April 2019 | Books & Links

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A Place for Us – Fatima Farheen Mirza

A Place for Us begins with a Muslim family in California gathering for the eldest daughter’s wedding. In the first few pages the reader learns that the youngest son has become estranged from his parents and two sisters and that the wedding is the first time they have all been together in three years. The novel explores the power struggle of a new generation growing up in a traditional, conservative, religious household, and the push and pull between two very different cultures. It also examines sibling rivalry and relationships in a way that few novels do, and most of all I love that it tackles family estrangement as this is a subject that very few novels touch on but which runs through my own family.

From the first scenes at the wedding, the novel opens up and Fatima Farheen Mirza reveals the family’s story through fragmented memories as the narrative passes between family members and across time. It’s an unconventional structure for a novel, with individual chapters spinning between characters and time periods, but I found it completely immersive in a way that I don’t think it would have been had it been linear.

The non-linear structure allowed the author to leave out parts of the story that were less important without needing to close big gaps or pad them with unnecessary information. It feels very honest and true to the way memories are formed and how we look back on our lives when trying to explain how things worked out the way they did.

I quickly fell in love with Fatima’s writing and approach to storytelling, and look forward to reading more from her in future years. I can’t believe she’s five years younger than me or that this is her debut; she writes as though she has several decades more life and writing experience.

Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere was a quick read for me as the plot is thick and fast and the pieces of the story come together beautifully. The prose is tight but didn’t wow me, and I also didn’t feel a huge connection to any of the characters, perhaps as a result of there being a lot of them packed into just 330 odd pages. That said, I still enjoyed it. Maybe that’s because it’s set in the 1990s and I enjoyed the nostalgic cultural references to teenage life at the turn of the century, or it could be because the storytelling was tight and (mostly) convincing and sometimes that’s all you need.

Little Fires Everywhere is set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and is, amongst other themes, about life as a teenager in the late 1990s in a stifling, ‘perfect’ community, the politics of following (or not) society’s expectations and the rules of small town suburbia, and various experiences of motherhood. It’s hard to say much more about the book without giving too much away, like I feel a lot of other reviews have, so I’ll leave it there.

Links & Articles

Ed and I saw The White Crow at The Electric this month. I really enjoyed it. I found the story really gripping; I hadn’t heard of Nureyev before so after watching the film I read about his defection and dancing career. I also found these two video interviews interesting. The only thing I thought could have been made clearer in the film was the distinction between scenes from Nureyev’s time in Leningrad and the tour to Paris, which is something David Hare touches on in his interview. I loved the set and costume design though, and that the film is predominantly in French and Russian with subtitles.

Another positive and inspiring article about ageing, this time about athletes in their 70s and 100s!

A very interesting video interview between Matt D’Avella, an American filmmaker and minimalist, and writer and investigative journalist Johann Hari.

Graphic Novels

When The Wind Blows – Raymond Briggs

Despite the numerous glowing reviews I’ve read, I really didn’t like this one. I only finished it because it was short. I understand the characters, an elderly couple in the 1980s preparing for and then initially surviving the fallout from a nuclear bomb, were supposed to be innocent and simple, but I felt they came across as ignorant and stupid. I didn’t like the intentionally misspelt captions, and I didn’t like the stereotypes, racism, or rose-tinted nostalgia for 1940s England.

The Complete Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis is a comic book autobiography, detailing Marjane’s memories of her childhood in Iran during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The story continues until she is in early adulthood and about to move to France to study.

Persepolis reminds me of ‘Marzi’ by Marzena Sowa in many ways, although of course their experiences and lives were different. I really enjoyed reading Persepolis and will see if I can find a copy of the film too.