Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimanada Ngozi Adichie *****

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie populates the interface between Africa and the United States with a pride of characters who are simultaneously innocents and sophisticates. This volume of short stories includes: an arranged marriage between an Afro-American doctor and the village girl sent from Nigeria to be his wife, the victim of tribal violence who refuses to use her murdered son's story to support her request for asylum in the United States, and the attendee at an African-writers' workshop being told her stories were not "real stories about real people."

Ms. Adichie delivers universal characters in a rich and informative African setting. While the stories come from the contemporary African experience, they certainly will resonate for immigrants of other times and other places.

I am reminded of working in Silicon Valley in the 1980s when my company hired Asian immigrants, and the first thing Human Resources did was assign new hires "American" names; Tran became Tom, etc. The same incident is repeated in a missionary school in Africa in this book. The right of the powerful to name to weak goes all the way back to Genesis and Adam naming the animals.

Ms. Adichie is an insightful and accomplished writer. This small book is both poignant and pleasurable and I recommend it highly.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall ****

With the liberation and independence of its colonies, the British Empire is a thing of the past. However the Empire still lives in the exploitation of former colonies by a contemporary club of British ex-pat authors. The newest member of the club is Tarquin Hall, author of The Case of the Missing Servant. He joins Alexander McCall Smith of the successful series on the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency: A Book for Today: Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith.

The similarity between these two series, the former in India and the latter in Botswana, are too numerous to tabulate. Most noticeable is the exploitation of the native cultures and customs of these two former victims of British dominance. The books are rife with generalizations and stereotypes put in the mouths of native protagonists.
Jadugoda was virtually indistinguishable from tens of thousands of other little roadside settlements to be found across the length and breadth of India.
Aside from the caricatures of local people and practices with the implied insults, both books are delightful light-weight detective novels, quick reads, and pleasantly upbeat. If you enjoyed No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, you'll enjoy this new series.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger *****

Two twin girls, 20 and irresponsible, receive a thick envelope from a London solicitor; they've inherited the estate of their mother's twin sister, who they've never met, but the inheritance comes with conditions. Thus starts a story of compulsive relationships, relationships that span time and space and even death. In this tale of love and ghosts, we're constantly asking the question: How important is this relationships and what psychic lengths should be taken to maintain it? Or is this a relationship better off destroyed?

In Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger (Time Traveler's Wife), precipitates compelling characters out of a mixture insecurity, deceit, and innocence. From the OCD husband who can not leave his apartment to the procrastinating lover who will not complete his thesis, the men in this story provide stage dressing for the intertwined lives of two set of twin sisters.

The result is
one of those rare moments when understanding of the world alters and a previously impossible thing is admitted, if not understood.
A fantastic story with characters so human and engaging that the fantasy materialized and fades without notice ... over and over until fantasy seems as real as ...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Blonde Bombshell by Tom Holt *****

The king is dead; long live the king. Since Terry Patchett was diagnosed with dementia, I've wonder what will come after Discworld? Well I sure many of you will not be surprised by the answer, but I just discovered it more than a decade late: Tom Holt. In a style reminiscent of Terry Pratchett, but simultaneously unique and closer to hard science fiction, Tom Holt writes comedies of intergalactic proportions. The latest of which is: Blonde Bombshell.

This is a delightful story of hyper- but artificial - intelligent bombs, panspermia, intergalactic love. As with Terry Pratchett the fun is as much in the language and details as in the wacky characters and plots.
Another thing she'd gathered, from archival data and personal observation, was that a man in love would infinitely rather dismantle and repair the cylinder-head gaskets on his beloved's car just to earn a fleeting smile than talk for five minutes about the true nature of his feelings.
Of course, I'm not the right person to ask. When I was at school, you could do astrometaphysics or you could learn ballroom dancing. I'm quite a good dancer, as it happens.
So if you're an astrometaphysician or a ballroom dancer, this is just the book for you.