Monthly Archives: July 2018

* The Awkward Age by Francesca Segal

Rebellious stepdaughter picks the one act sure to infuriate both her hated stepfather and her over-protective mother: she has sex with her stepbrother. Trouble ensues.

Why one would want to read about the barely coherent feelings and decisions of that teenager is unclear. Hence, I do not recommend The Awkward Age.

Note to the author of a novel awash with physicians: there is no school of medicine at MIT. Plenty of others to choose from in Boston, though!

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Filed under New fiction

*** City of Strangers by Ian Mackenzie

Two half-brothers separated by age, wealth, and marital status come to grip with their father’s death in City of Strangers.  Their dad was a Nazi sympathizer so the mourning is complicated, to say the least. And the younger brother gets attacked by a mysterious mugger seeking revenge (that part does not always make sense, I must admit). The book is essentially a rumination on what it means to be successful, and how we can be very alone in a vast city, with wonderful asides on what it means to be a brother.

 

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*** Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo

Welcome To Lagos features a couple of ex-soldiers, a woman fleeing her abusive husband, and an orphan who find themselves challenging the corrupt Minister of Education

I loved everything about the story: the madcap storyline (not so madcap as to be unbelievable!), the rich characters that are as surprising in their complex motive as the plot, the local color of stupefying inequality and corruption, and the not-happy ending.

This would be a good time to plug Americanah, another great story featuring Nigerian characters.

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** Gun Love by Jennifer Clement

Gun Love starts, in a matter-of-fact and breath-taking way, with a mother and her young daughter living out of a car that has long ago stopped running, parked outside a rundown trailer park. And life is quite normal: the daughter goes to school, the mother goes to work, they go to church, amongst the alligators and gunshots. Eventually, mom will pick a very unsuitable boyfriend and that world will come to an end. I loved the story until that moment. What follows seems more cliché and hastily put together. Savor part 1.

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*** The Only Story by Julian Barnes

A 19-year old meets a woman his mother’s age and they fall in love. They get kicked out of the tennis club. She leaves her husband. It won’t end well, but it will take decades (and lots and lots of drinking!) to get there. The Only Story takes us through the entire cycle and describes, in details and with wonderful irony, the horrified reactions of everyone around them and the awkward adjustments they have to make. The story is sad, of course, but also full of hilarious embarrassing moments.

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* Cringeworthy by Melissa Dahl

I thought Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness would .provide helpful theoretical underpinning to what makes us feel awkward, and indeed the first chapter starts to navigate carefully between the emotion of awkwardness versus the trait, and the rest of the book presents some interesting ideas about why we ruminate about embarrassing situations (we remember emotional situations better) and how to provoke embarrassment in others to our advantage (I particularly liked the use of silence in salary negotiations). But as the book progresses, it seems that the author is quoting or explaining from the /r/cringe subreddit, with comments at that level of sophistication. Too bad, I just loved that cover picture!

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Filed under Non fiction

*** The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya

Clemantine Wamariya was only 6 when the Rwandan genocide started, and she and her older sister took off on what would be an eight-country odyssey, eventually resettling int he United States after years of living in refugeee camps.  The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After alternates between the present and the past, with her older sister marrying an aid worker because she saw no other safe outcome for her and her sister (the man turned out to be a cad and a violent one at that), and constantly hustling for survival. Clemantine is ultimately adopted by a generous American family and attends a prestigious university, while her sister cleans hundreds of hotel room to feed her three children, and they both find it very difficult to reestablish a relationship with their parents, who turn out to have survived as well.

The story speaks eloquently of refugees and how we could (but don’t) help them, and even more sadly of the emotional consequences of conflict long after buildings have been rebuilt and prosperity restored.

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Filed under True story