Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga

While reading this I had this desperate urge to pull out my old CDs and listen to them again. Why yes, I did once have a CD collection! Of course everything is available online nowadays and with Spotify I was able to pull up some Neutral Milk Hotel, some Teitur, The National…

This book was a quick, fun but also a little sad bit of a read while nursing a horrendous cough that kept me up all night.

It’s very YA – a rock star turns out to be Taliah’s dad, and he drives to meet her in Ohio after she sends letter after letter to him. I mean, isn’t that every teen’s dream? To meet a famous musician and to learn that you’re related?

Luckily the story is a bit more than that.

Not so fortunately though, Julian’s father, Taliah’s grandfather, is dying and he wants her to meet him. She sets off with him and her best friend – her mother is away in Paris for a work trip. And in the first place, her mother had told Taliah that her father was dead. Very YA

“This may sound weird, but there are certain songs, like really great songs – you don’t just listen to them, you know? They make you feel like they’re listening back. Like the person who wrote the song heard you. Music makes you feel less alone in that way. It’s proof that someone out there has felt the exact same way you do and they’ve managed to capture it in this perfect blend of words and sound.”

But as the setting moves to Julian’s small hometown and Taliah meets his family and gets to know her father better, the story improves quite a bit and I get drawn towards this family-not-quite-family that is facing the last few days of a loved one – although in Taliah’s case, more like a person she might have loved if she had gotten to know him.

The other thing I should mention is that I read this for Asian Lit Bingo and the reason for that is Taliah’s mother is Jordanian. Warga’s father is from Jordan and she said in an interview that she identifies as Middle Eastern American and also as biracial.

I do wish we knew more about Taliah’s mother’s family but overall it was an enjoyable read.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Asian Muslim MC

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#AsianLitBingo – Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig

Shan, Mon, Chin, Rohingya, Kachin, Karen (these last pronounced with the accent on the second syllable, it seemed to him – Ro-HIN-gya, Ka-CHIN, Ka-REN) and so on.

This book was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction which is probably where I first heard of it.

I was curious about it as its focus is on the Karen people of Myanmar, people who have been persecuted for their beliefs, and still are today.

It was something about their friendliness, their relaxed natures, their open courteousness, their love of life, their easy acceptance of his right to be among them, elephantine as he must have appeared in their eyes (and hopelessly dumb, miming what he wanted to purchase). He had the sense that wherever they had come from (Mongolia? Tibet?), however many centuries or millennia ago, they had long ago accepted others’ infiltration of their homeland so long as it was peaceable. Yet he also had the distinct impression that they’d never forgotten the dust of homelessness on their feet.

I have to confess that I was also interested by Craig’s own background. She is an actress and is part Karen and based much of the book on the lives of her grandmother and mother, who was actually Miss Burma and a political revolutionary.

But I felt that this book was a really difficult read. Part of it is the violence and the suppression of the Karen people. Part of it is the way the author crams so much into the book. It was very heavy, very intense, something that probably required a longer reading time than the three weeks my ebook loan allowed me.

It was one hell of a tough read.

It did however open my eyes to Burmese history, which I knew almost nothing about before this.

I realized that after writing all this I never actually talked about the synopsis.

And to be honest it’s just easier to paste the official synopsis for you. Maybe you might appreciate this book more than I did.

A beautiful and poignant story of one family during the most violent and turbulent years of world history, Miss Burma is a powerful novel of love and war, colonialism and ethnicity, and the ties of blood.

Miss Burma tells the story of modern-day Burma through the eyes of Benny and Khin, husband and wife, and their daughter Louisa. After attending school in Calcutta, Benny settles in Rangoon, then part of the British Empire, and falls in love with Khin, a woman who is part of a long-persecuted ethnic minority group, the Karen. World War II comes to Southeast Asia, and Benny and Khin must go into hiding in the eastern part of the country during the Japanese Occupation, beginning a journey that will lead them to change the country’s history. After the war, the British authorities make a deal with the Burman nationalists, led by Aung San, whose party gains control of the country. When Aung San is assassinated, his successor ignores the pleas for self-government of the Karen people and other ethnic groups, and in doing so sets off what will become the longest-running civil war in recorded history. Benny and Khin’s eldest child, Louisa, has a danger-filled, tempestuous childhood and reaches prominence as Burma’s first beauty queen soon before the country falls to dictatorship. As Louisa navigates her newfound fame, she is forced to reckon with her family’s past, the West’s ongoing covert dealings in her country, and her own loyalty to the cause of the Karen people.

Based on the story of the author’s mother and grandparents, Miss Burma is a captivating portrait of how modern Burma came to be and of the ordinary people swept up in the struggle for self-determination and freedom.

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

#AsianLitBingo – Don’t Let Him Know by Sandip Roy

I wouldn’t have heard of this book if not for the lists of suggested reads for Asian Lit Bingo. I initially read it with the thought of using it for the “Queer Romance with Asian MC” square but ended up using it for a different square so as to get a bingo!

Don’t Let Him Know opens with Romola who is visiting her son Amit in America not long after her husband Avinash dies. Amit finds among her things, part of a letter from someone named Sumit. And Amit assumes Sumit was his mother’s former lover, before she met and married his dad. But she doesn’t know how to tell him – can she even tell him? – that this letter from Sumit wasn’t written to her, but to Amit’s father and Romola’s late husband, Avinash.

The book reads more like a collection of linked stories than a novel. We move from character to character, back and forth in time, through various stages of their lives.

It opens with an adult Amit and Romola as a recent widow. Then move back to the time of Romola and Avinash as newlyweds in Illinois. We also meet with a young Amit and in another chapter, an older Amit trying to find his own way in America.

I was surprised that a lot of the chapters belonged more to Romola and Amit than to Avanish. I guess I was expecting to learn more about Avanish and his coming to understand (or perhaps failure to understand) his true self, one that he kept hidden for so long and just seemed so uncomfortable with. I wanted the book to explore more of that.

Still it was a worthwhile read.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – South Asian MC

#AsianLitBingo : After Dark by Haruki Murakami

It feels like ages since I’ve read a Haruki Murakami book. It is especially with Murakami that I need to take long breathing spaces. To pause and have a breath of fresh air from all that strangeness.

And After Dark is definitely a strange one.

I love how it brings in all that happens in the wee hours of the night.

Just before midnight at a Denny’s somewhere in Tokyo, a young woman named Mari sits reading a book.

Before dawn breaks she will have met a young man who plays a trombone, a Chinese prostitute who has been beaten by her client, and a former wrestler turned love hotel manager.

Then there’s Eri, Mari’s sister, who has been asleep for some months. They’ve not seen her awake but she seems to be getting up and doing the bare minimum to be alive. Their doctor can’t do anything to help her.

What a fun and very weird read. I read this while in a beachside vacation rental in coastal Oregon with the sounds of waves crashing and lulling me to sleep.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Translated Work by an Asian Author

#AsianLitBingo Kinder than Solitude by Yiyun Li

Like my previous read, Rainbirds, Kinder Than Solitude opens with a death.

This death though has been a long time coming. Shaoai has been in a coma for many years, the result of a chemical poisoning when she was a teenager, although till this day no one is sure what exactly happened.

Boyang, an old friend, is the one handling the cremation. And the reader is told that he would send emails every month informing two people, Ruyu and Moran, that Shaoai was alive. But these communications had never been acknowledged.

How very strange.

Li then takes us back to those teenaged years when Shaoai was alive. Her family has just taken in a young innocent Ruyu. It is 1989 and Ruyy is moving to Beijing to attend high school. An orphan since young, she had been taken care of by her grand aunts in a small town. Boyang and Moran are Shaoai’s neighbours and are a year older than Ruyu and they will attend the same school.

The teenaged years are interspersed with the current lives of Moran, Ruyu, and Boyang.

Adult Moran lives in Wisconsin and refuses to return to Beijing, not even for a visit.

Places do not die or vanish, yet one can obliterate their existence, just as one can a lover from an ill-fated affair. For Moran, this was not a drastic action: one needs only to live coherently, to be one’s exact self from one day to the next, to make such a place, such a person, recede.

Ruyu too lives in the US, in California, helping a family run their household and working small jobs such as dog sitting and working at a chocolate shop.

Little has bound them together but the waiting, which, all over now, would finally release them into a void, where even the keenest ears could not discern that they, like three unconnected music phrases, has once been in the same piece.

It was a surprisingly dark book. It was a journey, an understanding into how the past affects us, taints us.

This isn’t exactly an immigrant narrative, and it’s definitely not a mystery or crime type of novel. So I’m not exactly sure where it fits. Maybe under the category of “good writing”!  I love Li’s writing, her well-observed nuances that reveal life in Beijing. Kinder Than Solitude wasn’t exactly the easiest book to read but I definitely am glad I did read it.

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

See the rest of my TBR list here

The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah

Ah this book was an intriguing one. It opens with a woman in prison in Harare, Zimbabwe. Her name is Memory and she has been convicted of killing her adopted father, a white man named Lloyd. In the first chapter we learn that when she was nine, her parents sold her to Lloyd. She recounts that day, wearing the clothes they usually wear to church “because if you are going to hand your daughter over to a perfect stranger, you need to look your best”.

Her memories from her childhood pop in here and there. For our memories are never accurate, never exact. We might remember something someone said but not exactly when they said it or why. And adults may never tell us the whole truth, even when asked. Such as when Lloyd spoke of how Memory came to live with him, always in euphemisms.

But this is what Memory is trying to achieve here, she is writing down her story in notebooks given to her by an American journalist. Her first visitor, other than her lawyer, in the two years, three months, seven days that she has been in prison. And as she writes, “the memories are flooding my mind, faster than I can write them down”.

This is a story about Zimbabwe. One seen from a prison cell, one seen from the eyes of a child, as Memory introduces her family, her life story, and tries to figure out what happened, how she got here.

“Until you attempt to write the story of your life, you cannot quite understand just how hard it is to grasp at the beginning. I wish I could start this the traditional way, by telling you all about my father and mother and how they met and who their parents were and all the begats that preceded their lives, but I cannot. Until they sold me to Lloyd, and I moved away, I knew nothing about them beyond the fact that they were my mother and father.”

 

 

I read this book for the Diversity on the Shelf challenge hosted by Akilah @ The Englishistdiversity

BBAW Day 5 – Burnout!

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One of the unfortunate side effects of reading and blogging like rockstars seems to be a tendency toward burnout. How do you keep things fresh on your blog and in your reading?

 

Ugh, slumps.

I’ve been in a little bit of one lately. It seems odd to say that because I have been reading a lot of comics, and I mean, A LOT (it’s #comicsfebruary after all!). But I haven’t been able to attach myself to a proper book of late.

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It’s funny as I have often used comics to get me out of a reading slump. The comics take away that emptiness that I feel after being dragged out of a book that has absorbed me for days. So to be stuck in a sorta slump while still reading lots of comics has had me puzzled for days.

Then today, I thought I would listen to an audiobook while I took a walk this morning. I am not an audiobook person and have never been successful at listening to a single audiobook all the way through. I didn’t know what to choose so I randomly picked Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein.

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I’ve not really heard much Sleater-Kinney (Brownstein’s band) and have never seen an episode of Portlandia (which Brownstein stars in), but I just wanted to listen to her read her book. And oh my, her tale of being a young teenaged fan, of going out to concerts, her dad in tow, her writing letters to celebrities. I didn’t know much about Brownstein but I definitely could relate to being a fan of music. It reminded me how it was to be so totally devoted to something. I was a teenager in the 1990s, and worshipped Pearl Jam – it was the grunge era after all.

I only listened to the first chapter and a half but I couldn’t wait until my next walk to listen to more of the book.

So why am I telling you this? It’s because I took a step out of my comfort zone and tried something different. I am not an audiobook person, I don’t know if I will listen to other audiobooks after this one, but there was just something about this morning, listening to Carrie Brownstein’s voice as she told of her teenaged years, or maybe it was the combination of the fresh air and that damp from last night’s storm, but I just felt refreshed, and I felt this need to write things down, and I feel a new desire to throw myself into a good book.

Let’s do this in point form shall we?

Some ideas on how to get over a slump from a blogger who has gone through several slumps, considered quitting blogging altogether many times, changed my blog genre a few times, learnt to ignore stats, the allure of ARCs, and hasn’t even bothered to register a custom domain name:

  • Try something new. It could be a new reading challenge, a new meme, a new genre of book
  • Or go back to an old favourite. Reread a childhood classic you once adored. That lovely heartwarming feeling may encourage you to gush about it on the blog.
  • Step away from the blog for a while. Don’t worry, it will be fine.
  • Go to your library or bookstore. Take a deep breath and know that there are so many books out there waiting to be read and appreciated or disparaged.

The life of a stay-home mum can often be a tedious one. There is a lot of routine. There is a lot in terms of hands-on activities. There is a lot of exhaustion, mental and physical. (Of course there are those sweet little moments that remind me why I do this but that’s beside the point.) And sometimes the last thing I want to do is sit at my computer and write something. But sometimes that’s the very thing I know I have to do. Because I don’t really know many other crazy reading readers in real life, and so I don’t really have other people to talk about books with. So thank you for reading this and for being part of the bookish community!

I realize that that last paragraph is a little meander away from the question of the day, but it is the last day of BBAW (my first ever!) and I’m so very glad to have taken part in this. It was just a wonderful week, plenty of books to add to my TBR list, plenty of new-to-me bloggers to discover. Thanks so much for hosting this AnaJennyHeather, and Andi!