Lisa Taddeo – Animal

Lisa Taddeo – Animal

Joan flees New York to California after he lover Victor shot himself publicly in front of her. With little money left, she finds a small place to stay and she also finds the woman she was looking for. Alice, whom she had tracked online over all those years. She thinks back to what her life had to offer so far, her mother who was unable to love her, her father whom she admired childishly. Both have long been gone. Joan can run, but somehow her bad luck follows her, she seems prone to attracting all kind of evil and so it does not take too long until it comes back to her.

Lisa Taddeo made her debut with “Three women“ which I already liked a lot. In her latest novel, too, complicated relationships between men and women are central to the story’s development. The narrator herself is unable to love unconditionally, she needs to have the upper hand over her lovers, yet, this presumed precaution measure fires back and somehow she is stuck in the role of the kid who is longing for being loved. She is addressing her account of the events to somebody, yet it takes until the end for the reader to understand whom she tells about her life.

From a psychological point of view, Taddeo has created quite interesting characters. Violence and love are constantly opposed and they seem not to able to exist without each other. Joan’s grandmother has been raped, a dramatic experience of violence, yet, we do never learn about what this did to the woman. On the other hand, Joan’s mother does not seem to be a direct victim, yet, she reacts quite strongly and refuses her daughter the love she craves for. The women in her family are no good role models, yet, her father, too, does not provide a good example of how to behave, especially at critical moments in his life. As a consequence, Joan is unable to lead a relationship at eye level and feels the need to protect herself from the things that might happen.

Thus, as a grown up, Joan replicates what she has seen as a kid and ignores the effect this might have on others, only when she is confronted with a kind of mirror, her genuine feelings offer her another way.

“Animal” is all but an easy read, yet, it offers a lot of food for thought and raises important questions concerning central human emotions and behaviour. I am not an expert, however, I would classify Joan’s thinking with all those flashbacks as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder which is highly likely from her family’s history. In this respect, the author very successfully displays the impact of traumatic events on untreated children.

Karin Smirnoff – My Brother

Karin Smirnoff – My brother

After years away, Jana returns to the Swedish village she grew up in. There is only her twin brother Bror left of her family. But as soon as she arrives, all the memories of her childhood come back. Her father, a brutal alcoholic who used to beat their mother and the kids, the mother who only ever told them to pray but never stepped in against the violence the kids had to endure. All those things Jana wanted to forget resurface, but there are also other things she wants to know after all this time: where is her daughter and who was Maria?

“I always assumed that something was wrong with me. The classic therapy answer was that I ended up in the same situation again and again in order to relive my childhood. “

Karin Smirnoff‘s novel lives on a very gloomy atmosphere. A snowstorm sets the mood on the very first page. Just as the fierce and merciless nature, the people also treat each other without too much softness in this remote area in the north. It is a story of violence and abuse, of adults looking away, not protecting children and a community which prefers to remain silent over stepping in. The result are scars on the outside and inside and two childish souls marked forever.

“All one can do is pray she said. And how we prayed. Childish prayers for help. “

Jana and Bror’s childhood is the most horrible story to imagine. Afraid of the father, every week hoping that he might die before returning to their home on Friday evening when he used to first drink and then hit whoever got in his way. The mother weak on the one hand, herself victim of constant beating, maybe having given up the hope for a better life, on the other hand, ignoring what her husband does to the kids.  Surely not a novel easy to read. Bror’s addiction and Jana‘s tendency to end up with men who show similar patterns like her father are the logic consequence.

Yet, there is more than the inner circle of the family, the whole village is full of secrets, things which are common knowledge but never told which Jana, now a grown-up and strong woman, uncovers.

To call the novel an enjoyable read would be totally inadequate, there is nothing to enjoy when reading about child abuse and domestic violence. However, the characters are authentically drawn and the dynamics within the village are interesting to observe.

Sayaka Murata – Earthlings

Sayaka Murata – Earthlings

Natsuki has never really fit in, her mother favours her sister and tells her constantly that she is a nuisance and good for nothing. When her teacher first touches her inappropriately, her mother does not only not believe her but accuses her of falsely allege misconduct. Thus, she keeps quiet, even when she is assaulted. Her way of coping with the situation is getting mentally detached, she has the impression of leaving her body which helps her to cope. Only her cousin Yuu can understand her, just like she herself, he lives in a complicated family and is convinced not to be an earthling since all the people around him behave strangely and don’t understand him. An incident forces this relationship to break up and to isolate Natsuki and Yuu, only after more than two decades will they meet again and their childhood experiences clearly left their marks on them.

“It’s handy having a dumpster in the house. In this house, that’s my role. When Dad and Mom and Kise get so fed up they can’t bear it any longer, they dump everything onto me.”

Reading Sayaka Murata’s novel really brought me to my emotional limits. Even before the actual abuse by her teacher, seeing the dysfunctional family and the mother’s inhuman behaviour towards her daughter is hard to endure. Also her sister who not only does not show any empathy but quite the contrary, actively contributes to Natsuki’s poor state. She is the typical vulnerable child highly at risk of falling prey to molesters. Being beaten by her parents, not experiencing any love or physical attachment, the fact that she is not believed and does not get any help when in need, sadly fits perfectly into the picture.

“Before I knew it, I had turned thirty-four, (…) Even after all the time, I still wasn’t living my life so much as simply surviving.”

It might seem strange that Natsuki as well as Yuu come to believe that they must be aliens and that they increasingly estrange from the humans around them. However, this is just a psychological trick played by their brain to help them to cope and quite understandable. From a psychological point of view, this is extremely authentically narrated.

“It was the out-of-body power. Before I knew what was happening, I had left my body the way I had the day of the summer festival and was watching myself.”

There is no relief when they grow up. The society they live in does not allow individuals to live according to their own conception but expects them to function for the majority’s benefit and not to step out of line. Finding a matching partner first bring Natsuki the possibility of fleeing her family, yet, it was to be expected that their small bubble was not meant to last.

An extremely sad read which definitely is not suitable for everyone. Nevertheless, I’d highly recommend it due to the authentic portray of the effect such experiences can have and to show that quite often victims do not find any help but are even blamed for what happens to them.

Laurence Peyrin – Les jours brûlants

laurence peyrin les jours brûlants
Laurence Peyrin – Les jours brûlants

Joanne mène la vie typique d’une épouse et mère dans la petite ville de Modesto dans les années 70. Son mari Thomas travaille comme médecin et elle s’occupe des enfants et du ménage. Mais un jour, un incident bouleverse toute sa vie : un agresseur lui fait tomber de son vélo et vole son sac. Elle n’a pas de graves blessures mais le fait d’être devenu victime l’empêche de retourner dans la vie et de se sentir à l’aise. Quand Thomas lui refuse plus de médicaments, elle boit de l’alcool, puis, son comportement change : au supermarché, elle échange les chariots et prépare les dîners avec ce que d’autres personnes ont voulu acheter pour sentir un peu la normalité qu’elle-même ne retrouve plus. Un jour, après une phrase de trop de Thomas, elle se voit confrontée à une décision : ou elle se suicide ou elle recommence avec une autre vie. C’est ainsi que la nouvelle Joanne naît : à Las Vegas, derrière un comptoir d’un bar comme la reine des cocktails.

Laurence Peyrin raconte l’histoire d’une personne qui est déracinée violemment de sa vie. C’est un incident inférieur, plutôt une chose pour s’énerver et se fâcher, mais rien d’important. Pour Joanne, au contraire, c’est un moment décisif, quoique saine physiquement, son esprit et son caractère changent profondément. C’est la peur de devenir victime une deuxième fois, l’impression de ne pas être comprise, la recherche de n’importe quoi pour arrêter les pensées de tourner en rond et pour oublier cette journée fatale.

Mais l’auteur raconte aussi l’histoire de personnes qui montrent de la bienfaisance, qui ne jugent pas et qui ne posent pas trop de questions, mais qui sont là pour les autres et qui les acceptent comme ils viennent. Au Bunny Bunny, Joanne est un personnage sans passé mais pour qui il y a un présent et peut-être un avenir qu’elle crée elle-même. Une famille composée de personnes en fuite, mais une sorte de famille avec des règles strictes qui donnent de l’orientation pour ceux perdus dans la vie.

Il y ce slogan fameux « What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas » pour attirer les visiteurs avec la promesse que leurs secrets seront bien cachés là-bas, mais ce sont aussi les âmes perdues qui s’y retrouvent. Une ville artificielle qui offre la possibilité de s’inventer de nouveau – et d’oublier d’où on vient.

J’ai bien aimé ce roman plein de compassion qui offre beaucoup à réfléchir.

Olivier Adam – Les roches rouges

olivier adam les roches rouges
Olivier Adam – Les roches rouges

Leila aime Antoine, Antoine aime Leila. Mais Leila est mariée à Alex qui ne va certainement pas partager son épouse et mère de leur fils avec quelqu’un d’autre. Quand Alex blesse Antoine gravement, celui-ci et Leila savent qu’ils ni peuvent et ni veulent continuer ainsi, une affaire clandestine, toujours en peur, toujours cachés. Mais, ils savent aussi qu’il leur faut parler franchement comme tous les deux ont menti à l’autre. Antoine n’est pas musicien et il n’a que 18 ans, Leila n’a pas 26 ans, mais 21 et soudain, il se retrouvent en fuite ne sachant où aller. Loin de Paris, ils passent quelques jours de joie sans peur, mais leur petit bonheur ne va pas durer longtemps.

Olivier Adam raconte l’histoire en alternant les perspectives de Leila et d’Antoine. Ainsi, on sait ce qu’ils ressentent et, beaucoup plutôt que les personnages, on connaît leurs secrets et tout ce qu’ils ont caché l’un de l’autre. Avant tout, c’est l’histoire de deux jeunes, majeurs de l’âge, mais enfants à l’intérieur. Tous les deux ont fait des expériences qui les ont fait dérailler de vie, perdre de vue leurs buts et rêves, et aussi perdre un peu la motivation de vie. Ensemble, ils commencent à regagner du courage, mais ni l’un ni l’autre sache comment ça se fait: vivre une vie tout à fait normale, aller au travail, renter le soi, aimer son conjoint, parfois partir en vacances. C’est cette vie simple dont ils rêvent.

J’ai aimé suivre le destin des deux jeunes qui sont tombés dans une situation dans le vouloir et sans pouvoir empêcher le pire. Il est clair du début que leur petite affaire ne va pas se terminer en bonheur, ils ne sont pas ceux qui le bonheur croise par hasard. Ce qui est vraiment dur à supporter c’est qu’il y aurait eu des possibilités de les soutenir dans la vie, de prévenir le chaos dans lequel ils se trouvent, de les aider à atteindre leur buts simples et modestes.

Une histoire qui donne à réfléchir, racontée d’un ton mélancolique qui révèles les faiblesses et les vulnérabilités de jeunes gens entre être enfant et adulte.

Rosanna Amaka – The Book of Echoes

rosanna amaka the book of echos
Rosanna Amaka – The Book of Echoes

The new decade has just begun when life as he knows it ends for 16-year-old Michael Watson: his mother is murdered in their home and he and his little sisters find themselves alone in Brixton. The person who always told him that people of Jamaican descend have to work two times as hard as others and should keep their head down is gone and it does not take too long until his mother’s concerns are proven right. Thousands of kilometres south in a small Nigerian village, Ngozi has to say goodbye to her mother and younger sisters, she is sent to town to work as a maid and earn money for the family. Two kids who hardly have anything in common except for the very poor and hard start in life. Yet, they are born fighters and in them, they carry the echo of decades of people who had to face a similar situation and also fought for their future.

Rosanna Amaka tells the two very different stories alternatingly, you switch from Thatcher London to chaotic Nigeria and even though the surrounds could hardly differ more, there are some parallels between Michael and Ngozi. It is obvious that their lives have to collide at one point, yet, much less obvious to answer is the question if they will succeed and escape the poor life they are born in.

I totally adored the story around Ngozi even though there is not much to adore in her life. The hardship of her family who does not know how to make ends meet, a father who ignores his kids and later the families who employ and exploit her. Born and raised in Europe, one cannot really imagine the life of a girl of her background:

“’Ngozi, as a woman there are some things we have no choice in,’ she says and gets up from her chair. (…) She goes to sleep and to cry over the innocence her daughter will lose.”

Young girls are the most vulnerable and those who can just take advantage of it. Her employer, the employer’s wife, white men coming to Africa who believe to be superior and to have the right to treat people there like goods – it is not just what they have to endure but also how they seem to accept this as a fact of life, just as Ngozi’s mother put it.

For me, it took a bit too long to bring the two parts together, admittedly, the end was also a bit too foreseeable and sweet. Each on its own works perfectly well and could have done without the other actually. Nevertheless, the novel is beautifully written and I totally enjoyed reading it.

Alyssa Sheinmel – What Kind of Girl

alyssa-sheinmel-what-kind-of-girl
Alyssa Sheinmel – What Kind of Girl

He hit her. Again. But this time, she cannot hide it under her clothes, her eye is visible to everybody in school and therefore Maya goes forward to their principal and tells her what Mike Parker, everybody’s darling and sports superstar, has done. Even though it is quite obvious and Maya has no reason to lie, questions like “maybe she provoked him?” and “maybe it was just an accident?” blame her for being the victim. The school is divided and so are the friends. Yet, not only Maya goes through a hard time, her formerly best friend Juniper does so, too, apart from feeling ashamed for not having been the friend Maya would have needed, her break-up with Tess combined with her psychological struggles already keep her mind busy. But this is something that needs action and that’s what Juniper’s parents educated her for: standing up for those who are in need.

I was immediately hooked by Alyssa Sheinmel’s novel, she brilliantly captivates Maya’s thoughts which oscillate between not wanting to be the victim but speaking out for her rights and being strong on the one hand, and feeling insecure about what happened, questioning herself, her own contribution to bringing her boyfriend so far as to hit her again and again on the other. She is young and even though she knows exactly what is right and what is wrong, emotions are not that easy and rarely only black and white.

Providing different perspectives also adds to underline the complexity of a topic which seems so easy to make an opinion about. At first, however, I was a bit confused by the headlines of the chapters which introduce the respective character talking, I first assumed that wide range of girls would be presented until I realised that it is just the two of them perceiving themselves in different roles depending on their mood.

Unfortunately, after a great start, the novel lost focus a bit for my liking. Of course, it is only natural that all teenagers have their own struggles, that none of them really lives a carefree life where all is perfect. Yet, it was a bit too much here: Maya and the violence, Juniper cutting herself and suffering from OCD, drugs abuse – adding too many big topics quite naturally lead to a very shallow and superficial treatment of all of them. Not only did the author miss the chance to provide some insight in the psychological background of each, she treats them like some small bruise that can easily be overcome by just being friends again with your BFF. Simply focussing on Maya and Juniper also did not seize the extent of such an accusation and what it really does to a small community like a school.

Nevertheless, a great read that I enjoyed and which provides some food for thought.

Anna-Lou Weatherley – The Stranger’s Wife

anna-lou-weatherley-the-strangers-wife
Anna-Lou Weatherley – The Stranger’s Wife

You should never underestimate a woman’s revenge. When her nanny and friend vanishes, Beth decides that – since it all will finally come out anyhow – she can also make the first step herself: she tells her husband Evan that she’s going to leave him for her affair Nick. Evan seems to accept this calmly, they have lived next to each other but hardly with each other for years now, calling this a marriage was embellishing the situation. But he warns his wife that she will be sorry for this step. At that moment, Beth doesn’t have a clue what he means, how powerful her husband actually is and first of all, WHO she has been married to all these years. With her decision to leave him, she has triggered a ball that will send her directly into hell. But Beth is a fighter, much more a fighter than Evan could ever imagine.

Anna-Lou Weatherley’s novel really deserves the title “page-turner”. From the first chapter when the nanny goes missing to the very end: it is a rollercoaster ride of emotional ups and downs that fascinatingly and almost addictively keeps you reading on. The author has created enemies who fight on a very high level – a wonderful read that I enjoyed throughout.

“The Stranger’s Wife” is a psychological thriller combined with some serious issues that make you ponder quite some time after having finished reading it. I totally adored the idea of a woman fighting back, not accepting fate and a bullying husband who knows all the important people and thinks that life runs according to his personal laws. Having his evil character slowly unfold was exciting and frightening at the same time since you always wonder how well you actually know the people around you and how much and what they might hide. Yet, the story also showed that marital abuse and physical as well as psychological violence happens in all social classes, the rich can be affected in the same way as the poor, money does not make a difference when it comes to aggressions.

A marvellous plot with interesting and multifaceted characters, thus I can easily pardon the fact that it needed a kind of coincidence to make everything fall into place. The novel literally absorbed me and I hardly could put it down.

Colson Whitehead – The Nickel Boys

colson-whitehead-the-nickel-boys
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.

Adélaïde Bon – La petite fille sur la banquise

adelaide-bon-la-petite-fille-sur-la-banquise
Adélaïde Bon – La petite fille sur la banquise

Adélaïde n’a que neuf ans quand un jour de mai un homme l’approche. Elle rentrait seule d’une fête d’école, c’était la première fois qu’elle était sans ses parents et c’est la chance que l’homme a saisie. Quoique ses parents l’accompagnent immédiatement à la police, personne ne comprend que ces quelques minutes seront la cause pour la destruction de sa vie. Pour des décennies, elle aura des problèmes à accepter son corps, elle ne pourra jamais se réjouir d’être ensemble avec un homme, elle sera hantée par des cauchemars. Des heures et des heures de psychothérapie seront nécessaires jusqu’à ce qu’elle même comprenne ce qui se passait ce jour-là. Il faudra plus de 20 ans à la police de trouver l’homme, un Italien qui a violé plus de 30 jeunes filles et ainsi détruit plus de 30 vies.

 Adélaïde Bon raconte sa vie avec un viol pour lequel elle n’a pas de mots. Tout ce qui se passe après – ses années de troubles alimentaires, ses tentatives de suicide, son inaptitude de sentir quelque chose, son errance professionnelle – ce sont les réactions typiques pour un état de stress post-traumatique. Mais ce n’est non seulement sa souffrance qu’on vit aussi comme lecteur, mais avant tout le fait que ni sa famille ni ses ami(e)s ne comprennent ce qui se passe avec elle.

Que ce viol soit toujours lié à une certaine honte du côté des victimes, qu’on essaye plutôt de cacher et de ne pas parler de ce qui s’est passé au lieu d’accuser le coupable, c’est incroyable. Mais cela montre que les livres comme celui-ci sont absolument nécessaires. Non seulement pour comprendre ce qui se passe dans une fille violée, mais aussi pour montrer qu’on n’est pas seule à subir une telle chose et pour donner un nom aux choses qui arrivent.

J’admire l’auteure pour son courage de raconter son histoire ouvertement et je lui remercie pour offrir à beaucoup d’autres au moins un peu le sentiment de ne pas être la seule et de leur donner le courage de se défendre.