Sonia Faleiro – The Good Girls

Sonia Faleiro – The Good Girls

Padma and Lalli, inseparable cousins and friends, were only 16 and 14 when they were killed. As their small village in Uttar Pradesh was rather underdeveloped in hygienic and housing terms, the girls needed to go to the nearby fields to relieve themselves. One night in 2014, they went missing and were found hanging in the orchard a couple of hours later. Rumours spread fast about what might have happened and who could be responsible for their deaths, however, even though national media became interested in the case, investigations took their time and the police only reluctantly tried to solve the case. Girls from lower classes have never been high priority and their death seemed to cause more nuisance than alarm.

“This negligence contributed to an epidemic of missing and exploited children, many of them trafficked within and outside the country.”

Sonia Faleiro’s book is a true crime account of how the girls’ lives might have looked like in their last hours, the immediate reaction of the families and villagers and also a lot of facts which help to understand the circumstances in which this crime could take place. The subheading “An Ordinary Killing” already gives away a lot: the murder of girls and women had become to ordinary in India that people didn’t bat an eyelid anymore. However, the events of 2012, when a student was violated in a bus, made worldwide headlines and stirred protests which finally made people aware of the hostile and misogynist climate they were living in.

“Although Delhi was notoriously unsafe, stories about sexual assault didn’t often make the news.”

There are a lot of factors which enabled the murder of Padma and Lalli, their status as girls, their belonging to an inferior class, the remoteness and backwardness of their village – many standards and rights we in the western world take for granted simply do not apply there. But it is not only the crime itself which is abhorrent, also the situation of the police – understaffed, ill-equipped, prone to bribery – and even more of the medical examiner – without any training, just doing the job because nobody else would do it with the logical result of a post-mortem which is simply absurd – are just incredible. What I found most interesting was actually not the girls’ story and the dynamics in the village afterwards but the background information. Sonia Faleiro convincingly integrates them into the narrative which thus becomes informative while being appealing to read. I’d rather call it a journalistic piece of work than  fiction and it is surely a noteworthy contribution to the global discussion on women’s rights.

Michael Farris Smith – NICK

Michael Farris Smith – NICK

World War I is raging and Nick Caraway among the young soldiers who fight in France. His life threatened when he lies in the trench, he is looking for distraction in Paris on those few days he is off duty. He falls for a woman but times like these are not made for love. When he returns to the US in 1919, he suffers from what we today call post-traumatic stress syndrome. He does not know where to go or what to do with his life and thus ends up in New Orleans. The lively city promises forgetting but there, too, he is haunted in his dreams.

I was so looking forward to reading Michael Farris Smith’s novel about Nick Caraway since I have read “The Great Gatsby” several times, watched the film adaptations even more often and totally adore Fitzgerald’s characters. Knowing that the plot was set in the time before Nick meets Jay Gatsby, it was clear that this novel would not be a kind of spin-off, but I wasn’t expecting something with absolutely no connection to the classic novel at all. Apart from the protagonist’s name and the very last page, I couldn’t see any link and admittedly I was quite disappointed since I had expected a totally different story.

First of all, having read Fitzgerald so many times, I have developed some idea of the character Nick. He has always been that gentle and shy young man who is attentive and a good listener and friend. He never appeared to be the party animal who headlessly consumes alcohol and goes to brothels. Therefore, the encounters with women in “NICK“ do not fit to my idea of the character at all. He also never made the impression of being totally traumatized by his war experiences which, on the contrary, is the leading motive in this novel.

Roaring Twenties, lively New York party life, people enjoying themselves – this is the atmosphere I adored in The Great Gatsby, none of this can be found in “NICK”. It starts with exhausting war descriptions, something I avoid reading normally and I wasn’t prepared for at all. Pages after page we read about soldiers fighting, this might be attractive for some readers, unfortunately, this is no topic for me. After depressing war scenes, we have gloomy and depressed Nick not knowing how to cope with the experiences he made in France. No glitter here, but a lot of fire and ashes.

Reading “NICK” without having “The Great Gatsby” in mind might lead to a totally different reading experience. For me, sadly, a disappointment in many respects for which also some beautifully put sentences and an interesting character development could not make amends.