Friday, April 3, 2020

Book Review: A House for Happy Mothers by Amulya Malladi

To be honest, I have very conflicted opinions about this book. I am familiar with Amulya Malladi´s writing from a previous review that I published a couple of years ago, when I enjoyed both the topic and the writing. The Copenhagen Affair was the kind of smart, well written book that is pleasant to read for a couple of hours in a weekend afternoon. I´ve started A House for Happy Mothers with the same aim in mind, but it turned to be rather the opposite: I kept reading it, because I was interesting in the topic, but the more I was reading the more despicable I was finding the ways in which the topic was addressed as well as the characters.
The House of Happy Mothers is a place in India - one of the many - where local surrogacy mothers are serving overachieved professionals - of Indian origin, but not only. The women accepting to carry and give birth to other people children are very poor and sometimes they would accept to perform this task more than once.
Priya and Madhu are a successful couple from the USA that after several tragical attempts to conceive ended up using the service of a surrogate mother. Priya is half-Indian, Madhu has family living there, and she was the one who actually insisted to follow this path against adoption. "Priya really did believe that by using a surrogate, she was helping a woman who could end up on the street. Someone would have a better life while she got a baby``. As simple as that. And this is how the surrogacy is regarded for 80% of the book. Asha, the surrogate mother in exchange, that was encouraged to do this by her own husband, was hoping that the money will help to offer a better education to her gifted son. `The poverty of their past will stay behind them. Every day would no longer be a struggle. They would be able to buy rice and sugar, the vegetables they wanted and not just potatoes`.
This clear dichotomy based on the distinction rich versus poor is predominant and with the exception of the last pages of the book when most of the characters are becoming better, generous persons. No complexity added to the issue, no intellectual debate. There are allusions made to the emotional trauma the surrogate mothers are going through after the child they carried is taken away, but the voices women who did more than once are telling that most probably this will shall pass and there will be more than one surrogate child carried.
I´m obvious to the fact that indeed, surrogacy represent for women, not only from India, but from countries with a high level of poverty, an investment. As it is equally an investment for the parents who instead of finding a surrogate mother in their own countries - where the legislation allows - prefer to go overseas where the market is cheaper. But I find despicable that this dynamic is just presented as a fact, without a serious critical and in-depth emotional and intellectual approach.

Rating: 2.5
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Film Review: The Breadwinner

Inspired by a series of books by the Canadian writer and activist Deborah Ellis, the 2018 Oscar nominated The Breadwinner tells the story of a family living in the Taliban-besieged Kabul. 
Parvana is the heart of the story, that assumed the role of the breadwinner of her family, after her father, a disabled teacher, was took to prison. While she used to spend the day with her father, trying to sell things on the streets, the storytelling about history and geography were the antidote of the gloomy and violent reality outside. Once her father was took away, Parvana keeps living through this stories either when she is putting her younger brother to sleep or when she is waiting for an answer regarding the release of her father from prison. In a sea of hopefulness and violence - with women and girls one of the main targets -, her innocence, despite all odds, is enlightening the day. 
I´ve found the animation inspired, and it uses elements of traditional imagery for the area. The choice of music is also appropriate and adds dramatism to the scenes featured.
The books the film is based were written by Deborah Ellis following her interviews with Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Ellis herself was threatened by the Taliban for her activism and involvement on behalf of the women.
A co-production of Canada, Ireland and Luxemburg, the film is directed by Nora Tworney, Irish animator, producer and director. 
The movie lasts 1h33 and is available on Netflix (I watched it from Germany).

Rating: 5 stars

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Trevor Noah South African Beginnings

Trevor Noah, the popular host of the Daily Show was born ´a crime´. He is the child of a black mother and a white father, a relationship incriminated in South Africa during apartheid. 
His collection of short memoir-like stories published under Born a Crime is an account of his life before and after apartheid, the permanent confrontation with the violence - within the society and within the families - that was always ´lurking and waiting to erupt´. As a first person account, the stories have a note of authenticity and represent important testimonies about a racial divide that we read about but we might have difficulties in figuring out on a daily basis. 
Noah´s identity was caught between the various racial projections and representations that took place during the apartheid years. A multicultural and multilingual society was forcefully divided into ethnic and linguistic groups that were hating each other and preferred to live in clusters that refused to communicate to each other. Neither fully black or fully white, Trevor Noah was considered ´colored´ which involved regular bullying and a permanent outsider status. His greatest advantage was her mom who despite all odds and limitations educated him to not believe in limits: ´My mom raised me as if there were no limitations on where I could go or what I could do´. As for his outsider status, the one who was mentioned by TIME in 2018 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, he succeeded to migrate between worlds, get to know them and talk their language: ´I learned that even though I didn´t belong to one group, I could be a part of any group that was laughing´.
There are a lot of hilarious episodes, but also way too much violence and domestic abuse, with his mother one of the victims. As a personal story, Born a Crime offers a lot of anthropological and cultural inquiries into the various South African ethnic groups.
Personally, I find Trevor Noah more inspiring as a TV host and comedian, as the writing is not sparkling, but there were enough information that keep me interested until the end of the book. 

Rating: 3 stars

Introducing: Bookish Lifestyle and Movie/Theatre/Concerts Reviews

My lovely bookish blog, WildWritingLife is celebrating this autumn 10 years of adventures in the world of books. Each and every one of this year was rich in discovering new books and authors, expanding and improving my writing skills and challenging myself with new literay ideas. 
Not all years were equal though. Although I don´t remember a day when I was not reading a book, I was not always keen to share my ideas, and sometimes I had to take a break from blogging for a stronger focus on my everyday life chores and adventures. The past is history, but it is important to outline that every time I come back fortified, with a better bookish mindset, determined to continue my adventure in the world of books.
From a blog post to another, I tried to make the blog more open to the diversity of voices and genres, reviewing both fiction and non-fiction, interviewing authors and edition houses owners, trying to cover as much as possible as many global voices as possible, in an attempt to not miss any country in the world where books are written and published. From thrillers to graphic novels, I tried to represent as many genres as possible (although I need to focus a bit more on Science Fiction, not necessarily a favorite of mine, but I have to give it more than a try). I tried to cover as well books about writing and dedicated to helping authors to spread the news about their books through social media and blogging, among other topics. 
There is still a lot of diversity to be added to the blog, as I am planning to use in a more organised way my rich linguistic heritage for reading as much as possible books in the original languages I am familiar with - or I am interested to improve. 
Being more active in connecting with other bookish minds is also an aim, as it is to be a more frequent participant to book tours, as a very efficient way to help authors and their books to get known to a wider audience.
New sections were introduced in the last years, as my travel blogging consulting business expanded: Bookish travel, where I am featuring bookstores, memorial houses of authors and libraries encountered during my travels. Hopefully, once the Coronavirus crisis will be over, I can have more material for this section.
However, I still feel that there are some aspects of the bookish life that are still left behind in my blog, and I am ready to accept a new challenge. Or two.

Bookish Lifestyle

Living a life surrounded by books means that there are a lot of rituals and specific needs that you have to fulfill. You need bookshelves and enough space for your precious books. You need your cosy corner where to retire for a page-turning adventure. You need apps and devices to accompany your bookish commuting, when your book is too heavy or when you are looking for better ways to the newest books released on the market.
You may also want some identity markers that will share your bookish identity with the rest of the world: T-shirts, a coffee mug, some cosy socks, a tote with a quote from your favorite author. 
This is your choice of a bookish lifestyle and from this month on, I am starting to dedicate more time researching companies and ideas that suite this trend. I am happy to connect with creators and entrepreneurs, designers and creative minds with achievements and inspiration in this field. At this preliminary stage, any ideas are more than welcomed and I am very excited to embark on this new adventure.

Movie/Theatre/Concerts Reviews

I love both theatre and movies, but unfortunatelly in the last years my encounters in this field were rather sporadic. Lack of time, lack of interest, other professional assignments, my own procrastinations, there are few of the reasons why I am still very bad at catching up with movies and even less familiar with the latest theatre trends.
This year, this is about to change. 
I am introducing a new section on the blog dedicated to reviews of interesting and hopefully inspiring theatre productions. My aim is to cover classical movies, inspired by books but not only, not necessarily successful Netflix/HBO series, but also good entertainment productions, covering as many national cinemas as possible. For theatre, until the normal social life is back on the track, I will look for online resources.
As for now, everything is only a project, I may include in this section various cultural documentaries and contemporary cultural debates.
Last but not least, let´s talk music. As for now, writing about music - opera, concerts - is one of the hardest challenge for me. I rarely did and I am feeling an outsider when it comes to music writing. I feel the need to restart my own musical training - time to get back to my piano lessons that I abandoned for very personal reasons two decades ago - but also want to reconnect with my music soul. How exactly I will share this new passion on the blog, I don´t know, but I will start very small and see where everything leads me.
In other words, April starts with a lot of good news and can´t wait to start sharing with my readers this new intellectual adventure. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Book Review: A Pure Heart by Rajia Hassib

From the turmoil of the Arab Spring of 2011, to sister rivalry, the heartbreaks of immigration and meditation about history and present, A Pure Heart by Rajia Hassib is a story whose echoes are hard to forget.
Back to Cairo from New York where she moved shortly after getting married with Mark, a successful American journalist that converted to Islam, Rosie is collecting artifacts that may help her understand her recently deceased sister, Gameela. An archeologist by profession working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rosie can easily understand and put into perspective the big historical stories of the Egyptian civilization, but she does not have the right mental measurement evaluation for the history unfolding, including the episode that took the life of her sister. Back home, she brought a box full of disparate objects and artifacts, among which she will discover in shock it was a marriage certificate of her sister, an alliance she kept secret from everyone, including her parents she lived with.
Who was really her sister? Does this archeological method really works for real humans? Does it compensate the lack of direct communication that affected the relationship between the sisters for such a long time?
Besides the story of Rosie and Mark feeling in love, which I´ve personally found not so convincing, the stories within the story of the Pure Heart are making strong statements about identity, alienation and belonging. What does it mean, after all, to belong? Should it be a place, a way of being, a person only? Does your place of birth follow you, like a portable box, wherever you go? What is left from those memories - the people, the smells, the things that you miss, the things that you wish you do back then? 
Especially when we are talking about the Middle East, the distinction between East and West, modelled by centuries of ´orientalist´ approach is shaping conflictual identities. Rosie, for instance, educated in Western-oriented institutions, prefer a cautious approach to the inquisitive foreigner curiosity, most likely shaped by narrow-mindness and lack of deep knowledge into the culture and civilization. And she will be faced with the same misperception, once becoming an `American´: `Apparently, as an American, I am not allowed to have opinions about Egypt anymore´. 
Rosie´s PhD thesis turned around the concept of death as expatriation, based on the tale of Sinuhe. Sinuhe, an official to the royal household, fled Egypt as his life was threatened, and became a Bedoiun. He returned only late in life asking to be burried there, in a symbolic comeback. (The Finnish author Mike Walteri has a book about this fascinating tale, The Egyptian).
Religion and particularly religious practice, was one of the elements that deepened the divide between the two sisters, as Gameela suddenly decided to wear hijab, confronting her middle-class family. But Gameela, as Rosie too, was a woman who assumed her decisions and wanted to do what she wanted. None of the typical descriptions of Middle Eastern women submissive and unable to decide without the men´s approval correspond to the women characters in this book. Rosie. that refused at first to fathom her marriage with Mark because he was not a Muslim, has her own approach to religion, which involved more than the cultural belonging: `Her religiousness, though, was a part of her whole, not the center of her being, and she was happy with that`.
All the threads of the story are smoothly coming together into an unique story. A story about people lead on the waves of events stronger than life.

Rating: 4 stars

Monday, March 30, 2020

A Little History of Poetry

´What is poetry? Poetry related to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special, so that it will be remembered and valued´.
As I am fighting hard to update my poetry TBR, reading about poetry can also be a helpful incentive. This is why I considered seriously going through the suggestions in A Little History of Poetry by John Carey, pen and paper on the side. 
The book reads easily, the references are not complex from the academic point of view, the perspective is chronological-historical and there are also enough quotes to inspire your next read. If you really want to have a systematic overview of the poetic works of humanity. Especially if you are a beginner literature student or looking for some basic writing, this book can be really helpful to update the information.
On the other side, with some noticeable exceptions, the references are predominantly from the English-speaking realm. It starts with the Epic of Gilgamesh - because it is history after all - it mentions Hafez, Villon (but not the rich poetry of the French Middle Ages), Dante and Petrarch, Heine, Rilke and Goethe, Pushkin and Lermontov. In the final chapter, Poets in Politics, there is place for Spanish-speaking poets like Paz and Lorca and even Yehuda Amichai is mentioned. However, those poets do not necessarily appear as part of the wider history of poetry - in terms of influences, impact on the history of poetry etc. - and are rather present to add diversity to the bigger picture.
Therefore, use this Little History of Poetry without too many expectations, just as a reference that can encourage your poetry reading plans. As for me, I will keep reading more poetry, no matter the original language was written in.

Rating: 2.5 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Locked-Room Mystery for Lockdown Times: Murder in the Crooked House by Soji Shimada

Murder in the Crooked House (Pushkin Vertigo) (English Edition) von [Shimada, Soji]Reading a ´locked-room mystery´ during the lockdown sounds like a decision in full sync with the strange times we are living right now. This specific type of mystery, that Agatha Christie or Conan Doyle and other authors in the 1920s-1930s were very familiar with, are the kind of riddle impossible to solve at the first sight: the murder(s) takes place in a closed space and it seems impossible for the perpetrator to commit the crime. 
The crime novel I am about to review is unique for more than one point of view. Murder in the Crooked House is a classical - so-called honkaku - Japanese mystery written by one of Japan´s most popular crime writer in the Asian realm, Soji Shimada. I may reckon that although for years I am regularly updating my knowledge of Japanese literature, I rarely had the chance to read thrillers and mysteries, as this genre is rarely - for ´publishing market reasons´ - accessible in translation. This is the second book by Shimada published in English, the current translation being done by Louise Heal Kawai (that also translated Ms. Sandwich that I previously reviewed). Shimada´s debut novel The Tokyo Zodiac Murders published in 1981 was followed by over 100 words and he is a very popular author Asia. I am very glad that Pushkin Vertigo took this risk and introduced Shimada and his works to the English-speaking public.
Murder in the Crooked House has an endearing structure where the classical format of the whodunnit is filled with typical elements pertaining to the Japanese culture and traditions. While reading, we have to keep in mind that the action is placed at the beginning of the 1980s, in a society that even nowadays has a different approach on social and private interactions. The reader from the 21st century may be outraged by the way in which women are portrayed and their disadvantages - at the limit mysoginistic - positions. But at a great extent, it has to do in general with the women status at the time, that is still a matter of evolution within the Japanese society.
At this context, another aspect to be taken into account is the constant interaction, struggle and friction between the private (ura) and public (omote) constraints the individual has to cope with in Japan. Hence, the duality and mask-like attitude of most of the characters in the book.
Once those little context details were clarified, let´s go further into the book.
The bizarre industrialist Kozaburo Hamamoto built himself a bizarre crooked house in the northern island of Hokkaido. He invited to join him here during the winter holidays a couple of people to celebrate with, more or less regulars, that are challenged to solve a riddle. Then, there is a murder. And another one. No one entered the house. No one left the house. Still, two people who were invited here are dead, the last one while a police team is dispatched within the house. None of the current residents seem to have any reason to kill. Who did it and especially, why? 
Besides the residents - alternating, not always nicely and elegantly, between their public/private masks - the house hosts also a strange creature, a Golem, that Hamamoto brought from his trips to Europe. Being relatively familiar with the topic, I haven´t fully agree with the implant into the Asian story, but the cultural and religious details set apart, I may reckon that this element adds some exotism to the story and even might you thing - me including - that he is the culprit. How the crime(s) will be finally solved is in a very unexpected way and worth all the waiting and guessing. Kind of genius as the key to the riddle reunites all the disparate elements spread into the story. Therefore, take all your time to read the book with the highest concentration, paying attention to all the small details, particularly regarding the structure of the house whose plans are drawn in the book as well.
As readers, we feel trapped in the author´s - criminal´s mind. No wonder that the book is structured not in the classical chapters, but in acts, similarly with a play, a decision that outlines in a unique way the idea of a setting-up, manipulating and confusing our minds. This time, for a literary cause so it is worth playing the game for a short while.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review