brainwane: My smiling face, including a small gold bindi (Default)
[personal profile] brainwane
I've been recommending this book to friends recently and realized I never posted my review of it here. It's a mimetic/realistic fiction novel set in modern-day Bangalore, with two main plot threads: a guy who wants to expand his business honestly but faces the impossibility of doing so without bribing creeps, and a servant in his house who walks multiple figurative tightropes to maintain some sliver of personal autonomy and keep her son from falling in with creeps.

I'd previously read Sankaran's short story collection The Red Carpet, which I also recommend. (I picked it up in the Manhattan public library when I was looking for Dorothy Sayers and saw Sankaran's book near Sayers alphabetically. Most English-language Indian fiction isn't about Bangalore, so this is an ultra-specific YES YES SO RIGHT YES. Sankaran hooked me a few pages in by using the Kannada/English slang "one-thaara" ("a kind/type of"), which I'd never seen written down before. The title story is so sweet! I see [personal profile] rydra_wong also liked it and [livejournal.com profile] glitter_femme liked it too.)

I loved The Hope Factory -- what a specifically Bangalore story, getting the texture of class, gender, and location so right. (I wonder whether the flashback chapter about one protagonist's day laborer past would work as a standalone story; it sure has a Crowning Moment of Awesome that I will remember for a long time.) I honestly do not know whether I should recommend this book to non-Indians or even desis who are not Karnatakan or Kannadiga, whether it will sparkle quite as bright to people who have never been to that particular dosa restaurant, who don't think "wait I think I have relatives in that square mile of Mysore." But if you're looking for an English-language novel set in modern-day Bangalore, spanning rich and poor, family and business and politics, check this out.
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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.
brainwane: My smiling face, including a small gold bindi (Default)
[personal profile] brainwane
I read The Underground Railroad in 2016. I thought it was engaging, moving, and accessible,* and I nominated it for a Hugo Award (Best Novel).

Na'amen Gobert Tilahun reviewed Underground Airlines as well as The Underground Railroad in Strange Horizons and discussed several aspects of both books. That review mentions speculative elements in Whitehead's book beyond the railroad mentioned in the title, in case you are wary of spoilers.

I have read John Henry Days, The Intuitionist, and I think at least one other Whitehead book, and am trying to reflect on how Whitehead approaches and uses the railroad, because I think it's different than the way a lot of speculative fiction authors do, and has more in common with how other mimetic fiction authors tend to use speculative premises. I want to compare The Underground Railroad to Never Let Me Go, where the story doesn't concentrate on (or, sometimes, even mention) the origin story of the big plot premise, and instead the story is entirely about the lives of people living or resisting -- just for themselves, to survive or thrive -- within that system.

* I think Whitehead deliberately works to make the book accessible to people who have not previously read slave narratives, fictional or nonfiction -- I think he spells out subtext more often than he would if he assumed the reader had more of a grounding in antebellum history or the history of anti-black racism in the US.
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. )
sumofparts: picture of books with text 'books are humanity in print' (books)
[personal profile] sumofparts
I finished my second set of 50, yay and started a new set. Below are some thoughts on the books.

Remainder of second set:
39. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
40. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee
41. Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice
42. Zone One by Colson Whitehead
43. The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
44. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
45. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
46. Snakes and Ladders by Gita Mehta
47. The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee
48. Beijing Confidential by Jan Wong
49. Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre
50. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
New set:
1. Decoded by Jay-Z

Cut for length )
snowynight: Kino in a suit with brown background (Default)
[personal profile] snowynight
Title: 暖床人 Nuan Quan Ren (The person who warms the bed)
Author: 三千界 San Qian Jie
Author Nationality and race: Chinese
Language: Chinese
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: M/M romance
Summary: Losing his lover, Zhen wanders to another dimension and accidentally chooses him to warm his bed. Zhen warms his heart, and he warms Zhen's in return.
Review: I really like this author's style because it reads so relaxing and steadily paced. The development of the relationship feels very natural to me.
Link: Original site
snowynight: Kino in a suit with brown background (Default)
[personal profile] snowynight
Title: 最終流放|Zhei Jung Liu Fang!Utmost Exile
Author: 河漢He Hang
Author Nationality and race: Chinese
Language: Chinese
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Military fiction
Summary: Who's Liang Shang Juen? The pride of Norhwest Army, the lieutenant of the new Jia Nan new force. Who is Ji Che? The spine of Jia Nan, the ultimate military instructor. When these two men meets, what'll happen?
Review: The characterization is superb, the insight of the war good, and the pace is fast. Contains M/M romance. Warning: Contains brainwashing at the end

Link: Original site
snowynight: Ultimate Jan in her Wasp form (Ultimate Jan)
[personal profile] snowynight
Book 4
Title: 失落大陸|The Lost Continent| Si Luo Da Lu
Author: 多木木多|Duo Mu Mu Duo
Author Nationality and race: Chinese
Language: Chinese
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Fantasy

Scifi Post-colonial version of Robinson Crusoe )

Book 5
Title: 麒麟!Qi lin
Author: 桔子樹|Ji je Shu
Author Nationality and race: Chinese
Language: Chinese
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Military

Chiniese military fiction about men and mission )

Book 6
Title: 诺亚动物诊所病历记录簿(第一季)| Nuo Ya Dung Wu Zhen Suo Bing Li Ji Lu Bu (Di yi gui) | Noah Animal Clinic medical record
Author: live
Author Nationality and race: Chinese
Language: Chinese
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Fantasy

An animal clinic for mythological creatures )
snowynight: Kino in a suit with brown background (Sailor Mercury)
[personal profile] snowynight
Title: Ghost Hunt  vol. 1
Author: Fuyumi Ono
Author Nationality and race: Japanese
Original language: Japanese
Publish place: Japan
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Fantasy

Amazon summary: Meet the members of the Shibuya Psychic Research Centre - an agency specialising in the investigation of paranormal activity...

Review: The beginning of the book is a bit slow, as it's mostly set up, but when I continue I'm hooked by the banter, the comedy and the solid mystery. I think I'll continue reading the series.

Link to Amazon

snowynight: Kino in a suit with brown background (Default)
[personal profile] snowynight
Title: Math Girls
Author: Hiroshi Yuki
Author Nationality and race: Japanese
Original language: Japanese
Publish place: Japan
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Math

Amazon summary: Combining mathematical rigor with light romance, Math Girls is a unique introduction to advanced mathematics, delivered through the eyes of three students as they learn to deal with problems seldom found in textbooks. Math Girls has something for everyone, from advanced high school students to math majors and educators.

Review: To be honest, I don't like additional maths such as calculus but it's recced to me because of fascinating female characters. It delivers maths, which I have mixed feeling about because of my own limitation and interesting female characters, which I just hope I can skip the middle man of the narrator to see more about their interaction. I''ll be looking forward to the sequel though.
Link: Math Girls on Amazon

[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
The Lifecycle of Software Objects may be a novella, but its story stretches out over years, with Chiang providing a compelling narrative which leads us through the early years in the life of several digients, i.e. computer software avatars imbued with artificial intelligence. The story begins with their creation and development as overseen by two people who work at Blue Gamma, the company that creates them: Ana and Derek. Both are impressed with the technology and quickly become attached to the childish avatars. While the digients are a success, their popularity is short-lived. Being first generation digients they quickly become unpopular and out-moded. While most are quick to abandon their digients, Ana and Derek adopt some and develop a child-parent bond with these cyber creatures, eventually proving they will do almost anything to ensure their safety even as the online world limits their choices.

There is a curious lack of sensory detail in the book. This has been a frustrating feature of Chiang's previous work, but the absence is particularly felt here, when the differences between the flatness of the online world and the richness of the real world is made so apparent. In Chiang's world the digients are able to transcend the online world by downloading their software into a robot body which allows them to interact with their trainers in a new way. Ana, training her future digient adoptee, is hugged by him in his robot form, an obviously emotional moment. Later the narrator notes that Not surprisingly, the sensor pads in the robot's fingers are the first thing that needs replacement. In the world of the novella, the avatars become enchanted by the real world, craving time in the robot suit so that they can feel. Unfortunately, Chiang's world is devoid of any richness in detail which leaves an uncomfortable void running through the novella. There are also some truly terrible transitions. The story flips through the years at a brisk pace, but Chiang often chooses to convey this with the phrase A year passed which seems clumsy the first time it is used and downright annoying by the sixth or seventh time. 

What Chiang does excellently though is track the decline and fall of the digients. There is an undercurrent of sweetness and nostalgia running through the book. The more time and energy their care-givers give to the digients and the more self-aware and intelligent they become, the better they are able to realize that software incompatibilities mean that their world is rapidly shrinking. The ugly choices that Ana and Derek consider in order to give them a full "life" are devastating and would have seemed even more so if only Chiang had spent a little more time on the emotional and a little less of the scientific.
[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.
pauraque: bird flying (Default)
[personal profile] pauraque
I tried several times to write a post about this book and what it meant to me, but I found that I couldn't do justice to my feelings without delving much further into my personal experiences as an abuse survivor than I wanted to in a public space.

I will say that this is one of the most powerful and brilliant novels that I have read. Do be careful if you are triggered by depictions of abuse -- each of us has to decide how much we can handle in that regard -- but ultimately I found the realism of it empowering and cathartic, and I did not regret my decision to read it.


a: Sapphire, African-American, novel
ext_48823: 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything (Default)
[identity profile] sumofparts.livejournal.com
1. Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai
2. Mr. Muo's Traveling Couch by Dai Sijie (translated by Ina Rilke; white)
3. Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup
4. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley
5. The Circle of Reason by Amitav Ghosh

Read more... )

tags: a: selvadurai shyam, a: dai sijie, w-t: rilke ina, a: swarup vikas, a: o'malley bryan lee, a: ghosh amitav, chinese, french, indian, canadian, sri lankan, novel, fiction, graphic novel, young adult, china, india, toronto, sri lanka, glbt, mysteryr
[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
I’m a total book snob, not only in regards to content, but in regard to book quality. This is the reason I have multiple (beautiful!) editions of Jane Eyre, and why I am such a sucker for Penguin and their amazing design aesthetic. All this to say that I was totally peeved when I bought the hardcover edition of Rudolf Anaya’s “Bless Me, Ultima” the novel that not only launched his career, but the entire genre of chicano literature. The book basically looks like someone took a cheap paperback cover and laminated it over two pieces of cardboard.  Hideous. I was prepared to hate the novel based on this alone, but once I started I found myself being drawn in by the voice of the uncertain narrator, the young Antonio Marez. Though the book was published in the early 70’s its set just after the Second World War in a small Spanish speaking community in New Mexico by the llano river.

Tony, the youngest child, lives there with his two older sisters and his parents. His mother and father, while extremely loving, also come from two different cultures. His Marez side (his father’s people) are cowboys and adventurers, while his Luna side (his mother’s people) are farmers. Each parent has clear ideas of which path they want their son to follow and what they would like him to do when he grows up.  The contrast causes a lot of conflict within Tony; he respects and loves each option and can’t bring himself to choose. This is where the titular Ultima comes in. Ultima is a curandera (sort of like a wise woman) who has nowhere else to go, and Tony’s family take her in out of respect for her and her magic. From the start Ultima and Tony strongly connect with Ultima demonstrating that what he thinks of as conflicts or not always so, and that even things that seem separate are strongly connected.

My one criticism of the book would have to be that Anaya does not push this theme of duality strongly enough. There are some hints in the book that Ultima may not be the sainted character she seems to be. It is left deliberately vague whether or not she passes a test proving that she is not a witch. Additionally one of her main conflicts is with a man who insists that she is a witch who is killing his daughters. From the perspective of Tony, our protagonist, it is the man who is in fact the evil one, and he and his daughters are witches that curse the whole village. I find it interesting though that the language Ultima uses to denounce the man and his daughters, is strikingly similar to the language he uses to denounce her. It is possible to imagine the flip side of the book, one in which Ultima really is evil and has cursed the daughters for no reason.

The complaint is somewhat moot though, because Anaya deliberately tries to keep things simple. The language for instance is fairly plain, but gives forth some amazingly beautiful descriptions of the llano river that Tony loves so much. And since the book is a work of magical realism the simplicity of language only emphasizes the fairy tale like quality of the novel.
pauraque: bird flying (Default)
[personal profile] pauraque
This was Alice Walker's first novel, and it's also the first novel by her that I have read. It tells the story of a black Southern family, particularly the titular Grange, who, as the title suggests, starts his life over twice: once by deserting his wife and child, and then again by returning to raise his granddaughter. Grange seeks to save her from the cycle of grinding poverty and self-loathing that has plagued the Copelands for (at least) three generations. But her embittered, violent father -- Grange's son -- isn't going to make it easy. Nor is the harsh reality of smothering racism, viewed here from the 1920s right up to the beginning of the civil rights movement.

No real plot spoilers (I don't think), but discussion of characters and themes )

Mostly on the strength of the latter half of the book and the characterizations there, I enjoyed this novel and would recommend it. Looking forward to reading some of her other works. (I wanted The Color Purple, but it was checked out.)


tags: a: Walker Alice, African-American, novel
[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
1. Bharati Mukherjee, Miss New India

Anjali Bose is a small town girl in rural India who has big dreams. Her teacher, an ex-pat American, encourages her to make something of herself by heading to Bangalore, which they both see as the best new city in India. Anjali eventually heads there, and ends up in more trouble than she anticipated.

The writing in this novel is quite good, very poetic, in the first few chapters, but gradually heads downhill and becomes very pedestrian by the end. The problem, I think, is that there is just way too much plot in this book. The main characters deal with rape, international terrorism, false charges of murder, police brutality, arranged marriage, teenage runaways, divorce, gay men in India, botched back-alley sex change operations, prostitution, art theft, suicide, the role of outsourcing in the Indian economy, riots, the art of photography, homelessness, telecommunication centers, and more. By about the fourth major plot twist, there's no time for poetry anymore, and even for much of a reaction from the characters, because there's just too much happening. I think it could have been a much better book if it had just focused on a few of these issues instead of all of them.

That said, many of the characters here are quite appealing, particularly Anjali. And it certainly seems to be a very current look at Indian society (I learned, for instance, that the cool new dessert is cold coffee with ice cream, which I promptly went out to try, and I can inform you that it is delicious). Overall a fun read, but not a particularly deep one.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
14. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Mistress of Spices

A sort-of fantasy novel about Tilo, a 'Mistress of Spices'- immortal, mystical women, trained in magic and secret knowledge, sent out into the world to help people. Tilo is sent to Oakland, California, where she slowly becomes personally involved in the lives of the people around her, and begins to reveal her own backstory.

This novel is very hard to describe, because it doesn't have much of a plot for most of its length. Instead, it's full of beautiful, poetic descriptions of spices and food, magic, Oakland and imaginary places like the Island where Mistresses are trained. Some parts are very realistic; others involve rampaging pirate queens or singing sea serpents. It took me a while to get into this book, because the beginning is very slow, but by the end I was in love. The language is incredibly evocative, and the resolution felt just right. I really grew to like the characters, particularly Tilo, who shows herself to be much more of a flawed human than any mystical fairy.

Highly recommended.

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