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[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 )
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[personal profile] seekingferret
21 India Calling by Anand Giridharadas

India Calling is a book I read as I tried to write Midnight's Children fanfiction, updating Rushdie's style for an India that has changed since that book was written thirty years ago. It is in some senses typical of a booming sub-genre of nonfiction works about "the New India", coming to grips with the rise of capitalism, the rise of economic and social and intellectual mobility, and all the associated changes those things bring with them. There are a lot of such books- Giridharadas comfortably situates himself within the subgenre by comparing his experiences to those reported in a few of them. As I ended up writing in my story, "Anyone with a pen and paper is writing that India doesn't have a story, and they will sell it to you if you give them the chance."

Giridharadas himself was the son of Indian immigrants to America who then moved back to India as an adult. His perspective is interesting. He's an outsider, but he speaks the language and knows intellectually the customs, so he can get past the exoticization that true Westerners visiting India often subject their readers to. But his perspective is still outsiderly. He feels comfortable reproaching native Indians for behaviors he finds misguided, but also spends a lot of time deconstructing his own mistaken assumptions about India- as backward, religiously intolerant, unambitious, and addicted to poverty and corruption. I really appreciated the humility he brought to his study.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and though I don't think I ended up using any specific details from it in the fic, the sense he gave me of how India has evolved and how people feel about the evolution ended up being a major guiding force as I developed themes.

22 Dancers on the Shore by William M. Kelley

Kelley is a writer I would never have known about had I not literally googled for African-American literary novelists when I first started doing [community profile] 50books_poc, about three and a half years ago, and discovering him is one of the things I am most grateful to this challenge for. He writes gracefully and complicatedly about the mid-20th-century African-American experience and at times the broader American experience. A Different Drummer, his debut novel, which was one of the first books I read for this challenge, remains one of my favorites.

Dancers on the Shore is a short story collection published not long after A Different Drummer, and it is more of a mixed bag, as short story collections often are. Some of the stories are a part of a roughly continuous family cycle that continues throughout Kelley's novels and culminates in the messy post-modern soup of Dunfords Travels Everywheres. Others are standalone. Some of them feel like early sketches added to fill up the book, while others are marvelous in the depth of character and emotion that Kelly is able to show in so little space.

Though all of his characters are African-American, explicit and even implicit discussions of racial politics are rare (the first page is an invocation from the author begging to be treated as an author instead of as an African-American author who has anything at all to say about the Race Question). The stories are mostly family dramas, characters discovering things about themselves and about the people close to them. A mother contemplates divorcing her husband. A son visits his extended family and learns about his father's childhood. A young woman contemplates an illegal abortion. Two old men endure retirement together. All of these subjects are handled with sensitivity and ambiguity.

23 Terminal Point by KM Ruiz

I loved the first book in Ruiz's Stryker Syndicate series of cyberpunky post-apocalyptic psionic action-adventures, but this one, the second, was more uneven. It was beautifully plotted and paced, and it had more of the great characters from the first book, but it stinted on setting. I knew I was in for a good show with Mind Storm from the first scene, which threw us on a train moving across the radioactive wasteland between the husk of Las Vegas and the husk oif Los Angeles. The location was so atmospheric, interesting, and real feeling that it intensified all of the action. Terminal Point bounces through a lot more locations, and a lot more exotic locations, but none of them feel as rich and real as the settings from the first book. Many of them have their interesting features infodumped at us rather than being allowed to present themselves naturally. The plot subordinated the world building, unfortunately, and the result was a book that offered satisfying resolution to open plots from the first book, but not a book that was as satisfying on its own terms.
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[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
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Haven't posted in a while. Here's a series of mini-reviews with some spoilers. Also, some of the books contain potentially triggering content.

6. Un-Nappily in Love by Trisha R. Thomas
7. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
8. Tracks by Louise Erdrich
9. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
10. Umbrella by Taro Yashima
11. Little Joy by Ruowen Wang
12. Why War is Never a Good Idea by Alice Walker
13. Erika-san by Allen Say
14. Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani
15. What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
16. The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
17. In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez
18. Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez
19. Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez
20. Monster by A. Lee  Martinez
21. Certainty by Madeleine Thien
22. So Long Been Dreaming edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan
23. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
24. Too Many Curses by A. Lee Martinez
25. A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez
26. A Person of Interest by Susan Choi
27. Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead

Mention (not counted)
Josias, Hold the Book by Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren (white); illustrated by Nicole Tadgell (person of colour)

Read more... )
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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.
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Stories of Your Life & Others boasts an incredible pedigree and came to me highly recommended from a wide variety of individuals. Virtually every story in the book has been previously published by a big name literary magazine (Asimov's, Omni, etc) and have won awards. I came to the book with high expectations and was left  disappointed. 

The problem with Stories of Your Life is one that is often levelled at sci-fi writers by its detractors; the ideas are good, the writing is flat. In fact, in this case, their often isn't much of a story there at all. In Understand a man becomes hyper intelligent as a result of a clinical drug study. The story is about 40 pages long and a good 35 of those is spent simply describing the man's new found intelligence. Some conflict does eventually arise (a great conflict in fact), but is quickly dealt with in the last few pages of the story. This is pretty much the problem with the rest of the stories in the book. Chiang may be great at coming up with new worlds and interesting concepts, but he is flat out terrible at building a story. 

There are a few stories in the collection that manage to escape this tendency of Chiang's to get lost in the science of things. Tower of Babylon, based on the bible story of the Tower of Babel, is interesting and gripping and comes together in a great way. Story of Your Life is messy, but the execution is interesting, even if it's not perfect. 

One thing I did appreciate about the book is that there is a section of notes in the back where Chiang talks a little bit about the inspiration behind each story. They're never more than a few paragraphs long, but I thought they were a great addition to the book.

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"Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self" by Danielle Evans

I was originally interested in this book just for the title. (Which turns out to be a line from a poem by Donna Kate Rushin.)

It's a collection of short stories featuring African-American and mixed-race characters. The stories deal with issues of race and class, and with relationships of all sorts (romantic, friendship, family) through the lives of a variety of fully realized characters. Sometimes it's hard to get a "feel" for what a person is like in a shorter format but not in these stories. I also liked that they dealt with the reality of life, and the fact that not everything ends happily... and not everything ends when you want it to, either.

Also I felt the stories were consistently good, with none that I felt brought the collection down. I highly recommend this book.
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[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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Title: Sea, Swallow Me
Author: Craig Laurance Gidney
Number of Pages: 199 pages
My Rating: 2.5/5

Jacket Summary: Ancient folklore and modern myth come together in these stories by author Craig Laurance Gidney. Here are found the struggles of a medieval Japanese monk, seduced by a mischievous fairy, and a young slave who finds mystery deep within the briar patch of an antebellum plantation. Gidney offers readers a gay teen obsessed with his patron saint, Lena Horne, and, in the title story, an ailing tourist seeking to escape his troubles at a distant shore, but who never anticipates encountering an African seagod. Rich, poetic, dark and disturbing, these are tales not soon forgotten.

Review: Honestly I wasn't really impressed with this book. There were a few stories I really liked and the rest were just okay. Also, the copy I have is an ARC, so it's got a lot of mistakes, which hopefully were corrected in the final proof (the most annoying one was in the Japanese story, where Amaterasu was misspelled as Amaratsu throughout the story).

Title: The Calcutta Chromosome
Author: Amitav Ghosh
Number of Pages: 306 pages
My Rating: 2/5

Jacket Summary: It begins in a near-future New York City, witha low-level data analyst's investigation into the disappearance of L. Murugan--a driven eccentric who vanished from the steamy, overcrowded streets of 1995 Calcutta. From here, the story leaps backward and forward across one hundred years--from a teeming contemporary city of clashing cultures and hidden facs back to the laboratory of Ronald Ross, the British scientist who was led by weird, fortuitous coincidences to the groundbreaking discovery of how malaria is transmitted to humans. Alternately following the analyst Antar's search for Murugan--and Murugan's own obsessive pursuit of the truth behind Dr. Ross's remarkable findings--Ghosh brilliantly unveils an impossible experiment in controlled destiny protected by a powerful unseen society that moves the world in secret and in silence.

Review: I wish I had read this review of the book before picking it up myself, because it would have made it clear that this book is not for me. I found the story very slow going at first, and then eventually it picked up and was getting quite interesting, all the threads coming together, and ends. With nothing resolved. Because apparently he's writing the book to give the reader the same experience as the people in the book, of not being able to get it all. But I do not want that. At all. I am not one to throw books across the room, but if I were, I would have thrown this. I do not read mysteries to get to the end and not have any resolution.
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The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

I feel like there's already so much out there about Alexie's work that I probably don't have much that's new to add -- his stories made me laugh while they broke my heart. I had to read this book interspersed with other things, because I just couldn't take too much of it at once, but I'm glad I've finally read it after years of thinking I'd get around to it one day.

If I'm not the last person out there who hadn't already read this, I can only say: this is one of those books you should read before you die.

(Tags: a: alexie, sherman, native american: spokane/coeur d'alene, short stories)
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[personal profile] pauraque
In one of the stories in this collection, there is a character who is a frustrated writer, and at one point she decides to burn all her manuscripts and start anew. It was hard for me not to wish the author of this book had done the same.

Most of the stories are about middle-class British men getting divorced and/or having affairs. The women are described physically with a certain amount of observational skill, but they have no personalities beyond being foils or objects of desire for men. The men themselves, amazingly enough, have even less substance. The characters and situations are interchangeable; if the names of the characters were all the same and the stories became chapters in a novel, it would be almost as meaningful as the individual stories actually are.

Which is to say, not very. Many of the stories are as dull and generic as their titles: "That Was Then", "A Meeting, At Last", "Girl". The worst of them read like something written by a person having a bad day at NaNoWriMo, just trying to keep going and get more words -- grammatical, but rambling and directionless.

There are a few that were better than that. One is a sad and accurate portrait of an acrimonious divorce. The one about the frustrated writer is engaging, if over-long. I also liked one about a couple struggling to bring home four chairs on the subway (though the "love is a struggle" message kind of beats you over the head). These three benefit from Kureishi not trying to write about sex or drugs, which he does a lot, and when he does you get the feeling that he wants us to be impressed by his daring in mentioning them. He has forgotten that merely mentioning things that are potentially interesting is not actually interesting in itself.

In these stories everything is told, nothing is shown. Telling can give a feeling of simplicity, but even that is lost in pretentiousness here. The dialogue is wooden and stilted; no one talks like these characters. The endings of stories have the form of deep revelations, but not the content. To paraphrase Roger Ebert, Kureishi has learned that better writers do certain things in their short stories, but he has not learned why.

The last story in the collection comes completely out of left field. After a book of thematically similar realistic litfic, we wrap up with a surrealist look at a porn star who has misplaced his penis. (It is called, enlighteningly, "The Penis".) When found, the penis reveals that it has decided it wants to be a movie star in its own right. The penis talks and rides in taxi cabs. I don't know what this story was supposed to mean, but at least it was different.

This author seems to have won awards, so clearly he has his fans. If you are one of them, I don't begrudge you your enjoyment, but I emphatically do not share it.

(tags: a: kureishi hanif, short stories, pakistani-british)
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I'm way behind on posting here and, for various reasons, all but one of the following books are currently not in my possession - so these are pretty short reviews.

4. Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, Paper

The back made it sound wonderful: a scribe in central Asia searching for the perfect paper, while his town's location at a crossroads of travel and politics impacts upon his life. While it is about that, the execution is not as good as I'd hoped. A lot of time is given over to the Scribe's unhappy musings about his life and how he's just not capable of writing the perfect book. Events unfold sometimes slowly, sometimes offstage, with the overall effect of not particularly gripping me. Bahiyyih Nakhjavani's language is lovely in places and some of the characters are interesting, but I felt like the novel isn't quite as focused as it could have been: it muses, it tells, but it doesn't quite work. Certainly interesting, though, and I intend to re-read it sometime because I suspect there are layers to be found. Also there's a chronology of paper-related history at the back which is marvellous.

5. Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo & Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio, eds. Why I Travel and other essays by fourteen women

Now this was a find! It's a collection of travel essays by Filipina, with a section focusing on local destinations and another on international ones. A small section at the back considers the how of travel in particular; one my favourite essays is here, concerning how a wheelchair-bound woman has discovered that she shouldn't feel too limited by her situation, and she tells all about her adventures in a Moroccan souk on donkey-back and other experiences around the world, where the help of a few people has resulted in her having a fantastic time. The essays sometimes describe the places visited, sometimes dwell on personal history in that places (especially in the local section), and are almost all engaging and interesting.

6. Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Sightseeing

A collection of short stories by a Thai author. This means, crucially, that you're getting stories about Thailand as a complex and real place, not the magical land of golden temples and hookers often described by farang writers. Rattawut is concerned with the regular Thai person, not particularly wealthy, often in a perpetual balancing act just above poverty. He writes about a young boy's relationship with a Cambodian refugee whose now-dead father put all their wealth in her gold teeth; he writes about a young man whose mother is on the verge of going blind; he writes about a teenaged girl whose poor father is losing his cockfights to a rich bully, and the various consequences this has on their family; he writes about a wealthy teenaged boy dodging the draft while his poorer friend cannot; and so on. In some stories, the plot itself is not particularly innovative. The entire emotional arc of the draft-dodging story was predictable, for instance. But the way Rattawut writes allows you to really get into his characters' heads and understand their various decisions, so they are not distant or simple stories, and the Thailand he writes about is a difficult, interesting, complicated place. Definitely recommended, especially for readers of realist fiction or those interested in Thailand/SE Asia as depicted by a local.

7. Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red

Oh, My Name is Red, I did want to adore you. Those long beautiful passages on the nature of art and miniaturism and history are, in my opinion, worth the price of admission alone. (Especially if you, uh, got it for cheaps at an Indian pavement book stall.) Yet the characters are almost all un-captivating and parts of the plot progress strangely. A character is tortured and, within pages of the torture ending, decides that the man who gave the order is going to be his new mentor and father figure, and Pamuk spends the rest of the book telling us that they have a deep and meaningful bond. We're told a lot about characterisation in this book. I enjoyed reading about historic Istanbul (and I can't imagine the city under snow!) and, as I said, his tangents were divine, and parts of the murder plot were pretty interesting. Overall, though, a bit of a flawed package.

8. Githa Hariharan, When Dreams Travel

A novel about storytelling and storytellers, especially female, typically powerless ones. Hariharan takes the myth of Shahrzad and begins after it ended, with her sister Dunyazad returning to Shahrzad's palace to help her husband construct her tomb. Echoes of the Taj Mahal in its vast splendour and the Sultan's obsession and the consequences. Dunyazad and a scheming maidservant with a peculiarly hairy mole meet and share stories, including many of a hair-covered woman who was eventually ostracised by her community -- revolving around the possibility that Shahrzad escaped and they can too, from the entrapments of the old 1001 Night story and the present concerns of their lives. When Dreams Travel is a curious, meandering book, beautifully written.
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[personal profile] zeborah
Song For Night by Chris Abani
About a boy soldier (trained to defuse mines) separated from his platoon after an explosion. A short and easy read (in style if not in content matter. Trigger warnings re the content: skip) the book includes graphic descriptions of violence and of the protagonist being forced to rape a woman.) told in a beautiful prose style. It explores the sign language his platoon uses, his memories of the war, boot camp, the outbreak of violence between Igbo and Fulani, and his childhood.

Huia Short Stories 6
Huia Publishers put out an anthology each year of contemporary Māori fiction. I'm... ultimately not a fan of contemporary fiction, I think. Melanie Drewery's "Weight of the World" stood out for me among the rest, being more humorous in tone. In the author bios at the end, Eru J. Hart, said he "asks that other Māori writers think beyond stories of 'Nanny in the kūmara patch'" -- his own was really interesting stylistically/structurally but in content it wasn't so very distant from what I'm tempted to call 'Sister in the big city' which many stories in this volume shared (and which I recall studying in high school in the form of Witi Ihimaera's "Big Brother Little Sister" (1974)). This isn't a criticism really; it's just that it's not my kind of story so while reading one is fine, reading a dozen in a row is a bit much for me. :-) But if it's the kind of thing you like, then you'll like it.

(The other cool thing about this collection is it includes four stories written in Te Reo, one of which is written in the Kai Tahu dialect. Far beyond my current ability to read, alas, especially as I think I'd have liked to read "Ko Māui me ngā Kūmara a Wiwīwawā".)

Ruahine: mythic women by Ngahuia Te Awekotuku
This anthology, on the other hand, I really enjoyed. For each story, the author gives a brief summary of the original folktale/history, then tells her own interpretation of it. All the stories are about strong women; several include female/female relationships and one a male/male relationship. And of course the reason [ profile] kitsuchi recommended it to me in the first place was because one of the stories was science fiction and full of awesomeness.

Books 7-8

Oct. 6th, 2010 04:01 pm
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"House of Bilqis" by Azhar Abidi.
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"Unaccustomed Earth" by Jhumpa Lahiri.
Read more... )
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After reading Vandana Singh's story "Oblivion: A Journey" - aka the Ramayana IN SPAAAACE - in Clockwork Phoenix 1, I wanted her short story collection. It doesn't reprint that story, but offers ten others.

The stories range widely in genre, from "Conservation Laws", a story-within-a-story about a mission on Mars that took a strange turn, to the not-quite-everyday "Hunger" and "The Wife", to the wonderful "Three Tales from Sky River", a collection of far-future folklore of settlements on other worlds, and "Infinities", a story of advanced mathematics and real-world religious tensions.

"Delhi", one of my favourites is about a man who glimpses the past and future of Delhi, who sees a woman he's been given a picture of from a strange organisation that stops suicides by offering them an unusual reason to live in these pictures of individuals they must try to meet. He tries to find out whether he can interfere in the events and lives he glimpses - especially the mysterious woman's. Not all of it is resolved by the end. If only Singh would write a novel that starts with "Delhi" and keeps going!

The language is often beautiful, sometimes strange. I wish I had my copy with me so I could quote extensively; the only line I copied was: The apartment, with its plump sofas like sleeping walruses... (The second sentence of "Hunger".) Singh evokes her settings, usually India, such that they feel real, with all the attendant complexity, beauty and harshness, and so on.

Singh clearly loves India, loves writing about it and its people, while engaging critically with its expectations of women. In "The Woman Who Thought She Was A Planet", Kamala's husband, Ramnath, is concerned with the way her planetary state makes her act in public, almost more than he's concerned about her mental health. Towards the end, when events have turned quite fantastical, a judge taps Ramnath on the shoulder and tells him how reprehensible this is. It's probably more surreal than what Kamala is doing. In "The Tetrahedron", Maya develops a relationship with an interesting young man, based on discussion of the tetrahedron, and realises that she really doesn't want to follow the path already laid out for her: newly acquired fiance who doesn't especially like or understand her. In the appropriately titled "Thirst", Susheela is drawn to the water, away from her married life. The mysterious woman Urmila in "The Room on the Roof" is bitter that her friend Renuka, formerly a skilled sculptress, is now content to only inspire her husband; events later take a sinister turn. And so on.

Ian McDonald may fill his books with "exotic" detail, but Vandana Singh's India is the one I want to read about. Her work is intelligent, interesting and, above all, real - even when it's about a woman-naga or a mysteriously appearing alien shape.

This is one of the best books I've read recently. Highly recommended.
[identity profile]

I’ve been hearing ZZ Packer’s name tossed around for years now so it was with some surprise that I realized, when I finally started looking into her work, that she only has one book, a short story collection, to her name. Despite her small output she's been named on of the New Yorker's 20 under 40 and after reading "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" it's not hard to see why.


Read on... )

[identity profile]
What we have today is a selection of not very good reviews. Why? Because I'm moving into an apartment that's half the size of my current place. That means that some stuff has got to go. So I'd thought I'd do these reviews before I got rid of the books.

Shadow Family by Miyuki Miyabe )

Waiting for Rain by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay )

All I Asking for is My Body by Milton Murayama )

Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan )
[identity profile]
27: The Thing Around Your Neck, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Thing Around Your Neck is a remarkable book. The stories here are exquisitely written, clear and lucid and so full of brilliant scenes and extraordinary sentences that I am not going to quote any of it because if I let myself start, I'd end up typing out the whole book. The characters are incredibly real, their lives vivid; and there's more. Every time I read a book, I get a glimpse of the author's mind, the frames and filters through which they look at the world; what you might call their "vision". Adichie's vision is startling and breathtaking and true, or in any case it feels true. I get the sense of a writer who does not sacrifice complexity, does not succumb (as one of her characters does) to "the need to smooth out wrinkles, to flatten out things you find too bumpy".

This is a particular concern because, of course, Adichie is Nigerian, African, and is therefore very much alive to the simplifications of her people's history and culture made by outsiders, even well-meaning ones; and by Nigerians, too, who want to shape their country in a particular way that doesn't leave room for certain kinds of people or certain ways of life. More than once her protagonists are faced by people who think they know about "the real Africa" and are unwilling to have their illusions dispelled by the actual knowledge and experience of actual Africans. I think the funniest story in the book, and the most explicitly trenchant, is "Jumping Monkey Hill", in which a Nigerian writer attends an "African Writers' Workshop" arranged by a white Englishman with as much regard for flesh-and-blood Africans as a puppetteer has for the feelings of his puppets.

In fact, it's just occurred to me that one of Adichie's recurring themes is the way in which people see only what they want to see; "Jumping Monkey Hill" is scathing about how this works when the person looking and wanting not to see is in a position of cultural privilege (so that their version of events will be listened to, and will make people doubt their own knowledge, even if they actually know better), but it comes up again and again in these stories; Ukamaka in "The Shivering", for instance, is so preoccupied with her own anger and bitterness over the ending of her relationship that she doesn't notice the much bigger problems that her new friend Chinedu has, until they become impossible to ignore. The other side of this is the way in which people carefully edit themselves for public consumption, not revealing the whole truth; this, too, crops up over and over, most startlingly in "Tomorrow Is Too Far".

The final story, "The Headstrong Historian", is a tribute to Chinua Achebe, and specifically to Things Fall Apart; it tells a similar story of an Igbo village before and during colonisation, although Adichie's angle on what happens is different, focusing on the reframing of Nigerian history rather than on the dismantling of traditional Igbo society. It works as a kind of sequel-in-spirit to Things Fall Apart, in that it lets its story go on after the point where Things Fall Apart ended, and gives the titular historian the chance to reclaim her people's history and decentre the account written by the colonisers. In its own way, fiction can do that kind of work just as history can, and The Thing Around Your Neck is a fine example.
roadrunnertwice: Hagrid on his motorcycle, from Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. (Motorcycle (Hagrid))
[personal profile] roadrunnertwice

#3: Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart (2/17)

From the Dep’t of Books Named After Yeats’ “The Second Coming.”

So I read this ten years ago with very little context and liked it tons, though I was more or less unable to convey its appeal to classmates who didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. I hadn’t thought much about it since. Then, several references (including big structural ones I didn’t even catch until clued in later, h/t where due) to Achebe came up in that collection of Adichie stories I’d just read, and I started to clue in that he was actually basically a literary giant and that it might be a good idea to reacquaint myself with him before delving much further into Nigerian fiction. Plus I’m a sucker for going back a decade in the book log and seeing if I still dig a thing.

I did! It’s fantastic. But everyone here already knew that.

Reams have been written on it, so I’ll try and keep this short; plus, what I like most about the book seems to shift every time I try to write this paragraph. But here’re some things:

  • The story appears simple, but it simplifies nothing. Contradictions are allowed to stand.
  • Likewise, the language is meticulously crafted and elegant, while still reading as quickly as one cares to read it.
  • It accomplishes that crucial feat of tragedy, commanding heartfelt sympathy for a hero who is, arguably, a bad person.
  • The texture of it is kind of amazing. I have no idea how he generates such a rich sense of place with such spare use of detail; it’s a hell of a thing. The way you can practically feel the rain or the cracked dirt under your feet was a big part of what had me so hypnotized ten years ago.
  • I love the title and epigraph. I like dragooning a whole work into a different project by quoting a fraction, I like high modernism, I like anticolonialism; there is nothing I don’t like about commandeering high modernism (a reaction to the first World War and the decoherence of European society it presaged) as a lens with which to eyeball colonialism and the decoherence it inflicted on society after society after society. This is all just squee, I don’t have anything actually cogent to say about it. (Bonus: No Longer At Ease does the same with a T.S. Eliot poem.)

This edition was actually a newly-published omnibus that included Arrow of God and No Longer At Ease (with an introduction by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, hey serendipity), but I was lollygaggin’ and malingerin’ and ended up having to give it back to the library before I could read the other two books. I definitely intend to, though; the introduction made them sound pretty great, and I’m kind of itching for more.

Log Supplemental

Books are nice, but folk also put cool stuff on the internet, so I thought I might link stories and essays here once in a while.

Yoon Ha Lee – “The Pirate Captain’s Daughter” (11/27, short story)

Wow! You wouldn’t expect a recycled John Cage gag to be quite so… exhilarating. But wouldja lookit that, thar she blows.

And what a curious way to sail.

Yoon Ha Lee – “Blue Ink” (2/5? short story; also available in podcast flavor)

I dig the Yoon. Her stories do all this intricate puzzlebox-world stuff, with big grinning slithering things just visible through the storm drains and sidewalk cracks.

N.K. Jemisin – various stories (short stories, 2/3 through 2/9, more or less)

Jemisin’s first novel was just about to come out (preview of Things I Read During March: It’s fuckin’ awesome), so I was going through her online short fiction in preparation.

  • L’Alchimista” (podcast) — Urban fantasy with high fantasy food values! Why have I never seen THAT before. Also, basically just wonderful. If I had to pick one of these stories to tie you down and force you to read, this is it.
  • Bittersweet” — I enjoyed the thinky parts of this (“paying in gen,” the problem space of motivations for shaking off the dust of a small town) more than the feely parts. (That’s not quite accurate: I really liked the stonetalker’s realization of how tired he’d gotten without even noticing. But by and large, this felt too distant.)
  • Cloud Dragon Skies” (podcast) — I am extremely conflicted about the ending here. The first half set my brain on fire, though.
  • The Brides of Heaven” — This is probably in dialogue with any number of horror stories I know nothing about (plus Planet of the Apes), so YMMV. I didn’t really dig it.
  • The Narcomancer” — Some swords and sorcery with a classic sorta feel. Recommended.
  • Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows” — This was good for reasons almost unrelated to why anything else in this set was good. I still don’t really know what I think about it, but it definitely struck a chord.
  • The You Train” — This played with some ideas that I traditionally like, but it didn’t grab me.
  • Red Riding Hood’s Child” (podcast) — SO good. This story was exactly what it should have been. (Warning: buttseks)
  • The Efluent Engine” — Steampunk lesbian Haitian spy hero science adventure story of the month! (No really, it’s badass.)
  • Non-Zero Probabilities” — An urban anthem, of sorts. *pumps fist*

bell hooks – “Killing Rage” (2/8, essay)

Confronting my rage, witnessing the way it moved me to grow and change, I understood intimately that it had the potential not only to destroy but also to construct. Then and now I understand rage to be a necessary aspect of resistance struggle. Rage can act as a catalyst inspiring courageous action.


(Somehow I think I missed reading hooks in college, but since I doubt I’d have really appreciated her at the time, it might be just as well. Anyway, this was a good essay.)

Zadie Smith – “Dead Man Laughing” (2/9, memoir/essay)

A charming and odd and clear-eyed and funny family memoir.


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