Thursday, 3 May 2018

What We Lose

'What We Lose' by Zinzi Clemmons has something of The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, but written more from the perspective on someone slightly older and wiser looking back than a young person relating their immediate experiences. Although a novel it is written first person and it comes across as quite autobiographical I am not sure how much of it is. It feels rather like a diary, but one that has been chopped up and put back together in the wrong order; the timeline is vague and sometimes looking backwards. The chapters are brief, often like vignettes of moments of her life, rather than one continuous tale, and it is interspersed, unannounced, by quotes from other people and other places, only referenced at the end of the book, but things that are significant to the character's experiences. It is the death of her mother from cancer that dominates the book; a relationship that she reflects on over and over, what would her mother have said or done about the events in her life. A sense of belonging is a very complex thing for human beings, made more so with social and geographic mobility which means often people find themselves bonded to different places and different groups at the same time. Often, instead of feeling they belong in many places, people end up feeling that they don't quite belong anywhere. Thandi struggles also to be part of the modern world without rejecting her mother's more traditional viewpoint. Here, while visiting relative in South Africa, she talks about the process of learning how she identifies herself: 

"When I called myself black, my cousins looked at me askance. They are what is called coloured in South Africa - mixed race - and my father is light-skinned black. I looked just like my relatives, but calling myself black was wrong to them. Though American blacks were cool, South African blacks were ordinary, yet dangerous. It was something they didn't want to be.
American blacks were my precarious homeland - because of my light skin and foreign roots, I was never fully accepted by any race. Plus my family had money, and all the black kids in my town came from the poorer areas. I was friends with the kids who live on my block and were in my honours classes - white kids. I am a strange in-betweener. " (p.26)

When her friend Aminah falls pregnant she supports her in getting an abortion but when Thandi in turn finds herself pregnant she delays and prevaricates and eventually has a son. The relationship with Peter, so sweetly idealised at the beginning cannot last, even though they work hard at parenting together:

"I have also felt sublime terror since he was born. it is impossible to think of him without thinking of his death - when he falls from  the couch, when I struggle to hold him after a long day. I imagine him falling from great height, the terrible sound, the way his body will become foreign with the life gone. I have never wanted someone as much as hi, and simultaneously been so afraid of that person being taken away." (p.177)

I loved her for the intensity of her feelings and the ways she is not afraid to struggle for what she wants. The style is very matter of fact, about the people and their relationships, with strong political overtones; certainly a book that is deserving of its enthusiastic reception. 

End of an era

I am savouring my final cup of tea. 
Not really. There will be more tea, but it won't be quite the same.
I have been drinking this lovely Fair Trade Tanzanian tea for about thirty years now, but Traidcraft, in their infinite wisdom, decided to discontinue it.
I am bereft.
Unicorn has a huge selection of teas, but most are not real tea, so I came home with this Clipper Organic Assam. Doing a little research I came across this report from Ethical Consumer into the wages and conditions of tea workers. It is pretty damning, including of tea labelled 'fair trade'; it does add that the report focusses solely on plantations and does not cover tea grown by small farmers and cooperatives, which is how Traidcraft source their tea. Clipper state on their website that their tea comes from 'the finest estates across East Africa and India' ... so I'm guessing the search for an alternative will continue.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Inside the Wave

I have been reading 'Inside The Wave' by Helen Dunmore for a few weeks, kept on the bedside table. I have loved her novels and was saddened to read of her death from cancer last year. I had not come across her poetry before, and look forward to reading more of her collections. 

This one, written during her illness, is warm and friendly, reflecting occasionally on her imminent death but more often simply nostalgic. I loved 'Leave the door open' because it reminded me of my own childhood, it is so full of atmospheric details:

"Leave the door open! We cheep and command
From the shared double bed or from the cot
With the bars that make tigers out of the dark.
We want the fume and coil of your cigarettes,
The smoke that has embraced us from birth,

The click of your footsteps in the wooden landing,
The wedge of light that parts us from the dark" (p.22)

And 'The Duration' telling of an old couple visiting the same beach, but without their son who has grown and left:

"Here is the place where he built his dam
Year after year. See, the stream still comes down
Just as it did, and spreads itself on the sand" (p.41)

She has such a lovely eye for tiny detail, and taking the most unassuming of subjects. In 'Ten Books' she describes examining old books of her father's before they are consigned to the tip:

"MacNeice, freckled with brown
From many damps in many different houses.
On the inner page, under my father's autograph
An early flourish of blue crayon
Where I scribbled a figure so primitive
There are not even legs for it to walk upon." (p.61)

But it is death that she returns to at intervals and they were the ones that struck me, poignant but utterly without self-pity, truly someone come to terms with their mortality. In 'September Rain', the penultimate poem:

"I lie and listen
And the life in me stirs like a tide
That knows when it must be gone.

I am on the deep deep water 
Lightly held by one ankle
Out of my depth, waiting." (p.65)

And comparing herself to a flower, in 'My life's stem was cut':

"Wait while the sun moves
And the bees finish their dancing,
I know I am dying
But why not keep flowering
As long as I can
From my cut stem?" (p.23)

The one I felt captured the mood is called 'The shaft', it seems to encapsulate her persistence in seeing the beauty of life:

I don't need to go to the sun -
It lies on my pillow.

Without movement or speech
Day deepens its sweetness.

Sea shanties from the water,
A brush of traffic,

But it's quiet here.
Why would have thought that pain

And weakness had such gifts
Hidden in their rough hearts?" (p.21)

A collection to come back and back to, to copy out and pin up, tiny exquisite moments of appreciation of life.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

In the early hours

1am: We reach the halfway point and, having had brief naps to keep ourselves going, we are making good progress. The Readathon website has set itself a target of 1,000,000 pages between the participants so we will keep our own count here and add only reading for the official hours (1pm Saturday to 1pm Sunday) to their count.

Monkey finished Knight of the Seven Kingdoms and is now reading 'Foundation and Empire' Isaac Asimov. Her running total is 550 pages.
Tish joined us part way through the evening and is reading 'Sleeping Beauties' by Stephen and Owen King, and has read 108 pages.
I am still reading Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith and am at page 150, giving me a running total of 607 pages.

10.10am: Good morning readathoners. We had a busy night, with cake and more books. 
Tish finished Sleeping Beauties and then went off to sleep for a bit (not sure of her page count as she was already most of the way through the very hefty tome). 
Monkey gave up on Foundation and Empire because she was feeling a bit droopy and though a change of pace might help. She is now reading 'Survivor' by Chuck Palahniuk and is at page 135, working backwards from page 298 (yes the pages and chapters are numbered in reverse). 
Having had a couple of hours sleep I have finally finished Only Forward (page count 310), which was utterly surreal, but had something of 'The End of Mr Y' by Scarlett Thomas about it. I am thinking I will go back to Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb that I have been listening to on audiobook for several weeks, and do some crochet. More tea may be in order.

I spent the last couple of hours on my own as Monkey went off the volleyball club. Instead of Black Swan I decided on some poetry and read 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 32 pages, aloud, just to myself, and reread 'Inside The Wave' by Helen Dunmore that has been by bedtime book for a few weeks now after it was highly recommended by Dove Grey Reader. Then I went back to the graphic novel 'Persepolis' by Marjane Satrapi that I started last readathon, and will have to finish outside official readathon statistics.
My final total is 932 pages, of which 738 pages were read in the 24 hours.
And what I mainly have now is a massive backlog of books to review!
Monkey's total is 774, of which 665 were read in the 24 hours.
Tish's total is 224 pages.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Spring Readathon - Saturday updates

The review of Harvest by Jim Crace will have to wait for another day as it is just after ten and we are settling down for the biannual Dewey's Readathon. We are a bit ahead of our official start time, but I am usually at work on readathon day so we are just making the most of the occasion. We have our snacks and  the tea is ready so ...

Monkey is starting with 'A Riot of Goldfish' by Kanoko Okamoto, which we came across when researching novels by Japanese women.
I am starting with 'What We Lose' by Zinzi Clemmons that I read about recently. 
We have our usual eclectic mix of potential reads, something for any mood or state of mind. Good luck to all the participants today, we hope you have a fantastic reading experience. Do pop over to the readathon website and have a go at some of the crazy challenges.

13.24pm: Monkey finished Riot of Goldfish by the official start time, 109 pages, and is now reading 'A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms' by George R R Martin.
I have read to page 194 of What We Lose, nearly finished. Am thinking of 'Silent Spring' by Rachel Carson next, which has been on the TBR pile for thirty years or so.

19.00pm: I read a few chapters of Silent Spring but it was rather depressing, so I moved on to 'Our Spoons Came From Woolworths' by Barbara Comyns, now finished at 196 pages. Monkey is up to page 239 of Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. We are currently waiting for the pizza, and I am about to start 'Only Forward' by Michael Marshall Smith.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Homey stuff part 2 or how you should never throw anything away

We have been preserving our modesty in the upstairs bathroom with a copy of the Declaration of Human Rights propped in the window. I bought this roman blind for the bathroom of a house I lived in 20 years ago; it has been sat rolled up in the cupboard under the stairs ever since. Yesterday I added a little fringe of old silk skirt so that it was long enough to reach the window sill. I think I might add a few more patches if silk just for decoration.
The other plan, that we concocted a few days ago, was 'sofa pockets'. I guess they already exist in the form of holders for remote controls or magazines, but these ones are specifically designed for crafty stuff. The fabric was a small strip left over from some cushions that I made back in 2011. It has a big pocket for scissors and crochet hooks and stuff, and then a tiny little pocket for sewing needles.
It is held in place with little velcroed straps around the metal frame. I made a second one for the other arm that I can keep my glasses in too.
In other crafty news Monkey has been crocheting like crazy; she made a lovely blanket for Peri:
and Happy as a gift for a friend:
 We took a trip to Black Sheep Wool over the bank holiday, but I didn't buy anything, and came home and began to recycle my Rainbow Cardigan (again from 2011) into a jumper. I have named it 'jumper of a million ends' as I am just knitting the stripes as they unravel from the cardi and leaving all the ends dangling. 

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

So Long a Letter

It seems like a long time since I read something from Africa and 'So Long a Letter' by Mariama Bâ was recommended somewhere as a classic of African writing. In the form of a letter to her friend Aissatou written on the death of her husband Modou, Ramatoulaye recounts the betrayal she experienced at his taking a second wife and how she manages to continue with her life without him. She is expected to just accept the new situation, though her children are more angry even than her and expect her to divorce him.
The story is a picture of the cultural mores and expectations on women in particular, that so often controlled and confined their lives. Mariama Bâ was a pioneer in the women's rights movement in Senegal which led her to write the book, almost it might seem, as a protest against women's position within their society. 

Here she describes her married life:

"Our lives developed in parallel. We experienced the tiffs and reconciliations of married life. In our different ways, we suffered the social constraints and heavy burden of custom. I loved Modou. I compromised with his people. I tolerated his sisters, who too often would desert their own homes to encumber my own. The allowed themselves to be fed and petted. They would look on without reaction as their children romped on my chairs. I tolerated their spitting, the phlegm expertly secreted under my carpets. 
His mother would stop by again and again while on her outings, always flanked by different friends, just to show off her son's social success but particularly so that they might see, at close quarters, her supremacy in this beautiful house in which she did not live. I would receive her with all the respect due to a queen, and she would leave satisfied, especially if her hand closed over the banknote I had carefully placed there. But hardly would she be out than she would think go a new band of friends she would soon be dazzling.
Modou's father was more understanding. More often than not, he would visit us without sitting down. He would accept a glass of cold water and would leave, after repeating his prayers for the protection of the house.
I knew how to smile at them all, and consented to wasting useful time in futile chatter." (p.19-20)

But she does find that the life of an abandoned first wife does have some compensations. Ramatoulaye is not one to give up and sit at home crying:

"I survived. I overcame my shyness at going along to cinemas. I would take a seat with less and less embarrassment as the months went by. People stared at the middle-aged lady without a partner. I would feign  indifference, while anger hammered against my nerves and the tears I held bak welled up behind my eyes.
From the surprised looks, I gauged the slender liberty granted to women." (p.54)

And her friend is there to help and provides her with a much needed boost:

"I survived. I experienced the inadequacy of public transport. My children laughed at themselves in making this harsh discovery. One day I heard Daba advise them: 'Above all, don't let mum know that it is stifling in those buses during the rush hours.'
I shed tears of joy and sadness together: joy in being loved by my children, the sanded of a mother who does not have the means to change the course of events.
I told you then, without any ulterior motive, of this painful aspect of our life, while Modou's car drove Lady Mother-in -Law to the fur corners of the town, and while Binetou streaked alone the roads in an Alfa Romeo, sometimes white, sometimes red.
I shall never forget your response, you, my sister, nor my joy and my surprise when i was called to the Fiat agency and was told to choose a car which you had paid for, in full. My children gave cries of joy when they learned of the approaching end of their tribulations, which remain the daily lot of a good many other students.
Friendship has splendours that love knows not. It grows stronger when crossed, whereas obstacles kill love. Friendship resists time, which wearies and severs couples. it has heights unknown to love." (p.56)

A tale of strength and resilience in the face of things she cannot alter, and as you read, you anticipate with her, the arrival of her friend Aissatou.


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