Hala Alyan – Häuser aus Sand

hala-alyan-häuser-aus-sand
Hala Alyan – Häuser aus Sand

In Jaffa ist sie aufgewachsen, doch sie wurden vertrieben und so wird Nablus die neue Heimat für Salma und ihre Familie. Ihre Kinder könnten kaum verschiedener sein, die in sich gekehrte Widad und die beiden modernen, lebhaften Mustafa und Alia. Kurz vor Alias Hochzeit liest Salma im Kaffeesatz und weiß, dass ihrer Tochter ein bewegtes Leben bevorsteht. Die Vorhersehung wird sich bewahrheiten, Alia, die den besten Freund ihres Bruders, Atef, heiratet, wird mit ihm und den Kindern Riham, Karam und Souad immer wieder von Neuem beginnen, vor Krieg flüchten und das Leben in einem anderen Land neuordnen müssen. Auch ihre Kinder werden in gewisser Weise zu Nomaden werden und Alias Enkel werden schließlich vor all den Einflüssen und Kulturen, der unterschiedlichsten Länder, in denen sie gelebt haben, kaum mehr wissen, wo sich ihre Wurzeln befinden.

Hala Alyan hat in ihrem Debut Roman einer Familie eine Stimme gegeben, deren Geschichte jedoch typisch ist für die vieler aus dem Nahen Osten. Über Generationen immer weiter über die Erdteile zerstreut, wegen Krieg und Vertreibung zu Flucht und Neubeginn in der Fremde gezwungen und mit jeder Generation ein Stück weiter vom eigentlichen Ursprung entfernt.

Der Aufbau des Buches hat mir unheimlich gut gefallen, es ist nicht nur die Geschichte Alias, auch wenn sie Dreh- und Angelpunkt der Handlung bleibt. Wir erleben mehrere Generationen: Kinder, die andere Werte und Ideale als die Eltern vertreten, sich entfernen und doch immer wieder zueinander finden. Es sind immer nur Momentaufnahmen, dazwischen fehlt vieles, aber das ist nicht wichtig, es ist der Moment, der zählt.

Neben der Geschichte der Familie ist der Roman auch hochpolitisch – politische Entscheidungen sind es, die die Yacoubs immer wieder vertreiben: aus Jaffa, aus Nablus, aus Kuweit, aus den USA, aus dem Libanon. Aber es sind nicht diese politischen Entwicklungen, die thematisiert werden, sondern ihre Auswirkungen auf die Menschen, das erzwungene Nomadentum, die Entwurzelung, der Sprachenmischmasch, der zwangsweise über die verschiedenen Wohnorte und Lebensläufe entsteht und die Kommunikation schon zwischen Großeltern und Enkeln erschwert. Der Roman ist keine Anklage, eher ein Zeugnis, das mahnend dasteht und für sich selbst spricht.

Als Manar am Ende wieder in Jaffa steht, dem Sehnsuchtsort ihrer Ur-Großmutter und eine Verbindung spürt, die sie nicht einordnen und schon gar nicht mit ihrer Familiengeschichte in Zusammenhang bringen kann, schließt sich der Kreis. Ein rundes Buch mit starken Figuren und überzeugend vor dem Hintergrund der Geschichte des Nahen Ostens der letzten Jahrzehnte erzählt.

Advertisements

Adrienne Celt – Invitation to a Bonfire

adrienne-celt-invitation-to-a-bonfire
Adrienne Celt – Invitation to a Bonfire

The revolution and following turmoil made an orphan of Zoya Andropova. Therefore, she like so many other kids comes to the USA as an orphan and is welcomed in a New Jersey boarding school. She never belongs even though she quickly acquires the language and gets good marks. After her schooling, she can stay on the premises and work in the newly built greenhouse where she fully immerses in her work with the plants. Neither does she have friends, nor a lover. It is just her work and the love for literature that keep her going. There is one author she has worshipped for years, Leo Orlov, another Russian émigré whose works she devours. When Leo comes to teach at the boarding school, Zoya seems close to happiness, but even though Leo returns her love, there is one person in the way of their luck: Vera, his wife.

Adrienne Celt’s second novel “Invitation to a Bonfire” is set in a complicated time and therefore offers several layers of narration. The book can be read against the background of Russian-American confrontation and distrust. It is also a coming-of-age novel of a girl who struggles in her new surroundings. The story provides a good example of group dynamics, of exclusion and bullying, of rich vs. poor. It clearly also broaches the issue of being forced to leave your country, forced to leave behind everything from your family, to your belongings and even your language. And, after all, it is a story about love and being loved and about what people are willing to do for the one they have fallen for.

With such an abundance of topics, it is hard to find a beginning. Let’s start with the protagonist. It really liked Zoya, she is a decent and modest character, she humbly accepts her status in the new school and avoids attracting attention. Even though the other girls play tricks on her, she remains loyal and keeps quiet. She can endure a lot and does not expect life to be fair. After what happened to her family, she knows that justice is not something you can rely on in this world. This is a truth she has accepted and thus, she can follow her ideals.

When she falls under the spell of Leo, you want to shout at her to run, far far away from this man and his wife. You can see that nothing good can come from this relationship – but: what else could she do than immediately fall in love? He is the first to see her, to show her affection and to love her. Her free will is gone and the is easy to manipulate.

The story is not fast paced, actually the love story comes at quite a late point in the novel considering its relevance. What made the narration really lively was the fact that Leo’s letters to his wife and other documents were integrated which allowed you a glimpse at a later point and thus added to the underlying suspense. The author has cleverly constructed the novel and her writing is adorably poetic and multi-layered, is starts with the first sentences which immediately drag you into the novel and don’t let you out before the finishing dot:

“Let me begin by saying I did not think it would end this way. No—let me begin by saying I will burn this diary shortly.”

Greer Hendricks/Sarah Pekkanen – The Wife Between Us

greer-hendricks-the-wife-between-us
Greer Hendricks/Sarah Pekkanen – The Wife Between Us

Vanessa ist ein psychisches Wrack. Nach der Scheidung von Richard kommt sie nicht mehr auf die Füße. Aber sie muss die junge Frau warnen, die geradewegs ins Verderbern rennt und ebabsichtigt, ihre Nachfolge anzutreten. Sie kennt Richard nicht so, wie sie ihn kennt. Auch zu ihr war er charmant und nett. Anfangs. Doch dann hat er sich in einen Kontrollfreak verwandelt, der keinen ihrer Schritte unbeobachtet ließ. Und nun hat er wieder eine junge Frau gefunden, die er bezaubern kann und die für ihn die perfekte Ehefrau spielen soll. Nellie fühl sich beobachtet, irgendetwas ist seltsam, auch die Anrufe, bei denen offenbar jemand am anderen Ende der Leitung ist, jedoch nie ein Wort sagt, beunruhigen sie zunehmend. Langsam wird ihr ihr eigenes Leben unheimlich. Und noch eine dritte Frau beobachtet die Szenerie, doch was ist ihr geheimer Plan?

Sarah Pekkanen arbeitet bereits seit Jahren als Autorin und hat zahlreiche Bücher veröffentlicht, Greer Hendricks war mehrere Jahre Lektorin bei Simon & Schuster und ist ausgebildete Journalistin. Für „The Wife Between Us“ arbeiteten die beiden Frauen erstmals zusammen und herausgekommen ist ein clever konstruierter Krimi, der immer wieder überraschen kann.

Der Roman beginnt ohne viel Vorgeplänkel, unmittelbar ist man in der Geschichte, die alternierend die Vanessas Erlebnisse nach der Trennung von Richard und Nellies Vorbereitungen auf die Hochzeit mit ebendiesem erzählt. In welchem Verhältnis die beiden Frauen stehen, glaubt man recht schnell zu wissen, einzig der Moment des Zusammentreffens und der Offenbarung von Vanessas Leid stehen noch aus. Doch dann zeigt sich, dass der Roman deutlich geschickter aufgebaut ist, als es zunächst den Anschein macht und die leichte Verschiebung der Erzählung lässt einen neuen Blickwinkel zu.

Durch die raffinierte Erzählkonstruktion wird ein bizarres und gefährliches Abhängigkeitsverhältnis geschildert, in dessen Zentrum ein charmanter Mann steht, der durch geschickte Manipulation die Kontrolle über seine junge Frau gewinnt und nicht nur ihren Alltag überprüfen und lenken kann, sondern der sie auch psychisch unbemerkt nach und nach in eine Abhängigkeit bringt, aus der sie allein so einfach nicht mehr ausbrechen kann.

Dies ist kein ganz neues Thema, bisweilen auch etwas durchschaubar und leicht vorherzusehen. Es ist tatsächlich die Anlage der Erzählung, die die Schwächen hier locker ausgleicht und so zu dem überzeugenden Ergebnis führt. Dass es am Ende noch eine weitere Überraschung gibt, war allerdings nicht abzusehen, wäre für mich auch nicht mehr erforderlich gewesen.

Insgesamt ein runder Roman, der eine neue Variante einer bekannten Geschichte erzählt. Den beiden Autorinnen ist hier ein kleines Kunststück gelungen, indem sie einen völlig unerwarteten Aufbau geschaffen haben, der sich erst langsam entfaltet und dadurch überzeugen kann.

Ein herzlicher Dank geht an den Rowohlt Verlag für das Rezensionsexemplar. Mehr Informationen zu den Autorinnen und dem Buch finden sich auf der Verlagsseite.

James Wood – Upstate

james-wood-upstate
James Wood – Upstate

Alan Querry lives a modest life in Northumberland, he is moderately successful as a developer and after the hard time of the divorce and death of his first wife, he found a new love. When his daughter Helen informs him that her sister Vanessa obviously has another depressive episode, Alan makes his way from England to Saratoga Springs upstate New York where Vanessa lives with her boyfriend Josh and where she teaches philosophy. Alan has never visited her, too many things kept him from crossing the ocean.  Helen joins him and thus, the family is united in a wintry small town and faced with the uncomfortable truths they have avoided for years.

James Wood is best known for being a literary critic for The Guardian and The New Yorker Magazine and teaching literature at Harvard. “Upstate” is his latest novel which focusses on philosophical dilemmas and the bonds of a family.

Clearly, the incident that triggers the family reunion was Vanessa’s accident during which she broke her arm. Yet, this was only the sad climax of a depressive period – something she has known all her life. How come that her younger sister Helen, who had to go through the same hardships as a child and is also struggling with her career, does not know these moody periods and can embrace happiness much easier? Why are some people just stronger, more resilient than others?

It has never been easy for the family members to openly talk about their feelings. Thus, they need to find other topics to layer what they want to say and to make it expressible. For Helen it is music, for Vanessa it has always been philosophy and for Alan, nature seems to be the clue.  At the end, the wintry ice is melting, after it was a cause for a minor road accident of Alan, that also the ice between father and daughter finally melts and gives way for a new spring, a new beginning.

What I enjoyed about the novel is the gentle pace at which it moves and the tenderness with which Wood talks about his characters. The impressive American landscape contrasts with the critical look at the people and especially American politics – we are around 2007 immediately before Obama announced his candidacy. Where nature is a lot more extreme, everything created by man is poorer there than the European counterpart, which more conservative but also more reliable. Such as the people – in the end, the family bonds are stronger and more dependable than the love bonds.

Andrew Sean Greer – Less

andrew-sean-greer-less
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.

Melissa Broder – The Pisces

melissa-broder-the-pisces
Melissa Broder – The Pisces

Lucy is almost forty and somehow stuck in her life: she has been working on her thesis on Sappho for years now, but has lost track and doesn’t advance anymore. The same is true for her relationship with Jamie who cannot decide between moving together and founding a family and needing more space for himself. When the university threatens Lucy with throwing her out and when Jamie refuses to make a decision, they dramatically break up and Lucy flees to her sister Annika’s house in Venice Beach. Since Annika will be away for work for a couple of weeks, Lucy agrees to baby-sit her dog and stay there for a while. With the help of a love addiction therapy group and Tinder, Lucy tries to solve her problems and to figure out what she really wants in life. When she meets a cute swimmer on the beach one evening, this might be the sign she has been waiting for.

The novel sounded quite enthralling to me since I thought that it would be easy to relate to the protagonist: being at a turning point in life, questioning her job and relationship, added to this an intellectual female character who might have an interesting approach to the whole love stuff. Moreover, “love addition therapy group” promised to be great fun to read since it sounds quite absurd.

To sum up the novel, I am a bit disappointed which might be my own fault since I did not pay too close attention to the fact that the novel is rated as “Women’s fiction”. Thus, the protagonist wasn’t the intellectual character I had hoped for, but quite some dumb and brainless being who was only searching for men to spend her nights with and who devoted her days to browsing shops for clothes (which she bought for an incredible amount of money) and thinking about her make-up and waxing. Lucy is incredibly shallow which annoyed me a lot wasn’t in tune with the intellectual researcher we got to know in the beginning. Apart from this, there were by far too many explicit scenes over too long paragraphs. Some readers might like it, it’s just not my favourite type of novel, but as said before, I didn’t pay close attention to the genre.

After the first half of the novel – which had some quite funny incidents and absurd dialogues that I really enjoyed – Lucy meets the swimmer. First of all, I thought that I had misunderstood something. Then I was waiting for the moment Lucy wakes up and realizes that she had quite some strange dream. Yet, this moment never came, the author simply implemented some utterly bizarre prop which didn’t work for me at all.

I can understand why some readers truly enjoy to read the book, it just wasn’t one for me. Too strange and weird in the plot, the protagonist not really authentic and too many explicit passages.

Tracy Chevalier – Der Neue

Der Neue von Tracy Chevalier
Tracy Chevalier – Der Neue

Osei kennt die Situation schon, denn regelmäßig muss seine Familie wegen des Diplomaten-Jobs des Vaters umziehen. Wieder einmal ist er der Neue an einer Schule. Und wieder einmal ist er nicht nur neu und kennt niemanden, sondern so wie auch auf den letzten Schulen wird er der einzige Schwarze sein und argwöhnisch beäugt werden. Im Washington der 1970er ist nicht zu erwarten, dass er mit offenen Armen empfangen wird. Doch er scheint sich geirrt zu haben, denn Dee, das hübscheste Mädchen der Schule ist freundlich und offen und nimmt sich seiner an. Das gefällt nicht jedem – Schüler wie Lehrer beobachten diese seltsame Freundschaft und noch am ersten Schultag gelingt es dem missgünstigen Ian, bekannte Mechanismen in Kraft zu setzen und durch geschickte Manipulation ein schlimmes Drama zu provozieren.

Tracy Chevalier hat sich, wie vor ihr schon Anne Tyler, Howard Jacobson oder Margaret Atwood, an der Hogarth Shakespeare Reihe beteiligt, die anlässlich des 400. Todesjahres des Barden große zeitgenössische Autoren aufrief, die bekannten Werke des Dichters in die Gegenwart zu verlagern und neu zu erzählen. In „Der Neue“ greift Chevalier die Tragödie um Othello auf, der als einziger Schwarzer unter den Intrigen Iagos im Veneziens um 1600 leiden muss.

Sowohl die grundlegende Figurenkonstellation – die verliebten Osei und Dee gegen den intriganten Ian und seinen Gehilfen Rod, die unerwartet von Dees Freundin das entscheidende Hilfsmittel im Kampf gegen den Außenseiter erhalten – hat Chevalier leicht erkennbar übernommen, ebenso wie die Namen, die ohne große Mühe der Vorlage Shakespeares zuzuordnen sind. Die Gliederung des Romans in fünf Kapitel, der zudem der klassischen Dramenstruktur folgt, ist eine gelungene Anspielung an das Original.

Das Setting ist jedoch gänzlich verschieden, vom beschaulichen Venedig verlegt die Autorin die Handlung in das weiße Washington der 70er Jahre und lässt etwa 12-jährige Schulkinder die Rollen übernehmen. Die klingt zunächst abstrus, es zeigt sich aber schnell, dass die menschlichen Beweggründe sich in den 400 Jahren nicht verändert haben und welche Kraft Neid, Missgunst und Rache auch nach so langer Zeit immer noch haben und dass sich trotz der zwischenzeitlichen Aufklärung und der gesetzlichen Gleichbehandlung in der Realität nur wenig in den Köpfen bewegt hat.

Eine Reihe von unglücklichen Entscheidungen gepaart mit einem ohne erkennbares Motiv bösartig handelnden Charakter sind die Triebfedern in der Geschichte um den schwarzen Außenseiter. Chevalier gelingt es überzeugend trotz der Nähe zu Othello, eine eigene Geschichte zu erzählen, die auch völlig losgelöst von der Tragödie funktioniert. Ihre Schulkinder agieren genau so, wie man es von Kindern in diesem Alter erwarten würde. Ihr zentraler Konflikt entzündet sich an einem Mäppchen und wirkt absolut glaubwürdig, ebenso wie alle Folgehandlungen, die sich hieraus ergeben. Auch in diesem jungen Alter haben sie schon eine Vorstellung von der Ordnung der Welt, die klar zwischen schwarz und weiß unterscheidet, und sie handeln bereits im vollen Bewusstsein, dass jede Entscheidung, die sie treffen, gewisse Folgen für ihr Ansehen in der Gruppe haben wird. Sie können sogar antizipieren, was geschehen wird, so vertraut sind sie mit den Charakterzügen ihrer Mitschüler. Das Kindsein hindert sie nicht daran, in dieselben Fallen zu treten wie auch Erwachsene.

„Der Neue“ konnte meine recht hohen Erwartungen voll erfüllen. Nach den letzten Adaptionen von Atwood und St Aubyn hingt die Messlatte hoch, aber Tracy Chevalier ist es ebenfalls gelungen aus einem alten Stoff eine neue Geschichte zu entwerfen, die von der ersten bis zur letzten Seite überzeugt.

Ein Dank geht an das Bloggerportal für das Rezensionsexemplar. Mehr Informationen zur Autorin und dem Buch finden sich auf der Seite des Verlags Random House.

Eine Übersicht über die bislang erschienenen Adaptionen und die Links zu meinen Rezensionen findet sich hier.

Carrie Blake – The Woman Before You

carrie-blake-the-woman-before-you
Carrie Blake – The Woman Before You

Isabel Archer is the typical girl from the Midwest. Having grown up only with her mother, she has high hopes and big plans for the time after school. She dreams of a career as an actress in New York, but soon finds herself rejected in every audition and due to lack of money selling mattresses. The only moment when she can still take over a role is when she dates men she finds on Tinder. When she meets Matthew, things change, she is immediately attracted by him and definitely wants more. Matthew, too, has some kind of liking for her, but first of all, his boss needs a woman to support him in the little jobs he does for him. Isabel could be the perfect partner for these strange little games. But soon not only Isabel has to asks herself who is playing games with whom.

Carrie Blake’s debut novel starts quite interestingly and I immediately could indulge in it. However, I quickly had the impression to find some kind of prop and cliché I had read many times before. Even though Isabel was described in the first chapters as a young, intelligent and aspiring woman, she then is reduced to the dumb girl waiting for the boy to call her. She loses all her independence and there is a huge lack of motivation for whatever. From the attractive woman she turns into a pretty facade with nothing behind it. Matthew however, is simply a handsome and ruthless man who is the marionette of his boss without any will of his own.

Thus, I was a bit disappointed in the two protagonists who tell the story alternatingly. The plot itself has variations of “How do I seduce her without having actual intercourse” which was a bit too much for my liking of a thriller. I missed the real thrill and suspense since most of what happens is quite foreseeable as it is based on just a few pieces of information.

All in all, I was quite deceived by it, since most of the plot seems to be a pretext for having the characters go to bed and it strongly reminded me of “50 Shades of Grey” in the setting and character make-up.

Cathrine McKenzie – The Good Liar

catherine-mckenzie-the-good-liar
Catherine McKenzie – The Good Liar

Later, the incident would be called “Triple Ten” – on 10th October at 10 o’clock a Chicago office building is ripped apart by an explosion killing more than 500 people. Cecily becomes the picture of the tragedy because a photograph of her staring at the building in disbelieve was taken as the most striking image to visualize the people’s feeling. She lost her husband in the tragedy, and now she and her two kids are alone. But why was she there, at all, at her husband’s work place, at that time of the day? Another woman’s life is also altered by the event, but Kate has seen it as a chance – and seized it to escape her old life and to leave the country. Now, she is in Canada, observing from across the border what happens at her former home, the place where her husband and her children mourn her death. But a couple of months after the events, things take a different turn and this brings both of them back to the day of the tragedy – and back to the lies they told.

“The Good Liar” is a cleverly constructed mystery novel centred around three women. At the first glance, they seem to be the average wife with an ordinary life. But as soon as you get to look under the surface, you stare into an abyss of lies, of fraud and betrayal. None of them is the pitiable victim, they all contributed to their fate – but who of them is really evil and who just acted out of desperation?

The many twists and turns make you assess the situation anew over and over again. It takes some time to understand the links between the three and then you eagerly start to develop your theories about what had happened before. For some of the characters, this is a bit foreseeable, for others it isn’t and that’s what I liked best.

Catherine McKenzie is a brilliant writer who knows exactly how to pace her story which keeps you read on and on and on to find out what happened actually. And at the same time, you are always asking yourself: what would I have done in her place? A perfect psychological thriller which does not offer any easy black-and-white explanations but points out the different shades of grey.

Scott O’Connor – A Perfect Universe

scott-oconnor-a-perfect-universe
Scott O’Connor – A Perfect Universe

“A Perfect Universe“ is a collection of ten stories all set in California, yet not the Hollywood California of stars and success, but the part where life is a bit sadder and less full of hopes. It’s about a young man buried under a building which had crumbled, a business woman hated by the other clients in a coffee shop, a relationship which ended and does not provide solace anymore, a woman’s preparation for a big day which ends in a disappointment, a girl hearing voices, a class of men trying to control their emotions and others. Scott O’Connor provides a huge variety of topics, yet all taken right from life. His characters are not the rich and famous, not the especially talented or gifted. It’s the average boy and girl or their grown-up version.

As always in collections of stories, you like some more and others less. I cannot really say why this is the case, since it’s neither due to the topic nor the protagonist that I prefer some. The first one, “Hold On” got me immediately. The man waiting to be rescued, finding comfort and hope in the woman’s voice who is reading out their names, thus signalling them that they are not forgotten but searched for. His anger when the mayor decides to give up and the joy of surviving after all – you could easily feel the emotional rollercoaster Robert went through.

“Interstellar Space” also caught me, but this time there isn’t much hope, it’s a really melancholy story of schizophrenia. Her slowly deteriorating condition is sad to read. She seemed to be bright, joyful and lively and suddenly her mind decides to play tricks on her and have her finished in a hospital, locked-up in her body and the world outside shut out.

One which made me ruminate a bit was “The Plagiarist”. I often wonder if there can be indeed something completely new that can be written or if not rather all has already been said somehow. How can today’s works actually be “original”? There are some plot concepts that you can easily recognize, phrases that have been used again and again – so, what is invented and what is rather copied?