Nell Zink – Doxology

nell-zink-doxology
Nell Zink – Doxology

New York pre-9/11. Pam, Daniel and Joe lead the life of a more or less successful punk band. They live their dream, not much money coming in, but they can do what they like to. They are happy and luck is on their side when Pam accidentally falls pregnant and Joe has a hit single. Despite his success, Joe spends most of his time with young Flora, his simple but caring mind is the best that could happen to the girl. With the attacks on the World Trade Center, everything changes for this small community. Daniel brings his family away from the Big Apple to his wife’s parents in Washington where Flora will then grow up. She does not become a dreamer like her parents but is a strong activist for environmental matters and has the strong conviction that things can be changed.

Doxology – an expression of praise to God. There are different kinds of god in Nell Zink’s novel who are worshipped. From the punk rock gods who are idolised by their groupies to politicians who promise their voters more than the world to lovers for whom they are ready to give up their ideals. Yet, none of them can fulfil the promises made and at last, the characters have to fend for themselves.

I find it especially hard to write a review on the novel since I still don’t know what to think of it. I certainly admire her style of writing, it is lively and witty and her characters are authentic and powerful. However, it is hard to determine what the novel is about and what the author wants to point at.  There is the (not so) easy-going time of the 1990s punk rock scene in New York, where life outside the bubble can be ignored. Family strings are cut and the musicians submerge totally in their artistic bath. 9/11 not only ends carefree life in New York but also their punk rock dream and the story shifts to Flora and her growing-up in Washington. In her early 20s, she could hardly be more different from what her parents were at that age. Her focus is totally different – well, she belongs to another generation with other topics.

Flora is the product of her grandparents’ and parents’ decisions – and she herself has to make some major choices that will impact her existence. Maybe this is what the book is about after all: life as a chain of decisive moments that lead you in one or the other direction. Quite often there is no actual “right” or “wrong”, much more, the real implications only reveal themselves later. Does it help to ponder about past decisions? No, life goes on and you have to face it anyhow. A wonderfully written family history which is nevertheless not easy to grasp.

Jo Piazza – Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win

jo-piazza-charlotte-walsh-likes-to-win
Jo Piazza – Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win

She is one of the most successful women in the Silicon Valley, but now she wants more: Charlotte Walsh is running for Senate in her home state Pennsylvania. She has got a great team, her campaign manager Josh has won several times before and is an experienced spin doctor and her assistant Laila has been with her in San Francisco before. But the most important are her husband Max and their three young daughters. So, the family leaves the bay area and moves in the house in the small town Charlotte grew up and that thirty years before she had sworn never to come back to again. Once the campaign starts, Max and Charlotte have to realise that they had no idea what these eighteen months would mean and the brittle marriage is getting closer to breaking. And their well-kept secrets suddenly threaten to come out when the fight for the win becomes ugly.

I really adored the character of Charlotte from the start. On the one hand, she is the successful businesswoman who made her way from a poor background to the top and is not afraid of taking hard decisions. On the other hand, we get her thoughts and years of success and a place at the top cannot prevent her from self-doubt and insecurity. She never really could get rid of the small town girl coming from a non-academic family.

Also the fact that she is constantly torn between having a career and being a mother seems to be quite authentic. Max takes a sabbatical to support her, but he is considered a wonderful and extraordinary husband – yet, he only does what thousands of women have done for their husbands and he still expects her to take over household duties. Even though they have quite an equal partnership, some traditional roles just cannot be abdicated that easily and more than once Charlotte wonders why this is the case and why she is treated differently from any male candidate.

Apart from those serious topics, the novel is first and foremost hilarious to read. There are so many comical situations that I several times wanted to laugh out loud, like e.g. when Charlotte picks a random pair of shoes for her first big speech since she is late and her baby daughter had “eaten” the one she wanted to wear and the media make a hype out of the question why she refuses to wear high heels and consider this an important statement – what she actually said was of only minor interest.

“Charlotte Walsh wants to win” is the perfect summer read, it gives insight in a political campaign which is fought with all means, also the very hideous ones, and adds to the discussion of gender roles and the question if women actually can achieve everything that men can.

Salman Rushdie – The Golden House

salman-rushdie-the-golden-house
Salman Rusdie – The Golden House

When the new neighbours move in, René immediately declares them his object of study and protagonists of the film he is going to make. The Golden family are simply fascinating, the father Nero and his three sons Petya, Apu and D. Interestingly, all carry ancient Roman names even though they obviously come from India. There must be more they are hiding. Their male idyll is threatened when Vasilisa shows up, the father’s new Russian lover. When René’s parents die in an accident, the Goldens become his replacement family and he moves in with them which gives him the opportunity to study them from much closer. The more time he spends with them, the more secrets are revealed and finally, he himself becomes a part of the family secret. Yet, the past the Goldens wanted to flee from catches up and they have to pay for what they thought they could leave behind them.

Salman Rushdie is well known for his politically loaded novels which never go unnoticed. Again, his latest novel puts the finger in a wound, this time the American and the question which played a major role in the 2016 presidential election: who is a true American and what makes you and American? Apart from this, in “The Golden House” the supervillain The Joker wins the election which is not very promising for the nation.

Even though there is an obvious political message, this hides behind the family story of the Goldens. Here, unfortunately, I had expected much more. Admittedly, the four men are drawn with noteworthy features and fates and to follow their struggles after settling in the USA is far from uninteresting, but it also is not as fascinating and remarkable as I had expected. It is the chronicles of an immigration family, not less, but also not more. Their numerous secrets can create some suspense, however, much of it is too obvious to really excite.

Where Salman Rushdie can definitely score is in the side notes:

True is such a twentieth-century concept. The question is, can I get you to believe it, can I get it repeated enough times to make it as good as true. The question is, can I lie better than the truth.“ (Pos. 3380) and

“You need to become post-factual. – Is that the same as fictional? – Fiction is élite. Nobody believes it. Post-factual is mass market, information-age, troll generated. It’s what people want. “(Pos. 3390)

These are the times we are living in. Truth is created by the ruling classes and repeated as often as necessary until the people believe it. It is even better than fiction. This should definitely make us think about our consumption of media and question the producers of the news.

I appreciate Rushdie’s capacity of formulating to the point, the masses of references to novels and films are also quite enticing, at least they show that Rushdie himself in fully immersed in the western culture, but, nevertheless, I missed something really captivating in the novel. It was somehow pleasant to read, but not as remarkable as expected.