Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Genre: 21st century literary fiction
Rating: Highly recommended
Totes dropped the ball for, like, a few months. My sincerest apologies. But, you see, I decided to buy a subscription of The New Yorker and I just couldn’t seem to find extra reading time for novels when the magazine showed up in my mailbox once a week. So, I haven’t totally dropped off…
Oh, and by the way, Ms. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fiction was published in the March 11, 2013 issue, which prompted me to put the magazines aside for long enough to finish her novel, Half of a Yellow Sun.
In short, this novel is about the Nigerian civil war that took place between 1967 and 1970. On a larger scale, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is writing about Nigerian and Igbo culture. The various insights into a culture that is completely new to me fascinated me more than any brilliant author could do with a setting that is familiar, and so I was engulfed.
“Olanna gently placed a pillow beneath her head and sat thinking about how a single act could reverberate over time and space and leave stains that could never be washed off. She thought about how ephemeral life was, about not choosing misery.”
“Molière’s words came to him, strangely comforting: Unbroken happiness is a bore; it should have ups and downs.”
“Perhaps he was not a true writer after all. He had read somewhere that, for true writers, nothing was more important than their art, not even love.”
Read my review>read the book>see the movie.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Genre: Literary 21st century
There are three main reasons why I loved this read: the sentimentality of Erica and Chris’s relationship, the unique writing format, and how hot I imagined Changez’s beard to be.
…So the last point was a bit silly, I realize. But beards. Yes. I like them.
Changez is a Pakistani who moves to New Jersey to attend Princeton, then moves to New York City after graduation to work at a highly reputable company. He is living—ironically, as you’ll find out—the American dream. At the height of his success, America experiences the attack on 9/11 and suddenly everything changes for Changez. The change, however, is not solely based on the attacks on the World Trade Centers. It also has to do with Changez’s internal conflicts regarding Erica, a woman of whom he has fallen deeply in love with.
Erica is not in love with Changez, however. She is still lost in her relationship with Chris, who recently died from lung cancer. I’m pretty sappy when it comes to this stuff, and I often find myself wrapped up in my own nostalgia, which is why their relationship touched me. I hate to admit it, but I found myself tearing up more than once and (inadvisably) reaching out to old loves.
Finally, I enjoyed reading this novel and Moth Smoke because Hamid employs unique writing techniques. In this novel, the narrative is interrupted with a dialogue between Changez and an unnamed and unvoiced guest. At times, I found the interruptions cumbersome, but I appreciated the effect it had on the narrative; that is, enabling readers to form their own opinions regarding America with the Middle East. It is this kind of purposeful writing that I have great appreciation for because it forces the reader to become active in the story.
My favorite passages:
“I felt a peculiar feeling; I felt at home. Perhaps it was because I had recently lived such a transitory existence—moving from one dorm room to the next—and longed for the settled nature of my past; perhaps it was because I missed my family and the comfort of a family residence…”
“Suffice it to say that theirs had been an unusual love, with such a degree of commingling of identities that when Chris died, Erica felt she had lost herself; even now, she said, she did not know if she could be found.”
“It did not matter that the person Erica was in love with was what the nurse or I might call deceased; for Erica he was alive enough, and that was the problem: it was difficult for Erica to be out in the world, living the way the nurse or I might, when in her mind she was experiencing things that were stronger and more meaningful than the things she could experience with the rest of us.”
Moth Smoke by Moshin Hamid
Genre: 21st century literary fiction
Rating: Highly recommended
I’ve kinda ruined my plan to review classic and modern novels in alternating order, but oh well. This was an exceptional read and I’m glad I jumped it to the top of my queue.
I first read Hamid’s work in 2009 with The Reluctant Fundamentalist and it remains one of my favorite novels (I am actually currently rereading the novel, so be prepared for a back-to-back review of Hamid’s work). I love novels that deal with love triangles. I don’t really understand the entire reason why, but I feel like this might have something to do with my feelings regarding fickle human nature. The Reluctant Fundamentalist dealt with this kind of love relationship, the extreme complexity of it, and did so in a way that captured me.
I had zero expectations for Moth Smoke, except perhaps a bit of doubt considering it was Hamid’s first novel (and his MFA thesis to boot). For the first hundred pages or so, I had no idea what the novel was going to be about—the narrator had lost his job and smoked a lot of hash, but that was it. I didn’t know what direction it was going to turn toward, or how it was going to morph into a story that was about more than just a bum doing drugs.
But, oh, was I pleasantly surprised. I loved this novel for so many of the same reasons I fell in love with The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Hamid understands human vulnerability, and more importantly, can capture it in his writing without being prosaic. There were many times I had to put the book down to take a breath and pause. It was beautiful. It was beyond beautiful. It was as if all my thoughts had become manifest.
Back to love triangles. One appears in this story, and I was, of course, drawn to it. But more than my inherent liking for fallibility laid bare, Hamid was able to capture the intensity of yearning, which I admired both on a technical level (how can I write like him?) and on a personal level (how is it that his words slice right through me?). Here are some of my favorite passages:
“When I get home I find Manucci staring at a candle on the mantelpiece for no apparent reason.
I walk over to him, my shadow dancing on a different wall from his.
‘What is it?’ I ask him.
‘A moth in love, saab,’ Manucci says.
Sometimes I don’t understand what he’s talking about. But I do see a moth circling above our heads.
‘Bring me the fly swatter,’ I tell him.
I hit him across the top of his head, not too hard and with an open hand, but forcefully enough to let him know that I won’t put up with any impertinence. ‘What do you mean, No, saab?’
‘Please, saab,’ he says, cringing. ‘Watch.’
The moth circles lower, bouncing like a drunk pilot in turbulence. I could clap him out of existence but I don’t, because I’m getting a little curious myself.
The moth starts to make diving passes at the candle.
‘He’s an aggressive fellow, this moth,’ I say to Manucci.
‘Love, saab,’ he replies.”
“But the best part of it was the talking. I was completely open with him….Ozi made me feel so known. He made love to my insides, filling desperate gaps and calming unbearably sensitive places….
We were growing together, and I was happy.”
“‘What would you wish for?’ I ask.
She thinks. ‘Perfect foresight, a little courage, and a time machine.’”
Which book would you like to see on this blog?
Here is my current “to read” list. Which book would you like to see on this blog?
Also, I realize there are a lot of classics going on here. If anyone has more modern recommendations, I’d be happy to take them.
White Teeth – Zadie Smith
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
Genre: 21st century short story collection
Okay, so, I just now realized I never posted up my review of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao so I’m going to retroactively post it and provide a link to it here.
Back to This Is How You Lose Her. I can’t help it. This review is going to get a little personal. But I like to think that makes these things all the more interesting (Right? RIGHT?).
On my flight from Florida back to Brooklyn, I randomly grabbed one of the books I got for Christmas and it happened to be This Is How You Lose Her. Not a big deal, unless you consider the fact that I was emotionally spent due to the fact that I was leaving my family behind, wouldn’t see them for another six months, and knew an isolated Brooklyn was the only thing awaiting me at the end of my flight. So go ahead and picture a girl in her mid-twenties all red-eyed and teary in the airport. Not a pretty picture.
So when I settled down at the gate and grabbed this book out of my bag, I was less than thrilled. I wasn’t really in the mood to read stories about infidelities and the aggrandizing of selfish jerks, but I had six hours of travel in front of me, so I cracked the book open and started reading. I read one story. Two. Three. And when I was finally interrupted by the flight attendant asking my drink order, I realized these stories were comforting me.
This Is How You Lose Her brings back the familiar Yunior who appears in Drown and Wao. He narrates most of the stories in various aspects of his life, but one theme pulls all nine of the stories together: cheating. Don’t get me wrong. Yunior, his brother Rafa, and the various other men who appear in each story are all pretty loathsome. They’re self-serving and inconsiderate and go through women like dirty gym socks. If I take the time to step back, it’s all a little disgusting that humans can get reduced to something so egomaniacal.
Nonetheless, the reason I found comfort in these stories is because of that very disgust: this is real human nature. We’re weak, all of us, and we’re all swayed by things like dirtbag fathers and dying brothers and machismo idealism. Sure these characters did some regrettable things, but the desperation of each character was sobering and relatable.
My favorite short story from the collection was “The Cheater’s Guide For Love.” In this story, Yunior contemplates his life after the breakup of someone he cannot get over. I loved the genuineness displayed, and I probably could have written a similar guide following my biggest breakup. Sounds cheesy, but I liked reading this and realizing heartbreak is not an isolated thing.
This review may sound like a bit of a feminist rant, but I really did enjoy this read despite the subject matter. Diaz is just so skilled at depicting relevant characters and settings and is careful never to cross the line of defining moral standards, which makes his stories applicable to a wide audience.
“My heart is beating and I think, We could do anything. We could marry. We could drive off to the West Coast. We could start over. It’s all possible but neither of us speaks for a long time and the moment closes and we’re back in the world we’ve always known.”
From “The Cheater’s Guide to Love”
“You ask everybody you know: How long does it usually take to get over it?
There are many formulas. One year for every year you dated. Two years for every year you dated. It’s just a matter of will-power: The day you decide it’s over, it’s over. You never get over it.”
“And then one June night you scribble the ex’s name and: The half-life of love is forever.”
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Genre: 21st century fantasy
The reason I was so eager to read this novel was because I read this letter from President Obama to Yann Martel. The promise of an “elegant proof of God” intrigued me. Couple that with the fact that a movie adaptation was just released and I needed no more persuasion to buy this book.
Piscine Patel—known as Pi—is a spiritual man. However, unlike many religious people, he has fallen in love equally with God, Allah, and the deities of Hinduism. The first 100 pages of this novel describe the life of Pi growing up in India as the son of a zookeeper. Though the material was interesting—especially the insight into animal behavior—I was getting antsy for the juicy stuff. You know, the tiger and the boat and stuff.
Once that part of the novel came around, I was completely enthralled. I truly believed Pi was a real person (ie, I thought this was a nonfiction story). I couldn’t believe someone had survived living on a life boat for so long with a tiger. So naturally I typed Pi Patel into Wikipedia to read up more about him, and to my dissatisfaction I realized the novel was all fiction. Pi was not a real person.
After this realization, I quickly became disinterested in the novel. It wasn’t so magical as before knowing this was fiction and just the imagination of a talented author. The ending was strange and began to lose all believability. Pi was starting to become unreliable. The conclusion sent me into near shock.
The good news is that watching the movie shortly after reading the book gave some clarity to the rising questions that were still floating unanswered when I finished the read. This was a confusing novel to me, and I’m still unsure of my opinion regarding my reaction, but the book captivated me for a long time and so I’m still giving it a recommended.
“It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards, even unto our names.”
“Words of divine consciousness: moral exaltation; lasting feelings of elevation, elation, joy; a quickening of the moral sense, which strikes one as more important than an intellectual understanding of things; an alignment of the universe along moral lines, not intellectual ones; a realization that the founding principe of existence is what we call love, which works itself out sometimes not clearly, not cleanly, not immediately, nonetheless ineluctably.”
“If you stumble at mere believability, what are you living for? Isn’t love hard to believe?”
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Genre: 20th century roman à clef
Rating: Highly recommended
Now that I’m not in school anymore, the way I chose the books I want to read is very serendipitous. Mostly, I choose stories that find me through various modes of coincidence. On this occasion, Sylvia Plath most definitely sought me out.
It first started with a reading of her Wikipedia page (God help me, reputability aside, I love that website). I’m kinda one of those people who browses Wikipedia “for fun” and after reading her short summary, a desire to read her work struck me with astonishing force. The next thing I knew, I was rifling through pages of Ariel in the back of The Strand and I didn’t care about irascible New Yorkers bumping into me with their sullen sighs. I was enthralled. I went home that night with The Bell Jar and the inspiration to write poetry.
The Bell Jar is engulfing. It didn’t take more than twenty pages for me to realize I was going to love this novel. The protagonist, Esther Greenwood, begins by narrating her life in New York City, followed by her steady decline in coping with the realities around her. The writing is tender in its aesthetic quality and it lured me in so underhandedly. I made margin notations when passages struck me (I hate defacing my books, so when I execute my desire to highlight passages with light pencil marks, I know the book has left its mark on me).
While I was reading The Bell Jar on the train, a stranger unabashedly asked if I ever considered buying an e-reader and I politely replied, no. I wasn’t willing to give up my bound paper just yet. I thumbed through the pages of the book after that, and the weight of it felt reassuring—this book is going to stay with me for years upon years, gathering wrinkles and smudges in its old age.
To finish this book review, I must leave you with a few of my favorite passages (there are many, but I’ve whittled it down to these few):
“Buddy Willard went to Yale, but now I thought of it, what was wrong with him was that he was stupid. Oh, he’d managed to get good marks all right, and to have an affair with some awful waitress on the Cape by the name of Gladys, but he didn’t have one speck of intuition. Doreen had intuition. Everything she said was like a secret voice speaking straight out of my own bones.”
“Then just as he was smiling and starting to look proud, I would say, ‘So are the cadavers you cut up. So are the people you think you’re curing. They’re dust as dust. I reckon a good poem lasts a whole lot longer than a hundred of those people put together.’”
“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”
“I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people’s eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth.”
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Genre: 21st century fantasy
Where have you been, oh book reviewer, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. In November I embarked on this thing called NaNoWriMo and decided to write 50,000 words in one month. I also worked too many hours. And flew back to Florida for Thanksgiving.
Oh, I also read this book called A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.
All right, so I jumped on the fantasy wagon for a moment because I couldn’t help myself. Everyone was telling me about these books and promising me that I’d love them, so I thought, yeah. Why not. I need a little genre in my life.
A Game of Thrones is the first novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. In the Seven Kingdoms, things are thrown askew when the hand of the king dies under suspicious circumstances. Everyone is vying for the king’s throne, except noble Eddard Stark who wants everything to be fair and virtuous. I wish things could be as honorable as Lord Stark thinks it should be, but when power is up for grabs, can you really expect everyone to be magnanimous?
This book has everything you could ask for in a fantasy novel: Dragons? Check. Scary living dead creatures with piercing blue eyes? Check. Barbarous, nomadic, horse-loving wanderers? Check. HBO series starring Sean Bean (aka, Boromir)? Check. Sexy blond elf hissing swoon-inducing verses of elvish? Wait, no. Okay, so it can’t have everything.
It’s to be expected that some parts of this 800-page book were a bit boring (yeah, don’t really care about those battle surges toward the end), yet there were multiple moments that made me so upset, I audibly screeched “WWHHYYY” in this exasperated kind of way. It was an entertaining read to be sure, but to be honest, I probably won’t get around to the second book. Or the other five. Unless I get totally engulfed in the series. Which will probably happen, now that I think about it.
“‘Ah,’ said Varys. ‘To be sure, you are an honest and honorable man, Lord Eddard. Ofttimes I forget that. I have met so few of them in my life.’ He glanced around the cell. ‘When I see what honesty and honor have won you, I understand why.’”
A little tidbit about what to look forward to in my next blogs—I’m going to attempt to alternate between classic and modern novels for the next few weeks. Stay tuned for my review on The Bell Jar. <3 Sylvia Plath!!!
‘Eh! Are you the daughters of Obama?’ an old woodworker called from his stall in the art market on the road to Aburi. This was in July of 2009, on the heels of the American president’s first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office.
…What did the old man mean by it? For a moment, I wondered if he was asking us if we were mixed race. Both Kaya and I, like Barack Obama, each have a black parent and a white parent. It was more likely the old man wanted to know if we were American.
… ‘Yes!’ I answered. I understood that in the asking, all the woodworker really wanted to know was if we had money to spend on his wares. Still, I was proud to say it: ‘Obama is our father.’”
Emily Raboteau, “Daughters of Obama”
Published in Guernica.
Adapted and extracted from her debut nonfiction book, Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora.