sanguinity
19. Eddie Chuculate, Cheyenne Madonna.

A novel-in-stories about Jordan Coolwater, a Cherokee and Creek artist, and his Cheyenne wife, Lisa Old Bull. (Mostly Jordan, though.)

Two particular stand-outs are "A Famous Indian Artist" and "Dear Shorty". "A Famous Indian Artist" is about teenage Jordan's relationship with his uncle Johnson L. Freebird ("the famous Indian artist!" as Freebird would absolutely make sure you knew). The reader understands fairly quickly that Freebird is insecure, self-centered, possibly fronting about his success, and deliberately trashing his nephew's art and ambitions in an effort to build up his own self-image. Coolwater takes much, much longer to understand what his uncle is doing, but this is not a simple story of a boy's transition from lionization to disillusionment: there is also comprehension and compassion for his uncle, and trepidation for Coolwater's own, hoped-for future as a Famous Indian Artist himself. "Dear Shorty" is about Coolwater's relationship (or attempted relationship) with his alcoholic father, walking the line between non-judgment and ennabling, trying to single-handedly carry a relationship with a man who is not sober enough to remember who Jordan even is.

Of the seven stories, only one was weak: "Under the Red Star of Mars," which is from the POV of Lisa, and is about her leaving her abuser boyfriend and eventually meeting Jordan. Given how nuanced the other stories were, this one felt stiff, distant, and shallow. I've also got some language nitpicks with the first story, "Galveston Bay, 1826" -- I'm not a fan of using distinctively European plant names in a story set pre-colonization, and there's a bit about the protagonist meeting "another Indian" that seems similarly norm-flipped for the setting -- but minor language-picks are minor.

Overall: beautiful, nuanced, with lots of emotional depth. I'm definitely keeping an eye out for his next book.

20. Louise Erdrich, Shadow Tag.

Irene America is Ojibwe; a Ph.D. candidate; her Famous Indian Artist husband's primary, career-spanning and -defining model; mother of three; and a woman who keeps two diaries: one "private" diary, which she hides in the back of the filing cabinet knowing full well that her husband is reading it behind her back, and the truly-private diary, which she keeps in a safe-deposit box.

Her husband knows that she is keeping secrets from him, but assumes that the long, unexplained outings are visits to a secret lover. In actuality, Irene is making her long unexplained outings to the bank vault, to write in her diary.

Irene did have a lover once, and he remains a secret from Gil. In the story in her head, however, she is, and always has been, faithful to Gil. One afternoon with one of Gil's friends is an inconsequential blip and nothing more. I am more likely to consider the "private" diary, the one with lies fabricated for her husband's eyes, an act of failthlessness.

However, given the crap going on in their marriage, that they should end up here, with one spying on the other via a diary deliberately full of lies, does not surprise me at all.

This is a messy story about representations, stories, and how those representations are used to capture and control people, both intentionally and inadvertently. Gil's paintings of Irene; the public's ideas of Irene as read from Gil's paintings; the children's ideas of Irene as read from the paintings; the children's stories about their parents; the parents' stories about their children; George Catlin's paintings of Native people; "real" Indians and old-time Indians and unenrolled Indians and identity construction; the two diaries; even the novel itself.

I've been turning over the novel a fair bit since I finished reading it, but am hard-pressed to verbalize much. Especially since there's a major twist at the end that all but requires re-evaluation of most of what went before. (I'm still not sure what I make of that twist other than to say that I agree with Erdrich: omniscient objective narrators are a lie, and should always be questioned.) But for someone like myself who's been chewing on issues of stories and representations and the paradoxes therein, Shadow Tag was worth chewing on.

Trigger warning for familial and domestic abuse. For myself, I particularly liked this portrayal of familial abuse and dysfunction -- neither adult's hands are particularly clean, and Gil is that kind of befuddled, earnest, well-intentioned abuser who does not recognize that he is emotionally and physically abusive. "Sheer walking evil" abusers don't ping recognition for me; abusers who understand themselves to be loving family members -- and who often are loving, conscientious family members -- do ping for me.

(Additional tags: creek author, cherokee author, cherokee character, creek character, short stories; ojibwe author, ojibwe character; lit fic; native american)


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