Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 2020

Abi Daré grew up in Nigeria and lives in the UK. Her debut novel, The Girl With the Louding Voice,  is about a fourteen year old, Adunni, who is sold to an older man as a third wife after her mother dies, when her father drinks away what money they have and cannot pay the rent. She is heartbroken to have to leave her younger brother, but her best friend tries to tell her being a wife will be wonderful.

It’s not. Her husband repeatedly rapes her and his senior wife hates her. But his middle wife is kind and does her best to protect Adunni, giving her an herbal concoction that she says will keep her from having a child. Adunni is trying to make the best of her life but everything changes in an instant when a tragedy befalls the middle wife and Adunni is terrified of being blamed. She sees no alternative but to run.

And that’s where I thought the book would take a more positive turn (I had read reviews that noted this was a humane and uplifting book). I expected that when Adunni left her village, she would find modern Nigeria and get a job and begin to understand that life could be different. However, first she ends up being taken to work as a housemaid for a mean, vain woman who neither feeds her adequately nor pays her, and worse, beats her and tells Adunni and everyone else within earshot, every chance she gets, that Adunni is illiterate and worthless.

While this is a book mainly about the perils of a patriarchy, it’s important to note that Adunni must overcome the perils of working for an entitled rich woman as well. Yes, we eventually learn that Adunni’s boss, Big Mama, is herself a victim of abuse. Daré clearly wants to illuminate the vicious cycle abuse creates. But there are other vacuous and selfish rich people in the book, so I think there is some social critique going on as well.

Anyway, Adunni works hard, and befriends the others working in the house, who can’t help but like this good natured girl. When her employer, Big Madam, hosts a party for other women, Adunni experiences another life changing moment. While there is a great deal of brutality in this book, a series of kind, humane acts by strangers eventually helps Adunni help herself out of despair. Daré is unsparing in describing the horrors of modern slavery, but she also sees a spark of hope in humanity.

Adunni is smart and determined and draws on the memory of her mother, who was determined to provide an education for her. She vows she’ll get that education and eventually be a teacher, for other girls whose families don’t think they need schooling. Adunni notes, “you must do good for other peoples, even if you are not well, even if the whole world around you is not well.” That resonated with me right now.

While I thought the end was a little bit predictable, that’s understandable in a debut. And honestly, I’ll take a slightly predictable but uplifting ending over brutal art right now.

 

Read Full Post »

I first read Sarah Moss‘s memoir about living and teaching in Iceland, Names for the Sea, and then her novel Night Waking. I really like Moss’s writing, and admire the research and connections with history that go into her books as well as the recurring theme of gender roles. So when I saw she had a newish (I thought it was new, but it turns out it came out in the US in January 2019, and in 2018 in the UK) short novel set in the north of England, Ghost Wall, I got on the eBook waiting list at my library.

Ghost Wall has the characteristics I cited above. It’s really creepy and tense, however, which I didn’t realize, and which isn’t a) what I’m looking for these days — no more tension, please! nor b) my cup of tea, normally. Still, I stuck it out to the end, which is still pretty tense, but slightly hopeful. Kind of like real life.

The story centers around Silvie, a teenager in 1970s England whose dad is a self-taught prehistory buff (for reasons, Moss implies, that are not entirely academic, but possibly xenophobic). He’s also an opinionated bully who controls what Silvie and her mother do. Including accompanying him on a field trip with a college professor and a handful of his students to live as if they are in the Iron Age. They wear scratchy tunics, forage for nuts, berries, roots, and mushrooms, butcher rabbits, gather mussels, and cook what they hunt and gather in a cauldron over a fire. Silvie and her mother do, that is. The men make plans for further reenactment activities.

Silvie admires the only female student, Molly, and even possibly develops a crush on her. Molly is strong, educated, and comfortable stripping down to her lacy — and matching! — undergarments to go swimming. Silvie, repressed, afraid, without any idea of her future, is enchanted. Her father’s disapproval manifests itself in a belting, and from there, the plot centers around his and the professor’s darker reenactments, Silvie’s inability to extricate herself from their plans, and Molly’s interference.

In between, you may learn a thing or two about subsistence (which Moss does not romanticize a bit), bogs (which you don’t want to fall in), and the depressing idea that mankind has always been nationalist (or at least tribal) and pretty brutal (especially to women). It’s a gripping story, that would provide plenty for a book club to discuss and is a quick read. Just be ready for tension.

Read Full Post »

I was looking for a break from heavy fiction (War & Peace, which I’m still reading a bit at a time for #Tolstoytogether) and nonfiction (see my last blog post) so I browsed the library’s apps for eBooks. Olga Tokarczuk‘s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is a darkly funny mystery, featuring a former bridge engineer, Janina Duszejko, whose Ailment (possibly diabetes?) caused her to give up her exotic international work. She now works very part time as a cartetaker for other people’s country homes and as a primary school English teacher in a Polish village near the Czech Republic border. She also works on translating Blake with a former student, calculates horoscopes (who knew there was so much match in astrology?) and defends animal rights to the aggravation of the area’s hunters. Because sometimes she destroys their hunting pulpits.

When three prominent local men die in the area, Mrs. Duszejko sets out to determine who the killer is, and becomes certain that astrology holds the answer. She sees several signs in the dead men’s horoscopes that indicate animals may be the killers, and she tries to alert the police to this, despite her friends’ warnings that this makes her appear even more eccentric than she already did. Even though the book was first published in 2009, it feels both older and newer; at first I thought perhaps it was taking place in the 80s, but then I realized that one of the characters used a mobile phone early in the book. And towards the end, Mrs. Duszejko notes, “Newspapers rely on keeping us in a constant state of anxiety, on diverting our emotions away from the things that really matter to us.” Which felt like something we just talked about this week at my house.

In some ways Mrs. Duszejko is a sympathetic character; she seems to be very loyal and kind to her friends, is somewhat sweetly quirky, and stands in opposition to cruelty and toxic masculinity. But in other ways she is hard to like; cranky, rude, irrational. The book was enjoyable, but as is usually the case, I found it hard to get through, because e-reading is not my favorite. The ending was not what I was expecting, which is good where murders are concerned.

I’d say, look for it in print, from your local bookstore. It would be a really interesting read for a book club.

Read Full Post »