family drama

READ THE WORLD – French Polynesia: Frangipani by Célestine Hitiura Vaite

Materena Mahi, a professional cleaner and the best listener in all of Tahiti, has a problem. That problem is her daughter Leilani. No matter what she does, Materena can’t seem to get through to her and now there’s rumours there’s a boy who has a motorbike in Leilani’s life. Everything is changing and Materena is beginning to realise that the traditional Tahitian ways no longer apply and she’ll have to adapt to deal with the next generation of women in her family.

Frangipani is lovely. It’s a delightful, and it might sound weird but it’s almost like comforting hug of a read. It is such an easy, chilled out read. Yes there’s arguments between characters and family scandals but they all seem so tame and you just have a feeling these characters will work through it and be OK.

Frangipani is about Materena and her family, and more specifically, about her relationship with her daughter. The story spans about twenty years and over that time you really get to know Materena and understand her. The great thing about Materena is that she adapts. She learns with the changing times; her daughter may confuse her to begin with but she never stops loving her nor wanting the best for her. Seeing Materena and Leilani’s relationship is wonderful. They feel real like a real mother and daughter and so many times I could see echoes of interactions with my own mother in them.

You meet a lot of Materena’s extended family, there’s so many aunties and nieces and boyfriends, that it’s hard to keep up with who’s who at times but that never really bothered me. They are all larger than life characters who often end up in funny situations but there’s still sadness and drama, just like in any family over the years.

Frangipani is well written with a smattering of French words in the dialogue which makes them feel more real and the story grounded. I’ve never been to Tahiti but the way the island and its people are described is now so incredibly vivid in my mind. The setting was just as much a character in this book as Materena and Leilani.

The thing with Frangipani, is that in the grand scheme of things not a lot happened. There were no big twists or huge family secrets revealed, it’s just a woman’s life with her family. It showcases what a strong woman Materena is and it also features so many more interesting and vibrant female characters. Frangipani is about the strength of women and the strength of their relationships. How they support and love one another, are always there to listen or offer words of advice. It’s an uplifting story with a mother and daughter relationship at its heart.

I adored Frangipani. It’s well written, has so many interesting characters that you can’t help but be pulled into their lives. It’s just a wonderful read. 5/5.

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READ THE WORLD – South Korea: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, her family faces ruin until a Christian minister offers her a chance for a new life in Japan as his wife. Leaving her parents and her home in Korea with a man she barely knows, Sunja’s second chance in life in a hostile country will be nothing like she suspects.

Spanning from 1910 to 1989 Pachinko follows four generations of one family. This allows you to get to know characters from birth, through their turbulent lives and, to some characters, their death. While some parts of the story are an uninterrupted narrative and you follow the family for a number of consecutive years, other parts jump forward in time and a character that was teenager is now an adult.

This makes it sometimes difficult to connect with the characters. I found Pachinko a bit slow to start with as I got used to the setting and the socio-economic politics presented that I was unaware of beforehand. After a while something clicked for me with this book as I was pulled in by this family and how global events shaped their lives.

These characters in Pachinko feel very real. They’re often a victim of their own circumstance, they are sometimes sympathetic, they can be frustrating and unlikable, just like real people. Sometimes they are presented with a difficult decision and really there’s only one option they can take, on the most part you understand their choices and motivations, while with others it’s not so clear.

I liked how this was the story of a family of immigrants and you got to see what life was like for Koreans who moved to Japan. Pachinko shows there was a lot of distrust on both sides due to the Japanese conquering Korea and their actions during the two World Wars. For decades, the Japanese see the Koreans as second-class citizens, and even if someone is born in Japan, they do not automatically become a Japanese citizen, even though Japan is the only home they know. Pachinko shows how all of this affects the different members of the family in different ways, how over time some things change and get better, while others do not.

At over 500 pages, Pachinko is an intimidating read but the writing style is simple and accessible, meaning once I’d connected to the characters I got pulled along with their story. Pachinko offers an insight into life in Japan for Koreans and it presents the idea of what or where is truly home. It’s all about family and belonging, how family may not always be who you’re related to by blood and how home can mean different things to different people. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Greatest (2009)

Struggling to cope with their son Bennett’s (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) death, Allen (Pierce Brosnan) and Grace’s (Susan Sarandon) world is shaken again when Rose (Carey Mulligan) shows up on their doorstep three months pregnant with their son’s child.

The Greatest is all about grief and how people deal with it in different ways. Allen refuses to speak about Bennett while Grace is single-minded in her mission to find out everything there is to know about her son’s death, rewatching the CCTV footage and talking to nurses and doctors about the night Bennett died. Both parents are so caught up in their grief, or in Allen’s case trying to ignore it, that they almost forget sbout their younger son Ryan (Johnny Simmons) who’s also struggling. Rose is also grieving for a love that has been brutally cut short but she has their child to think of. Sometimes Rose appears more level-headed than Grace and Allen put together.

The Greatest might be a bit predictable but the story is told with such sincerity that you can’t hold the usual genre tropes against it. This story of grief and hope is sometimes like a punch to your emotions and that’s down to the very talented cast. You feel all their pain and Carey Mulligan shows in one of her early film roles what a skilled young actress she is. The Greatest is well worth a watch. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Zimbabwe: The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

Memory is an albino woman, serving time in prison in Harare, Zimbabwe. When she was nine she was adopted by Lloyd Hendricks, a wealthy white man. It is his murder she is now convicted of and is facing the death penalty. As she waits for her death she tells the story of the events that brought her here – but is everything as she remembers it?

The Book of Memory is an interesting story but one that I sometimes found hard to get through. It wasn’t till I got to the half way point that I began to like the book more and start reading it more quickly. I think that’s because The Book of Memory is split into three parts, Memory’s childhood with her family, her growing up with Lloyd and her time in prison. Though while the book is labelled like that, she does meander with her storytelling meaning it jumps from the present to various points in the past. I personally found the parts more focussed on her adolescence with Lloyd more compelling than her childhood – though I did like how the story brings those two halves of her together.

Memory’s name is apt as so much of her story is recounted from her memory and she doesn’t have anyone to collaborate what she remembers. It’s an interesting to see how something you see and remember when you were a child changes dramatically when you get more information.

Memory is a likeable character, as are many of her fellow inmates, though naturally the prison guards are the main antagonists Memory’s present situation. That being said, there is one guard whose behaviour towards Memory is so nice and almost kind that it makes both the reader and Memory uncomfortable.

I did like the smattering of Shona language used in the book, as well as how it didn’t give you a crash course in Zimbabwean history. Memory often would go between calling her home country Zimbabwe and Rhodesia, and talk about warring political parties and how white people were seen.

For me, there’s not much memorable about The Book of Memory. While I liked Memory well enough, the other characters weren’t particularly notable and there wasn’t many stand out moments in the story. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – India: The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev

Ria Parkar is Bollywood’s favourite Ice Princess until one impulsive act threatens to ruin everything she’s built. Her cousin Nikhil’s wedding in Chicago, with the family, food and extravagant celebrations, is the perfect escape from the impending media storm. But being back in Chicago means facing Vikram Jathar. Ria and Vikram spend their childhood summers together, growing up their friendship turned into love until Ria made an earthshattering decision. Vikram believes she sold her soul for stardom but when they meet again, the passion is still there, no matter what Ria does to evade it.

Ria is an interesting character as while the book is from her point of view so you can see her inner-turmoil, she still often projects this poised and impenetrable persona. She’s not always a likable character but I found myself sympathising with her and understanding why she kept so many secrets and tried to keep people at a distance, even those who cared about her.

With Vikram, on the other hand, it took me a lot longer to warm to him. He’s justifiably angry but he’s also very stubborn and believes he knows everything when he often doesn’t. How he reacts to Ria coming back into his life is hurtful and frustrating for both Ria, and myself as the reader. Eventually you see a softer side to him but he’s a character that takes some time to like.

It was the family aspect of The Bollywood Bride that I really liked. I enjoyed the descriptions of all the things that go into a big, stereotypical Indian wedding and what being a part of such a huge extended is like. I loved all of Ria’s family and how they all come together to look out for each other and know each other so well.

In the last third of The Bollywood Bride there are some short but edging on explicit sex scenes. I don’t have a problem with that in a book but I was caught a bit off-guard by it – I think it’s because when I do read a romance novel it tends to be the more rom-com-esque type of book and if there are any heated moments, they tend to fade to black. Still the sex and romance in The Bollywood Bride was sensual and heated and you definitely could feel the connection between the characters.

The Bollywood Bride is quite a quick read – Ria is a volatile character so I always wanted to see what her reactions would be next. The Bollywood Bride is a romantic story full of love of all kinds and also has a few surprises too.

REVIEW: Letters to Eloise by Emily Williams

*I received a free e-copy of this book in return for an honest review*

When Flora, a post-graduate Uni student, falls unexpectedly pregnant during her final year of studies her plans for her future are thrown into chaos as she now has someone else to look out for. As Flora reads many baby books she must figure out if she will continue with her recent affair with a handsome lecturer or should she chase after the past with her estranged first love?

Letters to Eloise is an example of epistolary fiction as it’s made up of a series of letters from Flora to her unborn child. They start as soon as Flora realises she’s pregnant and follows all the ups and downs of pregnancy. The letters also slowly reveal the circumstances of her baby being conceived, the potential dads (though Flora is always confident in who the father is, it takes a while for her to tell the reader) and the good and bad times Flora has had with friends, family and love interests. Sometimes it can be a bit confusing as Flora’s letters go back and forth from the present to various points in the past but I soon got my head around it.

I’ve never read a book where one of the main themes or storyline is pregnancy (and I’ve never been pregnant myself) so I was unsure how I would connect with a book, and a character, whose pretty much whole life now revolves around being pregnant and being an expectant mother. But I did connect with Flora. Her student life and the friends she has at university, are what pulled me in to start with but she’s a likable and understandable character and I wanted to see her happy.

I loved the dynamic between Flora, her best friend Brooke and their housemate Brian. It felt like the sort of relationship I had with my university friends and flatmates, especially how there’s very few secrets between them.

Letters to Eloise is set during the early and mid-1990’s and I really liked how the lack of mobile phones and the internet was naturally woven into the story. Flora would send letters to people or have to go to a phone box at the end of the street if she needed to call someone as her student house didn’t have a landline. It’s great as this time where people weren’t necessarily so easy to contact allows for some drama and surprises.

Letters to Eloise is a book that sucks you in, it’s a small, almost personal story but it’s a touching one. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Somalia: Hiding In Plain Sight by Nuruddin Farah

hiding-in-plain-sightWhen Bella’s beloved half-brother Aar dies in a terrorist attack in Somalia she’s in Rome, living her life as an aloof fashion photographer with no ties and responsibilities. But now her teenage nephew and niece are effectively orphaned (their mother Valerie walked out on them years ago) she must decide whether she can come to their rescue and be their guardian. She travels to Nairobi where the two are in school but confusion and tension lies ahead when Valerie resurfaces bringing her own baggage and claiming she wants full custody of her children.

Hiding in Plain Sight is a story about a family’s grief and different and sometimes strained familial relationships. Salif and Dahaba feel like realistic teenage siblings, they argue and Salif often finds his younger sister annoying. While they both love and like their Aunt Bella they’re unused to her being their main authority figure and all three of them have to figure out where they stand with each other. Then there’s Valerie, an absent mother who’s often needy, selfish and quick to anger. She’s an unlikeable character for the most part but slowly you get to learn about her past and why she acts the way she does – though the story never really condones her actions. (more…)