Nicole Dennis-Benn – Patsy

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Nicole Dennis-Benn – Patsy

Patricia Reynolds, called Patsy, has waited for years to fulfil her dream: going to the USA and leaving Jamaica behind. Even though she only got a visitor’s visa, she plans to never come back and instead make a career in the north just like her best friend Cicely. She abandons her daughter Tru who is too young to understand what happens and now has to cope with living with a new family while her mother seemingly enjoys her life in the Big Apple. However, it does not take too long for Patsy to understand that nobody waited for illegal immigrants and that she will have to take cleaning and nursing jobs to survive. The years pass and while Patsy slowly has to accept that her dream of a better life will never come true, her daughter struggles to find her place in a world that she simply does not fit in. She wants to play football like the boys and tries to ignore all signs that make her a girl.

Nicole Dennis-Benn’s novel offers a broad variety of subjects ranging from the situation of undocumented immigrants and their lives in the shadows, dreams her characters have that simply do not come true, the concepts of being a man or a woman and behaving according to others’ expectations, what it means to be a mother and to stick to your ideas and goals in life nevertheless, love and abuse, unhealthy relationships and dishonest friendships.

The author wonderfully parallels the developments of mother and daughter under harsh circumstances in the two different countries. Albeit the fact that there is an age gap of 21 years, a lot of progress is analogous like adapting to a new situation, high hopes that increasingly have to be adjusted to reality and finally, finding love where they never would have expected it. Especially Patsy’s American Dream gone bad is very powerfully narrated, most of all the moments when darkness surrounds her are most compelling. While I found most of the plot very interesting and brilliantly narrated, the novel was a bit too long and thus lengthy at times for my liking.

Jessie Greengrass – Sight

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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.

Jesmyn Ward – Sing, Unburied, Sing

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Jesmyn Ward – Sing, Unburied, Sing

Leonie would like to be a good mother, but she just is not able to. Luckily her two kids Jojo and the toddler Kayla are mainly raised by her parents, Mam and Pop. But now, Mam is in the stadium of cancer and her days are numbered. Additionally, Michael, the kid’s father, is going to be released from prison after three years behind the bars. Leonie is still in love with he, even though Michael’s family hates her, especially his father does not want the black woman in a white man’s house. And not to forget, it was Michael’s family who is responsible for Leonie’s brother’s death. Nevertheless, Leonie takes her kids and her best friend to make a trip to collect Michael. Jojo would prefer to stay with his Mam and Pop, but he is too young to defy his mother. And he has a task to accomplish which can only be done by someone who can listen.

Jesmyn Ward, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction, portrays in “Sing, Unburied, Sing” a family at the point of collapsing. Her description of Leonie, the mother who just isn’t a mother, is heart-breaking and upsetting. At times, you just want to slap her and shout at her to take care of her children and of herself. To forget about the good-for-nothing father of her children and his racist family. Her twelve-year-old son not only has to parent the toddler, but also throughout the story seems to be much more mature than his mother and remarkably more reasonable and wiser. The only solace when it comes to the kids is the fact that their grand-parents are fond of them and raise them with tenderness and affection. It is hard to read about such a mother, but, on the other hand, it seems to be very realistic. These women who always dream of a better life with the man they love and ignore the painful reality do exist, if we like it or not.

Apart from the outstanding character-painting, Ward’ novel plays with the supernatural. Yet, it is not that unbelievable fictitious creation of fantasy, much more does she derive her idea from some kind of pagan or religious belief in forces beyond our recognition that only the specially gifted can see or hear. Within the family, the blood of the super sensitive seems to run since Mam, Leonie and the kids can obviously communicate with those in the world between the living and the dead. Narrated like this, this seems to be a bit strange and unrealistic, the author, however, integrates this idea in a remarkable way which makes you accept it as a normal part of life and genuine fact.

All in all, a novel which can persuade with the strong characters and a poetic style of writing which affects you deeply.