The Kite Runner: My Review

Title: The Kite Runner
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release: 2003
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The story:

Following the span of a few decades, the story centers on Amir from the streets of Kabul to his immigration and his life as an adult in the United States. Amir was the son of a rich Afghan merchant, and grew up with the son of their servant, Hassan. The two got along really well until Amir made a decision that would change both of their lives and cut him away. As Afghanistan turned to civil war, Hassan and his father moved to Peshawar in Iran, and then to California, where they built a new life together. But one day, a phone call brought back the past to him, and changed his life once again.

My opinion:

This book had been on my TBR for quite some time now, and I’m SO GLAD I finally read it. It definitely belongs on the list of books that changed my life. I had heard many great things about it – even my mom had recommended it to me – and I was a bit scared that I would be disappointed, but oh boy I was not. Emotionally, this book was so much more than I could ever expect.

I listened to the audiobook version, which was narrated by the author himself, so that was definitely a plus to the reading experience!

crying more

[an accurate representation of me after I finished The Kite Runner]

Basically, the book evolves around friendship and family, race and class, and it’s both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. It deals obviously with Amir’s relationship with Hassan, and how the choices he made towards him affected his life as well as perspective on things. But there is also a great chunk of the book where Hassan is not really preseny (except, of course, in the back of Amir’s mind). The story also evolves around Amir’s complex relationship with his father, and later, the blooming relationship with his wife, which turned into a steady, loving relationship that never failed to melt my heart. It made me lose hope in humanity and gain it back right away. It was a hell of a ride and I cried way more than I would ever admit, but it was totally worth it.

The main character is flawed but deeply human. He makes bad decisions as a child, but at the same time you can’t really put all the blame on him. The society he lives in is messed up, and some of these betrayals decisions are also about his own survival in such a world. He also perfectly manages to redeem himself, and overall is very realistic in my opinion.

There are two things I loved above anything else (three if you add Amir’s wife) and the first is how much I learnt about Afghanistan while reading this book. I have to say, I came into it knowing pretty much nothing about it. But while reading I learnt about its culture, and it’s recent history which was fascinating – albeit a little alarming. I also learnt about Islam, which I always enjoy. It’s something I am working on, and it’s always a great surprise to learn about it in books & TV shows. There are also a few bits of the intrigue that take place in Iran, which was also interesting. The second thing is the amount of crazy plot twists in this book. Some may have seen things coming but I totally did not and that made the story all the better, especially towards the ending, which piles up revelation after revelation when it’s not rudely breaking me in a thousand pieces of tears.

Overall, this book was really intense and well-written. It also contains some fascinating villains, great characters and many plot twists. There is so much more I could tell you about it, but so far my review didn’t really contain spoilers and I don’t want to ruin that. All you need to know is that it is a hell of a ride, and a bit of a tear-jerker, but also an amazing, fantastic story which will most likely make you think a lot. I will definitely be reading other books by this author!

Thanks for reading, and if you have any similar story to recommend, please do so!

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Let’s Talk About Outlander

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Many moons ago, I started watching Outlander. At some point in the process, I decided that I should read the book first as well, since it was based on a book, and a quite popular one at that. As of now, I have seen the first season of the show, and haven’t pursued it in ages – I don’t know if I ever will. And as of last weekend, I have finally finished reading the first book in the series. Just like the show, I don’t know if I will continue. Let me explain.

Disclaimer:

Overall I’m going to address aspects of the story that I found in both the book and the TV Show (first book and first season, since it’s all I’ve read/seen). If there are aspects specific to one or the other, I’ll just mention it!

And before I delve into things, I met Diana Gabaldon at the Paris book fair this year and it was a crazy experience because I still can’t believe I had in front of me this woman who had written so much, and who was so successful. And of course I was so impressed I barely manage to say anything.

Warning: Contains spoilers

Let me start by saying that I absolutely LOVE the concept of this story. I am a huge fan of time-travel, and it’s usually a genre that always works for me whether in books or TV Shows. And that aspect of the story really did work for me. I’m also a huge fan of both Scotland in general, and its history in particular, so again, I really liked that aspect of the story. I also think it’s rather well-written, and I really like the narration.

I personally listened to the audiobook for the most part, and it was narrated by Davina Porter who is an absolutely brilliant narrator, so that definitely added something to the story. I discovered her when I listened to The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, and now I simply want to have all my audiobooks narrated by her. She really brings something to the characters and the plot, it’s like she adds a dash of her personal magic and I LOVE IT.

hearts

But anyway, back to the story. For the most part, I felt like the characters were likeable. We feel bad for Frank, even if we don’t see him that much. We are scared for Claire, we empathy, and maybe we fall in love with Jaimie at the same time she does. She is smart and brave at the same time, and honestly the story would fall apart without her. She is one of the most strong-willed characters I have ever seen, and some part of me definitely wants to know what happens to her after book 1. But is it worth all the rape and abuse? I think not. And thus I transition to the things I found problematic.

⚠️ SO many TRIGGER WARNINGS for rape and abuse ⚠️

Yes, Jaimie seems very loveable at first, and very good looking on screen I’m not going to deny that. But there are several occasions, if I remember correctly, where he forces sex on Claire, and I am so not here for it. But that’s not even all. There is, about half-way through the story, this scene I will never forget, where Jaimie decides he needs to punish Claire for… I don’t even remember, but the idea is, if he doesn’t do it, his Scot buddies are going to make fun of him, so not only does he give her a beating – so much so that she can’t even sit down on the next day – but then he tells her that she’s going to enjoy it, like, please stop. What the hell went through your mind while writing this passage, Diana, I’m not sure I even want to know. But one thing I know is that I can’t forgive it. Every time I see/hear someone fangirl over Jaimie I just think of that passage and it stops me right where I am. It just killed the buzz for me.

Now, I know that Jaimie went through a lot. He is also very understanding towards Claire most of the time, like when she talks to him about Frank, and particularly when she explains how she ended up in Scotland in the first place. He barely escaped being executed, almost witnessed his sister’s rape, and saves Claire on countless times. BUT DOES THIS FORGIVE THE FACT THAT HE ABUSED HER? I THINK NOT. And yes I know, this was another time. Fair enough, though the idea of having a historical fiction book that doesn’t feature rape is something I can still fathom thank you very much. Yet, having rape or abuse featured in a book is something that I can handle (see Pillars of the Earth for example, which is one of my favourite books) as long as it is an issue that is discussed and portrayed as a bad thing. I know that may sound childish but the fact that it was 18th century Scotland doesn’t excuse his actions. What I really can’t forgive is the fact that this whole rape + beating thing is completely brushed over and romanticized. Just because Jaimie is a pretty face. Maybe Frank was boring, but at least he didn’t beat up his wife when she did something he disapproved of.

And behold, I’m not even done with the problematic stuff, because as you may or may not have noticed, I haven’t even mentioned Captain Randall yet. Some may say he is a villain you love to hate… That’s absolutely not the case for me, but, you know, feel free to like him if you do. It’s not even that I don’t like him (though I really don’t). That is not even the thing I hate the most about it, what really struck me is how dirty he was done. Hey, let’s write a villain for Outlander. First, he will have the face of Claire’s husband and be his ancestor. That is totally awesome in terms of the plot I have to say. But ooh… Claire met her husband’s ancestor! And he tried to rape her! I was already out at that point, but this was only the beginning. Not only is this something that comes up at several points in the story – oh we need a plot twist, let’s have Randall have to rape Claire, portray it as a total damsel in distress scene and have Jaimie rescue her at the risk of his own life – but then we have the great (almost) finale of the book where PLOT TWIST Randall wants to have sex with Jaimie. And not only does he physically abuse and torture him, he then blackmails him to have sex without resisting, and all in the meantime talks about his wife whom he also attempted to rape, and then he also cuts him, brands him with his personal seal, tells him he loves him and tries to have him say it back?

i can't even

I need to stop talking about this, because it’s getting me too worked up. But in case you didn’t get my point it was: why did you make such a horrible character and have to make him queer? That was pointless, and not the representation I’m here for.

So anyway, aside from these few points that definitely disturned me to say the least, I have to say that Outlander as a fascinating world build-up that combines time-traveling and strong ladies (Claire obviously, but also Gillie Duncan, Jaimie’s sister who is a total badass, and many of the ladies from castle Leoch), something that I definitely appreciate. And I can’t deny the fact that I am totally in awe at Diana Gabaldon for writing such a big chunky book with a restless plot, but for then taking it to the next level with many sequels. And I will probably never read those sequels, but I can’t help but wonder, and there’s no denying the fact that I am amazed by this universe.

Norwegian Wood: My Review

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Title: Norwegian Wood
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Adult Fiction
Publication: 1987
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐/5

Trigger warning: suicide

The story:

Norwegian Wood is a coming of age story following Toru Watanabe through his first years of college, and his relationships with Naoko, who is presented from the beginning as someone he promised he would always remember. They are linked together through one of their friends, who has passed away, which has both reinforced their relationship and made Naoko more fragile. As she spirals down, Watanabe finds himself growing closer to others in ways he didn’t really expect.

My opinion:

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

To be honest, I had mixed feelings about this book. I wanted to like it because it was recommended to me by a friend, and at first, I really did. In some parts, it really struck me how deeply human it felt. The characters are very realistic, with both qualities and flaws, they make mistakes and know when to acknowledge. As this is mostly a coming of age story, this felt really realistic and relatable.

But the things is, some parts really rubbed me the wrong way, whether the discourse surrounding sex – which I totally wasn’t expecting to be so present and graphic – or the representation of mental illness. I do appreciate the fact that Naoko’s portrayal seemed rather accurate, but at the same time, I’m not sure what to make of the treatment the other characters gave her. For example, the use of the term “crazy” by Reiko really made me uncomfortable as well as some other things concerning both mental illness and suicide.

The sex/rape scene between Reiko and her “rotten” student also made me feel super uncomfortable, like, it was super disturbing and I didn’t see the point of including this girl’s character in the story (like, please, if you’re going to include a gorgeous lesbian in your book, could you make it in a non disturbing way? Thanks.)

Overall, this book is cleverly crafted, it’s soft and slow-paced and I really enjoyed that aspect of it. It was a beautiful character-driven story. However, there were a few things that made me uncomfortable in the way mental illness was addressed. I also felt that the story was really dragging by the end, and the ending itself was rather underwhelming. So in the end, I was not sold. It was my first Murakami book, though, and I will definitely be checking out some of his other works!

Thanks for reading this far, and feel free to share your opinion on Norwegian Wood, or recommend any other of his works!

Book Event: Meeting With Olivia Laing

Last Tuesday, my favourite bookstore Shakespeare and Company organised a reading with Olivia Laing, in honour of her latest release and first work of fiction Crudo, which I also just finished reading and loved: this book was mind blowing. I first came across Olivia Laing a few months ago when I read her book The Lonely City (review) which was absolutely fascinating, so when I saw that she would be in Paris and do a reading, I knew I had to be there.

 

And yes this comes straight from my Insta Story, how could I resist.

Olivia Laing has published three non fiction books, and has been on the shortlist for many book awards. Crudo is her first work of fiction. It takes place in 2017, was written in the span of 7 weeks and follows the events of the summer, through the perspective of the main character, Kathy, who is getting married, and was inspired by artist Kathy Acker and Olivia Laing herself. It deals with the Trump election, Brexit and the nuclear menace among other topic, as well as the main character’s fear of commitment.

This book was an easy and endearing read. It is extremely well written, all the more so considering there were barely any revisions, and at the same time, it is also an important read, considering it deals with all the crazy events of last summer. If this had been published two years before, as a work of speculative fiction, no one would have actually believed this would happen, and yet here we are.

Anyway. I arrived super early at the reading, knowing how these events work, and I got a spot on the second row, which was amazing. Olivia answered questions about her book, and even read some parts of it. She is such an inspiration, and I’m so glad I got to see her in person. She also talked about the book she is currently working on, which will deal with body image, a topic I’m really interested in, and I can’t wait for this project of hers to become an actual book.

After the reading, she signed copies of her book, and I even got to take pictures with her!

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The Image Of Deception: My Review

While waiting for the sequel for Lambs Can Always Become Lions, I picked up Charlotte Anne Hamilton’s latest release, The Image Of Deception and not one second do I regret it. This is the book I’ve always wanted to read. This is the book I’ve always wanted to write. And lately, one of my new favourites.

Genre: New Adult, Contemporary
Release: 2018
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The story:

When Clarissa finds out that her boyfriend of two hears has been cheating on her, she sets up a date with the other woman, pretending to be him. Without a plan, she meets up with Megan, and realises that she had no idea she was dating someone who was already taken. Together, they start plotting revenge on him, except what neither of them had in mind is that feelings would get in the way…

My opinion:

MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

One thing I really loved about this book — apart from the fact that I live for its plot, it’s really the best thing ever trust me — is the fact that both main characters are about my age, and at a similar point in their lives. There are a lot of (YA) books with characters in high school, but the thing is, the next thing kinda is New Adult and the characters in that genre usually already have a job and such, and I find it kind of hard to find books where the main characters are actually college students, dealing more or less with the same things that I deal with right now. For that and just that I am grateful for this book.

Now let’s just move on to the part where it melted my stone cold bisexual heart. Both Clarissa and Megan are absolutely wonderful, realistic characters, and I just loved the dynamic between the two of them. It was sweet to see them slowly falling for each other without accepting it at first — slowly, and then all at once.

I also really loved Megan’s roommate, she was such an inspiring character! That’s just one of the things I love about Charlotte Anne Hamilton’s books, they are so beautifully diverse.

Bonus, Clarissa has an adorable dog who is to die for!

Overall, the pace of the book was perfect, the characters were adorable, and it ended with a positive message — I just love that Megan and Clarissa gave up on actually getting a revenge and concentrated on their own relationship, going at their own pace and supporting each other!

Sing Unburied Sing: My Review

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Sing, Unburied, Sing was written by Jesmyn Ward. It was the winner of the National Book Award in 2017. I heard of it from my favourite bookstore Shakespeare and Company, and as I was studying African-American literature for one of my classes last semester, I decided to pick it up. Not one second did I regret this decision. Although it took me quite some time to finish this book, it was definitely worth the read.

Title: Sing, Unburied, Sing
Author: Jesmyn Ward
Publication year: 2017
Genre: Contemporary
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

The story:

Jojo is thirteen. He lives with his grandparents and his drug addict mother Leonie. When he is not at school, he spends most of his time caring for his little sister Kayla. When his father Michael is set to be released from prison, his mother decides to take both of them on a trip to take him home, along with one of her friends. The trip also revives old memories about her brother Given’s death, as well as the time her father spend at Parchman, the same prison Michael was at.

My thoughts:

Sing, Unburied, Sing was a troubling and beautiful story. It is unique and well written. Ths plot is slow paced, and mainly follows the perspectives of Jojo and Leonie, alternating from one chapter to another, which shows the struggles that both of them are facing, both in their life in general – Leonie lost her brother, her mother is sick, her boyfriend is just getting released, while Jojo is growing up with a mother who doesn’t really take care of him – and on this trip in particular.

I read this book after reading some of Toni Morrison’s work, and found that it somehow had a similar atmosphere, with what of the ghostly presences faced by both Jojo and Leonie. Although unlike Beloved or The Bluest Eye, it does take place nowadays, it sometimes gives off the same kind of eerie feeling. Maybe it’s just because it’s something I am unfamiliar with, but I think it made this book quite powerful.

Overall, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a family story, that deals with love and coming of age, and also manages to tackle the issue of police brutality and racism in general on several occasions, which is yet another reason why I would recommend this book. It’s not an easy read, but it’s definitely worth the ride.

Fledgling: My Review

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I was looking through the books I have read in 2017, to find topics for a new article, and I realised I haven’t made a review for Fledgling by Octavia Butler yet. This book was recommended by one of my professors last semester and I absolutely loved it. It was unlike anything I have ever read before, and I definitely recommend you check it out as well. I’ve mentioned it a few times here, but I haven’t made a proper book review, and this book more than deserves one. So here we go.

Genre: Adult Fiction, Sci-Fi, Afrofuturism
Publication: 2005
My rating: ★★★★✩

First of all, a few words about Afrofuturism, which was the topic of my class (taught by Adourahman Waberi, I reviewed his book In the United States of Africa here).

Basically, Afrofuturism is an artistic movment that started with music in the 60s and 70s, with artists such as Sun Ra. It is now also present in literature. It combines aspects such as science fiction and history, sometimes revisiting history with a more afro-centric perspective. I have read some afrofuturist books and they are always unique and fascinating. This was no exception.

The story:

The main character wakes up in a cave with no recall of her past life and what she is doing there. She is naked, and her entire body is in pain. She is hungry, and shows inhuman abilities. She looks like an 11 year old girl, but feels like so much more.

Little by little, she starts uncovering the truth of who she is: she is, in facts, a 53 year old Ina – or vampire if you prefer – and she was genetically modified, making her stronger than the rest of her family. She is able to resist the sun, and stay awake during the day. But people are after her for her abilities, and the whole Ina community is turning upside down.

Warning: May Contain Spoilers

My opinion:

I came into this book not really knowing what to expect, and oh boy, it was a hell of a ride.

At the beginning of the book, the main character has amnesia, so the reader just ignores as much as she does, which is super interesting. Soon, we realise she shows characteristics similar to that of vampires, however, she is different. She later finds out she is actually an Ina, and that vampires are a fiction inspired by Ina.  She has, in addition, been genetically modified to be stronger. She also discovers that her family has been killed because of the experiments they did, experiments that gave her a darker skin, which is more resisting to the sun.

Throughout the book, we see her insufferable need to feed, as well as her need to do the right things for the things she cares, and in honour of her lost family.

Ina are a secret to the society, except to the people they have chosen to feed, and who can live with them. These people are called symbionts, and every Ina needs several ones of them. They can also live longer, but they have to keep a secret. Ina live in big families, or communities.

What I really liked about this book is its very original take on the somehow classic literary theme that is vampirism. It is a perfect blend of fantasy and science-fiction – since we find out that Ina can be genetically modified. And more importantly, it raises issues of racism, as some of the Ina enemies to our main character want her dead because of her skin colour, because they consider that all Ina should be white caucasian as the territory they are originally from is in Eastern Europe (just like the image we have of Dracula). They consider her not pure, and not worthy of living, which led to the extermination of her entire family, responsible for this genetic modification.

This book is calling out on racism in a very subtle way in my opinion, as it is presented among a fictional community of fictional vampires, and yet, that doesn’t make it any less powerful. The actions of these Ina are cruel and undeserved, and yet also a very harsh representation of some real life people’s beliefs.

I had never heard of this book before my professor recommended it, and I have never read anything like it. And was fascinating, the world building is really amazing. It is a very clever and well-written book. I definitely recommend it.

Have you read Fledgling or any other book by Octavia Butler? Feel free to give your opinion in the comments, and recommend me books you think I might like!