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: Fish Soup by Margarita García Robayo

August is Women in Translation Month, and a good opportunity to explore some new territory. I am one who shies away from reading Latinx authors translated into English, but it’s so hard to get affordable copies in original version in Dallas that I threw the towel and got “Fish Soup” by Margarita García Robayo from my local library. This is actually a collection of two novellas and some short stories.

While reading, the question: “are you plot or character driven” kept coming up on my mind. Her characters are so unlikable, but I read in an interview that that’s on purpose. She wanted her characters to be flawed and real, with common passions and frustrations. And I think she managed that pretty well. I was definitely hooked on the plot, and liked how she set the environment, but these novellas and stories are still not action packed. You get the feeling that everything is left in the air, unresolved. Pretty much like real life.

I could relate to that feeling of frustration and stagnation that comes from being born middle class in Latin America. Nothing seems to happen in the middle, yet we all feel that social climbing is a possibility. Through trapped in a society where your family name and distance to power is the only way to ascend the social ladder, middle classes are still under the spell of meritocracy. If I go to the right schools maybe I’ll meet someone with connections that’ll take me somewhere. If I set up my small corner shop selling trinkets or get a taxi concession, a few years of hard work will reap great results. But in reality, we just barely make ends meet most months, get in debt those when we can’t, and generation after generation fight the same problems, carry the same burden.

Fans of American Dirt will say that this collection is not “Latinx enough”. There’s no drug violence, soap opera stars or migrants on top of trains. Just cabin-crew members with dreams of Miami, widows fighting cancer, fishermen struggling with the effects of climate change and catholic school girls sick of misogynistic messages shoved up their throats. So it might not be the Latin America that lives in the minds of some Americans, but it’s definitely the Latin America I lived in for over 20 years.

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.