Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Told From The Hips by Andrea Amasson / No Longer At Ease by Chinua Achebe / The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Told from the Hips by Andrea Amosson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of Told From The Hips by Andrea Amosson from its publishers, Nowadays Orange Productions, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. This collection of ten short stories and vignettes is mostly set in Chile or features people emigrating to or from the country. The tales centre around strong women or women whose situations bring out their inner strength and I found it a remarkably inspirational and uplifting book to read, despite the dark turns of some of the stories.

We visit Copenhagen with a young Chilean woman whose ex-pat aunt and uncle now life in the city. Effectively exiled from their homeland, the aunt and uncle make weekly cycle rides to a flea market. Their niece is underwhelmed by the trip until she realises that this is the closest her relations have to a remembrance of home. Then, in Cover Story, a different young woman is so excited to have landed her ideal journalism job and had her first article printed in the newspaper. She learns the hard way that not all women believe in sisterhood though as her dreams are spitefully ripped away.

Ananuca and Chachacoma are a particularly moving pair of stories about an orphan who never knew her mother and the mother who was given away in marriage for the price of a few animals, losing her baby daughter 'to the city' during a particularly harsh winter. I loved the imagery of this story and that of The Blood And The Escape where Teresa, declared insane, walks barefoot to a railway station to escape imprisonment in a nunnery, but cannot steel herself to leave her daughter behind with 'the lump', her husband. In common with the final three stories, Octavia who is lost to gypsies, Marcelita's Amusement where a slow-witted girl decides to entrap a husband, and Suan who is born to a Chinese immigrant woman, simple effective prose and beautifully evoked characters make these the kind of tales that are good at face-value and become greater with pondering. The women and girls are real with easily relatable problems that are repeated the world over so, while there is a Chilean flavour to the writing, in many ways these stories could be told of women in many different countries. The whole collection is short and I easily read it in a couple of hours, but then returned the next day to read it again to make sure I had picked up on all the details and emotions.

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Books by Andrea Amosson / Short stories / Books from Chile


No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my WorldReads - Nigeria book choices.

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I originally listened to No Longer At Ease by Chinua Achebe in February 2013 and chose to return to the book now so I could include its review in my WorldReads - Nigeria collection. This Audible download is narrated by Peter Jay Fernandez who does a pretty good job although his British and Irish accents are mangled at times. I don't know Nigerian accents well enough to tell if those are accurate or not.

No Longer At Ease is the story of Obi Okonkwo, a talented young man whose village, Umuofia, clubbed together to pay for him to be the first from there to study in England - a fantastic honour. The village did want Obi to study law in order to further their interests legally and Obi switched courses to study English literature, but a university degree is still something to be very proud of and Umuofia welcomes back their son with celebrations. Swept along by expectations Obi lands himself a prized government job at the ministry dealing with scholarships, an apartment in a formerly whites-only enclave, a new Morris car and the fantastic salary of seventy pounds a month. It's all obtained fairly, above board and Obi feels he represents the new face of Nigeria.

I loved how Achebe chips away at Obi's naive beliefs and expectations for his life. We know from the very beginning of the story that he will be shamed by bribe-taking, but his downfall is so cleverly portrayed that I felt sorry for him and completely understood his predicament. Torn in many directions, Obi finds himself not only standing against matter-of-course corruption, but also small town views opposing Lagos city experiences, and ancient beliefs still strong under the veneer of his Christian upbringing. The scholarship was actually a loan that must be repaid and keeping up appearances in the city is pricey; his younger brother's school fees compete with those of his mother's hospital; his white boss repeatedly undermines Obi and his country; his girlfriend is of a forbidden caste; and then bills that he never imagined existed begin to pile up. From wonderful initial hope, No Longer At Ease is a portrayal of culture clashes between races, generations and belief systems and provides a valuable insight into how strong people need to be to live between all of those stools.

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Books by Chinua Achebe / Audiobooks / Books from Nigeria


The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell is one of my 2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge books, ie a book I have been meaning to read, but struggling to get around to. In this case its length has been putting me off. I am not a great fan of loooonnnng books! Of the twenty TBR list books I challenged myself to read this year, I think The Bone Clocks is only my fourth. Must try harder!

The Bone Clocks is a sweeping epic of a novel, told from multiple viewpoints and covering over half a century in time from 1984 until the 2040s. Everyday events are blended with an overall fantasy good-against-evil arc and several heavy lectures about how mankind is destroying the Earth and our own futures. We first follow young Holly Sykes, a fifteen year old runaway from Gravesend, in a Black Swan Green-like storyline with lots of nostalgic 1980s detail. Holly was easily the most believable of all Mitchell's characters and I enjoyed her segment of the book. The fantasy element introductions here are intriguing, but peripheral. A time jump later we meet privileged Cambridge student Hugo Lamb and are whirled into drunken parties, skiing trips and underhand machinations. We also begin to understand more about the supernatural forces at work. I was still quite happy with The Bone Clocks at this stage, but when we had to spend many pages with jaded fading author Crispin Hershey, I began to lose interest. This segment might be hilariously funny if you're part of the literary in crowd, but I just found it self-indulgent and patronising. It's followed by an anti-Iraq occupation harangue that, to me, read like a synopsis of Imperial Life In The Emerald City and then Mitchell goes all Ben Elton on us in his near-future dystopia where there's No Internet. Scream!!!

I did read The Bone Clocks all the way through to the end and there were significant parts of it that I thought were brilliant, hence my overall three star rating. I liked the nods to previous Mitchell books such as Black Swan Green and Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet and caught myself wondering what other nods I might have spotted had I read more Mitchell books - neat marketing ploy! However the storyline rambles around too many Important Issues leaving me feeling distinctly hectored on several occasions and I wasn't convinced by the supernatural thread. All that effort to save four lives a year yet leaving a higher body count in their wake!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by David Mitchell / Fantasy / Books from England

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