The Collaborator

Captain Kadian takes a large swig from his glass tumbler, closes his eyes for a moment, smacks his lips and says, ‘The job’s not that hard, you see, you just go down once a week or fifteen days, and the money, the money is not bad at all.’

I really wanted to like this. Looking back a few days later, I appreciate the story and the story telling, but while reading it, it couldn’t hold my focus.

The story is about the nineties war in Kashmir, and the young man left behind to take care of the remains. Literally. Where others have left to fight (for India/against India), the headman’s son has the job of taking identity cards from dead bodies. He feels left behind, he feels like a failure, he lives in less than a ghost town.

So what was it that didn’t click with me? Maybe the endless dreariness, the weight of everything going on. It’s not like the prose is dull, uninspired or repetitive, but it does push you into the tightening corner of the main character’s despair.
Maybe I simply read it after the wrong book, maybe I just couldn’t handle the story.

The Collaborator, Mirza Waheed, Viking 2011

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

In a single year, my father left us twice.

This was work. I don’t know how I managed to read two similarly build up novels (the other one being Disappearing Moon Cafe), but this one was the tougher of the two. Maybe because the comparison material was so recent. Both left me wondering how I’d like something contemporary written by an Asian actor.

Anyway, time moves every way but chronologically in Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Keep your head with you, because there’s a lot of characters going through a lot of things. The most brutal one, probably Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ and the horrors of Tiananmen Square.

These aren’t light, bright stories. There seems to be no end to what a family can be put through, and the small, mythology-like side steps only make the difference starker. How did anyone come out alive?

It’s a novel to take in in small doses, to learn and see through another set of goggles.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien, Granta 2016

Preparation for the Next Life

She came by way of Archer, Bridgeport, Nanuet, worked off 95 in jeans and a denim jacket, carrying a plastic bag and shower shoes, a phone number, waiting beneath an underpass, the potato chips long gone.

It took me four days after finishing this before I felt like I could shape an opinion about this story. At first I was just hugely relieved that I was done.

This novel is closer to a news bulletin, a history story or a sociological essay. This isn’t entertainment or escape, it’s too brutal and slogging, the number of light and happy moments much too little.

So why would you? How many people pick a book that will darken their day considerably? As with non-fiction: to know. To remember that there is a world outside the familiar one. And in Zou’s path there can be find a little spark of motivation, while Skinner’s fall just shows the urgency of supporting veterans mentally. With my previous reads of De Gele Vogels and Terug naar normaal this month’s themes turn out to be mental health and war.

I agree with other reviews that the addition of a certain character is unnecessary, and his chapters could be skipped. They just add more violence, despair, and lack of reasons for existence.

Preparation for the Next Life, Atticus Lish, OneWorld 2014

Across The Universe

133 min.

The number of musical movies I like could be counted on one hand, but sometimes other people’s enthusiasm overrides habit. I had the day off and nowhere to go (why is everything closed on Good Friday?) so why not try this?

ATU poster sony pictures‘This’ is Across The Universe, a musical with The Beatles songs against a backdrop of the Vietnam war and protests. There’s Jude who leaves Liverpool for a better life (in the USA), there’s Lucy who learns more about the world in one summer than her years at school. Connecting factor is Max (her brother, his friend) and a selection of colourful characters that have their own message for that time and over that subject.

The soundtrack makes things very easy to like, but the main three characters add bundles of chemistry and appeal as well, making the entire package bright and enjoyable. Yes, I’m an ATU enthusiast now as well. The movie can be found on (Canadian) Netflix.

Across The Universe, Sony Pictures 2007

Eleven Days

The United States Navy SEALs came out of the Teams that served in Vietnam; they in turn came out of the Navy Seabees, the Scouts and Raiders, and the Underwater Demolition Teams used during World War II.

‘What happens to those that are left behind?’ is regularly asked when military families are the subject. In case of Eleven Days, the question applies to both sides. It’s not only the mother getting left behind by her son and his father, it’s the son being left behind by her, his father, and the possibilities of ordinary life.

Sara and Jason aren’t a conventional mother and son and their relationship is similar. That doesn’t mean that when she gets the news of him being missed, she deals with it any differently than anyone missing a loved one. This mother just has a large safety net made by neighbors, military men and her son’s godfathers to catch her.

The novel tells not only Sara’s story, but also Jason’s. His need to become a part of the American army, his silent suffering because he never knew his father, the feelings of finally belonging somewhere when he finds his place in his team. Him ending up missing is almost a side plot, this is about war and peace, wrong and right, family you’re born with and family you create yourself.

It’s not a happy story, and it takes a bit of work to get through it, but if you want to ponder these subjects, I’d tell you to give this a chance.

Eleven Days, Lea Carpenter, Alfred A. Knopf 2013

The Kills

John Jacob Ford’s morning began at 3:03 with a call from Paul Geezler, Advisor to the Division Chief, Europe, for HOSCO International.

Maybe ‘epic’ is the right word for this. With 1000 pages spanning continents, characters, genres and different kinds of media, it certainly aims high. It’s a shame about the sloppy editing from time to time, creating mistakes like missing words or typos. Yet in a way ..it adds to the thrill. The meta feeling of reading a book about a book while being part of every level of the story. Like Richard House had to put it down in a hurry, running around like the people in The Kills.

So what is the story? What are the four stories, combined in this one, huge, creation? It’s about the Middle East, intervening and building there. It’s about a multinational company that doesn’t seem to do anything else besides making sure that the right men and material arrive at the necessary spot, wherever it is. It’s about a man who sheds identities like dandruff but seems to be unsure about who he was originally. It’s about a thriller that was fictional, but gets a real life following, resulting in a mess with prostitutes and tourists. It’s about desert roads that are only being build to launder money, it’s about cats that are being killed. It’s about a lot.

As with every series, there are better and lesser books. In the first two books the connections are very clear, the backgrounds and surroundings similar. Book 3 goes completely off that grind (I still don’t know its place)  and book 4 doesn’t neatly tie up every plot line either. And yet, it’s an easy accessible world. To read feels to passively participate, even though there are very little clues to cling to. Take you time for The Kills. It might as well turn out to be an exciting adventure.

The Kills: Books 1 – 4, Richard House, Picador 2013