I have read a ton of books in previous years but I’ve neglected to comment about them on this blog (not a surprise). There are several I want to rescue from the silent abyss and will do so in grouped reviews of much shorter lengths.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
I confirm all the wonderful things said about this novel and all the statements made about the talents of the writer. The book is stunning and superb. The hype is real, y’all. Yeong-hye, a young wife, after a series of dreams, becomes a vegetarian overnight. This greatly upsets, upturns the lives of those closest to her, including her mediocre, annoying, sexist, dismissive husband. The story is told in three parts: in the first-person by the husband; in the 3rd person by Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law; and finally by her sister In-hye, also in the 3rd person. The novel concerns a woman who has completely extricated herself from Korean society, a woman who has allowed herself full permission and space to break down. Because Yeong-hye belongs to a society with strict, intractable norms of behaviour, the fallout from her descent into interiority has far-reaching consequences for those around her. Extreme though it may be, The Vegetarian is critical of the cost her society demands for individualism and yes, freedom. Women who say to hell with y’all, in various ways and degree, know full well how this goes. The themes aside, The Vegetarian is beautifully-written, it’s visceral, quiet where needed, violent and loud in other places. Deborah Smith deserves all the accolades for her translation and for giving readers in English the opportunity to experience a Han Kang. I think this is the first novel by a Korean that I’ve read. Yes? Maybe. So (1) I’ve added Han Kang to my list of writers whose entire oeuvre I must read and (2) why stop there, I’ll be adding more Korean fiction to my reading diet.
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons
There is much that the author shares with her protagonist – both have South African mothers and American fathers; both belong to South African and American societies; both are caught in a space between those two countries; and both lost their mothers to breast cancer. What We Lose is one of those memoir-fiction books. I’ve often bristled at this category of fiction (don’t ask). Thank goddess for change because I simply don’t mind nor care anymore. What We Lose is a book about grief and mourning; about Thandi’s care and loss of her mother, about the vertigo of profound loss. The narration, or lack thereof, mirrors the disjointed, nonlinear sense of reality that Thandi experiences in the period leading up to, and after her mother’s death.
Clemmons employs fiction, nonfiction, science, blog posts, graphs and other data to cover a wide range of issues, mostly in short vignettes, that impinge upon this harrowing period in Thandi’s life. The list includes race relations; colorism; the outsider status of those in the Diaspora when they return home to Africa; and breast cancer care and mortality rates among black women. But always there is the question of who am I? Who am I without my mother? Where is home without my mother? How do I live now? Yeah, grief. An experimental, haunting debut. Pick it up. (I moderated an #Akefest17 convo between Zinzi Clemmons and Hadiza el Rufai, whose book also concerns grief.)
Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika
It isn’t that single folks are never lonely, it’s that there is more to their lives than their attachment status. Likewise, it isn’t that old people don’t display the effects of aging, it’s that like younger people, there is far more to their lives than what a number implies. Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun is a character study of Moraya Da Silva, a Nigerian woman in her 70s living in San Francisco. Moraya is a retired English Professor; she lives alone; owns Buttercup, an old Porsche; she flirts, hold conversations with characters from books; she’s forgetful; she loves shoes; she maintains a sexual life and interest. An African elderly woman who is not a grandmother, who doesn’t dispense wisdom at every turn. Is that one too an old woman? Yes, yes, yes!
Moraya suffers a fall and has to leave her beloved home for a short stay at a retirement home. In the telling of what transpires in the facility, the reader is treated to Moraya’s history. Manyika also weaves in narratives and vignettes of Moraya’s friends and of new friends that she makes. This serves to date the era but also brings in issues such as race, terrorism, old love, dementia etc. But none of these overshadow what this book is essentially about: Moraya and this particular moment in her life. This is a dignified, refined, thoroughly delightful novella. I’m a fan of Sarah Ladipo Manyika and her work. This is her second book; the first is In Dependence which I reviewed on this blog.
I love the cover. And I love the title. It’s perplexing when some writers, after laboring over the creation of a book, proceed to saddle their beloved with an ugly title. Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun … I will end with an IG post where the Manyika talks about how and why she picked the title.