Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

“To love someone is like moving into a house,” Sonja used to say. “At first you fall in love in everything new, you wonder every morning that this is one's own, as if they are afraid that someone will suddenly come tumbling through the door and say that there has been a serious mistake and that it simply was not meant to would live so fine. But as the years go by, the facade worn, the wood cracks here and there, and you start to love this house not so much for all the ways it is perfect in that for all the ways it is not. You become familiar with all its nooks and crannies. How to avoid that the key gets stuck in the lock if it is cold outside? Which floorboards have some give when you step on them, and exactly how to open the doors for them not to creak? That's it, all the little secrets that make it your home.” 

Books have a way of finding you. You might be suffering from insomnia and it’s the first thing you grab to distract you, or a recommendation thrust into your hand with an eager ‘Here, read this’, or that magical moment of finding a book under piles of sale books. 

Books sneak in and steal your heart – just as The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, The Collected Works of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, The World According to Garp by John Irving, and let me not forget the The Ten Things I Learnt about Love by Sarah Butler. All these books truly change the way you love books, making it deeper and more profound.

So let me introduce Ove, a curmudgeon, retired, grumpy, widower, and what his neighbours call: the bitter neighbor from hell. This truly isn’t the best setting for a ‘great fiction novel’. It’s a November morning that changes everything, when a couple and their two daughters move in next door and accidently flatten Ove’s mailbox that unleashes the fictional journey of a lifetime – filled to the brim with comedy, cats, a homeless teen, an estranged friend and the art of reversing. The story is puzzled together with misty recounts of the past of Grumpy-Ole-Ove.

It’s pretty cookie-cutter, one incident sets of a ripple of change in Ove’s life. Oh, don’t roll your eyes at me. I know we have read books like this – there are a few out there. I enjoyed this one, for the ease of Frederick Backman’s writing, for the frustration towards Ove, and the slightly (I refuse to admit it) tear-stained pages of this novel. It truly is a glorious read; I’ll even forgive the melodramatic scenes. 

Read this for its discovery of life (grief, love, family, friendship and heartache all in one) and it’s endearing, infuriating and lovable character named Ove.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman features on this month’s Exclusive Books Recommends for September.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver

I am always worried books from the WW2 period will desensitize us as readers. That out of the blue one book wont punch my gut with grief and horror, leaving me to shrug it off with a ‘I guess it was scary’. 

No! I hope not. Just as Afghan-fiction shakes the very ground I walk on, so should these period piece novels set in one of history’s most horrific human right devaluation. I suppose having a Jewish grandfather, a lineage, and stories, I seem to insist that books such as this one stand out, almost tack themselves visually, emotionally and literary to this very period in time.

The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver is narrated by Mika, who slowly recounts his childhood during the 1944 Jewish Ghetto is uprising. Mika’s grandfather has a famous coat, sewn by a master tailor, is riddled with hidden pockets, secret fabric coverings to smuggle belongings during Nazi invasions and surprise relocation's. When Mika’s grandfather is killed in the streets, Mika saves the coat and finds a treasure beneath its hidden pockets – puppets. 

This is where the story catches its pace, telling the holocaust from a vastly different view than this novel’s counterparts. As young Mika survives the ghetto, telling stories to the children – that is until Max, a German soldier, takes Mika hostage and forces him to entertain German soldiers with his puppets.

Eva Weaver certainly captures the atmosphere, the horror, and suspense with her eloquent prose and sleight of hand when it comes to her characters. With this said, I didn’t find this to be the best novel I have ever read. 

The dialogue lacked, the writing became vastly emotive and contrite, almost too sweet to taste. It’s a quick read and nothing I regret reading – I just wish it was better. There is no doubt an audience for this novel; it’s edible, but guilty of promising too much. Try this one for the ease of reading, and its individuality.

The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver features on this month’s Exclusive Books Recommends for August.

Review: The Pearl That Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

In Kabul, 2007, with a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school, go to the market, and chaperone her older sisters. 
But Rahima is not the first in her family to adopt this unusual custom. A century earlier, her great-aunt, Shekiba, left orphaned by an epidemic, saved herself and built a new life the same way.

This is the blurb that engrosses the reader, and me for that fact. I picture Publishers and Reviewers calling this debut novel by Nadia Hashimi: ‘... An evocative tale of smells, sights and sounds’ and ‘when fate intervenes’. It sounds incredibly cynical of me but this is exactly what the book is – a story of two women in extreme circumstances – the blurb even says so. 

Nadia Hashimi, born and bred in New York, whose family left Afghanistan in 1970, I mean her grandmother was a famous Afghan poet – so she certainly has the credentials to pull off a novel as The Pearl That Broke its Shell, and gives it a stark presentation against the many, and I mean many, titles among its genre: Afghan Fiction; with heavy weights of Khaled Housseni and Arundhati Roy.

Books such as this one are incredibly important, they deliver social messages that we westerners don’t fully grasp in terms of the violence and rights presented to women across our borders. While this title can happily sit next to the likes of I Am Malala and The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, it certainly does fall short with its stilted dialogue, seemingly bad sentence structure and confusing scene changes. I was hesitant with this one, rolling my eyes, I thought ‘Here we go, another copy-cat Afghan tragedy’ and I was proved right.

How I wanted these protagonists to prove me wrong, because their situation is haunting and incredibly harsh, but it fell extremely short. I wanted so to be bowled over by this novel, the setting, and the promise of some amazing women who didn’t get the choice to be who they wanted to be, but rose above it anyway. I suppose that was the message, and it grasped desperately like a drowning victim, except this time there were no Baywatch lifeguards to save it drowning.

The Pearl That Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashimi features on this month’s Exclusive Books Recommends for July.

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