“Animals were hiding behind the rock, except the little fish”

the raw shark texts

 

Well this review is going to be a tough one. I’m not totally sure how to describe this book or what genre to even put it in. The basic story goes like this: Eric Sanderson has acute memory loss spurred on by the sudden death of his lover Clio while they were vacationing in the Greek Islands. He literally has no memories before the start of the book in which he wakes up on the floor of a strange house. He begins receiving letters from his old self which spur him to go on a journey to discover the truth of his situation and to defeat a “conceptual shark” that seems to be relentlessly stalking him.

This all sounds about as clear as mud, doesn’t it? The story is a little bit like House of Leaves, The Matrix and Jaws with a love story thrown in for good measure. The concepts brought up in the book are interesting as hell and the mood of the book is deeply surreal. The more Eric searches for his lost memories, the weirder this book gets.

That’s really all I have. I hate writing a review this short but the words to describe this book escape me. Maybe the shark at them.

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“But she turned her floodlight eyes on me and demanded a confession”

the alice network

 

Do you like books with smart, bad-ass ladies both fictional and historical? Do you like intelligent novelizations of real historical events? If so, The Alice Network is definitely a book you should add to your TBR pile. The book follows two timelines. In 1915 a young Eve Gardiner is recruited to work as a spy in Nazi-occupied France for the titular Alice Network. Eve’s experiences in France leave both emotional and physical scars. In 1947, Charlie St. Clair a pregnant and unwed American socialite abandons her mother in post-war Europe to look for her missing and presumed dead cousin Rose. Eve and Charlie’s paths collide and they set off across France with their own agendas.

This book took me a bit to really get into it. Both Charlie and Ever are deeply flawed characters though not without good reason. However I found myself getting sucked in pretty quickly to the parallel stories involving two women, both of whom are used to being underestimated, getting into situations in which they learn more than they’d ever wanted to about both themselves and the horrors of war. It’s by no means a pretty story. There is torture, suicide, a prison camp and the massacre of civilians but it never feels gratuitous and is pulled directly from historical records in some cases. It’s not an easy book and I knew at a certain point it was going to break my heart. But it was an immensely satisfying read that has me excited for Kate Quinn’s next novel.

“When you hear of my homegoing…don’t worry about me.”

homegoing

 

I love a sweeping family saga. I love a novelized depiction of history and seeing how one generation shapes the next. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is probably one of my favorites. It tells the story of two half sisters Ghana in the 18th Century. Effia is married to a wealthy white slave trader and Esi and captured and imprisoned in the same castle in which her sister lives (unbeknownst to both of them) and sold across the Atlantic into slavery. Effia’s family lives with the effects of colonization and internal warfare and Esi family survives slavery, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. Homegoing feels much longer than it is, not because it is dull or tedious but because the subject matter is vast and sweeping.

What makes Homegoing different from many Eurocentric family sagas is that many of the descendants know little to nothing of the generation before them. This is not the often lamented “generation gap” but the nature of American chattel slavery which cruelly separated parents from children before the latter could even form concrete memories. Still we feel the weight of those that came before on their children and grandchildren. Even those that do know their parents don’t understand them.

It is impossible to write an authentic narrative of slavery and warfare and not include trauma. It is a necessary part of the story. But in later chapters we see that is is possible to heal and even grow stronger. Homegoing is long overdue addition to the American family saga.

“I’ma wade through the waters. Tell the tide ‘don’t move'”

when they call you a terrorist

 

This book was a very difficult but necessary read. It belongs in college curricula and book clubs. Your racist family members should read it but never will, though you can get a couple of fact bombs from the book to drop in the middle of an awkward Thanksgiving dinner. This memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors will give a deeper understanding of the often fraught nature of modern Black life in America and firsthand account of the #blacklivesmatter movement. One of the most significant activist groups of the 21st century so far.

Ms. Khan-Cullors grew up in Van Nuys, California as part of the “post Reagan, post social safety-net generation.” She describes a childhood marred by constant police surveillance. At nine years old she witnessed the police rolling up on her brothers and his friends as they merely hung out in an alleyway (because there were no parks or community centers where they could go), roughly patting them down roughly as they spewed profanity and racial slurs at them. She experienced culture shock after entering a mostly white private middle school, where she saw a world not constantly monitored by police and entrances not blocked by metal detectors. Her white counterparts took things like marijuana possession, which could cause a life-ruining entrance into the criminal justice system for kids like Patrisse, completely for granted. The sections that focus on her brother who suffers from Schizoaffective disorder (not diagnosed until adulthood) and his treatment by the criminal justice system are especially rage inducing.

This slim volume is by no means an easy read, but the writing is powerful and lyrical. She gives a compelling voice to those who have been continually overlooked by the country at large. It is every bit as important and necessary as books like The New Jim Crow, The Warmth of Other Suns and anything by James Baldwin.

“This life can turn a good girl bad”

the trauma cleaner

The Trauma Cleaner is the story of Sandra Pankhurst, the owner of a cleaning business that cleans homes after, as the title says “death, disaster and decay.” This includes hoarding situations. It is also the story of a life full of its own trauma, which eventually lead Ms. Pankhurst to run such a unique business. Born biologically male in Australia, she suffered horrific abuse and neglect at the hands of a family who seemed to resent her very presence. Being a trans sex worker in the 1970s meant violent johns and police who could be equally violent. Sandra’s whole life seems to have been training for this vocation.

Sandra is often a very frustrating person as well. You’ll likely never see her advocating for LGBTQ rights. In fact, her political views seem to run somewhat conservative (for Australia). She seems almost indifferent about a reunion with her estranged sons from a brief, ill-conceived marriage. Her memory is often elusive. She’s not sure whether a particular formative moment happened when she was 7 or 13. Despite all of this, even if I didn’t particularly like Sandra, by the end of the book I understood and admired her. Her continued existence and success is a giant middle finger to every person who inflicted pain on her in her life.