Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year in Review: 2016

This year was bad. Really bad.

That's why I put off writing this post. Who really wants to revisit such a bad year?

But then I thought it would be a disservice to the really good books I read and movies I saw this year. So this is for you, the authors, directors, actors, and other artists who created these works.

In no particular order, these are the novels I enjoyed this year:

 

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (review forthcoming)

 

Rosewater by Tade Thompson (review forthcoming)

 

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova


Hurma by Ali Al-Muqri, translated by T.M. Aplin



The diverse movies I enjoyed this year:


Adaminte Makan Abu, directed by Salim Ahmed (2011) (review forthcoming)


Neerja, directed by Ram Madhvani (2016)


Sardaarji, directed by Rohit Jugraj (2015)


Te3n, directed by Ribhu Dasgupta (2016) (review forthcoming)

As you can see, for lots of reasons I have been unable to review as much as I would have liked this year. Here's hoping for a somewhat more settled 2017. 


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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost
Zoraida Córdova
2016, I read digital review copy
336 pages, YA fantasy, LGBTQIA+

Many thanks to Sourcebooks Fire for providing a review copy of this book! 

Alejandra, or Alex, is a bruja, one of a long line of magical people. While her family is all-important, she’s hiding a secret from them: she does not want to be a bruja. When she tries to escape from her power and ends up sending her family into exile in an alternative realm, it’s up to her, her hired guide Nova, and her human best friend Rishi to save her family and the magical realm of Los Lagos.

Highlight the black sections to reveal spoilers.


Latinx Culture, Religion, and Magic


One of my favorite parts of this novel was the worldbuilding. Set in contemporary Brooklyn, the brujas are both very much a part of New York society and a secretive group that follows different laws. While they perform seances and healing sessions, they still have to pay the bills. The best example of this is Alex's mother, who has healing powers but also works in a gynecologist's office - as a secretary. This made me question why she never went into medicine herself; my guess is that her family did not have enough money to afford medical school. This indicates that the bruja community is very much subject to the same restrictions and racial/income discriminations that others experience, including Latinx communities.

Where do the brujas get their magic? It seems that it comes from two sources. First, their own families, living and dead. The importance of family - the full, extended, complicated and difficult family - is emphasized throughout this book. Despite fighting with her sisters (like everyone does), Alex is fiercely loyal and protective of them. Her decision to remove her own magic is a misguided attempt to protect her family from what she can do; when she accidentally banishes them to Los Lagos, she is wracked with intense guilt for what she sees as her betrayal of the ones she loves.

What Alex does not realize at first is that much of her power comes from her family - both from her long lineage and from the love that her family has for her. Setting aside the magical aspect for a moment, this is an incredibly powerful statement: your family's love for you can give you the strength to do things that you would never be able to do on your own.

On the other hand, in Nova we see the flip side of this importance of family among the brujas. Nova does not have a family, as such: he was abandoned and abused by his remaining relatives. This results in his inability to have a Deathday, and therefore his inability to contain and control his power - which is slowly killing him. Nova's abandonment is not his fault, but in this world - both among the brujas and in human society - he is punished for it.

The second source of bruja magic is their religion, a polytheistic and ancestor-worship belief system inspired by the veneration of saints in Latin American Roman Catholicism, Day of the Dead, and Santería. In addition to revering departed members of their family, brujas worship numerous deities named after natural elements - El Fuego, La Ola, etc. - who bless them with magical powers. The worship of these gods is complex, involving personal altars, offerings, prayers, and spells.

Cordova takes time to flesh out these religious practices: Alex compares her relatively unkempt altar with those kept by her family members, for example. The images and offerings on each person's altar indicate their values and powers. Since each deity grants a specific type of magical ability, each person generally prays to the deity associated with their power. The level of detail provided for these religious practices indicates just how intimately intertwined they are with the daily life of the brujas.

One other thing that I wanted to note is that bruja society is matriarchal: the women are the ones who are usually most powerful and who make most of the decisions. This is quite refreshing.

Positive bisexuality


Another thing that this book does really well is representing bisexuality in a positive way. From the very beginning of the novel, we are introduced to Alex’s as-yet-undiscovered feelings towards her human best friend Rishi. Then she also starts to fall for the hunky and mysterious Nova. Both of these relationships felt like equally valid possibilities.

Importantly, Alex's family is also supportive of queer relationships. This is first indicated by another lesbian relationship in her family (in an older generation), and then by the way her family acts when she finally chooses Rishi. Not only does this book provide an excellent example of bisexual attraction, but it shows a positive response from the main character's strong family unit.

I loved this book for its mythology, its characters, and its worldbuilding. If you haven't read it yet, go read it now.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Two Webcomics: A Redtail's Dream and Anu-Anulan & Yir's Daughter

Today I'm going to do something a little different and review two webcomics that I recently finished. Both are complete stories that combine fantasy and mythology in a unique way, with gorgeous artwork.

A Redtail's Dream


Minna Sundberg
Finnish and English
Completed, 2011-2013
556 pages, fantasy, boy and his dog

When the residents of a village in rural Finland are accidentally sent into the Realm of Dreams (by the Puppy-fox Spirit, who is left in charge while his elders have a meeting), the loner Hannu and his friendly dog Ville must perform tasks to release their friends and neighbors. 

The story is broken into chapters. In each one, Hannu and Ville find themselves in a different part of the realm of dreams, where they must complete a random task to convince the main villager in that area to return home (and take the others with them). Each main villager is accompanied by an ancient animal spirit; Ville, to his delight and sometimes dismay, takes the same form as the animal spirit while they are there. Hence you have a dog that becomes everything from a squirrel to a moose to a seal. 

And did I mention that Ville can talk?

According to everything I have read, this tale draws heavily on Finnish mythology. Puppy-fox is a classic trickster character, Hannu and Ville's tasks feel like something from a folktale, and so on. However, I was unable to find a detailed breakdown of the mythological elements of this work online. Perhaps it is so close to the original tales that it isn't worth analyzing? I would love to read an in-depth article on the similarities and differences to the myths. 

Most importantly, the art of this webcomic is absolutely stunning. It is well worth reading just for the beauty of it. 



Further Reading: 

"Finnish Mythology" by Molly Kalafut
Read The Kalevala from Sacred Texts

Anu-Anulan & Yir's Daughter



Emily Carroll
English
Completed, 2011
3 pages, fantasy, LGBTQIA+

In this very short comic, the goddess Anu-Anulan requests a woman (Yir's daughter)'s bright, silvery hair. But after she receives it, she realizes something is missing. 

I am not sure if Anu-Anulan is based on any particular deity. Rather, Carroll uses mythlike storytelling to convey a very sweet tale. 

The artwork used for this story is relatively simple, but incredibly expressive. It's only three pages - go read it now! 

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Queen, directed by Vikas Bahl

Queen
India (Hindi), 2013
146 min, comedy, self-exploration, travel
Directed by Vikas Bahl
Starring Kangana Ranaut

When Rani’s fiancée breaks up with her two days before their wedding, she decides to go on the honeymoon by herself. Her first time outside the country, and her first time really alone, gives her the opportunity to explore who she is and what she wants from life.

While in many ways this film draws upon problematic stereotypes of “life in the West,” it still provides a good example of a sheltered young woman steering her own life for the first time.

Self-exploration


In Delhi, Rani lives a sheltered and protected life. Her younger brother acts as her chaperone, especially when she meets Vijay, her fiancée. It seems like her match with Vijay was only partially of her own accord: she wanted an arranged marriage, and this marriage seems to be half-arranged. I’m not sure she really considered any alternatives before making the decision, since she just took marriage as a matter of course.

When Vijay dumps her, she is devastated. She curls up in a ball and cries in her room for a whole day. But she emerges with a decision: she was really looking forward to going to Paris, and had even spent all of her life savings on the ticket – so she wants to go. At this point, she still gives her parents the veto decision, but her father realizes that she needs to do this for herself. Hesitantly, they drive her to the airport and send her on an adventure without them.

At first Rani is incredibly overwhelmed, lonely, and just wants to go home, but then she makes friends and begins to enjoy herself. As she does so, she realizes that she doesn’t need a man to have fun or to travel. She also realizes that some of the assumptions she was making about other people were wrong. For example, although she has been taught that all men are scary, she ends up befriending her three male roommates at a hostel in Amsterdam. Over the course of the film, as she continues to try new things, she becomes less afraid and more independent.

The Indian jerk boyfriend


This film directly addresses one of my pet peeves about Indian movies: the valorization of abusive (even stalker!) boyfriends. After Vijay dumps her suddenly, with no thought about her feelings, Rani accidentally sends him a picture. Seeing this selfie, Vijay suddenly realizes that he actually still loves her. He begins calling her repeatedly, and even goes to Paris and then Amsterdam to track her down.

At first, Rani doesn’t know what to do about this. She is angry, but society has taught her that she should forgive him. When he suddenly appears in Amsterdam, she is willing to talk to him privately - even after he tries to beat up one of her new friends in a fit of over-possessive stupidity! Finally, at the end of the film she realizes that his behavior is not acceptable and that he does not deserve her.

I was happy that Rani, unlike many Bollywood heroines, comes to the realization that stalking and over-possessive behavior is not romantic.

Buying into stereotypes of the West


My biggest problem with this film is the incredibly stereotypical depiction of the West. As usual, Rani’s character exploration is accompanied by large amounts of drinking, clubbing, and visiting red light areas (in Amsterdam, of course). Like other films of this genre, it seems like the only way Rani can loosen up is by literally wearing less clothes and drinking. Obviously, this isn’t all that happens in the West – but if you watch Indian movies you would be forgiven for thinking so.

Rani has two potential love interests in Amsterdam, one an Italian restaurant owner and the other one of her roommates. Of the three roommates, the one who catches her eye is the only white person; the others are a black Frenchman and a small Japanese man. The depiction of the Japanese character fits into the racist depiction of Asian men as cute but sexually unattractive; the Black character has barely any speaking lines. It is the hot, emotional, artistic, very white Russian who catches her eye. This reinforces the idea that the only foreigners worth dating or marrying are white people – an idea that is quite prevalent in Indian society.

Despite these rather significant problems, the powerful portrayal of Rani’s voyage of self-discovery makes this movie worth watching. I recommend it as an exploration of how being alone teaches you about who you really are.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Islamicates: Volume I, edited by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad

Islamicates: Volume I
Anthology of Science Fiction short stories inspired from Muslim Cultures
Edited by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad
2016, available for free here
236 pages, speculative

Personal note: 

It seems appropriate that my first post after the election concerns a book inspired by Islam and Islamic cultures. Among the many, many evils that have been drawn out of the woodwork by the new president-elect's policies, I am the most worried about the marked increase in Islamophobia. 

This freely available book presents many different perspectives on Islamic people and societies. In some stories, religion is outlawed and people must fight to continue following their beliefs. In others, religion is the problem that people are fighting against. But in all of them, Muslims are shown as they truly are: people trying to make their way in the world, fighting against circumstances outside of their control, just like everyone else. Many of these stories draw upon events that are currently happening: the war in Syria, the Refugee Crisis. Some reverse the flow of migration so that Europeans become the migrant workers. All of them speak to parts of Islamic society that many people in the West are unaware of. 

I encourage everyone to read through some of the stories in this collection, and to share them with friends who might have doubts about this religion and the people who follow it. At this historical moment more than ever, I consider it a moral duty to spread diverse literature in order to combat the prejudices, xenophobia, and, yes, White supremacy that is growing like a cancer in many parts of the world. Please join me by supporting works that combat stereotypes about People of Color and other minorities. 

In this collection published by the excellent website Islam and Science Fiction, authors from around the world have created science fiction short stories inspired by Islamic cultures. The works presented are the 12 best of those submitted for the first Islamicate Short Story contest run by the same website.

Since there are so many stories, I will only provide an analysis of the ones that really spoke to me. However, I highly encourage you to read the others as well.

“Calligraphy” by Alex Kreis (USA)


After a rivalry between two tile makers turns dark, the remaining one laments his actions.

This story uses the formal and slightly stilted language of Victorian translations from Arabic, which I quite enjoyed. Unlike the rest of the stories in this collection, it is set in the past. On the first reading I was confused about its inclusion in this collection, since it didn't seem very much like science fiction. But then it struck me that it taps into the history of scientific exploration and discovery in the Muslim world during the medieval period. The narrator sees something that he does not understand, but which was created through advanced scientific and artistic skills, and voila: a fascinating science fiction story set in the past.

“Insha’allah” by R.F. Dunham (USA)


It seems like a normal state of affairs - an adult child is more comfortable with a new technology than her parent is - but in this case the technology allows one to know the future, and the father Khafid is the inventor who has since forsworn his creation.

This story deals with the lack of intergenerational communication that can happen based on the life experiences of older family members, as well as whether all inventions are necessary. What criteria would make a technology bad (not evil, just extremely misguided)? After much reflection, Khafid has decided that his invention was a bad idea for several reasons, not least because of his faith, but he has trouble expressing that to his daughter in a way she would understand. Anyway, his daughter refuses to listen and has instead decided to improve the device by increasing its temporal range. As you can probably guess, this is a bad idea.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ajjiit: Dark Dreams of the Ancient Arctic by Sean A. Tinsley and Rachel A. Qitsualik

Ajjiit: Dark Dreams of the Ancient Arctic
Sean A. Tinsley and Rachel A. Qitsualik
Illustrated by Andrew Trabbold
2011
191 pages, speculative fiction, indigenous

Many thanks to Inhabit Media for providing a review copy of this book, and to my mother for sending it to India as a Christmas present last year! 

This collection includes nine innovative speculative fiction stories that are inspired by traditional Inuit society and folklore.
To a degree, our point, in crafting these fantasy stories, was to draw upon Inuit culture and lore, writing original fiction utilizing the unique creatures and concepts that Inuit once (and, in some cases still do) fear or revere [sic]. Our main purpose, however, was to illustrate a sort of cosmological thinking particular to Inuit culture - a mystic tradition, if you will, that is not unlike the Arctic itself: barren to the superficial eye, yet filled with riches for those willing to fix a deep and non-judgemental stare. - Authors' introduction

“Elder”


Pigliq, one of the Humble Folk, is a poor sleeper – he can’t fall asleep properly, and his friend has to dream clothes for him. This leads to ridicule and complaints. But when his people awake from their latest slumber to find a terrifying new threat, it’s up to Pigliq to save them all.

Besides tapping into a fantastically unique race of humanoid beings from Inuit mythology, Pigliq’s unique plight – not being able to sleep, and therefore to dream – is compelling. He is considered disabled and is bullied for his differences from his peers, but in the end his "disability" is what allows him to fight when no one else can.

“The Qallupiluq Forgiven”


The Qallupiluq is a terrifying shapeshifter from Inuit mythology, who has the prerogative to kidnap and eat anyone who says its name.

This story was one of my favorites in Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Anthology Vol. I.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Praktan, directed by Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee

Praktan
India (Bengali), 2016
143 min, drama
Directed by Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee
Starring Rituparna Sengupta, Aparajita Auddy, and Prosenjit Chatterjee

Content Warning: Discussion of Emotional and Physical Abuse

Ten years ago, Sudipa and Ujaan divorced after a difficult marriage. Today, Sudipa finds herself in a first-class train carriage from Mumbai to Kolkata with Malini, Ujaan’s new wife, and their daughter. During the course of the two-night train journey, Sudipa finally deals with the pain from years before.

Meanwhile, we see the stories of people in other rooms in the same carriage. Four famous Bengali musicians (Surojit Chatterjee, Anindya Chatterjee, Upal Sengupta, and Anupam Roy, playing themselves) serenade each other with new compositions. An elderly couple returns from Mumbai after seeing their son off to the US. And last but not least, a couple of newlyweds put the trip in a private cabin to good use.

Both an intimate story of pain, heartbreak, and healing, and a glance at the things that happen in first class, this is a new, great train movie from West Bengal. However, the ending left a bad taste in my mouth.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett

Blackass
A. Igoni Barrett
2015, I read PDF review copy
304 pages, social satire, speculative

Many thanks to Kachifo Limited for providing a review copy of this novel. 

Furo Wariboko awoke this morning to find that dreams can lose their way and turn up on the wrong side of sleep. He was lying nude in bed, and when he raised his head a fraction, he could see his alabaster belly, and his pale legs beyond, covered with fuzz that glinted bronze in the cold daylight pouring in through the open window…. His hands were not black but white… same as his legs, his belly, all of him.

Thus begins this Kafkaesque satire about race relations in Nigeria. Furo wakes on the morning of a big job interview to find that he has suddenly turned White – complete with red hair and blue eyes. Escaping from his house, he turns up at the job interview and, as a White man, finds that not only his job prospects, but every other aspect of his life has significantly improved.

Being White in a post-colonial society


Furo encounters all of the things that I, myself, have experienced or witnessed as a White person living in a post-colonial society (in my case India). Using the same qualifications that had lost him numerous opportunities in the past, as a White man he is immediately offered a good job. People trust him enough to give him money within two minutes of meeting him.

He also receives intense stares everywhere he goes:
Lone white face in a sea of black, Furo learned fast. To walk with his shoulders up and his steps steady. To keep his gaze lowered and his face blank. To ignore the fixed stares, the pointed whispers, the blatant curiosity. And he learnt how it felt to be seen as a freak: exposed to wonder, invisible to comprehension.
As a White man, Furo is expected to act a certain way; when he doesn’t fulfill people’s expectations they become surprised and start to question him. When he tries to eat in a roadside restaurant, for example, people stare and ask why he is there. To escape the stares, he goes into one of the city's fancy shopping malls (which he has never previously entered), and fakes casualness while drinking an incredibly expensive coffee. As a White person, he is not only expected to have a lot of money, but also to fit naturally into high society.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

In Memorium: Parthasarathi Neogi


My father-in-law, Parthasarathi Neogi, died suddenly last Friday night, September 23, 2016. After a day spent visiting old friends, he had a sudden stroke and died within a few minutes.

My husband Tintin and I were in Kerala, and were woken up at 11 PM by a phone call from his mom. We flew home on the first flight at 5:30 AM, and completed the funeral by that evening. We just finished the last of the rituals to give him peace.

I called him Baba, the Bengali word for father.

I couldn't have asked for a better father-in-law; he truly loved me. He would do small things to show his love, such as bring big chocolate bars to have on hand whenever I came. I was supposed to come to Kolkata (alone) on October 12th, and he had offered to pick me up from the airport. He had also, I discovered when I came, bought three new bedsheets for me to use while I was here.

These may sound like very small things, but when put together they added up to a very good man who loved me very much. And I miss him.

I will be in Kolkata for the next few months to take care of affairs while Tintin returns to Kerala for work. It will be hard to be separated for such a long time, but it is necessary right now.



Rest in Peace 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Kickstart These: La Raza, Moonshot Vol. II

There are two excellent, diverse comic anthologies waiting for funding on Kickstarter right now.

La Raza Anthology: Unidos y Fuertes



A collection of comics by Latinx creators! Pledges start at US $2, and you can get a copy of the book for $15(ebook)/$25(hardcopy).

I love the artwork.
The last day to pledge is September 29, 2016.

Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Vol. 2


I loved the first volume of this series of comics by Native American artists, mostly from Canada. You can read my review here. The second volume promises more of the same excellent work. In fact, 
Each of the 15 short stories included in this c.200 page Volume will be based on a tradition from the author's own tribe/community. These stories highlight present-day traditions, and diversity, in indigenous peoples today.
 As always, the artwork looks absolutely breathtaking, and you can get prints as a backer award.

Pledges start at $5 CAD, and you can get a copy of the book for $10(ebook)/$20(hardcopy). 

The last day to pledge is September 30, 2016


Go get your copies before time runs out! 

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Timehrian by Andrew Jefferson-Miles

The Timehrian
Andrew Jefferson-Miles
2002
110 pages, post-modern, speculative

Thank you to Peepal Tree Press for providing a review copy of this book. 

After awaking from a six-year madness, Leon-Battista Mondaal writes to his cousin in an attempt to express what he has experienced. The result is this poetic novel that can never tell a straight story, but nevertheless reaches toward the truth - of Guyana’s colonial and post-colonial past, of ethnographic practice, and of the relationships between people.

This book is essentially a prose poem, for better or for worse. At times, it becomes almost incomprehensible, such as:

The tidal wave that swept all away possessed a sort of hybrid vigour that reached over our best attempts at correction. It exhibited an evenhanded kind of intervention in our affairs, entangling and suborning layers and institutions and environments. Former legacies are converted into new bodies whilst old shapes enter the squall and masquerade of memory, whose disguises enact majestic instability in our conception of ourselves. It is a complex, a charged phenomenology of practice and custom intensifying communities diverse in their origins, orientations, dictions.

I don’t usually enjoy reading poetry, but I will try my best to pull out what I understood from this text.

Colonialism and ethnography


Immediately before the tidal wave that caused Leon-Battista’s descent into madness, he was working with an ethnographic team recording the traditional Christmas masquerade in a Guyanese coastal village. However, he seems to be uncomfortable with the whole process, and especially with the functionalist and colonial attitude of Laban, the group’s leader and a renowned anthropologist.

Part of what Leon-Battista points out is a common critique of early forms of anthropology (before the “reflexive turn”). As he notes,

Conventional epistemes for the study of man (social relativism in anthropology, ethnolology, ethnography) tend to benefit least those about whom the study is made. Those about whom the study is made rarely get to participate in it. 

As a discipline, anthropology now recognizes these issues and does its best to rectify them (or at least to be aware of them and their effects on a study) through participative modes of ethnography and research.

However, it seems that Leon-Battista is also referring to the colonial attitudes of some ethnographers, who treat the people they study as a way to produce knowledge, nothing more. Laban is a “native anthropologist:” originally from Guyana, he has returned as a celebrated academic to study his “native” culture. Despite this apparent belonging, he still treats his research participants as subjects of study rather than real, three-dimensional people.

History 


Another issue that Leon-Battista brings out is the complicated history of the area, from both an ecological and cultural standpoint. Apart from the colonists that came from Europe, the people in the area are also the descendants of African slaves, Indian indentured servants, and the Amerindian inhabitants of the area. As all of these groups have combined to form the society of present-day Guyana, so has the environment of the country changed under their influence.

Overall, I did not enjoy reading this book. It was only after I finished it that I realized how thought-provoking it is. If you enjoy reading poetry and/or are interested in experimental writing, you might want to give this one a try.


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Thursday, September 15, 2016

What Sunny Saw in the Flames by Nnedi Okorafor

What Sunny Saw in the Flames
Nnedi Okorafor
2016, I read pdf review copy
315 pages, YA, speculative

Many thanks to Cassava Republic Press for providing a review copy of this book!

Sunny Nwazue is a young girl who does not quite fit in. She was born in the United States to Nigerian parents, but is growing up in Nigeria. She is also an albino, which is a big deal in Nigeria where they are sometimes considered witches or people who talk to ghosts. Her skin’s sensitivity to sun also prevents her from playing soccer, which is one of her passions.

She discovers that she actually does have some magical abilities: she is a “Free Agent,” or someone able to do magic (a Leopard Person) who is born into a non-magical (Lamb) family. Now, apart from learning about her abilities with her new friends, Sunny has to keep her new identity a secret from her family, do twice the normal amount of homework, and deal with a magical serial killer who is targeting children.

Magical Universe


In this story, there is an alternate society of Leopard People: some live in the Lamb community, and others live in special, magical places, such as Leopard Knocks. In Leopard society, Free Agents like Sunny are discriminated against, as evidenced by the obvious racism in the in-universe book Fast Facts for Free Agents which Sunny uses to learn about the magic community. Most of the chapters end with an excerpt of this deplorable book, providing a glimpse into the racism that Sunny will experience.

The magic here is juju, and it uses a lot of blood and sacrifices. The most-used magical implement is a juju knife, which is about the size of a child’s hand and is unique to each magical person. Each individual also has a “spirit face,” which is considered very private and is the source of their power.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Westerly 61.1: The Indigenous Issue

Westerly 61.1: The Indigenous Issue
Guest edited by Stephen Kinnane
August 2016

Westerly, based at the University of Western Australia, is a literary magazine publishing new writing from Western Australia since 1956. I would like to thank them for providing a review copy of this issue. 

[O]verwhelmingly, the work submitted and collected here sought to witness – some the past, some the present, many their hopes for the future. This act of telling as testimonial is not something fragile. It is a robust and vibrant energy, charging each unique voice, and demanding a space in which it can be felt. – the editors’ introduction

There is a huge range of pieces in this issue, far too many for me to review each one individually. Instead, I will just mention a few of my favorites. They are presented in the same order as in the magazine.


“The Yield” by Tara June Winch


My absolute favorite piece is “The Yield,” an excerpt from a forthcoming novel. In this excerpt, we meet the main character, a mostly-Indigenous woman whose grandfather has just died. She has to travel back to Australia, back to the place she grew up, to deal with the funeral arrangements and to support her grandmother. This also means that she has to confront aspects of her past that she has avoided for a long time, especially her sister who mysteriously disappeared during their childhood.

The writing is dense, tightly-packed and absolutely beautiful.
During the flight I watched the GPS, the numbers rising and steadying, the plane skittering over the cartoon sea. At the other end, having reached a certain altitude, crossed the time lines, descended into new coordinates, I’d hoped it would be enough to erase the voyage. Erase the facts of the matter; erase the burials rites due reciting, erase all the erasures of us, and that family we once were in the stories could exist. Not us, as we were now, godless and government housed and spread all over the place.
From what I have read so far, this story is absolutely ordinary, and yet entirely profound. I have added Tara June Winch to my list of authors whose works I want to read as soon as possible, and am eagerly waiting for the novel form of The Yield.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Court, directed by Chaitanya Tamhane

Court
India (Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi, English), 2014
116 min, drama, satire, realist
Directed by Chaitanya Tamhane
Starring Vira Sathidar, Vivek Gomber, Geetanjali Kulkarni, and Pradeep Joshi

An elderly folk singer is arrested for political reasons. What follows is an intimate look at the Indian legal system from the perspective of the three main participants: the defending attorney, the prosecutor, and the judge.

This film won Best Feature Film in the Indian National Film Awards and was India’s official entry for the Academy Awards.

Not a “Courtroom Drama”


I was rather disappointed when I first saw this film, and I think the main reason was its advertising as a “courtroom drama.” I was expecting it to be similar to great “courtroom drama” films like 12 Angry Men or To Kill a Mockingbird. But it isn’t like that at all.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

INTERVIEW: Indra Das on his debut novel The Devourers

Indrapramit (Indra) Das is an author from Kolkata, India who writes in the fantasy/science fiction genres. I reviewed his debut novel The Devourers when it came out in India last year. Indra is now working as the Speculative Fiction editor for Juggernaut Books, a new publishing company focused on mobile content. I caught up with him after his publicity tour for the US version of The Devourers, published last month by Del Rey.


I know you just finished your US publicity tour for The Devourers. How did it go? 


It went very well indeed, thank you for asking! I went to New York City for the launch, and met my American editor, Mike Braff, along with the entire team behind the book’s publication, promotion, etc. at the Del Rey / Penguin Random House offices. I had a lovely time with them all, and they held a gathering for me at a bar with free copies of the book for the launch. Then I joined them at San Diego Comic-Con, where I was on a couple of panels, and had three signings, and generally promoted the book at the Del Rey booth on the Con floor along with other writers published under the imprint. From there, I went to Seattle for a couple of readings at the University Bookstore and the Two Hour Transport reading series at Café Racer. And finally, Vancouver for one night for a reading at my favourite bookstore there, Pulpfiction Books. It all went so well (thanks greatly to the heroic efforts of the Del Rey team, and the generosity of my friends in all three cities), Comic-Con was as marvelously brain-frazzling as reputed (we sold out all copies of The Devourers at the Del Rey booth), and the panels and signings went better than I could have hoped. None of which necessarily says anything about the future of the book’s long-term cultural impact or sales, but it was a lovely start.

Have you noticed any differences between the novel’s reception in India and the US? 


Absolutely. The book is doing decently for a debut in India, but it’s not had much of a cultural impact, with not many writers or publications talking about it or writing about it (I am of course eternally grateful to the writers and publications who did). It got good reviews, certainly, but I didn’t get the impression that cultural gatekeepers were very interested in looking past the pitch - ‘werewolves in India’— to talk about it as a cross-genre novel rather than declare ‘oh hey, another Indian fantasy novel, those are pretty rare, right?’ and leave it at that.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

The Three-Body Problem
Cixin Liu
Translated by Ken Liu (Chinese)
Originally 2006, I read 2014 translation
415 pages, hard science fiction
Found: Barnes and Noble, West Chester, Ohio, USA

Caught up in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, astrophysicist Ye Wenjie finds herself working for a secret government project after her father is brutally murdered for being an "intellectual." What should she do when she discovers the first sign of intelligent alien life?

In the present, Wang Miao is a researcher working on nanomaterials who is pulled into a secret government investigation of an international organization called the Frontiers of Science. Strange things begin happening - things that seemingly break the laws of physics. His one major lead is the online virtual reality game called Three Body, which seems to hold some of the answers he is searching for.

The scientific problem and the virtual world


Probably the most unique part of this book is the integration of virtual reality with the main storyline. While Wang Miao initially plays as part of the investigation, he soon becomes fascinated by the game for its own sake: it poses a complicated physics puzzle that appeals to his scientific mind.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves

The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Translated by Lucia Graves (Spanish)
First published 2002, I read 2005 Phoenix paperback
510 pages, gothic romance, mystery, adventure
Found: super cheap at the Kochi Book Fair 2015

A bookseller takes his 11-year-old son Daniel to a very special place: a hidden building in Barcelona where there is a collection of lost, neglected, or forgotten books. As a privilege of visiting for the first time, Daniel is allowed to choose one book to take with him. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, which quickly becomes his favorite novel.

But when he tries to find out more about this author, mystery arises. Julian Carax is unknown, and it is believed that he died shortly after the War. And then there is the faceless man who is searching for Daniel’s prized copy with the intention of burning it and any other copy of Carax’s work that appears - and who has taken on the name of a character from The Shadow of the Wind who is the Devil incarnate.

Master storytelling in the vein of nineteenth-century novels


Zafón’s work is quite obviously inspired by the best of 1800s literature. He combines an incredible feel for gothic-style literary tension with a gorgeous, poetic writing style that left me enthralled. While leisurely at first, the pace quickly picks up and drags the reader along, wondering what will happen next.

There is grand adventure around every corner in this novel. Haunted houses, magical libraries of forgotten books, and blind love interests - anyone who loves The Count of Monte Cristo or other large-hearted adventure novels will love this book as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Goat Days by Benyamin, translated by Joseph Koyippally

Goat Days
Benyamin
Translated by Joseph Koyippally
First published 2008, I read 2012 translation
255 pages, fictional memoir

Thank you to Penguin India for providing a review copy of this book. 

When I first moved to Kerala last year, I wrote to my contact at Penguin India asking for review copies of novels written by Malayali authors, especially ones that were translated from Malayalam. I expected that reading these novels would help me to understand the culture that I was now immersed in.

In fact, the opposite happened: my experience of living in Kerala, and especially my husband’s experiences of working closely with Keralites, has made me intimately familiar with Malayali attitudes and society, even without knowing the language at all. So instead of this novel helping to understand the society, my knowledge of the society will help me to discuss the deeper social implications of this novel.

In this novel, a poor Malayali man named Najeeb gets the opportunity to go to one of the countries in the Persian Gulf – probably Saudi Arabia – to take up a relatively lucrative job. However, when he arrives he discovers that his dreams have led him to the exact opposite of what he expected: instead of a comfortable, air-conditioned flat and a job in construction, he finds himself working as a slave in the middle of the desert, herding goats, sheep, and camels, and living without even a shelter to protect him from the sun’s heat. Set in 1991, this shows the flip side of Malayali migration to the better-paying jobs on the Arabian peninsula.


Opportunities Abroad


Going to another country to make money seems like it would be a big decision that would require planning. However, Najeeb displays an astonishing lack of forethought regarding this move. In his own words,

How long have I been here, diving for a living? How about going abroad for once? Not for long. I am not greedy. Only long enough to settle a few debts. Add a room to the house. Just the usual cravings of most Malayalis…. Can one go hungry? I have, in the past. But things are different now. Now, at [my Mom]’s insistence, I am married. My wife is four months pregnant. Expenditure will now mount up like sand.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ontorjatra, directed by Tareque and Catherine Masud

Ontorjatra
Bangladesh (Bengali and English), 2006
84 min, slice-of-life, drama
Directed by Tareque and Catherine Masud
Starring Sara Zaker and Rifakat Rashid

After 15 years abroad, Shireen and her son Sohel return to Bangladesh to attend the memorial service for Sohel’s father. After getting a divorce when Sohel was five years old, Shireen had fled to the UK and cut off any communication with her ex-husband. This included allowing Sohel to visit Bangladesh or communicate with his father in any way.

Bangladesh is not like Shireen remembers, and Sohel is experiencing it for the first time. As Sohel discovers the family that he never knew, Shireen is forced to confront her past and the decisions she made all those years before.

This is a major, well-known Bangladeshi movie. I wouldn’t call it a good movie, necessarily: the acting, in particular, leaves a lot to be desired, and there are far too many voiceovers. However, it does a very good job of showing what life in Bangladesh is actually like – and that is what I want to focus on.


Dhaka


I have told my husband many stories about Dhaka and Bangladesh, but he’s never been there. I was surprised when he started exclaiming about things that he noticed in this film. “The airport is so 1970s!” “The buses are so beat up, they look terrible!” “God, this is what the traffic really looks like???” I guess my descriptions didn’t convey as much as this video did.

This movie gives a good sense of what it feels like to be walking around in Bangladesh and interacting with Bangladeshi people there. Dhaka is full of too many people, too much traffic and too much pollution, and it’s constructed out of new high-rise buildings, with older buildings few and far between. But if you go outside of Dhaka, the countryside is beautiful – green rice fields stretching into the distance and the tea gardens in Sylhet.


Read the rest at The Asian Cinema Blog


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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Cinemawala by Kaushik Ganguly

Cinemawala
India (Bengali), 2016
105 min, drama, dysfunctional family
Directed by Kaushik Ganguly
Starring Paran Banerjee, Parambrata Chatterjee, and Sohini Sarkar

Pranabendu Das was the proud owner of a single-screen theater in one of the rural suburbs of Kolkata until it went out of business upon the advent of digitalization. Now, with his trusty employee Hori, Pranabendu constantly laments the downfall of old-style theater and his son Prokash’s abhorrent trade of selling pirated DVDs.

Now Pranabendu and Prokash barely speak to each other, and Prokash’s wife Moumita is stuck in the middle. When Prokash gets a brilliant idea to make more money illegally, how will his principled father react?

I saw this movie in a traditional single-screen theater in Kolkata with Tintin and his 80-year-old aunt. This was the perfect place to see this movie, both because of the theme and because some of the shots of the theater in the film lined up perfectly with the seating arrangement in front of us. However, I found little to like in the film itself.

The Ultimate Dysfunctional Family


If you like depressing movies about incredibly dysfunctional families, this one might be up your alley. Prokash and Pranabendu hate each other. They never speak to each other, despite living in the same house. Prokash is resentful about having to provide food for his aged father, especially because his father hates how he makes the money. He also thinks his father is stupid because he did not upgrade the theater as Prokash recommended and considers it his father’s fault that he had to take up selling pirated DVDs.

Pranabendu not only hates his son, but also gets drunk every night and reminisces about the glory days of the theater. He is definitely out of touch with reality, and this has apparently caused his wife, Prokash’s mother, to abandon him and move to Kolkata. Prokash’s mother is currently taking care of her own father, who is senile and partially paralyzed because of a stroke. Prokash apparently only visits his mother when there is some big news; otherwise, she never hears from him.

And then there is Moumita, Prokash’s wife, who takes good care of her father-in-law. They have a good relationship, but it is constantly sabotaged by the ongoing row between the father and son.

Piracy and Paying the Creators


One good thing that this movie does is point out the problems with piracy. Not only is Prokash doing something illegal but, as his dad points out, it also takes away any profit that the creators may have received. This is an important message in India today, where piracy, plagiarism, and other kinds of intellectual theft are commonplace.

I did not see anything likable about this movie, but if the description I have given above seems attractive, go ahead and watch it. And, just out of curiosity, I would be interested in hearing your opinion of the film.


Further Reading: 


"10 Awesome Single Screen Cinema Halls of Calcutta" from The Calcutta Girl
"Fading Lights" by Subhro Niyogi from The Times of India (2011)

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Sardaarji by Rohit Jugraj

Sardaarji
India (Punjabi), 2015
140 min, comedy, fantasy, romance
Directed by Rohit Jugraj
Starring Diljit Dosanjh, Neeru Bajwa, and Mandy Takhar

Jaggi, or “Sardaarji,” is a talented ghost hunter from rural Punjab, India. Emotionally immature, he is waiting to find his “queen witch:” the prettiest and most wonderful female ghost, who he will add to his bottled collection.

When he gets a call for help from a rich expat family living in the UK, he flies to London to exorcise a ghost from a castle. The ghost turns out to be a Punjabi named Pinky, and Jaggi decides that she will be his queen ghost.

There’s only one small problem: before Pinky will leave the castle, Jaggi must romance Jasmine, a real, human girl – something that terrifies the intrepid ghost hunter.

Emotional Immaturity


I had great suspicions about Jaggi (and the writers) at the beginning of the movie. It seemed like the women were being treated in a very patriarchal way: the female ghosts are literally kept in bottles in a cabinet while Jaggi flirts with them and makes sexual innuendos. This is incredibly problematic, but it turns out that most of this can be chalked up to his emotional immaturity: emotionally, Jaggi is about as mature as a 13-year-old, if that.

This becomes most obvious when Pinky’s plan requires him to learn salsa dancing from Jasmine. She takes his hand and places it on her back in the correct position for ballroom dancing. Jaggi nearly faints and runs away. The reason? He has apparently never touched a girl before – well, except for the she-ghosts, who are ghosts so it doesn’t count – so he is terrified when Jasmine touches him.

This emotional immaturity is indicated in several more minor ways throughout the film. For example, Jaggi’s outfits swing radically between a full suit-and-tie and footie pajamas. He constantly has to ask ghosts for advice, especially about relationships, and only realizes that he is in love when a random ghost tells him so.

Read the rest on The Asian Cinema Blog


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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Jazz by Toni Morrison

Jazz
Toni Morrison
Originally 1992, I read Plume 1993
229 pages, drama, literary fiction
FOUND: Half Price Books, Hamilton, OH, USA

A middle-aged man shoots his 18-year-old lover, and then his wife attacks the body at the funeral. But what came after, and what before? In this beautifully lyrical novel, told in Toni Morrison’s signature style, an anonymous narrator tells how this event came to be and what each character’s past and future holds – and how the City has come to shape each of them and their expectations of each other.

I have been fascinated by Toni Morrison’s writing since I first read Beloved in a high school English class. That book was a bit too gory and explicit for my teenaged self, so I waited a few years before reading more. This book is the second in a loose trilogy, following Beloved and followed by Paradise – all of which contain similar themes about the history of African Americans in the USA, particularly the role of Black women in that history.


Grief and Guilt


Joe, the man who killed his lover, is filled with grief in that action’s aftermath. He cries and cries and is unable to do anything else. And it seems that he’s not just mourning for his young, dead lover: he’s mourning for himself, for his past, and for who he used to be.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Diverse Books Tag


Many thanks to Naz from Read Diverse Books for creating this tag. This is the first one that I've taken part in, by the way - so here we go!

I decided to include a majority of books that I have read and would recommend, in the attempt to keep my TBR pile to a minimum and increase yours with the best books I've read (cue evil laugh).

Find a Book Starring a Lesbian Character


The Telling by Ursula K. LeGuin - One of my favorite books from LeGuin's Hamish Cycle (which is infinitely better than her Earthsea Series; I'll fight you on this), which incidentally has a lesbian, POC main character.

Find a Book with a Muslim Protagonist


I Am Istanbul/Istanbullu by Buket Uzuner, translated by Kenneth J. Dakan - I adored this book from the female Turkish author, which takes place entirely within Istanbul's Ataturk airport. Read my review here.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun
Sarah Ladipo Manyika
2016, I read advance review copy
129 pages, comedy, everyday

Many thanks to Cassava Republic Press for providing a review copy. Cassava Republic is a major Nigerian publisher and has just started a new operation in the UK. This is one of their first UK titles. 

Dr. Morayo Da Silva is a retired English professor living in San Francisco. As she goes about her daily life, she comes into contact with other ordinary people, each one extraordinary in their own way. In this gorgeous little book, tiny everyday actions and interactions – buying flowers, visiting a friend, reading a book – come to life and reveal their true importance.

The Everyday


Small things that are apparently ordinary tend to get lost amongst the “bigger issues” in life. But they are no less important –in fact, they are what life is made of. Morayo embraces the beauty of the everyday and engages with life and with other people at a profound level. For example, when Morayo sees a young homeless woman on the road, she stops to check if she is ok. This leads to a conversation that goes deeper than normal, superficial small talk, cutting through to what is really important.

Morayo used to be married to a Nigerian diplomat, so she has travelled extensively and lived in many countries across the world. This multicultural background helps her to appreciate the vibrancy of the world around her in San Francisco, to delight in the little pleasures that remind her of places she has been or people she used to know. This gives her narrative a great depth and ingenuity that is a pleasure to read. She is one of those characters who would be a great friend, if she were real.


Read the rest of my review on Shiny New Books.


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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Personal Note

Hello to all my readers! I don't usually do this, but today I wanted to write something personal.

I came back to the US just over a week ago, for the first time in a year and a half. This explains why I haven't posted in nearly a month: I was preparing to travel 24 hours to visit my family without telling my grandparents. 

Surprise!

After giving them the shock of their lives (and hopefully the best surprise they've ever had), I have spent the rest of the time here working, shopping, hanging out with my family, etc. etc. But while I've been here, I've noticed something disturbing but not surprising.

Intolerance seems to have increased while I've been away. I'm sure we all know who is responsible for some of this (hint: his name rhymes with Drumph), but it seems to be much farther-reaching than that.

This observation has made me reflect on why I am doing all of this. Why am I keeping this blog? Does anyone actually read my posts? Who cares about international literature and film?

My answer is: if even one person reads these reviews and learns something new, or wants to watch a movie or read a book they would never have considered before, then it's worth it for me. In my own small way, I'm trying to combat the intolerance I see around me. I am trying to foreground the books and movies made by people from around the world, who may have a different worldview from you or me.

I am trying to say that these people matter. Their voices matter. Their lives matter. 

I cannot ignore the terrible injustices that are happening every day, especially to people of color or other minorities. 

In my writing, I try not to focus on myself. Although I obviously give my opinion, it is the books and movies that I review that are important.

Do you know why? Because it is their words that need to be heard, not mine. 

I have been in a bit of a reading and writing slump, mostly because I am so busy with work and preparing to visit the US. But seeing the terrible intolerance that has gained traction in my home has given me the push I needed to get back to reviewing international literature and film. I must do what little I can to combat this terrifying wave of intolerance and violence.

Now back to your regularly scheduled program. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Neerja by Ram Madhvani

Neerja
India (Hindi, English, Arabic), 2016
122 min, thriller, biography
Directed by Ram Madhvani
Starring Sonam Kapoor and Shabana Azmi

On September 5th, 1986, Palestinian terrorists hijack Pan Am flight 73 while it waits on the tarmac at the Karachi airport. The head purser of the flight, Neerja Bhanot, tries to keep the passengers safe by negotiating with the terrorists and trying to outwit them. Based on a true story, this movie depicts how Neerja became an international hero by saving the lives of most of the passengers and crew, while dying herself.  Meanwhile, we see the emotional fallout at home of knowing that your daughter, sister, or girlfriend is in mortal danger – and there’s nothing you can do to help her.

While this could have easily become melodramatic, the powerful performances of Sonam Kapoor as Neerja and Shabana Azmi as Neerja’s mother imbue this film with the right mix of tension, fear, and bravery to make it one of the most lifelike and emotionally complex films I have ever seen. I think this is the only movie that has left me bawling in my seat at the movie theater, and I daresay you will have a similar experience.

Neerja’s history of abuse


While it doesn’t go into great detail, the movie does explore Neerja’s history of surviving intimate partner violence. After having an arranged marriage, she is taken to Oman by her husband, who proceeds to verbally and emotionally abuse her – finally escalating into physical violence. Part of this abuse is letters sent to her father demanding that he give more money for her dowry.  When Neerja escapes from this terrible situation and returns to her parents’ house, she has to deal with the social and familial censure of her actions. As a woman, she should have been able to accept and adjust to any situation, or so the logic goes. Neerja bravely perseveres in doing what is right for her: getting a divorce, picking up her modeling career again, joining PanAm as a stewardess, and just generally creating a new life for herself.


Read the rest on The Asian Cinema Blog



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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ghosts by Curdella Forbes

Ghosts
Curdella Forbes
2012
179 pages, fictional memoir, speculative, psychological

Many thanks to Peepal Tree Press for providing a review copy of this novel. 

In a future marked by massive environmental changes, a family from the fictional Caribbean island of Jacaranda comes together to write about their brother many years after his death.

This is a strangely mixed book. Is it a memoir? Is it fantasy? Is it a myth? I think it’s all of those. But more than that, it's a beautiful piece of writing.

Grief


This is a book about grief. Grief and guilt. Each of the siblings is sad about their brother’s death, and afraid that they could have done something to prevent it. Evangeline, the Seer in the family, knows what will happen beforehand: could she have stopped it? Their mother was worried about Pete for years, but no one else listened to her. Should they have? When they disapproved of his actions and his personal life what should they have done? Should, should should should.

The major source of this guilt is the family's treatment of Pete when he was alive. His star-crossed, taboo infatuation with a cousin caused deep rifts in the otherwise (at least on the surface) tight-knit family. Later, when he married a woman that his family did not approve of, the family split into factions, led by: his mother, who forbid her daughter-in-law from entering the house; and Evangeline, whose enlightened knowledge places her on a different spiritual field. This leads to the effective ostracism and isolation of Pete, something that the whole family bitterly regrets after his death. In many ways, this is a cautionary tale: don't let your personal disapproval get in the way of a relationship with your relatives.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Chewing Gum by Mansour Bushnaf, translated by Mona Zaki

Chewing Gum 
Mansour Bushnaf
Translated by Mona Zaki (Arabic)
Originally 2008, I read ebook of 2014 translation
126 pages, satire

Many thanks to Darf Publishers for providing a review copy of this novel. 

“Our hero looked on as our heroine walked away in the rain, wrapped in her black coat and red shawl. Ten years went by before he was able to whisper into her ear again, ten years during which he remained standing in the exact spot where she had left him in the park, enduring his terrible suffering. Days went by, then months, and years. He waited in the rain while she walked on, hoping she would stop, turn and run back. Her red shawl fluttered gently as she headed towards the sunset, revealing her black shoulder-length hair.”

So begins this story – a satirical fable about life in Libya, centered around these two characters and the park where our hero waits in the rain. The tale is told in dreamlike vignettes with a different focus on almost every page; some of these are only tangentially related to the two main characters. This creates a fully formed, if piecemeal, narrative that critiques Libyan society from the pre-colonial period to the present day.


Actor Network Theory


While other reviewers have noted the existential nature of this novel, I want to highlight something completely different: the way that these various narrative strands correspond to Actor Network Theory, or ANT.

Stick with me here.

ANT is a social science theory that emphasizes the fact that everything (from sunlight to a can of coke to the person drinking it) is an actor, or active player. Everything happens because of the actions of innumerable actors, and every action has an effect on innumerable actors. If you look at any scenario widely enough, you can trace these connections.

In this novel, Bushnaf looks at the circumstances of his two main characters from exactly this angle. He examines the park - its history, who goes there, and why it gains attention. Actions hundreds of years ago, such as the building of a pleasure palace, still have repercussions in the present and future. A statue of unknown origin has incredible effects on its viewers. Even estranged blood relationships have significant effects.

It is for this reason that the narrative, if you want to call it that, expands so much without bursting and becoming overdone. All of these disparate stories are intimately related, and the author emphasizes the importance of that relationship.

Satire


This novel is written in a highly satirical tone with frequent breaking of the fourth wall. The narrator wants to convey the absurdity of life under the changing Libyan governments. It pokes fun at everyone: from the Italians with their finely manicured parks, to the excesses of the Ottoman rulers, to the brutality and repression of the Gaddafi regime. Although I am not familiar with Libyan history, these often hilarious anecdotes were not difficult to connect with, and I highly enjoyed this novel. I recommend it for anyone who likes satire or expansive, existential cultural critiques.


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