Review: The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Adichie

After reading Americanah, an unputdownable book full of wit and vigour- I was itching to read another one of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s works and this anthology of twelve short stories did not disappoint. Coming up with twelve different stories, ensuring their plots don’t clash and their characters vary in their personalities all the while, sticking to the common theme of ‘the thing around your neck’ is hard to do but she has executed that effectively. In this book she’s given us some poignant and touching stories which stay with you long after you read their last lines. You can’t help but take a break after each one to ponder upon its lessons and meaning and really read between the lines.

The Thing Around Your Neck features the tales of various Nigerian women, all from different walks of life and varying in age. The stories are set in a range of time periods from the mid-1900s to the 2000s and the protagonists are from every strata of society and some are placed in the U.S.A as well. We see one thing common to all stories and that is the essence and culture of Nigeria which is alive in all of the protagonists. Despite being in different times and situations, the women are subjected to the same repression and orthodoxy, but remain empowered nonetheless. From exploring corruption in Nigerian authorities to the terrors of immigration to the oppression caused by gender roles, making us accomplice to ethnic-wars and riots and of course, her compelling feminist epiphanies, Adichie really takes us full circle.

Although this book included themes common to Adichie’s work, something I found unique to this book and what I believe she excels at writing is grief. Devoting certain stories to the aftermath of losing a loved one and the toll it takes on human beings, she’s given us an insight into a rather complex feeling well and told the tale with understanding and sensitivity. Such stories in the book resonate with you and are truly heartrending. One thing I recommend if you’re curious to know more about any story is to read its analysis and symbolism, I found a great site for this and I’ve linked it at the end.

I don’t want to disclose any plots or characters because I’d be revealing too much, but just know that this book has some intricate and gripping storylines. For those of you who’ve read the book, I wanted to reveal some of my favourite stories from the collection. Don’t get me wrong all of them moved me but some simply resonated with me more and were real page-turners. In particular, A Private Experience, Jumping Monkey Hill, Tomorrow Is Too Far and The Headstrong Historian.

The Thing Around Your Neck is one of the stories in the anthology, but it raises the question, why is it the title of the book? What is the ‘thing around your neck’? In my opinion, it’s the characters’ discontent, their past, culture or even grief and loneliness in some cases which is almost like a prison that doesn’t seem to leave them. The ‘thing around your neck’ is always lingering and casting its shadow.

Final thoughts~ Overall, this collection is a vivid and powerful one. It focuses on everyday aspects of life and relationship that are painful yet considered normal because everyone goes through them at some point. If anything, this book is a good reference for anyone looking to read short stories because the ones in The Thing Around Your Neck are great examples of what a sequence and build-up of a short story should be like.

“He said “see” as if it meant something more than what one did with one’s eyes”

~Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Thing Around Your Neck

REFERENCE:

The Thing Around Your Neck Guide

Review: Number The Stars by Lois Lowry

Number The Stars is an eye-opening novel reminding us of the most tragic period in human history. It is a story of bravery and courage, showing us how every human being has the right to make a choice and live with it. This book highlights the fact that, however hard you try, you can’t run away from your fears and will have to face them. Thus, the author poses the question, ‘if you’re faced with your biggest fear, will you rise to the challenge?’. The author takes us through wartime Copenhagen, a bustling and vibrant city torn apart by war. She subtly highlights the destruction and suffering war causes and the catastrophic damage done to people of all ages. This book tells the story of children who were forced to grow up early when they were faced with life and death situations and the world suddenly became a scary place for them.

The protagonist of the book, Annemarie Johansen is a thoughtful ten-year-old. She’s bold and very much aware of how the war is taking everything from her, including her Jewish best friend- Ellen. Annemarie tells us about the food shortages, power cuts and the German soldiers at every corner who ruin her beloved Denmark. The book is set in the very beginning of the Holocaust and it isn’t a typical WW2 novel because instead of focusing on the rather dark aspects, it chooses themes like bravery and friendship which truly withstand destruction and war. Annemarie is such an inspiring protagonist. She’s rather fearless for her age, willing to risk her life to save her friends but of course, she didn’t become that way overnight! The author shows us her progress from being a shy girl reluctant to stand up to Nazi soldiers to one confidently sticking up to them. You could say that this is a coming of age story because the entire book leads up to her summoning enough courage to help Ellen and her family escape and she gains so many qualities and skills in the process.

Final thoughts~ You will probably finish Number The Stars in one sitting- it’s a short book, sadly so, but it’s a heartwarming book that stays with you long after you put it down. I knew little of Denmark’s history of resistance during WW2 before this book and overall it does a good job telling less celebrated and well-known stories of heroism. If anything it is a remembrance of the courage, kindness and sacrifices we’re all capable of.

“The whole world had changed. Only the fairy tales remained the same.”

~ Lois Lowry, Number The Stars.

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

Book Review: Number The Stars

Number The Stars by Lois Lowry

Number The Stars by Lois Lowry

Review: Honour by Elif Shafak

Honour is an inter-generational saga set in 1970s London which highlights the narrow-minded and dangerous opinion of some cultures when it comes to a woman’s ‘honour’. Written by an author who excels in narrating domestic settings and struggles, Honour is yet another work of fiction where Elif Shafak does not fail to leave us speechless, retrospective and entranced with her words. This is a book which shows us the importance of communication and how we as human beings lack the ability to share our troubles and thoughts with one another. How falling short of this ability often costs us relationships and how understanding and communication could possibly save a life. It highlights the impact someone’s actions have on those around them, along with other aspects of the immigrant life all the while, subtly reflecting on the clash of cultures and traditions.

A theme I find common to Shafak’s books is the realization that everyone in your life has their stories, their struggles and are very often absorbed by them. In Honour, this theme is brought to life by the focus of the book- the Topraks, a Turkish family disconnected from each other most of the time and broken by their individual experiences. Pembe and Adem Toprak leave for London from Istanbul to start a new life for their family and try to keep their Turkish and Islamic traditions alive in their three children- knowing they will be influenced by Western ways of life. The children find themselves torn between tradition and modernity, further troubled by the stifling situation at home.

By telling us the stories of Pembe and Adem, who had tough childhoods, absentee parents and dysfunctional families the author shows us that however hard you try, you cannot escape or erase the past. For it will find a way to catch up with you and seep into your present. This is another trademark theme of Shafak’s books- expressed here through Pembe and Adem’s past affecting their lives in London as well as those of their children who suffer its consequences.

The basis of the book is of course the concept of ‘honour’ and its varying perceptions in Turkish and Western culture. In the case of the Topraks, honour is more of a code consisting of the chastity, fidelity and modesty of a woman and a man’s ability to lead and assert his power over his family and ‘act like a man’. Thus we see how breaking of this oppressive code leads to shame and disgrace of various members specifically women of the Toprak’s past and unbelievably, their death. Honour killings, which Western culture would think of as a brutal crime is somewhat normalized in the minds of certain characters in the book.

In Honour, Elif Shafak brings light to a topic that isn’t talked about enough- honour killings. She lays emphasis on what I would assume is the reader’s perspective, that is the dark and wrong side of honour killings but provides insight into the mindset which fuels it as well. This is done through the characters for instance, two of the Toprak children- Iskender and Esma. Esma is the outspoken and confident feminist daughter (one of my personal favourites) who questions her mother’s old-fashioned traditions. Esma is juxtaposed with her brother Iskender, a product of the expectations of men. He finds himself shaped by bullying and conservative friends and family. So, you disagree with his opinions but can’t help empathize with him as well for what he’s gone through.

Final thoughts~ Overall, Elif Shafak’s Honour is a powerful read. It shows us that honour is but a social construct which can ruin lives. The same honour which determines someone’s reputation in Turkish society does not hold the same importance in Western culture. We see how ‘shame’ is considered almost a punishable crime in the eyes of Pembe, but is used lightly by the Londoners around her. Even if the ending is a hopeful one, the devastating events described throughout the book still leave your heart heavy. This book takes you places whether it be a nameless Kurdish village or a building of squatters in London. Elif Shafak’s books take something esoteric, such as an honour killing and make it something approachable. She is such an underrated author.

“Everything in the universe, no matter how little or insignificant, was meant to be an answer to something else.”

~Elif Shafak, Honour.

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

Honour by Elif Shafak

Honour- Elif Shafak

Honour| #bookreview

Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is a note-worthy work of fiction featuring two journeys that are both extremely different yet similar in some ways. Although the main focus is a love-story, it branches into so much more giving us well-rounded, brilliant but flawed characters. It shows us what finding your place in the world looks like and that it isn’t the destination, rather the journey. This is peppered with insights on racism, immigration and politics which are narrated through the characters’ experiences. The book is centered around Ifemelu and Obinze, who meet and fall in love in high school in Nigeria.

The characters are deep and multifaceted for they’re predictable yet unpredictable. They i.e the author expresses things that seem profound but you realize that these observations are so obviously visible in our world. The characters are my favorite part. Ifemelu, our opinionated ‘Americanah’ is a Nigerian woman who is uncomfortably frank at times and dares to question everything. We then have Obinze, her first love, sort of the only one who could stand Ifemelu’s hotheadedness and pushed her to think ahead. Both characters are very similar in terms of their ideologies and most of all their aspirations. Growing up in Nigeria, Ifemelu and Obinze are happy but always longing for more. They talk about how it wasn’t only them but everyone in Nigeria who was conditioned to believe that prosperity, happiness and ‘the good life’ is found outside of Nigeria. However, both set out only to find that even outside of Nigeria ‘the good life’ isn’t found easily. Halfway through college, Ifemelu has enough of the protests and political instability in Nigeria and applies to a university in America. Obinze sets out years later but to the UK instead, unable to get a visa he lives an undocumented life.

There’s a consecutive struggle and depressing period for both characters on eventually settling in and it’s inspiring to see them fight through it. Ifemelu’s life in America is filled with self-discovery, great people with interesting personalities and her uncovering truths about racism. She talks a lot about the difference between being an American Black and a Non-American Black in America. These parts were truly eye-opening and brought light to a phenomenon so relevant to today’s America. These insights have been woven into the story seamlessly so don’t seem educational or preachy but a mere thought of the character. I enjoyed seeing America through Ifemelu’s eyes.

Another focus of the book is immigration in both America and England. Both places have different histories and reputations which leads to the two characters’ having contrasting experiences as well. In America, Ifemelu’s story mainly deals with racism. Her race is seen as a barrier in everything she wants to accomplish. She acknowledges Black hair politics, the Obama administration and in general America’s race divide. Obinze in London on the other hand, lives in constant fear of being deported. The author also describes the saddening lengths he has to go to in order to get his papers. Apart from them, the many terrors of immigration are shown in the form of other characters like friends and family members. The book really highlights how immigration begins to define you and remains a sword hanging above your head.

The main storyline however, is that Ifemelu and Obinze eventually return to Nigeria. Both are altered by what they’ve faced. We see how Nigeria to them is a symbol of comfort, of one another and a place where they finally find what they were looking for.

Americanah is a story of discovery, of facing your fears and of staying true to your roots. Some say it’s a classic immigrant story and maybe it is, but I think it is more of a modern take on it. Even if the characters struggled and faced what might seem like things you’ve read about before, isn’t that a sign that there needs to be change?

Final thoughts~ With reference to the name, ‘Americanah’ is what people call Ifemelu when she returns to Nigeria. It’s a reference to the fact that her persona is now Americanized and her perspective has changed. But, Ifemelu proudly takes on the title. I think it’s also a reference to the fact that America not only impacted her, but changed those around her for the better. That being said, this book is full of witty remarks and strong-willed characters with lots to say. It’s the kind of book which asks the hard questions and pushes you to ask them. After this, I’m looking forward to reading more of Chimamanda Adichie’s work!

“Why did people ask, ‘What is it about?’ as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”

~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

Pages Feature: “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Thoughts on Americanah

Book Review- Americanah

Review: Miss Austen by Gill Hornby (Birthday Bookshelf #1)

Series Alert! I am so excited to start my first series on the blog. Since my birthday just went by on Christmas Eve, I received several books as gifts (which is honestly the best gift you can give me) and, reading them and reviewing them feels a lot more special than it normally would. So, let this review mark the beginning of the series- Birthday Bookshelf! Shoutout to my dad for this book:)

At first glance, my brain automatically thought of Jane on reading Austen. But, the book is in fact about Jane’s sister- Cassandra Austen: The dutiful, compassionate, often undermined eldest daughter of the Austen clan. I love reading about the sidekicks of history’s heroes- the shaping factors and often only supporters in the idols’ lives. Like Patroclus for Achilles and in the case of this book, Cassandra for Jane. The book is told from Cassandra’s point of view. Cassandra and Jane were very close, they had the kind of bond that even reading about makes you smile, they were each the other’s confidante and best friend. So, it was pretty much decided that Cassandra was to be the executor of Jane’s literary estate.

The basis of the book was one of Cassandra’s doings as executor, which was that she burned some of Jane Austen’s letters. This is something that has set historians and scholars against her for years because those letters would be priceless in this day and age. The book revolves around a few months in Cassandra’s life as an old woman, where she comes to her (and Jane’s) best friend’s home to find the letters. As she reads them, they take her back to her youth and bring back fond memories of her life and her sister as well as some painful memories she’d wished to forget. Towards the end of the book, it’s understandable why Cassy chose to burn those letters. You resonate with her as she simply performed her duties as executor and chose to maintain her sister’s perfect image at a time when her novels were just beginning to flourish and a lot of vengeful folks would do anything to bring her down using somewhat controversial aspects of her life.

That being said, this book is an ode to the Jane Austen style of writing and the setting and way of life described was exactly like the kind in her novels. Throughout the book, I drew many parallels between the happenings of the life of Jane Austen and that of her characters. For instance, Cassy and Jane Austen’s relationship and their personalities seemed immensely similar to Jane and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. It goes to show how she took inspiration from her world and expressed it so well.

The main focus of the book is Cassy though, and I adored her. Cassandra Austen was the more popular sister in society. She was ever-ready to help anyone who needed it and being dutiful and loyal towards her family was what she took pride in. She did have her share of difficulties though and there was this phase in the book where it felt like nothing seemed to work out in her favor and she became a pushover of sorts. It saddened me to see that even though she helped everyone, she never received any gratitude in return. However, things did pick up towards the end and I could not put the book down. The best part of the book was seeing the situation through the hopeful perspective of Cassandra. Making the reader feel what you’re writing about is hard, so kudos to the author for making me nostalgic when Cassy thought of her family and pensive when she described what women, especially unmarried women went through and how she wished people understood that she was happy even without a husband.

The book dwells upon themes of family, love, faith- which we often forget how simple yet fulfilling can be. Another theme that the book often mentioned but didn’t entirely focus on was that of women, especially in the Austen sisters’ time being ignored. Cassandra talks of how she read novels of men and their terrible lives but never of the difficulties in society or even in their homes that women went through. To an extent, I think the popularity of Jane Austen’s novels increased for that reason. Women longed to be represented, to see main characters they relate to. Jane Austen gave them that, she told their story for a change.

The letters included in the book are fictional and written by Gill Hornby. This was a fact I did not know until I read the Author’s Note at the end and I was surprised that Jane’s essence was captured so well, the words felt real. I adored the Austens as a family, they supported Jane and Cassandra in every way and were in general a vibrant family. I will admit though, that at some points this book was slow and there wasn’t anything interesting happening. Some parts just seemed unnecessary.

There have been many retellings about Jane Austen’s life but this was a fresh perspective because Cassandra saw Jane’s mistakes, saw everyone’s mistakes but remained admiring of them. They don’t become lesser in her eyes, or yours instead you resonate with them. That’s what I found unique about Cassy’s character.

Final thoughts- This book answered many questions about the misses Austen’s lives. It showed us why Cassy burned some of her sister’s letters, it showed us how Jane became what she became and who got her there. Cassy was defined (back then) by the fact that she never married, so were a lot of the other characters we read about. The book shows us that there was so much more to her, to them than that. Lastly, Miss Austen shows us why Jane called Cassandra the sunshine of her life. It also highlights how you can find perfection in imperfection, happiness in mundanity. Even if this book, doesn’t scream a strong message, it makes you smile and is the perfect light and winter read. If you’re looking for a book to snuggle up with, this one’s for you!

“Happy endings are there for us somewhere, woven into the mix of life’s fabric. We just have to search the detail, follow the pattern, to find the one that should be our own. ”

~ Gill Hornby, Miss Austen.

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

Book Review: Miss Austen

Book Review: Miss Austen

Cassandra Austen, Clergyman’s Daughter: Miss Austen, Gill Hornby

Review: Hunted By The Sky by Tanaz Bhathena

Hunted By The Sky is the first fantasy fiction set in India that I’ve read and it certainly had all the elements- a prophecy, said prophecy’s chosen one, and a magical land. The book is set in medieval- India, in the kingdom of Ambar. A well-developed setting is the foundation of any good book and this one might be the best I’ve seen thus far. Ambar features vibrant people, delicious food, lavish structures, and a lot of traditions. However, it also has a dark side which came with the rule of its evil and current King. The people of Ambar are either born with magical powers or none at all and those who weren’t are treated like dirt and forced to survive in horrible conditions. Another victim of this ill-treatment are girls born with a star-shaped birthmark- who according to a prophecy, would kill the King. Thus, these girls and their families were hunted down and killed.

Gul, the main character is one such girl, born with a birthmark. She and her parents move from one place to another, staying hidden from the Sky Warriors i.e killers of the chosen one. They live peacefully until one night, Gul’s parents are killed in front of her while she watches from her hiding place. Then begins the plot of the book- Gul’s journey as the chosen one with multiple motives to kill the King including revenge for her parents’ death. Along the way, she’s helped by Cavas, a boy without magical powers, and the ‘Sisters of the Golden Lotus’- a secret organization of women who train warriors and protect marked girls and women in general.

For most fantasy fiction books, it always takes me a while to get used to the new world which authors form, but this book was easy to read from the beginning because I was in a world I experience everyday. As I wrote before, Hunted By The Sky is set in medieval-India with its traditions and history, but the characters seem to be living in an atmosphere quite like present India. Having studied and heard stories of India in its medieval times, I’ve always thought that it would make for an amazing fantasy because it’s already halfway there! This book expressed the era well. Some aspects, especially the ending reminded me of the Six of Crows duology and so this book is kind of medieval India meets Six of Crows. (Those who’ve read SOC know how awesome that sounds)

This may be an unpopular opinion but Gul wasn’t my favorite character. She’s last on the list of my favorites because she was so ungrateful, rude, and presumptuous at times. I love the other unconventional characters the author created especially Gul’s guiding lights- Juhi, Kali, and Amira. Being the heads of the Sisterhood of the Golden Lotus they played a bigger part in the story than let on. Juhi being the strategic and judicious, mother-figure. Kali the kind-hearted but feisty sister to Gul and Amira who you hate at first, but she ends up becoming the hard-hearted savior you needed. All of the characters have their own stories and have gone through so much which fuels their plan against their common enemy. In a way, it shows how some of our actions and perspectives are a product of our experiences.

It was great to see that no matter how many new characters and problems came in, Gul never lost her motive which was to bring justice to the outcasts and mistreated, whoever they may be. That was something I saw throughout. Every time a new plan was hatched, one of the ultimate benefits was to free the imprisoned and correct injustice, which is surely a noteworthy aim for anyone to have!

Final thoughts- When picking a book, I always glance away from fantasy, but whenever I do read fantasy I’m reminded of how innovative of a genre it is and how much I like reading it! Hunted By The Sky is suggested if you want to learn about medieval-Indian and Persian mythology and culture. Even though a lot is happening the book doesn’t feel rushed at all and the ending does leave room to continue to the sequel. Can’t wait to read what happens next!

“Not all dreams are true, but not all are false either.” ~ Tanaz Bhathena, Hunted By The Sky.

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

5 Reasons To Read Hunted By The Sky

Hunted By The Sky By Tanaz Bhathena

Hunted by the sky

Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles is a historical fiction that features the retelling of the story of one of the greatest heroes of Greek mythology: Achilles from the point of view of his most ardent admirer, Patroclus. If you’re familiar with Homer’s ‘Illiad’, you probably know of Achilles and Patroclus. Achilles- the prophesied warrior, best of the Greeks and a man who was idolized throughout his life. Patroclus- quite the opposite, an exile who was mostly deemed a coward because he abhorred the battlefield. There’s not much mythology tells us about Patroclus. I think the situation is so because he wasn’t a warrior, and lived in a society which then revolved around war, regarding any other qualities in a man insignificant. But Patroclus never wanted to be in the spotlight. We see how in the book too, he hardly draws any attention to himself.

I was skeptical about reading this book at first, having never been too fond of Achilles according to what I’d read about him. But Patroclus’ narration is such a refreshing perspective that it changed the way I saw Achilles, it even made me feel sorry for him. Mythology only saw Achilles as a fearless, skilled warrior and a ruthless savior. But Patroclus saw him as more than that. He knew Achilles before anyone cared about him. While most stories only talk about Achilles during the Trojan War, this book begins when he was still a child. When Patroclus was first exiled to Phthia, the kingdom of which Achilles was prince.

Patroclus loved him for many reasons. Achilles befriended him when nobody would, he always said what he meant. While others longed for that twisted game they called honour- he didn’t care about it. He pushed Patroclus to embrace himself for who he was. The book names countless other reasons as to why he stuck by him and they’ve been expressed almost poetically to the extent that I wanted to read them again and again. One of the biggest things I realized from reading this is that Patroclus shaped Achilles to be who he was during the Trojan War. It seemed like he was not only his confidante but conscience, shaping his actions and making him the hero everyone loved. Without Patroclus, Achilles would’ve been lost, and he was.

I was curious to see how the story would move along after Patroclus’ death. According to the Illiad, revenge for Patroclus’ death was the reason Achilles went on a killing spree and ultimately ended the Trojan War. The last few chapters of the book are heartbreaking, when Patroclus watches Achilles as a spirit, begging him to stop. The Illiad’s focus on the Trojan War was to show the loss, grief, and suffering war causes. The Song of Achilles also highlights the same because the Trojan War changed Achilles and Patroclus’ lives. The two were unwilling to go in the first place.

After I read this, I wondered why classics like the Illiad and stories of heroes like Achilles and the world he lived in, are still relevant today? But that could be asked of any classic or epic. Maybe it’s because they gave rise to ideas which we continue to value today, or love stories and figures we can still idolize. For instance, Patroclus’ longing to fit in, how the Greeks would do anything to maintain their honour and pride, their belief in togetherness and numbers, wars over differences. I can’t figure out if that’s the world refusing to learn from history or just the way it’s meant to be.

Final thoughts~ I love that the author sheds light on storylines and characters which are mostly ignored in the classics. They add a new perspective instead of the monotonous ones. Instead of descriptions of the battlefield and bloodshed we get to read about the atmosphere on the sidelines, where wives and workers anxiously waited for the war to end. I strongly suggest this book even if you’re unfamiliar with Greek mythology because the author provides sufficient background.

“Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another. We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory. Who knows?”

                                                                        -Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles.

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles- Book Review

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This book is a great work of fiction, spanning over nearly 100 years and two countries. It begins in Korea, 1911 and by the end, we’ve reached Japan, 1989. But the author has blended the storylines very well and seamlessly taken the story along, so the change in characters and periods doesn’t seem abrupt at all. Since the book ranges across four generations of characters, it highlights how one’s history plays a huge role in a person’s life and how, as the phrase goes- has a tendency to repeat itself. It shows how a defining moment of one’s life continues to define and affect the actions of generations down the line.

The plot is centered around one Sunja, a woman born in a small town in Korea. It begins with her father, whose memory and wise words are remembered by her till the end of the book. Her grandparents ran a lodging house, which is passed down to her parents, whose story we are told too. That’s another thing I liked about the book- everyone’s story and point of view is told. In any situation, we read about what each person involved is thinking at that moment, even if it’s just a few lines. Anyway, Sunja spends the first sixteen years of her life at the lodging house until she marries a kind pastor, staying there, and goes with him to Japan.

The story then moves to the city of Osaka in Japan where Sunja stays with her brother and sister-in-law and her husband. We are then introduced to another dynamic and focus of the book which is the treatment of Korean immigrants in pre-WW2 Japan. I didn’t know this tension between the two regions existed and it was a saddening insight into what so many families must have faced.

We see how Sunja’s new family who were rich in Korea are made to live in a ghetto and work odd jobs in order to survive. Not only them, but she tells us about all the Koreans she knew in Japan who were reduced from riches to rags and who struggled to make ends meet. Every character faces some form of prosecution and discrimination at some point. But despite all they were facing, the family made the best of what they had and found a way to be happy.

At certain points in the book, it seemed like their situation was impossible and there was no way out, but somehow they survived, rising like a phoenix from the ashes. Of all things, the characters’ resilience and survival instinct was in my opinion, portrayed very well throughout the book. It was shown in various contexts and not only inspiring but well-thought-out as well.

The book ends on a sad note for most characters, but there is a ray of hope and an assurance given to us, letting us subtly know that the characters will be alright. As always, I loved reading about a new culture, a new history. Pachinko also passes the Bechdel test

Final thoughts- I didn’t realize the relation between the name of the book and the story until the last few chapters. Pachinko is a Japanese pinball game and a gambling business of sorts. Both of Sunja’s sons were involved in the pachinko business and it eventually becomes the family business. Many relations are made between the game of pachinko and the game of life in the book. So, I felt the name was a smart pick because, in a way, pachinko represents the life of Koreans in Japan and life in general as well!

Which other books with similar themes to Pachinko have you read?

Living every day in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.

~ Min Jin Lee, Pachinko.

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: A Great Epic

PACHINKO- A REVIEW

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Review: The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

According to me, the one thing which makes cultural fiction engaging and one of my favorite genres are the picturesque descriptions and eloquent language used, which is a common thread in most novels of this genre. It’s something I mentioned in my review of Girl, Woman, Other as well.

The Bastard of Istanbul is another such masterpiece of vivid writing and the author takes us deep into Turkey, highlighting its history and the lifestyle of its people. The plot revolves around two families interwoven by fate and it begins and ends on the same note, which is something you wouldn’t expect. Although the character’s experiences and stories are the essences of the book, a large aspect that moved the plot along was its focus on the Armenian Genocide of 1915. This was, which is something other bloggers wrote about too- a topic most of us don’t know about. But I think that’s one of the best parts of any art- it pushes you to learn more about an area you may know zilch about because, without knowledge of it, you wouldn’t understand what the artist is telling you.

The two families of the book are- the ‘Kazancis’ and the ‘Tchakmakhchians’ who are Turkish and Armenian Americans respectively. The book, however, goes into more detail on the Kazancis, a family rooted in Istanbul and female-dominated.

The Tchakmakhchians on the other hand, are based in the States having moved there after the genocide. But they remain authentically Armenian, with their culture and religion vibrant in the household.

The two main characters are Asya – namely the ‘bastard of Istanbul’ and Armanoush or Amy who’s half Armenian and whose American mother marries into the Kazanci family. Thus, begins the series of revelations as Amy visits the Kazancis in Istanbul. We see how both the girls have goals of their own which progress throughout the book.

To some extent, I did feel like some characters and their experiences were clichés. For instance, the main characters- Asya, the rebellious, outspoken girl in a conservative family and Armanoush, the shy, goody-two-shoes who loves to read. The author also includes many stories and perspectives, which became confusing and boring at times. Yes, each member of the family had a history, had something going on but some of them had no connection to the plot.

There were some aspects and storylines of the book which I think were very well expressed. The centuries-old bond and enmity between the Turks and the Armenians, and how the former denies the genocide ever happened which from what I’ve read, is what the Turkish government does to date. I liked the way the link between both families was ultimately shown.

The book touches upon how the past, present, and future work in tandem with one another, shape one another. How something like the Armenian genocide affected the Tchakmakhchians greatly when it occurred in 1915, but also troubled Armanoush generations later as she bared the burden of her family’s oppressive history while trying to embrace the place which oppressed them.

Final thoughts~ Apart from certain far-fetched aspects of the plot, the book is captivating and takes you through every alley and street of Istanbul. Besides, even if you don’t like the story at least you’ll learn the names of various Turkish and Armenian dishes- which will be a mouthful to say at first, but soon you’ll be well-acquainted with the dishes and tempted to try them!

Which other Turkish authors have you read?

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

THE BASTARD OF ISTANBUL- REVIEW

The Bastard Of Istanbul- Elif Shafak

A Goodreads Review

All Book Marks Reviews

Review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

I’m open to reading all genres but by far, my favorites are historical and cultural fiction. These past months I’ve been trying to read and learn about black culture, history and educate myself in any way I can. So far, I’ve always found a book for anything I need to know and that’s first source I turned to. While diversity and representation still struggles to thrive in films, it has been prevalent in literature for years!

Now, I’m not saying that this one book taught me all I need to know. But it certainly taught me something new in every chapter. Girl, Woman, Other spotlights the stories of twelve, black and British characters across the age, gender and class spectrum. It won the Booker Prize in 2019 and I’m not surprised, this book totally deserved it. It’s witty, engaging and impossible to put down.

The book is divided into five chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter revolves around the stories of three characters, who are all connected personally. They are all primarily black, female and some are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Apart from their experiences we see how their race, shapes their personality in a large way. The book begins with Amma, a lesbian playwright whose currently fifty years old and nervous for the premiere of her newest play. She looks back on when she first came to London in 1980, a fierce feminist ready to oppose anyone who puts her down. She meets Dominique, whose story is told later in the chapter and the both of them start a theater company with the aim of telling black and Asian women’s stories. If I told you the rest, I’d be spoiling it but Amma’s play is the basis of the book. The characters of the other chapters are all connected to her play in some way- from its watchers to its critics.

Another thing I’d like to highlight is the poetic telling of the book. The punctuation is unique and confusing at times but it’s what keeps the story going. I noticed that the characters in each chapter are so similar yet different. For instance, as the first chapter goes on we read about Amma’s daughter, Yazz who is nineteen years old and quite like the young version of Amma we read about earlier. The three women of the chapter are strikingly similar in terms of the what they stood for, what they’ve gone through. Each of them were disliked for being outspoken. Yet, Yazz never connected with her mother. Even though, both women stood for the same cause, they were never on the same page.

I observed this pattern across the book where characters in such relationships went through the same. I think it simply shows how we as human beings often struggle to communicate or find common ground with one another and looks for our differences rather than or similarities. It goes on to tell us of Carole, a successful banker who went to Oxford. She rejects her Nigerian roots and her background having had a traumatic experience, leaving her mother, Bummi disappointed. Then there’s Shirley who wishes to be more while her mother, Winsome wishes her daughter would stop whining. There’s also Penelope, the main focus of the epilogue. She’s adopted and brought up in a white family but not knowing her true heritage bothers her.

This book is inclusive on so many levels. One of the first things that compelled me to read the book was the acknowledgements. (I’ve attached a picture at the end) Something which I feel should be normalized and seen more often is stories like the last chapter- about a non-binary person called Megan/Morgan. A certain part of the chapter is written under the pronouns ‘they/them’ and it was great.

I also realized how we have managed to categorize an entire community by one word. Take ‘black’. It stands for a community of Nigerians, Somalis, African Americans, British Americans, Ethiopians and that doesn’t begin to cover all the people of different faiths and ethnicities.

Final thoughts~ I highly recommend this book if you wish to learn about black history and culture or if you’re interested in books which raise timeless questions about feminism and race.

The compelling acknowledgements