Book Review: How The Word Is Passed

Memory, for me, is often a home where the furniture has been rearranged one too many times.” – Clint Smith, How the Word Is Passed.

This book is beautiful like a nursery rhyme sang by a loving parent. Like the smell of clean linen out of the dryer. Ok, I am no poet but Clint Smith definitely is and paraphrasing a very wise man: “he knows words. He has the best words.” And he really does. “How the Word Is Passed” is beautifully written and sad; you literally feel the weigh of atrocities committed in our land and far away like concrete being poured on your chest. And I can honestly say I have not read a book that is so life-changing for me, personally, since I read “Woman Race Class” by Angela Y. Davis years ago.

In this collection of essays, Smiths takes on a literary journey across America and Senegal and across time, from the foundation of America to today. From Louisiana to Virginia to New York to Texas, we hear the stories of enslaved Americans and their descendants and how history should remember them, hadn’t it been written by the oppressor.

Smith closes with a message of the importance of teaching history accurately, owning up to our darker actions. It made me reckon with how I learned history and all what was left unsaid but shouldn’t. And how do we move forward from here.

This is one of those books that I need everyone to read.

Book Review: Elena Knows

“Elena Knows” by Claudia Piñeiro is a masterpiece. A short, tense, thrilling story that hooks you from beginning to end.

Who killed Rita? Elena is in her mid-sixties but you’d think she was much older due yo the damage that Parkinson has inflicted on her. When her only daughter and caretaker, Rita dies, she can’t accept suicide as an answer and goes on looking for her daughter’s killers despite her mobility issues. But more than that this is a story about motherhood and society’s attempt to justify taking autonomy over one’s own body from women. About the ways we navigate in this world trying to claim our body for us. In my opinion, this is one of the best books ever written. Periodt.

Book Review: The Beautiful Ones

I loved this cute romance with hints of the fantastic. Even if you are not one for romance or fantasy like me, this is one to appeal to fans of lighthearted fiction with strong women at the middle.

Nina is young, pretty but not stunning, and incredibly smart and curious. Her quirky character and her tendency to make objects explode as her telekinetic powers get out of control has ensured to scare away all suitors in her tiny town. When she travels to the big city looking for a fairy-tale romance, she never imagined that she’d find a mentor and get her heart shattered. But secrets lure in the dark to put her life upside down. Will she end up with her handsome prince or will her evil cousin-in-law (is that a thing?) ruin it all?

For me, another proof that Silvia Moreno-García can’t write a dull book.

Book Review: So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighborhood

Reading Patrick Modiano’s So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood took me back to when I was 10 and wrote a suspense – detective story about a man who suddenly disappears. It was quite bad, I am sure, but the novel I wanted to write was Sunday’s in August or So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood. Modiano really knows how to set the pace build suspense while leaving the reader to come to their own conclusions. This is my second Modiano and I can’t stop being in awe.

This is the story of an elder man who gets an unexpected phone call. A suspicious voice tells him he lost his address book and wishes to return it. Our narrator fears blackmail but gets sucked in anyways. There’s a mysterious murder that occurred more than 50 years prior, mysterious characters and a lot of holes in his recollection of his childhood. But could he had known more about this murder than he remembers? Is he being blackmailed for it?

A masterpiece and a perfect way to close this weekend. If you are looking for a suspense novel that doesn’t mention women’s breast even once, no Russian or Arab terrorists and no one gets sexually assaulted or cheated on, this one is a gem.

Book Review: Sula by Toni Morrison

I started Sula by Toni Morrison expecting beauty: beautiful language, a great story and some food for thought. But I was not prepared to be completed taken over, intoxicated. I felt the dialogue and catchy phrases playing in my head again and again, when I was sleeping, washing the dishes, singing lullabies.

“You’ve been gone too long, Sula.
Not too long but maybe too far”.

“I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself”.

“O Lord, Sula. Girl, girl, girlgirlgirl”.

Sula was hard to love. Selfish. Tough. Mysterious. And yet, like all women at the Bottom, I secretly envied her. Resented that she got to live her life like she wanted. Answering only to herself. Showing the middle finger to patriarchal gender roles, suffocating social standards and just carried on. It wasn’t perfect. It probably wasn’t happy. But it was all hers.

For a much better review do check out @lex_withthe_text post.

Book Review: The Membranes by Chi Ta-Wei

The Membranes” by Chi Ta-Wei (Taiwan, 1995) is a mind-blowing book. Described as queer speculative fiction, is the dystopian story of Momo. She’s a skin-treatment technician in the XXII century, when after devastating the environment, humanity has moved to the bottom of the sea. She is estranged from her mother, a successful executive at a global publisher (we are all into ebooks then btw), and misses her childhood friend, Andy, who was an android (sort of a humanoid robot).

There are lots to think about in this book on gender. If your parents raised you as a girl though it was not your assigned gender at birth and then submitted you to gender reassignment surgery before you’re even conscious about it, thus you never had a chance to create your own gender identity, are you still transgender? Isn’t it the same otherwise? When we never had the chance to create our own gender identity and something other than cis has never been an option? Is it also violence having gender imposed on us ? How much our gender identity is conscious?

And who are you as a person? Is that the sum of your body parts or is it solely how you see yourself? What makes us “us”?

I also found it incredibly interesting (and loved it) how the normative sexual/romantic relationships are queer. Being in a heterosexual relationship is an statistical rarity. There’s only one male character with a super minor role and he’s basically a hedonistic creep. I loved that particularly since the author is male. This is a world where women are the dominant force, the “default option”. Isn’t that something?

Half of the book goes pretty slowly as the reader is stuck in Momo’s mind, and lives through her loneliness and anxiety. But then there’s a major plot twist and everything is turned on it’s head. It’s just pretty amazing for a lack of a better word.

I have NEVER read anything like it, and I sure hope that @columbiauniversitypress translates more of his work because I don’t think I can get enough of his mind-bending fiction.

Book Review: The House of Paper

“One day in the spring of 1998, Bluma Lennon bought a secondhand copy of Emily Dickinson’s poems in a bookshop in Soho, and as she reached the second poem on the first street corner, she was knocked down by a car”.

I love powerful opening sentences and this one certain packs a punch. Bluma Lennon, a lecturer of Latin American literature at Cambridge dies after being ran over while reading and walking (guilty! I used to that so often in my 20s). Months later a package arrives from Uruguay with a book covered in cement. Lennon’s replacement, an Argentinian lecturer himself looking to replace her, travels to Uruguay to return it to its sender and comes across a very mysterious story.

It is a very charming book, appealing to book lovers. It talks about book collectors, avid readers, organizing shelves, dog earring books or bookmarking, writing on the margins or journaling; reading for escaping or for learning; book-buying obsession and book buying bans. In a world pre-bookstagram, it seems to cover all bases, even discussing the controversial practice of using books as props, to build furniture and even pairing books with music. Don’t expect much plot-wise or character development (I thought everyone was pretty bland) but it doesn’t make one wonder about how far we are to take this book obsession of ours.

Book Review: Territory of Light

Initially published in monthly chapters over the course of a year, this short novel allows us to glance into the life of a separated mother of a two year old just as she moves into a new apartment and starts her live alone with her toddler, over the span of one year.

I have never read a novel before centering around an apartment, but I loved how the author used it to portray different things; new beginnings (and getting used to them), loneliness, scarcity and emptiness. The apartment is the territory where she now finds herself, like a newcomer who has to discover everything from scratch. And the light is not a warming, hugging kind of light, but a spotlight that puts you under scrutiny, and at the same time, does not allow you to hide all those uncomfortable details in your life you’d wish to ignore. As a mom to a toddler, as a woman, she is always judged for her choices, she is always watched (by her toddler and ex-husband) and cannot really find some quiet corner in the shade to unwind. This is a beautifully written, lyrical book with lots of layers of meaning and things to ponder about. I feel like if I started it again today, I would encounter so many messages I initially missed.

I truly loved this book and will be looking for more works by her.

Book Review: Las Biuty Queens

I love short story collections where the stories are interconnected and the reader has plenty of opportunities to get to know the characters in different settings. In Las Biuty Queen, Monalisa tells us of life for a group of Latinx trans women in New York City, trying to make ends meet by picking up clients in bars or the streets during the early hours of the morning; dreaming about finding love and winning beauty pageants. In and out of jail, persecuted by police and hiding from ICE. Beat by addiction and mental illness. Reminiscing about hard life back home, struggling with bullying, poverty and the uneven burden that patriarchy places on those who society deems as men, demanding self-sacrifice, bravado and toxic masculinity. Life is tough and their prospects scarce but at least they got each other. It sounds like a dark book, but Monalisa manages to make it feel lighthearted, funny and charming. He/she draws these characters based on his/her personal experience and those of his/her friends, inserting him/herself into these stories. He/she thus shows us vignettes of quotidianity full of feeling, resilience and hope.

I enjoyed this heartfelt collection where trauma and gender are not directly addressed, a sort of Sex and the City with far more endearing characters. Now excuse me while I try to find everything he has ever written. Monalisa has inserted him/herself into my list of authors to watch.

Book Review: The Earth Keeper

“This happened a long time ago. I was not there. My father was there when he was a boy. He told me of it. And I was there.

This short work of non-fiction is like a prayer to Earth, an ode to its beauty. A heartfelt apology.

Momaday shares in little snippets stories of his ancestors, prayers to the earth and lyrical descriptions of earthly wonders. Regardless of religious background, those prayers seem perfectly composed, needed and they beg for all of us to utter them. To thank earth or divinity for our blessings, for sharing beauty with all of us. And asking for forgiveness for our selfish destruction of the environment; for our blindness.