Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

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Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Twelve different women, twelve different fates. Bernardine Evaristo was awarded the Man Booker Prize 2019 for her novel which does not have a real plot with an all-embracing story but for each of the main characters offers a short insight in their life often at crucial turning point. Their stories overlap, are often cleverly intertwined. What they share is the fact that they address fundamental topics: first of all, I’d say “Girl, Woman, Other“ is a feminist novel since the cause of the woman in modern England, mostly the black woman, is the central topic. Apart from this, relationships, sexuality and gender identity are tackled as well as politics and what it means to be successful.

“His bredren and sistren could damned well speak up for themselves. Why should he carry the burden of representation when it will only hold him back? White people are only required to represent themselves, not an entire race.”

What does it mean to be different? To be black or brown in a predominantly white community. To be homosexual or gender fluid in a primarily heterosexual society. To be a working woman when women are supposed to stay at home to take care of the children and the household. Even when the point of disdain has been overcome, the problems and strange reactions have not necessarily and quite often, the singular example who enters a new community has to represent a whole group and loses his or her individuality.

What the characters unites is to differ from the mainstream which does not go unnoticed and uncommented. Most of them go through a tough time which leaves them stronger and makes it easy to empathise with them. The characters are complex, their lives are complicated and at the end of their chapter, they are not the same person they were at the beginning. Which also offers the reader the chance to leave their stand point and to change perspective on certain topics.

The novel is full of life and with the award, the spotlight has been turned on to black female and queer literature which have been awfully underrepresented in literary discussion. This is surely one of the strongest novels of 2019 since it contributes to the ongoing public discourse.

Catherine Chung – The Tenth Muse

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Catherine Chung – The Tenth Muse

“What terrible things we do in the name of love.”

Katherine grows up a very special girl. Her father introduces her to natural sciences and she is fascinated by numbers from her childhood. When her mother leaves them unexpectedly, the bond between father and daughter becomes even closer. Stubborn as she is, she wants to study mathematics knowing that the time hasn’t yet come for women to enter university and compete with men in the 1950s. But which other way could she possibly choose? She is obsessed with the Riemann hypothesis and determined to solved the greatest riddle of her time. Her stubbornness does not prevent her from being hurt, from learning the hard way that only because you are talented and eager, you do not necessarily get what you want.

Even though Catherine Chung’s novel is set in the 1950s, there is so much also today intelligent young women experience when it comes to the intellectual ivory tower. Men are still considered made in god’s image and thus by nature more capable, cleverer and more talented that any woman could ever be. Well, that’s their interpretation. I found it easy to bond with the striving protagonist and, unfortunately, only could commiserate too easily with what she feels when being deceived and her intellect ignored over and over again.

One should not shy away from the book because of the mathematics, the logical problems they are occupied with are well explained and remain quite on the surface so that the average reader can easily follow their thoughts. Apart from that, what I appreciated most is how Katherine sticks to her ideals and goals, even though this at times means that she hurts herself and gives up a lot for her professional integrity – without being rewarded for it. The second line of the plot about Katherine’s family is also quite intriguing since it is well embedded in the German history and the dangers even intellectuals ran when they had the wrong religion.

A beautifully written book about a strong woman that captivated me immediately.

Colson Whitehead – The Nickel Boys

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Colson Whitehead – The Nickel Boys

Elwood Curtis has done everything right: he is diligent, reliable in his after school job and he eagerly follows this charismatic preacher named Martin Luther King. When his teacher recognizes his intellect and promising future, he helps him to attend college courses. Yet, fate didn’t want his life to turn out like this and being black even after the Jim Crow laws meant that there are certain roads not to be travelled. Thus, instead of learning for college, Elwood find himself in Nickel Academy, a juvenile detention centre. He doesn’t fit in the group of delinquent and illiterate boys but he has to be what the supervisors see in him and either he plays by the rules or he gets to know the other side of Nickel, the one that is hidden and buried and will only be excavated half a century later.

“The Nickel Boys” undoubtedly is one of the most awaited novels of 2019. After his tremendous success with “Underground Railroad” and winning the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, expectations ran high for his next book and there is no denying: Colson Whitehead surpassed what I had anticipated. Another tragic story that needed to be told, narrated in a gripping and heart-breaking way that leaves emotionally exhausted.

Institutions like Nickel Academy were a reality not only in the US but also in Europe. Establishment for boys whom nobody cared for or missed were the ideal place for abuse and maltreatment of every kind and where, under the disguise of pedagogy and good-will, the most horrible atrocities took place. It is not only the fact of bringing this piece of eagerly forgotten history back to our mind why Whitehead’s novel is so important and relevant, first and foremost, he masterly narrates how a young boy could become an innocent victim of the circumstances without the least hope of every getting justice or at least an apology for the wrong that has been done to him.

Apart from this, this story – even though it is fictitious – underlines that it takes people who stand up for their ideals, who endure hardship and injustice in order to make a change. We can see these people in the news every day and all of them deserve our support. Taking into consideration the current state of the world, we surely need more Elwoods who fearlessly fight for the right cause.