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

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