I do these Quick Takes for books for which I won’t be doing a full review but about which I might still have something to say, This is the 2nd 2023 Quick Takes page. Search Blogger on Books Quick Takes or go to the main page of the respective year for previous Quick Takes.
Throwback reviews (tagged Tr) are old reviews either from My Space where I had a series ‘Read Anything Good Lately’ between 2006 to 2010, or from Blogger on Books on Wadadli Pen where I picked up my book blogging before migrating it here to my personal blog.
I tag with an (RR) any review or complimentary copies received from the author or publisher whether for review purposes or not – all reviews are still my honest opinion.
The Return Journey by Maeve Binchy (Tr) Okay, so if Jonathan Kellerman is my guilty pleasure, then Maeve Binchy is my comfort food: Circle of Friends, Firefly Summer, Evening Class, Tara Road, Scarlet Feather, Quentins, Nights of Rain and Stars… in The Return Journey, the problems range from the simple to the sordid but something about Binchy’s style makes the narrative feel very cosy and her heroes and heroines supremely down to earth and good hearted (at heart) – irony and the characters as travelers are recurring elements through these short stories of people; their complexities and contradictions and as is the case when this device is employed, whether sharply or with a gentle touch, there are not all happy endings. But this is Binchy, and so even the bitter comes with a little sweet. (ETA: Binchy books reviewed subsequent to this are Chestnut Street, Whitehorn Woods, and Heart and Soul)
Ya Ya Surfeit by Chadd Cumberbatch (Tr) From the first two pieces, the sorrowful “Ascent to Grace” and the joyful “Georgia Peach” (both dealing with death)…it hooked me. …No doubt a credit to his theatrical background, the pieces have about them a sense of pieces not meant to lie about on a page but meant to be uttered, live, before an audience. Though reading them on the page is its own pleasure. I especially enjoyed the series of poems dealing with relationships which occupied much of the middle of the text; as ordered, they move from love’s start (“dream me lover/like a dream come true”) through the upsets and letdowns (“Tonight I’ll slip away from you/and you will never know/because you don’t see me anymore”) to its whimpering end (“It was like God turn off the sun”). But the book deals with all kinds of drama, not just love, and moves between the English standard and the Montserrat tongue. I enjoyed some parts of it more than others, but quite liked the whole overall.
White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey (Tr) Fascinating read – especially for me as a Caribbean person (can’t help but wonder though what non-Caribbean people make of it). Sabine and her husband, George, a pair of Europeans making life in Trinidad over a span of decades, see the implosion of their marriage echoed in the bright promise of pre-Independence Trinidad and the way it all falls apart – precipitated by it, even. The narrative is bold and unbothered by any sense of self-censure in its exploration of Caribbean politics, the black power movement and racial politics in general, the expat and local community, and even the Soca Warriors. What’s more, many of the observations have a ring of truth even when I don’t quite buy the direction of the narrative. Very interesting, thought provoking and unsettling; with unvarnished insight into the ambivalence, hostility and push and pull of affection some expats may feel towards the island(s) – itself a central character in the book – whose beauty is portrayed as at once seductive and damning. One of the things that fascinates me is the real people who appear as characters in the book, warts and all: from political leaders like Patrick Manning, to sports icons like Brian Lara, to calypso legends like Sparrow. As I said to the friend who loaned me this book, I’d love to be a fly on the wall if (when) any of these people read the versions of themselves who show up as characters. The late Eric Williams, former leader of the country and certainly one of the Caribbean region’s political icons, is a central character, looming as large as the blimp that hovers over modern day Trinidad (adding to the sense of claustrophobia the main character, Sabine, feels on the island). It’s interesting her wholly fictional relationship with this larger than life man (“Eric Williams joined us in our bed”), a relationship which spans decades. There are some moments that feel over the top and some moments that are so on point I couldn’t help but hum in agreement or laugh out loud. And, while I was never fully comfortable with the book’s portrayal of us, (afro) island people, from the heart of what drives us to how we speak, I could accept it given that we are seen and heard through the eyes of the other, an outsider (notwithstanding the author’s obvious intimacy with the island). And I could enjoy this latest entry into the Caribbean literary canon because it was entertaining and thought provoking, well paced and lushly drawn. (ETA: the author’s most recent book The Mermaid of Black Conch is discussed in a 2022 Blogger on Books)
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama (Tr) After reading Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, I definitely want to read Dreams of My Father. It was slow in parts but the tone was vintage Obama and, as such, quite engaging. I was particularly intrigued by the character insights (he describes one of his flaws as “a chronic restlessness; an inability to appreciate, no matter how well things were going, those blessings that were right in front of me”); and his straight talk on politics (“Most of the other sins of politics are derivative of this larger sin – the need to win, but also the need not to lose” and how being elected to office meant “I spent more and more time above the fray, outside the world of immediate hunger, disappointment, fear, irrationality, and frequent hardship of the other 99 percent of the population – that is, the people that I’d entered public life to serve”). With regards to his political agenda, the book emerges as a manifesto of sorts by the man who would be president: with analysis of the problems facing America and fixes with attention given as well to the wider world. His case study involving America’s relationship with Indonesia and the impact of said involvement proving illustrative and instructive. But I have to say I particularly enjoyed the glimpses of the man via his asides on his relationship with Michelle, mostly, how she keeps him grounded; including in one instance interrupting him to remind him to bring home some ant traps on the way home “I hung up the receiver, wondering if Ted Kennedy or John McCain bought ant traps on the way home from work.”
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