Wednesday, 12 June 2019

#bookreview: This Green and Pleasant Land | Ayisha Malik

This Green and Pleasant LandThis Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This Green and Pleasant Land is a beautiful take on the subtle and not-so-subtle racism that the Muslim community faces in Britain.

Bilal, a British-Pakistani, moves to the tiny village of Babbel's End to get away from the Pakistani community in Birmingham. All he wants is to fit in and be like everyone else, and he manages to do just that until the fateful day he decides to fulfil his mother's dying wish: to build a mosque in Babbel's End. With that one request, the people he has called friends and neighbours for the past eight years draw their battle lines, showing him their true faces: that they can only be friends if he totally repudiates his culture and his faith.

It's a very clever book. It's both very British and yet very Asian (at least, I relate to it in a multicultural, diaspora, Malaysian kind of way). It takes a hard look at the British's superiority complex, white fragility, racism, and colonialism, yet also leaves a space to air their concerns. Ayisha doesn't pull punches. Right from the start, she compares the building of this mosque to the work of Christian missionaries in foreign lands, telling Bilal that Babbel's End is his Africa (even though he doesn't want to convert anyone, he hasn't thought that far ahead).

My favourite character (and I rarely have any favourites) is Bilal's aunt, Rukhsana, who's referred to as Khala (aunt) even by people who are older than her, mostly because they keep thinking it's her name no matter how many times Bilal explains. With her terrible understanding of English and her kind and generous heart, Khala Rukhsana sets out to conquer Babbel's End, softening the heart of even Bilal's strongest enemy, Shelley Hawking, parish council chairwoman and churchwarden. Actually, she just sets out to make friends and understand this weird goya village she finds herself in now that she's staying with her nephew. And maybe feed them more zarda and wish them happiness.

All in all, Ayisha manages to tell a complex story about a very sensitive issue without casting anyone as an outright villain just for villainy's sake, highlighting instead the complexity and the nuances around religion, culture, and community. Unless, of course, you're a fragile white supremacist, in which case, you wouldn't enjoy this book.

After all these good bits, why only 4-stars though? Um, mainly because the jumping between POVs was a little jarring for me and took a while to get used to.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bonnier Zaffre via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday, 5 June 2019

#bookreview: Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune | Roselle Lim

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and FortuneNatalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This. This is the book I didn't know I needed to read and deserves like a million stars. Okay, a million minus maybe a few because Daniel Lee how could you. lol.

Natalie Tan finally returns home to San Francisco's Chinatown after seven years away upon the death of her mother. Tired of running, she's given the opportunity to pursue the one dream her mother had denied her: opening a restaurant. Natalie reconnects with a community she's long resented, makes startling discoveries about her Laolao and her Ma-ma, and stumbles upon her true purpose in life. Yet as trouble and disappointments start to pile up, she has to decide if this is truly what she wants and is willing to work for... or if she's going to take the easy way out by cutting ties and running. Again.

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune is an endearing story of friendship and neighbourliness wrapped up in the comforts of food and music, entwining the legacy of her long-dead grandmother and her late mother's one passion. Steeped in Chinese superstition and culture, Natalie's journey of self-discovery echoes the cultural dissonance often experienced by Chinese diaspora around the world. Within the comforts of home and community lurks a larger worldview hidden beneath the surface. Cultural practices and expectations are known and yet unknown, simultaneously strange yet familiar.

There's magic in this book, but not of the normal Western fantasy type. There are no dragons or fairies, spells or incantations, no mighty demons to defeat or swords bandied about. Instead, you find Miss Tsai giving prophecies at midnight over a cup of tikuanyin, the subtle home magic of food made to solve problems--Steamed Dungeness Crabs to provide courage and bravery, Drunken Chicken Wings to reinvigorate love, Noodle Soup for luck--and Natalie's newfound ability to see the problems of her neighbours in threads of energy and light, all wrapped around the mystery of Qiao's magical recipe book.

It isn't a particularly fast-paced story. Grief is a big theme in the beginning, as is guilt, and Natalie sometimes wavers over her problems for a while before deciding what to do. Lim's explanations sometimes feel a little heavy-handed, as if she's trying too hard to clarify, yet may be necessary to bring to light the importance of other subtexts going on in the narrative. Nestled in the text are mouthwatering recipes that you just want to try making if you could bear to draw yourself away from the story. And the food metaphors. So much food. Everywhere.

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune is a book of love. Love, food, and family--including the neighbours and community that become your family in strange and distant shores.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Berkley, Penguin Publishing Group via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Monday, 3 June 2019

#musicmonday: Dry Bones | Gungor



My soul cries out
My soul cries out for you
These bones cry out
These dry bones cry for you
To live and move
'Cause only you can raise the dead
Can lift my head up

---

I actually can't believe I haven't posted this before.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

#bookreview: This Brutal House | Niven Govinden

This Brutal HouseThis Brutal House by Niven Govinden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This Brutal House is moving, visceral; Govinden makes you live every moment, each line evoking a mood, a world.

You are there with the Mothers as they sit in silent protest on the steps of City Hall.

You are Teddy growing up broken but driven, learning to lie in order to fix things, to quietly ease things for the Mothers, using his position in City Hall to try to find a resolution.

You walk the floor to the shade of the vogue caller, living the chaos of the balls, the noise and heat of the dance floor.

---

Where This Brutal House fails, for me at least, is in its clarity. It's not enough for me to feel it. I need more concrete details. I have the bare bones of the story, but as Govinden throws us between the Mothers, Teddy and the Vogue Caller, it feels like information is falling between the cracks.

I'm not of this world of Mothers and Children and balls and drag. I don't know enough to understand the underlying meanings, to read between the lines. I don't have the history to fill in the blanks.

At the end of the book, I am left slightly confused. Emotional but confused.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Dialogue Books via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Monday, 27 May 2019

#musicmonday: Even If | Mercy Me



This probably resonates with Mikal's mood:

They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

I know You're able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You'd just say the word
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Day 10: I hate everything I've written

It's technically three weeks since I've started, but somewhere in the middle of last week I decided that I needed to change my POV. So instead of writing in the third person alternating between Mikal's and Yosua's POVs, I'm now doing first person present in Mikal's voice. And that's restarted the timer to something like day 10. 

I'm not entirely sure I like it. I'm not entirely sure it works. But it's what I've got. I'm at that stage where I both love and hate everything I've written. And I don't know how to fix it. I just have to finish this thing.


I'm trying to push myself to get to 30K this weekend so that I'm back on my original schedule. I don't really have to--I can probably pick up the slack over the weeks, but it feels better to go back to the plan. Mostly because the plan is structured such that I will have downtime to edit in between writing and to do other stuff. I worry that if I don't at least get somewhere near the goal posts I'm just going to keep freaking and panicking because that's what I do.

Anyway. 30K might not actually happen by tomorrow, but if I push a little, I should start June with 40K and can take time off to actually plan my Great UK Dissertation Road Trip. :D

---

I think I'm afraid of first person because it's too close, too raw. I'm obviously not a sixteen-year-old boy, but the core of what he's struggling with is all too real. 

I'm afraid that the yearning will grow all too strong, and that the bitterness and the grief will overpower the rest of the story. 

I need to reach the catharsis of the story, but there's also a chance that where Mikal finds his strength, where he finds his faith and his power and his certainty, I will only lose mine. 

---

I have never been certain. I don't know if I ever will be. 

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

#Bookreview: The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games | Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger GamesThe Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Dark Fantastic is a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in how race affects the character development of people of colour in fantasy, as well as their reception by readers/viewers regardless of race.

Thomas analyses Black characters in four fantasy narratives (books & shows) [Rue in The Hunger Games; Gwen in BBC's Merlin; Bonnie Bennett in The Vampire Diaries; Hermione & Angelina Johnson in Harry Potter] and unpacks the impact of these depictions in society. I have to admit I don't watch much TV, so I have no background/context to the discussions around Gwen and Bonnie, both of which were apparently race-bent for the shows (my knowledge of Arthurian legend is mainly from Disney's The Sword in the Stone, neither have I read the books Vampire Diaries is based on). I have read both The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, so there at least I have some basis of comparison/actual knowledge of what's being discussed.

"Your imagination is more controlled by the dominant social formation than you're probably willing to admit."


One of the problems with publishing English books centering non-white narratives, or even featuring non-white characters, is the usual complaint that "readers can't connect with them". These readers are not just white readers, but sometimes also people of colour themselves. Representation (now and then) is often problematic, even when it exists. The Dark Other has historically been the thing to be feared, the evil that lurks, and the villain that must be defeated--or is just there to serve the storyline and the White Saviour--and even when we try to step out of that mode, to break the cycle of spectacle/hesitation/violence/haunting, we often fall into it again and rarely ever reach true emancipation. It's too easy to fall into trope, it's too easy to fall into the familiar and Thomas puts it thus:
"subverting the traditional positioning of the Dark Other in the fantastic requires radical rethinking of everything we know. It is why, I suspect, when characters of colour appear in atypical roles, they are often challenged, disliked, and rejected.


Thomas also discusses how fans of colour are starting to take back the narrative through alternative means, whether through racebending, shipping, creating alternate universes, etc via fanart, fanfiction, fan videos, or essays and how these collective efforts help fill the gaps where traditional publishing and mainstream media are still struggling.

I will also have to note that coming from a multicultural background, with various media featuring people of colour as the heroes in their own stories, I don't have such a strong disconnect as those from USA or UK, where such media is either hard to get or inaccessible due to language. Still, I've got a lot to think about in terms of how ideas about race in fantasy works and how it will play out ultimately in my own work.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from New York University Press via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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