Deepa Anappara – Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

deepa anappara djinn patrol on the purple line
Deepa Anappara – Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

When Bahadur, one of his classmates, goes missing, nine-year-old Jai is determined to solve this case. He has watched so many episodes of Police Patrol that he knows exactly how such a problem is to be treated. Together with his friends Pari and Faiz, he starts to investigate around Purple Line and Bhoot Bazaar. Yet, more and more children and teenagers disappear from their basti and quite obviously, the police are not willing to do anything about it. The parents get either more and more afraid of their children being the next or angry as they feel helpless and powerless.

Deepa Anappara’s novel is a brilliant mixture of an oftentimes very funny plot and an absolutely serious topic. Daily, children go missing on Delhi’s streets without anybody taking notice of it. The life of a child, especially if she or he belongs to a minority, is worth next to nothing, not even the effort to take a note on it. Diverse cultures and religious racism play an important role in this, too. Boys and girls are treated differently and offered different chances in life. Born into the wrong family, you can only count on superstition for a better life since the boundaries are clearly set.

At the beginning of the novel, I totally adored Jai and his friends. They are vividly and wonderfully portrayed. Determined to find out what happened to their friend and equipped with their knowledge from true crime TV series, they start their investigation ignoring all warnings against the dangers that lurk around the bazaar. They take their job very serious and at the same time, just as kids do, ignore the facts that they live in the same slum but come from very different backgrounds.

With the number of children who disappear rising, the novel becomes increasingly serious and loses the light-heartedness of the beginning. The way a slum works becomes gradually more visible and thus, the novel grants insight in a world which is totally unknown to me.

The whole novel is sparkling with life, the characters are quite unique and lovable and it is totally understandable why the novel has been nominated on the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020.

Valeria Luiselli – Lost Children Archive

valeria-luisellu-lost-children-archive
Valeria Luiselli – Lost Children Archive

A typical patchwork family: mother with daughter and father with son form a new unit after the parents got to know each other through work. For a new professional project of the father, they leave New York and their cosy home for the southern states close to the Mexican border. A very unique road trip of a family which is educating for their young children, but also brings them closer to the hot political topic: thousands of children are on their way to the border to come to the USA. As the family gets closer, the radio news become more and more a part of their life, too.

Valeria Luiselli’s novel was nominated on the long list for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction and you can quickly understand why it definitely earned a place there: the author masterly combines fact and fiction, mixes different types of materials to for something new and she has an outstanding capacity of using language.

There is so much one could say about the novel which makes it difficult to make a selection for a short review. The largest part is narrated from the mother’s point of view, a character who is highly poetic in describing especially her family relationships and who thoroughly analyses not only how the dynamics within the family shift but also how they interact with the outside world. I also liked this idea of having boxes in which each of the characters collects things with a certain meaning for them. Then, you have the American history – the past with the stories of the Native Americans which is contrasted with the present and its train of children moving towards the country.

The characters are not given any names, they are just mother and father, son and daughter. They could be anybody. They are you and me confronted with the real world and forced to understand that we live in a kind of multi-layered reality in which you repeatedly have to adjust yourself and your opinion depending on your current point of view and knowledge and experiences. The novel does not provide definitive answers, but it provides you with masses of questions to ponder about.

Roberto Saviano – The Piranhas

roberto-saviano-the-piranhas
Roberto Saviano – The Piranhas

Nicolas Fiorello is only fifteen when in Naples the forces between the clans are severely shaken. He is clever, his teachers have realized this already, and he is a naturally born leader. He sees his parents working hard every day and getting nowhere, this is not the life he dreams of. So what he does is fill the gap that has opened up. He creates his own paranza, a group of boys who are going to take over first the quarter, then the whole town. With an initiation ritual he binds them to him, he negotiates hard with the clan elders and thus the group of boys become the most feared clan in their neighbourhood.

Roberto Saviano knows the Italian mafia well, he has written several books on the clan structures of his native country and for many years now he has lived under police protection since he made himself enemy number one of the mafia. “The Piranhas” is a fictional work that nevertheless gives deep insight in how life works in those parts of Italy that are controlled my mafia clans and it is easy to imagine that something like a youth gang could actually take over and terrorize a community.

His protagonist Nicolas isn’t the classic “bad boy” as you know him. Actually, he is quite sympathetic and his cleverness speaks for him. The way he plans his next steps, how he can oversee the whole process of creating and leading a group, his ideas of creating sense of belonging by using rituals and imposing strict rules and punishments – that’s just impressive. You hardly realise that he is only a boy and supposed to go to school and just worry about his first girls friend. On the other hand, is seems to be far too easy to buy weapons, to get in the drugs business and to become the leader of the most feared pack. I cannot really say if this is authentic and credible since I do not have the least clue about these things.

The plot is cleverly constructed towards a final showdown, the characters are interestingly drawn and the topic surely is still as relevant as it has been for many years now.

Bina Shah – Before She Sleeps

bina-shah-before-she-sleeps
Bina Shah – Before She Sleeps

A virus has seriously affected human population. Even though men and women get infected equally, it is only deadly for the later with the consequence that the number of female citizens has drastically been diminished. Thus, in Green City, women are assigned several husbands and closely monitored to keep the number of children born as high as possible. This is the single task for them and there is no alternative to functioning as a kind of human breeder. But some women just don’t want to comply with the assigned role and a kind of secret underground community has been formed known as the Panah. To keep their group alive, the women offer a service which is not provided by the wives anymore: non-sexual companionship. Sabine is one of the women living underground, but when she collapses on the street after visiting a client, the whole community is threatened to be revealed.

Bina Shah, a Pakistani writer, columnist and blogger who has published several novels and short story collections has created quite an interesting feminist dystopian novel with “Before She Sleeps”. Since Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been talked about a lot in the last couple of months, it is quite natural to compare the two pieces of work since they belong to the same genre. In my opinion, Shah does not have to hide from the great Mrs Atwood.

What I found the strongest in the novel was the picture of the society highly affected by a drastically decreased number of women. On the one hand, they are worshipped since they are the only ones who can cater for an increase in population, on the other, they easily become the victims of rape and male outrage due to the non-fulfilled sexual needs. They are regarded not as equal human beings but in terms of their functionality and thus severely reduced in their significance as humans. Both, men and women, have no say when it comes to the choice of a partner. From a political point of view, this makes sense, but it is obvious that it doesn’t actually support social rest and satisfaction or content. What the new society lacks most seems to be compassion and emotion, this is only visible in the women living underground.

I also liked the protagonist Sabine. Her motivation for fleeing for her duty as a woman is well motivated and her family story comprehensibly portrayed. Also her state of mind and how she is betrayed by a man whom she trusted to a certain extent and the effect the abuse has on her psychologically seemed to me quite authentic and believable.

All in all, an important contribution to the ongoing discussion about women’s rights and the way they are treated by men.

Jessie Greengrass – Sight

jessie-greengrass-sight
Jessie Greengrass – Sight

When is the best moment to have a child? Can you ever be ready to become a parent? And what does being a “good” parent actually mean? Jessie Greengrass unnamed narrator has to face these questions. Her husbands would like to have children, she is unsure. Her own childhood comes to her mind, her mother and grandmother, the way they treated her when she was a child, their complex family relationships and the fact that neither her mother not her grandmother is still alive. Yet, families and relationships are never easy, thus, Röntgen and Freud come to her mind as well as the beginnings of modern child birth.

Jessie Greengrass debut novel directly made it to the short list of the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction. It is an unexpected and uncommon combination of medical history, on the one hand, and a very personal reflection on the narrator’s own life and her feelings about motherhood. It starts with the narrator confronted with the essential question of becoming a mother or not when suddenly her rumination is interrupted by the report about Röntgen. Again and again, these two perspectives alternate which is interesting, but also difficult to follow since it often seems to lack a red thread. They are not isolated accounts, she cleverly combines the topics, e.g. her grandmother was a psychoanalyst like Freud, to give a reason for these interludes.

I can see why the novel made it to the Women’s Prize for Fiction’s short list. The topic tackles a core question of human beings and a deep wish we all share: knowing something for sure, being able to use medical precision for personal decisions and knowing that you do the right thing. Being able to look at something from a neutral and objective point of view, analysing and then making a decision – that’s what we often wish for, however, that’s not how life works.

Contradictory emotions, uncertainty – a lot of apparent opposites come together in the novel. Even though I found the narrator’s thoughts often easy to following and from a topical point of view most interesting, the novel as a whole did not completely convince me. I would have liked to stick with the narrator’s thoughts. Maybe it was all a bit too philosophical for my understanding.