Fresh Complaint

Book cover: Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey EugenidesI was in Austin this past weekend doing a panel for Nasty Women, but I had the first day of the festival all to myself. One of the big events I’d been dying to attend was the panel with Jeffrey Eugenides and Claire Messud. It’s a six hour drive from South Texas up to Austin, and I used the opportunity to finish listening to Fresh Complaint, a collection of stories written between 1988 to 2017. With the exception of the title story, most of the stories had been previously published in other places.

Early in the panel, Eugenides bemoaned a common description he’d been seeing in reviews of his book: it’s about depressed middle-aged men. “It’s not just about that,” he protested. “There’s a story about two older women, and there’s a story about a Pakistani teenager.”

Yeah. About that.

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Trust No Aunty

Book cover: Trust No Aunty by Maria QamarI’m not sure how this book popped up on my radar several months ago. Perhaps it was the bright yellow cover? Perhaps it was the Lichtenstein-inspired artwork? Or maybe the cheeky title? Whatever it was, I hella eager to track down a copy (not an easy feat since it’s a new book and a lot of libraries don’t really ILL new books). But I finally got my copy!

With Trust No Aunty, Maria Qamar — the woman behind the @hatecopy account on Instagram — has channeled her experiences as a South Asian immigrant in Canada into a tongue-in-cheek guide to handling Desi “aunties” (elders) like a pro. The book is divided into different types of aunties: The Online Stalker Aunty, The Matchmaker Aunty, The Weight-Watcher Aunty, and so forth. Handling each type of aunty comes with its own set of potential cultural minefields, so laying out different scenarios, Qamar compares rookie moves vs. boss moves to come out on top. And to help you win even more in life, Qamar offers humorous tips on surviving on a tiny budget, working out Desi-style, dating, and handling cultural appropriation.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing

32920226Jesmyn Ward has been publishing regularly ever since winning the 2011 National Book Award — Men We Reaped in 2013 and an anthology of edited works, The Fire This Time, in 2016 — but Sing, Unburied, Sing is her first novel since Salvage the Bones. As with her previous works, Ward again returns to Mississippi to follow a black family that’s on the brink of major changes.

Told mostly in chronological order through the eyes of rotating narrators, the story follows Jojo, a boy on the cusp of leaving childhood. He lives with his grandparents, Mam and Pop, and is often his baby sister’s main caregiver and protector. Sometimes his mother, Leonie, shows up, but she struggles with meth addiction and lacks mothering instincts at best and is negligent at worst. Jojo loves his grandparents, and Pop is the steadiest father figure he has ever had. Mam, meanwhile, seems to be in her final days of battling cancer; she stays upstairs, consumed by pain.

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The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II

Book cover: The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana AlexievichI first stumbled upon Svetlana Alexievich’s work about ten years ago, when I visited the library and randomly picked up a copy of her brilliant Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of Nuclear Disaster. Of course, Alexievich has been around much longer than that; Voices from Chernobyl was published 20 years ago, and she’s been chronicling Soviet history for decades now. She garnered a lot of critical acclaim in 2013 with Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, and I finally made the connection between her and Voices from Chernobyl when she won the well-deserved 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature for her unique way of blending a chorus of voices into her oral history storytelling.

Luckily, that Nobel Prize has created a push for her works to be republished and translated for broader audiences. Her first book, The Unwomanly face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II, was first published in 1985. It was recently translated into English by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky and published in hardcover in the United States about a month ago. The introduction includes journal excerpts from the years she spent collection the oral histories, but it also includes newer insights and a few clips that the censors had taken out of the original version.

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