Let Peace Be. Let Life Be

Under the Udala Trees
Chinelo Okparanta
fiction
Granta, Allen & Unwin
24 February 2016
323
$ 27.99

under_the_udala_treesAs a woman who likes women*, I can’t tell you how often I’ve set myself up for disappointment in novels.  So many times I’ve read protagonists meeting other girls who they immediately like because of their spunk, their beauty, their grace or whatever else.  I think, “Ooh, maybe they fall in love!” And they never, never do.  Imagine my delight when, in Under the Udala Trees, which has not been marketed at all as a lesbian novel in Australia, our protagonist Ijeoma meets and falls in love with another girl, Amina.  My worries about the book, mainly inflicted by the cover marketing, were instantly erased. Continue reading

I Felt You in my Arms Before I Even Met You

Carol
Patricia Highsmith
as The Price of Salt 1951; as Carol 2016

carolAt least in my circles, Todd Haynes’ new film Carol created quite a buzz.  After all, it’s still quite a rarity to see a movie about a same sex relationship that doesn’t end in tears.  In 1951, when The Price of Salt was first published, it was unheard of, not just in movies but also in books.  Censorship, both official and soft, meant publishers were unwilling to produce books about same sex relationships.  Pulp lesbian fiction, which because of said censorship ended in death or in the blessed powers of the healing cock, was pretty much it for the ladies.  In terms of fiction, men had even less to turn to. Continue reading

A Better Life Imagined in his Eyes

The Belly of the Atlantic
Fatou Diome, trans. Lulu Norman and Ros Schwartz
Serpent's Tail
2006

the_belly_of_the_atlanticFatou Diome’s The Belly of the Atlantic is a passionate story about the dream of migration and its harsh reality.  Told from the point of view of Strasbourg resident Salie, the novel nonetheless focuses mostly on her brother Madické.  Madické lives on  the Senegalese island Niodior and dreams of being headhunted to join a big European soccer team.  This dream is shared by many of his friends, persisting despite the warnings of Salie and the teacher Ndétare that neither the road to nor the life in Europe is as good as they believe. Continue reading

You’ll be Given Love

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
Sun-Mi Hwang, trans. Chi-Young Kim
Oneworld

the_hen_who_dreamed_she_could_flyThe Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a beloved story in South Korea*, appearing for the first time in English after its initial release in 2000. It follows the chicken Sprout, who has lived her life inside a battery farm and dreams of one day hatching an egg of her very own. She is given up for dead and thrown out. This is when Sprout finally gets the opportunity to fulfil her dream.

Targetted at both adult and child readers, at least in English translation, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a simple tale with a complex message.  The writing is enchanting, evoking the seasonal changes and the dangers of living in the wilds.  The story is concisely told, with drama and adventure in measured doses.

With easy comparisons to Charlotte’s Web and similar such tales, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a gentle and enjoyable read.

*According to the author information anyway. Since I don’t speak Korean, know any South Koreans, and have never been to South Korea, I cannot verify this first-hand.

Blind Revenge on the Blameless Victim

First They Killed my Father
Loung Ung
Non-fiction
HarperCollins
2000

first_they_killed_my_fatherI didn’t much like being in Cambodia the first time I went there in early 2014.  Led by the most unbearable tour guide imaginable* in a small group made up mostly of middle-aged Australian couples with whom the only thing I had in common was a nationality, I experienced what in retrospect was most likely culture shock. And for a time I wondered if it was because of the effects of the Khmer Rouge genocide on the country. Such a savage and profound event leaves scars on people who endure it, and on the nation itself.

Nonetheless, even though my mother gave me First They Killed My Father to read before we left on this trip, I resisted it.  I didn’t want to read misery porn, which any biography about the Khmer Rouge must surely be.  It took these last few years for me to finally work up to reading it.  Along with a little assistance from a Dateline special and Sue Perkins travelling along the Mekong. Continue reading

The Silence is Illusion

Without You, There is No Us
Suki Kim
Memoir, politics
Crown
October 2014

without_you_there_is_no_usI first came across Suki Kim as a panellist at the exceedingly awkward “Inside North Korea” talk at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival.  I have written about this panel in more detail before, but Kim’s frustration at her co-panellists, and at the situation in and around North Korea generally, was as palpable there as it is in this book.  Without You, There is No Us is a memoir of her time as a missionary English teacher at an elite university outside of Pyongyang.  It is an incisive and self-reflective memoir.

Continue reading

Her Young Smile is Radiant in the Spotlight

Only Ever Yours
Louse O'Neill
Quercus
2015

only_ever_yoursImagine a world where women are pitted against each other, forced to comply with nigh unattainable standards of beauty and behaviour, and live their lives entirely according to the whims of men who treat them with nothing but contempt. Oh sorry, you don’t need to imagine. That’s our reality*. Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours** is our reality up to eleven.  I’ll say it now: massive trigger warnings for eating disorders, shaming of women’s sexuality, rape culture, misogyny, domestic violence and toxic masculinity.  As someone who, like most women, has struggled with body image (etc.), I was not terribly affected, but I cannot speak for other readers and potential readers.

freida is entering the final year of School.  She is 16, and with her 29 classmates she has spent the last twelve years of her life in a routine of maintaining stringent beauty standards, learning proper feminine behaviours, and being rated weekly on her appearance by her peers as well as total strangers.  In the future earth of freida’s birth, sex-selective abortion almost led to the extinction of the human race.  It was decided that women must be designed and educated to become the mothers of future generations.  But, since men need more than just wifely companionship, a large number of concubines are also required.  freida’s destiny is to become either one of ten companions, a concubine, or a chastity–a celibate teacher for girls at the School. Continue reading

Didn’t Mean to Make You Cry

Early One Morning
Virginia Baily
Virago
September 2015

early_one_morningEarly One Morning, Virginia Baily’s second novel, is a powerful tale of loss and love in Rome.  Always a little leery of books about Italy in general, and somewhat underwhelmed by the title, I was pleasantly surprised by the book.  It is a beautifully written and poignant story.

Continue reading

Close Your Eyes, Pay the Price for Your Paradise

The Heart Goes Last
Margaret Atwood
Bloomsbury
24 September 2015
hardcover

the_heart_goes_lastMargaret Atwood’s latest novel is an incisive critique of our current society.  Neoliberalism and the prison industrial complex, as well as nostalgia for a non-existent, rosy mid-20th century, all cop a wry humoured nudging.  Not a bashing; Atwood would never be so unsubtle.

Charmaine and Stan are at their wits’ end.  Struggling to get by in the depths of an economic depression and a society barely holding itself together, they live in their car and can see no way out of their deepening poverty.  Fortunately, they are eligible to participate in a well funded social experiment, the Positron Project.  They will be provided with a house, with employment, and with the safety of a gated community, in return for spending every second month as prisoners in the Positron Prison. Continue reading

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