Author: elenasquareeyes

READ THE WORLD – Liberia: She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore

Narrated by Wayétu Moore.

Gbessa, exiled from the West African village of Lai, is starved, bitten by a viper, and left for dead, but still she survives. June Dey, raised on a plantation in Virginia, hides his unusual strength until a confrontation with the overseer forces him to flee. Norman Aragon, the child of a white British colonizer and a Maroon slave from Jamaica, can fade from sight when the earth calls him. When the three meet in the settlement of Monrovia, their gifts help them salvage the tense relationship between the African American settlers and the indigenous tribes, as a new nation forms around them.

I enjoy memoirs narrated by the author, but this was the first fiction audiobook I’ve listened to that was narrated by the author which was an interesting experience, and I think Moore did a good job.

She Would Be King has beautiful, lyrical writing which was very nice to listen to. I’m not sure how easy I’d have found it to physically read the story though. As She Would Be King is narrated by an omnipresent voice, one you learn who it is and how they relate to the characters as the story progresses, and I think that makes it feel like you are being told this mythical tale by an old storyteller.

While the writing in She Would Be King is generally poetic, the violence Gbessa, June Dey, Norman and many other characters face is not glossed over. The beatings, whippings and forced abortion are written in detail, forcing you to face the atrocities’ that were committed to generations of people.

She Would Be King is a mix of historical fiction and fantasy. It takes place during the early-mid 1800s and the effects of slavery and colonialism is a big part of the characters lives. June Dey is raised on a plantation while Norman Aragon grows up being measured and experimented on by his father as he tries to learn more about the power he believes his son has inherited. Gbessa is the only one of the three who has always lived in West Africa, but with her dark skin and red hair she was shunned by the villagers and called a witch. The fantasy element, though it probably could be classed as magical realism, is the fact three characters all have “superpowers”, immortality, invisibility and being bullet proof. How they each discover these abilities and how they, and others, react to them is a big part of their growth as characters.

The pacing of She Would Be King is uneven, and with this all-knowing narrator it’s hard to get into begin with. Some elements of the story seem rushed and then in others it’s difficult to tell how much time has passed for a character, for instance I was surprised when a character said Gbessa had been in certain town for five years, I wouldn’t have said it was that long.

She Would Be King is a magical story about the formation of Liberia, how people can change, how they can find their own family or home, but also how they can’t forget about who they are. She Would Be King feels like a retelling of a legend, it can be hard to follow or connect with some characters at times, but it’s still and impressive tale. 3/5.

REVIEW: 42 (2013)

Over the weekend Chadwick Boseman’s family released a statement saying he had passed away on Friday night from colon cancer – a disease he was diagnosed with in 2016. Personally, this was very upsetting and I couldn’t comprehend what had happened or the fact he’d been living cancer and getting many treatments and surgeries for years while still working, making multiple films including Black Panther and the other films in the MCU he starred in. a couple of months ago I wrote about How the MCU Helped Me Grieve Over the Loss of my Dad, and T’Challa and how he described Wakandans view of the afterlife was one of the big things that helped me.

This weekend I watched the few films from Chadwick Boseman’s filmography that I had yet to see and rewatched my favourite film, and performance, of his from outside the MCU – 42.

42 is a biopic about Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) who was the first African American to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era after the innovative Dodgers’ general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) signed him.

Jackie Robinson was a trailblazer. While there are a lot of sports movies that deal with racism and discrimination as teams have to integrate e.g. Remember the Titans (2000), Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, having previously played for the Montreal Royals in the minor league the year before, and he was alone out there, breaking down barriers while horrendous abuse was hurled at him and he wasn’t allowed to react to it once.

As Harrison Ford’s growly Rickey says to Robinson, if he says something back or retaliates in anyway the blame will be on him. Boseman is great as Robinson. He’s a quietly confident kind of guy and also a genuinely nice person who’s strong and knows what he wants. However, he does such a good job of showing how the abuse gets under his skin but not allowing any of the spectators see it, meaning when he’s finally alone and not in the spotlight, he explodes in rage and anguish.

The whole supporting cast in 42 are good too. A lot of the other Dodgers players get a moment or two to see what Jackie’s dealing with and how they decide whether or not to face up to any of their own unconscious prejudices. Alan Tudyk play an opposing teams’ coach who hurls vitriol at Robinson, and he does it so well that you hate him and feel so much sympathy for Robinson.

There’s a surprising amount of humour in 42, a lot of which comes from the baseball commentator played by John C. McGinley. How he narrates the games is funny as it’s often the quick-witted radio friendly version for what’s really happening, especially when Robinson’s teammates get involved, physically standing up for him when he cannot.

42 follows a lot of the usual sports movie tropes but that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable, in fact I think it’s one of the best sports dramas around. The baseball sequences are tense and exciting, the characters are compelling – especially as it’s a true story – and the cast are all perfectly suited for their roles.

42 shows Boseman’s talent and poise on screen, and it’s fascinating watching 42 back to back with Get On Up (2014), a film in which Boseman plays larger than life James Brown. These were two iconic and important men in their fields but were vastly different in terms of personality and Boseman plays them both so well. Chadwick Boseman really was a star in his own right and it’s a shame that we won’t get to see him be regal King T’Challa again, or on our screens in general. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Guadeloupe: The Restless by Gerty Dambury

Translated by Judith G. Miller.

Guadeloupe, a French overseas department, May 1967. Nine-year-old Émilienne Absalon is struggling with the sudden disappearance of her teacher, Madame Ladal, and her father at the onset of a workers’ strike. As violence throws the city into chaos, characters both living and dead take the stage to help Émilienne find those she’s lost, and in the process rewrite Caribbean history.

This may sound weird, but I found The Restless so easy to read and was thirty pages into it before I realised, and that made me instantly like this book. Perhaps it’s because I was in the middle of a fantasy/sci-fi short story anthology when I decided I needed something different. While the short story anthology was good, I struggled going from one story to another when I wanted to spend more time with the different characters or learn more about the different worlds, so it was nice to feel settled in one place with a clearly defined protagonist again.

I really liked how the story unfolded in The Restless. The chapters alternate between Émilienne’s point of view and other character’s point of view. These other characters are family members, neighbours or other people connected to the Absalon family somehow – and some are dead, and some are ghosts. Each character had a distinct voice which certainly helped with the chapters not from Émilienne’s point of view as sometimes they’d start and you wouldn’t be sure who was now recounting their tale, just that it was a different person to before.

Émilienne is a great character. The author does a great job of showing how a child would experience and try to understand suddenly losing an important figure in her life like a teacher. How some things are difficult to explain to a child because they’re to do with governments and fears of communism and having ideas that are deemed inappropriate, but how the child can still pick up on how something isn’t right or is unfair. Add to the fact her father, who she believes can explain to her what happened to her teacher, hasn’t been home for days leads her to be very unsettled. Also, Émilienne and her fellow classmates’ anger and frustrations of the sudden dismissal of their teacher mirrors those of the workers who want their wages to increase.

In The Restless’s prologue, it gives a short overview of the talks between management and construction workers union that led to work stoppages in Pointe-à-Pitre and, after the breakdown of negotiation, violence as the police were ordered to fire on the demonstrators. This is important as it’s the backdrop to Émilienne’s stress of her missing teacher and father, and it provides context for the anti-union sentiment that you slowly learn her teacher was a victim of and provides reasons for her fathers absence.

The Restless is a relatively short but effective book. It juggles its characters well and provides both a child’s perspective to sudden violence that they cant comprehend a reason for, and various adults perspectives, some only just learning about their workers rights, some who have died and were struggling in different ways, and some who are just trying to get by. 4/5.

REVIEW: Personal Shopper (2016)

Maureen (Kristen Stewart), a personal shopper in Paris, refuses to leave the city until she makes contact with her twin brother who died there. Her life becomes more complicated when she starts receiving text messages from an unknown number.

Personal Shopper is one of those films I’d recommend going into knowing as little as possible – and avoiding the trailer at all costs. All I knew about it was “Kristen Stewart played a personal shopper and things aren’t what they seem” and I had no idea the level of unnerving suspense that would be throughout this film.

Maureen, like her twin brother, is a medium and while she doesn’t necessary believe in the afterlife and the souls of the dead, she does believe she can feel presences. What worked really well was how her beliefs aren’t mocked by those around her. Some characters also believe and treat the idea of spirits as perfectly normal, and even those who are a bit dubious don’t laugh in her face or belittle her for trying to get a sign from her brother.

Personal Shopper is all about grief and trying to find connections. Kristen Stewart is fantastic here, playing Maureen’s search for any sort of contact with her brother with desperation, and when she starts receiving text messages that seem to know far too much about her, she’s close to tears but also has a steely determination to see things through. Maureen responds to the texts and things spiral as she tries to figure out what’s happening – could it be her brother on the other end of the phone? Stewart is in every scene of Personal Shopper and is just magnetic to watch, you can’t take your eyes off her as the camera lingers on her as she tries to process things, often while trying to stifle tears.

Personal Shopper is an unsettling blend of drama, horror and thriller. There are so many moments that can be left over to the viewers interpretation, making Personal Shopper an interesting film to discuss with others. There’s an eeriness throughout the film, and a tension that I wasn’t expecting. The sound, and sometimes absence of sound, in Personal Shopper gets under your skin, leaving you on edge and waiting for the other shoe to drop almost constantly.

Personal Shopper really was an unexpected delight. I was captivated by its eeriness and by Stewart’s performance, how she can portray so much with so few words is wonderful. Personal Shopper really is a film that’s open to interpretation, what certain scenes mean, whether there are spirits, and if Maureen does the right thing. It’s an often creepy but always stunning film. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Democratic Republic of Congo: Beneath the Blue Sky: A Short Book of Poetry by Frederick Yamusangie

A short poetry collection of less than 80 pages.

I won’t say I’m an expert in poetry, because I’m most definitely not, but I have read some poetry collections over the past few months so I’m starting to get an idea of what I like and what does and doesn’t work for me.

Unfortunately, Beneath the Blue Sky doesn’t work for me. There’s no theme or anything running through this poetry collection, making each poem insular and has very little effect. It’s also then hard to derive any meaning from them because they are so varied in what they are about, or what point of view a poem is from. The poems themselves are often very short, and as there’s nothing connecting them, it’s just like you read five lines and then that’s it.

In the latter half of the collection there were two poems that stood out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they were the poems which were longer and had more substance to them. The first is called A Jungle which was about how a town is called a jungle and how and why that is when a physically jungle is so different. The second is called Oh! My Congo! which is about the Congo, how it’s changing and the people there. These two poems were ones that felt like they meant something and were from a point of view that was more unique.

All in all, I didn’t enjoy Beneath the Blue Sky. It’s a short yet meandering poetry collection that really didn’t work for me and I’m struggling to find anything else to say about it. 1/5.

REVIEW: Victor Frankenstein (2015)

Told from Igor’s (Daniel Radcliffe) perspective, the troubled young apprentice tells the tale of his unhappy life before being rescued and befriended by Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and how they worked together to create life where it should not be.

The story of Frankenstein is so well known – it’s the blueprint for the monster genre – that it is nice to see a film that does try and put its own spin on things, however that doesn’t mean it’s successful in doing so. Having Igor being the main character is new and having him being intelligent and not a snivelling sidekick to Frankenstein was interesting. He goes from being downtrodden and never having anyone care about him, or even see him as a human being, to being more self-assured thanks to Frankenstein’s friendship and belief in him – that turn around is very quick though.

McAvoy as Frankenstein is good fun, the way he annunciates certain words or gets into other characters personal spaces is unsettling as he seems like he’s living life on a knifes edge. His Frankenstein is obsessive and volatile and is indeed the quintessential mad scientist. The characteristics of this Frankenstein seems to take a lot of inspiration from Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes. In fact, the tone and filming and editing style seems to be trying to emulate the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films. There’s the bickering relationship between Frankenstein and Igor, the random slow-motion shots in action sequences, the illustrated title cards, and one scene where Igor runs through a forest seemed to be a poor imitation of a sequence in A Game of Shadows.

Besides from the ethical dilemma of what Frankenstein and Igor are trying to achieve, the main antagonist for them is Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott) who is investigating the thefts of human and animal bodies parts. He is also obsessive and unfortunately quickly becomes a cartoonish villain – though a verbal sparring session between him and Frankenstein is one of the more compelling parts of the film.

The editing in the scenes where Frankenstein and Igor have successfully animated a dead body and then everything goes wrong is not good. Especially in the final showdown it is difficult to keep track of where characters are in relation to each other and to generally have a good idea of the space they are currently inhabiting. It’s hard to keep track of what’s happening and minor antagonists are dispatched so quickly it’s laughable.

While Victor Frankenstein does attempt to breathe new life (ha!) into a well-known story, in the end the final act becomes a clichéd monster movie and the lead up to it often feels like you’ve seen it before due to character and stylistic choices being so similar to previous big franchises. 2/5.

Ten Books by Women in Translation

August is known as Women in Translation month, so I thought it would be the perfect time to share some recommendations. Thanks to my Read the World Project I’ve read more translated works these past few years than I ever would have if I hadn’t decided to try and read a book from every country in the world.

Here’s ten books from women in translation that I enjoyed and I’ve noted the country where the author is from.

Safe as Houses by Simone van der Vlugt, translated by Michele Hutchison (Netherlands)
I listened to this audio and it was really good. It’s a proper suspenseful crime/thriller where a woman and her young child are held hostage in their own home by an escaped criminal.

Crimson by Nivaq Korneliussen, translated by Anna Halager (Greenland)
No one in this book is straight. It’s a really short coming of age story about a group of people who are all in their late teens/early twenties who are all connected in some way, they might be friends, siblings, roommates and it’s them just living their lives and figuring out who they are.

The Naked Woman by Armonía Somers, translated by Kit Maude (Uruguary)
This is the sort of book I’d love to discuss with other people. It’s a really interesting feminist story about a “crazy” woman who is really just liberated.

The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili, translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin (Georgia)
This chonky book is over 900 pages and follows a family for generations. It’s a real deep dive into the history of Georgia and the Soviet Union, and a lot of these characters have truly horrible things happen to them.

Love in No Man’s Land by Duo Ji Zhuo Ga, translated by Hallie Treadway (Tibet)
Spanning forty years, Love in No Man’s Land shows how life changes for families who live on the grassland of Tibet and it has romance, drama, mystery and mysticism,

In the Distance with You by Carla Guelfenbein, translated by John Cullen (Chile)
This book was beautifully written (which I think is a sign of a great translation) and it’s kind of a love letter to authors, their stories and the impact they can have on people.

Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke, translated by Liz Waters (Belgium)
Spanning thirty days of a painter and decorators life, it is about how his life entwines with the people he works for and how things change when he meets and helps a group of Afghans and Syrians at a makeshift refugee camp.

Fear and His Servant by Mirjana Novaković, translated by Terence McEneny (Serbia)
I didn’t love this book, but I found the combination of eighteenth-century Serbia, vampires and what could be the Devil really interesting. There’s also a wry sense humour throughout the book which I really liked.

Burning Cities by Kai Aareleid, translated by Adam Cullen (Estonia)
Set in Estonia between 1941-1990s, the thing I really remember about Burning Cities is how the city it’s set in is a character itself and how the city is struggling or thriving helps show how life could be like for people during and after the conflict they experienced.

The Door by Magda Szabó, translated by Len Rix (Hungary)
The Door is about the relationship between an author and her housekeeper and it’s a relationship that’s sometimes fraught and at other times is caring.

Have you read any of these books? What are some of your favourite books from women in translation? There’s a Women in Translation Readathon happening 24 – 31 August hosted by Matthew Sciarappa, Kendra Winchester and Insert Literary Pun Here on YouTube, if you want to dedicate some time to women in translation.

REVIEW: Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble by Graham Hunter

This is the story of the greatest achievement in the history of international football. After decades of failure, Spain won the European Championship in 2008 and then the World Cup in 2010. At Euro 2012 they became the first team to win three consecutive tournament titles. Graham Hunter was inside the dressing room as the players celebrated after the finals of the World Cup and Euro 2012. His access-all-areas pass at all three tournaments has resulted in remarkable eyewitness accounts and new interviews with star players and the men behind the scenes.

I loved this book. I’ve talked before about how I support the Spanish National Team and how the 2008-2012 era is just my favourite thing and it was a pure delight to watch Spain’s success happening in real time, so reading Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble was just as delightful.

It doesn’t just follow the events of the three tournaments and give a play by play of each of Spain’s matches. The tournaments are a major part of it, but it also looks at the history of the Spanish National Team, the legacy of the coaches that led the National Team to victory, and how the players in this historic era got to where they are. The youth system is a major factor and it was interesting to learn about how the Royal Spanish Football Federation, the governing body for football in Spain, builds up and invests in players when they are so young. It’s not just teaching these young players the skills they need, but teaching them a good work ethic and attitude, and how to work as a team. This book makes clear how so many of the golden generation had grown up playing with each other, either for their club or their country, and how club rivalries mean nothing when they have a Spain shirt on – no matter how hard José Mourinho may have tried.

There are interviews with players, organisers, pundits, and coaching staff in Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble. The coaches and their staff are given their due and it’s clear that the players have respect for them. It’s interesting and impressive to hear how some of the more experienced players, like captain Iker Casillas, Carlos Puyol and Xavi (who acted as a second captain to the national side really), were involved in some big decision making and all players were allowed to share their thoughts. Luis Aragonés who coached the national side to victory in 2008, instilled a sense of pride and confidence in the players and wasn’t afraid to make big changes to the team, and then Vicente del Bosque who took over and coached Spain from 2008 – 2016, ran with the foundations that Aragonés had set.

Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble is definitely a book for fans of the Spanish National Team, but I think any football fan would gain something from this book. To see how it takes decades to produce players and a team of this calibre is important. Spain’s success didn’t happen overnight, and they had a lot of doubters, but the way this group of players, so many of whom were involved in at least two of the major tournaments, achieved something so extraordinary is to be admired. The players in this era were friends first rather than teammates and how they learnt to read each other so well, offer advice and support in important moments (it’s thanks to Pepe Reina’s advice and experience that Casillas saved Paraguayan José Cardozo’s penalty at the World Cup) and just work together so seamlessly is just wonderful.

You might think Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble would be a dry read but it’s actually really entertaining and often funny. There’s a lot of witty anecdotes from players and staff and Hunter does a great job at explaining events and finding humour in tense situations.

I had a huge grin on my face pretty much the whole time I was reading Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble. It was so much fun reliving Spain’s golden years, there were some things I knew or remembered but so many others were new to me and it was wonderful to learn more about these players and these teams that were such a solid unit. I just love these Spanish players and their friendships and this book really captures how the Spanish National Team really had captured lightning in a bottle and managed to hold on to it for six years. 5/5.

REVIEW: Table 19 (2017)

After being dumped by her the best man Teddy (Wyatt Russell), former-maid of honour Eloise (Anna Kendrick) decides to attend her oldest friend’s wedding anyway, only to find herself seated at Table 19 – the table for guests who really should’ve known to RSVP no.

Table 19 is one of those quirky wedding comedies but not all the jokes land. In fact, it’s the sort of comedy that’ll raise a smile rather than a full-on laugh though it has a surprising sweeter side to it. It’s that balance between odd characters, drama and humour that the script struggles with at times. While the jokes don’t always hit the spot, it’s the quick dialogue between characters that really work, providing witty character moments and some heartfelt ones too. Also, Anna Kendrick really nails a very fast monologue that’s makes a lot of exposition entertaining.

It’s the characters and their relationships that are the most interesting thing about Table 19. On the table with Eloise are Nanny Jo (June Squibb), married couple Bina and Jerry Keep (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson), teenager Renzo (Tony Revolori) and nephew of the father of the bride Walter (Stephen Merchant). They are unlikely tablemates and each of them have their own idiosyncrasies.

Table 19 really captures how messy life can be, and how an occasion like a wedding where you’re supposed to be happy and a loved-up couple are the centre of attention can really bring things to a head. While Eloise is the main character, each of her tablemates have something going on in their lives, some of which you learn more about than others. They each are lonely in different ways and meeting at this wedding is possibly the best thing that could happen to them all.

Table 19 is sweet, the cast are all great in their roles and having a plot that’s so contained to one venue means you can focus in on these characters and how their relationships may develop if given the chance. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Cambodia: First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

Narrated by Tavia Gilbert.

One of seven children of a high-ranking government official, Loung Ung lived a privileged life in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh until the age of five. Then, in April 1975, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army stormed into the city, forcing Ung’s family to flee and, eventually, to disperse. Loung was trained as a child soldier in a work camp for orphans, her siblings were sent to labour camps, and those who survived the horrors would not be reunited until the Khmer Rouge was destroyed.

Knowing next to nothing about Cambodia, its people, its cities, its language, listening to the audiobook really helped to learn the pronunciations of different places and names. I feel by listening to the audiobook I got a better feel for the country and its people than reading a physical copy of the book because I know myself and when there’s a word I don’t know how to pronounce, I often skim over it which can mean it loses its impact or meaning.

Loung Ung was just five years old when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and her whole life changed in the blink of an eye. What’s captured so well in First They Killed My Father is how a child understands (or doesn’t) such huge things. For instance, when her family lives Phnom Penh the soldiers tell them they can return in three days, and Loung Ung just doesn’t get why they have to keep walking with no real end destination in mind, when after three days they should just turn around and go home.

Slowly over the months and years Loung Ung grows to understand the fear and danger she and her family live in. They face starvation and the way their bodies are described paints a vivid picture in your mind of the malnourishment they are all facing. It isn’t just the hunger but the fear of the Khmer Rouge and what would happen if they learnt that their father was once connected to the government. It’s a constant source of anxiety for the whole family and the children have to quickly learn new rules in order to keep them all alive – if not safe and well.

First They Killed My Father is a tough book to get through. It’s horrifying that so many families went through this; loved ones dying of starvation or food poisoning, having to send older children away to work or be married in to prevent them having to join the army. Loung Ung’s family is just a snapshot of what hundreds and thousands of people went through in order to survive.

The fact that Loung Ung became a child solider when she was seven is appalling. The propaganda she and the other children had to listen to and recite, how Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge were their saviours and the Vietnamese were evil and wouldn’t hesitate to kill them. The indoctrination these children had was effective as Loung Ung learnt to hate the Vietnamese, though she also hated the Khmer Rouge for what they’d done to her family, how they’d split them up and killed them. The when war arrives and Loung Ung and her family get caught up in it, she sees even more death and suffering.

It must’ve been a difficult experience for Loung Ung to put herself back in the mindset of that young scared, angry and starving child. How she went from being loved, in a home with a maid and cars and a telephone, to living in a shack and having to work in the fields. She does a great job at showing how a child would understand and have to compartmentalise these things, but then there’s some moments where there’s some added wisdom and understanding to her parent’s choices that’ve come from time and age.

First They Killed My Father is a difficult book to read, but it’s an important and powerful one. It’s about a country and a moment in history that I knew nothing about and it paints a very human picture to the unimaginable suffering that millions of Cambodians went through.