Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Summer Book - #36

Image sourced from here
I started reading this book before The Gardens of Evening Mists. I put it down for 2 weeks to read Evening Mists, and then came back to it. Because of this, I had two different reactions to this book.

When I started reading it, I loved the feel of the book. It read like a lazy, hazy summer day. Where you relax and do what you please, or whatever the day lead you to do. This made some sense, as the book tells the stories of Sophia, who is around 7, and her Grandmother at and around their summer cabin on an island in the Gulf of Finland. Sophia's Papa is around too but he doesn't really say much. But that was the feeling of the book, the relaxing and calm summer holiday.

Coming back to it from Evening Mists, the elements of calm and peace seemed to have gone from the book. I am not sure if that is because the stories changed, or that coming back from serene Japanese gardens in the Malaysian rainforest without any children had changed my threshold for calm.

I loved Grandmother. I found her rather fun. A complete smart arse but also knew exactly what to do to placate Sophia. The stories were well constructed and just the right length. And for someone who hasn't made it to Scandinavia yet (my 5 year old self is so upset about this. She's been waiting so many years to go find Vikings!), I really had no trouble imagining this little, quiet island.

The problem I had when I came back to the book was that Sophia seemed more spoilt and indulged. And I got so annoyed with her tantrums. Although objectively, she was stuck on an island with only two adults who sometimes didn't pay her any attention at all. Maybe I can understand her slightly. However, I had to take one star off because of Sophia though.

But it's just a bit like life I guess. No matter how much of a relaxing summer holiday it is, someone always has a kid that will come in, throw a tantrum and ruin it just a little bit for every one else.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Garden of Evening Mists - #35

Image sourced from here
I'm going to do something in this post that I have noticed no one else who has done a "proper" review that I have read of this book has done. In fact, two things. By proper I mean reviews that have been published in old school places like literary reviews, and book sections of newspapers. I tend to read a book then have a quick look around the web for other peoples thoughts. Today's scout disappointed me.

So here it is.
1. I am not going to spoil the book. Unlike every review I have read, I am not going to give away a plot twist or the end of the book. Seriously. Who thinks that's a good idea?
2. I'm going to get my facts right. Most reviews I have read spout all these fact of what happens in the book. I just read it and they are wrong. Did they even bother reading the book? Or just the blurb on the back and some Goodreads or Amazon reviews? Bah.

After that build up. I really enjoyed it. REALLY! The book is the story of a Supreme Court judge in  Malaysia who retires (first chapter, not a spoiler). She heads up to a house she owns in the Cameron Highlands, and meets up with an old friend who still lives in the area. We then get told the story of her now, mixed with the stories of her past. We learn about the area, her history, the history of the country and about the Garden of Evening Mists.

What I loved about this book was the sereneness. The calmness. The stillness. I expected that when we were being walked through a beautiful, sculpted Japanese garden with Taoist, Buddhist and Shinto elements. What I didn't expect was it to trickle out of the garden and into the other elements of the book. Even the more violent or destructive parts of the book. I found that to be quite a skill.

I enjoyed the book also as it gave me a peek at the Pacific element of WWII. I am a bit over the European war stories. But this was a part of the war that we were directly a part of in some instances, but we talk very little about. And this was told from the perspective of not only the Malaysian Chinese, but the Japanese as well. Both of these are sides we never hear here in Aus. Then also, the aftermath of the war, with the instability of Malaya before it became Malaysia. I find it astounding we have so many Malays and Malaysian Chinese in Australia, yet we are taught nothing about their history, even the modern stuff. Sometimes I wonder if this is not more relevant than some European history. Mind you, didn't learn a lot of that either.

I definitely recommend this as a read. I enjoyed the journey the book took me on. I liked that there was another character in the book that was the garden itself. I am wondering how much gardening advice I can take out of this book to apply to my own overgrown, chaotic garden to instill into it some of the tranquility this book gave me.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Midnight Robber - #34

Image sourced from here
Sick of all those sci fi books where the entire universe seems to be painted with an Anglo-Western brush in an American accent? Then this is the book for you.

Midnight Robber is set in a world where it's not the Americans or the Euros or the Asians who have colonised. This is a world evolved from and is so obviously Caribbean. It is the story of a girl called Tan-Tan who lives in this technologically advanced world, but then her father commits a crime that results in him being sent to a parallel world. Tan-Tan sneaks off with him, not knowing  that means never coming back. It's the story of Tan-Tan in this other other world, dealing with not only a more primitive version of her world, but also the creatures and other species in it that come right out of her Anansi stories.

This book is fantastic. It takes a well known theme of colonised, technologically advanced, new worlds and throws it on it's head. It's world building is phenomenal in my mind. I bought it all. A world where people don't have to do hard labour anymore and look down on those who do. Implants in your head feeding you information. Sending criminals away to a different version of your world so you don't have to deal with them. The culture of the douen. The tie ins to all the Anansi mythology and stories (some of which my Trinidadian friend had just told us about at dinner the other day). Loved it.

Not only that, it's written in a form of Creole. I assume it's pretty anglicised so those of us outside of the Caribbean cultures (and no doubt Creole changes from island to island) can understand it. But it adds a whole new element to immersing you into that world. It's clever. Each part of the book starts with a folklore story as well, so you feel you are sitting around a fire being told a story by a wise woman.

Because of this language however, I would say that it took me a lot longer that normal to read the first third of the book. You can't skim this one. You have to think through the sentences. You have to flip the words round and make them fit. You have to think back to what "doux-doux" or "pickney" meant. This gets easier though, as you get used to the grammar being not quite how we use it, the rhythm of the language, and words that get used again and again fall into your own vocab (like the above). It gets faster as the story gets faster. You get whisked along with it.

But for me, the climax failed. I couldn't relate to Tan-Tan anymore. She became someone I couldn't understand or empathise with. She was so incredibly selfish. All the other characters I loved though and felt so strongly for them, but not Tan-Tan. Then the ending for me was disappointing. One because I thought it was a lame end for Tan-Tan's story. But mainly it forgot about all those other characters I fell in love with in the book. I once again thought I was on to a 5 star read and the last 70 or so pages failed me.

It was sad, but I am so glad I read it. I am going to read more of Nalo Hopkinson's stuff as others who have said the same as me have recommended other reads of hers. I wanted a different sci-fi with an immersive world, and that's what I got. I wanted to start reading more books that had won awards like the Hugo, and I can see why it was shortlisted (it lost to a Harry Potter and was against a Song of Ice and Fire book. Tough competition). And it threw me into a culture I didn't know much about. And when it comes down to it, that's why I'm doing this challenge.