Recent Reads: May & June '19

The months of May & June were monumental — I turned 26 on May 30th, got married on June 22nd (!!!) and spent the last week of June honeymooning in Miami. Somehow, amongst these huge life events, I managed to read 7 books, which means that I’m now 60% through my 2019 reading goal!

The month of July has started off strong — I’m already halfway through two books: Friday Black and Inheritance. Next up are Yoruba Girl Dancing and A House for Mr. Biswas. (And of course, you can always keep up with me on GoodReads, too!)

What do you plan on reading this month?

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May

Naamah by Sarah Blake | 2.5/5

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Naamah is the fantastical and reverently sacrilegious re-telling of Noah’s Ark from the perspective of Noah’s wife. While in the Bible, Naamah is unnamed and only referential — “So Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his son’s wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood.” (Gen. 7:7) — in Naamah, Blake gives Naamah the agency, nuance and voice that she (the progenitor of humanity) deserves. For this reason, Naamah feels fiercely feminist in its construction and scope. Throughout the novel, we join Naamah in her confrontation and questioning of faith, God, sexuality and love, and it humanizes the Biblical story so many of us have heard time and time again.

While Blake’s writing style is dream-like, eerie, lyrical and distinctly her own, Naamah’s storyline is fractured and difficult to follow. There are many indecipherable metaphors and motifs, making the story tough to interpret. In Naamah we witness an angel-turned-lover, dead children, many lesbian sex scenes, a talking cockatoo that only appears in dreams, the literal manifestation of God, and time traveling. In addition to this, Naamah can only see the animals on the ark sometimes and readers never know what is Naamah’s dream, hallucination or reality. If judging only premise and writing style, I’d have given Naamah 4 stars; unfortunately, the bizarre and stilted storyline makes the novel fall apart.

The Art of Leaving: A Memoir by Ayelet Tsabari | 4/5

The Art of Leaving begins with the death of Ayelet’s father. This momentous and life-altering event greatly affects Ayelet’s remaining childhood and as a result, her adulthood is plagued by grief, fear of loss and the struggle to accept love and permanence. In this memoir, Ayelet describes growing up in Israel as a Yemeni, struggling to accept her Mizrahi identity and her decade-long travels, during which she becomes familiar only with leaving people, places and things behind. As she continues to grow, Ayelet reevaluates some of the things she once took for granted, such as her family history, culture and the beauty of having a place to call home.

I absolutely loved this memoir and learned so much about Israel/Israeli history, Yemeni people/culture, and race/cultural relations. Ayelet’s experiences are vast — from serving in the Israeli army to living in a tent on the beach, readers can see, first-hand how even when one’s life seems off-track and unplanned, it can influence him/her for the better. After reading this memoir, I’ve added The Best Place on Earth to my to-read list and can’t wait to dig in!

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi | 1/5

Despite its hype, for me, Gingerbread was incomprehensible, dull and frankly, a waste of time. Ostensibly influenced by the many children’s fairytales that feature gingerbread — e.g.: Hansel and Gretel — the novel creates a world in which the dessert is the sole link between reality and fantasy, good and evil, truth and deception. The story follows Harriet and Perdita Lee, mother and child, who live in London, where they both don’t quite fit in socially. Perhaps this is because they’re from Druhástrana, a far-away (and likely nonexistent) land, or perhaps it’s because they live in a gold-painted, seventh floor walk-up with talking doll-plant hybrids and an endless supply of gingerbread. When Perdita attempts to learn more about her mother, Harriet, readers are taken down a winding, convoluted path in which we discover the intersection of the history, gingerbread and familial grudges.

In short, I didn’t like or understand this novel at all. I finished the read with no clear takeaway or understanding of why Gingerbread was even written. While I typically love magical realism, the pieces of the novel didn’t fit together and the story was abstract, lacking, tedious and difficult to derive meaning from. I wouldn’t suggest this book to anyone other than, maybe, my worst enemies.

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JUNE

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan | 3.5/5

On a sugar plantation in Barbados, Washington Black, an enslaved 11-year old, works the land, day in and day out, as one of its many expendable field hands. When the plantation’s master suddenly dies and is replaced by Erasmus Wilde — a cruel, short-tempered and excessively violent man — Wash is terrified; he is even more horror-struck when Erasmus’ brother, Christopher (“Titch”), takes a special interest in him and chooses Wash to be his manservant. Wash soon learns that he is to help Titch with his newest invention — the Cloud-Cutter (i.e., a hot air balloon). Surprisingly, Titch is unlike any other master Wash has known and it soon becomes apparent that Titch prefers to treat Wash as an equal. Yet when an unexpected death occurs, Wash and Titch must escape the plantation immediately. Their journey leads them from the arctic to London to Morocco, and throughout, Wash learns about his own agency, freedom and what it means to “belong.”

Washington Black was suggested to me by my high school English teacher (hey, Dodd!) and it didn’t disappoint. The first part of the novel was my favorite, as this is where Edugyan’s writing is most compelling and where the plot is so powerful that it seemingly drives itself. The remainder of the novel requires its readers to suspend disbelief, as Wash’s ability to travel, find the answers he’s looking for (even when they’re across multiple countries) and always end up on the right side of luck are far-fetched. Toward the end of the novel, I found myself skimming entire paragraphs, as the storyline begins to rapidly slow and many conversations/plot points don’t move the characters along very much. That being said, overall it was an enjoyable read and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to read an adventurous novel during which you can’t help but to cheer for the protagonist.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund | 4.5/5

History of Wolves is a coming-of-age story like no other. From the very first page of the novel we know that Paul, a 4-year old child, has died. From there, we’re slowly introduced to the other characters of the book — Linda, a 14-year old, who lives with her parents in the remaining buildings of an abandoned commune and babysits Paul for $10/hour; Patra Gardner, a young mother, who moves into the lake house down the hill, with her son, Paul, and aloof husband, Leo; Mr. Grierson, a history teacher with a dark secret that deeply affects the students of his school. Fridlund tells the entire story from Linda’s perspective, but plays with time as she does so — some parts of the novel are told by teenage Linda, whilst others are told by her future, 37-year old self — which makes for a powerfully eerie read.

This novel is incredibly moving, as it requires its readers to question their own understandings of action vs. inaction, belonging, past vs. present, and neglect vs. love (and how the two are sometimes more complicated and intertwined than they initially seem). History of Wolves gave me a lot to think about and I can see myself returning to it in the future, as the read is clearly one that transforms depending on who you are as a person when you read it. I can’t wait to read more of Fridlund’s work.

The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers by Bridgett Davis | 4/5

Part auto-biography, part-memoir, The World According to Fannie Davis gives homage to Davis’ mother, Fannie, who singlehandedly supported her family by running a Numbers racket out of their Detroit home. Fannie’s job, though illegal, allowed the family to live luxuriously in the midst of Detroit’s failing economy and increasing crime rates. After her passing, Davis commits to telling her mother’s story, including the details of her Numbers business, in order to show the world just how brilliant Fannie Davis truly was.

This book exceeded my expectations. Davis’ mother, Fannie, is a one-of-a-kind woman who wholeheartedly believes there’s always a way to “make a way out of no way.” The World According to Fannie Davis is a stunning celebration of a woman who influenced not only her family and friends, but everyone she came into contact with.

Cherry by Nico Walker | 4/5

Cherry begins with our unnamed protagonist preparing to rob a bank. He’s addicted to heroin, his clothes are covered in cigarette burns, and he and his girlfriend, Emily, sleep on a dank mattress on the floor. This is what the narrator’s life has come to after an 11-month tour in Iraq, during which he participates in 250 combat missions. Suffering from PTSD and addiction, our narrator recounts the events of his life that lead to the present moment, offering readers an honest and terrifying look into the heart of the U.S. army and opioid epidemic.

Walker writes this novel with a dark and naked sincerity. While Cherry is technically fiction, it’s events are based on Walker’s lived experiences, and thus each chapter is imbued with raw emotion and palpable pain. Frank, rough around the edges, and filled with profanity, Cherry is a realistic telling of America’s disturbing underbelly.

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Don’t forget to keep up with me on GoodReads! xx

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