Review: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

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So, this is the story of Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha. Gibreel is India’s biggest movie star and Saladin is an expatriate who has just been to India for the first time is fifteen years. They are on a hijacked airplane that explodes over the English channel. The two of them plummet to Earth and the novel builds from there as a series of dreams and strange transformations. They are the only two survivors of the incident. Gibreel and Saladin’s story serves as a frame for a bunch of smaller stories that all intersect and overlap with the main narrative. Gibreel’s story overlaps with the story of Muhammed. Yes, that Muhammed. There is an alleged incident in which Muhammed heard an angel whisper some verses that were meant to be included in the Quran, but that he later recanted because the verses did not come from the angel on Allah’s behalf but from Shaitan, the adversary. Yes, this is the book the caused all the controversy and had Rushdie in hiding for years because of a fatwa against him. I feel like here is where I should say something about freedom of speech and blasphemy laws, but I don’t think that there is anything that I could say that hasn’t already said better. Rushdie is exploring something in this novel, Muhammed’s life, that he should be free to explore without fear of death.

 

There were many things I enjoyed about this book. The story is clever and there are many really neat parallels between the sub-plots and the main plot. I like magical realism and enjoyed the bizarre parts of the novel. Rushdie tackles some pretty big themes like racism and migration in the text and he does it well. But, I think this might be another book that is a victim of its own hype? It has caused so much scandal (and is still banned places because of its blasphemous text about the Prophet). I was expecting to be wowed beyond belief but I wasn’t. This was a good novel, and its complex narrative with all the subplots make it a really rich and engrossing read. But, it left me cold and I wasn’t so involved in it that I couldn’t have put it down. So, it was good and I recommend it. But, it won’t be making my Top 10 this year.

 

The audible production is read by Sam Dastor and he did an excellent job. Because the narrative moves in and out of the main story and the sub-stories (and because there are characters who have similar names), I think I was saved a little potential confusion because each character had their own voice. That being said, there were sections I had to re-listen to because there was just so much detail and the text was so rich that I needed more than one pass to absorb it.

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Review: Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

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There was a time in my life when I almost exclusively read literary fiction. This is obviously not that time and so I’m both a little surprised and thrilled that the Asian Lit Bingo challenge got me to read two works of literary fiction in (a little more than) a month. Rainbirds was the second of these novels. It is set in Japan and follows Ren Ishida as he goes to the small city of Akakawa to take care of his sister’s affairs following her unexpected and untimely death. Keiko, you see, was murdered.

The novel is a slow burn. Ren decides to stay in Akakawa after he’s asked to take over his sister’s position at a cram school. He is finishing up his time at university, having submitted his thesis for his Masters degree in English literature at a university in Tokyo. He even moves into her unconventional living situation. His sister had been living rent-free in the home of a wealthy politician in exchange for bringing his catatonic wife lunch and reading to her every day. The story moves back and forth between Ren’s memories of growing up with his sister, who was almost a decade older than him, and the present-time narrative of Ren putting his sister to rest while trying to figure out how she died.

As Ren gets to know people in Akakawa, so do we. They are an interesting cast of characters. These side narratives help to build a picture of the city and also of Keiko’s life prior to her death. Ren discovers that he didn’t know his sister as well as he thought he had.

This novel was not what I expected it to be. After reading a few reviews before selecting it, I expected something more fast-paced and centered on the murder. But, this novel was slower and took was through many little mysteries to eventually weave a heartbreaking picture of this young man coming to terms with a tremendous loss. I am so glad that I picked this up, even if it broke my heart.

The audio book was read by David Shih and he did a wonderful job.

Review: At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

At the end of April, before I started the Asian Lit Bingo Challenge, I was listening to an audio book before bed. Because there is maybe something a little wrong with me, the book I was listening to was At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft. 510qnpnltsl-_sl500_

I read this ages ago when I was younger and into horror and creepiness and not at all aware of the world. And, let me just say… don’t re-read old things that you loved as a younger person if you don’t want to have to confront everything that’s problematic about them.

Sigh.

Anyway, the audiobook is read by Edward Herrmann and he does an amazing performance. I believed he was an academic who just wanted to do his research but who fell into something older and scarier than he could have imagined and who now JUST WANTS TO WARN HUMANITY OKAY. He really sold it. I loved it.

But, back to the problematic bit: H.P. Lovecraft had no problems at all relating the tales of these terrible creatures to exotic things you may have heard about from other places like The Orient.

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via GIPHY

That’s H.P. Lovecraft, waving his fingers mystically when he thinks about the Orient. And, the first time it happened, I rolled my eyes and thought, “product of his time. all of his work is xenophobic. you know that.”

But, it comes up a lot. Like, a lot a lot.
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via GIPHY

 

It’s a good thing I was listening before bed because all of that eye rolling is exhausting. The descriptions of the creatures are still top-notch and weird and the atmosphere still comes across as spooky. And, Edward Herrmann, man. Seriously. He sells the crap out of it.

 

So, I recommend this recording if I you want to read or re-read this story. But, know, that if you’re even a little bit woke, this dusty old dude is going to make you want to shake your head and argue with him in between being creepy and being weird.

Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

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This book was a victim of its own hype. I wanted to LOVE this book. I was SO EXCITED about it. But, in the end I only liked it, which feels like a huge disappointment.

Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes have to participate in the Metagalatic Grand Prix. If they come in anyplace but dead last, they can prove humanity’s sentience and we as a species can continue existing. We will be welcomed into a wide galaxy full of interesting and wonderful happenings.

If they lose, it is game over for humanity. Maybe the next species that comes to dominate the planet will do better.

The main storyline wasn’t terrible. The side stories of all the species that have recently won or hosted the Metagalatic Grand Prix were interesting. Overall, it was somehow too much? The side stories were distracting. They were interesting and the kind of world building I’m usually into but…I just wanted to get back to the main story. I could imagine this wouldn’t be bad serialized. But, it wasn’t my favorite novel. I will say though, that I listened to this book and maybe if I had read it, I would have had a different experience focusing on it. That being said, I thought Heath Miller did a lovely job reading it. The characters were all distinct and I was never bored with his performance. So, while reading over listening may have helped, I’m not sure it would have helped all that much.

Quick Review: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

img_1088 The Princess Diarist is as heartbreaking as it is heartwarming. Carrie Fisher dusted off her old diaries she wrote while filming the first Star Wars movie in 1977.  Like everything in her life, she is brutally honest about what she saw and what she did and tells it with a biting sense of humor.  Reading this a year after her untimely death is definitely after bittersweet as she was more or less correct about her own obituaries would say and what pictures they would use. The bulk of this memoir is focused on her affair with costar Harrison Ford, who as you know played Han Solo.  Passages of her diary talks of her struggle to deal with the knowledge she is having an affair with a married costar and how she is falling in love with him even after telling herself that she wouldn’t.  She also talks about how she struggled on the set, being told to lose weight and hours in hair and make up and keeping up the facade that she was more experienced than she actually was and of course the awkward promotion of the movie after the release.  Carrie Fisher became Princess Leia in this diary and the transition wasn’t smooth.  There was a lot bumps and bruises along the way but she eventually found peace with her alter ego.  Honestly, we are lucky to have had Carrie as our Princess Leia and as our General Organa.

Kate and started this book by listening to it on audio book.  Carrie reads the book while her daugher Billie Lourd reads her diary passages.  I finished the book as an ebook and even though I was reading it instead of listening, I could hear her voice in my head.  Ebook or audio book, Carrie distinctive voice came through.

Quick Review: Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado

This is a memoir about what it is like to be working poor in America that addresses many of the myths about being poor. Tirado has a blunt style that is sometimes funny, sometimes touching and that I found grating in places. This is a very real perspective on poverty from someone who has lived it, and I think it’s a perspective that is often missing from our economic discourse. It was an interesting read and a quick one. The audiobook was read by the author. So, if you’re looking for a little perspective on class in America, you may want to give it a try.