What a rich assortment of stories lie between the covers of Roxanne Gay’s short story collection. The collection is powerful and contemporary, chiefly focussed on the gritty reality of American women’s lives, but a couple of stories in the magical realism genre provide welcome breaks. I’ll mention Requiem for a Glass Heart , which remains with me. I’m still pondering over this one.
I found Roxanne Gay’s stories adopt unexpected, surprising perspectives. She sees women and the world in a fresh and novel way. There are certainly some familiar tropes but there are also refreshingly different stories, skilfully told. A couple of stories have elements of magical realism, which I liked.
Roxanne Gay doesn’t shy away from taboo topics, like sex, violence, mourning, abuse, but she write with clarity and a certain amount of restraint. Whilst she doesn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade, she doesn’t overload her stories with gratuitous detail.
I don’t like the title; my immediate reaction is: it ought to be difficult men! No, I’m not a man hater, but this said, many of the men – and some of the women too – can be described as damaged, either by upbringing or by past events. As ever, one wonders why the women stick around.
! I particularly enjoyed the story about Bianca in ‘Water, all its Weight’. Perhaps because we have finally enjoyed heavy winter rain which has broken our terrible drought. I’m very water conscious at the moment, so the story resonated with me. I don’t want to say any more about Bianca and her unusual relationship with water, lest I spoil it for you, but don’t miss it.
Read the book and see what you think. Recommended.
Poppy is a survivor. She needs to be. Her life gets off to a tough start with her drug addict mother. Fortunately, Poppy is rescued by her Grandparents and moves to their tiny property in the Western Cape Boland. We follow her vastly improved life from survivor to thriver, and then back to the trials of a survivor again. The story is a coming of age story, as well as the story of an artist’s obsession with his muse.
It’s also the story of one perfect marriage offset against another faltering marriage.
What sets the book apart from being the clichéd unfolding of a family sage riven by jealousy, are the wonderful lush, lyrical passages about the Annekie’s garden, and also the veldt surrounding the tiny farm where Poppy lives.
I enjoyed the book, and particularly relished the choice of title.
Food & Memory Cookbook – Tina Smith
The District Six Huis Kombuis cookbook commemorates the rich fusion of food and cultural heritage in District Six through personal stories, recipes, historical images and craft work. The book is a culmination of memories and narrative. It weaves through the days of a typical week in District Six, focusing on traditional family recipes that were prepared with love and often limited resources. This is a visual celebration of the vibrancy and warmth of the community – who foraged, preserved, baked and cooked together. Portraits of 23 former District Six residents, accompany recollections of lives lived in a significant time. Artefacts, food and anecdotes bring the spirit of District Six alive again.
A beautifully produced book, with a wealth of historic photographs of the people and the place, as well as tempting pictures of the traditional cooked dishes. The book preserves simple food, family favourites recipes. I also particularly liked the hand embroidered panels that accompanied some of the recipes – to see recipes carefully and beautifully embroidered onto fabric – that’s something special!
I enjoyed the stories, all part of Cape Town’s history and heritage. Meeting the tannies and oumas, matriarchs and patriarchs, of a little district in the heart of Cape Town’s CBD is special. I’m glad they’ve not been forgotten, despite the Apartheid Government’s attempts to remove them from society.
Highly recommended for those interested in traditional Cape recipes, history, and craft.
I make no apologies whatsoever for being a die hard Walt Longmire fan. Any book that Craig Johnson writes about Longmire, is a hit with me. The current read being no exception.
I enjoy Johnson’s ability to make you feel the freezing wind, snowdrifts, and general winteriness of the high plains of Wyoming. In Johnson’s Longmire stories, the weather is as much as character in the unfolding tale, as are the actual people and circumstances.
Johnson writes with a dry humour, aided by a deft turn of phrase. His Western stories are bang up to date with all the trappings of modern life: cellphones, TVs, big SUVs, casinos, property developers, marijuana farms – the whole nine yards buried under two feet of snow and zero visibility most of the time.
Walt Longmire doggedly ploughs through the snowdrifts, despite injuries that would cause a lesser man to take two week’s sick-leave, he just keeps on doing his job. Oh that we had more Walt Longmires in this world, and more particularly, in South Africa where I live.
Another happy feature of Johnson’s Longmire novels is that his characters are well-rounded, their personal quirks deftly conveyed in the odd phrase here and there, the throwaway line of dialogue that speaks volumes. Longmire, for instance, buys a lady a house, as a Valentine’s Day gift – she has no idea that he’s done so, but it affords him quiet satisfaction. Beneath that laconic exterior, lurks a tender heart.
I have one last novel tucked away in my TBR pile, a treat in store. I’m keeping it for the time when I need a really good, engrossing, entertaining read. I know I won ‘t be disappointed.
AMAZON SYNOPSIS: A charming, clever, and quietly moving debut novel of endless possibilities and joyful discoveries that explores the promises we make and break, losing and finding ourselves, the objects that hold magic and meaning for our lives, and the surprising connections that bind us.
Anthony Peardew is the keeper of lost things. Forty years ago, he carelessly lost a keepsake from his beloved fiancée, Therese. That very same day, she died unexpectedly. Brokenhearted, Anthony sought consolation in rescuing lost objects—the things others have dropped, misplaced, or accidentally left behind—and writing stories about them. Now, in the twilight of his life, Anthony worries that he has not fully discharged his duty to reconcile all the lost things with their owners. As the end nears, he bequeaths his secret life’s mission to his unsuspecting assistant, Laura, leaving her his house and and all its lost treasures, including an irritable ghost.
The novel offers a happy bouquet of everything: romance, mystery, a ghost story and varied assortment of characters. You seldom read a novel that includes a Downs Syndrome girl as one of the main characters; but this story offers you Sunshine, whom I found quite delightful.
I enjoyed the touches of humour, particularly the excerpts from the horrible Portia’s manuscripts which shamelessly borrowed/used/plagiarised characters from famous novels. I think the Harry Potter parody was my favourite.
A light, relaxing read. Recommended.
In March I managed to read one from my big TBR pile; only 9 more to go to hit my 2018 target of 12 reads. It was the Murakami short stories. You either enjoy Murakami, or you don’t. Rather like pickled onions! That said, if you’ve never tried Japanese writers, then this is the book to sample , to see if you like the genre. Murakami is famous as a novelist, but his short stories are equally brilliant.
I did a QD (Quick Dip) into Neil Gaiman’s version of traditional Norse mythology. He sails into the stories with gusto – a satisfying read if you enjoy super-hero reads.
Ratings: 5* – Outstanding! 4*+ – Good to very good; 3* – average; 2* – run-of-the-mill; 1* – dismal; zero * – no comment. DNF – did not finish; NF – non-fiction QD: quick-dip
4* Gravel Heart – Abdulrahazak Gurnah . An intricate family story set on the Indian Ocean Island of Zanzibar and modern London. Highly recommended. Reviewed on this blog.
3* The Lightkeeper’s Daughters – Jan Pendziwol. Canadian novel about a family living on an isolated island in Lake Superior; twins, identity, the accidents of fate. Reviewed on this blog.
3* The Digested 21st Century – John Crace. Longtime Guardian columnist’s amusing parody/satire on modern life. Reviewed on Goodreads.
3* The Elephant Vanishes – Haruki Murakami. Short storieszfrom the Japanese master of the surreal.
Reviewed on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/edit/9555
3* Earthly Remains – Donna Leon. Another satisfying mystery with Commissario Brunetti, featuring Venice, the lagoon, and ecology. Reviewed on this blog.
DNF: Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman. A splendid re-telling of traditional Norse myths.
The story: Salim grows up on the island of Zanzibar in the 1970s. The story is set initially on the Indian Ocean island, and latterly in London, UK.
Salim believes his father does not want him. There’s a huge, dark family secret that no-one, mother Saida, Uncle Amir or Father /Baba are willing or able to speak of. As a consequence, Father inexplicably leaves home, remains in the neighbourhood but retreats into isolation, silence and depression.
The boy is sent to London to live with Uncle Amir and his family in London. The city bewilders him and he tells us what it’s like to be an immigrant in the UK. (Here I’m adding the comment: it’s pretty tough!) We follow Salim’s life into maturity with its attendant loves and heartbreaks. After ten long years, Salim goes home for a visit, but his Mother dies before he arrives.
However, Salim is reunited with his Baba, returned after years in Kuala Lumpur, during which time he has healed. At last, over many hours, Father relates the story of the family disgrace to his son. Finally Salim’s life and family come into perspective.
Despite his Father’s wish, Salim returns to London and his Western life, only to learn his Baba died of a stroke the day after his departure.
My first Zanzibari novel.
An intricate family story told with restraint and tenderness against two very different backgrounds: the Indian Ocean Muslim island versus multicultural modern London. However, the book also contains some sharp passages about British colonialism and modern corrupt African rulers.
I enjoyed the book. Although I live in Africa, I live in southern Africa which is geographically and culturally far removed from East African Zanzibar. Experiencing the Swahili milieu was a new experience for me.
I would like to read more of Gurnah’s novels. Gurnah has a stellar writing career: both long and short-listed for the Booker Prize; the Whitbread, Commonwealth Writers. In 2016 he was a Booker Prize Judge. He has eight novels to his credit. Currently he’s Professor of English at the University of Kent.
I seldom read crime, but occasionally I’ll read one of Donna Leon’s Venetian novels. She has a wonderful knack of portraying Venice and its inhabitants that conveys all the characters and foreign atmosphere the reader could ever want; no need to buy expensive air tickets to Italy, just read one of her crime novels!
As ever, this story features her detective, Commissario Brunetti who – after doing something stupidly rash – lands up in hospital and thereafter on two weeks sick leave, which he chooses to spend in a family villa, on the island of Sant’Erasmo, one of the largest islands in the laguna. He plans to go rowing on the lagoon, rest and recover. Which he does, to his benefit and enjoyment until … but I’ll stop here lest I spoil the story.
Unlike most of her Venetian novels, there’s hardly any detail about Brunetti and his family. I’ve always enjoyed the domestic accounts of what the family eat for lunch and dinner, and what his kids are doing. This time the story focuses on Brunetti, the lagoon, the islands, and ecology.
I dislike crime novels that focus on graphic violence, or forensic gore. Or, for that matter, heavy psychological Scandinavian gloom. Donna Leon avoids these pitfalls and always gives the reader a good story. She does so yet again in this book.