Homemade Love by J. California Cooper
Books rule my world and that's how I like it!
Homemade Love by J. California Cooper
L'Arabe du Futur by Riad Sattouf
It’s the late fifties in New York and Another Country begins following the ineffaceable Rufus Scott. He’s a jazz musician whose luck seems to have run out. From there the story of Another Country unfolds in three parts to uncover artists on their journey to survive life among racial unrest, misguided friendships, vacillating sexuality, societal pressures, and all while discovering a myriad of unlikable, flawed characters.
Another Country is a slow burn of a story that will suck you in and keep you hooked. It’s not a story of plot. It is a novel which is purely character development. Each character is introduced in juxtaposition with another character to stress their faults. The IMG_0956characters are placed in a setting that can only make their development thought-provoking. We as readers are like flies on the wall observing this unavoidable train wreck between “friends”. The tension is continuous. The language is clever, direct, and depicts a lot of the criticisms Baldwin had on race, sexuality, and life in the United States at that time.
Rufus’s sister Ida is Baldwin’s mouth piece. Every phrase and critic she makes throughout the novel espouses Baldwin’s beliefs on race relations at that time in the United States. “What you people don’t know ” she said, “is that life is a bitch, baby. It’s the biggest hype going. You don’t have any experience in paying your dues and it’s going to be rough on you, baby, when the deal goes down. They’re lots of back dues to be collected, and I know damn well you haven’t got a penny saved.” (Another Country, p. 343) This is what Ida says to Cass towards the end of the novel in a taxi on their way to a club on Seventh Avenue, to see a lowdown man called Steve Ellis. Steve Ellis looks down on blacks yet he’s quite happy to use black women to fulfil his desires. Ida’s rage is spewed out on these few pages. She’s confronting Cass who is the antithesis of her. Cass is white from a privileged family and tries to appear to be sympathetic to blacks when in fact she’s afraid of them. She lives in the world and doesn’t see what surrounds her – racial injustice. She is consumed in her own petty life. Most of the characters in this group are the same way. Eric is the only character that is honest, who sees the difficulties, and is honest about his role, even when he’s betraying a friend.
Richard, Cass’s husband, is a self absorbent racist, who believes he’s an intellectual and a good writer. His character is cold, calculating, and unfeeling. It’s impossible that he could ever really be a successful writer, and he refuses to admit it to himself. Vivaldo is the character that I liked the most, in spite of his terrible faults. He’s ambivalent at times about his sexuality, but his love for Ida seems to be real yet unattainable. Unfortunately, they are on opposite sides. Ida can never love a white man without taunting him and making him feel some sort of guilt that their relationship is wrong. She shares a part of that guilt as well. On the other hand, Vivaldo has a slight fetish for black women so when he says he loves Ida, his jealousy rages and he always seems to treat Ida as property or as if she’s a loose woman – very unsettling. The thing is he doesn’t even realise it. Moreover, that’s not all he doesn’t realise. He seems to make light of the difficulties that blacks have in society and refuses to see the differences.
So as you can see the novel has so many layers with so many themes and the characters are flawed just enough to learn a lot about the time period, about life in New York for artists in the late fifties, and about different backgrounds. I’d say this is by far my favorite Baldwin novel. I’m sure to read this one again in a few years. There are so many new things to discover that I’m sure I may have missed. So far, I’ve read If Beale Street Could Talk, Giovanni’s Room, Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems, and finally Another Country. I’m so happy to have had the pleasure to pick up his fantastic work and I urge you all to do so too. Baldwin was one of the great American writers that isn’t spoken enough about in schools these days and we as readers can learn so much from reading his work. As my reading continues on the road to discover more of Baldwin’s work, I’m hesitating between picking up Go Tell it on the Mountain or The Fire Next Time. So have you read any Baldwin? If so what did you think? What have you read? What would you like to pick up next? Which one should I pick up?
Booktube Live show discussion of Another Country by James Baldwin with Danielle from OneSmallPaw.
This is the fist book I’ve picked up from the Man Booker longlist. Yes I had some trouble getting a few of them while I was in the States. In fact, I only managed to pick up two, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. Since then I’ve managed to pick up a few others either in e-book form or ordering physical copies online. Happily the first two I picked up this summer have been put on the shortlist. Is that a sign that I can choose a good book by its cover? Hmmm! Probably not. Trying to acquire a few of these longlisted intriguing novels, I decided to pick up We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves first.
After reading the description on the back cover I was worried that it would be contrived and gimmicky. Some say the description is a big spoiler however I found the book was more than what was described on the back cover and anyway everybody has heard or knows the basic principle of the novel. Fowler created a story full of anxiousness, mystery, and sensitivity. We follow a dysfunctional family through the eyes of the main character, Rosemary Cooke. Or is she the main character? Rosemary is quirky, slightly guarded, highly intelligent, and honest. She is quite the reliable narrator, which we can see clearly when she second guesses some of her memories as she recounts the first few years of her life living with her “sister” Fern and brother Lowell.
The novel opens with the voice of a character who is hiding herself and her pain. A pain that she has held within herself for many years. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is Rosemary’s attempt to come to terms with all that is and has been wrong with her family since the addition of a baby chimpanzee to their family called Fern. Who would have known the consequences of this addition to the family?
Rosemary’s parents are distant and acting as they see fit or as they would think is necessary. Rosemary’s relationship with her father seems strained beyond repair. As the story continues, it becomes clear where the problems lie. The entire family has strained relationships with each other due to Fern’s appearance. It’s as if Fern became the focal point of the family and no other member of the family saw the other family members’ needs.
Fowler constructed the story in a way that you don’t get the full picture until the very last page. Starting in the middle of the story, clues about the Cooke family are strewn through the pages almost as if it were a journal. Rosemary is witty and at times brutally honest. She gives us all the information we need to know, facts included. The language Fowler uses and her writing style contribute to the novel’s emotional power. I was marvelled at Fowler’s brilliance in choosing certain vocabulary and expression. Communication and language were two of the primary themes in this novel and we as readers got to have a closer look at these themes from many angles. Communication and language are what initially separates the Cooke’s, however it is what drew them closer to Fern.
I couldn’t help it but I found myself searching for information on chimpanzees that had been raised with humans and ran across a few You Tube videos. There was something seriously unsettling, eery, and lugubrious about it all. It just didn’t seem right from the child’s point of view and certainly not from the chimpanzees’. I found this book incredibly moving and informative. I think it might have a good chance to win the Man Booker but who knows since I haven’t read any of the other shortlisted ones yet. However, this one is a must read and is very difficult to put down.
Karen Joy Fowler is known for having written sixteen books in total including The Jane Austen Book Club, which was adapted to film in 2007. Some of her other novels are Wit’s End, Sarah Canary, Sister Noon, Black Glass, The Sweetheart Season, What I Didn’t See: Stories, and many more. She broke into writing with her well-known collection of science-fiction short stories called Artificial Things in 1986. She also won the Pen/Faulkner Award 2014. She’s been lucky to have been chosen for the Man Booker shortlist, for the first year that the competition was open to authors outside of the Commonwealth, as well as being nominated for a 2014 Nebula Award. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is definitely a five-star book not to miss out on.
I read The Enchanted the second week of last month (May). It took me three days. Once I got started I felt I needed to read it quickly or I’d stop reading it and never finish. This is the story of prison, prisoners, the people who work there, and the system. It starts with a beautiful passage introducing us to this enchanted place. “This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it but I do. I see every cinder block, every hallway and doorway. I see the airways that lead to the secret stairs and the stairs that take you into stone towers and the towers that take you to windows and the windows that open to wide, clear air.” (The Enchanted p. 1) From there this mysterious prisoner recounts the ins and outs of this “enchanted” place and the people in it.
The rest of the story is recounted in a third person that remains omniscient, even though we know this prisoner is real, even though we don’t his name (until the end). He knows everything about the prisoners and the people who work there. This is not really plausible but the reigning of magical realism scattered throughout the story allows for this. By page 60 I was already a bit detached from the story because of this. It didn’t help either that some of the main characters didn’t have names. They were referred to as the Lady, the Priest, and the Warden. This made me detached from them.
I always seem to have a problem with magical realism in novels when its purpose is not defined correctly in the story. The problem with the magical realism in this one is that it seems to be nothing more than a device to soften the horrors of the story. Reading about violence and sexual abuse for 233 pages was difficult for me. It didn’t get better as it went along. It got worse. The unfolding of the traumatic backgrounds of the different characters reinforced the points they have in common. There seemed to be no optimism or light at the end of the tunnel anywhere. Denfeld obviously had an agenda when she wrote this novel and I felt slightly manipulated while reading it. She used her personal experience to give realism to the story and that coupled with excellent prose adds a certain strength to the novel. Unfortunately, I’m sure I wouldn’t have picked this book up if I would have known what it was really about. It was very heavy and there were passages that were difficult for me to read. The abuse and violence seemed to be unfaltering. However the writing is very astute and to the point. It is one of the strongest points about the book.
Rene Denfeld is a death penalty investigator, so she deals with death row clients as well as working with at-risk adolescents. She has written a few other non-fiction books and articles in magazines. She will most likely get much recognition for this novel because of the importance of the subject. The Enchanted is fiction and deals with prison life differently than what is normally expected for this kind of work. Her novel is already being hailed as possibly the best novel of 2014. So, if you’ve read The Enchanted comment below and tell me what you thought about it? Do you think it’s the best novel of 2014? Did you like the ending?
The Supreme's at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat is a sassy and hilarious story about 3 African-American ladies dealing with the trials and tribulations of life. Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean each narrate their story or the other's through the book. The novel spans from about 1950s to maybe even today, I think. I'm not positive but I think I remember reading about someone reaching for a phone in their purse, which led me to believe that. The narrator is most of the time Odette but changes to either Clarice or Barbara Jean when the details of their lives or how they're feeling is more personnel. Frankly I wasn't thrilled with the shift in voice. It didn't flow and sometimes was a little confusing. It made me concentrate primarily on the plot as a whole more than on each character. The rhythm of the novel was fairly fast past and made me laugh out loud continuously. That was refreshing. Edward Kesley Moore was obviously an African-American woman in another life because the voices of these three women, as the other female characters in the novel were spot on. There are some really funny quotes from this book and I suggest you check them out on here. In the end I gave this book 3 stars because I liked it but I can't say I really liked it. Actually I would have given it 3,5 stars. Come on Goodreads give us that blasted half star option, especially since books can be rated overall 3,75 stars. Really? The problems I had with it are stated above but also some parts were predictable and the novel didn't contain anything particularly different concerning the plot. I suggest you pick it up if you want a light and fast read. It would definitely make a great movie. I can see Octavia Butler playing the role of Odette.
Chimamanda! Chimamanda! Did I say Chimamanda! Ah Americanah swept me off my feet and has had medeep in reflection for the past 3 weeks. That hasn’t happened to me in quite some time after finishing a book. I found myself rereading passages after I’d finished it. I couldn’t get enough.
Americanah is Adichie’s third successful novel. It’s the story of Ifemelu and Obinze who are Nigerian and they meet and fall in love instantly at school. It’s the story of their love, their growth, and their immigration stories. The central character of the novel is Ifemelu who is young opinionated and intelligent. We follow her from Nigeria where she leaves the love of her life, Obinze, and her parents to immigrate to America and live with her Aunt Uju and cousin Dike. There the ups and downs and harsh reality of life in America, for immigrants, shape the story as well as Ifemelu’s character. She develops with each new situation and new character she meets. She slowly shapes into a woman with each relationship she has. For with each boyfriend comes new lessons to learn. It was wonderful to watch her grow and make mistakes.
Readers may feel that Ifemelu and Obinze’s love story is non-existent, however their love story is non-conventional but oh so passionate and runs deep. Adichie constructs the novel to contain themes that are pertinent and that have not as yet been dealt with in such an outright way. Race, immigration, natural hair, and blogging are the central themes that drive the story. You’re probably thinking race and that you know what she’s going to say. Wrong! You don’t and frankly you’ll be a little surprised at times, happily surprised and maybe a little uncomfortable. Adichie deals thoroughly with all the different sides to race. You get the points of view of the Africans, the African immigrants (Americanahs), the African-Americans, the white Americans, and other races. Some may not appreciate her African-American view and feel as if she’s slighting us but I had to admit that I know African-Americans that I’ve heard saying a lot of the things she writes in the book. Adichie’s views may at times come off as semi-rants but the context in which she writes them are fitting.
The novel was written in third person, which is lively and amiable, just like a good friend accompanying you throughout the 477 pages. At times the third person was Ifemelu speaking and Obinze but most of the time I felt it was Adichie expressing her personnel opinions. All in all, I loved that because those passages were filled with the most stimulating and thought-provoking lines. To aid in telling this story Adichie uses blog entries which Ifemelu writes while in the United States to talk about race. Through these strategically placed blog entries Adichie examines all the uncomfortable angles around the subject of race. At times they made me laugh aloud, smile, or just say a subtle yes. I hadn’t thought so much about race from an African’s point of view, much less an African’s view of race in the United States.
Immigration was the next ubiquitous theme. The heart-rendering immigration stories of Ifemelu in the United States and Obinze in England paralleling each other depicted the difficulties they were going through, while showing their growth as people – lack of money, being homesick, looking for jobs, being illegal, dealing with unsavoury characters, and constantly searching and not finding. It was funny that through all the difficulty of immigration they both had, they always seemed to turn to reading or books for comfort, which I found astounding. The books mentioned in Americanah are A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipul, The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance – Barack Obama. Each book mentioned has ideas relevant to the scenes where they are mentioned in Americanah. Adichie is trying to reinforce her ideas through the recurring accepted ideas of an old British classic, a story about an Indian living in Central Africa, a highly respected classical African work, and a novel written by an African-American president who had an African father. I love the way The Heart of a Matter is mentioned in the beginning by Obinze’s mother and how things come full circle at the end when Ifemelu says how much she likes The Heart of a Matter and how much the story means to her.
Amongst these two real subjects, natural hair is wedged in throughout the story here and there. The novel opens with Ifemelu in a salon getting her hair braided. This was a symbol of many things – African-American women being a slave to their hair and trying to tame it at all costs to fit into American society, the workplace, etc., It’s also a place where one is meant to open up and exchange stories about themselves and often be judged, and a place which has a lot of cultural value in the African-American community for getting women together and getting men together. The hair salon is like a meeting of cultural similarities for Africans and African-Americans. We see Ifemelu struggle with accepting her hair when she is forced to stop relaxing it because her hair is falling out. So she has her hair cut to a short afro. She doesn’t accept her short kinky hair at all so she calls in sick two days because she’s apprehensive about the way she will be perceived. As the story went on, it seemed as if Ifememlu got more radical as her her afro grew. Is natural hair political? Is it just hair? Those are two questions that are debated incessantly these days as the the natural hair movement spreads in the African-American community. Acceptance of one’s appearance, actions, and ideas is one of the first steps to accepting and knowing one’s self. This Ifemelu and Obinze both learned the long and hard way.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977. She has a successful list of works starting with Purple Hibiscus which was her first novel written in 2003 and followed by Half of a Yellow Sun in 2006, which is set during the Biafran War. The Thing Around Your Neck was a short story collection written in 2009. “My writing comes from melancholy, from rage, from curiosity, from hope.” (quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie during a lecture at Princeton University, 20 October 2010 – The Writer as Two Selves: Reflections on the Private Act of Writing and the Public Act of Citizenship) That is very clear in her writing. That’s what makes it sincere and palpable. I urge you all to give Americanah a try and to check out the video of Adichie speaking about the dangers of the single story on TEDTalks. Brilliant!
I bought this tiny book of Gwendolyn Brooks’ poems about a year and a half ago. I picked it up and read two orthree poems and put it down. Why? I have no unearthly idea! Insanity! What was I thinking?! So when I was rummaging through the books on my shelves looking for something different to read for Black History month, I fell immediately on The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks and a eureka came out on contact.
I read the entire book of poems in about three hours. I surely could have read it faster but I really wanted to soak up the rich language and ideas conveyed in them. I remember having heard Maya Angelou recite We Real Cool when I was a teenager. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the pleasure of studying Brooks’ poems in high school or at university. While reading I wondered why that could have been. How could such lyrical, moving, opulent, and culturally informative poetry be in essence left to the side?
Brooks’ poems speak about racism and African-American life. She mainly wrote about what surrounded her. She said, ”If you wanted a poem, you only had to look out of a window. There was material always, walking or running, fighting or screaming or singing.” (The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, p. xvii) Brooks wrote about 75 published poems by the time she turned sixteen years old. So she never stopped trying to perfect her craft as a poet there after, while in turn writing poetry that reflected the times. With tremendous passion, she was ingenious in writing her poetry in all types styles – blues, sonnets, jazz, ballads, free verse, and even enjambed like in her ever famous poem We Real Cool.
We Real Cool
The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Entering the world of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was like going for a ride on that extremely high and swirling roller coaster ride at a theme park. As the roller coaster bumps, grinds, and plunges us to the depth of fear, we recuperate while wanting more. That’s the same intensity I felt while reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
So who is this Oscar character? Well he is a likeable, naive, obese, Latino nerd who’s looking for the purist love out there. He just wants to be loved and to love someone else. His exterior doesn’t help find it in the beginning of the story, but true love can’t be someone loving you for your body and good looks only, right? This is starting to sound like a fairytale, but it isn’t. It ‘s almost reality. Oscar spend his time playing video games, reading sic-fi and fantasy novels and writing them. It’s almost as if he delves into fantasy and sic-fi to forget his own reality. It’s like a sanctuary.
The novel centers mainly around Oscar, his sister and mother. These three characters are developed from adolescence to adulthood and this is an astounding character development because usually as readers we aren’t allowed to see so many characters develop to such a degree. In doing so, the reader is catapulted into the complex harsh reality of Oscar’s family. I say reality because the story is structured in that way. In spite of the novel being fiction, Diaz has the story be recounted by several narrators with one of the narrator’s telling the majority of the story. Not only that but the usage of footnotes through the story gives it an overall look of a non-fiction book. These footnotes give us a lot on the Dominican Republic history and is sometimes just funny. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is very similar to having sneaked a peak into someone’s diary. This may also explain the heavy usage of Spanish throughout the novel. This technique may put off the readers that aren’t Spanish speakers because understanding some scenes of the book are difficult if you don’t speak Spanish. However, for me personally not speaking Spanish, it didn’t bother me one bit. I just went with the flow. The Spanish parts just made me realise I was no longer in my world but in Oscar’s and that I was just going to have to contend with it. Everything in his world was colourful, intense, and genuine.
Besides the characters of Beli, Oscar’s mother and Lola, his sister, there are an array of other characters who revolve around them that give the story movement and layers. The settings added to this as well. We switch between New Jersey and the Dominican Republic and the juxtaposition of the two provides the reader with many cultural differences. The Dominican Republic is passionate, free, colourful, and dangerous. New Jersey is contained, regulated, almost predictable. The men in this book are detestable and either commit violent acts and/or treat women disrespectfully. Some may even say that Diaz’s male characters are mere stereotypes. I think these are men that represent maybe men from Diaz’s life or people he may have had contact with throughout his life. If he made them all nice he would have been accused of making unrealistic male characters for such a setting.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has a variety of themes and levels to it that it’s hard to believe it only has 335 pages. Some of the themes running through the novel are love, racism, superstition, sex, and foreignness among others, all wrapped up with a hint of magical realism. It’s almost a perfect book. Diaz took lots of risk structuring the book the way he did. It could have been a disaster adding so many different storytelling elements together but it was the perfect combination. So, if you’re looking for something different to read, a new sort of American novel, pick up The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It’s a worthwhile reading experience, will make you think about many things, and ill stay with you for a while. Moreover, Junot Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in 2008.
This is a short story that Zadie Smith wrote and had published in The New Yorker. This is the short story more elaborated but it is being marketed as a small book. Actually it’s a short story or novella. I’m not so sure I agree with that, but it’s a good thing that as readers we are given a choice on whether we want to pick up the book (which is cute) or get the electronic version. Nevertheless I enjoyed it and wished it was longer.
The Embassy of Cambodia is the story of Fatou a live-in maid and baby-sitter that is working for a wealthy Arab family living in Willesden, which is a borough of Brent in North West London. They have taken her passport so she isn’t really free. Every afternoon Fatou steals free passes from a drawer in the hallway (which no one notices) to go to the Olympic sized swimming pool in town, where she passes the Cambodian Embassy. There she swims laps and observes the people around her. The book is only 69 pages and composed of 21 chapters, which are labeled 0-1, 0-2, etc. Each chapter is a look into Fatou’s life and a critique of society. Smith’s writing is minimalist but brilliant. She manages to tell this story with very few words and the meaning somehow shines through. That’s the genius of Smith’s writing. Smith touches on many themes such as religion, relationships between men and women, the plight of modern-day slaves, social class, illegal immigrants, etc. I’m thrilled to have picked this one up but as it was so short I was left wanting to know more about Fatou. Henceforth the problem I have with reading short stories. I recommend this one to lovers of Zadie Smith. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of the Smith experience, I suggest On Beauty since it is a story with a more typical story line, although I don’t think it’s one of her best works. As a whole, On Beauty is more accessible. The Embassy of Cambodia can be acquired gratuitously on the internet. I decided to pick it up because Zadie Smith is becoming one of my favourite authors and I wanted the physical book. So what about you? Are you a fan of Zadie Smith? If so what have you read from her that you liked? I’m due to read NW, hopefully before the end of the year.
Kindred takes place in 1976 and in 1815. Dana a young African-American woman
periodically experiences dizziness and black outs which enable her to go back in time to 1815. The experience of going back to the slave days is shocking and terrible for her in the beginning. She is extremely distressed since she has no idea how this happens. Divided between the fear of having to live life as a slave and helping Rufus, who she saves from drowning on her first trip, she is driven down a perilous journey of truth about her family and herself that will change her and her husband Kevin forever.
Kindred reads as a historical fiction novel with a twist of science-fictional time traveling. I never thought these two could work so well in a novel but they do. The novel is written in a simple style, and reads very quickly. However, Butler delves deeply into themes like race, violence, family, and home in a manner that is quite intense . In addition, she explores the theme of power and how it can become a corrupt tool of influence and cruel manipulation.
The first quarter of the book we are trying to understand like Dana, how and why this is happening. Unfortunately, that is never really addressed, so quickly what will happen to Dana and how she relates to all the different people on the plantation becomes the primary plot of the novel. Things get messier when Kevin, her white husband grabs on to her and winds up back in slavery times with her. The awkwardness of the situation is frightening. There Butler makes Dana and Kevin face this difficulty head on like a slap in the face. The mounting tension and horrific violence from whippings, rapes, hangings, and dog attacks, Butler is forcing the reader to see the reality of the time period along with Dana. Many times I kept putting myself in Dana’s shoes and wondering how I’d react.
Dana was a trooper in the beginning trying to think of everything and to prepare for things, but what she didn’t realise is that she fell slowly but surely into the role of a sort of modern-day Mamie. She is bound to the past not only physically but mentally since she seems unable to break the link between herself and Rufus. We see Rufus grow from and innocent boy into an unsparing, conniving man. A man who is meant to run a plantation although he does it through being cruel and by making people fear him. Dana finally grows at the end with much difficulty and mostly because she feels she understands what she sees happening in 1815 more than she really does. The trap is there. The psychological manipulation that Rufus uses on her his criminal.
If you haven’t read this story you should definitely check it out. Octavia E. Butler really knew how to turn a story and this one has many twists and turns that will make every reader think. Butler began writing at 10 and writing science-fiction at 12. Her love for writing came out of her boredom for she was an only child. It was the science-fiction movie Devil Girl from Mars which made her attempt to write science-fiction. She was quoted as saying she knew she could write a better story and that she did. Happily for us, Butler overcame dyslexia and went on to write many novels and short stories, such as Fledgling, Lilith’s Brood, and Parable Seed. She won the Hugo Award twice, once in 1984 for best short story with Speech Sounds and in 1985 for best novelette with Bloodchild. She also won the Nebula award twice for best novel, once for best short story, and best novelette. In 2010, she was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Does it sound like I’m pushing Butler? Yes, I am. Well the next Butler book I’ll be picking up will be Fledgling. I’m dying to see how she wrote about vampires and I’m not that keen on vampire stories either. To be continued…..
I was really excited when this novel wound up on the final list of books we would be reading this school year with my book club. It’s been on my TBR for ages… I can say I’m a real fan of John Fowles having read and loved both The Magus and The Collector. I should have known that The French Lieutenant’s Woman would challenge me immensely. It wasn’t at all what I expected, however I liked and hated it at the same time. Those 480 pages went by a lot slower last week than I had expected. I guess I can congratulate myself for finishing it in five days; for without the book club I may have taken a lot longer to finish it or worse not finished it at all. The first half of the book was slow, but from about page 240 on something changed in the writing and I was hooked.
The story is complex and I’m not really sure what to tell you because I could say something that will either steer you away from it or maybe make you feel as if I’m giving you spoilers. In a nutshell, the main characters are Sarah Woodruff and Charles Smithson. Sarah, the French lieutenant’s woman, is a seemingly depressed character mourning a relationship that could have been. She spends her days walking along the streets of Lyme Regis and staring out to sea. She is an utter mystery to the end. To the citizens of Lyme Regis she is a disgraced woman, a blemish on their tight-knit small town. Charles, however, becomes attracted to her difference and falls in love with Sarah, while he’s engaged to the young, pretty, naive Ernestia, while defying the accepted customs and beliefs of Victorian society in 1867.
John Fowles wrote The French Lieutenant’s Woman in 1969. It is a very experimental work because it mixes a Victorian love story, along with an intricate critique of Victorian and modern society. What I mean is that John Fowles presence is right there with you while you’re reading the story. This aspect can be perceived as annoying or engaging. At times you’ll want to tell him to shut the hell up and go away. The consensus in my book club was that it was annoying and didn’t allow them to enjoy the story the way they would have liked. I too felt this but some way some how midway through the book I started to enjoy the concept. I accepted it as if John Fowles accompanied me, holding my hand through the second half of the book, showing me and informing me on life in Victorian times and critiquing modern-day simultaneously. I had begun to accept the experiment. The second half I loved so much I had trouble putting it down. At times, there were footnotes that intrigued me, but also that made me smile.
The characters were all perfect and served the overall purpose for critiquing Victorian life. Even though the story revolved around Sarah and Charles there were a myriad of other important secondary characters that make the novel great. I would say the character of Charles is surrounded by many women considering he was motherless. The only things he has left are his faith in science, his Victorian upper class background and education(which he has difficulty shaking), and his uncle who will hopefully leave him a healthy inheritance.
As for the film of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, released in 1981, screenplay written by Harold Pinter, I haven’t seen it yet but probably will try to since I heard only good things about it. Starring Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep, how can I pass on those two. If this novel seems like a big hunk of hefty for you but you’d still like to try a novel from Fowles, I’d recommend The Collector as a good place to start. It was his first published work in 1963, even though he’d already started writing The Magus first. Fowles was interested and influenced by existentialist writers like Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre and this aspect is one of the common themes that runs through his novels. Fowles was an English teacher for most of his adult life. He taught English in France at the University of Poitiers and in Greece on the Peloponnesian island of Spetsai. This is where he met his first wife Elizabeth Christy. His experiences in Greece set the scene for his third successfully published novel called The Magus in 1966. Oddly enough his second wife was called Sarah and he lived the rest of his life primarily in Lyme Regis. He died in November 2005.
I happened upon these graphic novels while waiting in line to pay for my daughter’s books for school. I was enticed by the big orange band stretched across this big, beautiful graphic novel advertising the movie release. Yes the movie release was apparently the 17th of July and it slipped right passed me. I don’t remember hearing one word about it nor did I see that it was playing in my local movie theatre, which is notorious for sometimes not showing movies that are being shown everywhere else. The artwork and a story of a young woman from the Ivory Coast seemed to be the perfect end to my summer reading. I read my big orange book in a couple of hours and then went to my local comic shop to procure the rest. It was there that I realized I was in possession of books 1 and 2 that had been combined in the movie version. I quickly purchased book 3 and now can’t wait to get my hands on books 4, 5, and 6.
Aya is of course the main character and the story centers around her neighbourhood in Yopougon and around her family and friends. I’m reading it in French and love the way it’s written. There are all the expressions and customs wrapped up in these stories. The main themes in these books are family and community, advancement of women in African society, and infidelity and dishonesty. The stories are touching, funny, and a real critic of African society. I can smell the spices and feel the warmth of Africa in theses books. At times I can’t help laughing out loud or shaking my head at what characters say. Another interesting aspect of these graphic novels are the last few pages. There are recipes and little tidbits about African culture, along with a mini glossary of some of the African expressions and words used in the story.
Aya is intelligent and helpful to her friends and family, especially when they are in trouble. As readers we hope that something good will happen to Aya, but by the end of book 3 I’m no longer sure. I hope I’m wrong about that. So I returned on Saturday to get books 4, 5, and 6 and unfortunately I had to order them. Ahhhh! The suspense continues…..Lucky for me I won’t have to wait too long. I should be able to have them on Thursday. If you’re looking for a graphic novel that isn’t about superheroes or typical comics, you should give Aya de Yopougon a try. It’s sure to suck you in. So what’s the name of the last graphic novel you’ve read? Why do you like or dislike reading graphic novels?
Marguerite Abouet was born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast in 1971. She is a writer and is best known for her graphic novel series Aya de Yopougon or Aya of Yop City. At 12 years old Abouet and her younger brother moved to Paris with their great-uncle. There she furthered her studies and eventually became a legal assistant. Aya is her first successful graphic novel in collaboration with her husband Clément Oubrerie who illustrated it. This was his first illustrative job in graphic novels. Abouet and Oubrerie won the Angoulême International Comics Festival prize for First Comic Book in 2006. Abouet was inspired to write Aya after reading Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. She wanted to depict Africa in all of its realism, not just in the common themes of poverty and starvation. Abouet has published another series called Akissi for younger children. Akissi is based on Marguerite Abouet’s childhood memories living in Abidjan. There are four books in the series. It was apparently translated into British English with Flying Eye Books publishing company. The first book of the series is called Feline Invasion or Attaque de Chats in French. The link below shows a clip of the animated film in French of Aya. Sorry that I couldn’t find it in English, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy seeing what it’s like all the same.
The old saying is that you never know what someone else is going through or living until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes and frankly it’s impossible. However, John Howard Griffin turned his skin black and tried to live as a black man for six weeks while travelling through the Deep South in 1959. He persisted to take a medication which is normally prescribed to patients suffering from vitiligo, a disease where white spots appear on the body and the face, in conjunction with exposure to ultra-violet rays to darken his skin. This process would take from six weeks to three months but since he wanted the process to be accelerated so that he could get on to his project, the doses were augmented so that he could start on his journey as a black man.
Now this is actually my second reading of this book. I’d forgotten how powerful it is, not to mention I was only seventeen the first time I read it and really can’t remember what I thought of it. I don’t usually have the habit of rereading books, but I think I may have to change that. You do see things differently reading books at different ages.
Black Like Me really does explore the life of a black man, but directly through the eyes of a white man. It’s like being a fly on the wall. Griffin went through the Deep South in 1959, riding buses, hitchhiking, trying to find jobs, and meeting blacks and whites of all classes. The book is recounted in journal entries since this is what he used as a way to record everything he’d seen and felt for the day. So, it is like we have a sneak peek into his travels.
One main positive point of Black Like Me is that it is particularly well written and Griffin had an astute sense of analysis about the people he met along the journey, about some the things they said and even their body language and facial expressions. He interpreted situations perfectly. In fact, there were moments of high suspense where we as the reader feared for him. All in all his experience helped him to tell the story of his journey. Now I’m sure some African-Americans will have a problem accepting Black Like Me because it’s a white man telling it, so its authenticity is on the line and he was white so he couldn’t really know what black people were going through. I get that, but I have to disagree, in this case. Griffin approached this whole idea like a journalist but with the skin he was in he would have had to be blind not to feel some of the things blacks were feeling and going through at the time, for everyone that looked at him treated him like he was black. He makes that point quite clear in the novel when he talks about the hard racist stares and how the blackness of the skin is what seems to be despised and why the black man was treated as inferior. He reflects on this and explains how illogical this way of thinking is and the more and more that he continues on his journey the more that he feels like a shadow. ”I have held no brief for the Negro. I have looked diligently for all aspects of “inferiority” among them and I cannot find them. All the cherished-begging epithets applied to the Negro race, and widely accepted as truth even by men of good will, simply prove untrue when one lives among them. This, of course, excludes the trash element, which is the same everywhere and is no more evident among Negroes than whites. When all the talk, all the propaganda has been cut away, the criterion is nothing but the color of skin. My experience proved that. They judged me by no other quality. My skin was dark. That was sufficient reason for them to deny me those rights and freedoms without which life loses its significance and becomes a matter of little more than animal survival. I searched for some other answer and found none. I had spent a day without food and water for no other reason than that my skin was black.“(Black Like Me, p.115)
In essence, I believe this book was written for the white man. Most people believed black people were poorly educated and probably dismissed their writings and absolutely didn’t believe that they were disenfranchised. Whereas Black Like Me was like a ripple in the river that couldn’t be ignored, I remember hearing my Uncle Lawrence talk to me about this book when I was young, as well as Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Dick Gregory, W.E.B DuBois, and others. He felt that Black Like Me was an accurate account and felt that every American should read it. He used to say, “It happened, is still happening in some places, and we should talk about it.”
As I was reading Black Like Me this second time, I was thinking about my mother and my Uncle Lawrence and wondering how in the world did they survive all of that. I wondered deep down inside if I would have been as strong and combative as they were. I felt this especially at the moments in the book that made me feel sick to my stomach and very fearful. This just reinforces that history must be told in its entirety and truthfully. We can’t afford to leave anything out. Our youth and future generations are depending on our capacity to be thorough, but most of all honest. Everybody needs to know where they’ve come from, how they’ve acquired what they have today, and what they hope for the future.