By Na Liu
Aiyah, this was so cute! I’m going to keep this book to read to my children one day. I don’t know nearly enough about Chinese history – maybe next year we can make sure we read more books translated from these countries which we don’t know much about? But this gave me rare, sweet insight into the country. Sweet because the only other book I tried to read about China (which I unfortunately did not complete – the only book this year I did not complete) was very dense, and full of difficult information that I didn’t fully understand because of my lack of knowledge. This was the opposite, it was light and friendly, but more importantly, it was the sort of book that I felt I could learn from without needing background in Chinese history.
Out of curiosity, who picked this? You, Sue, Iz?
By Nicola Yoon
I read this book because my cousin told me the movie was coming out, and it was in my virtual bookshelf anyway. I actually read the plot of the movie months ago, so I spoiled it for myself. But if you haven’t read that, it’s a pretty cool plot. The book is about 18-year-old Madeline Whittier, who’s very ill and can only be in her house with her mother and nurse, Carla. Her father and brother died in an accident a long time ago. A family moves in next door, and Maddy becomes friends with the boy, Olly, and they begin messaging online. They fall in loooove.
It’s written from her point of view, which is quite interesting, because we see her coming to her decisions, and making her mistakes, in real time; we also see her slowly uncovering different truths as she does – about Olly and his family, and her own. I mean, it’s about this young, stupid couple. They fall in love and she risks everything for him, essentially. I get it, she’s stuck in a house 24/7 with no company and this is the first person she’s ever spoken to – I might fall in love with anyone in that context. It’s still a bit silly, though, because I came off feeling like it was a bit Stockholm Syndrome-y (not that he was her captor, that would be her mom, but you know, first boy and all). But they’re cute enough. The relationship she has with her mom and nurse are a bit more interesting.
The writing’s decent.
Haha, to be honest, this book – especially because I knew how it would end – was just a bit underwhelming. But I feel like if I hadn’t, it might have been a completely different experience! So if you happen to pick it up, tell me what you thought.
By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Lol you probably don’t know, but Aishwarya Rai did a movie based off the Mistress of Spices, and I’ve watched it aaages ago (cause it’s Aish, and because growing up there were like three English movies with brown people, and my family has seen all of them multiple times). So when I read this book I was so confused, haha. The Mistress of Spices is about Tito, who’s a shopkeeper from India and lands on this island and is trained in the magic of spices, helping customers fulfill their desires and satisfy their deepest needs. However, she falls for an American – and Native American – man called Raven. The spices have rules: no leaving the shop, no devotion to anyone except them, etc. She obviously breaks these.
I was confused because in the book, a huge point is that she’s not attractive because her duty is to the spices and not self – like, she can’t own a mirror or wear anything not given to her. And then they cast Aishwarya Rai?! Who was LITERALLY one of the most beautiful women in the world then? She won Miss World less than 10 years earlier! So, yes, would not recommend watching the movie before the book because the inconsistencies grated on me so bad! I read this in the hostel in Lisbon and I was just making weird grumbling noises from my bed for an hour – French guy on bed next to me was so confused.
By Nnedi Okorafor
The books are Binti, and Binti: Home.
These were books I found on your Kindle, so I have you to thank for that. I enjoyed both! They’re very easy, interesting reads, taking completely out-of-the-world ideas and somehow, over a very short span of time, and suspending our disbelieve so that we think, “Yes, this could be.” And I really think the very innovative plots of these books is what marks them as great books. I don’t think I’ve ever come across aliens anything like these ones before.
They are short, though, which means you just can’t get that much out of them. The plot progresses so quickly that you’re jumping from one planet to another, and you don’t connect so much to the characters. Except the main girl and her alien boo. They’re cute. And their little drama in the second book made me smile.
By Jhumpa Lahiri
This is a series of short stories, the themes and moods from which The Namesake (5/17) was written. It’s kind of a hit and miss. I read them a long while ago, but the ones that stick out (which I have googled to find the right names of): A Real Durwan and Mrs. Sen’s. Both feature elderly women who tug on my heartstrings. All of them centre on the lives of Indians and Indian-Americans (the author is Indian-American as well) and, in its defence, it does portray a wider range than I would have anticipated. You have the usual tropes, adultery, mistreatment of elders, sudden pregnancy, etc. but they’re brought it in unusual and quite creative ways.
But, mind you, none of the stories in this series are particularly happy ones – people are mean and unkind, and these are supposed to reinforce that fact.
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I think it’s so obvious that this is her first novel. I know it was widely acclaimed and all, but I found it so lacking compared to her other books (I read HOAYS and Americanah in Sri Lanka, actually, one after the other over a few days – tbh remember it more than lots of other things from those lovely times). This was definitely my least favourite of her books. For one, I thought the character development was just so much less nuanced than they usually are. You could tell they were changing, both the protaganist and her cousin, even her brother. But it didn’t feel fluid or (lol) organic as much as abrupt. One day they are young, the next they know.
The crux of the book is this screwed up, abusive family dyanmic between girl and her family. And I didn’t realise things were screwed up until quite far in. Like when she spoke about noise on wood in her parents’ room, I thought it meant sex. I didn’t read the back so I wasn’t sure how old she was. But I suppose that’s a strength of the book; you’re looking at things through the eyes of an innocent, and you could take it either as her lack of awareness, or just how wilfully ignorant we can choose to be if it makes bad things in life more palatable.
On the other hand, I thought the dynamicism between traidtionalism and Western religion imported over was so well done. Because there is criticism of everything, of the sexism of her local traditions in the same breath as Christianity; of how even though her dad is important and does good for so many people, his being sometimes cruel is fuelled by Christian religious fanaticism – but it’s something of him, and not the religion itself (because her boo is a pastor or something). Like in the way she dealt with how these two things co-exist in the village I thought it was really well done. One of my favourite parts was when the mom bows to one of the local leaders and the Dad hits her, and the next time the daughter goes to church, she doesn’t kneel to kiss the man (Priest or something’s) ring and she thinks her dad will br proud, and he twists her ear – I think one thing she did well was to capitalise on children’s inherent innocence to show the inherent hypocrisies of adults and religions, traditional or Western, imposed or your own.
It’s not a hard read – especially because it has a pretty happy ending I think, on a hopeful note – but would start with the others.