2013 Man Booker Shortlisted: We Need New Names


Rating: 3.5
We Need New Names
A Novel by NuViolet Bulawayo
2013 / 298 pages

Darling is a 10 year old girl from Zimbabwe. She and her family have been forced out of their home and now live in a shanty town (called “Paradise”). Her father has gone off to South Africa (to find work/money) and her mother is trying to scrape together what she can so they don’t starve while he is away. Since there is no longer a school to attend, Darling and her gang of friends (Bastard, Chipo, Godknows, Sbho and Stina) are free to spend their days waiting for the NCO truck to arrive with supplies and gifts. In the meantime they hunt for guavas, play intricate games (find bin Ladin, Country Game, War Lord) and get into mischief in the “white” section of town all while avoiding the men with the machetes. They are trying to make the best of what they have but it is hard when they have known a different life– before the bulldozers came; before 11 year old Chipo got a baby in her belly.

More than anything else Darling would like to go to America. Her aunt is already there and has promised to send for her. She has grand plans once she finally arrives. She will drive a Lamborghini, become friends with Lady GaGa and wear beautiful dresses. She will live in a mansion and bathe in money (like all Americans do). She just has to bide her time until the day comes when she can leave this kaka place!

The day finally arrives when she gets on the plane– promising to write, promising to return. Things are not what she imagined. The streets are not paved with gold. “Destroyedmichygen” looks like a different kind of war zone– slummy and bare . And there is snow! Everywhere!! Still, Darling makes the best of what she has while she is there.

This book does have some flaws. Some of my fellow BookerMarkers might even say many flaws plus a pile of kaka on top. But, because I listened to it I was able to over look (or not notice) what has now been pointed out. Narrator Robin Miles’ sing-song African accented voice made Darling seem, well, darling!! She charmed me– especially in the first part while they were still “innocent” 10 year olds living in a cruel, cruel world. The language and presentation almost made their lives seem light hearted when nothing could be further from the truth– a heartbreaking scene where the girls attempt to give their pal Chipo an abortion, a maniac preacher who seemed to be raping the devil out of a woman and a mother’s absolute anguish as she buries her only son– but maybe in Africa this is what children are used to seeing.

As Darling spends more time in America she loses her charm (and in the narration she also loses her accent as well– very well done and very clever!!). Six years in she has used America for all it is worth– she has attended school, found a steady job and has even made some American friends. She still feels a kinship with Zimbabwe and would like to return to visit but she feels that she has truly belongs in America. Trouble is she never will be. Her visitors visa has long expired and she risks never being able to return if she leaves. Darling has found herself stuck between worlds– not really belonging to either place. It is actually very sad.

Maybe not the best written book in the world– and it is still surprising to me that it made the short list instead of Transatlantic— but I think that I know what Ms. Bulawayo was trying to do here. 3.5 stars from me.

This review was simultaneously posted on BookerMarks.

2013 Man Booker Shortlisted: The Luminaries #2


Rating: 3.5
The Luminaries
A Novel by Eleanor Catton
2013 / 848 pages

The Luminaries was a looooooooong book– a whopping 848 pages, at least 20 main characters and a complexed structure featuring the phases of the moon, the alignment of the planets and the signs of the zodiac. It took me a while to read this one. There was detail up the wazoo– every ship in New Zealand was mentioned by name, every building or tent was described in full, every dirty fingernail was picked, every speck of gold dust was included as a main character– but essentially this was a pure mystery novel with a little bit of “magical realism” thrown in.

From Goodreads: It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.

I ended up reading this book in spurts. The first time I picked it up I only got through part I– learning all of the backgrounds of the characters and the town and getting used to the old timey dialogue and stuffy Victorian opinions (don’t call her a whore! Say she worked in the world’s oldest profession!). Next, I was in a mad rush to get it done before Book Club night– getting about 500 pages read in 4 days but still coming up about 100 short before the big night. Everyone was kind enough to not give away the ending but as I read the last bit yesterday, I thought that it was a tad anticlimactic. Maybe it was because there was an almost 2 week gap between my marathon reading and the ending but I still have questions now that it is all over. What was the point of Walter Moody? He seemed to just fade into the background by the end. What happened to Carver in the back of the cart? Did I miss the explanation? And seriously, was there really a point for 200 pages more following the court case? There was a bit that was interesting/relevant but the rest seemed just like more pages to be added to make the structure fit (each part is half the length of the last– like the phases of the moon– see the cover).

I liked this book– but just liked it.  The fancy structure and zodiac tie-ins were really lost on me. I was more interested in the story and solving the mystery– 400 pages would have been enough. The MAIN main characters were interesting enough not to have needed all of the LESS MAIN main characters. I would have given it a 3 star rating but bumped it up to 3.5 because I can appreciate the time and effort Catton went through to construct the novel the way she did.

Funny: I like to highlight interesting passages in my iBooks and it seems out of the 800+ pages in The Luminaries this was the only one that I marked! Hmmmmmmmm….

It was a strange thing to behold a whore in mourning– rather like seeing a dandified cleric, or a child with a moustache; it gave one a sense of confusion.

This review was simultaneously posted on BookerMarks.

2013 Man Booker Shortlisted: Harvest #2

HarvestRating: 2.0
A Novel by Jim Crace
2013 / 224 pages

I feel like I have been transported back in time! It is 1987 and Mrs. Edmunson has assigned us Harvest by Jim Crace for grade 12 novel study. “You must read it so try to enjoy it” she says. “Come on! There are some great things in here! There is violence and witches and even magic mushrooms!”

Start to read. Ah. The harvest is done, there is going to be a celebration.

~~I wonder what we are going to do for Anthony’s birthday next Friday. Veronica wants to take the bus to his house. Better ask my mom~~

Oh. Walter Thirsk, he’s an odd duck. Kind of lame and boring.

~~Do I have any money? Duran Duran AND David Bowie in T.O.??? We are GOING! We ARE GOING!! WE ARE GOING!!!!~~ $(KGrHqNHJEgFButCzFv3BQiVP7yj3!~~60_35

Well, a fire. This should get things going.

~~”No one move a muscle as the dead come home!” Who sings that song? That video scares me. Shriekback! Yep, it was Shreikback!~~

1306417I don’t think they are punishing the right people! Mob mentality? This reminds me of The Lottery.

~~What grade did we read The Lottery in? Grade 8? Miss Bailey? Is that you?!!~~

😦  Poor horse! Sad that he was killed. Skipjack? Willowjack? Slap that?

~~Buddha is purring! She is trying to lay down on my book. Kitty cat marching!! SO CUTE when she gets ready to sleep!~~

Mr. Quill, Master Kent. Mr. Quill, Master Kent. Bedlam. Bedlam. Bedlam. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And then it was over. Back to 2013– I have to mop my kitchen floor this Saturday.

This one really felt like a school assignment that I was forced to read (sorry to steal your line Mike!) and I was day-dreaming the entire time I was reading. I feel like I should have gotten a lot more out of this one but, alas, I did not! The best thing about this book was our fellow BookerMarker, Jen’s awesome graphic diagram in the Why It Will Win series (here).

2 stars (at Literary Hoarders this means: Bad. But not without merit– the merit being that the prose of this absolutely boring book was beautiful ~~sigh~~)

Scan 48This review was posted simultaneously on BookerMarks.

Audiobook Review & 2013 Man Booker Shortlisted: A Tale For The Time Being

15811545Rating: 4.5
A Tale for the Time Being
A Novel by Ruth Ozeki
Audiobook Narrated by Ruth Ozeki 2013 /14 hours and 45 minutes

I’m not sure where to begin.

This is one of those novels that you finish and look around, blinking, just a little stunned that you’re no longer in the author’s world.  If you pick up this 2013 Man Booker shortlisted title, I promise that you will feel submerged by the tale.  You won’t be the same when it’s complete.  You’ll want it to win the prize.

I’m sure you’ve heard what this novel is about.  A 16-year old girl in Tokyo starts a journal, and pens an unflinching look at her life.  A writer on an isolated Canadian island finds that journal, along with other items, on the shore near her home.  By reading this teen’s heartbreaking story, the writer, named Ruth, breathes life into this lost soul across the ocean.  The Japanese girl, Nao, is suicidal.  Her home life is a disaster.  Her school days are packed with the most inhuman classmates your mind can fathom.  Her only solace is her darling 104-year old great-grandmother Jiko, a Buddhist Monk who sweetly and patiently shares her benevolent wisdom.  As the story of Nao’s life unfolds in her journal, Ruth slowly but surely becomes frantic in her wish to help.  She wants to know if Nao is all right.  But how?  Was this journal swept to Ruth’s shore by the 2011 tsunami?  How can she know if Nao finds help?  Finds support?  Will Nao find her own “Super Power” with the help of her great-grandmother?  Most importantly, is Nao alive?

There’s only one thing that Ruth can do.  She must keep reading.

Incredibly, A Tale For The Time Being encompasses bullying, loneliness, Zen Buddhism, writer’s block, the afterlife, War, Alzheimer’s, the environment, the metaphysical world and quantum physics.  You might reread that list, thinking “that can’t be right – how many books did Elizabeth actually read here?”  But it does cover everything I’ve listed.  And all of this is masterfully shared by the author.

It’s been awhile since I’ve jumped into a story with this much emotion.  No – I didn’t jump in – I did a cannonball.  This Shortlisted novel will have you gasping for air.  It seamlessly moves back and forth from Ruth’s life to Nao’s, while simultaneously leading you down a path of enlightenment.  You’ll come away with a renewed faith in the power of the human spirit, and dare I say that you’ll want to crack down on school bullying?  My guess is that you will.

I must warn you though, that there are portions of this novel that are not easy to digest.  On more than one occasion, I listened to the story with a wince.  But as raw as this novel can be, the truth is that there’s no escaping the truths that it shares.  From Nao’s experiences as a teen to the unwavering look back to her great uncle’s time as a kamikaze pilot during the war, you will not come away unscathed.  It will be difficult, but you’ll be a better person for hearing their stories.

What’s remarkable about this novel is that its spirit reaches through the muck and hurt, and presents a bright spot of hope.  You will not finish this book with sad or resentful feelings.  After reading the stories of Nao and Ruth and their families, you’ll realize that not only is everything real, but it is also all linked. Because what simmers underneath this tale is a mystic force that you’ll wonder about long after you’ve left the last page.  It’s the shadow you thought you saw, but upon looking directly, could no longer find. You know it’s there though, and you believe in your heart that it’s watching over you.

People touch people.  We are all spinning on the same planet.  Some of us are trying to “bully a wave.” Others are trying to understand how to live in harmony with the rough water.  No matter your background, this is a novel that is worth your time.  It’s something that I believe that I will revisit one day.  And when I do, I can’t wait to hear Jiko’s words with fresh ears.

If you have the opportunity to listen to the audiobook version of this novel, please jump at the chance. The words are read by the author herself, and her narration is perfect throughout.

4.5 stars for A Tale For The Time Being.