The Help

Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960.

There was a book before the film. And yes, this is another one for college. Also another one I prefer over The Catcher in the Rye.

It’s the segregation years of the sixties in the USA. White women are housewives, black women are housemaids. They are expected to do everything, but are rewarded by little to no appreciation and always have being fired hanging over them. The majority of them are little more than paid slaves, which is something that Skeeter also discovers when she comes up with the idea to write the stories of housemaids. It doesn’t land well with a lot of people.

In the book there’s not just Aibileen’s point of view, but also Minny’s, and Skeeter’s. With the first two the reader gets two different minds and views on the same subjects, while Skeeter is the alien out.

The Help is such an easy read that when the uglier subjects pop up and disasters happen, it almost shocks you out of the pale pastels and superficial happiness everyone seems to abide by.

I expect I have to read it for the vocabulary used, I read it to discover if it was less coddling than the film. It was.

The Help, Kathryn Stockett, Penguin Group 2009

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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

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

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

The Gemma Doyle Trilogy

A Great and Terrible Beauty
Rebel Angels
The Sweet Far Thing

This is a ton of words about a girls only boarding school in Victorian society. I think each goes over the 600 pages mark, with the last one ending in double that. No wonder I didn’t manage in the three weeks the library gave me, no matter how easy to read the novels are.

It’s not just boarding school; main character Gemma has to adjust to a new country (she moves to England from India), her family falling apart, and oh yeah – having a magical connection to another world.

So, Gemma has to juggle new friendships and enemies, magic, society’s expectations of a young woman, school, and a crush on a may-or-may-not-be bad guy.

Usually the first book out of a series, is the strongest, but I think I enjoyed the second one more this time. Everything and -one is fitted more into the right space, and the magical world(s) are developed a bit more. The third book is seemingly never ending, but gives a sobering, slightly surprising conclusion.

I’d take breathers between the three of them, or just go for Libba Bray’s other work. The Diviners, for example.

The Gemma Doyle trilogy, Libba Bray, Random House Children’s Books 2007

To Wong Foo, thanks for everything! Julie Newmar

109 min.

This had so much more heart than I expected. I was ready to prepare it to Priscilla: Queen of the desert (also drag queens), and had so often seen .gifs of this movie, that I thought it would be a superficial technicolour party. to-wong-foo-thanks-for-everything-julie-newmar poster

All that was present, but then the fish-out-of-water part happens. The three (two queens, once princess, it will be explained to you) get stranded in a very Middle American little town, and here’s where the people come in. Instead of keeping everyone involved an one dimensional cliché, the characters develop into human beings. Drats, even a majority of the bad guys get a clue!

All that while still having fun and not taking itself too seriously. Although it would have been curious to see how Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes would have done that.

To Wong Foo, thanks for everything! Julie Newmar, Universal Pictures 1995