Books

Talking about books (when I have time to read for fun)

REVIEW: They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott and Harmony Becker

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard. They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalised racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

It sounds cliché to say reading They Called Us Enemy was a rollercoaster of emotions, but it was. It was infuriating to hear about some of the politicians and lawyers who set in motion the anti-Japanese sentiment have gone onto having very successful careers. It was sad to see what George’s parents went through and how they struggled to keep their family together and to do the best thing for them all. And it was wonderful to see that hope can survive in even the most terrible of circumstances, and how there are people who will help others even though they themselves may get hurt. I felt myself tear up multiple times reading They Called Us Enemy. Some tears were due to sadness and frustration that people were treated like this (and are still being treated like this) while other tears were of the joy of seeing George Takei meet with Gene Roddenberry and how Star Trek really had such a positive impact on George and the world.

They Called Us Enemy does a great job of showing both how a child would deal with having to leave their home and live in confined spaces with strict rules, and how adults would be scared because they have a better understanding over what is happening to them. There’s the childlike innocence about a lot of George’s experience, at least to begin with in some camps where they were obviously not pleasant but not as harsh as their later experiences.

I learnt so much about the internment of Japanese Americans from this book. I first heard about this event in history through following George Takei on Twitter, he said something about it that got me googling and I learnt about something I’d never heard of before when I was in my early twenties. A lot of quotes and moments in They Called Us Enemy will stick with me, but one that really stood out was: “That remains part of the problem – that we don’t know the unpleasant aspects of American history and therefore we don’t learn the lesson those chapters have to teach us. So we repeat them over and over again.”

I suppose I have the “excuse” of being British and growing up in the UK that I didn’t learn bout this part of American history in school, in fact in History class we barely touched on the attack on Pearl Harbour and it’s just the catalyst for America joining the war. Naturally all our history is UK-focused. But still, as George Takei says, it’s important to know our history – both the good and the bad – so we don’t make the same mistakes again.

They Called Us Enemy is an important and impactful book but it’s also a compelling story with wonderful art that perfectly captures the innocence of childhood. They Called Us Enemy is definitely a book I’d recommend to anyone, whether they were a fan of George Takei or not. His childhood is, unfortunately, the childhood of tens of thousands Japanese Americans and it’s a story of 120,000 people that must be heard. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Saint Kitts and Nevis: Only God Can Make a Tree by Bertram Roach

Adrian is the son of a black Caribbean woman and an Irish immigrant father and is blessed with the pale skin and European features to allow him social mobility in the rigidly hierarchical society of twentieth-century Caribbean life. He falls in love but is offered the opportunity to improve his social standing, and thus the rest of his life, if he can suppress his heart’s desire and decide with his head. Will he choose Julia, the only woman he has ever really loved, and settle for being an overseer, or will he opt for the plantation-owner’s daughter, Alice Mills, who could provide him with the social standing he has always dreamed of?

Only God Can Make a Tree is a short book at less than 150 pages, and it is a quick read both because of its length and because of the writing style. It’s written very simply and is very much a book where it tells you what’s happening and what characters are feeling rather than showing you through metaphors or flowery language. This makes it seem like it’s not a very well-written book as you can’t easily connect with the characters and the plot is just laid out in front of you. It took a while to get used to how it was written, but its blunt, on the nose approach to this story did make it easy to read and sometimes engaging.

For such a short book it covers a lot of time and different characters lives. Adrian is the main character but as the choices he makes have knock on effects onto the people around him, you get snippets from other characters points of view as they struggle to deal with the fallout of his actions. The latter half of the book spans more time as Adrian fathers’ children and they grow up and have to live with Adrian being their father and what that can mean for them.

Adrian is a character that’s equal parts infuriating and sympathetic. While his actions are his own, and they are often reckless and hurt women who do love him, he is boxed in by the hierarchical society and has limited options if he desires to climb the social ladder. Adrian has high aspirations in a society that won’t really allow him to have those aspirations. He is a man that’s almost trapped between two societies because of his parentage, he can pass for white a lot of the time, but at the same time many white people will never see him as anything but black and will treat him accordingly. There’s also how Adrian appears to be destined to make similar mistakes to his own father, and all the rum that’s available is not good for any of the characters.

The sections about life in Saint Kitts and Nevis in the twentieth century were interesting. White, often English, people still owned the cotton and sugar cane plantations but now they pay people to work the land, albeit very cheaply. The former slaves are now labourers. As not a lot of time has passed since the abolition of slavery, there’s still some tension as the white plantation owners believe that the black people are still savages deep down. Often the glimpses of Caribbean society and how it works were more interesting than Adrian’s life. Though that being said, how Caribbean society works had a direct effect on Adrian and how is life panned out so the intersection between the two was also interesting.

I read Only God Can Make a Tree in less than two hours but I’m not sure how long this story will stick with me. It’s a concise family saga that gives a unique insight into post-slavery Caribbean and how one man’s aspirations can have long-lasting and unexpected effects. 2/5.

My Reading in 2019 and my Bookish Goals for 2020

It’s the start of a new year which means it’s time to look back at the past one. Today I’m looking at what I read last year, if I met my goals and what my reading plans are for this year. In 2019 I read 72 books (bang on the same amount as 2018 funnily enough) which beat my Goodreads goal of 52 books, and I reviewed 46 of them which beat my goal of reviewing 26. You can find a full list of what I read here (the links go to the reviews) and I shared what are my top ten favourite books of the year earlier this week. The OWLs and the NEWTs readathons certainly helped me have good reading months, and in June I was on holiday where I read 8 books in 10 days.

I didn’t really have reading challenges or goals for 2019 – especially compared to 2018 when I had like three things I signed up for! In 2019 I continued to put £1 in a pot for every book I read meaning I had £72 to put in the bank. I’m sure I’ll use that money to buy more books. I continued with the Read the World Project and almost half of all the books I read in 2019 counted towards that project. I read 35 from different countries. Once again, I tried to get my TBR down to 50 books from 100 books and after Christmas gifts, my TBR now stands at 85 books. So at least it went down!

I always try to keep an equal split of male/female authors that I read and I succeeded at that in 2019. In fact, it was more female heavy which is fine by me. In 2019 I also kept track of whether the books I was reading were by white authors or authors of colour. In my goals last year I said I wanted at least 25% of the books I read to be by people of colour. I’m happy to say I achieved that and 40% of the books I read (which makes 29 of them) were by people of colour. I think my Read the World project definitely helps with this.

Now for my reading goals of 2020.

My reading goals aren’t that different to what they’ve been the last few years to be honest. I’m going to continue to put a £1 in a jar for every book I read, and I’m going to increase my Goodreads challenge goal a bit and want to read at least 60 books and to review at least 30 of them. I also want to continue to read books from at least an equal split of men and women authors, and to have at least 30% of the books I read are by people of colour. I’ll also say (once again) that I’d like to get my TBR down to 50 books. I did make some headway with my TBR in 2019 so I hope I can continue that trend, or at least be more open to unhauling books I have no interest in anymore. I’m not signing up to any year-long challenges but I think I will join many readathons throughout the year to give me that extra push to read.

In 2019 I hit 100 countries read for my Read the World Project! I’m so happy with that number but I do have 122 countries to read in the next 21 months if I want to meet myself imposed deadline. I own books for 6 more countries, but I have many more on my radar so reading books for my Read the World project will definitely be a priority this year. Really, I need to read at least 60 books for this challenge to make my deadline of reading a book from every country in the world before my 30th birthday. I’m not sure if that’ll happen but I hope it will. If you have any suggestions for books from around the world, I’d love to hear them! You can see what countries I’ve already read here.

Those are my reading goals for 2020. Do you have any reading goals for the year? I’m always interested in the reading goals people set themselves and if they have any tips or tricks to help them achieve them.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Favourite Books I Read in 2019

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. And so another year comes to an end so it’s time to look back at the books I read this year and figure out what were my favourites. Without further ado, in no real particular order, here’s my favourite books of 2019 and I’ve linked back to my reviews (if I reviewed them that is!).

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven
The Exact Opposite of Okay was one of the first books I read this year and it has stuck with me since then. I thought it handled the subject of revenge porn so well while still having a main character that was sarcastic and strong while still hurting. Think this (and its sequel which is also great) will be all-time favourites.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
I’m probably one of the last people to read this book but I definitely got why Children of Blood and Bone received so much hype. It was a gripping magical adventure and though I didn’t like the romance at all, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Safe as Houses by Simone van der Vlugt
This was a creepy thriller and one where it was so tense and that all hope seemed to be lost for so long that I wasn’t even sure if everything would turn out OK in the end.

The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Considering I found The Shadow of the Wind tough to get through (enjoyable but slow-going) I found The Angel’s Game to be so readable. I loved the mystery, the setting and how it linked to The Shadow of the Wind.

The Runaway Jury by John Grisham
I’d not read a John Grisham book before but this one was great. It was gripping and intriguing and I was never really sure how the central court case would end up.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
This is the kind of book that makes me want to read more science-fiction. The characters, the setting, the writing; it was all so good. I want to read the next books in this sort-of series but as I’m so bad at reading series we will see how soon that happens!

Internment by Samira Ahmed
This book was tough to get through at times because it unfortunately felt so close to our reality. It was a gripping book though with characters you couldn’t help but root for.

Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal: The Lives and Careers of Two Tennis Legends by Sebastián Fest
I went to the Laver Cup in Geneva and had such an amazing time watching tennis legends Federer and Nadal play. Before I went, I read this book and found it a fascinating insight into the two of them and their legacies.

Old Man Hawkeye Volumes 1 and 2 by Ethan Sacks, Marco Checchetto, Andres Mossa, Francesco Mobili and Ibraim Roberson
I didn’t read a lot of graphic novels or comics this year, but I did read all of the Old Man Hawkeye series. It’s a prequel to Old Man Logan (which I also really liked) and I thought it did a great job at connecting to story while adding new things. Plus, it focussed on Hawkeye, an older-version of Hawkeye but one that still is Clint Barton deep down.

What are some of your favourite books you read this year?

READ THE WORLD: Bangladesh – The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam

Maya Haque – outspoken, passionate, headstrong – has been estranged from her brother Sohail for almost a decade. When she returns home to Dhaka hoping for a reconciliation, she discovers he has transformed beyond recognition. Can the two, both scarred by war, come together again? And what of Sohail’s young son, Zaid, caught between worlds but desperate to belong?

I didn’t realise this until I went to Goodreads to mark this book as read, but The Good Muslim is the sequel to A Golden Age. I didn’t know The Good Muslim was a sequel and I don’t feel I really missed out on anything as it reads like a standalone novel.

The chapters alternate between different points in time, the early 1970s and the mid-1980s. The chapters in the early 1970s are during the aftermath of the Bangladesh Liberation War, as Sohail comes back from the war and he and his family attempt to get used to what peace means. The chapters in the 1980s are when Maya has returned home after being away for over seven years. She struggles to reconnect with her brother and a nephew she doesn’t know. The vast majority of The Good Muslim is from Maya’s point of view, in both the flashbacks and the present day.

A lot of the tragedy of these two siblings drifting apart comes from the fact that they are so different. They are either headstrong or reserved, and either they don’t listen to one another or are unwilling to talk about their experiences. Sohail is haunted by his actions during the war, while Maya has been dealing with the aftereffects of the war as she has worked in clinics across the country, performing abortions on women who were raped by soldiers and were shunned by their families. Both Maya and Sohail are affected by the conflict but they deal with it in different ways and it can be frustrating to see how they keep meeting at cross-purposes when they clearly did care about one another.

The rift that developed between Maya and Sohail is ultimately down to religion. After the war, Sohail becomes very religious, in fact he’s almost a zealot who appears to have his own followers and he forgets about all other responsibilities and attachments as he pursues his commitment to his faith. Maya doesn’t understand this or how much her brother could change after the war. Maya’s stubbornness is frustrating at times as she is so convinced that her idea of religion is the correct one and barely even attempts to understand her brother and his beliefs. Meeting her young nephew, she tries to help him as he doesn’t go to school and has no structure to his life. This adds to the conflict between Maya and Sohail as he has vastly different ideas of what his son should be learning and how he should be living.

The ending of The Good Muslim is what has the most impact, but unfortunately the kind of slow burn of a plot as you gradually learn more about Maya and Sohail’s experiences during the war and how that shaped them into who they are today, does take a bit too long to pull you in and make you deeply care about the two of them. 3/5.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books I Hope to Find Under My Tree

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This week it’s all about the books we’d love to receive for Christmas. I signed up for the TBTB Secret Santa again this year and as of writing and scheduling this post, I haven’t opened my parcel so some of these books may now be in my possession which is very exciting. Nowadays my bookish wishlist is always a combination of books from international authors for my Read the World Project and anything else that grabs my fancy.

Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo
This is the first novel from Madagascar ever to be translated into English and is about the brutal history of 19th-century Madagascar.

The Conspiracy by Israel Centeno
A thriller about a would-be revolutionary sniper who misses his shot on the President of Venezuela and must hide from the authorities and former friends who are out for revenge.

The End of the Dark Era by Tsveendorjin Oidov
This is a book of Mongolian poetry and that’s all I know about it!

A Girl Called Eel by Ali Zamir
This book is apparently a story told in a single sentence, which may be a bit difficult for me to read because paragraph breaks are my friend, but it’s from an author from the Comoros Islands so I’m intrigued.

Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad by Krystal A. Sital
A memoir about a grandmother, mother and daughter who learn long-buried secrets about the family’s past.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
I feel this book needs no introduction as it’s been everywhere! It’s an epic fantasy inspired by Chinese history and I do love to get immersed in a fantasy epic every now and then.

Girls on the Verge by Sharon Biggs Waller
I love contemporary YA about girls helping one another out as they tackle some big real-world problems. This one is about teen pregnancy and how difficult it is getting an abortion and having to deal with the emotions surrounding it.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
This is an alternate-history where extinction-level global warning gets kickstarted by a meteor strike in 1952 and women become involved with the mission to colonise the Moon and then Mars.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
A story about a monster hunter in an apocalyptic world where gods and monsters of Native American folklore roam the Earth.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
This YA romance seems to have been everywhere this year and I’ve heard nothing but fantastic things and while I rarely read romance, this seems so sweet and funny that I want to give it a go.

What books are you hoping are going to come into your life soon?

READ THE WORLD – The Channel Islands: The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G.B. Edwards

Narrated by Roy Dotrice.

Eighty years old, Ebenezer has lived his whole life on the Channel Island of Guernsey, a stony speck of a place caught between the coasts of England and France yet a world apart from either. Ebenezer himself is fiercely independent, but as he reaches the end of his life, he is determined to tell his own story and the stories of those he has known.

First of all, I’ll say that I did really enjoy the narration by Roy Dotrice. I don’t know if they are an old man themselves or they’re just that good at voices and accents but they truly embodied the cantankerous Ebenezer Le Page. It was like listening to an old relative recount their life in the corner of the living room and as they rambled on so much and mentioned so many people it was almost easier to just nod your head and tune them out. I think I might have done that with The Book of Ebenezer Le Page as there’s not a lot that has stuck with me and I’m only writing this review the day after I finished the audiobook!

The Book of Ebenezer Le Page is a sprawling epic about one mans life. Ebenezer is writing about his past 80 years of life and all the people he’s met, loved and lost. He is one of the oldest people on Guernsey and has never left the island. He talks about so many people that it would’ve been handy to have had a family tree! So many people that he mentions are his cousins (or second or third or fourth cousins), or sometimes they are known as cousins, but they aren’t actually blood related. Then there’s his friends that he talks about too that might also be distantly related to him in some way.

Ebenezer lives through two world wars and remarkably doesn’t seem too changed by either of them. Guernsey was occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War but while how Ebenezer dealt with the occupation is featured, it’s not an overly big or dramatic event – it’s just something that he and his friends and neighbours have to deal with. Having to just “get on with things” seems to have been Ebenezer’s life moto. He’s a proud man, and a self-sufficient one, and he’s happy to work for a living rather than getting a pension in his old age.

Ebenezer really is the epitome of an old man who has seen many things and just doesn’t know how the world works anymore. It can make him equally judgmental and oblivious. For instance, he’s very quick to judge some people and can take an instant dislike to some of them. However, when he opens his home up to tourists and has a gay couple stay with him, he thinks they are very pleasant chaps and doesn’t understand why a neighbour would say horrible things about them. It’s hard to tell whether he just doesn’t think “that sort of thing” goes on, or if he genuinely doesn’t care.

It’s not the events or anecdotes in The Book of Ebenezer Le Page that have stuck with me, instead it’s the feeling this book gave me. It’s strangely nice to hear someone, even a fictional someone, tell you their life story and see how it intersects with real world events. Ebenezer has a distinct narrative voice so even though he is obviously telling you about the various events and people in his life, they are still interesting because of how he felt about them.

I wouldn’t read The Book of Ebenezer Le Page again, and I’m not sure who I would recommend it to, but it is a strangely calming and enjoyable read and an interesting way to see how and island and its people may or may not have changed over the decades. 3/5.