Books

Reading Challenge: The Twelve Books of Christmas, Week 3

12_bks_christmas_wk3
Flying home for the holidays meant 5 hours squished next to a large sweaty man who was eating a very pungent burger. It was a less than pleasing experience, to say the least – but at least I got in some reading.


Falling in Love with Hominids byFalling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson
222 Pages; originally published in 2015
★ ★ ★ ★
Goodreads Page

Falling in Love with Hominids presents over a dozen years of Hopkinson’s new, uncollected fiction, much of which has been unavailable in print. Her singular, vivid tales, which mix the modern with Afro-Carribean folklore, are occupied by creatures unpredictable and strange: chickens that breathe fire, adults who eat children, and spirits that haunt shopping malls.

I rather enjoyed this one. Mixed fantastical elements + diverse characters = a win in my book! Check out my full review here.


The Weight of Feathers by
The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore
320 Pages; published in 2015
★ ★ ★ 1/2
Goodreads Page

The Palomas and the Corbeaus have long been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for more than a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find…
But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace [Paloma]’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.

I wanted to like this so much more than I actually did.

Pros:

  • Hilarious to read if your name is Paloma.
  • Well-done magical realism intertwined with powerful superstitions. French/Romani and Mexican heritages help to give this Romeo and Juliet story a unique twist.
  • Gorgeous, mellifluous writing style. McLemore’s writing style feels like a mosaic, piecing together fleeting images, scents, and sounds into a cohesive (and beautiful) whole.

Cons:

  • Plot moves at a snail’s pace. (This could be OK if you’re content to sit and revel in the gorgeous language. In the right kind of mood, the slow pacing could feel perfect.)
  • Italicization of every non-English word is REALLY irritating, especially for the repeated names of relatives. I’m pretty sure that by the 90th mention of “Abuela”, even the most monolingual reader is smart enough to figure out the word’s meaning via context clues!
  • While Cluck was a fairly well-fleshed out individual, I had trouble connecting to Lace. When I try to envision her personality, I come up blank; she seemed to be the sum of things that happened to her, rather than having a defined personality of her own.
  • The last 10% of the book dumps a lot of exposition on the reader. It’s good stuff, but I wished it had been spread out more evenly or hinted at more strongly throughout the book.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
184 Pages; published in 2007
★ ★ ★ ★
Goodreads Page

At a cafe table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepen to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful encounter…Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by an elite valuation firm. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his budding romance with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore. But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned and his relationship with Erica shifting. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.

Huh. I can see why this is assigned in so many college classes – it’s filled with ambiguities and symbolism. I barely know what to say about it without writing an actual essay!

It’s a personal history recounted by a Pakistani man to an American stranger, so it’s simultaneously told in first and second person. The two men have a terribly uneasy relationship. The narrator, Changez, describes his slow disillusionment with America in the months following 9/11, despite having ‘made it’ in the upper echelons of American society.

“I had always thought of America as a nation that looked forward; for the first time I was struck by its determination to look back… What your fellow countrymen longed for was unclear to me– a time of unquestioned dominance? of safety? of moral certainty? I did not know– but that they were scrambling to don the costumes of another era was apparent. I felt treacherous for wondering whether that era was fictitious, and whether– if it could indeed be animated– if it contained a part written for someone like me.”

I’m American, born and raised, but that quote had particular resonance for me. As the 2016 presidential race ramps up, appeals to nationalist nostalgia are everywhere (e.g. Donald Trump with “Make America Great Again”) but as a non-Anglo and second-generation immigrant, they can feel strangely alienating…

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4 Comments

  • Reply Shannon @ River City Reading December 20, 2015 at 9:24 am

    Oh, that flight sounds awful, but you’re killing the challenge this month! I’ve had a copy of The Reluctant Fundamentalist on my shelves forever – really need to get to that one!

  • Reply Heather December 22, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    The joys of air travel. I’ve wanted to read ‘The Weight of Feathers’ for a while, and I still want to read it despite the slow pace – but I’ll go into it with slightly lower expectations. And I think I’ll add ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ to my TBR – it sounds very interesting, especially in the current political climate. Thanks for sharing!
    Good luck with the rest of the challenge!
    Heather recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I’d like to see under the Christmas treeMy Profile

  • Reply Kaja December 23, 2015 at 3:13 am

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy The Weight of Feathers more. It’s one of those books that definitely fits a certain mood, that’s true. I liked the writing a lot.
    But yes, I liked Cluck better than Lace, too, it bothered me that she was so eager for her family’s good opinion – though if you think about it, she’s a 16-year-old kid. And that family of hers was crazy, why would they throw out a kid like that?!
    Kaja recently posted…Attachments by Rainbow RowellMy Profile

  • Reply Resh Susan December 23, 2015 at 3:18 am

    I have read The reluctant fundamentalist years ago and I found it an excellent read. Now I cannot recall much of the book and I would love to do a re read. It is a short book after all.The weight of feathers seem interesting. I do enjoy magica realism books. So maybe I should check it out

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