Author: Mondyboy

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

TL;DR A haunting, beautiful and discomforting novel about the lasting repercussions of racism in America. Opening Remarks And now it’s time for Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.  A National Book Award finalist and a novel that has generated more hype than your average power station.  Her 2011 novel Salvage The Bones (I haven’t read it) won the National Book Award so it’s not surprising that there’s been a great deal of anticipation for Sing, Unburied, Sing. The critics have lavished it with praise… but will I? Spoilers:  Yes.  I lavish. KNEE JERK OBSERVATIONS This is the second book I’ve read...

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The Leavers by Lisa Ko

TL;DR The prose is great, but I’ve grown bored with self destructive characters. Opening Remarks After reading five consecutive historical novels it’s refreshing to pick up a book set in the 21st Century.  The Leavers isn’t just a debut novel it’s also a finalist for the National Book Award and won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize. The PEN/Bellwether prize is for manuscripts (not finished novels) that deal with the issue of social justice and how it impacts on relationships. Knee Jerk Observations You’re happily reading a book about a Chinese boy, in America, who is abandoned by his undocumented mother and then you’re hit in the face by the most scintillating prose: I don’t want to say that there’s a maturity to Lisa Ko’s prose because it sounds condescending and patronising.  But her writing is so assured.  She captures the awkwardness and anxiety of being in a foster home to people who genuinely care even if they are mildly and accidentally racist.  For example Deming Guo’s foster parents, who are wealthy and white, immediately change his name to Daniel Wilkinson because they feel he will fit in better at school. But they do mean well and there is this wonderful moment when Peter, Deming’s foster father introduces Deming to the magic of vinyl.  It reignites Deming’s love for all things musical: I haven’t entirely escaped the historical novel. The Leavers has a flashback set in China...

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Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig

My Observations and random thoughts (with added flavour text): Another day another historical novel (five in a row!) – Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig, longlisted for the National Book Award. Miss Burma is Craig’s second novel.  Her first book The Good Men, which I haven’t read, was published 14 years ago.  While that novel dealt with heresies, 14th Century France and the Catholic Inquisition, this book is far more personal and provides a fictional account of Craig’s grandparents, her mother and their life in Burma. Charmaine Craig’s mother, Louisa Benson Craig, was the first in her country to be crowned as Miss Burma and participate in the Miss Universe contest. It’s interesting that Craig has decided to tell her family’s story through the lens of fiction rather than non-fiction.  A recent interview with Craig suggests that fiction allowed her to explore the interior lives of her mother and grandparents. You can find that interview here I know next to nothing about Burma (now Myanmar).  I could have guessed that, like India, the country had fallen under British rule in the 19th Century and that after World War II it gained independence from the crumbling British Empire (1948).  What I had no idea about was the deep division within the country between the dominant ethic group, the Bamar, and other cultural groups like the Shan and the Karen all seeking their own independence.  I am now...

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The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

Megan Hunter’s very slim novel (it’s really a novelette, but who’s counting) The End We Start From beautifully marries together a world-wide environmental collapse with the difficulties of giving birth and rearing children when the normal support mechanisms no longer exist. Hunter’s prose is poetic but sparse. Characters are not given names, just initials. Tonally it has an almost detached quality. And yet somehow the book manages to be a powerful reading experience. Partly this is because it is so short, it would have been difficult to sustain this style for longer than the 17,000 words that comprise the book. And partly Hunter’s careful attention to word choice (I can’t provide a specific example because I left my hard-copy… yes I READ A HARD COPY!… at home, but trust me) which brilliantly intertwines a mother’s sense of uncertainty and fear with her complete devotion to her child born into a world that has abruptly changed forever. While we can read this book as a commentary on the environmental crisis that we all face, and how it will affect those who lack agency, our protagonist’s journey can easily be overlaid against the current refugees crisis in Syria and other parts of the world less talked about. This book reminds us that becoming a refugee is not a lifestyle choice but something imposed by forces outside of most people’s control. The...

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