Friday, November 29, 2019

'Maybe You Should Talk to Someone'

'Therapy elicits odd reactions because, in a way, it's like pornography. Both involve a kind of nudity. Both have the potential to thrill. And both have millions of users, most of whom keep their use private'.
Even therapy is relatively widespread as a psychological remedy in the US and Western Europe, it is still associated with stigma. If you are seeing a therapist, you might have a 'problem', a serious mental issue so better not to deal with such persons, or at least be cautious. But sometimes, you really should talk to someone. Someone completelly neutral and with experience in the field of human relations and psyche. Either it is because of a breakup or a deep depression, a childhood trauma or inability to cope with the daily chores, you should talk to someone.
Lori Gottlieb offers extraordinary, humorous sometimes, insights about the life and work of a therapist that herself had to go through therapy. Yes, therapists are humans too. 
The experiences shared are deeply human, with what involves contradictions, fear to go beyond an episode by fear of a scary big picture. Many might go to therapy looking for a solution to their problem or to a confirmation of their mindset. Rarely they get what they want, but they could actually leave with a completely different, and better outcome.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone deals not only with the stigma around emotional struggle but equally with the intricacies of taking decisions and change in general. Which change is not an easy task at all. 'We can't change without loss, which is why so often people say they want change but nonnetheless stay exactly the same'. 
It is also an honest book about what exactly therapy means and the many mirrors we, as humans, we need to reflect ourselves. It is based on the author's own experience, which adds more authenticity to the writing. 'Sometimes we are the cause of our difficulties. And if we can step out of our own way, something astonishing happens'. But this dramatic step can rarely be taken without support. Therefore 'Maybe You Should Take to Someone'

Rating: 5 stars

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Do We Talk Enough about Race(s)?

Do we talk/read/think enough about race(s)? About bi-racial families/couples? About their struggles to fit in in each of their separate, racially distinguished families? About how bi-racial children feel about the discussion about race? About racism and racial discrimination in the public space? In America. And elsewhere. Especially in America those days. 
For some, one might really go through such a challenge to understand the deep roots of racism. Everywhere, both within the majority and the minority.
Mira Jacob's son is born in an Indian-Jewish family in India. He has questions like: Can you change from white to black - or the other way round? Is it bad to be brown? How bad?
All her life Mira herself had her own race experience, both in India and in the USA. Often not recognized as an American in USA, being the wrong colour in India. 
Good Talk is indeed a 'memoir in conversations' which approaches race and colour on a very humorous, cynically-ironical way. Any discussion on such issue do have, besides a serious and dramatical layer, also a very humorous aspect. How else can one comment discussions about 'how to get a lighter skin' - apparently it is possible and there are some intensively trying to do it.
Humour, irony, the literary approach does not matter. It is important to keep the conversation going on. Because it looks like there no end in sight. The aggressive Trump era brought back the old evils and it seems like the discussion never advanced. Therefore, the need to challenge again the old racially-biased narrative. A book like Good Talk plays a serious role in this approach.
Last but not least a short mention about the format of the book. I've listen to the audio version, narrated by the author. An excellent choice as the lecture adds unique dynamics to the subject, especially the dialogues. It encourages me to get more audio books and this is what I am doing right now and can't wait to share more about this new 'reading' experience.

Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Book Review: 'My Sister, the Serial Killer'

Korede and Ayoola are two sisters living in Lagos, Nigeria. Ayoola is beautiful, free mind, fashion designer, with a line of dates begging her favors every day. Korede is educated, disciplined, hard working in a hospital, secretly in love with a doctor. The two of them have a couple of secrets to share: the men Ayoola is killing.
Is no specific reason those men are killed. Maybe they are too much, or violent or are boring Ayoola to tears. They are not long-term relationships. Maybe she sees in them reminiscences of their own father's behavior. Not clear. Fact is that Korede always helps her to hide the bodies. Ayoola might be under suspicion, got to answer some police questions, but never caught. 
One victim, who happens to be Korede' secret crush, happens to survive. And ends up in prison as accused of trying to kill Ayoola as he his proposal was dismissed. The sisterhood loyalty survived.
I loved very much the rough simple journalistic style of this story: facts after facts, plus the chaotic everyday life in Lagos. Direct - non-pathetic - accounts about how the life of women in Nigeria is going on, how they have to struggle for their existence, adapt to the men's world who still seems to lag centuries behind in terms of respecting women and their rights. 
Ayoola's relatively high social fragility turns into a murderous asset: the easiness to show her power against those men, in a fatal way. A knife in the back reminds them how short their life is, but too late to teach them a lesson.
I've seen mentioned in many reviews that My Sister, the Serial Killer is a humorous book. Not sure what to say about it. There are tragi-comical situations, and this is always like this when under high social pressure, but life is mostly like this. Which doesn't make it humorous though. 
Oyinkan Braithwaite is now on my list of Nigerian writers to follow in the next years.

Rating: 4 stars

Monday, November 4, 2019

Book Review: Family Trust by Kathy Wang

There is something that I couldn't grasp as for now when it comes to Asian literature in the English language: why most of the characters are so greedy and put financial interests of any kind besides any other purposes in life? The fact that there is a pressure on children, especially the first or second generation of immigrants to outerform in professions as doctors or lawyers I can fully understand, in my world - which is not Asian - such jobs are enjoying the highest prestige too and therefore the children are kindly directed towards such achievements. But why in the end the social status and the intellectual achievements are obsolete faced with the financial projections?
In Family Trust by Kathy Wang, most characters are utterly despicable, in a vicious way. When Stanley Huang, the family patriarch is about to die, on the lips and minds of everyone, from his children to his ex-wife and his younger wife, Mary, much younger and with a rather modest background is: what about the will? How much everyone will be left with? How much are Stanley's assets worth, by the way? Those questions are making the round of the characters and are influencing their life decisions and paths and are further echoes in the lives of other people involved, including Mary's poor and greedy first grade relatives. 
I am not a blind feminist, and I have my own limits when it comes to -ism(s) of any kind, but the women in this book are completely despicable. They are thinking about poor Huang's money obsessively, and not only those without a professional future in hand, but also his daughter Kate, a relatively successful business woman in Silicon Valley. And this feature extends to the women outside the family too, as Fred's fiancée, Erika who, unhappy with her ruined prospects of marrying him, she sent a circular email to his work and business colleagues revealing his porn habits. Erika is Hungarian.
At certain moments in the development of the plot, there are however some delicate hints about the pressure put on women: to marry, to outperform, to be silent and just accept to count in the mathematics of political corectness. Still, it does not explain fully why they should be so monomanic in searching for opportunities of free money. Maybe it's my fault for not being privy to anyone like this in my inner circle or not being one of them myself.
The negative character threats of the people in the book does not diminish the good writing though. 

Rating: 3 stars

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Dangerous 'Social Creature'

Lavinia is a glamorous NYC socialite, taking a sabbatical from Yale to write her novel. Louise is a poor girl that landed in the famous city fighting hard to make the end of the month, by tutoring, bartending and ghost writing.
Accidentally, two met, are becoming best friends and it seems nothing can stand Louise's chance to writing fame and a good life. But as usual when it comes to the dynamics of the relationship between two beings - regardless the gender - there are tensions and jealousy and a requested dependence that Lavinia is requiring from Louise after they moved together and Louise is losing one by one her contracts as unable to balance the non-stop-party-life and any work schedule.
In Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton you are welcomed in the vain and wasted life of NYC money heirs and their glamorous social life, as well as their satellites, made of 'yesmen/women' always keen to comply in exchange of a bit of networking and some free gifts. But everyone is equally longing for attention, either it comes to a haircut or a fancy opera show. Almost everyone is writing a novel or is an aspiring writer in this story when they are not busy listening to Wagner or name dropping the people they have lunch with (which it is not necessarily an exclusive NYC-thing those days). 
Over a quarter of the book is mostly about this. The rest is a murder story in the 2.0 age, where the criminal - which might be in fact serial - is not caught while it keeps intensively posting updates on the victim' social media channels. The innocent Louise is in fact a completely different person as she shows. A very dangerous revengeful, socio-path one. Not only the thief who is using Lavinia's generous credit card to sniff some hundreds of dollars every day. She will actually will end up killing Lavinia - and not only her - in cold blood but no one notice that something is not fine. 
In full honesty, I liked the writing style a lot. Witty dialogues, creating that realistic landscape of the snobbish rich white collar Americans in their 20s. However, the 'crime' part lost me, and if not reading the book while commuting an impressive amounts of trains I would probably would not have finished it. I may reckon the writer did not want to write a thriller story, but at the end of the book still did not figure out how to integrate the crime part into the overall story. It looked for me as the momentum to make the writing even greater was completely lost.  
I leave at this for now, but I will definitely look more about Tara Isabella Burton writing, especially non-fiction that I've heard is really good - particularly the travel-related one.

Rating: 2.5 stars