RIP X and Diversiverse: The Good House by Tananarive Due

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Above the steps, the house appeared like a doll’s house set against the wilderness, prominently displaying the large picture window Angela and Tariq had built after they claimed the house as their own. Gramma Marie’s house had been built in 1907, and except for the picture window, internal refurbishing, roof work, painting, and electrical and plumbing updates, the roomy house remained as it had always been: a cheery blue post-Victorian with five bedrooms, twin pairs of narrow white columns on either side of the porch to greet visitors, and a round windowpositioned like a watchful eye from the attic. The boxy second story sat atop the smaller first level like a fat, nesting bird. The house bordered nearly virgin woods and a creek that had been in Angela’s family for three generations now.

Sounds lovely doesn’t it.

Well this house has been haunting me the past week(s) or so since I’ve finished this book.
You don’t think that a town like this..

small cluster of businesses that called itself “downtown” always had their radios tuned to the same oldies station that played The Four Seasons, Bobby Darin, and Elvis Presley, creating an overall effect Corey called “Time Warp, U.S.A.” And how even the beefiest-looking bill-capped rednecks with gun racks mounted in their pickups’ rear windows drove past them in town and greeted them with wide grins and neighborly waves like characters straight out of a Frank Capra movie.

A town like this could never harbour something evil. Could it?

Because there would be something else. She knew that from a place that did not adhere to rationality, a wordless, unmapped place. She’d felt that tingling in her fingertips, the same sensation she’d experienced on the Fourth of July, and that tingling signaled big things, catastrophic things. She hadn’t realized until now how much she’d been living in dread of the day that cold-burn would return, imagining what awful  surprises it would drag in its wake.

But this town has seen some tragic events recently, and there’s more to come.

And it all began a long time ago, with vodou priestess Marie Touissant, who lived in the Good House, and who, while trying to help a neighbour’s child, unleashes a relentless spirit into her world.

Fast forward to today, and Marie’s granddaughter Angela is back at the Good House, staying there with her family, visiting the sleepy town she grew up in. She hasn’t a clue about the house and its past, or even her grandmother’s powers and beliefs. But when her life, her heart, is ripped apart, she begins to uncover her family’s past, its connection to vodou, and her own need to embrace it – or die trying.

Tanananarive Due has written a very suspenseful book. One that I made sure not to read at night, especially after one evening, when I read it close(r) to bedtime, and then couldn’t sleep!

I’m not the best judge of horror or suspense novels. I tend only to read them for this event, as they really just creep me out. And at RIP, I get enough creeping-out to last me for the rest of the year. Due’s plot, with its vengeful spirits reaching out to take everything that is precious from you, really sent chills up my spine. I know it may sound weird to many of you, but I think I felt this way, because I kind of believed it. I mean, I know it’s fictional and all that, but there were parts of it, the horrors of losing a loved one, that just ripped my heart out.

That’s the thing though. I ‘enjoyed’ the book in the sense that I was creeped out, as I was meant to be. But I am hesitating to pick up another of her books, because I don’t really want to be creeped out like that again! At least not right now. And I also have to add here that it took me weeks just to finish writing up this post, because I really just dreaded having to think about this book again.

So if you’re looking for something  suspenseful this RIP season, consider The Good House!

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I read this book for Diversiverse and RIP X 

 

Bibliography

Speculative fiction novels
The Between (1995)
The Good House (2003)
Joplin’s Ghost (2005)

African Immortals Series
My Soul to Keep (1997)
The Living Blood (2001)
Blood Colony (2008)
My Soul To Take (2011)

Mysteries
Naked Came the Manatee (1996) (contributor)
The Tennyson Hardwick novels
Casanegra (2007; with Blair Underwood and Steven Barnes)
In the Night of the Heat (2008; with Blair Underwood and Steven Barnes)
From Cape Town with Love (2010; with Blair Underwood and Steven Barnes)
South by Southeast (scheduled for September 2012; with Blair Underwood and Steven Barnes)
Short stories
“Like Daughter”, Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (2000)
“Patient Zero”, The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Eighteenth Annual Collection (2001)
“Trial Day”, Mojo: Conjure Stories (2003)
“Aftermoon”, Dark Matter: Reading the Bones (2004)
“Senora Suerte”, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction[9] (September 2006)
The Lake (2011)

Other works
The Black Rose, historical fiction about Madam C.J. Walker[10] (2000)
Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights (2003) (with Patricia Stephens Due)
Devil’s Wake (with Steven Barnes) (2012)
Domino Falls (2013)
Ghost Summer (Collection) (2015)

#Diversiverse and #RIPX : Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan

 

 

beautywound

(translated by Anne Tucker)

Dewi Ayu was buried in a far corner of the cemetery among the graves of other ill-fated people, because that was what Kyai Jahro and the gravedigger had agreed upon. Buried there was an evil thief from the colonial era, and a crazy killer, and a number of communists, and now a prostitute. It was believed that those unfortunate souls would be disturbed by ongoing tests and trials in the grave, and so it was wise to distance them from the graves of pious people who wanted to rest in peace, be invaded by worms and rot in peace, and make love to heavenly nymphs without any commotion.

What is this book that I’ve just read? It is hard to really put a finger on what genre it would fall into.

Is it a ghost story?
Is it historical fiction?
Is it a romance?
Is it a sweeping family saga that spans several generations and many decades?
Is it a story about Indonesia, its history and its people and culture?

It is all that and more.

It is ambitious. It is immense. It is startling and odd and also fresh and exciting.

It is the story of Dewi Ayu, born into a Dutch family, captured by the Japanese when they occupied Indonesia, forced into prostitution. And it is also the story of her four daughters and their own families.

Lots of people get married in the months of the rainy season. Crowds of villagers attend ceremony after ceremony for weeks on end and the golden janur kuning poles marking the houses holding wedding parties stick out of fences at almost every single intersection, arching over the street to dangle their festive decorations. Meanwhile, those men who aren’t married yet go off to the whorehouse, lovers meet more often to get it on in secret, long-married couples seem to relive their honeymoons in the months of the rainy season, and God creates many tiny little embryos

It is also the story of Indonesia – from its occupation by the Japanese during the Second World War, to its struggles with the Dutch (it was part of the Dutch East Indies) and then with the communists and the anti-communist purge in 1965.

So it is political, it is violent – in terms of physical violence and sexual violence. Yet Eka Kurniawan somehow manages to bring some humour, albeit an odd sense of it, into his tale.

They often teased people forced to walk past the cemetery, making spooky noises or appearing as headless sweet potato sellers. Everyone avoided the place at night but Kamino and Farida were quite used to the ghosts, and simply chased them away like other people shoo out a chicken that has wandered into the kitchen. Every once in a while the couple even teased the ghosts right back.

I rushed through a good part of this book, which I had borrowed as an e-book from the library. That wasn’t the way Beauty is a Wound should be read though. I had started it but then the whole woman climbing out of a grave thing wasn’t really jiving with me at the time – I had just emerged from reading a book that had creeped me out, and I wasn’t ready for more ghostly matters!. So I mentally filed it away to read later. Of course, it was only way later that I remembered it, with just a few days left before it would expire. With some other eager readers on hold for the e-book, there wasn’t a chance to renew it, and so the intense reading began.

But with its large ensemble cast and its meander through history, this is an intense read.

For instance, when Kurniawan introduces a new character, he tosses us deep into this character’s history, yes, breaking the original narrative and chronological order of the story, pulling the reader back in time, tracing this new character’s relationship with the previously mentioned characters and sometimes introducing other characters, a seemingly different story arc. Then he brings it all back together again to continue the main story. It is originally a bit disconcerting but the lives of these different characters, their own stories is so fascinating that I just read and read wherever Kurniawan takes me.

There is so much that seems to be taken from legend and folklore here. I am not familiar with Indonesian culture (although I am from Southeast Asia), so I don’t know if all these myths and stories Kurniawan tells are influenced by something that is old and legendary, but it often feels like it. I’m probably missing out a bit by not knowing all this background, but like any good book, it makes me want to find out more, to read more about Indonesia and learn. (And also wonder why the Singapore education system never made us learn more about our neighbours).

The supernatural is a big part of Indonesian culture. Prominent Indonesians are known to consult dukun or shamans. It is even said that former presidents Suharto and Sukarno employed dukun, who are seen as gatekeepers to the supernatural world, and can heal ailments, and some more famous ones even claim to help politicians get elected.

As they descended from the station platform, they jerked back at the soupy air, thick with a rancid stench and full of shadows that flickered with a reddish glow.
“It’s like entering a haunted house,” the wife commented, shaking her head. “No,” said her husband, “it’s like there was a massacre in this city.”

I wouldn’t say this book is for everyone. It is not a quick breezy read. Its layers and depths and even humour take some time to wander through. It is wordy, it meanders. But it offers insight into a country that not many books are set in, it also gives the reader plenty of food for thought. If you’re looking for something a little different, and are willing to devote some time to reading it, consider Beauty is a Wound.

Interestingly, Beauty is a Wound or Cantik itu Luka was originally published in 2002. Lelaki Harimau or Man Tiger (recently published by Verso Books) was originally published in 2004.

 

Here are others’ thoughts on the book:

The Complete Review

ANZ LitLovers

The Saturday Paper

Salty Popcorn

One NYT review: “If Pippi Longstocking were an Indonesian prostitute instead of a Swedish tomboy, she would be something like Dewi Ayu”.
(really??)

Also, an interesting interview with Kurniawan in the Sydney Morning Herald

Have you read this book or Eka Kurniawan’s other works?

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I read this book for Diversiverse and RIP X 

#Diversiverse and #RIPX : Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

sorcerer_front mech.indd

“I’m surprised at you, Lorrie,” said Rollo. “It stands to reason no one can have a picnic if it is raining cockatrices and dragons. A hugeness mermaid don’t improve the view, either.”

It is always refreshing to read a fantasy/magical story that isn’t all about people fair of skin and golden-locked. And it is always wonderful to read of a strong feisty main female character who doesn’t bow down to tradition, even if it is a Regency setting, where women are not supposed to practise magic.

SorcerertotheCrownUKcoverlarge

Sorcerer to the Crown is all about breaking with tradition.

In truth magic had always had a slightly un-English character, being unpredictable, heedless of tradition and profligate with its gifts to high and low.

Sure, there are elements of popular fantasy reads here. A school for magic (or rather anti-magic) for girls. Squabbling magicians (males of course). The land of faery. A Regency England setting. Very proper and what not.

Magic was too strong a force for women’s frail bodies – too potent a brew for their weak minds – and so, especially at a time when everyone must be anxious to preserve what magical resource England still possessed, magic must be forbidden to women.

But at its heart is the Sorcerer Royal Zacharias, a black man in a sea of white. He was a freed slave who was adopted by the Sir Stephen Wythe, then the Sorcerer Royal. He inherited the title from Sir Stephen. Well sort of. The thing with the title is that it comes with a staff and like Thor’s hammer, it is only wielded by the rightful owner. But mutter mutter there rumour rumour here, everyone is convinced that Zacharias had something to do with Sir Stephen’s death. After all, where is Leofric, Sir Wythe’s familiar? Doesn’t the Sorcerer Royal need a familiar? And also, they blame him for the mere trickling of magic that England now has.

So besides all this politicking (and assassination attempts and constant worrying about lack of magical resources) that Zacharias has to fend off, he has to make a speech at Mrs Daubeney’s School for Gentlewitches, a school in which girls learn to suppress their natural magical abilities. Because women aren’t supposed to be magical. Of course they aren’t! There he meets Prunella, a sort of ward/teacher/servant of the school, a very magical young woman, who seeks his help in leaving the school and, well, she’s not the kind of person who takes no for an answer. And also, she’s a mixed race, half-Indian orphan.

Then there’s Mak Genggang, a witch from Janda Baik, and she’s stirring up trouble for everyone, especially Zacharias, who pretty much has his hands full by now.

Mak Genggang was a puzzle. In manner and appearance she struck Prunella as being little different from an English village witch, of the sort who plied villagers with love philtres and finding charms, far away from the disapproving eye of the Society. Yet she had walked through Fairyland to England; the Sorcerer Royal treated her as an equal; and she was possessed of such a serene and persuasive conviction of her own power that neither fact seemed remarkable.

 

So Zacharias’ life is changed forever, and so is Prunella’s. And they set out to put England right too. Things aren’t ever as simple as that, especially since this is only the first book in the series, but just take it from me, this is a delightful delightful book. It is a book that made me laugh and smile and just be so glad for someone like Zen Cho to have written this magical book of magic. A book full of life and colour and vivacity. A book that simple soars.

(I do have the tiniest twinge of disappointment that this book was not set in Malaysia, or even somewhere in Asia – Cho was born and raised in Malaysia but currently lives in England. But I have hope that she will write one novel set in Asia sometime soon.)

Zen Cho’s Bibliography (her website)
Spirits Abroad (short stories)
Cyberpunk: Malaysia (editor)

 

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I read this book for Diversiverse and RIP X 

RIP X and Diversiverse: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami



I knew I would be reading a book by a Japanese author for RIP X. I just didn’t expect it to be Haruki Murakami. He does write slightly odd books but I guess I never thought any of them really fit into the RIP mood. I can think of plenty of other Japanese writers that would easily do that like Natsuo Kirino, Keigo Higashino, Koji Suzuki.

So it was interesting to read this little volume from Murakami. The American version of it has a flap-over cover. Or whatever the professional term for that is. See the photo in the middle. Essentially the red cover flips open as does the bit at the bottom. And each page has an image on one side and text on the other. The text is alarmingly large but you’ll get used to it. I suppose that is how the publisher managed to turn what is essentially a short story into a book-length publication.

I’m not complaining though. I like the use of the images through the book. It made for a different read.

Opening the book up, top flap then bottom is a little like opening a box. A boxful of secrets, a hidden room, a library of deep dark weirdness, a prison of sorts.

Our nameless young boy goes to the library to return books and read up on Ottoman Empire taxation. And he is led to a room downstairs, a room he never knew existed. There he is told that he will be imprisoned in a room in the library and he has to memorise three books on the Ottoman Empire tax system. If not, his brains will be feasted on.

(Way to encourage kids to spend time at the library, Mr Murakami!)

Anyway, a strange little read from the master of Japanese fiction. Suitable indeed for RIP and whatever odd reading mood you are in.

What I found fascinating also is that the British version of the book has different illustrations, as this article from The Guardian shows. 

The Millions examines this a bit more, and shows us the cover of the original Japanese book, and further ignites my curiosity about the British version: “Open up that edition to any page and the word “vintage” will spring to mind, from the lovely marbled endpapers to the reproduced antique plates of dogs and birds.”

Apparently, Chip Kidd’s American design had some familiar with Japanese publishing shaking their heads in dismay!

 

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I read this book for Diversiverse and RIP X