It’s book review time! I recommend the last two, but not the first two. Huh, I only read four books this month and two were in the span of two days. That’s not very impressive. What did I do with the rest of my time?
The Portable Veblen, A Novel by Elizabeth McKenzie
Quirky girl who talks to squirrels and translates Norwegian. She falls in love with a handsome doctor on the cusp of making it with the medical device he invented. It’s a study of people and relationships. We learn about girl’s narcissistic and hypochondriac mother, her absent father, her pushover of a step-father. We also learn about boy’s brother with disabilities, his parents who smoke a lot of pot and throw wild hippy parties and a couple of his ex-girlfriends.
I found it kind of meh. A bit tedious.
Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors by Jeanne E. Arnold and Anthony P. Graesch
Pictures and inventory of people’s houses. We, as a society, have so much stuff. More stuff than any society in history. We have a lot of rooms and space in our houses that we don’t use at all. It’s become so normal, but it’s shocking and disgusting when you think about it. At least when I think about it, I’m shocked and disgusted.
The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Biographical graphic novel about the life of an Iranian woman. She was a child during the revolution. Iran used to be less doggedly religious, but experienced a cultural revolution. Horrifying and fascinating. They close the universities for a bit, mandate that all the women wear headscarves. We see, bit by bit, freedom eroding. The government jails and eventually kills journalists and activists. Iraq attacks and war ensues. At 14, the author’s parents send her to Austria. She has a hard life there too, living on the street for a bit and feeling like nobody cares about her. She returns to Iran a few years later after the war is over, but still struggles. Her friends see her as a European outsider. Eventually, she marries and quickly divorces. In the end, she decides to move to France.
I finished this book in one day. It was like a band-aid — you just have to rip it off. You can’t read it in chunks because of the utter dismay you feel while reading it. Societies fall and change all the time. Nothing is certain and a lot of life is simply beyond your control. Revolutions occur. Scary! I love that this was a graphic novel and I highly recommend it.
A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: The Journey of Doaa Al Zamel: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival by Melissa Fleming
This is another book you have to read in one sitting because it’s just so horrifying and raw. I highly recommend it, but I must warn you that it will dangle on your despair for days after.
The Arab Spring started just a few years ago. Do you remember reading about that? First came Tunisia, which can boast some relative progress now with democratic elections and successful transitions of power. Then it was Egypt’s turn and the ousting of Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood won the presidency there initially. Then came strife in Libya, then Yemen, then Syria.
Syria. This book tells the story of a woman, Doaa, born and raised in Syria. She’s a child when the unrest starts and she’s eager to join the protests. Bit by bit and surprisingly quickly, the government brutally quells demonstrations through torture, frequent raids and constant violence. There’s not enough food and so much death. Horrifying. Her family flees to Egypt, where at first people welcome and help them. Doaa meets and falls in love with another Syrian refugee and they get engaged. But when the Muslim Brotherhood president is ousted, the tide turns against the refugees. They are harassed and threatened.
Doaa and her fiance decide to flee to Europe and pay smugglers $2,500 to take them across the water. Twice they attempt to go, but the Egyptian government catches and arrests them. The third time, finally, they make it onto the water.
There are evil people in the world. Most people are mostly good, but evil people exist without a doubt. I hate when I am confronted with that reality.
A group of pirates sinks the ship of refugees, yelling that they are dogs and should have died in their own country. Doaa, her fiancé and 500 others find themselves in the water. Most people drown or are cut into pieces by the sinking ship’s propeller. Absolutely horrifying. Doaa finds a float and clings to it for days. Her fiancé eventually drowns. It was a more horrifying version of Titanic. First one baby is entrusted to Doaa when their initial caretaker can’t swim anymore and dies. Then another. Four days of pure hell later, a cargo ship rescues Doaa and 10 others.
She eventually resettles in Sweden and, since her case is so extraordinary, her family in Egypt is able to join her. It’s an incredible story.
I read books like this to give me perspective and to re-appreciate my place in the universe. Most of us lived charmed lives and have so much opportunity and autonomy. The basic necessities of human dignity and security are never in question for us.
You know what the top item on my worry list is right now? I’ve gone out on 40+ dates in the last four months and I’ve liked three of the guys. When I’ve inquired about another date, they all say something along the lines of, “you’re pretty, but…” What happens when the universe takes my looks away from me and the only thing left is the part after the but?
And then I read a book like this and tell myself to get over myself. My biggest complaint is guys telling me I’m pretty? My life is pretty dam good. Big picture. Broad strokes. It works for a little while at least.