romance

READ THE WORLD – Azerbaijan: Ali and Nino by Kurban Said

It is the eve of World War I in Baku, Azerbaijan, a city on the edge of the Caspian Sea, poised precariously between east and west. Ali Khan Shirvanshir, a teenage Muslim schoolboy from a proud, aristocratic family, has fallen in love with the beautiful and enigmatic Nino Kipiani, a Christian girl with distinctly European sensibilities. To be together they must overcome blood feud and scandal, attempt a daring horseback rescue, and travel from the bustling street of oil-boom Baku, through starkly beautiful deserts and remote mountain villages, to the opulent palace of Ali’s uncle in neighbouring Persia. Ultimately the lovers are drawn back to Baku, but when war threatens their future, Ali is forced to choose between his loyalty to the beliefs of his Asian ancestors and his profound devotion to Nino.

Ali and Nino is set in between 1914-1920, and as they live in Azerbaijan and have familial connections in Georgia and Iran it’s another story where you can see a different side of the First World War and its effects on people. There’s also an Armenian character that faces hatred from some characters who can’t even explain why they hate Armenians so much – that was an interesting historical note after reading Armenian Golgotha.

I have such mixed feelings about Ali and Nino and a lot of the mixed feelings are probably because the book is successfully doing what it set out to do. So much of it is about the culture clash between Ali and Nino. They may love each other, but they both have different ideas about how a home should be run or how marriages work that they often struggle to understand one another. It’s a love story that questions if love really does conquer all when you’ve got people who have religious and cultural ideals that often seem to be in conflict. It’s the first third or so that made me the most uncomfortable but as Ali and Nino both started to mature, I could understand both their view points and their conflicts a lot better.

The religious aspect of how other male characters consider Nino and how women and wives should be treated is something that made me feel uncomfortable when reading. Ali doesn’t necessarily share the same views, but he’s young and was raised with those ideals so there’s often times you can see them there at a subconscious level. One memorable quote is a friend of Ali’s saying that “We have a proverb in our country – A woman has no more sense than an egg has hairs.” It makes my skin crawl even though based on the time period/culture it’s set in there’s a good chance that that was a common thought. When they’re in Persia, Nino chafes against the rules of the society. She can’t leave her home without wearing a veil, she can’t talk to any male guests who visit their home even if they’re her friends too, she can’t go walking around town side by side with her husband – all these customs she’s unused to and it makes her miserable.

Nino is quite a modern young woman thanks to her upbringing – or rather instead of modern, the term should be probably Western. Because that’s where a lot of Ali and Nino’s conflicts lie. Azerbaijan is a country that straddles on the border of Asia and Europe, the East and the West, and Ali and Nino are representations of that divide. As Ali says, “For me it would be just as impossible to live in Europe as it was for you to live in Asia. Let’s stay in Baku, where Asia and Europe meet.” The city of Baku seems like the perfect mix of cultures, religion, and ideals, and the description of the city paints a vivid picture. The novel is solely from Ali’s point of view and his love of his home, the city and the surrounding desert, shines through.

Azerbaijan is one of the many countries I knew nothing about before my Read the World Project – to be honest, Azerbaijan was one of those countries I only really knew of because it competed in Eurovision – and I really enjoyed seeing it through Ali’s eyes. The fact that it is such a blend of cultures due to where its situated makes it so unique and I’d be interested to learn more about what the country is like today as Ali and Nino is set 100 years ago and ends just as Azerbaijan’s independence is threatened by Russia’s expansion.

Ali and Nino is a love story but it’s so much more than that. It can be dark at times with honour killings but there’s also a lot of light to it too. The conflict over cultural ideals and the sense of belonging each character has is thought-provoking and makes their relationship all the more interesting. They both hurt each other, intentionally or not, but there’s something about their relationship that makes you hope for the best and they’ll find a middle ground on the things that threaten to push them a part. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Panama: The Golden Horse: A Novel About Triumph and Tragedy Building the Panama Railroad by Juan David Morgan

Translated by John Cullen.

Many people know the story of the Panama Canal, but few know that of the Panama Railroad: the first transcontinental railroad of the Americas that was built during the California Gold Rush. From 1851-55, a handful of adventurers and inventive engineers drove the enterprise to tame the unexplored jungle wilderness that would soon become the first inter-oceanic railroad, link the US to Central America and change Panama forever. Thousands of people died during the construction of the railroad, succumbing to tropical diseases and natural disasters. Despite the danger, the lust of gold fever and the challenge of conquering the wilderness drove the protagonists through the perils of torturous journeys, cutthroat competition, ruthless outlaws, savage jungles, the most ferocious extremes of the tropical frontier, and violent cultural clashes, but not without the thrill of romantic adventures, the wonder of human inventiveness, and rugged determination to succeed.

I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed The Golden Horse. The subject matter wasn’t something I was that interested in (like many books for my Read the World Project, the priority is finding a book/writer from a country rather than choosing one I think I’d enjoy) and as it’s set in the 1800s, I thought the language used might make it a bit of slog to read. Happily, that wasn’t the case and The Golden Horse was very readable and the characters and the various hardships they faced were compelling too.

This is a fictionalised true story so there are real people as main characters as well as imagined ones that fill in the gaps and it was fun to google various characters to see if they fell in the real or made-up category. Either way, these people did something extraordinary in creating a working railway line across jungles, rivers and swamps. The fact that thousands of people – most of them poor and people of colour – died to make it happen and that The Golden Horse doesn’t shy away from that and the terrible conditions these people worked in makes the story better. It gives a voice to those who perished while still allowing you to marvel at a feat in engineering. Black people were shipped in from the Caribbean, the Chinese were lied to and thought they were being sent to work in America, then there was the Irish and the native Panamanians who came to work on the railway too. All these people allowed for the rich white American shipping magnets to finance and construct the railroad.

It’s somewhat unsurprising that not much has changed in 170 years as companies and shareholders would look for the cheapest option rather than the safest or more fruitful one in the long term. It was frustrating at time as more often than not the perspectives were that of those working on the railroads like the engineers who were on the ground and knew of the conditions and what would or wouldn’t work. Then the big bosses would send someone who promised to do part of the job cheaper who thought they knew best and didn’t listen to the wisdom of those who had been in Panama far longer. It’s always satisfying when those kind of people are proved wrong.

The Golden Horse is told in in a mixture of prose and diary entries. The diary entries are from John Llyod Stephens, a travel writer who became one of the representatives of the shipping company in Panama, and Elizabeth Benton Freeman, a woman who is first travelling to San Francisco to meet her military husband there but soon becomes connected to the railroad employees and captains of the ships she travels on. The proses is from a variety of different characters perspectives and you get to see pretty much every possible point of view on a subject or incident. I liked how characters mentioned in the beginning of the story came back throughout the novel. The Golden Horse spans over a decade as while the construction of the railroad is the focus, there’s investigations in the viability of such a venture year’s beforehand and it’s interesting to see how characters who you think were just mentioned in passing, or were just used as an example of some sort of event, ended up playing a bigger role than you could’ve imagined. It really is a cleverly plotted book.

The Golden Horse was another book of a snapshot of history that I knew nothing about. The characters and the various relationships are all compelling and I even liked the inclusion of a romance that I thought was doomed at the beginning but ended up being something quite sweet and lovely. Overall, The Golden Horse was an enjoyable and interesting read and one that I read far quicker than I thought I would. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Madagascar: Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo

Translated by Allison M. Charette.

Fara and her father’s slave, Tsito, have been close since her father bought the boy after his forest village was destroyed. Now in Sahasoa, amongst the cattle and rice fields, everything is new for Tsito, and Fara at last has a companion. But as Tsito looks forward to the bright promise of freedom and Fara, backward to a dark, long-denied family history, a rift opens between them just as British Christian missionaries and French industrialists arrive and violence erupts across the country. Love and innocence fall away, and Tsito and Fara’s world becomes enveloped by tyranny, superstition, and fear.

Beyond the Rice Fields is the first novel published in Madagascar to be translated into English. I’ve had a lot of firsts in my Read the World Project but learning how so few works are translated into English (or any other language than the one it was written in) from various countries never ceases to surprise me.

You know the phrase “Never assume – it makes an ass out of u and me”? I definitely felt like that as I read Beyond the Rice Fields. My assumptions came over the race of Fara and Tsito. As it was a story of a slave owners’ daughter and her relationship with a slave, before reading Beyond the Rice Fields I presumed that Fara was white while Tsito was Black and it’d present a lot of extra problematic elements and power imbalances in a relationship like that. This wasn’t the case though as while naturally there was a power imbalance as Tsito was a slave, Fara and her family were also Black. There’s also the fact that they were both children when Tsito was brought into Fara’s home. Fara was seven and Tsito was nine, meaning that while Tsito certainly had jobs around the home to do they grew up together and he was treated more like family by Fara and her mother and grandmother, than just a slave. It’s a different look at the dynamic between slave and master compared to what I’d seen before, and seeing Tsito’s affection grow not just for Fara but for the other women in the family was sweet.

Beyond the Rice Fields is told from the perspectives of both Fara and Tsito and each perspective has a distinctive voice. It’s interesting how the chapters from Tsito’s point of view feature a lot more discussions on politics than Fara’s early on, though perhaps that’s to be expected as he’s a slave and has to be aware and consider the rules of society a lot of more as he tries to learn different skills in order to earn his freedom. With Fara, her chapters and perspective are a lot more focussed on emotions, she makes mistakes that Tsito never would as he’s had to be a lot more aware of the world than she has.

I think Beyond the Rice Fields spans almost twenty years as Fara and Tsito grow up together, grow a part and start to come back together. Naturally a lot of characters are mentioned throughout this time, some drop in and out of the story and as some have similar sounding names it can be hard to remember who is who especially as the novel doesn’t offer any context clues. It’s also difficult at times to judge how much time has passed and how old the characters are supposed to be. Sometimes a chapter begins with something along the lines of “that continued for ten yeas” which can be jarring as you suddenly need to age up the characters in your mind.

One of the most interesting yet also sometimes frustrating thing in Beyond the Rice Fields was the clash between religion and tradition. Beyond the Rice Fields is set in the 1800’s and as Christian missionaries attempt to convert the people; the backlash is extreme. The rituals that people have to go through to prove their innocence to any sins they’re accused of seem to be in such a way that they are doomed to fail. People are pretty much poisoned and if they can expel the poison that means they’re innocent? Those scenes are graphic and frustrating as it’s pure chance whether someone’s body can withstand the things it’s put through but the results are seen as concrete proof of someone’s innocence or guilt.

Beyond the Rice Fields is an interesting and compelling read. I enjoyed the dual perspectives as they both offered a lot of different ideas and experiences. The ever growing romance between Fara and Tsito was believable too and they were a relationship that I couldn’t help but root for even when a lot of things were working against them.

Z is for Zoe (2018)

Cole (Ewan McGregor) and Zoe (Léa Seydoux) are colleagues at a research lab that designs drugs and technology to improve and perfect romantic relationships. As they become close, their relationship is threatened when Zoe discovers the truth about their relationship, sending them into a spiral of confusion, betrayal and the most intense of human emotions, love.

Zoe is such a sweet, thoughtful take on relationships, romance and what it means to be human. It’s that kind of near-future sci-fi that I love where everything is as we’d expect bar one aspect. In this instance, that thing is how evolved AI is and that androids, or “synthetics” as they’re called here, can be so lifelike that they can fool humans. They can be programmed to feel and connect with people so humans never have to be lonely.

Ash (Theo James) is one such synthetic and seeing him learn and adapt and feel does make you question the differences between humans and machines. While his code is his foundation, he’s been given memories and personality and is able to decide things for himself. Theo James does a good job at adding little hesitations to Ash’s movements and showing that as he learns, he mostly appears “human” but there’s still the odd moment with him that’s a little unsettling.

The romance between Cole and Zoe is interesting as they both seem so isolated but for different reasons. There’s a hesitancy about both of them and as more of their pasts are revealed, you begin to understand why they act that way.

As a sidenote, I really liked the relationship between Cole and his ex-wife Emma (Rashida Jones). So often you see an antagonistic relationship between ex’s, even when they’re coparenting like these two are. While there still is the odd moment of awkwardness between the two of them, it’s clear that they both still care about each other and want the other to be happy, even if it’s not with themselves.

Zoe is an interesting sci-fi/romance film. The central performances are all great and the romance between Cole and Zoe is believable. Similarities can be made between Zoe and Her, and both films have a similar melancholy vibe to them. So if you like one of those films, there’s a good chance you’d like the other. 4/5.

V is for Vita & Virginia (2018)

The love affair between socialite and popular author Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) and literary icon Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki).

Vita & Virginia is one of those films I chose to watch for two reasons and neither of them was because I thought I’d really enjoy the film. Those two reasons were one; it had an actor I liked a lot in it (in this case, Gemma Arterton) and two; it’s directed by a woman so can count towards my 52 Films by Women challenge. I didn’t go into Vita & Virginia thinking I’d hate it (and I didn’t) but equally, it wasn’t a story I was particularly interested in.

Based upon their real letters Vita & Virginia tells the story of how these two women met and became entangled in each other’s lives. There are many times where the letters are just read out by the actresses and the camera lingers on the face of the recipient as they register the words. This was an interesting way to show how they kept in touch and felt about one another to begin with, but the repetition soon got old.

It’s unfortunate that while the two leads do a decent job with what they’re given, it’s their relationships with their husbands that is far more touching and interesting than their forbidden love affair. Arterton and Debicki don’t have great chemistry whereas the support and care both Harold Nicolson (Rupert Penry-Jones) and Leonard Woolf (Peter Ferdinando) show their respected wives feels more real. Both couple’s marriages are unconventional in different ways and it’s a shame that’s what interested me more than what was happening between the titular characters.

The cast is good, it’s just how the film is put together (and a sometimes-dry script) that lets them down. How Vita & Virginia is edited feels weird. Some scenes or moments are cut too short so any intended emotional impact is lost while others meander or build to something that never happens. It makes this one hour and 50 minutes film often feel a lot longer than that. The music is also a bit strange at times, with almost techno, dance music playing during a party. It kind of feels it was going for the Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette anachronistic vibe of clashing the historical and the modern but as it wasn’t consistent in Vita & Virginia, it’s just more jarring and feels out of place.

Overall, while the cast does what they can with what they’re given, the lack of chemistry between the leads and its slow-pace makes Vita & Virginia feel far longer and duller than what it probably was. 2/5.

J is for Jenny’s Wedding (2015)

Jenny’s (Katherine Heigl) parents and siblings are always trying to set her up but little do they know she’s already met the right person – her “roommate” Kitty (Alexis Bledel). When Jenny finally feels ready to come out to her family as she and Jenny want to get married, it shakes everything her traditional parents know.

Jenny’s Wedding is one of those films that’s technically about gay characters but is more about their family and how (straight) audiences would relate to the family’s confusion and hurt at being lied to and their general misunderstanding when it comes to their daughter and her relationship. That’s not to say Jenny’s Wedding is bad, just that going into it you’ve got to know it’s not a lesbian romcom and is more a family drama with a dash of gay on the side.

Heigl and Bledel don’t really have any chemistry and not enough time is spent on them to really believe in their relationship, or even believe that they’re more than the roommates they’ve been saying they were for the past five years. Katherine Heigl though did give a great performance whenever she was with her family. She really sells the hurt and fear she had about coming out and how once she feels in a place to be truthful, because of her mother’s (Linda Emond) fear of being judged by her friends and neighbours, is forced to continue lying to keep her happy. How she’s pushed to almost breaking point by her parents continuing to act like everything’s the same while also ignoring huge part of her life and identity is tough to watch.

There’s a side plot with Jenny’s sister Anne (Grace Gunner) who by seeing how happy Jenny is with Kitty, comes to reassess her own marriage and happiness. That was a sweet moment and how Anne and Jenny worked through some of their sibling issues once everything was in the open was good too.

While the overall plot is a bit cliché, the dialogue between various feels authentic and the cast all give good performances. As long as you know it won’t be a romcom and is in fact quite sad and painful at times, Jenny’s Wedding is a decent watch. 3/5.

I is for The Immigrant (2013)

Trigger warning, the film has mentions of rape and sexual assault.

New York, 1921. Ewa Cybulska (Marion Cotillard), a Polish immigrant is tricked into working in a burlesque theatre as she tries to make enough money to get her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) out of the infirmary on Ellis Island.

The Immigrant is one of those films that I’m glad I’ve watched as I think it’s impressively made with some great central performances, but I don’t think I’d ever watch it again as it was so bleak.

When Ewa is stranded at Ellis Island after her aunt and uncle supposedly do not come to claim her, she is rescued by Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), a charming man who works at a burlesque club cum brothel. Bruno is emotionally and financially manipulative towards Ewa, and presumably to a lot of the other women he has working for him, but while they are used to their jobs and way of life, Ewa doesn’t want to live like this and uses it as a means to an end.

When Orlando (Jeremy Renner), a magician and fellow performer at the theatre arrives, Ewa finds herself torn between the two men. One who has always looked to control her while the other takes her as she is and perhaps could make her feel loved rather than used. With Orlando’s appearance, Bruno starts to unravel and while he has always been a showman, you begin to see how much of his entire life and persona was act. Bruno is an interesting character as while he’s definitely not nice or good, at times you can almost pity him.

The fact that The Immigrant has a sepia-tone throughout, courtesy of cinematographer Darius Khondji, and an emotional yet often haunting score from Christopher Spelman, makes the film seem almost classic and timeless. The attention to detail in the production design and costumes too make it really easy to become immersed in this time period and be swept up in the difficult situation Ewa finds herself in.

The Immigrant is a great looking film with a fantastic lead performance from Cotillard. It is a film with a bit of a slow plot but the performances are often riveting so it’s not too noticeable. As I said, it is a pretty bleak film though. The things Ewa goes through and how she struggles to deal with her guilt and perceived sin is tough to watch. 4/5.

H is for House of Flying Daggers (2004)

Romantic police captain Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) breaks Mei (Ziyi Zhang), a beautiful member of the rebel group known as House of Flying Daggers, out of prison but things are not what they seem.

Plot-wise House of Flying Daggers is bit of a mixed bag for me. It’s interesting how pretty much every single character is hiding something and there’s a lot of twists, especially in the last act as motivations are revealed. So that’s intriguing and a twist usually happens just when I’m starting to get a little bored. Which is kind of clever from a scriptwriting point of view, it’s as if they knew when interest might start wanning and pull the audience back in. The love story/stories that are slowly revealed aren’t so interesting to me and the initial conflict of the rebel group vs the government ends up being dropped to focus on the romance. In some ways this leaves the ending a bit unsatisfying.

That being said, House of Flying Daggers is a beautiful and stylish film. When Mei performs a dance and shadow game at the start of the film, how the camera follows her movements as the long fabric from her clothes spins around is wonderful. The colours in House of Flying Daggers are a feast for the eyes. Whether it’s the pastel colours of the Peony Pavilion or the greens of the bamboo forest it’s all captured brilliantly by cinematographer by Xiaoding Zhao.

The fights and actions sequences are suitably dramatic and well shot too. Everything is easy to follow and they’re always exciting and innovative. Not being someone who watches wuxia films that regularly, I always find it’s a visual treat seeing action scenes like this when you compare them to a lot of Western action films that are heavily edited, perhaps in the dark and hard to follow. Plus, it’s fun seeing these people defy the laws of gravity and it all just be an understood part of this world.

The music composed by Shigeru Umebayashi is also beautiful. It’s the sort of music that made me believe in the love story more than the plot did.

I’m glad I’ve finally watched House of Flying Daggers after having the DVD for so long. Like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon it’s a film that’s referenced in popular culture a lot – I realised that a shot of Mei towards the end of the film was on the cover of one of my university Film textbooks, always thought it was a beautiful cover but never knew what film it was from – so it’s good to actually know the original material.

The fights, colours and acting in House of Flying Daggers makes it stand out when the plot isn’t always that interesting. Perhaps it’s a film where it’s more style over substance but in this instance, I didn’t really care as I was swept up in it all. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Suriname: The Cost of Sugar by Cynthia McLeod

Trigger warnings for slavery and all the mistreatment that comes with that.

Set in Suriname between 1965 and 1979, The Cost of Sugar is the story of two Jewish step sisters, Elza and Sarith, descendants of Dutch settlers and the children of a plantation owner. Their pampered existences become intertwined with the fate of the plantations as the slaves decide to fight against the violent repression they have endured for too long.

The Cost of Sugar begins when Elza and Sarith are teenagers. They’d grown up with each other since they were children and were close until they started to think about marriage. They’re two very different people; Elza is kind and sometimes a bit of a doormat whereas Sarith is strong-willed and flighty. That’s kind of a nice way to describe Sarith to be honest.

I think this is the first book I’ve ever read that had a narcissist protagonist, or maybe I’m more aware of what the characteristics of a narcissist are so could actually name and somewhat understand Sarith’s actions. To begin with, Sarith seems like a typical rebellious and jealous teen. She’s beautiful and gets a lot of attention and had sex when doing so before marriage is obviously a big no no but when Elza meets a man and apparently finds love and marriage, Sarith gets jealous. She can’t stand someone else being the centre of attention or getting something she doesn’t have. It isn’t even a case of something she wants, it’s like Sarith doesn’t know what she wants, or she wants something just because someone else has it.

As the years go on it’s clear that Sarith is incredibly self-centred and craves attention. She wants to socialise and go to parties, even when she does get a husband and has a child. She wants to be able to have affairs but as soon as her husband seeks attention elsewhere and maybe even falls in love she does everything in her power to destroy it.

It’s not just the sisters attitudes to love and relationships that is different but also their attitude towards slaves. They’ve both grown up with house girls and slaves and are used to others doing things for them but where Sarith is cruel and sees the servants as lesser than, Elza cares about them and loves those who have been a part of her family for so long. Sure, as they’re slaves it can be argued they don’t have much of a choice about being kind towards Elza but there is a different amount of respect between Elza and her slaves and that of Sarith and hers.

While all the family drama is going on (Elza is content to be a wife and mother while Sarith implodes her life in different ways) there’s also the uprising of runaway slaves who attack plantations, killing the white owners, setting the slaves free and looting and burning what’s left. As The Cost of Sugar is almost always from the white characters points of view, these attacks are seen as a looming threat and it’s almost like a ticking timebomb for how long their life of privilege can last. There are few “good” white characters. Elza’s husband for instance came from the Netherlands to Suriname as an adult so has a different idea of how slaves should be treated as he’s so used to what is seen as the norm there. He teaches his houseboy how to read and write and speak Dutch and gives him the opportunity to earn his freedom. Still, any white character who has slaves and does nothing to change things isn’t that good.

The Cost of Sugar is an interesting look at the that time period and the dynamic between plantation owners and slaves outside of North America. I don’t think I’d read a story that focused on white European slave owners rather than American ones before. While there are certainly a lot of similarities, there were some cultural differences too which was interesting. For instance, the bigotry towards Jewish white people from the protestant white people is brought up throughout the novel. The Cost of Sugar is a pretty engaging read and the short chapters and different characters points of view help make it a quick read. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Tunisia: The Scents of Marie-Claire by Habib Selmi

Translated by Fadwa Al Qasem.

The story of the relationship between Marie-Claire, a French woman, and Mahfouth, a Tunisian man, from beginning to end as they live together in Paris.

The Scents of Marie-Claire is a short book at less than 180 pages and that’s probably a good thing as if it was longer, I may have given up on it. I did read it in two days but I did so while not liking the narrator at all. The Scents of Marie-Claire is written in first person point of view and Mahfouth is the narrator.

I think I’ve said before but I tend to find books from male characters point of view (especially when they’re written by men) a bit uncomfortable with how the male characters describe female characters and The Scents of Marie-Claire is no exception. As it’s from Mahfouth’s point of view, Marie-Claire often comes across as just an object for his desire and not a person with her own thoughts and opinions. When she says she doesn’t want sex or attention he takes it as a personal affront and feels she’s cruel for denying him and is doing to be purposefully hurtful, rather than maybe she didn’t feel like it or had a lot going on in her head. You never get anything from Marie-Claire’s point of view so it is easy for Mahfouth to paint her as a villain in their relationship.

A big selling point of The Scents of Marie-Claire is the culture clash between the two of them however this didn’t seem to be a huge thing to me. Yes, when you learn about their childhoods, they are very different but if anything it is Mahfouth’s general misunderstanding of women but also obsession with them that causes problems in their relationship. That could well be a typical aspect of Tunisian men in general that I’m unaware of rather than a specific character thing. He’s very self-conscious about their relationship and showing affection in public which could be a sign of him being more aware of their differences, though as I said, to me it seemed more likely because he was awkward about how he felt about sex and relationships.

The Scents of Marie-Claire is an odd reading experience as there’s a distance from Marie-Claire so I never really felt like I knew or understood her as a character. Meanwhile, you’re in Mahfouth’s head so much that it isn’t an enjoyable reading experience as I didn’t like what he was thinking and feeling. 1/5.