Showing posts with label Cultural. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cultural. Show all posts

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks 

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  1732 Ratings  ·  431 Reviews
Published October 17th 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf
Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks  download or read online for free
Uncommon Type: Some Stories
by Tom Hanks
A collection of seventeen wonderful short stories showing that two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks is as talented a writer as he is an actor.

A gentle Eastern European immigrant arrives in New York City after his family and his life have been torn apart by his country's civil war. A man who loves to bowl rolls a perfect game—and then another and then another and then many more in a row until he winds up ESPN's newest celebrity, and he must decide if the combination of perfection and celebrity has ruined the thing he loves. An eccentric billionaire and his faithful executive assistant venture into America looking for acquisitions and discover a down and out motel, romance, and a bit of real life. These are just some of the tales Tom Hanks tells in this first collection of his short stories. They are surprising, intelligent, heartwarming, and, for the millions and millions of Tom Hanks fans, an absolute must-have!

 "In her living room she opened the windows to get a bit of breeze. The sun had set, so the first fireflies of the evening would begin to flare in a bit. She sat on the windowsill and enjoyed the cold, shaped pineapple and watched as squirrels ran along the telephone wires, perfect sine waves with their bodies and tails. Sitting there, she had her second ice pop as well, until the fireflies began to float magically above the patches of grass and sidewalk." 

“Make the machine part of your life. A part of your day. Do not use it a few times, then need room on the table and close it back into its case to sit on a shelf in the back of a closet. Do that and you may never write with it again.”


 "In her living room she opened the windows to get a bit of breeze. The sun had set, so the first fireflies of the evening would begin to flare in a bit. She sat on the windowsill and enjoyed the cold, shaped pineapple and watched as squirrels ran along the telephone wires, perfect sine waves with their bodies and tails. Sitting there, she had her second ice pop as well, until the fireflies began to float magically above the patches of grass and sidewalk."

I'm not a Hollywood fan, nor I enjoy watching films all that often. My tastes lean more on British and European Cinema. I don't read actors' biographies or books written by celebrities. However, in the case of "Uncommon Type", it's Tom Hanks we're talking about. I can't think of another actor who makes you feel as if you actually know him, as if every role of his is performed for each and every member of the audience. He is widely loved in Greece, he is widely loved everywhere and quite a few of his films are considered classics of the 7th Art. This collection of short stories is written in a simple, eloquent, flowing writing style. Humane, immediate, confessional. It is a brilliant token of the distinguished American writing, it is the voice of Tom Hanks, the Everyman, and if you don't like it, need Jesus in your life.

In 17 stories, Tom Hanks creates characters out of life. The inspiration seems to be the types of New York (mainly) residents, even some of the roles he has performed in his astonishing career. Each story is embellished with the photo of a typewriter that plays a characteristic part in many of the stories. The importance and joy of writing is everywhere, the need to communicate feelings and thoughts first to ourselves and to the people around us. His themes are universal and relevant to our daily lives. Love, companionship, the errs and joys of the past, self - dignity, immigration, togetherness and a deep, acute feeling of nostalgia. A journey through the USA, with the metropolis of New York ever present, in one way or another.

So, without further ado, the 17 stories are:

‘’Three Exhausting Weeks" : Two best friends decide to become an item, but they seem to be highly incompatible. Poor guy starts feeling as if he has signed for the Olympics preparations or the NASA training. Anna is one of the most authoritative people to ever grace a book and this story is hilarious and nostalgic at the same time.
"Christmas Eve 1953": A beautiful Christmas story that takes us back to 1953 and to 1944, the D-Day, its aftermath and the wounds, physical and psychological that are inflicted upon those who survived the inferno in the shores of Normandy.
"A Junket in the City of Light" :A story about a rising Hollywood star and the ordeals coming from exhausting press junkets and over-demanding studios. Paris, during the night, provides the beautiful setting.
"Our Town Today with Hank Fiset- An Elephant in the Pressroom" : A glimpse into the conflict between the printed version of a newspaper and the coldness of reading your newspaper on a digital device.
"Welcome to Mars": A sad tale of the bonding between a father and a son, a story full of the sun, the sea and surfing.
"A Month on Greene Street" : A story set in the sleepy suburbs, during the dog days of August. A divorced mother of two starts a new life in a welcoming, peaceful neighborhood. This is a text filled with the laughter of children, the soothing early evening atmosphere, and a certain kind of hope for starting anew.
"Alan Bean Plus Four" : We revisit our unique couple of "Three Exhausting Weeks" in a story that brings "Apollo 13" to mind.
"Our Town Today with Hank Fiset- At Loose in the Big Apple" : A celebration of New York in the form of an account from our grumpy (but sweet) journalist with a tiny bit of nostalgia for a more innocent era.
"Who’s Who?" : The Big Apple is the city where dreams are supposed to come true. However, young Sue from Arizona, an aspiring actress who can act and sing and dance finds her dreams crushed all too soon. Until, a sudden appearance proves that possibly, dreams can still become reality...A beautiful story of youth and aspirations set in 1978.
"A Special Weekend" : The story of a boy who loves typewriters and airplanes, living a difficult life after the divorce of his parents. I confess that the end gave me chills...
"These Are the Meditations of My Heart" : A story of impeccable writing and immense beauty that reminded me -once again - how much I love typewriters.
"Our Town Today with Hank Fiset- Back From Back In Time" : Our favourite reporter takes a trip down memory lane escorted by his trusted typewriter.
"The Past Is Important to Us" : This story was a true surprise. A combination of Historical Fiction and Sci-fi where a scientist travels back to the 1939 for the sake of a woman. An impressive look into a potential future and a tale that shows how closely linked the past and the present actually are.
"Stay with Us" : This story is written in the form of a film script and therefore, it really flows. Departing from Las Vegas, a wealthy, kind hearted businessman and his personal assistant find themselves in the middle of nowhere and change the lives of the residents, while finding a new meaning in their own. This is a story full of happiness, camaraderie and trust.
"Go See Costas": In this story, Mr. Hanks celebrates diversity, multiculturalism and companionship, without whitewashing the problems and the fears faced by the immigrants. His love for Greece is more than well-known, and here we find Greeks, Cypriots, Bulgarians. Set in the heart of the era of immigration to New York, this story is a hymn to the abilities and persistence of hardworking people who desire a better life, without forgetting their principles and without resorting to shady means. A tale that shows that people may come from different backgrounds (economical, educational, ethnic), but these factors mean very little when we are faced with adversities. In the end, it is the heart that matters. A story that couldn't be more relevant to the chaos and conflicts of our times.
"Our Town Today with Hank Fiset- Your Evangelista, Esperanza" : The grumpy reporter gives the spotlight to Esperanza who reminds us that there is actually life without a smartphone, Facebook and the like.
"Steve Wong Is Perfect" : The last word belongs to the insane gang of the beginning and to bowling. Hilarious and nostalgic.

This is a collection to be cherished and kept as a good friend to whom we may return when in doubt and in need of a comfort. Not because the writer is named Tom Hanks and heralded as one of the finest actors to ever grace our screens. This is a book of simple, unpretentious beauty. 17 stories of people who could be our neighbours, our friends, our lovers, our parents, written in the immediacy and clarity that characterizes the majority of American Literature, a trustworthy volume like a trustworthy Royal typewriter. Let it carry you away....
Tom Hanks clearly loves typewriters. He wrote this up on one, which is really quite cool if you think about it. He made me want to get one just for the sake of it, which, for me, demonstrates a large part of the effectiveness of his writing:

“Make the machine part of your life. A part of your day. Do not use it a few times, then need room on the table and close it back into its case to sit on a shelf in the back of a closet. Do that and you may never write with it again.”
The best story in here was “These are the Meditations of my Heart,” which is where this quote came from. It’s a brief story about a woman who falls in love with typewriters and what they can bring to someone’s life. As such Hanks recognises the power of words throughout along with the power of literature and the power of communication. I feel like this was the strongest element of his writing. Typewriters are used through many of the stories and they are deeply emblematic of what words can achieve. Sometimes they just do what spoken language can never do and for the woman in “These are the Meditations of my Heart” they have the power of salvation and refuge.

As a recurring trope this is narrative gold; it really did help to make the stories feel like a collection rather than a load of random bits shoved together, which many writers fail miserably to do. However, I did have a few issues with the book. I just don’t think Hanks can create male characters very well. The women he writes about are all complex individuals, often dealing with some repressed history and using every ounce of energy they have to get on with their lives. They almost all seem to be going through some sense of internal crises with a big smile on their faces.

There’s much more beneath the outward appearance of the women. They are well-rounded and I do feel like they have lived a troubled life. The men, on the other hand, are plain and ridiculously straight forward. They all felt flat and simple. I feel like they walked on the page the moment I read them, having not experienced life until the moment of that story. It might be that Hanks just preferred to write about women and chose to give the men the backseat in their passivity here. For me though it felt unbalanced and a little careless, especially from a collection that appeared to be striving towards a presentation of the realities of life.

The good and the bad

There is no denying the fact that Hanks can write, and he can write rather well, though I think he needs a touch more imagination when devising his plots. Many of them felt rather ordinary and a little bland, flavourless is the word I am thinking of. He also needs a little bit more forcefulness when delivering his endings. Although this is a collection of short-stories, and they do go very well together, I think the characters needed a bit more of a distinguishable voice. Without the type-writers, this would have all fallen apart.

Overall though, there are some entertaining stories in here (some less so) though I think Hanks’ inexperience as a writer often diminishes them. I feel that many could have been a lot better than they were. If anything, Hanks shows us the potential he has to be excellent over time. And I give him my whole-hearted respect for this venture. His name will sell the book alone; however, his skills just need a little bit of sharpening to get him to the next level.
This short story collection is warm, surprising and engaging. 
Each story envelops the reader with its own unique sense of place, time and character; the most endearing characters of all may be the typewriters who find their way into every story. Tom Hanks' vast perspective and experience is relayed with wit and warmth, leaving one craving an audio book with the clacking of typewriters in the background. He manages to capture what the American dream means for a recently arrived immigrant, a veteran, a newspaper reporter, and so many more. My favorites included the Hank Fiset columns, "These Are the Meditations of My Heart" and "Stay With Us."
Thomas Jeffery Hanks it seems can do just about anything. 
He has won so many awards for his acting that he uses Golden Globe statues to tenderize the chicken breasts for his world famous, and yet nutritiously responsible Chicken Cordon Hanks dish. The hit at many Spielberg potlucks. He produces, writes, and directs films. He is always very funny and his David S. Pumpkins character is recognized internationally for it’s technical genius and it’s subtle and clever insights into the human condition. Hanks is also politically active, he creates apps for your iPhone, and has been known to create low fat and low calorie recipes (that still has your family demanding second helpings) for Cooking Light magazine in his down time.

But that down time might just be getting a little shorter. With Uncommon Type: Some Stories, Mr. Hanks has whipped his raincoat open, hollered out a brazen, “Hey! Look what I have here” and exposed himself with no shame as one fantastic writer. One no doubt to be reckoned with.

The stories are all marvelous. Some are funny; there are three that involve the same group of friends ("Three Exhausting Weeks", "Alan Bean Plus Four", and "Steve Wong is Perfect") that would make even the crankiest curmudgeon give those neighborhood kids a break, allow them to recover the baseball that landed onto his yard without threatening their lives with his cane, and crack a smile. Other stories such as "Christmas Eve 1953" or my favorite, the immigrant tale "Go See Costas" will stick with you like for many many days after consuming. In this way, it is similar to my Aunt Gertrude’s meatloaf, but with way less burning sensations in the bowels, violent breaking of wind, and hallucinations. All 17 stories in this collection are thoughtful, smart, and absorbing.

Yes, it would be easy to hate Hanks. The guy is so flawless. He is talented and it seems he really can do it all. He’s the Tom Brady of Hollywood. However, put aside those hurtful negative feelings, grab a copy of Uncommon Type and jump on the Hanks Train! This is a great collection of tales and a fun read!
Tom Hanks is an actor who puts you at ease and you feel he is just a 'regular' guy. He appears to be that everyman and so comfortable to approach if you needed directions to an address or if he was your neighbor or your bank loan officer or mailman or ... just anybody. He is mostly called our modern day 'Jimmy Stewart' in his style and image, but I think of him more as our 'Jack Lemmon'. Hanks can be in a serious drama or a comedy and still give you that sense that he is universal in all aspects of his personality.

He produces the same feeling with this surprising fantastic new book of 17 short pieces of fiction.

That same ease and feeling of comfort is transcribed on the page. Hanks' wonderful eye and ear and the textures of everyday simple life are related in several of these stories and, also, his sense of irony and sadness. He has an aura of the 'everyman' in his acting and that shines in the observations of these tales.

Every story either features a typewriter or references a typewriter in some way. Each story is prefaced by a photograph of a typewriter from the past. One story (a favorite of mine) is all about a typewriter entitled THESE ARE THE MEDITATIONS OF MY HEART.

Hanks knows the wonder of being a simple young boy spending a weekend with his divorced mom and her new 'friend' who takes him on a plane ride. He gets himself into the mind and experiences of a divorced mom moving into a new house and neighborhood with her kids and feels weary of the single dad next door. He, also, gives the reader a bit of heartbreaking sci-fi and several entries by an old fashioned columnist who laments the passing of time and a frenzied story about an actor on a press junket. There are three stories about a group of friends, two of which work at a Home Depot. The last story STEVE WONG IS PERFECT is perfect in all ways. Another favorite is WHO'S WHO? about an aspiring depressed young actress who comes to New York City to find a job and finds heartache and despair, but finds salvation by a gay man 'city-wise' insider from her past who lives in the core of the Big Apple and knows how to avoid the 'worms' who wiggle through that apple.

Hanks notices the 'little' things, the everyday pleasures and pain even if they take place in The Future. There are a few mediocre entries, but most are good, melancholy, smart, and truly funny.

I was truly amazed at the pleasure I had in reading these stories and surprised by his talent as a writer. IN some ways, I had the same feeling when I read a few of Steve Martin's short novels.
Having always admired Tom Hanks as an actor and a human being, I am happy to say I can now give him a 5 star review as an author. 
When I requested Hanks' collection of short stories from, I thought reading these might be like the old truism about watching a dog walk on 2 legs: it's not how well he does it but that he does it at all. Then I plunged into this delightful collection and discovered Mr. Hanks has a range as deep and wide as his dramatic performances. The title "Uncommon Type" and the themes of the stories within frequently bring you back to old manual typewriters. There are detailed miniatures of a range of these old machines after each story. In some stories there is barely a mention of a task being carried out on a typewriter, while one story is a paean to the craftsmanship of these machines. It is a unique theme to unite the tales, some of which are set back a few generations , while others are far in the future and another combines the old and new in a fascinating tale of time travel. Hanks' eye for detail makes each story rich with a sense of place. He has clearly done his research, whether it is on the subject of surfing, space travel or the theater. No doubt much of the verisimilitude comes from his own experiences as an actor, but it never feels added just to display his knowledge. The Uncommon Type of the title also focuses on the characters within each story, and this is where Hanks really shines. His appreciation for the common man and all his foibles makes the reader feel uplifted even when the ending takes an unexpected twist. I enjoyed every single story in this collection and look forward to Hanks trying his hand at a novel.


Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  41,217 Ratings  ·  22,209 Reviews
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood download or read it online for free
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
When Felix is deposed as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival by his devious assistant and longtime enemy, his production of The Tempest is canceled and he is heartbroken. Reduced to a life of exile in rural southern Ontario—accompanied only by his fantasy daughter, Miranda, who died twelve years ago—Felix devises a plan for retribution.

Eventually he takes a job teaching Literacy Through Theatre to the prisoners at the nearby Burgess Correctional Institution, and is making a modest success of it when an auspicious star places his enemies within his reach. With the help of their own interpretations, digital effects, and the talents of a professional actress and choreographer, the Burgess Correctional Players prepare to video their Tempest. Not surprisingly, they view Caliban as the character with whom they have the most in common. However, Felix has another twist in mind, and his enemies are about to find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever. But how will Felix deal with his invisible Miranda’s decision to take a part in the play?

“You’re clear, Mr. Duke.” Grins from both of them. What could Felix possibly be suspected of smuggling, a harmless old thespian like him? It’s the words that should concern you, he thinks at them. That’s the real danger. Words don’t show up on scanners.”

“Miranda nods, because she knows that to be true: noble people don't do things for the money, they simply have money, and that's what allows they to be noble. They don't really have to think about it much; they sprout benevolent acts the way trees sprout leaves.”


The Tempest is my favourite Shakespeare play. I’ve read it dozens of times and seen various versions of it over the years. Unfortunately, I’ve not seen it live yet. One day I’ll see it live at the globe. There’s so much to take from this play, and Atwood’s interpretation completely blew my mind. The way she took one of the lines made me consider this in a completely new light!

“This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine”

Caliban, the seed of the Hag, could be Prospero’s son? How interesting, I’ve never even considered this before! There’s a very convincing, though of course inconclusive, argument made by one of the characters in here to suggest this.

But I digress. This is far from the main point. This book is about a man called Felix, and he was the artistic director of a major theatre house until his assistant betrayed him and orchestrated a coup leaving Felix stranded in isolation. Sound familiar? Felix is our Prospero and he wants some revenge. So many years after he is disgraced he gets his opportunity. He stages his own version of The Tempest, using prison inmates that he teaches, to get back at those that wronged him. It is marvellously clever. He takes on the role of Prospero in the play, and he also becomes him in his real life.

What does this tell us about the story? Shakespeare wrote some truly brilliant narratives, and they really are timeless. Here one has been used in a modern setting to tell us a story that has happened and will happen again. I hesitate to generalise, but one thing I’ve learnt from reading a fair bit of Shakespeare is that his characters are real. They could be real. They are easily to identify with and the stories they have are easily seen in later works and in people’s actual lives. The point is Shakespeare was a very perceptive man, across his body of work he captured much of the human condition.

So Atwood has recreated The Tempest here and it’s beautiful. She has crafted all the themes of the Tempest into the form of this man’s life. And, ironically, he knows he is living The Tempest. He starts to actually become like Prospero. He becomes unhinged and can only taste that singular bitter pill known as revenge; it is literally all that animates him and it almost drives him too far into the depths of obsessive despair, though he has the power to come back. We all do. Very much in the tradition of the play, Felix comes back to himself. This really is a great piece of writing.

I struggled with my rating for this. This is an exceptional book, but I don’t consider it in the same esteem as other books I’ve rated five stars. It was a difficult call, so I gave it five stars but really consider it a 4.75.
After Felix, artistic director, of the Makeshiweg Festival, gets weaseled out of his job by Tony, his under-cutting 'right-hand-man' ...he moves off grid
into a hillside dwelling - an old rustic small shack with cobwebs, a smelly outhouse, surrounded by weeds. He tidied up the inside space --but
"despite his pathetic attempts at domesticity, he slept restlessly and woke often".

Both Felix's wife and child are deceased. He lived with grief, yet when Felix was the artistic director of the very reputable theatre company, which slime ball Tony is now, it was Felix's memory of his 3 year old daughter, Miranda, who had recently died of meningitis, that gave him purpose in directing
"The Tempest". ---which he never got to finish - being rushed out quickly. Felix has disappeared quite successfully. The sorrow of the loss of his daughter is intensifying. He'd tries to stay busy...goes to the library, buys something at the hardware store just to hear the sound of an ordinary human voice.
Felix begins to wonder what's happening to him.
"Had he begun to shamble? Was he regarded as a harmless local eccentric? Was he subject of tittle-tattle, or did anyone notice him at all? Did he even care?"
"The silence began to get to him. Not silence exactly. The bird songs, the chirping chirping of the crickets, the wind in the trees. The flies, buzzing so contrapuntally in his outhouse. Melodious. Soothing."

So, what did Felix want? What did he care about? What was his purpose now?
After spending reprehensible amounts of time sitting in the shade in an old chair he got from a garage sale staring into space....
He's clear he needs a focus and purpose. Eventually he concluded there were two things left for him to do - "two projects that could still hold satisfaction".
"First, he needed to get his, 'TEMPEST' back. He had to stage it, somehow, somewhere. His reasons were beyond theatrical; they had nothing to do with his reputation, his career – –none of that. Quite simply, his Miranda must be released from her glass coffin; she must be given a life".
"Second, he wanted revenge. He longed for it. He daydreamed about it. Tony and Sal must suffer. His present woeful situation was their doing, or a lot of it was. They treated him shabbily".

He realizes that as Felix Phillips - he's a washed up 'has-been' ....but as Mr. Duke, he might have a chance.
It's been 12 years since he worked for Makeshiweg. His new stage takes place inside a
prison:."The Fletcher County Correctional Institute in Ontario".
A low profile job- engaging with people -getting back in the real world: BRILLIANT!
Nothing better to help mend grief and grievances than to bring Shakespeare to prisoners! WHAT's NOT TO LOVE? The job came his way through a teacher in the
Literacy Through Literature program.

The woman who hired Felix was worried - worried that the prisoners would not be able to handle Shakespeare, given that many of them could barely read. Felix's argument was that Shakespeare's actors were journeyman, and bricklayers, and that they never read whole plays themselves. They memorize their lines.
"I believe in hands-on", said Felix as authoritatively as he could".
"Hands-on what?" said Estelle, truly alarmed now. "you have to respect your personal space, you're not allowed to..."
"We'll be performing", said Felix.
"That's what I mean. We'll enacting the plays". They'll do assignments and write essays
and all that". I'll mark those. I suppose that's what's required".
"Estelle smiled. "you're very idealistic" she said "Essays?" I really..."
"Pieces of prose," said Felix. "About which ever play we're doing."
"You really think so?" said Estelle
"You could get them to do that?"
"Give me three weeks", said Felix".

Once inside the prison -- this story is TERRIFIC!!! Flex and the inmates enact modernized versions of Shakespeare, including 'The Tempest". At times hilarious--often charming....and NO PROFANITY ...NO SWEARING!!! ( well, these prisoners are criminals, so it's not a perfect science). They loose points if they use swear words not used in the script. The can't swear at any time if they are in discussion about the characters or themes of the play either - or points Off!!
"Back to the drawing board", SnakeEye adds.
"Suck it up, dickhead". says Anne-Marie, or you can make your own fuckin' goddesses plus no cookies".
Chuckles. "Swearing! Swearing! Points off"! says Leggs"

This book becomes a play within a play--Felix is out for revenge staging a play....
just as 'The Tempest', is about a man ( Propero), staging a play for revenge.
As I was expecting...but was still found inspiring, Felix has a positive effect on the prisoners.

Moving Along:
....Slime Ball Tony is now a politician in Canada and he and other VIPs
will be coming to see a video taped show of 'Mr. Duke's inmate project with intentions of doing away with the "Literacy Through Literature" program".
Estelle knows Mr. Duke is Felix Phillips....( she has kept Felix's secret for years and even added support of him with her own camouflage). As far as everyone else -to
Distinguished visitors-- Dr. Duke is just a broken down old geezer of a failed teacher.
Tony is going to have a rude awakening.
Let the revenge begin......or Felix might say he is simply "balancing the scales".

Wonderful - fun - funny - touching ( teary-eye at the very end) --Really touching!

A contemporary retelling of “The Tempest”, Atwood’s novel is part of Hogarth Shakespeare Series that celebrates the Bard’s 400th anniversary and, in my humble opinion, it more than succeeds in preserving his timeless, thought-provoking genius.
Instead of narrowing down the complexities of the original play, Atwood embraces them all, adding further layers of ambiguity that open up multiple levels of understanding of the plot and subplots, creating a play within a play in a Russian doll narrative structure.

Like in Shakespeare’s play, the shifting forces between forms of freedom and imprisonment are at the core of the story. Accordingly, Atwood sets the action in the Fletcher County Correctional Institute, an actual prison in Canada where a motley array of criminals play the parts of the famous characters directed by Felix Phillips, our Prospero and former acclaimed theatre director. Betrayed by his financial manager Tony, Felix has to wait for twelve years before he is ready to scheme a revenge that will harbor hilarious situations and heart-breaking moments seducing all kind of audiences, from the most skeptical to the less demanding reader.

Irreverently humorous, eclectic, and subtly mordant about the roles of institutions and politicians on prison policies and social reintegration, Atwood is at her best weaving wit, depth and teasing in this adaptation. The Bard’s fierce literacy blends naturally with the slang, modern language used by the inmates with a touch of impish glee that is most sparkling when Felix persuades the actors to use only curse words that are present in the original text in exchange for smuggled cigarettes. Improbable expressions like “Scurvy awesome”, “Way to red plague go” or “What the pied ninny is this” ensue, making all the convicts not only endearing but also irresistibly funny. An inventive tribute to the Bard that I bet he would have approved of.

In spite of the fast-paced, almost casual style of Atwood’s storytelling and the light-hearted teasing between the somewhat clichéd cast of characters nothing is only one way in “Hag-Seed”. Everything comes in layers of double and triple meaning. Felix is both victim and oppressor, masterful playwright and prisoner of his own text; the actors are potentially dangerous criminals but also dissenters in a corrupt, unfair system. The play itself, like the island or the prison, goes back and forth between illusion and truth, vengeance and forgiveness, confinement and liberating force, like a shifting reflection on a mirror that splits up the light rays into a prismatic rainbow.

The last chapters of the novel are climatic, but they also invite the reader to careful meditation. Atwood seems to be asking whether we can ever get free from the inner prisons we build for ourselves. Grief for his lost baby daughter shackles Felix for twelve years, but her Ariel-like spirit whispers to him amidst the vast oceans of time and possibility, making the implausible more real than reality itself. She seems to say that if you can suspend disbelief and allow the sprites and the goblins eavesdrop into your secret hopes and fears, the poison might slowly turn into sweet wine. But until when?
What ultimately differentiates the villain from the hero is the courage to let go of those you retain at your side, to gather enough stamina to set them free, to send them back to the elements, to the magic of timeless limbo; and bid them a well-meant farewell from our lonely shores, and keep on walking at a steady pace towards the place we belong.
This is the second of this series of Shakespeare rewrites that I have read and it was so good! It shows how a really good, quality writer like Margaret Atwood can successfully turn her hand to anything.
Of course her writing is always beautiful, whatever the topic, but in this book she was amazing in her originality. By the time her main character, Mr Duke, had written his version of The Tempest I was longing to be able to go and see it performed. Her interpretation and ideas were just brilliant.
It is a long time since I have read or seen The Tempest performed so some of Atwood's nuances and parallels maybe passed me by, but I noticed enough to make it a totally entertaining and enjoyable read.
This book was fan-freaking-tastic. I adored it.

I have such immense respect for Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid's Tale is right up there with other dystopian classics like 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 in its scope of influence. But that’s the only book of hers that I’ve read all the way through, and that particular book was assigned for a class. I liked it, but it was homework, which always skews my enjoyment level a bit. There are other books by Atwood that I’ve picked up, but I could never get into them. But Hag-Seed was so small. Surely I could get through that one, right?

To prepare for reading it, I assigned myself some homework; reread The Tempest, the Shakespearean play that Hag-Seed retells. And reading it definitely felt like homework. But I’m so glad that I read it, because there was a richness to Hag-Seed that I would have missed without the play fresh in my mind. Do you have to read The Tempest to enjoy Hag-Seed? Nope! There’s a short summary of the play in the back of Atwood’s book, for anyone who isn’t familiar.

So, what did I think of Hag-Seed? I adored it. Five-star reviews are usually reserved for my favorites, books that I will read again and again, but I can’t find enough fault with this book to bump it down to four stars. I was hesitant about it when I picked it up and figured that, if I did enjoy the book, it would be in the same way that I enjoy a classic or a popular novel. That I would (hopefully) like it and feel that I had checked something off of a to-do list. But I should have had more faith in Atwood. Hag-Seed was fabulous! The Tempest is a play-within-a-play, and Hag-Seed added another layer of “within-a-play” to that. Felix was pitiable in the opening chapters of the book, but he wasn’t likable. At all. His growth throughout the story was wonderful to follow. Hag-Seed was deep, and moving, and funny. And that's all I'll say, so as not to spoil it for anyone. I was immensely entertained, and I highly recommend it!
This is a retelling of a Shakespearean play I've never read, and it's by Margaret Atwood whom I believe to be one of the finest story tellers. I had a feeling I was going to love this, and I did.
"The Tempest" is retold through Felix who takes on the job of teaching prisoners how to read Shakespeare and how to play him. Felix has a secret wish for revenge, though, which serves as his main motivation for doing this exact play with the prisoners.
It was interesting to see how Atwood mixes two completely different worlds: a prison and Shakespeare. However, Shakespeare was after all for everyone - the poor and the noble visited his Globe theatre because Shakespeare appealed to everyone.
What Atwood does beautifully is that she tells the story of The Tempest through Felix' and the prisoners' lives. Felix has experienced loss and wishes for revenge; in other words, his life has been through quite a tempest.
In the end, Atwood wraps up everything through adressing the questions that the original play leaves unanswered. This was one of the weaker parts, in my eyes, because I wanted to read more about the characters and not their predictions for possible answers. The reenactment of the play was also somewhat to the silly side, but overall I was impressed with how Atwood takes on this retelling and makes it absorbing and intriguing. I'm a fan!
“The island is a theatre. Prospero is a director. He’s putting on a play, within which there’s another play. If his magic holds and his play is successful, he’ll get his heart’s desire. But if he fails…”

This is a marvelous re-telling of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” It is a tale of prisons within prisons, of prisoners who do not realize they’re imprisoned, of vengeance and revenge. The most beautiful part of this book is that it is prisoners who are putting on the play. Their thoughts on the characters, plot and imagined future outcomes are all explored. Margaret Atwood’s retelling, in effect, goes deeper than the original. I, as the reader, was left amazed at how well all the intricacies of plot worked out to mirror the original work in such a way that it actually took the plot further, creating a doubling effect: a play within a play (maybe within another play). It feels genius as you read it, and further intensifies the prisons within prisons theme.

This is fourth installment of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, in which excellent writers are tackling retellings of Shakespeare’s literature. “The Tempest” is the last written work of William Shakespeare, written in 1610-1611. I plan to re-read “The Tempest” and rewrite this review (or at least rethink it). I am that inspired by this novel.

There were a couple fairly major departures from the novel. The largest being that, Miranda, Felix’s daughter in Atwood’s version has died at the age of 3, however Felix imagines he still sees her and she is there with him until the end of the novel when he is able to release her. I actually think this brings an additional element of fantasy to the novel, a hint of madness to the sorcerer. She actually becomes entwined into the role of the fairy as enacted in the prison. It also allows for another level of imprisonment.

This version does not take place on an island, but Felix (Prospero) banishes himself to a remote area living in a shack with landlords that maybe never were. It is all very mysterious. He lives in seclusion for twelve years prior to taking the job at the prison where through a literacy program he and the inmates re-enact Shakespeare plays. It is here at the correctional facility that “The Tempest” is re-enacted in more ways than one with the outcome that Felix desires, the overthrowing of Antonio who had taken away his theater directorship.

The work that Felix does at the correctional facility feels magical. The relationship he develops with the inmates and the enthusiasm and interest they show for working on the plays seems incredible. As quoted from Felix within the novel, “Maybe the island really is magic. Maybe it’s a kind of mirror: each one sees in it a reflection of his inner self. Maybe it brings out who you really are. Maybe it’s a place where you’re supposed to learn something. But what is each one of these people supposed to learn? And do they learn it?” This seems to be exactly what is happening within Felix’s theater in the prison.

This is a novel full of modern day wit, whimsy, vigor. Margaret Atwood infuses rap, dance, old world swearing, and much self discovery into the prisoner’s re-enactment. It is super fun to read, yet has its dark melancholic side in true Atwood form, and can be dissected in so many ways. The prisoners each have their own interpretations of the characters and their expected outcomes, which is true of all great literature. I highly recommend this to Shakespeare fans or just fans of great literature! This is Atwood at her best!

Glass Houses by Louise Penny

Glass Houses by Louise Penny

4.53  ·  Rating details ·  7,054 Ratings  ·  1,241 Reviews
Glass Houses by Louise Penny download or read it online for free
Glass Houses by Louise Penny
When a mysterious figure appears on the village green on a cold November day in Three Pines, Armand Gamache, now Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, knows something is seriously wrong. Yet he does nothing. Legally, what can he do? Only watch and wait. And hope his mounting fears are not realized.

From the moment its shadow falls over Three Pines, Gamache suspects the creature has deep roots and a dark purpose. When it suddenly vanishes and a body is discovered, it falls to Gamache to discover if a debt has been paid or levied.

In the early days of the investigation into the murder, and months later, as the trial for the accused begins in a Montreal courtroom on a steamy day in July, the Chief Superintendent continues to struggle with actions he’s set in motion, from which there is no going back. “This case began in a higher court,” he tells the judge, “and it’s going to end there.”

And regardless of the trial’s outcome, he must face his own conscience.

In her latest utterly gripping book, number-one New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny shatters the conventions of the crime novel to explore what Gandhi called the court of conscience. A court that supersedes all others.

“Three Pines is a state of mind. When we choose tolerance over hate. Kindness over cruelty. Goodness over bullying. When we choose to be hopeful, not cynical. Then we live in Three Pines.”

“November was the transition month. A sort of purgatory. It was the cold damp breath between dying and death. Between fall and the dead of winter.”


No murder. No Gamache.

The Cobrador: A tall, hooded figure robed in the midnight hour of black takes its position in the village center of Three Pines. The chilled November wind swirls around this individual who neither moves nor gestures to another soul.

High in the Pyrenees in 1841 a cobrador's presence signified a debt to be collected. Who is the cobrador eyeing for the recompense of something owed? And is it in the vein of money due or a kettle of moral debt never repaid?

Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the Surete du Quebec, is seated among his friends in the quiet window area of the cafe. He's already been out to confront the dark forboding figure who stands erect and wordless. No crime committed. No reason for arrest. At least, not today.

But when Reine-Marie Gamache, Armand's wife, discovers a body in the church basement, the village is met with a tidal wave of accusations that hit the wall over and over again. Who is responsible and does the trail lead to the cobrador? Is anyone safe from the guilt laid upon them for what they perceive as their own debts?

Louise Penny has more incredible story frames locked within her mind than there are grapes in the Tuscany countryside. Once again, she gathers the familiar Three Pines' hearts and brings them together entwined in a plot of murder, guilt, familiarity, historic trails, and the pursuit of law against the lawless.

Penny sets this stage with quite an original flavor. The story opens with Gamache on the stand in the heat of July being endlessly questioned about the murder that took place the previous November. We, the readers, do not know the individual held for this heinous act. She also weaves a secondary level of intrigue with Gamache and his son-in-law, Jean-Guy, monitoring a heavy duty drug bust involving the sale of opioids. The endless battle with drugs is one that forces Gamache to look into the dark eyes of nearing defeat. "Admitting you are afraid takes courage."

If you are a long time fan of the Gamache series or even if you have newly arrived, please savor Penny's words in the Author's Note. Her previous book, A Great Reckoning, is my favorite of all. But oh, dear reader, this one sits right alongside it. Louise Penny knows how to touch your inner spirit....because she's been there and continues to leave a lasting imprint that is timeless.

I received a copy of Glass Houses through NetGalley for an honest review. My sincere appreciation to Minotaur Books and to Louise Penny for the opportunity.
The less said the better since I don't want to give anything away, so my review will be very brief. 
I will say fans of this series will not be disappointed, this one may well be the best so far. A hard thing to accomplish in series of this length. Gamache will put everything on the line. Something old will be mixed with a current scourge in many countries, has reached epidemic proportions, and is hurting and has hurt many. Ruth, my favorite, and her duck get a somewhat larger role and more of her poetry is quoted. It will all come down to who did what where and who knew what when. So, so good, very suspenseful and as always the characters of Three Pines will pull together. There is after all a great deal of love in this little town and a great deal of good. Remember to read the afterward, it is poignant and awe inspiring.
5 🥐 🥐 🥐 🥐 🥐
So you’re a fan and you’re starting to get stressed.
How much longer can the author keep our hero sustainable?
Or perhaps you’re superstitious and thinking #13 could mean bad luck rather than a baker’s dozen.
How many murders can one small town suffer?
How many times can you enjoy a cafe au lait with a warm croissant dripping butter?
I know.
As long as she keeps writing we will continue to turn the pages and be hungry.

This one was exceptional, the best one yet; she’s taken it to a higher level—a higher love.
There was so much goodness inside, if it was a restaurant it would be awarded 3 Michelin stars. It even made me cry and that happens about as often as Ruth Zardo handing out a compliment.
Rest easy fans. In Three Pines the woods are lovely, dark and deep, and Armand Gamache has miles to go before he sleeps.
4.5 stars rounded up to 5 stars.

It's that time of year again, Armand. Labour Day weekend, and we get to spend a couple of days together...

Last year, I went gaga over Louise Penny's annual dose of Armand Gamache and the folks in Three Pines. This year's fare was lovely, but I can't quite give it five stars because I didn't love the end. But, still, I remain a true fan, wishing I could stumble onto the village of Three Pines, have a croissant and cafe au lait at the bistro while meeting my favourite characters and trying not to blush when shaking Armand's hand -- and trying to keep out of death's path.

I absolutely loved the set up of this year's book. Starting in a court room in Montreal, with Armand as a witness, Penny depicts the minutiae of a trial dealing with a murder that took place several months earlier -- I love good courtroom dramas so this aspect of the book was a real treat for me. The story moves back and forth in time from the appearance of a strange dark figure in Three Pines, slowly revealing what happened after its appearance, while connecting those events to the tension of the trial in Montreal. The dark figure turns out to be a brilliant device. And Penny introduces a new character I really enjoyed -- Maureen Corriveau who is the judge presiding over the trial.

I can't say more about the plot because the way in which this one unfolds is masterful and it would be a shame to ruin the effect. I will only say that the only part I didn't love was how the end gets resolved. But my enthusiasm for this series is not in the least diminished. I continue to be awed by how Penny mixes great characters with interesting and important issues, always engaging my emotions, intellect and moral compass.

And, again this year, Penny managed to make me teary with her afterword. Her husband, Michael who is the model for Armand's personality, died of complications from Alzheimer's in September last year. She talks about him with such grace and love. I am awed that she was able to complete this book while grieving, and appreciate that writing is her escape.

So, Armand, I feel the fall coming. School starts tomorrow. It's Labour Day. It feels like it's time to pull my socks up and get back into the busy rhythm of work and home life. It's time to part once more. Thanks again for allowing me to spend time with you and your family in Three Pines this weekend. You've recharged my batteries. I'll see you next year, and in the meantime please make sure to get into more interesting trouble while keeping safe...
 "There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts." ~Gandhi

In this 13th book of Louise Penny’s “Inspector Gamache” series, the peaceful village of Three Pines is being threatened by something menacing. A tall figure stands still and silent in the village square wearing a black robe and black mask. Menacing just by virtue of its dark presence, like a personification of Death itself.

The stories of the cobrador of Spain tell of a person wearing dark clothing and a top hat following a debtor around until they are shamed into paying what is owed. The author adds a dimension to this and the figure in this story becomes one of Conscience rather than debt. A reminder that we all have, or should have, a conscience to guide us toward right action.

A group of friends is on their annual visit to the village and one of them is murdered. The majority of this well-paced novel unfolds during the trial of the murderer with flash backs to actual events elaborating on Chief Superintendent Gamache’s testimony in response to the Crown Prosecutor’s questions.

Armand Gamache is now the head of the entire Surete and in his capacity of Chief Superintendent he has launched a final battle strategy in the war on crime - specifically the drug cartels whose products directly feed into almost all other crimes. The risks he is taking are huge and there are no guarantees that things will work out according to plan.

This is one of Louise Penny’s best novels in the series so far – and that is saying something, as I have loved every one of them!

Unique to the series, Glass Houses opens with Armand Gamache on the witness stand giving evidence in a murder trial. It is July and the courtroom is stifling hot. His recounting of the events which led to a murder in Three Pines the previous November bring chills to those in the courtroom. Armand is often interrupted by the prosecuting attorney and his actions leading up to the murder are questioned. It becomes apparent to the judge that all is not as it appears. Gamache is a witness for the Crown. Why then is the Chief Crown Prosecutor baiting his own witness?

I admit to struggling with the opening format as scenes in the present fold into memories from the past. Once the story gets rolling and some new characters begin blending with the fabric that is Three Pines I had no trouble finding my place by the fire in the Bistro, fully engaged and eager to learn. And learn I did.

Glass Houses is a masterpiece. It is far more than a simple murder mystery. It is a work of art. We have the usual beautiful prose we’ve come to expect from novels penned by this author. She adds details and quotes which sent this reader off to research, hoping to understand, with deeper analysis, what is going on in the hearts and minds of the speakers. Penny doesn’t write over the heads of her readers. Instead she invites us to dig a little deeper into our own perceptions and our views of the human condition.

The author softens the deep and profound with moments of humour. When Gamache looks at his dog Henri he ponders how the dog keeps everything important in his heart and cookies in his head. The Three Pines gang slip into their expected roles and add light to what is often a very dark read. She refers to Ruth as “the verbal speed bump that was the old poet”.

So, what is this book about? As the title implies, can you criticize the bad qualities in others when your yourself are not perfect? Glass Houses looks at acts of conscience and acts of terror. The actions caused by fear over facts. It is impossible not to equate the fictional with our own current political realities. It makes for a powerful essay on the danger someone acting “in good conscience” can have on society.

It is a powerful read.

5 stars only scrapes the surface.

The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds by Selina Siak Chin Yoke

The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds by Selina Siak Chin Yoke

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  3,247 Ratings  ·  314 Reviews 
The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds by Selina Siak Chin Yoke download or read online for free here
The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds
by Selina Siak Chin Yoke
Facing challenges in an increasingly colonial world, Chye Hoon, a rebellious young girl, must learn to embrace her mixed Malayan-Chinese identity as a Nyonya—and her destiny as a cook, rather than following her first dream of attending school like her brother.

Amidst the smells of chillies and garlic frying, Chye Hoon begins to appreciate the richness of her traditions, eventually marrying Wong Peng Choon, a Chinese man. Together, they have ten children. At last, she can pass on the stories she has heard—magical tales of men from the sea—and her warrior’s courage, along with her wonderful kueh (cakes).

But the cultural shift towards the West has begun. Chye Hoon finds herself afraid of losing the heritage she so prizes as her children move more and more into the modernising Western world.


Without the major snowstorm of the last 3 days (and it's worse today)- I probably would not have been able to read this book in the time I did. It is LONG. And it is detailed. And I'm sure it would not be for everyone. But I loved it. I would have given it 5 stars except for the Manglish used throughout. (Rather a pidgin Malaya/Cantonese/Hakka/English combination of English).

But don't let that spoil your picking up this book. If you have patience and love actual family pattern of cultural connections under change- you will love this book also. And of course, surnames come before given names.

First, I will tell you what it is NOT. It is not an action tale, unless you consider work and details of work action. It is not a politico slanted tract to any particular and studied world view. It is not centered on the negative or the labeled dysfunction, although some characters have flaws. A very few significant flaws at that.

What this is? It is a linear narrator told tale of a singular life. A life teeming with early molding of strong parental love, intense temperament, strong core of self-identity concerning her own likes, loyalties, and hierarchy of "important". And one who has excellent observer's "eyes" to her brilliantly colored Malaysian world. She, like her mother, holds the Malayan-Chinese mixed cultural strong self-identification called and recognized by dress and manner as Nyonya. A group with its own recognizable costume style, food, ritual, pattern of seeing the world and its inhabitants. And that world may be located on different islands of economic possibility within Malaysia/Indonesia, but always in the same familial structures and traditions or self-identity. One in which the inter-marriage is significant but also one in which the women desire and often by parental demand require a "chin-chuoh" marriage. This being a marriage in which the man moves in with the GIRL'S family for a period of time after the marriage official ceremonies. Quite opposite of the Chinese, for instance. It is negotiated by the match maker and the girl's parents who choose the husband in great measure. It might be for 3 months or 6 months. But the girl is still surrounded by her own family right after she becomes a wife. The male of Chinese, Indian, other surrounding cultural groups in Malaysia consider this arrangement demeaning to the groom. There are also 2 or 3 day rituals with hair combing and a wedding planner/match-maker having huge roles. It's scrumptious enthralling to read- as is the baby 1 month old rituals and celebration. Lots of gift giving and food involved there too.

That is a mere pittance of cultural context to the detail of Nyonya culture in this long, 1838-1941 story that brings a girl's society from a middle ages type existence to the modern Westernized industrial age.

The education story is worth the read alone. How her family branch and others respond to changing and varying education access! As a young girl she wants to go to school. It is denied. And yet her first hate becomes her life's love- working in the kitchen. Cooking the elaborate and dozens of ingredients dishes of her Mother's Nyonya culture. Her father is Chinese and dresses Chinese. Her Mother is a Nyonya of incredible cultural association/knowledge.

This book, for me, was intriguing. I knew nothing of this strong cultural group who speak Malay dialects of Hakka (Chye Hoon our protagonist and narrator- this is her first home word use), Hokkien, Cantonese, Tamil. Most characters in the book speak 2 or these 4 languages first and then later in the 20th century, most also will learn English. But even within the same street, there ARE people who need a pidgin combination to communicate. Or with gestures.

Boys may or may not go to school. Girls rarely or never. And in the Nyonya culture, there is strong intermarriage to Chinese men. The influx from China being very strong during all the Chinese reversals of economics and revolution, famines etc.

So many books upon the different Chinese and Japanese cultural groups but so few on this particular area of the world.

So this reaction and review could go on at length. We are in different island locations at different times in Chye Hoon's life. But Ipoh is the island town with its hills for the great majority of her years. But there are many locations described in which her children settle. From Malacca to Singapore to Penang to London.

The glossary and prologue help. And there are strong introductory sections of language play and context help included by the author. And at times in this reading, I needed them. She has patterned this novel upon her great-grandmother's life.

The operative word for the entire book is kueh. It is the complex Nyonya sweet delicacy of numerous type that becomes Chye Hoon's business, her creation, her rising everyday at 4am work. She is blessed with a strong Chinese husband. Tall with dimples and a strong decisive, patriarchal mountain upon which her life's journey mounts. Kueh, kueh, kueh- of every stripe and savory or super sweet. Coconut milk, ginger, banana leaves, and endless pounded ingredients.

I won't tell you more. Challenges abound and one of those is her very own "young prince". There is dense pattern of dictation, temper, affection, direction, and whole life sisterhoods of friendship. There is great sorrow too. And not the least is a sad, and heavy foreboding that she has failed to pass Nyonya patterns to her offspring.

Loved this book too because it comes at a pertinent time! Cultural wars of every type abound in Chye Hoon's life as in the present. And she is a soldier for her own and best beloved traditions with great and worthy reason.
Chye Hoon is a spirited and feisty child. As she grows up, her siblings are married off with ease but she is not. Her parents fear that she will remain alone but she does eventually catch someone one's attention. When she weds, its an immense relief for her parents and the start of her amazing and tumultuous journey as a wife, mother and ultimate Nyonya warrior woman.

Set in Malaysia in the 1870's through the 1940's, this novel was quite a feat. Dealing with the Nyonya and Baba tradition, this novel introduced me to a culture that I knew very little of. A Nyonya woman is of Malayan and Chinese descent and are particularly gifted in the kitchen. In fact, they are taught to cook at a very early age and its one of their most championed traits. Food and its preparations played an integral role in this novel. Their food, just like Chye Hoon, is quite spicy. She is a tough, no-nonsense lady, one that commands respect. Through circumstances of life, she ends up having to raise her 10 children by herself, ultimately becoming the matriarch of the family. As she struggles to keep her family safe, she has to fight, not just against her personal demons but also the "New World" traditions brought by the British. Chye Hoon takes great pride in her culture and wants to impart it to her children, not an easy feat. This family saga may not exactly be a page turner but its an incredibly intricate and multi-layered narrative. Its clear that Selina Siak Chin Yoke went through great lengths to get this novel historically right.

With a vast cast of characters that inspired both, admiration and frustration, this work took time and patience to read, but it was well worth it. There is a sequel to be published soon and I look forward to it. If ever I get the chance to eat sweet kueh, I will not pass it up. A great read.
I absolutely loved it! LOVED IT! I’ve always enjoyed books that deal with eastern cultures and nationalities and this book is one of the best I’ve ever read. It brought me to tears more than once. The book is told in the first person and takes the reader through one Malay-Chinese woman's life from childhood to old age. Selina Siak Chin Yoke clearly did her research well and between the descriptions of clothing and food, I wish I could go back in time and visit Malaya and experience Nyonya culture first hand. It's a beautifully written book.
Beautifully crafted, a worthy read.

This is like being in a room with a master artist who, in the beginning, stands before a blank canvas. She begins with the first stroke of words and smoothly moves on to the next, painting, you are not sure what. The mastery of her medium makes you want to ride the journey she is taking you on, word by word, scene by scene. You can smell the food, see the landscape, palpate the characters. The art is rich and flowing, smooth and masterful. The journey becomes a mural that just carries you along seamlessly, holding your attention ever so gently. This is a rare talent.
At the end, you find yourself experiencing a feeling of being inside the canvas looking out as the final brushstroke completes the expression of mastery. This is a story that will linger in my mind for a good long while. I have never read anything like it. I am weary of same ole, same ole storyline that I have read a thousand varieties of. This was like a cool, crisp, clean, thirst quenching drink of water to the last drop. I. Loved. It.
Well I raced through this in just one day. I will admit that it's not usually the kind of book I pick up. I'm very much a fan of novels with a balance of action and character drama, whereas The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds is a wholeheartedly family saga kind of book. As a result, there were moments when I wished for a break from all the relationships... but the novel is such a well done family saga that it kept me interested until the final page. The writing is very clear, but more than that it's full of wonderfully vivid imagery that transported me to the time and place of the story. It was that sense of perfectly capturing a unique place and moment in time that held my attention. The book very much reads like a memoir, and indeed the protagonist is drawn from the author's own great-grandmother even though it is written as fiction. I think this was an intriguing idea, one that appeals to me or anyone else who has done family history research and come away fascinated with the stories they discover. All in all, I would recommend, unless family sagas are really not your thing, because this is one of the standout examples of the sub-genre.

8 out of 10
4th book finished w/ less than an hour to go for #24in48readathon. It was EXCELLENT! I loved everything about this beautiful book! It was especially interesting to see so many important world events at the turn of the 20th century from a different perspective; the Great War, influenza outbreak, & modernization. Looking forward to the 2nd book in the series, which follows WWII.

The only thing I can see putting some readers off, is the dialogue. The author purposely has the characters who don't speak English or have not been educated, speak how their native language would be spoken. So there is a reordering of the words. She does this to heighten the sense of the place. I actually didn't mind and found I got used to this quite quickly. I know for some this could be an annoyance or take one out of the narrative.

I would compare the author's writing style to Lisa See or the Memoirs of a Geisha.

Favorite Quotes:

“A Nyonya, I told myself, is a woman who breathes two worlds – not just one or the other, not more one than the other, but both equally. My two worlds were alive: Chinese and Malay rolled into one, blended by the centuries that had passed.”

“In those days time stood still. Life was suspended between two worlds: one I hadn’t yet left, the other I hadn’t quite entered”

“Once inside Ipoh’s limestone caves, I was revived. Cool air blew in, breath of the gods which fed the wondrous hills I had loved from the first moment. I imagined my best friend’s soul being freed from her body, rising into new worlds beyond. In this magical place of rock and ancient trees, my turn would one day come.”

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  215,586 Ratings  ·  10,007 Reviews
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe download or read online for free
Things Fall Apart
by Chinua Achebe
 THINGS FALL APART tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo's fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society.

The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo's world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. THINGS FALL APART is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.


“The drums were still beating, persistent and unchanging. Their sound was no longer a separate thing from the living village. It was like the pulsation of its heart. It throbbed in the air, in the sunshine, and even in the trees, and filled the village with excitement.” - Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

This is a book of many contrasts; colonialism and traditional culture, animism and Christianity, the masculine and the feminine, and the ignorant and the aware (although who is who depends on who’s speaking).

Okonkwo is one of the most intriguing characters in African fiction. He epitomizes so much I dislike; he’s abusive, misogynist, has very little patience or tolerance for the weak, and is perhaps he’s even over-ambitious. Despite all his faults, it’s impossible not to pity him a little because, after all, the life he knows, the life of his ancestors, is being taken from him quite cruelly by the British settlers.

This book really takes the reader into the Igbo culture. Achebe shows the traditional culture very well, a culture which is rife with superstition but rich in context. I loved the inclusion of the African proverbs and folk tales, and the details of the Igbo clan system. Achebe also shows how tightknit precolonial African culture was and how, despite not having the so-called civilized institutions, things went pretty smoothly because of the community spirit and also the societal rules. The importance of ancestors in society is a part of this:

“The land of the living was not far removed from the domain of the ancestors. There was coming and going between them.”

Achebe managed to inject some humour into such bleak subject matter, although I think this feat is quite common among African writers:

”You grew your ears for decoration, not for hearing.”

What I found difficult to come to terms with, as an African Christian myself, is the horrific way Christianity was introduced to the African continent. However, despite the lack of respect the colonialists showed to the people, it’s hard to deny that there were some aspects of African tradition that were outdated and people had the option of leaving such tradition behind, especially if it was harmful. For example, in this book the outcasts and the parents of twin babies (who had to kill their babies to prevent evil from entering the village) obviously found it easier to abandon tradition.

I think this book was the first one that made me realize the terrible impact of colonialism. I’ve always been curious about how Chinese women with bound feet must have felt after that fashion was seen as barbaric and unfashionable, and in the same vein I’ve also wondered about how those in African cultures who had lots of power and were accorded lots of respect might have felt when new values undermined everything they had worked towards.

This book reminds me a lot of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s “The River Between” which focuses on similar subject matter, albeit on the other side of the continent (Kenya). I would highly recommend both of them.
I read this many years ago as a teenager, before it was as well known as it is today, and then I read it again in college. Readers often expect imperialism to be dealt with in black and white. 
Either the author desires to see native ways preserved and consequently views any imperial attempts as immoral and threatening, or he's a Kipling-style "white man's burden" devotee who believes non-European cultures ought to be improved by supervision from their European "superiors." Yet Things Fall Apart is a novel that complicates both of those simplistic views. In it, a desire to preserve the native way of life coexists with an urge to admit improvements to it. A tension inevitably arises from the juxtaposition of these two goals. In Things Fall Apart, this tension courses through every page, and it is part of what makes the book so fascinating.

Achebe seems to despise the tendency to simplify complex human life. The events that occur in Things Fall Apart signify the destruction of an entire way of life, an obliteration of the ties that bind a people together. Yet it is not that Achebe unconditionally embraces the culture of the Ibo people. He makes the reader feel for Okonkwo's father, whose failure by Ibo standards is the source of Okonkwo's severity, and for his son, Nwoye, who does not fit into the strictly ordered masculine warrior society.

I appreciated, especially, Achebe's nuanced portrayl of both the positive and negative aspects of missionary activity. When the missionaries come to Nigeria, the church provides a haven for the discontent: for the woman who can not bear to leave her twins to die, for the outcasts who are shunned by the community, and for Nwoye, who can only fit into Ibo society by denying himself. I was moved by Achebe's depiction of how Christianity provides a place for the outcast: the hymn they sing about brothers "who sat in darkness and in fear seemed to answer a vague and persistent question that haunted [Nwoye's] young soul--the question of the twins crying in the bush and the question of Ikemefuna who was killed. He felt a relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul."

Yet by providing an outlet for the discontent, the church begins to unravel the ties that bind the Ibo people together. Although the church gives dignity to the outcast and the misunderstood, the second missionary who comes fails to restrain his converts from injuring the dignity of other Ibos. Achebe makes us sympathize with Nwoye's dissatisfaction and acknowledges that Ibo culture was imperfect, but through Okonkwo he also shows us what was lost when the Ibos failed to preserve their culture from the onslaught of the Europeans. What was lost, Achebe has said elsewhere, was DIGNITY, "and it is this that they must now regain. The worst thing that can happen to any people is the loss of their dignity and self-respect. The writer's duty is to help them regain it by showing in human terms what happened to them." Achebe succeeds brilliantly. He painfully and tragically depicts the tragedy that can result when the only way of life a man has ever known begins to crumble.
Achebe’s protagonist isn’t a very nice man. In reality he is an asshole. 
I don’t like him. I don’t think anyone really does. He is ruthless and unsympathetic to his fellow man. He grew up in a warrior’s culture; the only way to be successful was to be completely uncompromising and remorseless. His father was weak and worthless, according to him, so he approached life with an unshakable will to conquer it with his overbearing masculinity.

”When Unoka died he had taken no title at all and he was heavy in debt. Any wonder then that his son Okonkwo was ashamed of him? Fortunately, among these people a man as judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his farther.”

I love the sarcasm in this quote. Achebe is clearly suggesting that this is not true for the white man. For all their supposed superiority, they cannot get this simple thing right. The African tribe here has a better system of promotion based on merit. The warrior Okonkwo has a chance to prove himself regardless of what occurs in the more “civilised” part of the world. And here is the crux of the novel. Achebe gives the black man a voice; he gives him culture and civilisation. These men are not represented in an unjust way. He is directly responding to the ignorant trend in Victorian literature that represented the colonised as unintelligible and voiceless: they were shown to be savage. Achebe gives us the reality.
This quote says it all:

“If you don't like my story, write your own”.

And that’s exactly what he did himself. He holds no judgement. His protagonist is completely flawed. Okonkwo is without mercy; he has earnt his fame and respect, so when an untitled youngster speaks out he is immediately roused to anger. This is his hamartia, his tragic flaw, he must overcome this and treat his fellow tribesmen with a degree of dignity. But, he is a slow learner. And who can blame him? For all his brutality and misogyny, this is till his culture. This is all he has ever known, whether it’s right or wrong doesn’t matter. Granted, not all the men are as extreme as him. He uses his position to extract violence more than most. His wives are often the focal point for his rage, much to their misfortune. He sounds like a bad man; he’s certainly not a nice man, but that’s not the point. Achebe’s meaning, and the power of this story is revealed at the end.

I found this very unusual, but it was also very effective. The point of this novel is to show how uncompromising the white man is. That’s an obvious point, though what I mean to say is that its full effect is revealed at the end. The Nigerian culture, the way of life for the tribe folk in this novel, is forced to change because if it doesn’t it will be destroyed in its entirety. The protagonist represents this; he has to deal with the crisis. He had a choice: he could either accept the white man’s way, and be changed forever, or he could stick to his own customs and, ultimately, fall.
Language is the key:

“Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.”

Africa does not possess a silent culture. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was wrong. African language is formal, developed and intelligent. Here in Nigeria is the conduit for the Igbo culture. It is rich in oral tradition. Achebe recognises that to accept a new language is to shun the original culture. Achebe shows that Igbo tradition is dependent on storytelling and language, to accept English would destroy the Igbo traditions. It would alienate the Africans form their culture; thus, resistance, however futile, is the natural and just response. Okonkwo’s reactions are deeply symbolic of a culture that is about to collapse.

I think what Achebe is trying to portray here is the quietness of the African voice. It had no say. It doesn’t matter if the colonisers were kind or brutal; it doesn’t matter what the Nigerian culture was like in terms of ethics. What matters is that it was taken away or shaped into something else entirely. This was not progress but assimilation. All culture has its flaws, that’s true for any society, but the white one, for all its self-aggrandisement, was nothing but imposing. And for Achebe this is the ruination of the voice he was trying to channel.

“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
My son and I had a long talk about this novel the other day, after he finished reading it for an English class.

Over the course of the study unit, we had been talking about Chinua Achebe's fabulous juxtaposition of different layers of society, both within Okonkwo's tribe, and within the colonialist community. We had been reflecting on aspects of the tribe that we found hard to understand, being foreign and against certain human rights we take for granted, most notably parts of the strict hierarchy and the role of women. And we had been angry together at the inhumane arrogance and violence of the Europeans, who were only in charge based on their technological development level, not on cultural superiority. We had thought about the roles of men and women, and of individuals in their relation to their families and social environment. We had touched on the hypocrisy of religious missions.

I had dwelt on the title and its beautiful context, the poem by Yeats, more relevant now than ever:

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."

We had compared Okonkwo to the skilled falcon, and the ruthless Europeans to falconers killing and destroying without reason. And "The best lack all conviction..." - a sad truth in an era of a radicalised political climate.

We agreed that the novel was excellent, timeless and universally important.

And then came the last paragraph...

If a novel can make a 14-year-old genuinely upset, angry, and frustrated to the point of wanting to slap a fictional character, then the author has managed to convey a message, I'd say. He got me engaged as well, and I could feel my nausea towards the Commissioner re-emerge instantly when reading his arrogant final thoughts, after the tragic showdown:

"The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out details. He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger."

The discussion between my son and myself focused on how the commissioner managed to marginalise a whole life, which we had breathlessly followed in the preceding pages, to a mere paragraph in a text of his own vain invention, with zero relation to the true circumstances. My son claimed it was one of the best endings he had ever read - for the sudden change of perspective that disrupted the story and made it stand out in sharp contrast.

Then we continued talking.

Best endings? Which ones could possibly compete?

First one up was One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Its last sentence also puts individual suffering into a wider perspective, in this case a time frame:

“The end of an unclouded day. Almost a happy one. Just one of the 3,653 days of his sentence, from bell to bell. The extra three were for leap years.”

Neither my son nor I will ever get over that counting of three extra days for leap years...

Second up was All Quiet on the Western Front, in which the death of the narrator is reported in a last paragraph that indicates that the main character's life is of so little importance that newspapers wrote there was "Nothing New on the Western Front". His so-called heroic death drowned in the meaningless mass dying, his suffering was completely without purpose in the bigger machinations of politics on national level. And yet, he had been so incredibly alive and opinionated and experienced, just the day before...

Then the last one we could think of (mirroring our shared reading experience), was the horrible case of a last sentence showing the victim's complete identification with the tyrant, the falcon loving the falconer, Orwell's closing line in 1984:

"He loved Big Brother."

The brutality of the comparison made my son say:

"At least Okonkwo made his final choice on his own."

As sad as it is, we felt grateful for that. But what a brave new world, that has such people in it!

Must-read. Must-talk-about!  

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  16,183 Ratings  ·  2,253 Reviews
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue download or read it online for free
Behold the Dreamers
by Imbolo Mbue
A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy

Named one of BuzzFeed’s “Incredible New Books You Need to Read This Summer”

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.


America was passing her by. New York City was passing her by. Bridges and billboards bearing smiling people were passing her by. Skyscrapers and brownstones were rushing by. Fast. Too fast. Forever.

4 stars. Ah, this book was a pleasant surprise. I picked Behold the Dreamers for my September Book of the Month read, mostly because none of the others appealed to me. I hadn't any previous plans to read it but, as it happens, it turned out to be an enjoyable read. Full of sadness, hope and - of course - dreamers.

It's quite an understated book for the most part. Quiet and character-driven. Set just after the economic crisis of 2007/2008, we see the American Dream from two different perspectives - that of Jende Jonga and his family, Cameroonian immigrants desperately trying to obtain a green card and stay in America, and that of the Edwards family, wealthy upper-class New Yorkers who show the cracks in this idea of paradise held by immigrants.

The theme is an old one - the fragility of the American Dream - and yet this Cameroonian family breathe new life into it. The author herself is a Cameroonian immigrant living in the United States, and so is able to weave the Jonga family with firsthand insight and honesty; the result being characters that come to life on the page and make you remember them.

There's an undercurrent of sadness to the whole book. Jende is such a wide-eyed, hopeful dreamer who longs to bring his wife and son to a place he considers a land of opportunity. At a time when animosity towards immigrants has been fostered by the likes of Donald Trump, this book really strikes a chord. The Jonga family are distinctly West-African in their ideals and cultural practices, and yet their desire to give their son the best life possible is a heartbreakingly universal one.

All of the characters are treated with such love and care by the author. Members of both the Jonga and Edwards families are multi-layered and sensitively portrayed. Cultural differences and issues of privilege are explored - for example, the Edwards' oldest son is anti-establishment and longs to abandon law school and head to India, whereas Jende believes the opportunity to become a lawyer is one of the greatest things he could give his son.

It's a painfully realistic book, as all good books about the "American Dream" tend to be. Sometimes I wanted a bit more from it - a lot of the story and themes of race/culture are revealed through conversations and the plot itself is very... simple. Though perhaps that is a strength too.

This novel resonates with contemporary social and political issues dominating in the US, Europe and Australia, where there is a growing and visceral tide of hatred and rage against immigrants. 
Imbolo Mbue has written an illuminating book on the immigrant experience amidst the hollowness of the American dream set in New York. The story is told from the perspectives of Jende Jongo, and his wife, Nemi, who are from Cameroon dreaming of a better future in their new home. They have a son, Liomi, for whom they have high hopes. The stage is set for an exploration of their precarious lives buffeted by economic and social forces beyond their control as the 2008 financial collapse is described in terms of its human cost.

Jende is working as a cabbie when he lands the dream job of chauffeur to Lehman's executive, Clark Edward, who demands Jende keeps his secrets and give him his absolute loyalty. The two men become close and Clark's wife, Cindy, gives his wife, Nemi, a job as a housekeeper. Cindy confides her thoughts and secrets to Nemi who is hard working and hoping to become a pharmacist. We are given an in depth insight into the laborious and costly process of trying to acquire a green card. The spectacular collapse of Lehman has enormous repercussions on the Edward family. Clark loses his job and the strain on his marriage results in its collapse. Jende and Nemi find themselves with divided loyalties and caught up in the slipstream of these events, and there is a simultaneous similarity as their future comes under threat. We observe the contrasts between a family of privilege and a family with little and the power dynamic in the relationship between the two. We see the yearnings for home, Cameroon, whilst trying to fit into a new home, the eternal immigrant heart caught between two worlds.

The novel perhaps underscores the naivete of the dreams of the immigrant given the harsh reality of the world. Mbue touches on the issues of race, culture, violence, pain, and the impact of male decisionmaking on women. The writing is beautiful at times although the characters and plot feel a little uneven on occasion. However, this takes nothing away from a novel that is a timely and pertinent story that carries an authentic picture of an immigrant experience. The characters of Jende and Nemi are complex and captured my interest easily. I loved the portrayal of their home country and their connections with it. A wonderful and insightful book that I recommend highly.

Sometimes, a novel arrives at just the right moment.

Here we are in a crater of xenophobia. One of our presidential candidates is foaming at the mouth about “extreme vetting” for immigrants. But then along comes “Behold the Dreamers,” a debut novel by a young woman from Cameroon that illuminates the immigrant experience in America with the tenderhearted wisdom so lacking in our political discourse. While another author might have played that imperative title sarcastically, for Imbolo Mbue, “Behold the Dreamers” is a kind of angelic annunciation of hope, which ultimately makes her story even more poignant.

After a childhood of extreme poverty, Mbue came to this country in 1998 — recent enough to retain the optimism of an immigrant but long enough to understand our national schizophrenia about foreigners. Her novel is about a family from Cameroon living in Harlem on the eve of striking disruption. The United States is about to elect its first black president and descend into the Great Recession. But Jende Jonga, the hero of this tale, has his mind set on only one thing: becoming a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a hotshot Lehman Brothers executive. Jende and his wife, Neni, have been preparing for the interview for days. They’ve spent hours googling “the one question they ask at every job interview.” With the help of a volunteer at the library, they’ve written up a résumé that describes Jende as “a man of grand accomplishments”: farmer, street cleaner. . . .

3.5 I went back and forth, trying to decide whether or not I liked any of these characters, except form the young children of course who were victims of circumstances they could not control. 
Was pretty sure I liked Jende for most of the book until he did something I abhorred. Nein too does something, out of desperation, but I did not much like her for it. The Edwards, Cindy and Clark were pretty much representative of the privileged culture, or at least how they are usually portrayed. I did eventually sympathize with them all for various reasons and in the end that didn't matter to me so much as the story.

If it shows nothing else it definitely showed the disconnect between immigrants, the privileged and even those who were born here. So a worthy and timely read, especially here in the USA where one of our presidential nominees is running on a platform of fear, hatred and bigotry. This book shows how tenuous the hold on their lives are for some. Lawyer fees, trying to get papers to stay in this country, work toward a better for themselves and their families. The author set this just before the collapse of our economy in 2008 and in fact Clark Edward works for Lehman Brothers as an executive, as he loses his job, his marriage disintegrates as does the future of Jende's family. Jobs are now scarce, college educated people willing to take the jobs the immigrants once occupied. So many lost their houses and their livelihoods.

I enjoyed reading about the difference in their lives between New York, living in Harlem and Cameroon, where they are from. The ending surprised me somewhat, well I didn't expect the direction it took. But, for this family it made sense. This novel is not perfect and like most probably doesn't reflect all but it does give the reader an inside view of one such immigrant family. A well told and thought out story, this the author's first.

4.5 Stars

Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel, “Behold the Dreamers” takes a look at the immigrant dream of life in the United States, with promises of bigger, better than wherever you came from. Undoubtedly, there can be truth to that, but what happens to that dream when it seems elusive, out of reach or comes undone?

I was hooked right from the start by the story of Jende Jongo, formerly of Limbe, Cameroon, finding a dream job as a chauffeur for an executive at Lehman Brothers, in the year 2007. He’s been driving a cab in NYC, but better pay and a better car to drive are not the only thing that makes this job such a break, by driving a Lehman Brothers executive Jende feels he has achieved a point of pride in his work.

There’s humor in Mbue’s writing about the everyday life in America, the thought process of the shopping experience in America, coming from an environment where negotiating prices is the norm. There are also the astonishments of the new immigrants experience with the availability of so much in one place, and the availability of the “finer” places to shop for clothing. There’s also a heavy dose of the reality how many difficulties may be encountered by those who come looking for a better life in America.

As Dorothy comes to realize, “there’s no place like home” when she’s in Oz, but then back at Auntie Em’s she dreams of life in Oz … A heart divided. Jende’ heart is at odds between the things he has come to love about this new life, the things he misses about life in Limbe, his family there. Neni can’t bear to think of leaving everything they’ve worked for.

Charming, truly compelling story, “Behold the Dreamers” is a wonderful debut novel about where we sometimes choose to call home.

It genuinely surprises me that so many of my friends here seem to have been rather lukewarm on this book, because Behold the Dreamers was a thoroughly engrossing, powerful, emotional experience for me.

This is the story of a family who has emigrated from Cameroon. Jende and Neni Jonga, along with their young son, come to New York in 2007 in search of the American Dream. She enrolls in college, with the expectation that she can eventually become a pharmacist; he secures a job as the chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. This position gives him a unique view of the Edwards family, themselves a very fractured take on the American Dream. Lehman brothers is teetering on the brink, and the stress is weighing heavily not just on Clark but also on his wife Cindy and their two sons: would-be hippie twentysomething Vince and wide-eyed nine-year-old Mighty. Jende is privy to much of that stress and he has to try to keep it from reaching into his own family, whose status in this country is far from certain.

Imbolo Mbue tells her story from the perspectives of both Jende and Neni, though it’s not a strictly “alternating POV” kind of book. Mbue captures these two voices brilliantly, illustrating the hope and the fear, the idealism and the naiveté that comes with being an immigrant in America at the outset of the Great Recession. I was so completely invested in these two that my heart was in my throat for much of the book. The Edwards family sometimes feel like a bit of a clichéd portrayal of upper class white privilege, but it still seems clear that Mbue holds a lot of empathy for them

Though it’s set in the last decade, this book holds quite a bit of pertinence in 2016. Immigration remains a huge topic in the US right now, and there’s huge swathes of xenophobia all over our country. Knowing how hard it is to start a new life in America, it’s sometimes hard for me to imagine why someone might want to—especially people of color. Mbue offers a reminder that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, highlighting the sacrifices and the impossible, often desperate, decisions that immigrants are faced with. Mbue really forced me to walk around in the shoes of her characters and think about what it must be like to be in their position. It was a really intense experience for me; I got to the last fifty pages and I couldn’t stop sobbing. So maybe I’m alone here, but I absolutely adored this book.