Snowflower and the Secret Fan

I am what they call in our village “one who has not yet died” – a widow, eighty years old.

I allowed myself another book in between the ones school wants me to read. As I started The Catcher in the Rye, I really needed it.

It probably couldn’t be more different from that novel if I’d consciously gone looking for it. Snowflower and the Secret Fan is in nineteenth century China, the main character a girl the reader follows into adulthood. Lily has the firm belief that she isn’t worth anything, solely by being a girl. She will be someone’s wife some day, someone’s mother some day, but herself? Just a burden.

Feet are still bound in that century, and Lily goes through it. Small, beautiful feet will make her chances for a husband better, for starters. Before that relationship is created by planners and family, another connection is laid: with a girl that will become her sister, her other half: ‘laotong‘. With her comes the fan from the title, and that fan is written in ‘nu shu, the women’s language.

And this way, Lily can share her story. There’s ordinary life and hopes and dreams, disease and disaster. Lisa See puts you on her door step, showing a historical reality so incredibly foreign to me.

The story is fiction, the elements used in it not. I’d recommend this for anyone interested in those that move within a women’s constraints. In China, this time.

Snowflower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See, Random House 2005

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Year of Wonders

I used to love this season.

This is the first of the books I have to read for school. Lies of Silence, Catcher in the Rye, The Help and The Tortilla Curtain will follow.

Looking at that list, and having already read two of those, I know I could have done a lot worse.

Year of Wonders is about the plague. An English village in the 1660s gets hit by the disease and decides to quarantine itself, an element that’s based on a real story. Of course that doesn’t go well with everyone, and doesn’t the plague refrain from laying waste to it.

Main character Anna is not completely inner circle, but not a complete outsider either, giving a(n usually) sensible view to the happenings of small village life. When she loses her control of her emotions, it’s all the more painful and uncomfortable; because if she can’t handle it any more, who else will?

It’s a book on ordinary happiness, family life, small minded judgment, feminism and religion. Maybe I’ll change my mind about appreciating it when I have to write a 2000 word essay on it, but for now; an addition for many to read lists.

Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks, Penguin Books 2002

Toen ik uit de lucht viel

Veel mensen vragen zich af hoe ik het voor elkaar krijg om toch steeds weer in een vliegtuig te stappen.

De complete titel op de voorkant van dit boek is Toen ik uit de lucht viel – en als enige een vliegtuigongeluk overleefde – hoe het oerwoud mijn leven redde en dat is wel een redelijk complete samenvatting van dit verhaal.

Waargebeurd, dus dan is er altijd iets meer ruimte om zulke manoeuvres te accepteren zonder al te veel kritiek. Want allememachies, Juliane Koepcke is dus ├ęcht uit een vliegtuig gevallen en heeft het overleefd, in een oerwoud, met maden in haar wonden, een zware hersenschudding en alleen wat zuurtjes voor de lekkere trek.

De rest van het boek wordt gevuld met het (vroege) (gezins)leven van Koepcke, daarmee niet alleen onderbouwing gevend voor de claims op de voorpagina, maar ook de boel aan het opvullen voor een kleine 300 pagina’s. Met daarnaast ook nog ruimte om de pers eens flink aan te spreken op brongebruik.

Het merendeel leest heel makkelijk weg, en de hoofdstukken over tijdens en na het vliegtuigongeluk zijn bijna te bizar om te bevatten. Voor zoiets mag de verdere aankleding best een beetje onevenwichtig zijn.

Toen ik uit de lucht vielen als enige een vliegtuigongeluk overleefde, Juliane Koepcke, House of Books 2012

The Chimes

I’ve been standing here forever.

Maybe just another case of bad timing, but this time I didn’t even bother finishing the book. Of course I feel slightly bad about that.

Maybe if I wouldn’t have had read Homegoing before, the difference wouldn’t have been so big. I was ready to be swept off my feet again, instead I had to push myself through unrecognisable clunks of ..probably what was supposed to have been plot.

The Chimes are a thing that turned England, or maybe the entirety of the UK, or the world – a thing that uses music to control people and make it unable for people to remember. Some manage to put their memories into objects, but it’s still hard to have a past.

So, there is a nice element to built a world upon, but why does it feel like the author was paid per word? Several times I felt like I was close to a clue, only to have the story going into another direction again. None of the characters had any pull on me, to cheer them on or dislike them. For a story littered with music related terms, the rhythm was completely off.

The Chimes, Anna Small, Sceptre 2015

The Dark Tower

95 min.

Tsja. Het had heel veel kunnen zijn, een film over de fantasy scifi van-alles boekenserie van Stephen King. In plaats daarvan probeerde het vooral even van alles aan te stippen, zonder al te veel op te letten op wat het bronmateriaal aanbood.

the dark tower movie posterDus wordt er een jongen toegevoegd, en details van zo’n zes boeken rond gesprenkeld. Hij heeft visioenen van een andere wereld met daarin een donkere toren, maar dan blijkt hij nodig voor de doelen van de slechterik, dus mag hij ook die andere wereld in. Gelukkig is er een held, de laatste van zijn soort, en daardoor emotioneel op de standaard Remi-manier.

Idris Elba (de held) doet nog wel zijn best, en je gunt hem een spin off of op zijn minst een mini-serie waarin we meer van zijn achtergrond leren. De slechterik lijkt vooral een donkere outfit genoeg motivatie te vinden om slecht te zijn. Er wordt niet genoeg gedeeld, en moeten we ons echt wel zorgen maken als de toren valt?

Men zou bezig zijn met een televisieserie voor de boeken. Geef Elba nog een keer een kans, en laten we de rest vergeten.

The Dark Tower, Sony 2017

 

 

Homegoing

The night Effia Otcher was born into the musky heat of Fanteland, a fire raged through the woods just outside her father’s compound.

A much recommended book that didn’t disappoint one bit. How often does that happen (rhetorical question)?

I often appreciate a family epistle, using people to show history through the centuries. Sometimes their surroundings are more interesting, something the characters and their impact on later generations are the elements that make the story.

Homegoing does both. It starts in Ghana, with the time when white people were just a minor element, a mark in between tribal issues. It goes on into the twenty-first century. So that means kingdoms rising and falling, slavery, wars, segregation, the American civil war and civil rights movements, fear for lives solely because they’re being lived in dark(er) skins. And during all that, people. Likeable people, confusing people, people you worry for. There’s their family mythology, but Yaa Gyasi never makes you forget that these are (just) humans.

It’s ugly, how close to the skin it plays. Colorism, racism, the superiority feelings of white people. This is reality, and there’s no judging tone; the situations speak for themselves. Doesn’t mean this story is non-stop hard to read, just another gold star for in Gyasi’s book. All in all, add me to the voice of recommendations.

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi, Alfred A. Knopf 2016

The Shore

When news of the murder breaks I’m in Matthew’s, buying chicken necks so my little sister Renee and I can go crabbing.

A collection of stories all involving The Shore, a group of islands near the coast of Virginia. Some characters move through different stories, others only get a few pages. There’s whiffs of magic for some, (post)apocalyptic disaster for others. It’s a collection of island stories, throughout time.

The Shore seems to devour the people that want more, know more, creating a bubble inside the already bubble-like surroundings. Better to keep your mouth shut, your eyes down, your dreams small.

Yet this never makes the stories bitter; the majority seem to be light and fragile like the bubble it plays in. Is this really such a bad life, or just like any of those on the mainland?

The Shore starts strongly, but could have moved the stories around more to keep the appeal up. Now there’s a too clear peak with the feeling of an okay-ish aftermath.

The Shore, Sara Taylor, Penguin Random House 2015