sumofparts: picture of books with text 'books are humanity in print' (books)
[personal profile] sumofparts
It's been a while since I read some of these so my impressions are now coloured by the more recent reads.

27. De Niro's Game by Rawi Hage
Description (via publisher)

"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide."

In Rawi Hage's astonishing and unforgettable novel, this famous quote by Camus becomes a touchstone for two young men caught in Lebanon's civil war. Bassam and George are childhood best friends who have grown to adulthood in wartorn Beirut. Now they must choose their futures: to stay in the city and consolidate power through crime; or to go into exile abroad, alienated from the only existence they have known. Bassam chooses one path: Obsessed with leaving Beirut, he embarks on a series of petty crimes to finance his departure. Meanwhile, George builds his power in the underworld of the city and embraces a life of military service, crime for profit, killing, and drugs.

Told in the voice of Bassam, De Niro's Game is a beautiful, explosive portrait of a contemporary young man shaped by a lifelong experience of war.

Rawi Hage brilliantly fuses vivid, jump-cut cinematic imagery with the measured strength and beauty of Arabic poetry. His style mimics a world gone mad: so smooth and apparently sane that its razor-sharp edges surprise and cut deeply. A powerful meditation on life and death in a war zone, and what comes after.

My Impressions
I finished Soucouyant not too long before this one so inevitably I compared the two though they're very different books. Despite the bleakness of some of the events, there was a warmth and connection in Soucouyant that was missing in De Niro's Game but I think that was sort of the point. It's a tight POV and now that I've finished Warchild too, I'm giving it the benefit of doubt for the writing style. I can see why the book's critically acclaimed and I liked it but the ending felt off.

28. Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
Description (via

Octavia Butler tackles the creation of a new religion, the making of a god, and the ultimate fate of humanity in her Earthseed series, which began with Parable of the Sower, and now continues with Parable of the Talents. The saga began with the near-future dystopian tale of Sower, in which young Lauren Olamina began to realize her destiny as a leader of people dispossessed and destroyed by the crumbling of society. The basic principles of Lauren's faith, Earthseed, were contained in a collection of deceptively simple proverbs that Lauren used to recruit followers. She teaches that "God is change" and that humanity's ultimate destiny is among the stars.

In Parable of the Talents, the seeds of change that Lauren planted begin to bear fruit, but in unpredictable and brutal ways. Her small community is destroyed, her child is kidnapped, and she is imprisoned by sadistic zealots. She must find a way to escape and begin again, without family or friends. Her single-mindedness in teaching Earthseed may be her only chance to survive, but paradoxically, may cause the ultimate estrangement of her beloved daughter. Parable of the Talents is told from both mother's and daughter's perspectives, but it is the narrative of Lauren's grown daughter, who has seen her mother made into a deity of sorts, that is the most compelling. Butler's writing is simple and elegant, and her storytelling skills are superb, as usual. Fans will be eagerly awaiting the next installment in what promises to be a moving and adventurous saga.

My Impressions

I didn't realize this was a sequel till after I finished but I felt it really worked well as a stand-alone book. The author's very thoughtful and detailed in the world-building. The novel is a lot of first-person narration, first from Olamina's daughter and then her own POV. Reading the blurbs from the daughter's POV, I kept expecting Olamina to make some huge mistake or commit some 'ultimate betrayal' but in the end, I couldn't believe her daughter could feel the way she did, blaming her mother for everything that's happened. The edition I read also came with an author interview and here's the question and answer that really drives the point home:

In Parable of Talents, Olamina refuses to leave Acorn, the community she has created. She sees Acron as the beginning of EarthSeed, the first of many EarthSeed communities. But ultimately, her refusal to leave costs her her family. Her husband is killed, her child taken away, she is imprisoned and brutalized until she can get free. Where do you think the line should be drawn between commitment to self versus commitment to community?

Excerpt of her response:
Should her dedication have been only to her family?
When I was a girl and the civil rights movement was in full stride, Mrs. Viola Liuzzo, a homemaker, a white woman of Detroit, Michigan, went to Alabama to help in the peaceful struggle for human rights for African Americans. For her trouble, she was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. Memory of this incident has stayed with me because later in a women's magazine, I read a number of letters to the editor in which the letter writers insisted that it was Mrs. Liuzzo's duty to stay at home and look after her family. She had no right, the letter writers said, to involve herself in a struggle not her own. She had no right to deprive her husband of a wife, her children of a mother. And, of course, she had no intention of doing any of that. She was murdered, after all. Interesting that not one of the letter writers condemned her murderers. They condemned her.
Duty can be cast as a selfish and shortsighted monster.

29. The Mao Case by Qiu Xiaolong
Description (via

Inspector Chen of the Shanghai police returns in his sixth book (following Red Mandarin Dress, 2007). Continuing to gain prestige among the party cadre, Chen is assigned a case so delicate he must keep it secret from the Special Case team and even from his dedicated assistant Yu. A young woman with black [as in black-listed not 'black' skin] ancestors, Jiao has suddenly risen from poverty and appears at parties dedicated to reliving the glory days of the 1930s. Internal Security is worried about Jiao’s growing power and especially about her connection to Mao (her grandmother was one of Mao’s lovers), a link that could protect her from any kind of official censure. Using Mao’s poetry and a censored biography, Chen investigates in his leisurely and unconventional style, posing as a rich businessman and aspiring writer. With the assistance of Yu’s father, Old Hunter, Chen delves deep into the murk of the Cultural Revolution, uncovering Jiao’s family history and her real connections to Mao. Full, as always, of crisp detail and vivid atmospherics evoking contemporary Shanghai, this latest installment further establishes the series’ stature on the international crime beat.

My Impressions

Like with Parable of Talents, I didn't find out this is part of a series (in this case, the Inspector Chen mysteries) till after I finished it. I think that hindered my enjoyment because I wasn't familiar with the characters yet. From what I understand, the events in the series mostly takes place in China in the 1990s but are heavily influenced by events during Mao's reign. I liked the details of Chinese society but not the characters so much. Also this one had a really weird (as in I couldn't really understand the characters' behaviour), almost disturbing ending and too much poetry for my liking. Obviously, your mileage may vary. The poetry was mostly translations of Chinese poems, both traditional/classical ones and also of Mao's. The translation causes some of the problem for me because I know some Chinese and the meaning sometimes just doesn't translate well. I've borrowed the first book in the series if I'll like it any better.

30. The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Description/My Impressions

This is a graphic novel with no words about the immigrant experience. I think I was more moved by the concept than the actual execution but the illustrations were gorgeous and a little strange in a good way.

31. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Synopsis (via Man Booker Prize website)

Born in a village in heartland India, the son of a rickshaw puller, Balram is taken out of school by his family and put to work in a teashop. As he crushes coals and wipes tables, he nurses a dream of escape - of breaking away from the banks of Mother Ganga, into whose depths have seeped the remains of a hundred generations.

The White Tiger is a tale of two Indias. Balram’s journey from darkness of village life to the light of entrepreneurial success is utterly amoral, brilliantly irreverent, deeply endearing and altogether unforgettable.

My Impressions
Depressing and hilarious and compelling. I was very disturbed by what it meant for Balram to escape and in my head, I was trying to think of an alternate scenario that would let his family live.

Another thing that struck me after I finished this book is how 'male' it feels. It didn't strike me with some of the others till after I read this book. (I'm thinking of De Niro's Game, mostly.) Not that that's a bad thing, just it doesn't feel as universal, if that makes sense. Maybe it's more about the force of personality than 'male-ness'. Anyway, I enjoyed this book but it felt very bleak too.

32. Warchild by Karin Lowachee
Description (via Amazon)

Eight-year-old Jos Musey's childhood ends when his parents' merchant ship falls prey to pirates and slavers. Destined to be the personal slave of his captor, Jos escapes only to find himself a prisoner of the strits, an alien race at war with humanity. Trained as a spy by his captors, Jos is released to become a human weapon but the war he fights is a war to achieve his own destiny.

My Impressions
I saw this recced very favourably by someone on my reading list and decided to pick it up. It's very intense, and such a ride and I fell very hard for the main character, as in, I really care about what happens to him even though the unsettling parts. I've seen some reviews say they believe the character acts his age (he's a child) but I feel he reads both too old and too young. The relationship between him and his rescuer gives me low-level discomforting vibes but I also really feel their strong attachment and affection for one another. I was also initially confused about what actually happened to the main character with his captor but the reveal makes it all clear. All in all, highly recommended.



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January 2013

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