Festival America

 

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Krik? Krak!

img_2994I’d never heard the words Kirk? Krak! and wondered what they meant when I picked this book up.  Reading the back cover, I learned that storytellers say Krik? and listeners say Krak! in Haiti.  Krik? Krak! is a poetic collection of connected short stories that explores the Haitian community in the United States and in Haiti.  The tradition of storytelling is a way of passing down moeurs and is an important part of Haitian culture.  This is specifically treated in this collection – passing culture from mother to daughter.

Krik? Krak! opens with a short story of Haitian refugees that are attempting to escape the political strife and horrors of their country and are floating out to sea desperately trying to reach Miami, while shedding their personal items along the way and in some cases their lives.  Each story is told from the poignant point of view of Haitians however surprising these stories have a strong sense of universality about them as well.  Everyone has a sense of home, a sense of family, of culture, and a desire for a good life.  Danticat does a brilliant job of integrating the recurring themes of water, suffering, and hope.  Water is often portrayed as a barrier.  The barrier that surrounds the island of Haiti and separates it from the Dominican Republic.  Just as the ocean must be crossed to attain a hopeful life in the United States, water is the notion of escape along with the reminder of all the Haitians that didn’t/don’t make it.

It’s very hard to read these stories and not think about the refugees fleeing the horrors of Syria and immigrating to Europe.  Leaving one’s country and having to find the balance between acceptance into a new country and preserving the culture that was left behind.  Danticat’s writing is infectious with a dynamism of superstition and it enlightens the reader to Haitian history.  I strongly recommend reading this short story collection to learn more about Haiti and its people but mostly to experience the passionate manner in which Danticat evokes the honesty, courage, sensitivity, and authenticity of their stories.

Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian-American writer born in Port-au-Prince in 1969.  She was raised in Haiti by her aunt and uncle.  She finally joined her parens, who had left for the United States earlier, at the age of 12 in Brooklyn.  Danticat began writing at the age of 9 years old.  Her move to Brooklyn was difficult so she turned to literature for comfort.  Her first published writing in English was A Haitian-American Christmas: Cremace and Creole Theatre.   Some of the major themes that are dealt with in her writings are mother-daughter relationships, national identity, and Haitian diaspora.

She has been decorated with  countless literary awards and honorary degrees.  Having earned a Masters of Fine Arts from Brown University, Danticat has gone on to write many well-known titled books such as The Farming of the Bones, The Dew Breaker, and her latest novel Claire of the Sea Light.  On a high note, a young director named Easmanie Michel fell in love with Krik? Krak! and is working diligently to bring Edwidge Danticat’s short story Caroline’s Wedding to the big screen.  She believes that Danticat’s work will translate well on-screen and she has been entrusted to make it happen.  If you’re interested in keeping up with the new developments on this film project head over and check out Easmanie Michel’s Facebook page Caroline’s Wedding.

 

My Copy:  Krik? Krak!, paperback 224 pages

Rating: *****

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Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016 Shortlist

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction  2016 Shortlist was announced earlier today.  I have to say I’m a little disappointed. I expected  a stronger less predictable shortlist.  I’ve read only two titles from this shortlist and neither of them rocked my world – The Green Road by Anne Enright and Ruby by Cynthia Bond.  The only others on this shortlist I planned on reading are A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (sick of hearing about it) and The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney.  So here is the shortlist in full.  Do you find any of these intriguing?  Are you planning on reading any of these?  If so which ones? What do you think of this shortlist?

the green road    the improbability of love   a little life

the glorious heresies    ruby   the portable veblen

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Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016

Baileys Women's Prize badgeIt’s that time of year again!  The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016 longlist was announced earlier today.  The list is surprising and vast in subject matter.  These 20 novels were chosen from a list of 150 books which the judges read and narrowed down between themselves.  There are some oldies and some debut novels too.  On the longlist of 20 titles there are approximately 8 that I’m interested in reading and one of those 8, I already started to read last year, A Little Life.  I got to page 200 and quit.  There are actually two I’ve already read.  Now that’s a first for me:  Ruby and The Green Road.  I was happy to see three black women on the list: Ruby a debut novel by Cythinia Bond which I read in 2014 at its release, Pleasantville by Attica Locke which is the second thriller, starring the lawyer Jay Porter from her first award winning Black Water Rising, and lastly The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah, a Zimbabwean author.

Sci-fi lovers will be happy to see The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which has been getting oodles of love everywhere since its release in 2014.  Now what I’m a little surprised at are the novels on the list that were released in 2014.  I thought the majority of the list would contain books from 2016 and January 2015 at the latest.  I’m a little disappointed that Jam on the Vine (2015) by LaShonda Katrice Barnett didn’t make it to the longlist.  So since books from 2014 can be nominated as well, let’s just hope A Little Life doesn’t cast a shadow over the newer books.  It’s obvious it will make its way onto the shortlist because of it enormous popularity.  Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  I’ll definitely let you know if and when I finally finish it. 😉

The shortlist will be announced Monday, 11 April and there will be a shortlist reading and discussion event on the eve of the announcement of the winner, 7 June.  The winner will take home £30,000 and a limited edition bronze known as a ‘Bessie’ on 8 June 2016 in the Royal Festival Hall in London.  This year’s presiding Chair of Judges is Margaret Mountford, a lawyer and businesswoman accompanied by judges Laurie Penny, award-winning author Elif Shafak, singer-songwriter and author Tracey Thorn and broadcast journalist, Naga Munchetty.

Good luck and may the best books go on to the shortlist!

Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016 longlist:

A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett

Ruby – Cynthia Bond

The Secret Chord – Geraldine Brooks

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding – Jackie Copleton

Whispers Through a Megaphone – Rachel Elliott

The Green Road – Anne Enright

The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah

Gorsky – Vesna Goldsworthy

The Anatomist’s Dream – Clio Gray

At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison

Pleasantville – Attica Locke

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

The Portable Veblen – Elizabeth McKenzie

Girl at War – Sara Nović

The House at the Edge of the World – Julia Rochester

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

My Name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

 

The Miniaturist

The Miniaturist is the story of eighteen year old Nella who’s marriage to Johannes Brandt has been arranged due to her family’s drastic money problems.  Johannes is a very wealthy IMG_2582merchant from Amsterdam and he is twice her age.  Arriving in her new home, Nella, a simple girl from the countryside, is greeted with indifference and her husband isn’t even there to welcome her.  Quickly Nella realizes the lady of the house seems to be her sister-in-law Marin, who’s in her  early thirties.  Marin is shrewish and unwelcoming.  There is also a young maid named Cornelia and Otto, Johannes’ manservant described “skin is dark, dark brown everywhere, his neck coming out from the collar, his wrists and hands from his sleeves – all unending, dark brown skin.”(The Miniaturist, p.11)

Johannes eventually appears and bestows upon Nella an exceptional cabinet-sized replica of their home.  He also leaves her quite a bit of money so that she can take the time to have pieces made for it by a miniaturist.  Nella isn’t impressed with this gift for she  anxiously wants to inhabit her role as wife and doesn’t want to be thought of as frivolous. After contracting a miniaturist to make pieces for the cabinet, Nella begins to receive pieces that she has commissioned from the miniaturist along with others she hasn’t and they replicate her actual life exactly.  From there we follow Nella’s discovery of her new home and the secrets of its inhabitants.

Now I must say I did vote for this one but once I got started reading I found it very hard to get into for the first 60 or so pages.  I realized I needed to concentrate more and that allowed me to get into the story.  I found myself sucked into the beautifully descriptive passages and the semi-dark mysterious home and life in 17th century Amsterdam.  The best thing about this novel is the writing.  However, literary fiction it is not.  For those who don’t care about that, you can still enjoy the story and development of Nella’s character.

As for the things I had problems with, the main one was the miniaturist. I thought because the novel was called The Miniaturist there would be more explanation as to who he/she was and what he/she was about.  Instead the miniaturist was, in my opinion, a sort magical realism element to connect the characters and the storylines.  Now this will work for some, but it didn’t work for me at all.  How did the miniaturist know what to make and when to leave the dolls?  Nothing of that is explained.  The second thing I had trouble with was the way Nella reacted to things and how she did things.  Her reactions and behavior seemed to be very 21st century.  In the end I had to reason myself to this and get on with the reading.  There are some twist and turns throughout which I found to be predictable but that some people at my book club hadn’t caught on to in advance.  I’m going to leave that untouched because I’m approaching spoiler territory if I continue.

Lastly what I didn’t like about the novel was the ending.  What the heck?!  I recommend jessieburtonthat you go reread the first Chapter once you’ve finished the novel, but still… What?!  That ending left me with too many unanswered questions.  This can sometimes influence to what degree I like a novel.  I have to say after much thought I’m rating this one 3 stars because it does have some very strong points that do overweigh the bad points.  So yes The Miniaturist is a good book. Is it great?  Did it merit to be so hyped up?  I’m sure everybody has an opinion on both of those questions and I’d like to read it below.

The Miniaturist is Jessie Burton’s debut novel and has been a major success selling over a million copies by 2015.  She worked on this novel for four years, while working a day job as a PA in London.  She’s currently working on her second novel, The Muse, which concentrates on four heroines set in Civil War Spain and 60s London.

My Copy: The Miniaturist, hardcover 435 pages

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The Green Road

IMG_1954It’s Man Booker Prize longlist time and The Green Road is my first official read from the 13 books.  Technically I attempted to read A Little Life a few months ago.  I got to page 200 and got side tracked by other books and life and quit reading it.  This is what can happen when I read more than one book at a time and when a story isn’t grabbing me.  No worries I’ll surely get back to it eventually.

I was away in the south of France with no internet and poor network connection for my smart phone so of course that allowed me to fully concentrate on reading.  And boy did I read.  I read four books in a week.  That’s a record for me.  You’ll hear about what I read in another post.  I’m back today to talk to you about what I thought of The Green Road by Anne Enright.

The story is split up into two parts.  The first part is composed of five view points from the Madigan family – from the children, Dan, Emmet, Constance, Hanna, and the last viewpoint is from the mother, Rosaleen.  Part one is called Leaving and part two is called Coming Home.

Part two is a series of episodes that tie up or make clear how each person fits into the Madigan family.  “This is how they knew each other, the Madigans, they knew the timber of a voice, the rhythm of fingers tapping on a tabletop, and they didn’t know each other at all.  Not really.  But they liked each other well enough. Apparently.” ‘The Green Road, p. 254)  Each point of view in Part one is told from the third person, making the characters difficult to care about.  Not to mention their voices don’t show enough of who they are individually, much less how they fit together in the family.  I think I would have preferred their points of view to be told in first person to really get into their heads.  In spite of this, Enright does paint an intricate picture of family.  She writes those touches of language that make The Green Road a type of classic tale of an Irish family, while at the same time trying to give the Madigan family specificities.

The structure of the novel is what it has going for it.  The writing is good, but not brilliant and the reader must piece together the family story.  That seems to be a metaphor for this family’s lack of togetherness.  The family is in pieces in the same deconstructed manner of the storytelling.  As we meet each member we are trying to figure out what’s gone wrong and why.  That is the difficulty of the book, which may put some readers off.  Through each section the reader is bombarded with a lot of information about that family member and themes from alcoholism, homosexuality, illness, etc.  We learn about each family member at different time periods and their relationships to their husbands, children, girlfriends, etc..  I believe Enright complicated the story of the Madigans, henceforth rendering it uninteresting.  Moreover, I would be very surprised if this novel makes it on to the shortlist.  I didn’t give a  hoot about any of the people I was reading about and the ending fizzled out into something that seemed to be thrown together to round the story off to a complete finish, making for a really dry ending.  I’ll be extremely surprised if The Green Road makes it further.  I’m not sad that I read it because now I’m interested in picking up The Gathering, for which Enright won the 2007 Man Booker prize. Hoping that I’ll enjoy that one more.  I’d like to see what a winner from her is really like.

It seems that there is a strong theme around family in this year’s Man Booker 2015 longlist.  I still have 2 others that treat the subject of family left to read on my wish list – Did You Ever Have a Family and A Spool of Blue Thread (unfortunately I hear this one is uneventful)  I won’t be reading the entire longlist because there are some I’m not interested in at all.  I hope they will be more interesting than The Green Road.   .  Could it be for The Green Road that I’ve missed some extremely important Irish references?  Possibly.  So have you read anything from the Man Booker 2015 longest?  If so what?  Have you read The Green Road?  What did you think of it?

Hotel Iris

This is the first book I’ve read by Yoko Ogawa.  I’m not often drawn to Japanese literature but since my book club chose The Housekeeper + The Professor as one of our seven reads for 2015-2016, I decided to buy this one too.  The story is about seventeen year old Mari who works in her mother’s shabby little hotel by the seaside called Hotel Iris.  The voice of Mari narrates the story in a chilling honesty that is often staggering. She is trapped in the hotel and isn’t allowed to live life very much.  So, it isn’t surprising that she is searching for something more, however the violent humiliating relationship she has with the translator is unexpected and odious.

Her mother is a woman running a business and seems to have little feeling for others.  The story begins when an incident happens in the hotel between a mysterious man and a prostitute.  There are loud noises which are preceded by yelling from the prostitute who leaves the room insulting the man.  Mari’s mother threatens to call the police and demands that the damages to the room and the trouble caused be paid.  From this point on Mari Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 19.40.51becomes enthralled with this mysterious man she calls the translator, and has an ongoing explicit relationship with him.  Here I must caution readers who have difficulty reading about sex (bondage) and most of all sex between a minor and a man in his sixties.  This exceptionally dark novel isn’t only that however it may seem as if it is because it is so short, only 164 pages.  I read it in one sitting.

What I liked most about the novel is the writing.  Ogawa has a very keen sense of description and the book is full of references to smell, taste, and sounds.  The minor characters of the novel accentuate these senses beautifully while telling Mari’s story.  There is a blind English woman, a mute nephew, and a kleptomaniac maid.  However minor these characters they add to the sensation of the senses that Ogawa seems to be trying to paint throughout the ambience of the book.  The translator is a contradiction because he never really explains himself.  As Mari learns about him, so do we.  His job as a translator should make him a character who is clear but he hides a lot of himself throughout  the novel.

I’ve been trying for a few days now to come to a conclusion about what Ogawa was trying to say really in this book and I’m just not sure.  After much thought, I think she wanted to write a book full of different kinds of extreme emotions. This we have examples from the beginning to the end. Some things are described so well they appear vividly in the imagination and in my opinion that’s a gifted writer no matter what the storyline.  Maybe she just wanted to show a look into Mari’s life.  I guess there is a little bit of no one knows what somebody is really living syndrome to the story.  Nevertheless, she is definitely an author to check out, if only to experience the beautiful descriptions and where you will undergo intense emotions.