What Happened by Hillary Clinton (audible)
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown (audible)
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (audible)
For my review on Hillary and Brene's books please see my last post. Obviously, I loved them both.
Now for a book I didn't love and I wanted so badly to love.... The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Most readers will probably at least heard of, if not read, Arundhati Roy's supposed masterpiece, The God of Small Things. I have not. But I have to say the woman has a knack for titles. I love them. The author is from India and is an activist... and for those reasons alone I thought that I was going to be delving into a story that "spans continents and time" as my boss/friend always likes to say. And, in some ways maybe this book was like that. But I'll never know... because as much as I would thumb back or start over on a section again. And again. I just really didn't understand what was happening with about 2/3 of this novel. Which I'm not sure if it is the author's fault, my lack of knowledge about the feud(s) between India and Pakistan, or just my utter lack of focus.
*No seriously, I need to retrain my brain and fast. Rarely does a book grab a hold of me (or a movie, or a tv show) without me scrolling my phone here and there. Getting sucked into whatever Facebook or Instagram has to offer. I cannot become this person. So I'm trying to remedy by taking lunches away from my desk and leaving my phone behind! I'll keep you posted on how this is going.*
Ok- If anyone does read The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and thinks I really should give it a better effort or try let me know. I just know at one point I was looking forward to finishing it and so I forced myself to drudge through. And I was thoroughly excited when I heard it did not make the shortlist for the Man Booker prize.
But now for a book that did make the shortlist. Exit West. God, this book is beautiful. Much like Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, Mohsin Hamid's characters travel from place to place in an imaginative way. In Whitehead's novel he imagined a real underground railroad, with trains and conductors. Hamid's refugees leave their lot by going through these doors that appear, never knowing where they will wind up. It's almost easy to see what the judges of the Man Booker were thinking: The Underground Railroad is beautiful and already esteemed but is a story of yesteryear, that's been told many times. While Hamid's story is a story of now. A story of migration that will define our generation. Hamid weaves a story of two young people who meet just as their home country is coming on hard times, circumstances and a sheer desire move these two closer together and as the situation reaches an unbearable peak they are given the opportunity to walk through one of the doors, popping out onto a beach in Greece. When the female character describes her shower once they've found shelter it feels so real. Like you've been on the long journey with her, or you can imagine those days when you are a tourist in a big city and walk everywhere and at the end of the day blowing out boogies that are black from the dirt of the city (does this happen to anyone else? It used to always happen to me in London.) Knowing what a nice hot shower feels like at the end of a long day. Wanting to stay in that space, that time.
We see these characters go through so much and learn how to navigate and contend with a world that is growing increasingly frightened by the unfamiliar. One of my favorite moments is the characters reckoning that people don't want them there because people who look like them have carried out acts of terror. But we know these characters... we've been with them on their journey. We, as the reader, know that all they want is safety, some place that they can call their own, and start living their lives again. They want to get to know each other in a time when they aren't scrambling, but they are also scared of that.
It is so beautiful. But I'm afraid that the people who should read this book the most probably never will. And maybe I missed something but I don't believe the author ever tells us what city or country the two people are from... but there's probably a point to that... they could be from anywhere. We all could be. At the end of the day does it really matter where we are from? Is where I'm from what makes you see me as a human?
And now, lastly, speaking of a person being from somewhere. Trevor Noah. South Africa. What a story. I listened to it and it's read by him. I love that when I finished I had that feeling that I've had often through life.... the first time I remember it I was in my freshman year at the Community College of Aurora and our History teacher had a person come and tell us their story. The person was one of the Little Rock Nine! One of the first black people to go to an integrated school. The stories this person told. And I remember thinking... If they came in to the Mexican restaurant I worked at and asked for a table, I would seat them and never know their story. Never know that they are a living history. I felt that way after Trevor Noah's book. Like, we watch this person on TV and he talks about our culture and what's going on now, but he has this whole story! Definitely worth a read, or a listen!
What about you? Have you read any books that moved you lately? What were they about? Do you think maybe we love them so much because we are supposed to be doing something about it? I can't help thinking that I should be volunteering at a refugee place or something, but I don't know what I'm good at.
If you get a chance, please read Exit West, it's so important and so beautiful. <3