05 March 2017

I Can Jump Puddles ~ Alan Marshall

****RECOMMEND ****

I could say it no better than words taken from the book :

Marshall says :

"I wanted to do so much more than record the experiences of a little boy faced with the problem of crutches; I wanted to give a picture of a period that has passed."

The publisher's note at the end says :

"In his later life, Alan remarked that being on crutches from this time forced him to be an observer, an onlooker, and a more compassionate person - all qualities of a successful novelist.  His work is characterised by his astute eye for detail and his ability to illuminate life's small but meaningful things...  Life in the country - on the land and in the bush - features prominently in his work, which celebrates the camaraderie of Australian working-class life."

This was a delight!

03 March 2017

Exit West ~ Mohsin Hamid

** OK **

Umm when is magic realism not science fiction?
When someone wants to highbrow it and call it "literature"

I was disappointed!  I very much enjoyed The Reluctant Fundamentalist (poignantly enlightening), and loved How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (wryly funny).  They were both very different to each other and Hamid has done something very different again - but this one missed the mark for me.

The plotting was thoughtful, the premise was interesting, the characters were engaging but unfortunately it did not make the sum of the whole a thoughtful, interesting, engaging read.  The writing style was both descriptive or stark, poetic or simplistic, pacy or plodding.   The whole thing lacked a cohesion.  

It wasn't about the victims of conflict, it wasn't about refugees.  At it's heart it was a relationship story - how it began and how it was strained by circumstances and how it petered out.  The beginning, set in an unnamed city under attack from unnamed forces, was good at showing that those caught up in a conflict are just-like-you (social media, coffee culture, studies).  The middle introduced random irrelevant characters.  The end was as strained as the relationship became.

It seemed to me that the only reason for the relocation doors was to fast track the movement of the characters as refugees.  Nothing of substance about the doors was explored.  They were just a narrative device but they could have been so much more interesting!

It is short enough and unusual enough to keep you from looking for an exit door but that's about it.

02 March 2017

Purple Hibiscus ~ Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

**** RECOMMEND ****

Purple : liturgical colour for penance, humility & melancholy. 
Hibiscus : exotic blooms that needed nurturing.

And Kambili blooms despite the turbulent forces and oppression of family and politics that make up her exotic environment.

There is so much that could have made this a depressing read; a narrative  focused on lives lived under the shadow of a violent, authoritarian, religious fanatic.  But it wasn't.  The always-present edginess and wariness of the thought-provoking narrative absorbed me completely.  It was as if I worried for Kambili and Jaja when I wasn't with them.  I was emotionally committed to the characters and their welfare.

Theirs was a life of father-pleasing rote answers, following strict suffocating guidelines, confined and cossetted from the world. The father was such a complex character - a pillar of society, a devoted Catholic, a generous citizen who abhorred corruption ... and a violent, abusive, controlling father and husband.

Maybe, just maybe, not my favourite Adichie.  Maybe, just maybe, that is still "Americanah" ... but then again ... maybe not.  Except for being brought up a Catholic, I have no idea why this book resonated so strongly.  No doubt it is in no small part due to the clarity of the writing style,  the depth of the characterisation, the sense of place and time.  The simplicity of expression, because it was written from the point of view of 15yo Kimbili, made it all the more poignant.

01 March 2017

Pachinko ~ Min Jin Lee

** OK **

Like Pachinko machine, a little mechanical.
Like a Pachinko ball, the narrative fell through the gaps

Many of the characters are involved in the Pachinko business and there was mention of adjusting the pins to regulate winnings.  As a reader, I felt a little like this - my involvement in the characters was manipulated.  I felt like a Pachino ball guided around a track but ultimately a random path.  And I wasn't a winner.

I did enjoy the historical and cultural background of the narrative.  While it wasn't unknown history to me, it was well presented in the events of the story. The overt racism against the Koreans in Japan is head shaking!  The bigotry and prejudice is clearly evident.  It is hard to say that it is a good light read (and it is!) but it is also a dark and depressing read.

There was plenty of colour but it started to fade in the second part of the book.  A good edit would have worked wonders (eg a section where they are watching a tv program; a gloss over many years to leap to x years later; inclusion of characters or characterisations that seemed to just tick-a-contemporary-box; exposition rather than action). It would have been a 3 to 4 star read if it had kept its momentum or not become a muddled message mess.

Pachinko (パチンコ ?) is a type of mechanical game originating in Japan and is used as both a form of recreational arcade game and much more frequently as a gambling device.