#RIPXII The Bear and the Nightingale

 

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From the very start of the book, I am hooked.

And that is not a usual thing. I am a reader of many books. By that I mean that I tend to read several things at once. So it can sometimes take me several tries to get into a book.

(You might just wonder then, why not just concentrate and read that one book, finish it, and then move on to another? Well, that’s just not the way I work. I just like multiple books going on!)

First of all, I love that it’s a fairytale. And more than that, that it’s a snowy, wintry kind of read. I have lived most of my life near the equator – where the only seasons are hot and dry or hot and rainy. And I now live in Northern California where winters are, at the most, rainy, although we could easily drive a few hours to find snow. So I’ve never really been in that kind of dense and intense winters that  the north of Russia must have.

Vasilisa is the youngest child of a wealthy lord of a northern Russian village. She can see  the spirits of the house, forest, river, the spirits that protect them from evil, like the domovoi, which lives in the oven. Her new stepmother can see these spirits too, but she calls them demons and seeks refuge in the church. She soon forbids the household from honoring these spirits with offerings. But Vasya tries to continue this ritual when she can, fearing that something bad is about to happen.

“The domovoi was small and squat and brown. He had a long beard and brilliant eyes. At night he crept out of the oven to wipe the plates and scour away the soot. He used to do mending, too, when people left it out, but Anna would shriek if she saw a stray shirt, and few of the servants would risk her anger. Before Vasya’s stepmother arrived, they had left offerings for him: a bowl of milk or a bit of bread. But Anna shrieked then, too. Dunya and the serving-maids had begun hiding their offerings in odd corners where Anna rarely came.”

Things get even more interesting when Father Konstantin is sent to their village and the villagers grow more fearful, and so is bold and brave Vasya.

“No, Vasya was frightened of her own people. They did not joke on the way to church anymore; they listened to Father Konstantin in heavy, hungry silence. And even when they were not in church, the people made excuses to visit his room.”

Something is waking, something evil. And without these spirits’ protection, crops start failing, the creatures of the forest roam closer, danger lurks.

The Bear and the Nightingale was an absolute charmer of a book. I loved all the Russian folklore throughout and the rural setting. Perhaps the only part that didn’t sit too well with me was the last act, which seemed a bit rushed.

 

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This is my fourth read for RIP XII

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Joining #RIPXII

Happy RIP season! I’ve been taking part since RIP IV – it was the very first challenge I took part in, so it will always be special! Every September 1 through October 31 for the last 11 years Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings has hosted the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, affectionately known as the R.I.P. Challenge. And now it’s being run by Andi of Estelle’s Revenge and Heather of My Capricious Life.

But it remains the same, it’s always about books of:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.
And I always go for
Peril the First:
“Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (our very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shirley Jackson or Tananarive Due…or anyone in between.”

I’ve decided this year to focus on women writers!

Here’s my pool:

The Vicious Deep – Zoraida Cordova

Ink and Ashes – Valence E. Maetani

Waiting on a Bright Moon – JY Yang

The Reader – Traci Chee

The Chaos – Nalo Hopkinson

Lagoon – Nnedi Okorafor

City of the Lost – Kelley Armstrong

The Witches of New York – Ami McKay

The Unquiet Dead – Ausma Zehanat Khan

#AsianLitBingo: Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai


I’ve been wondering why I’ve not read Selvadurai’s works before. Why have his books escaped my eye? It’s such a pity because he is such a great writer.

I knew that this book was a gay coming-of-age story but didn’t know that a big part of the story would be about the riots in Sri Lanka.

“But we are a minority, and that’s a fact of life,” my father said placatingly. “As a Tamil you have to learn how to play the game. Play it right and you can do very well for yourself. The trick is not to make yourself conspicuous. Go around quietly, make your money, and don’t step on anyone’s toes.”

Funny Boy is also a story about Sri Lanka and the ethnic violence that erupted in the 1980s – which is what drove the author and his family to flee Sri Lanka for Canada. Selvadurai’s mother is Sinhalese (the majority group) and his father is Tamil. The 1983 “Black July” riots resulted in the deaths of an estimated 400 to 3,000, thousands of shops and homes destroyed, and some 150,000 people were made homeless.

What seemed disturbing, now that I thought about those 1981 riots, was that there had been no warning, no hint that they were going to happen. I looked all around me at the deserted beach, so calm in the hot sun. What was to prevent a riot from happening right now?

Arjie and his cousins spend one Sunday a month at their grandparents’ house, free of their parents. The boys play cricket for hours in the front and the field, the girls play in the back garden and porch. Arjie plays with the girls, mostly “bride-bride”, where he, being the leader of the group, plays the bride.

“I was able to leave the constraints of my self and ascent into another, more brilliant, more beautiful self, a self to whom this day was dedicated, and around whom the world, represented by my cousins putting flowers in my hair, draping the palu, seemed to revolve.”

But his “funny” ways are soon discovered and the adults insist that he stick to the boys’ games.

“I would be caught between the boys’ and the girls’ worlds, not belonging or wanted in either.”

Arjie starts to attend a new school, as his father explains, it will force him to “become a man”. It is at this academy that Arjie meets Shehan, who is rumored to be gay. They become friendly and then, more than friends, but even that is something of a risk, as Arjie is Tamil while Shehan is Sinhalese.

Throughout the book, ethnic identity is brought to the fore. Arjie’s aunt falls for a Sinhalese man. But the community’s prejudice tears them apart. His mother meets an old friend, a reporter investigating police abuses of power, who disappears in Jaffna, where violence erupted.

Funny Boy is a moving, engaging read about a young boy’s journey into adulthood in Sri Lanka.

 


I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – South Asian MC

#AsianLitBingo: Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen

 

I probably should have first read Little House on the Prairie before reading this book. While I know of the story – and think I remember watching some episodes of the TV show – I cannot confirm if I’ve actually read the book.

This book luckily has plenty of layers and even a non-Little House reader like me can find plenty to love.

The story goes as such. Lee Lien is jobless. She has a PhD but she’s finding it hard to find a job. So she goes home to a Chicago suburb where her mother and grandfather still live – and where they run a Vietnamese restaurant. She has a younger brother who’s convinced that their mother is hiding money from them. He leaves, taking all the cash in the register and all their mother’s jewelry, except for a single brooch. This  brooch was left behind by an American journalist their grandfather had met in Vietnam in 1965. Lee Lien wants to find out if there’s any truth to the idea that the American was Laura Ingall Wilder’s daughter.

So in one hand, a literary mystery that takes Lee from Chicago to Iowa to San Francisco.

The story goes as such. Lee Lien is jobless. She has a PhD but she’s finding it hard to find a job. So she goes home to a Chicago suburb where her mother and grandfather still live – and where they run a Vietnamese restaurant. She has a younger brother who’s convinced that their mother has been hiding money from them. He leaves, taking all the cash in the register and all their mother’s jewelry, except for a single brooch. This brooch was left behind by an American journalist their grandfather had met in Vietnam in 1965. Lee Lien wants to find out if there’s any truth to the idea that the American was Laura Ingall Wilder’s daughter Rose.

So on one hand, a literary mystery of sorts that takes Lee from Chicago to Iowa to San Francisco in search of Rose Wilder. (I say ‘of sorts’ because if you’re coming to this book looking for an actual mystery, then you may be disappointed. Also, if you’ve already read all the Little House books and all kinds of non-fiction about the Wilders then you will also be disappointed. I’m adding these caveats as I’ve read some reviews on Goodreads and I reckon these readers were coming into the story expecting new revelations about the Wilders. It was however an interesting experience for myself, not knowing anything about the story behind the books, to learn  about Rose Wilder Lane, who, despite her own work, her journalism, her books (she was the first biographer of Herbert Hoover and her collaboration on the Little House series), she is today best known as being the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

And on the other hand, this is a story about family. Her mother wants her to take over the business. Lee Lien feels a tug towards her family, wanting to help her mother and her grandfather. But she also knows that it is time to figure out things for herself, to learn where her research can take her, to carve her own path.

I really enjoyed this one.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – South East Asian MC

#AsianLitBingo: The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino

“And so it came to pass that sisters who had been the best of friends were forced to follow separate paths. ‘Separate’ is not quite the right word. Our paths were more distinctly different, as if she were to follow the day and I the night; or she the inner road and I the outer, she to traverse the heavens and I the earth. That was the ‘law’ of the island – that was our ‘destiny’.

It feels like a bit of a gamble for Natsuo Kirino, best known for her crime/mystery novels, to have written this retelling of the Japanese creation myth.

Yet it also remains true to her female-focused narratives, with this being a more feminist rebelling.

Apparently when Kirino’s books, especially Out, were first published in Japan, many criticized  her plots and one radio DJ refused to speak to her because in Out, a woman murders her husband.

Also, later I realize that The Goddess Chronicle is part of the Canongate myth series and that Kirino was invited by the publisher to write a story based on ancient Japanese myth.

I didn’t know anything about this myth of Izanaki and Izanami before reading the book – and you don’t really need to but I guess it would enhance your reading of it.  Izanaki and Izanami are deities commanded to make the lands of Japan. Their first attempt resulted in a deformed island and upon consulting the other deities, they learn that it’s because Izanami (the female) had spoken first. And when they try procreating again, Izanaki speaks first and Izanami gives birth to the many islands of Japan. After giving birth to the fire deity, Izanami dies. Izanaki pursues her to the underworld. (You can read more here)

The Goddess Chronicle begins with a dual thread of a story of a young woman whose journey has echoes of the goddess’ life. Namima who lives on a tiny remote island, where the islanders believe they are ruled by ancient gods.

“They sustained our lives; the waves and wind, the sand and stones. We respected the grandeur of nature. Our gods did not come to us in any specific form, but we held them in our hearts and understood them in our own way.”

Her sister Kamikuu is apprenticed to the Oracle on her sixth birthday. She lives with her and learns from her. And she is to no longer see Namima again. Namima is tasked to carry food to Kamikuu. Despite the poverty and scarce resources of the village, the food for Kamikuu is bountiful and rich. Yet she barely eats it, and as is tradition, the leftovers are tossed into the sea

Namibia is due for a very different life.

“Kamikuu, Child of Gods, is yang. She is the high priestess who rules the realm of light. She resides at the Kyoido on the eastern edge of the island, where the sun rises. But you are yin. You must preside over the realm of darkness. You will live here, in the Amiido, on the western edge where the sun sets.

That is, she is to care for the dead. She is to live with them, tend to their decaying bodies, and never return to her village.

But Namima wants more than this dreadful life she is expected to live, just because she is second-born. Things take a very different turn for her when she meets a young man, a fellow outcast whose family is shunned because his mother cannot produce a female child.

We eventually meet the deities Izanaki and Izanami and gods being gods, their story does sound rather silly and petty but they will never change. Or will they?

It took me a while to get into this story. Sometimes with translations one can never tell – is it the translation or is it just how the original story is written? Quite a bit of over-explaining makes the narrative a bit clunky. But overall, I really enjoyed learning about this Japanese myth and I especially liked the human story running alongside. Although I so wish that there was a better resolution to Namima’s story.

 

 

 

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Retelling with Asian MC

#AsianLitBingo: Goat Days by Benyamin 


Yes there are goats in this story.

But first, we meet Najeeb, and he and a friend are trying their very best to get arrested. Life in prison is far better to what he has suffered through recently.

What could be worse than prison?

It is the 1990s. Najeeb is from Kerala, a state in India. He’s intrigued by all the stories of those working in the Gulf and thinks it a quick easy way to make some fast cash and take care of his pregnant wife and their future child. But things do not go the way he expects.

He is put to work with goats. He tended to goats, milked them, fed them, herded them. The goats were treated better than he was. He didn’t have a cot to sleep on, or shelter. And this is the desert, which means ridiculously hot days and freezing cold nights. The precious water was meant for the goats so he wasn’t allowed any water to wash up with. He is only given khubus (a kind of bread) to eat for lunch and dinner, and some raw goat’s milk in the morning for breakfast. And barely enough water to drink.

We follow him through his days. His hard, painful, extremely dirty days where the only other human he sees is his Arab owner, a mean man who watches him through binoculars to make sure he doesn’t run off while herding goats – and won’t hesitate to shoot. When finally Najeeb meets other people, two Sundanese men who come to shear the sheep, although they don’t have a common language, he is just thrilled to see different faces, to smell a different smell. 

“The sense of dejection that descended one me as they departed! I had been enjoying the scent of two humans till then. Now, there were only the animals and me. Grief came, like rain.”

He didn’t expect to be a goat herder. He just wanted to make easy money – his relative got him a work visa. And when he landed in Saudi Arabia, not speaking a word of Arabic, not knowing any details except a name. Someone comes to claim him and they drive far off into the desert where he begins work. There is no choice for there is nothing but sand around. Where can he go? He doesn’t know where he is. He can’t speak the language. And somehow he survives three years, barely human, treated worse than an animal. He is a slave.

“My thoughts were not of my home country, home, Sainu, Ummah, my unborn son/daughter, my sorrows and anxieties or my fate, as one would imagine. All such thoughts has become alien to me as they were to the dead who had reached the other world. So soon – you might wonder. My answer is yes. No use being bound by such thoughts. They only delay the process of realization that we’ve lost out to circumstances and there is no going back. I realized this within a day. Anxiety and worry were futile. That world had become alien to me. Now only my sad new world existed for me.”

What a painful  read, brutal even. It’s hard to attract people to read such a book, I know. But I am glad I read it. It is a short read, at just 255 pages, and essentially while it is a rather simple story, it is well portrayed, it is moving and a very unique look at life in Saudi Arabia, far from the towering skyscrapers and modern amenities, far from another human face. It is terrifying to think that this is happening out there. 

“Every experience in life has a climax, whether it be happiness, sorrow, sickness or hunger. When we reach the end, there are only two paths left for us: either we learn to live with our lives or protest and struggle in a final attempt to escape. If we choose the second path, we are safe if we win; if not, we end up in a mental asylum or kill ourselves.” 

I am using Goat Days for Asian Lit Bingo – Poor or working class  Asian MC

#AsianLitBingo TBR list

A group of Asian book bloggers have come together to host this awesome challenge for May (Asian American Heritage Month).

All the details can be found here 

Eligible Books:

  • Fiction books should have an Asian main character (can be one of several main characters) and be by an Asian author to qualify. It does not have to be #ownvoices, but reading #ownvoices books is strongly encouraged!
  • Nonfiction books should be by an Asian author with a focus on Asian people, whether it’s a[n] [auto]biography, history book, essay collection, etc. A nonfiction book can count for prompts other than the nonfiction square provided that it that focuses on a person/group that corresponds to that prompt (e.g. an autobiography of a Asian trans woman could count for either the nonfiction category or the LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC category).
  • The free space is for any book with an Asian main character by an Asian author.

I have to admit that some of the topics are quite tricky! I know that there is no way I can read books to fill ALL the squares but I still want to write up a TBR list, to push myself to think about books that I don’t immediately reach for. I hope to complete at least one line somewhere!

East Asian MC – Hotel Iris by Yoko Ozawa 

Asian Refugee MC – The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui 

Asian Immigrant MC – Mãn by Kim Thuy

Asian MC with a Disability – A time to dance by Padma Venkatraman

Multiracial/Multiethnic Asian MC – The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC – Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai

West Asian MC – House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

Asian Muslim AC – Does my head look big in this? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Religious Asian MC – A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Poor or Working Class Asian MC – Lotus by Lijia Zhang

SFF with Asian MC – Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Historical Fiction with Asian MC – Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Retelling with Asian MC – Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino

Contemporary with Asian MC – The Love Wife by Gish Jen

Graphic Novel with Asian MC – Turning Japanese by MariNaomi (does it count? It’s a graphic memoir)

Queer Romance with Asian MC – If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Romance w/ POC/Indigenous Love Interest – The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev

Central Asian MC ? (Because my library doesn’t seem to have any)

Translated Work by an Asian Author  – Malice by Keigo Higashino

Southeast Asian MC – Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen

Asian Superhero MC – Ms Marvel Vol 6 by G Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona  

Asian Transracial Adoptee MC – Lucky Girl by Mei-Ling Hopgood

Non-Fiction by an Asian Author – I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

South Asian MC – What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera