Book Review: A Pure Heart by Rajia Hassib

This is the story of two sisters, Rose and Gameela, living in an upper class neighborhood in Cairo. Rose is an archeologist, and her religion is not something that she ponders about. Her family is pretty secular and no one wears the hijab. When Gameela starts wearing a headscarf and taking a strict position in religion, tension with her family starts and particularly with Rose. Things just get worse when Rose decides to marry an American journalist, and the sisters stop talking all together. But Gameela is killed in a terrorist attack and Rose is determined to find out what happened. Was her sister a fundamentalist?

This novel explores so many different themes: colonialism, classism, role of religion in ethics and moral, identity and politics. I particularly loved how the author showed religion affiliation as fluid; like a wave, sometimes we let it put as in a straitjacket and take over our daily lives, give meaning to our day to day and sometimes we use it as a moral compass but set rituals aside. Sometimes it defines us and sometimes it is hidden in our hearts. And like a wave, it keeps taking us up and down through our lives.

I loved this book so much I’ll be looking for her debut novel to start soon.

Book Review: Lakewood by Megan Giddings

I loved “Lakewood” by Megan Giddings. At the beginning it gave me a “We Cast A Shadow” vibe (by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, another book I loved!) but though they both deal with racism and the burden of white-centered beauty standards (among other themes), they are very different books.

Lakewood takes us to a tiny town in Michigan, of the same name, where secret and unethical government sponsored clinical trials are undertaken on human subjects, mostly BIPOCs. Lena, a college student just lost her grandma to cancer and is forced to work to pay her mom’s medical bills as well as to continue to afford college. So, human trials that offer amazing insurance and great benefits, how bad can they be? They end up being a nightmare. Though not a horror story by itself, this story is pretty terrifying and cringing, and yet so addictive. Like a horror movie, you want to turn it off and turn a blind eye, but you also must know if Lena will make it out alive. It is so good! Worst part is that it is probably not too far away from the truth. I totally recommend it. I wouldn’t mind picking it up again right now.

Book Review: Fantastic Tales by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti

Tarchetti, in this collection of Gothic & horror tales transport us to Europe of the 1800s. The stories have a ring of fairy tales, but with some darkness to it; there are mysterious Counts, obsessive lovers, magic potions and haunting dreams. They are for the horror fan as well as those readers with a taste for literary fiction. Devoid of all the gore and cheap commercial terror of Hollywood movies, these stories are timeless and make for a fabulous quick read.

Book Review: Borges and I

Borges and I is classified as a memoir or non-fiction. I thought it was a book of non-fiction, a memoir or travel diary of sorts. So throughout the book I felt puzzled by Borges as a character, by Jay Parini’s own depiction of himself but mostly how did so many of Borges’ stories were woven into the text. The way that the plot advanced, seemed too tidy to be true. The author explains in his foreword, this is a work of auto-fiction. Now it all adds up. I must confess, had I known I would have never picked it up. What troubles we about this über-white depiction of a trip with Borges through the Scottish Highlands is:

(1) Borges feels very much like a character, and one drawn upon stereotypes of artistic geniuses. He is quirky, extravagant and self-centered. Childlike but wise in a way that only artists are meant to be.

(2) Borges is exoticized in a typical way that Latinxs tend to be portrayed, but made “acceptable” by being racially white, of Nordic or European origins. As a Latinx, this felt familiar and very troublesome.

(3) The author proudly shrouds himself with white privilege. He has never read Borges, all authors mentioned are white, the ideal feminine beauty is very Nordic, and he goes on to say that slavery would have disappeared by itself even if the Civil War had never happened. Worse, that the reconstruction was even worse than slavery. Poison usually uttered by white people who had no idea what slavery really is or means. It made me cringe, to be honest.

(4) Though he tries to give its women characters a feminist, independent twists, they are still only sexual-props and his attitude towards them is terribly condescending. He marvels that they know history, read poems or have heard about Borges. Terrible and uncomfortable.

But don’t let me disuade you. It’s not all bad. It is a very entertaining book, though pedantic as Jay Parini is himself as a character. Borges is a very fun character. Borges’ genius and influence does shine through the book and it does serve as a good introduction to Borges’ Ficciones. Finally, the idea of the book is a creative rework of Borges’ short story “Borges and I”, published in his collection “The Maker” (“El Hacedor”). The title, The Maker derives from the Scots word “makar”, which I think it’s pretty clever given that Borges is a character and Scotland is the background. I would recommend it if you plan on reading Borges and would like a little background on his stories. But never loose sight of the truth: this is not Borges but a character by a white author, with all that cultural baggage that it brings.