Fatima Farheen Mirza – A Place For Us

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Fatima Farheen Mirza  – A Place For Us

It’s Hadia’s wedding day and more than anything else she has wished for her brother Amar to show up and take part in it. She hasn’t seen him for quite some time and then he is there. However, things do not turn out so well, but they never have with Amar. Flashback to the times when the kids were still young and all five of them a family: Rafiq who left his home country in the Middle East when he was still a teenager to make a career in the US, mother Layla who came to the country when she married Rafiq, the two daughters Hadia and Huda and their younger brother Amar. Raising three kids in Muslim believe in a foreign country, handing on your convictions and traditions when they are daily endangered by a different set of believes and culture is never easy. Conflicts must arise and so they do until Amar leaves the family. But there are still things none of them knows and Hadia’s wedding might be the day to reveal some secrets.

There is no single word to describe Fatima Farheen Mirza’s novel. I was stunned, excited, angry, understanding, I felt pity for the characters, I loathed them, I could understand them and I just wondered about them. I guess there are few emotions that did not come up when reading it and certainly it never left me cold. Is there more you can expect when reading a book? I don’t think so.

There is so much in it that I hardly know where to begin: there are typical family relationships that are questioned when children grow up. We have the problem of immigrant parents who do not fully assimilate with the welcoming culture but want to hand on something from their native background which necessarily collides within the children. There is love, forbidden love and rules of how a partner is to be found. There are differences made between the daughters and the son, rivalry between the siblings and we have parents who have to question the way they interact with their children and sometimes do not know what to do at all.

It might stem from the fact that I am female, but I liked Hadia best and felt most sympathetic with her. Even though Rafiq explains that he only wanted to protect his daughters, the fact that he limited her in all respects: friends, personal freedom as a child or teenager, even her academic success wasn’t greeted with enthusiasm because the father wanted his daughter to become a mother a take care of a future husband. She had to fight so many wars and was always treated inferior solely because she was a girl, I absolutely fest sorry for her.

Rafiq never reaches the point where he can fully accept his daughters as equals and this is the point where I most detested him. He understood what he did wrong with his son, but he makes masses of excuses and justifies his parenting with his own experiences and upbringing. This is just pitiable because he is stuck in a view of the world which he could have overcome in all the years in a western society. I can follow his thoughts at the end of the novel and surely this is quite authentic, I know people in reality whose world view shares a lot of similarities and I surely would like to know how one can open their eyes and make them overcome the stubborn ideas of women being inferior and parents knowing everything best. I was actually pretty angry at the end when Rafiq finally gets a voice and can ultimately share his thoughts since there isn’t much I could agree with.

 All in all, an outstanding novel which addresses so many of today’s issues and surely shouldn’t be missed.

Rachel Kushner – The Mars Room

rachel-kushner-the-mars-room
Rachel Kushner – The Mars Room

Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility is Romy Hall’s new home, convicted to life sentence. What brought the mother of a young boy to this institution? And how can she cope with the rules that life in prison follows? Romy Hall remembers her life outside, her addiction and most of all The Mars Room where she stripped for a living. This is also where she met the man who was to change her life. Now, her life only consists of surviving, not getting in the way of the leaders or staff who have their own laws behind the bars. Life inside mirrors the outside, there are ruling classes and those ruled. And sometimes both spheres interact – often not for the better.

Rachel Kushner paints a blunt picture of life inside a prison. The idea of such a place as somewhere you can become a better person and atone for your wrongdoings is far from what she describes. It is a constant struggle of surviving and of adapting to the unwritten laws. Life is a series of disappointments, visitors who never come, news which do not reach you. And outside, there isn’t much waiting for you either.

It wasn’t that easy for me to sympathise with the protagonist Romy. This might be due to her role; even though she is inside, she remains an observer somehow. At the same time, there is so much unsaid about her that makes it difficult to form a whole picture of her. The fact that the reason for her imprisonment isn’t given immediately, on the other hand, adds to the underlying suspense of the novel. Slowly you get closer to the culminating point which reveals what happened. Additionally, the other characters are, obviously, those at the margins of society, people you wouldn’t actually socialise with and which sometimes repel you as a reader.

What I really liked is Kushner’s style of writing. The protagonist’s narration flows like a stream of consciousness which makes it quite realistic and lively. Furthermore, she often hints at what is to come without saying too much, just enough to arouse your interest. When Romy talks about her life and most of all about her future, she is quite direct – well, there isn’t much reason to embellish anything and therefore, her words sound absolutely authentic.

Andrew Sean Greer – Less

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Andrew Sean Greer – Less

Arthur and Freddy have spent so many years together, but now, Freddy is going to marry somebody else. This already would be enough, but Arthur’s situation is even worse: he is about to turn fifty, thus, officially old. How to avoid the dreadful wedding and his birthday? The solution is close at hand: he accepts several invitations bringing him first to New York, then Mexico, afterwards across the ocean to Italy, Germany and Morocco before returning home via India and Japan. However, leaving behind your everyday life does not mean that your worries also stay at home. They follow Less around the word as constant companions at his side.

Andrew Sean Greer had been quite successful with his short stories before he started writing novels. His sixth, “Less”, was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer prize for Fiction, after he had already received the California Book Award and the O. Henry Award among others for his works.

It is hard to find words to adequately describe the novel. I simply adored it every minute. First of all, there is this extraordinary protagonist Arthur Less who is, in his own view, so plain, ordinary, normal and uninteresting and yet seems to fascinate everybody he meets, makes them fall in love with him instantly and puts a kind of spell on them they cannot escape. The reader also falls for him at once – albeit I cannot explain why this is exactly the case. It is surely not because he is outstandingly good-looking or especially witty, he seems to have some kind of charisma that attracts people.

Second, the narrator. He seems to be acquainted with Less, even though he merely hints at when and how they met and what their relationship is like. Often he recedes and just tells the story, but now and again, he talks to the reader, comments and readjusts the reader’s perspective. Even though a lot of disasters happen to Less on his journey and despite the fact that the two major loves of his life are lost, his life isn’t too bad.

Watching Less stumble through his journey, his anxiety about ageing – his is 49, not 50! – his being mainly known for having spent years at the side of a successful writer while his own work did only find small recognition – all his little flaws make him even more likeable. His modesty, his shyness – he is not less, but much more. A wonderfully written novel, full of love and compassion.

Robyn Harding – The Party

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Robyn Harding – The Party

The Sanders are the perfect family: Jeff has a successful career, Kim is the loving mother who takes care of the home and the two children Hannah and Aiden who have the best marks in school and sophisticated hobbies where they also excel. For Hannah’s sixteenth birthday, the parents allow her to party in the basement – yet, with strict rules: no alcohol, no drugs, no boys. But Hannah wants to be part of the IT-crown and then her party turns into a complete disaster: her friend Ronni falls into a glass table after having consumed ecstasy and alcohol. When Hannah looks at her, there is something really wrong. Ronni has seriously hurt her eye and might not recover. Ronni’s mother is furious and knows exactly whom to blame: the wealthy Sander will pay for what they have done.

Robyn Harding’s novel unmistakably shows how your perfect life can turn into a nightmare from one minute to the other. First, I was just expecting some kind of teenage drama where finally all is sugar and spice and everything’s nice. But the author does not offer the easy ending, she goes down to the wire and exhibits all the mean and ugly sides of human beings.

The strongest aspects are definitely the characters and their emotions. E.g. Kim, she does not only pretend to be perfect, she really wants her life to be perfect. When the facade cracks, she is ready to fight even though this means that some people will have to be disappointed and even suffer. She has to readjust her point of view. Hannah, on the other hand, is the typical sixteen-year-old teenager who is caught between wanting to please and to be popular in school and her good heart which tells her to act differently. But sometimes she has to decide for one or the other and she seriously struggles with it. Jeff as a role model and father is really weak, but this is fruitful for the character since he shows an authentic behaviour where people make mistakes and are sometimes lead by emotions rather than by common sense. Lauren is the mean teenager who does not care about anybody. She is definitely interesting for the story, but a bit too stereotypical and one-sided for my linking. It would have appreciated a more complex story about her, yet, she is rather a minor character, so this is acceptable.

The plot was meticulously constructed what I found quite fascinating after having finished to novel. The next strike always comes, not completely unexpected, but sometimes the direction is a surprise.  That such an incident, or rather an accident, has an influence on all areas of life and does not leave any of the family members unaffected is quite natural and that’s what Robyn Harding makes use of. Their lives are devastated to the full extent, not omitting a single aspect. So, no sugar and spice and everything’s nice but the blunt reality.

Jonas Lüscher – Kraft

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Jonas Lüscher – Kraft

„Theodicy and Technodicy: Optimism for a Young Millennium“ – diese Fragestellung ist es, die den Rhetorikprofessor Richard Kraft aus seiner finanziellen Not retten soll. In einer guten Viertelstunde soll in der ehrwürdigen Stanford Universität von den Bewerbern die Frage erörtert werden, dem Sieger winkt eine Million Dollar gestiftet von einem Internet Milliardär. Da er sich in seinem Tübinger Zuhause nicht in der Lage sieht, angemessen konzentriert an die Arbeit zu gehen, fliegt Kraft schon zwei Wochen vor der Veranstaltung nach Kalifornien und wohnt dort bei seinem Freund István, mit dem er einst in der Westberliner Enklave das Leben studierte und die Politik diskutierte. Bei der Suche nach der Frage, weshalb alles, das ist auch notwendigerweise gut ist, kehrt Kraft gedanklich auch immer wieder in seine Vergangenheit zurück und lässt seine Zeit mit István ebenso Revue passieren, wie die Zeit mit den drei Frauen, die sein Leben geprägt haben. Je näher der Tag der Präsentation rückt, desto weiter entfernt sich Kraft von der Überzeugung, dass in seinem Leben und in der Welt alles zum Besten steht.

Der Roman des Schweizer Autors Jonas Lüschers ist vom Feuilleton direkt nach Erscheinen begeistert aufgenommen worden. Es ist vermutlich die erstaunliche Verbindung, die Lüscher in „Kraft“ schafft zwischen der philosophischen Frage nach der Gerechtigkeit Gottes, der politischen Lage eines geteilten Deutschlands, das dem angloamerikanischen Neoliberalismus zu Beginn der 80er Jahre nur Helmut Kohl entgegensetzen kann, den weltbeherrschenden Internetgiganten des Silicon Valley und dem Leben eines einzelnen Mannes, der immer dann beruflich auf der Karriereleiter emporsteigt, wenn gleichzeitig die Frau an seiner Seite den Abstieg hinnehmen muss. Hierin Sinn zu finden und zu begründen, dass dies die bestmögliche aller Welten ist – kein leichtes Unterfangen, wie der Protagonist zunehmend verzweifelt feststellen muss.

Der sprechende Name des Protagonisten dient hervorragend als Ausgangspunkt zur Dekonstruktion des Romans. Richard Kraft – steht der Vorname für die Eigenschaften reich, mächtig und stark, fügt der Nachname diesen Einfluss, Wirkungsfähigkeit und Veränderungsfähigkeit hinzu. Sieht man sich die Figur an, so ist Kraft zunächst einmal finanziell abgebrannt. Zwei Ehen und vier Kinder haben ihn ruiniert, er ist dringend auf eine Geldspritze angewiesen. Macht und Stärke hat er eigentlich qua Profession, er war im frisch vereinten Deutschland eine Größe auf seinem Gebiet, scheint aber seine große Zeit hinter sich zu haben und nur wenige ergiebige Gedanken produzieren zu können. Mit dem Vortrag in Stanford erhält er die Chance seinen Einfluss geltend zu machen, eine positive Wirkung auszuüben und etwas an den bestehenden Verhältnissen zu ändern. Doch statt in der Ferne neue Gedanken zu kultivieren, sinkt er Grübelei und hängt der Vergangenheit nach. Eine Lücke klafft zwischen dem, was ist und dem, was sein könnte; ein Riss, der den Protagonisten selbst durchläuft und sehr passend auch auf dem Cover stilisiert ist.

Der eigentlich leistungsstarke und intelligente Mann wird überrollt – so wie in seinen Gedanken San Francisco von einer mörderischen und zerstörerischen Welle erfasst und zerstört wird, kann auch er den globalen Trends gesteuert durch die Ökonomie der Internetfirmen nichts entgegensetzen. Hat Gott den Menschen nach seinem Bild erschaffen, so erschafft nun der Mensch den Roboter, der alsbald droht die Macht zu übernehmen und als das bessere Wesen zu regieren. An dieser Stelle wird Kraft zum Sinnbild des modernen Menschen, der sich machtlos ausgeliefert fühlt und für den sich nicht erschließt, weshalb diese Welt, die bestmögliche sein soll.

Ein starker Roman, der sich nicht einfach nebenbei weglesen lässt, sondern immer wieder komplexe Diskurse mit dem Leser führt und ihn so mit der Ausgangsfrage konfrontiert.

Ein herzlicher Dank geht an den C.H. Beck Verlag für das Rezensionsexemplar. Mehr Informationen zum Buch finden sich auf der Seite des Verlags.

Karl Olsberg – Mirror

Rezension, Thriller, Roman
Der Mirror ist Dein bester Freund. Er kennt Dich besser, als Du Dich selbst. Also hab Vertrauen, denn er will nur das Beste für Dich. Andy erkennt dies schnell, das größte Problem für den Autisten ist der soziale Umgang mit Menschen, er kann Gesichter nicht lesen und Gefühle schwer verstehen, doch der Mirror kann ihm helfen, diese Distanz zu überwinden und schnell schon bringt er ihn sogar mit einem Mädchen zusammen, Viktoria, die ihn trotz seines Handicaps mag. Auch Jack erkennt den Nutzen des Geräts, hat es ihm doch gerade dabei geholfen, innerhalb weniger Tage seine hohen Schulden bei seinem Dealer erfolgreich zu begleichen und dessen Beißhunde in die Flucht zu schlagen. Auch Lukas will nicht mehr ohne ihn leben, zwar konnte er die Trennung von Ellen nicht verhindern, aber dafür hat er ja jetzt eine neue Freundin. Auch Carl Poulsen, Erfinder des Mirrors und Firmenchef, erlebt, dass sein kleines Wunderwerk funktioniert als dieses eigenständig den Notarzt verständigt, um seinen Vater zu retten. Die Welt ist so viel besser dank der neuen Möglichkeiten. Warum wollen also kleine, renitente Figuren wie die Journalistin Freya dagegen ankämpfen? Das System will nur das Beste für alle und wer das nicht will, muss ja logischerweise ein Feind sein, den man mit allen Mitteln bekämpfen muss.
Ein gar nicht so fernes Zukunftsszenario eröffnet die Mirrorwelt vor uns. Technik, die uns immer mehr abnimmt, Defizite ausgleichen kann und gar schon über teile unseres Lebens die Kontrolle übernimmt. Immer mehr sind wir bereit fremdsteuern zu lassen, im Vertrauen auf Algorithmen, die schon wissen werden, was sie tun. Karl Olsberg führt dies nur einen einzigen Schritt weiter und genau das macht das Szenario so unglaublich authentisch. Alle Funktionen sind nachvollziehbar und erscheinen schon bald realisierbar. Auch die Reaktionen der Figuren auf die technischen Neuerungen sind glaubwürdig und es erfordert nicht viel Phantasie, dass die fiktive Handlung schon bald sehr real sein könnte. Insbesondere die gewaltige Reaktion aus Verlustangst am Ende lässt sich heute schon mit Entzugserscheinungen bei Handyentzug erkennen.

Das Thema ist brandaktuell, die mit dem Buch verbundene Message liegt auf der Hand. Kurze Kapitel, schnelle Sprünge zwischen den unterschiedlichen Figuren und Handlungen schaffen ein hohes Tempo, was gut zur aufgeregten, temporeichen und im Dauer-multi-tasking-Modus befindlichen Internetwelt passt. Die Tatsache, dass vieles nah an der Realität bleibt, veranschaulicht, wie schnell aus nützlichen Assistenten Gefahren werden können und dass wir mit unserem eigenen Verhalten maßgeblich bestimmen, inwieweit wir Kontrolle abgeben möchten. Damit gelingt Karl Olsberg eine überzeugende Verbindung von spannender Unterhaltung und echter Relevanz. 

James Patterson – The Trial

review, crime, novel, Women's Murder Club

Another legendary Women’s Murder Club meeting is disturbed: drug cartel boss Kingfisher has risen from the dead and caused a shooting in a night club. Detective Lindsay Boxer rushes to the crime scene and finds the man who tormented her for months arrested.  Yet, the police have to set up the case quickly, before the FBI can take over. But the witnesses are scared, nobody has seen anything. An anonymous video brings relief. But shortly before the trial can start, the prosecutor is murdered. Kingfisher and his men will do everything to prevent the case from taking place and whoever gets in their way has to fear for his life.

Another quick read from the bookshots series. The characters from the Women’s Murder Club series are quickly introduced at the beginning and their relationship is explained. However, in my opinion, this bookshot can easily be read without knowing anything about the series, it is only loosely linked and it is mainly Lindsay starring. Due to the limited number of pages, the plot moves at a high pace and renounces any side plots.  I like the focus on just one story and a straight way from the beginning to the end.  There are some interesting twists and some surprise at the end, but not too much suspense this time. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading it and it fulfilled my expectations.