Thursday, April 23, 2015
So I’m still reading Life After Life. Surprisingly pretty far into it; it is a fast read. I’m still not feeling it. In fact, this week, the book went from tiresome to loathsome.
Ursula is finally the main character, but her character is constantly something different. I suppose this could be part of the point of the book – different choices lead to different character development – but it comes off more as different character leads to different choices. Sometimes the difference isn’t even her choice; it’s some other character’s. That all leaves a very eh feeling in my throat.
The downgrade of my opinion of the book happened rather quickly. I was sitting on the cramped bus as we slowly and not-at-all smoothly jutted and lurched down the road to the Metro station. Ursula was going up the back stairs of her house for a handkerchief when her brother’s friend comes down the stairs, pins her to the wall and rapes her. Excuse me? Besides the logistics of this – in 1920’s clothes, standing, on the stairs – what the?!? You don’t just plop that down on someone in the middle of their morning. It took me a couple hours, a few walks around the hallway, Twitter friends, and a concerted effort to throw myself into my work to function. Bedtime, hours – and now years in the novel – removed from the event, brought nightmares.
The plot line gets more ridiculous from there. Rather than allowing Ursula to find strength in this experience or recover, or anything, anything at all encouraging, she winds up being beaten to death by an abusive husband. One can never triumph over their ills, huh?
It only gets more infuriating.
The whole “thing” about this book is that Ursula dies and comes back and makes a different decision that allows her life to go better. So, after her husband kills her, she comes back and starts again. I’m hoping the author gives her a shot to overcome this ordeal – come on author, you can do it. But no, in order to not wind up murdered by her husband, she has to not be raped. To achieve this, she punches her brother’s friend in the face when he tries to kiss her, months before the encounter on the stairs. Last time, she didn’t stop him from kissing her. This made me even angrier than the surprise logistically implausible stair scene. It makes what happens on the stairs her fault.
She’s died again since then. Several times. There have been some other versions of the story, but in none of them – so far – does the stair scene happen again; she always fends him off at the kissing scene. Now, she’s hanging out in Bavaria with Eva and Adolf in the 1930s. Um…. ok….
Yet, still reading. (But seriously eyeing up that new copy of International Intellectual Property on my shelf.)
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Some small part of me hoped that hearing the story in the author’s voice would make me like the story more. The rest of me, well the rest of the part that had caused me to get up from my desk and clip through the dangerously smooth tunnels under the old buildings, justified it as “how could I not go?” What an opportunity, to take a lunch hour, a common daily happenstance that nearly everyone has, to listen to authors, scholars, intriguing people from all corners of the globe, talk about their passions.
So here I sat, in the Africa and Middle East Reading Room of the Library of Congress, listening to the 2014 Caine Prize winner, Okwiri Oduor from Kenya reading a story I didn’t care for in a dull unpoetic voice. She would say later in the interview portion, “I used to fancy myself a poet, but now I know better.” I agreed, and simultaneously felt connected to this young – younger than Munchkinhead – African woman with a style simultaneously flamboyant and subdued echoing of Whoopi Goldberg, thick twists and nose ring with Keds and dreary faded navy capris.
The interviewer started with “When did you start writing?” Why do they ask this question. Is there anyone who does not write as a child, anyone who has access to paper and does not take to it with a writing implement? Of course, Okwiri gave the expected “as a child” answer and then continued. She spoke of her muses, her influences, her hopes, her reality: Africa is bustling with young writers and burgeoning support systems, reading groups, writing groups, publishers, etc. She spoke of rediscovering Swahili literature. She spoke of the continent, not of Kenya, finally effusing emotion as she expressed her desires for unfettered visa-free travel and the equivalent of “in-state tuition” for all Africans at any country's universities. A true pan-African. I shall check back in a decade. I’ve known many Pan-Africans in their 20s. By their 30s, they view this idyllic panacea of Pan-ism as foolish.
By the end, I still had no love for “My Father’s Head.” However, I had found an interest in Okweri as an author and imagine I will seek out her future work, particularly if she returns kuandika kiSwahili as she did years ago. And I’ll look for her kiSwahili translation of “The Last Wave.”
She’s about to start a writing program at the University of Iowa. I really wonder how this shy, Afri-centric, bold woman is going to survive in Iowa City. I expect she’ll find herself rather bored and lonely with few familiarities. I wanted to hug her and tell her she’s brave for going.
Friday, April 17, 2015
I looked up from my book, through the glass pane.
There was a woman staring at me.
Not quite middle aged, but grown.
She looked sophisticated, yet with a roughness showing at the edges, as though someone had tried to fix a scratch in marble with 50-grit sandpaper.
She stared straight ahead.
“Where did she come from?” I wondered.
In my head, I’m still the gangly 13-year old with wild hair and a crooked half-smile.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
I’m reading this book called Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. The front of the book is six pages of glowing reviews. It’s a National Bestseller, etc. etc. I’m not feeling it. By page 164, the best way to describe the book is “tiresome.”
It’s like reading a Choose Your Own Adventure, except when you do something stupid and die – like standing under a tree in a thunderstorm – you don’t have to back up and choose a different option because the author does it for you in the next chapter.
Supposedly, the main character is Ursula, though for the first third of the book she does little more than keep dying. Her mother, Sylvie, seems far more the main character. Now that Ursula’s living a little longer each time, there’s at least something happening. I keep reading because I don’t like leaving books unfinished. But so far, definitely not impressed.
Monday, April 13, 2015
How long is this eternal moment?
How long until you become human?
How long until I become human to you?
We stare through the glass, like a child at the zoo.
But who is caged?
Who is free?
And who is the animal?
I look for your eyes, but they are obscured by the reflection of my own.
We stare at each other;
In that instant;
In that moment;
In that never-ending five seconds.
We are ourselves and everyone
- standing across from us
- next to us
- all the faces in and through the glass.
Searching for humanity.
For a soul.
For an indication that we are more than forms moving through the world.
Five pensive seconds.
Five reflective seconds.
Five evaporated seconds;
The doors open.
Whatever we were, we are not.
We are only obstacles in each other’s way, each trying to get from where we are to where we’re going.