Wednesday, 5 December 2018

#bookreview: Global Fiction

Back on the reading list, we read two stories deemed "Global Fiction", one of which was written by one of my tutors, Christy Lefteri. So obviously I had to get her to sign my book :p
(She said, "This is so weird." But why should it be? haha)

By the SeaBy the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By the Sea is beautiful, a meandering story of remembrance that takes you from Zanzibar to London, through Malaya and Persia, a story of business, love, and revenge.

Wandering through Saleh Omar's memories and Latif Mahmud's accusations, Abdulrazak Gurnah reminds you again and again that what you perceive as a child may not always be true. Related tenuously by marriage, the two men's lives have been intertwined by a series of slights and betrayal, each branch of the family grasping for the property and wealth of the deceased as their own family's prosperity rises and falls over time. Behind the scene, pulling the strings, is Hussein, who both entrances and tricks, then disappears home to Persia to let things fall out as they may.

Yet it's not Hussein himself who brings about their downfall. It's their pride and greed, hidden behind a veneer of religion and holiness, supported by a belief in their own perception of right.

At times, the story seems to drift too far into the past, and you end up on distant shores wondering why Abdulrazak has left you there, but down each branching river, you end up by the same shore, realising that each diverging stream had an effect that ultimately led to Saleh's persecution and need for asylum. And it's by the sea in London, where Saleh tries to build a new life--or at least to let what's left of his life end peacefully--that he has to face the painful past and finally lay it to rest.


A Watermelon, a Fish and a BibleA Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible by Christy Lefteri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm fighting the urge to write only complimentary things because Lefteri is my tutor lol.

Again, I feel that the reading of this book was slightly impacted by the fact that I was reading it in spurts, mainly while on various trains, and whilst really sleepy. Still, this goes to show that it wasn't particularly exciting to me, because I've powered through books in the middle of the night whilst dead-tired because I really wanted to know what happens next. At any rate, I liked it enough despite the fact that it's historical fiction and not fantasy, so *shrug*. Thinking it over, I'm not too sure if the 4-star is impacted by bias. Now that I'm writing the review, I'm wavering down to about a 3-star, so I'd say it's a tentative 3.5-star book, just because I'm not sure.

The best bits of this book are the beginning and the end. It starts off with this really fairy-tale like sequence, full of symbolism. It's beautiful, and sad, setting you up to journey through war-torn Cyprus in 1974. Lefteri moves you through the capture of Kyrenia through several viewpoints: Maroulla's childish innocence, Adem Berker's loss and guilt, Richard's longing, Commander Serkan Demir's anger and hatred, Koki's fear. Sometimes it's too much--the core of this story feels like Koki's, the way she's caught between Greeks and Turks, an outcast to both groups as much as she is deeply tied to both. I loved the way Adem's, Richard's and Koki's stories weaved in and out of each other, I didn't care so much about Serkan (Lefteri admitted that he was a rather two-dimensional character without an arc) or what his whole confusing interaction with the baby was about, and whilst I loved the thread of the rose and the petals and the innocent fairy tale of Maroulla that both starts and ends the novel, she wasn't ultimately very important to the story. Whilst she acted as a sort-of impetus for Koki to keep moving, keep trying to survive, I kind of feel that she could have been replaced by anything (or anyone) else.

The middle dragged a little as events played out over the five days. There's an immersion in memories of the past, both a sense of longing for what was as well as a lingering regret over how things played out over the years. Ostracism of the Other seems to be a key theme which recurs over and over again, both on a personal and a national level, with the microaggressions of the Greek-Cypriots against Adem and Koki seemingly representative the aggressions of the Greek-Cypriots towards the Turkish-Cypriots and the British in their midst on a national level. In retaliation, the Turkish soldiers rape the women and murder the men on a macro scale of revenge, even though these specific women have done nothing to them personally.

The ending (which I can't say too much of because of spoilers? maybe?) is a beautiful execution of the classic race against time, leaving you braced in your seat with bated breath, hoping that yes, they will meet, yes, things will work out in the end, no, no, please don't miss each other.

Yes, so I was hooked by the beginning, got slightly bored by the middle and then loved the ending, so overall, I'm not very sure how much I actually liked it.

View all my reviews

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On a final note about global fiction, it feels as if books tagged with the label always seem to be sad stories about refugees and war and displacement, and I'm wondering why.