Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Review: Good Bones by Margaret Atwood

Release year: 1992
Author links: Goodreads - Website
Publisher: Virago
Pages: 160
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

These wise and witty writings home in on Shakespeare, tree stumps, ecological disasters, bodies (male and female), and theology, amongst other matters. We hear Gertrude's version of what really happened in Hamlet; an ugly sister and a wicked stepmother put in a good word for themselves,and a reincarnated bat explains how Bram Stoker got Dracula hopelessly wrong. Good Bones is pure distilled Atwood - deliciously strong and bittersweet.





What caught my attention in the library was that wonderful cover! That women looks like a badass and I LOVE IT. I have been meaning to read something by Margaret Atwood for such a long time, and since I was in the lookout for short books and collections of short stories, it didn't take me long to decide that this is a title that needs to leave the library with me. I guess I can could pat myself in the back for an awesome decision, because once I started reading this one, I couldn't put it down and ended up reading the whole thing on one sitting.

Good Bones consists of fairly short stories that discuss everything from feminism and fairy tales to Shakespeare and religion. Atwood's prose is interesting and Good Bones did exactly what I hoped it would be - ignite an interest in reading more Margaret Atwood. It also further ignited my interest in reading short stories. 

Though some of the stories are only four pages in length, they leave an impression. Actually, I think it was the more shorter stories in general that I enjoyed more than the longer ones. There is a story that features Gertrude's version of what happened in Hamlet that I really enjoyed, as well as one that adds a little twist to the Little Red Hen story that is just absolutely brilliant!

Though this one was an interesting and enjoyable book to read on one sitting, now that I look back I kind of hope that I would have taken a little more time with it to fully digest these stories. One day I will definitely borrow this again from the library so I can reread the stories that left the biggest impression on me.

I will definitely be curious to continue this new reading journey with Margaret Atwood. If you have any suggestions for what I should read next, please let me know!





Saturday, April 23, 2016

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon - Opening Meme


1. What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

I am reading at Turku, Finland. Wouldn't say that it is really one of the finest parts of this world, but oh well, it will do for a few more weeks until I get to go home for the summer.

2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Maybe Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel. I read her Fun Home for a class this spring and loved it, so I am excited to see how I feel about Are You My Mother? which focuses on her history and relationship with her mother.

3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?

I am making grilled cheese for dinner today, so that!

4. Tell us a little something about yourself!

I LOVE HOCKEY! (that was the first thing that popped into my mind at the moment because I am currently working on a project for my queer mediation class about homosocial environments and producing queer texts about hockey players (fan fiction, youtube videos, etc.)

5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what's one thing you'll do differently today?

RELAX! Take a break if you have to!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Book Review: Revenge by Yõko Ogawa

Release date: January 31, 2013 (first published in 1998)
Author links: Goodreads
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Pages: 162
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

A woman goes into a bakery to buy a strawberry cream tart. The place is immaculate but there is no one serving so she waits. Another customer comes in. The woman tells the new arrival that she is buying her son a treat for his birthday. Every year she buys him his favourite cake; even though he died in an accident when he was six years old. 

From this beginning Yoko Ogawa weaves a dark and beautiful narrative that pulls together a seemingly disconnected cast of characters. In the tradition of classical Japanese poetic collections, the stories in Revenge are linked through recurring images and motifs, as each story follows on from the one before while simultaneously introducing new characters and themes. Filled with breathtaking images, Ogawa provides us with a slice of life that is resplendent in its chaos, enthralling in its passion and chilling in its cruelty.




What a strange, awesome little book this was. I picked this one up from the library just because it sounded interesting and I was looking for more short stories to read. I didn't really have any expectations towards it, which I think is a good thing. On the other hand, I don't think I ever could have expected quite something like this.

Yõko Ogawa's Revenge begins with a woman who goes to a bakery to buy a strawberry cream tart for her sons birthday. What is soon revealed is that this son actually died in a tragic accident when he was six years old. A simple trip to a bakery turns into something much more complex and as the book processes, the short stories start to make connections between each other - we see new sides to situations and characters and through the use of linking images, motifs and themes, the stories become individual parts of a much larger story. 

The way these stories are weaved together is done brilliantly! It is not done too obviously, but rather allows the reader to look for the connections and to establish the links between the themes, characters and so on. Ogawa's prose is beautiful and subtle, which makes some of the shocking moments REALLY shocking. Ogawa does not aim for spectacle, but rather makes the shocking moments so shocking because of their simplicity and subtlety. There are moments of beauty here, but also moments that were extremely upsetting and uncomfortable. To describe something so tragic or violent so beautifully takes talent. 

I went into this after reading The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, and while both are collections of short stories, the similarities pretty much end there. I loved both, but in very different ways. With Revenge, I marveled at Ogawa's craft first and foremost, while at the same time I fell in love with the stories and their occasional absurdity. The moment I finished with this one I instantly started looking for Ogawa's other work, because I definitely want to read more from her to see if her other work is as awesome and effective as this one.

Revenge definitely left a positive impression on me and made me want to look for more short story collections to read. I also love the fact that it originates from a culture very different from mine, which added a whole new element to the enjoyment of its stories.



Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday (#59) - Ten Books That Will Make You Laugh (or at least chuckle)


For more information on Top Ten Tuesday click here


I have been looking forward to doing this list because funny books ARE THE BEST and can sometimes help you in switching your mood completely. For some reason funny books also are the ones I usually end up rereading. Please leave me links to your lists in the comments so I can add more funny books to my TBR.


1. The Royal Wedding (The Princess Diaries #11) by Meg Cabot - Though I think all of the Princess Diaries books are hilarious, this newest addition to the series made me laugh out loud SEVERAL TIMES. I loved reading about grown up Mia and her adventures and life with Michael.


2. Yes Please by Amy Poehler - Amy Poehler is pretty much my QUEEN and this book is gold! I especially love the segments dedicated to SNL and Parks and Recreation memories. DAMN, I MISS PARKS SO MUCH!

3. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding - Kind of an obvious one, but oh well... I was probably way too young the first time I read this and never really got it, but reading it in "adult age" cracked me up in a whole new ways. 

4. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler - It has been YEARS since I read this one, but I remember the main character being really sassy and funny and just enjoyable to read about. 

5. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell - This book was like watching one of my favorite romantic comedies. The characters are so interesting and funny and well-developed and Rainbow's writing is just so pleasurable to read. I definitely need to reread this one soon!


6. Losing It by Cora Carmack - This might not be a laugh-out-loud kind of book, but I remember being very entertained by this one. It was also nice to read a more humorous NA title since most new adult is very angsty and tragic.

7. Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy - I HAVE SO MANY FEELS WHEN IT COMES TO THIS BOOK! Though I loved the romance aspects in this one, I think it also has a lot of funny parts that cracked me up. 

8. When Parents Text: So Much Said...So Little Understood by Lauren Kaelin and Sophia Fraioli - This is one of those funny little coffee table books that is fun to read out loud in company. There are some extremely funny text exchanges here that I instantly had to share with my friends. Definitely worth a browse through if you get a chance for it.

9. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel - Though this one deals with quite serious issues, it also manages to be extremely funny. I read this for my queer representation class and really enjoyed discussing its humorous elements in class. If you are interested in getting into graphic novels, this one could be a good start!

10. Side Effects by Woody Allen - I was kind of hesitant about including this here because Woody Allen is such a complicated public figure. I was introduced to Allen's writing and films and fell in love with them BEFORE I knew nothing about his personal life (I was quite young and it was a time when we didn't yet google everything). When it comes to cinema and comedy, Allen is an icon and I think in this situation I have just decided to separate the personal life and the artistic product (I honestly know very little about his personal life and I am not really even interested... it is his films that I care about). Allen's short stories are much like his films - a little absurd, not necessarily laugh-out-loud, but funny in their own Woody Allen-ian way. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon


Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon is almost here and I bet it needs no introductions. I wasn't quite sure whether I would be able to participate, but since it seems like my uni schedule has opened up a little bit, I hope that I have at least a little bit time to participate in all of the fun. I have a bunch of short books from the library on loan, and I think those would make wonderful readathon reads.

Though I don't want to set myself a strict TBR pile for the 24 hours, here is a list of the books that I would like to pick from:

Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto (177 pgs)
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams (111 pgs)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (128 pgs)
Murder in the Dark by Margaret Atwood (110 pgs)
The Third Man by Graham Greene (157 pgs)
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver (134 pgs)
The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb (200 pgs)
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel (290 pgs)
Pride and Prejudice: The Graphic Novel by Laurence Sach and Rajesh Nagulakonda (104 pgs)

In addition to reading, I hope to take part in at least some of the challenges, because year after year those are always good fun and a nice break from the reading.

Are you participating in the readathon? What are you planning to read?


Midmonth Obsessions (#7) - April 2016


This is a little bit late (once again), but this time around I actually have a good reason for it. I was at my aunt's place at Tampere last week (a city about 2 hours north from where I live) and didn't have my laptop with me, so I wasn't able to post this until now. I turned 25 last Thursday (yay me!) and had a really nice week at my aunt's place! 

I have only three weeks left here in the South of Finland and then I am traveling home for summer holiday. I CAN'T WAIT! I haven't seen my best friend (aka our dog) for almost five months and I miss her like crazy, so I am really looking forward to seeing her again.

But now, let's have a look at some of my obsessions from the last month...

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries


After seeing several people raving about this show on Twitter, I decided to give it a go. It has played in Finnish TV too, and my mom used to watch it, but I never gave a time of the day for it back then. After noticing it was on Netflix, I decided to take the plunge and OH. MY. GOD. 

THIS FREAKING SHOW. 
SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO GOOD.

I love Phryne, her feminism, her wit and her sense of fashion. And Jack, oh Jack... So dreamy and perfect. The chemistry between Jack and Phryne is INSANE and managed to give me all sorts of fangirl feels. Season 4 NEEDS TO HAPPEN SOON! 

Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame


During my visit to Tampere, I visited the Finnish Hockey Fall of Fame, one of the six museums in the world dedicated to the glorious sport that is ice hockey. The museum space itself isn't very large, but for a hockey fan like me, THERE IS SO MUCH TO SEE from old jerseys to a collection of hockey cards and goalie masks. The jewels of the collection are the Finnish Championship Trophy (in the photo behind me) and the trophies from the World Championship Victories in 1995 and 2011. I of course took time to spot mentions of all of my favorite players from my hometown team. I bought a few posters with me as a souvenir and can't wait to hang them on my walls.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 2


I loved the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, so I was obviously very excited for season 2. I have about three episodes of the second season yet to watch, but I must say that in general I have enjoyed it. I acknowledge that it is problematic at points, but as a complete product, I can't help but to enjoy it. Titus is still my favorite character - so damn funny and perfectly cast and acted! I also love all of the Robert Durst/The Jinx references.

Working on my Queer Archive


As a final project for my Queerly Mediated class we need to put together some sort of Queer Archive. Since I love sitcoms and have been doing research on them, I thought I would do mine about the evolution of queer representations in American situation comedies. I have been watching a lot of clips from Youtube and putting together a video edit that features examples from the past five decades or so. The classes for this course have been incredibly interesting and I cannot wait to see what kind of queer archives the other students come up with. 


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Book Review: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Publication date:
Author info: Goodreads - Website
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Pages: 314
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to Mister, a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self.



Ever since I enrolled for a postcolonial theory and media culture class at the beginning of this year, I have been more eagerly looking for reading experiences that challenge my preconceptions and allow me to "listen" to a perspective of someone who finds herself from a situation different from mine. Though I was aware of it before, this class made me more conscious of the fact that as a white, educated, middle-class woman, it can take me time to count all of my privileges. Through more extensive understanding of intersectional feminism, I have learned more about the importance of feminism that is all-inclusive. While that course is now over,  I want to continue with this journey, so of course, I took to Google and looked for lists of feminist literature and books recommended for those interested in intersectional feminism. Pretty much all of those lists included The Color Purple, which is one of those books I have been meaning to read FOR AGES, but never have gotten around the read. Also, quite surprisingly, I have never seen the film, so I went into this one with very little previous knowledge about it.

The Color Purple is a Pulitzer Prize winning epistolary novel narrated through letters written by Celie (and later on also her sister Nettie). Celie is a poor, black woman living in American South. The novel begins when Celie is 14 and sexually assaulted by her father. Celie ends up pregnant multiple times, and after it seems her father has lost interest in her, she starts to worry for the future of her intelligent younger sister Nettie. When 12-year-old Nettie is approached with a proposal of marriage by a man who is throughout the novel identified just as 'Mister', Celie handles the situation so that in the end, it is her that leaves with Mister and enters into a miserable marriage. For a while, Nettie is with Celie and Mister, but after she doesn't warm up to Mister's advances, he sends her away and for years to come, Celie is made to believe that her sister is death.

A ray of hope enters Nettie's life unexpectedly when she forms a bond with Shug, an independent black woman who tours around the country singing. Shug, an old lover of Mister, and a woman he still loves. Shug speaks her mind, is sexually assertive and holds a kind of independence and courage Nettie never thought Black woman could have. Through time spend with Shug, Nettie learns more about herself while also learning, that there is a possibility for her to "rise up" and to take control of her life. 

There are also other interesting female characters in this novel, such as Sofia, who is strong and sassy and who repeatedly gets into trouble for speaking out about things that women are not meant to speak about. Grown-up Nettie, a character we get to learn about mostly through letters, is also extremely interesting, and through her, the novel breaks the bounds of the US South and takes the reader to Africa with Nettie and the group of missionaries she travels with. 

Though I do not analyze literature very often, if I were to analyze this book, I would say that sisterhood is in a very important role within this novel. There is a biological sisterhood between Celie and Nettie - Celie stands up for Nettie and sacrifices herself for a future majority of Black women at the time were subjected to as a result of which Nettie eventually gets a change to escape the poor South to experience a new kind of life in Africa. Through the sisterhood formed between Celie and Shug, Celie learns new things about herself - she gets empowered, strong and starts to yearn for the kind of respect and independence Shug has. She also starts to love in a new kind of way, a way she never would have expected. As the novel develops, I grew more and more interested about Celie's journey and her process of finding a life in which she has the control, not her husband.

I always seem to hesitate picking up classics/modern classics because I think it will take me ages to read them through. The Color Purple was actually a pretty quick read for me, mostly because once I really got immersed into the story, I had a very difficult time to put it down. The letter format moves the story forward quite quickly, and it was extremely interesting to read about these different women and the ways they try to stand up for forms of behavior that have rule in the South and the ways they are able to take control of their own lives. 

The Color Purple was a solid five star read for me, and a book I definitely want to go back to at some point - I read it now as an ebook, but I definitely want to get my own copy, so I can reread it and take notes and highlight stuff, etc. Now I also think I should start to think about watching the film adaptation!



Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday (#58) - Ten Books Those Who Want To Expand Their Reading Habits Beyond YA


For more information on Top Ten Tuesday click here


YA is AWESOME! But if you are like me, there come times when you want to venture outside the borders of YA and read something else. BUT WHERE SHOULD YOU START FROM? Here is a list of ten non-YA titles I have enjoyed and would like to recommend to those trying to expand their reading habits.
(Note: please don't see this as me telling you that you should read something else than only YA, because I am not trying to say that... I just want to offer options for those who desire to do so.)

1. Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

From the winner of the Catherine Cookson Fiction Prize, this mesmerizing, suspenseful, and richly atmospheric tale of time travel draws us into the heart of a heroine we won't soon forget...

The first time Julia Beckett saw Greywethers she was only five, but she knew that it was her house. And now that she’s at last become its owner, she suspects that she was drawn there for a reason.

As if Greywethers were a portal between worlds, she finds herself transported into seventeenth-century England, becoming Mariana, a young woman struggling against danger and treachery, and battling a forbidden love.

Each time Julia travels back, she becomes more enthralled with the past...until she realizes Mariana’s life is threatening to eclipse her own, and she must find a way to lay the past to rest or lose the chance for happiness in her own time.

Mariana is a perfect mix of time travel, romance, intrigue, beautiful and descriptive writing and awesome twists and turns. I read this one back in 2009 and I am in a desperate need to reread this one. SOMEONE SHOULD BUDDY READ THIS WITH ME DURING THE SUMMER?!

2. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison


The Bluest Eye chronicles the tragic, torn lives of a poor black family in 1940s Ohio: Pauline, Cholly, Sam and Pecola. Pecola, unlovely and unloved, prays each night for blue eyes like those of her privileged blond white schoolfellows. She becomes the focus of the mingled love and hatred engendered by her family's frailty and the world's cruelty as the novel moves toward a savage but poignant resolution.

An incredibly difficult book to read due to the subject matter, but one that I keep going back to again and again. After taking a postcolonial theory class this spring I actually want to reread this again since we also discussed race in America, and this very much comments on that through the eyes of children. I will forever be grateful for my high school English teacher for introducing me to this little gem.

3. Purge by Sofi Oksanen

An international sensation, Sofi Oksanen's award-winning novelPurge is a breathtakingly suspenseful tale of two women dogged by their own shameful pasts and the dark, unspoken history that binds them. 

When Aliide Truu, an older woman living alone in the Estonian countryside, finds a disheveled girl huddled in her front yard, she suppresses her misgivings and offers her shelter. Zara is a young sex-trafficking victim on the run from her captors, but a photo she carries with her soon makes it clear that her arrival at Aliide's home is no coincidence. Survivors both, Aliide and Zara engage in a complex arithmetic of suspicion and revelation to distill each other's motives; gradually, their stories emerge, the culmination of a tragic family drama of rivalry, lust, and loss that played out during the worst years of Estonia's Soviet occupation. 

Sofi Oksanen establishes herself as one the most important voices of her generation with this intricately woven tale, whose stakes are almost unbearably high from the first page to the last. Purge is a fiercely compelling and damning novel about the corrosive effects of shame, and of life in a time and place where to survive is to be implicated.

All of those interested in international and historical fiction should DEFINITELY check this one up! It is a story of two different women filled with suspense, surprise, heartbreak and family drama. I don't read or recommend Finnish literature often, but this is one I would like to see more people reviewing in the blogosphere.

4. The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas

A cursed book. A missing professor. Some nefarious men in gray suits. And a dreamworld called the Troposphere?

Ariel Manto has a fascination with nineteenth-century scientists--especially Thomas Lumas and The End of Mr. Y, a book no one alive has read. When she mysteriously uncovers a copy at a used bookstore, Ariel is launched into an adventure of science and faith, consciousness and death, space and time, and everything in between.

Seeking answers, Ariel follows in Mr. Y’s footsteps: She swallows a tincture, stares into a black dot, and is transported into the Troposphere--a wonderland where she can travel through time and space using the thoughts of others. There she begins to understand all the mysteries surrounding the book, herself, and the universe. Or is it all just a hallucination?
 

This one was such a strange book and if someone were to ask me to explain it, I don't think I could really do it (not at least before a proper reread!) It is one of those books that will want you to google the theories of different philosophers and so on. It might be confusing at points, BUT IT IS TOTALLY WORTH IT! 

5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

The laconic, atmospheric, and intensively researched narrative of the lives of the Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas, and of the two men, Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, who brutally killed them on the night of November 15, 1959, is the seminal work of the "new journalism." Perry Smith is one of the great dark characters of American literature, full of contradictory emotions. "I thought he was a very nice gentleman," he says of Herb Clutter. "Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat." Told in chapters that alternate between the Clutter household and the approach of Smith and Hickock in their black Chevrolet, then between the investigation of the case and the killers' flight, Capote's account is so detailed that the reader comes to feel almost as if he were a participant in the events. New York Times: "A remarkable, tensely exciting, moving, superbly written 'true account.'" New York Review of Books: "Harrowing... the best documentary account of an American crime ever written... The book chills the blood and exercises the intelligence."

This is one of my favorite (if not THE favorite) books ever! The detail, the research that has gone into it, the writing and the fact that it is all true makes it an incredibly interesting and haunting reading experience. If you are into stuff like SERIAL and MAKING A MURDERER, this is a MUST READ for you!

6. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

My favorite book I read in 2015. I usually, for some reason, stay away from long novels but this one just completely sucked me in. I love the way the stories are constructed, the detail that has been put into the narrative, and the way it deals with its setting. SO INCREDIBLY GOOD THROUGH AND THROUGH.

7. Columbine by Dave Cullen

What really happened April 20, 1999? The horror left an indelible stamp on the American psyche, but most of what we "know" is wrong. It wasn't about jocks, Goths, or the Trench Coat Mafia. Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on scene, and spent ten years on this book-widely recognized as the definitive account. With a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen, he draws on mountains of evidence, insight from the world's leading forensic psychologists, and the killers' own words and drawings-several reproduced in a new appendix. Cullen paints raw portraits of two polar opposite killers. They contrast starkly with the flashes of resilience and redemption among the survivors.

Haunting, detailed (major trigger warnings here, as you can probably imagine), touching, angering, and so much more. An interesting study of a phenomenon that is unfortunately common in our contemporary society. 

8. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

In this graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father.

Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the Fun Home. It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.

An incredibly interesting personal memoir about daughters and fathers, discoveries of sexual identities, queerness and family dynamics. We had this as a compulsory reading for my queer representation class and I loved discussing this novel with the class. While the queer story line is extremely interesting, as someone who has gone through a father's suicide, I loved reading about Bechdel's process of figuring out what led her father to kill himself.

9. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Mr. Kapasi, the protagonist of Jhumpa Lahiri's title story, would certainly have his work cut out for him if he were forced to interpret the maladies of all the characters in this eloquent debut collection. Take, for example, Shoba and Shukumar, the young couple in "A Temporary Matter" whose marriage is crumbling in the wake of a stillborn child. Or Miranda in "Sexy," who is involved in a hopeless affair with a married man. But Mr. Kapasi has problems enough of his own; in addition to his regular job working as an interpreter for a doctor who does not speak his patients' language, he also drives tourists to local sites of interest. His fare on this particular day is Mr. and Mrs. Das--first-generation Americans of Indian descent--and their children. During the course of the afternoon, Mr. Kapasi becomes enamored of Mrs. Das and then becomes her unwilling confidant when she reads too much into his profession. "I told you because of your talents," she informs him after divulging a startling secret.
I'm tired of feeling so terrible all the time. Eight years, Mr. Kapasi, I've been in pain eight years. I was hoping you could help me feel better; say the right thing. Suggest some kind of remedy.
Of course, Mr. Kapasi has no cure for what ails Mrs. Das--or himself. Lahiri's subtle, bittersweet ending is characteristic of the collection as a whole. Some of these nine tales are set in India, others in the United States, and most concern characters of Indian heritage. Yet the situations Lahiri's people face, from unhappy marriages to civil war, transcend ethnicity. As the narrator of the last story, "The Third and Final Continent," comments: "There are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept." In that single line Jhumpa Lahiri sums up a universal experience, one that applies to all who have grown up, left home, fallen in or out of love, and, above all, experienced what it means to be a foreigner, even within one's own family. 

A recent addition to my favorites of all time list! I have recently gotten really into short stories and this one really impressed me with the way I reacted to the stories. So many interesting discussions about postcolonial theory could be ignited by this book.


A woman goes into a bakery to buy a strawberry cream tart. The place is immaculate but there is no one serving so she waits. Another customer comes in. The woman tells the new arrival that she is buying her son a treat for his birthday. Every year she buys him his favourite cake; even though he died in an accident when he was six years old.

From this beginning Yoko Ogawa weaves a dark and beautiful narrative that pulls together a seemingly disconnected cast of characters. In the tradition of classical Japanese poetic collections, the stories in Revenge are linked through recurring images and motifs, as each story follows on from the one before while simultaneously introducing new characters and themes. Filled with breathtaking images, Ogawa provides us with a slice of life that is resplendent in its chaos, enthralling in its passion and chilling in its cruelty.
 

Another recent read and a collection of short stories. This one was so weird and quietly unsettling. I loved how the connections between the stories were created and the glimpses into a culture that is very different from my own.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Book Review: Winter in the Blood by James Welch

Release date: First published in 1974, Penguin Classics edition published in 2008
Author links: Goodreads
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Pages: 138
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

A contemporary classic from a major writer of the Native American renaissance, now adapted for film by Alex and Andrew Smith, starring Chaske Spencer and produced by Sherman Alexie

During his life, James Welch came to be regarded as a master of American prose, and his first novel, Winter in the Blood, is one of his most enduring works. The narrator of this beautiful, often disquieting novel is a young Native American man living on the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana. Sensitive and self-destructive, he searches for something that will bind him to the lands of his ancestors but is haunted by personal tragedy, the dissolution of his once proud heritage, and Montana's vast emptiness. Winter in the Blood is an evocative and unforgettable work of literature that will continue to move and inspire anyone who encounters it.



What caught my attention with this book was one of the blurbs on the cover (I read an edition different from the Penguin classics one) from Charles R. Larson from The New Republic that says:
"For some readers this will be the most significant piece of Indian writing they have yet encountered; for others, it will simply be a brilliant novel."
Since my knowledge of Native American literature is presently very limited, I can say that I very much agree with Larson's blurb and the fact that this book was a significant piece of literature for me, especially because it has made me want to read more books of its kind.

Winter in the Blood was originally published in 1974 and it is the first novel of James Welch, a Native American writer who grew up in the Blackfeet and A'aninin cultures and is considered to be one of the the founding authors of the Native American Renaissance. The events of the novel take place on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and along the Hi-Line of Montana, which are places Welch himself spend his childhood at. 

The narrator of Winter in the Blood is a thirty something man who lives on the reservation with his mother, grandmother and his mother's new husband. While his home and work are at the reservation, he often finds himself from the bars of Havre and Malta, Montana, drinking away his problems and worries with other Indians and white men alike. He brings home a girl he calls his "wife" and after the few weeks finds out that she has ran away with some of his possessions, he is not quite sure how to react to the presence of a new man in the house (his mother's husband) and he spends his nights listening to the noises of the nature and the house, rather than sleeping. In addition, throughout the book he tries to come to terms with his own situation, as well as his grief over the deaths of his father and brother. 

My favorite parts of the novel were the moments when the narrator spends time with people much older than him - first his grandmother and then his blind neighbor. He recounts a tale from his grandmother's youth and this tale is further established via the blind neighbor and through these two tales, you get to see the differences between the reality of the Natives then and their reality now (meaning the time the novel was published). There are also flashbacks to the narrator's youth and his relationship between his father and his brother, which offer a lot to the overall character development and make it a bit easier to understand the narrator himself.

As I mentioned before, I am not overly familiar with Native American literature, but I have done a fair amount of research about the representation of Native Americans on film in connection to my post grad studies (I have looked into the different representations of Pocahontas in media in connection to my North American Studies course, I research Chris Eyre's Skins for my postcolonial theory class and I am now doing an essay about Native American representations on screen for my Constructions of Ethnicity class). Like some of the films I have watched recently, such as Chris Eyre's Skins, Welch's novel introduces the reader to a world and a set of characters that go beyond the stereotypes. Rather than writing about caricatures, Welch writes about well-developed human beings, who in addition to being human, also happen to be Indian. I have watched this documentary called Reel Injun for a couple of times now, and I have become more and more conscious of the stereotypes and the lack of representation Native Americans have faced in Hollywood, and how Hollywood has created a certain, very stereotypical perception, that still seems to have its hold. Winter in the Blood was my first attempt to extend my interest from screen representations from page, and I can definitely say that it won't be my last one and that I am already looking for similar books to read. If you have any recommendations, LET ME KNOW! 


Winter in the Blood was adapted to film in 2012. I haven't seen it myself yet, but I am definitely looking forward to watching it ASAP. 




Monday, April 4, 2016

Book Review: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Release date: First published in 1999 (Paperback by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2000)
Author links: Goodreads - Website
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 198
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

Mr. Kapasi, the protagonist of Jhumpa Lahiri's title story, would certainly have his work cut out for him if he were forced to interpret the maladies of all the characters in this eloquent debut collection. Take, for example, Shoba and Shukumar, the young couple in "A Temporary Matter" whose marriage is crumbling in the wake of a stillborn child. Or Miranda in "Sexy," who is involved in a hopeless affair with a married man. But Mr. Kapasi has problems enough of his own; in addition to his regular job working as an interpreter for a doctor who does not speak his patients' language, he also drives tourists to local sites of interest. His fare on this particular day is Mr. and Mrs. Das--first-generation Americans of Indian descent--and their children. During the course of the afternoon, Mr. Kapasi becomes enamored of Mrs. Das and then becomes her unwilling confidant when she reads too much into his profession. "I told you because of your talents," she informs him after divulging a startling secret.
I'm tired of feeling so terrible all the time. Eight years, Mr. Kapasi, I've been in pain eight years. I was hoping you could help me feel better; say the right thing. Suggest some kind of remedy.
Of course, Mr. Kapasi has no cure for what ails Mrs. Das--or himself. Lahiri's subtle, bittersweet ending is characteristic of the collection as a whole. Some of these nine tales are set in India, others in the United States, and most concern characters of Indian heritage. Yet the situations Lahiri's people face, from unhappy marriages to civil war, transcend ethnicity. As the narrator of the last story, "The Third and Final Continent," comments: "There are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept." In that single line Jhumpa Lahiri sums up a universal experience, one that applies to all who have grown up, left home, fallen in or out of love, and, above all, experienced what it means to be a foreigner, even within one's own family.

The world of short stories is still, unfortunately, quite unknown to me. A lot of my reading is based on recommendations by other readers from multiple social media platforms, and I feel like short stories come to my radar very rarely. This spring, I have been trying to read out of my personal norm, which has mostly consisted of young adult literature, and The Interpreter of Maladies is among the most wonderful finds I have made throughout that process.

Before I picked this one up from the library, Jhumpa Lahiri's wonderful collection of stories was familiar to me only by title. I didn't know what to expect, but the synopsis made it sound like it would be a wonderful read alongside my postcolonial theory class, and as I started to read, I realized that hunch was right. Interpreter of Maladies consists of short stories that focuses on everything from marriage and traveling to the ideas of home and the process of feeling at home in another country. Through a wonderful set of characters of different genders, religions, ages and economical backgrounds, Lahiri managed to open up a whole new world for me. 

I have live abroad for extended periods of time and gone through the process of attempting to make myself a home in a strange place, but unlike some of Lahiri's characters, I did that voluntary. While not all of Lahiri's characters in Interpreter of Maladies have been forced to leave their familiar settings, they face often silent discrimination and feeling of not belonging to a much larger extent that I ever have experienced. Lahiri's short collection was the best kind of book one can find, at least in my opinion - it made me feel and think, not only about the characters within its pages, but also about the world in general and about my own life and situation, my place in this world. 

While I was not able to relate to or identify with everything that goes on this collection of stories, there is a sense of universality in there, a set of feelings that we all can remember feeling one way or another. It might be a feeling of love or of disappointment, a feeling of not quite fitting in or the feeling of finally finding a place where you feel comfortable, a feeling of loss, of nostalgia, of new possibilities. The way Lahiri writes is beautiful and easy to read and there are so many things in this book I wrote down into my little bookish notebook, little quotes I want to remember and keep close to my heart. 

If you are like me and still quite foreign to the world of short stories, I warmly recommend picking this one up - for me, it ignited a whole new interest in the short story format as well as in reading more books dealing with postcolonial subjects and themes.