Book Review: Freshwater

Freshwater

An extraordinary debut novel, Freshwater explores the surreal experience of having a fractured self. It centers around a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born “with one foot on the other side.” Unsettling, heartwrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater is a sharp evocation of a rare way of experiencing the world, one that illuminates how we all construct our identities.

Ada begins her life in the south of Nigeria as a troubled baby and a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents, Saul and Saachi, successfully prayed her into existence, but as she grows into a volatile and splintered child, it becomes clear that something went terribly awry. When Ada comes of age and moves to America for college, the group of selves within her grows in power and agency. A traumatic assault leads to a crystallization of her alternate selves: Asụghara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these selves–now protective, now hedonistic–move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction.

Narrated by the various selves within Ada and based in the author’s realities, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.

Review:

 

Freshwater is quite a book. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked it up, but it is unlike any other book I have ever read.

 

The story is told mostly from the point of view of the gods in Ada’s head, the ones that she was born with but the gate did not close behind them, leaving Ada with a foot in both worlds. It was fascinating reading Ada’s story from this perspective and this really is an extraordinary way to consider mental illness and how people protect themselves mentally from traumas in their lives. It made Ada an even more powerful character.

 

The writing in Freshwater is beautiful and lovely to read, sometimes harsh, sometimes poetic. Emezi has a way of painting a picture with just a few words and often made me stop to savour her sentences and word choices.

 

I can see how this might not be the book for everyone, but I found it powerful and compelling.

 

Note: I received a Netgalley copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned — from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren — an enigmatic artist and single mother — who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Review:

Little Fires Everywhere is an interesting book full of dichotomies and symbolism around fires and starting over.

The story is set in the planned, manicured, and carefully regulated community of Shaker Heights where the Richardson family lives. They follow the rules and have a lovely, upper class suburban life, especially the mother, Elena.

Elena rents an apartment she owns to Mia and Pearl — and Mia is Elena’s polar opposite: an artistic, single mom rebel whose possessions fit in her car.

These two families are juxtaposed very well in this book, neither one quite understanding, and are rather suspicious of, the other. It’s easy to be drawn to the bohemian Mia and her carefree ways, though there were times when she annoyed me, especially when it came to her daughter’s needs. On the other hand, Elena was harder to like, but I did feel for her and her self-imposed need to do everything “right.” How each of these women mothers is scrutinized and neither is perfect, though it could be argued they are each doing the best that they can.

This leads the book to exploring nearly every aspect of what makes a mother and how to become a mother — pregnancy, miscarriage and infertility, adoption, abortion, surrogacy, virgin birth, kidnapping, …

Overall, I did enjoy this book, though it is a bit on the slow side, opting more to explore the characters and the themes rather than having lots of action.

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Book Review: Song of a Captive Bird

Song of a Captive Bird

A spellbinding debut novel about the trailblazing poet Forugh Farrokhzhad, who defied Iranian society to find her voice and her destiny

“Remember the flight, for the bird is mortal.”—Forugh Farrokhzad

All through her childhood in Tehran, Forugh is told that Iranian daughters should be quiet and modest. She is taught only to obey, but she always finds ways to rebel—gossiping with her sister among the fragrant roses of her mother’s walled garden, venturing to the forbidden rooftop to roughhouse with her three brothers, writing poems to impress her strict, disapproving father, and sneaking out to flirt with a teenage paramour over café glacé. It’s during the summer of 1950 that Forugh’s passion for poetry really takes flight—and that tradition seeks to clip her wings.

Forced into a suffocating marriage, Forugh runs away and falls into an affair that fuels her desire to write and to achieve freedom and independence. Forugh’s poems are considered both scandalous and brilliant; she is heralded by some as a national treasure, vilified by others as a demon influenced by the West. She perseveres, finding love with a notorious filmmaker and living by her own rules—at enormous cost. But the power of her writing grows only stronger amid the upheaval of the Iranian revolution.

Inspired by Forugh Farrokhzad’s verse, letters, films, and interviews—and including original translations of her poems—Jasmin Darznik has written a haunting novel, using the lens of fiction to capture the tenacity, spirit, and conflicting desires of a brave woman who represents the birth of feminism in Iran—and who continues to inspire generations of women around the world.

Review:

This is a fascinating and well researched book about the Iranian poet Forugh Forrokzad. She wrote primarily in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and was a pivotal part of the feminist movement in Iran at that time.

I loved learning about this amazing historical figure who I had not even heard of before and getting a sense of what life was like for a woman in Iran at the time. Forrokzad was a formidable woman who refused to conform to the norms of society, and who followed her own path, doing what she thought was right for herself.

As you can imagine, Forrokzad had huge hurtles to overcome and backlash to contend with. However, these things did not deter her from forging ahead with her poetry and politics, even at great personal cost.

Darzink has done an impressive job researching Forrokzad, going so far as to translate her poetry herself into English. The story is fictionalized, but is still compelling. I did feel that the storytelling could have been more personal and a little less “telling” what went on. Still, I was caught up in the story and in Forrokzad, anxious to turn the pages to see how her life would unfold. Darzink has done an impressive job of bringing an interesting and turbulent time in history to life and of introducing a formidable poet to many of us who may never heard of her before.

 

Note: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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On Reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Translated by: Aylmer Maude, Louise Maude

From the award-winning translators of Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov comes this magnificent new translation of Tolstoy’s masterwork.

War and Peace broadly focuses on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and follows three of the most well-known characters in literature: Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a count who is fighting for his inheritance and yearning for spiritual fulfillment; Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who leaves his family behind to fight in the war against Napoleon; and Natasha Rostov, the beautiful young daughter of a nobleman who intrigues both men.

A s Napoleon’s army invades, Tolstoy brilliantly follows characters from diverse backgrounds—peasants and nobility, civilians and soldiers—as they struggle with the problems unique to their era, their history, and their culture. And as the novel progresses, these characters transcend their specificity, becoming some of the most moving—and human—figures in world literature.

Review:

War and Peace is one of those books that I’ve always wanted to read, but have always been intimidated by. Not that long ago, I decided to give it ago — and I was so glad that I did. It’s such an amazing and iconic book that instead of writing a review, I’ll just talk about my experience reading it.

What else can you say except that the book is epic — in scope and in writing. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but the novel is broken up into parts so it makes it easier, and less intimidating, to read. It’s almost like reading a series.

Tolstoy has this wonderful ability to keep the scope both personal and universal at the same time. The stories of the individual people and the drama of their lives is juxtaposed brilliantly against the war and the politics of France invading Russia. I was taken by many of the characters and was happy to be shown their lives, happinesses, and pains over the course of many years.  There is also a great sense of the difference between the lives of men and women in this novel.

It’s fascinating how Tolstoy adds, very clearly, his own personal views on politics, how great Russia is and why, and how terrible Napoleon is and how he failed. These overt political views are something that is not found in modern writing. I felt I had a whole new understanding on the entire time period, both on the global scale of the war, but also on the manners and values of the Russian people (especially of upper class Russians). Even though I know Tolstoy’s views are biassed, that is part of the history too.

This was definitely a book I was happy to read on my ereader as I don’t like hold overly large books. I found it for free at The Guttenberg Project — a great place to find free ecopies and audiobooks of copy write free books.

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