romance

READ THE WORLD – Pakistan: Kartography by Kamila Shamsie

Karim and Raheen have grown up together, they finish each other’s sentences and speak in anagrams. They are irrevocably bound together and to Karachi, Pakistan, a city that’s violent, vibrant, corrupt and magical but is also their home. Time and distance bring a barrier of silence between them until they are brought together in Karachi during a summer of strikes and ethnic violence. Their relationship stands poised between strained friendship and fated love – one wrong action, or reaction, can tip the scales.

Kartography is a book I picked up over a year ago but didn’t get further than the first few chapters. I am so pleased I gave it another go as this time a sped through it.

This time I was almost instantly submerged into the vivid city Raheem and Karim grew up in. The city, and to a lesser extent the country of Pakistan, is a character in its own right. Karachi is a part of Raheem and Karim and while Karim attempts to distance himself from the place after looking for and finding all of its darkness, Raheem purposely avoids thinking too much of the violence and corruption that’s rife in her city.

Kartography shows that while history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, present events do tend to parallel the past. There’s definitely an element of “the sins of our fathers” here, though the children are often unaware of what those sins actually are which leads to misunderstandings and more hurt than if people had been honest with them from the start.

Kartography takes place across several years. There’s Karim and Raheem’s early teenage years in the 1980’s and when they are young adults reconnecting in the mid-90s. But events that transpired before they were even born, most notably 1971 and the civil unrest that affected their parents when Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan, had a knock-on effect on to the people they grew up to be. This book is a historical novel and while it references many political events, it doesn’t feel it has to explain everything. Shamsie trusts the reader to either have prior knowledge on this period of history, or to go a research it as they’re reading if they want to. That being said, if like me you have limited knowledge of that time period you can still follow what’s happen really easily.

Kartography is about barriers. Religious, ethnic, gender and class – all these barriers come into play and some are easier for characters to cross or accept than others. The writing in Kartaography is beautiful, the characters are flawed and sometimes frustrating, but they are still people that you enjoy reading about. Kartography is a wonderful story and one I enjoyed far more than I thought I would. 5/5.

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REVIEW: Love, Simon (2018)

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) has a huge secret, he’s not told his friends, family, or anyone at school: he’s gay. Simon finds someone to talk to through anonymous emails, but when someone discovers his secret and threatens to expose him, Simon must face everyone and come to terms with how he feels.

Nick Robinson is great as Simon, he’s charming and likeable and you feel his heartache. Simon’s friends are all pretty great too and they all feel like a real group of friends. They fall-out and are sometimes selfish, but they also care about one another.

Not only are the teen cast brilliant, so are the adults in supporting roles. Ms Albright (Natasha Rothwell), the drama teacher, is hilarious and steals every scene she’s in, while Vice-Principal Mr Worth (Tony Hale) is equal parts funny and cringey. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel play Simon’s parents and they are some of the best parents in a teen movie in a long time. They feel like normal parents and their relationship with Simon is wonderful.

Love, Simon has all the makings of a classic, teen rom-com. It’s very funny, it’s touching, and it’s has so many great characters. It’s a coming of age story that pulls you in and you can fully empathise with Simon and his friends, no matter how old you or how long it’s been since you were a high school student yourself. Love, Simon manages to be persistently funny, even when it’s handling the more dramatic and sad moments. It balances all these emotions perfectly and the soundtrack’s fantastic too.

Love, Simon is brilliant. I laughed, I cried, and I can’t wait to see it again. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – The Gambia: Reading the Ceiling by Dayo Forster

On her eighteenth birthday, Ayodele has decided it is time to lose her virginity, but who will be the man she chooses? There’s Reuben, the safe option; Yuan, a schoolfriend with the potential for something more; and Frederick Adams, the father of her best friend. What she doesn’t know is that her choice will have a drastic effect on the rest of her life. Three men, three paths, one to Europe, university and heartache, one that will send her travelling around the globe, and the other will see her remain in Africa as a wife and mother in a polygamous marriage. Each will shape her life, but which will she choose?

Reading the Ceiling is told in three parts, each one starting on the night of Ayodele’s birthday and then spanning the next fifty or so years of her life. You get to see how one choice can shape Ayodele’s life but at the same time there are many things that are outside of her control. For instance, things that happen to characters around Ayodele, like tragic accidents or the choice of a university, generally happen no matter who she chose to sleep with.

The interesting thing was that while her choice set Ayodele on three very different paths, she herself was still the same person deep down, no matter where life took her. She’s headstrong with a good work ethic, she’s smart and capable of being both independent and in a relationship. She’s content being by herself or being with friends and she tends to clash with her mother no matter where life takes her.

Seeing Ayodele’s three different lives play out, I find it difficult to choose which one I feel was best for her, or which one showed her to be the happiest. It’s clever because all three lives had highs and lows, joy and sadness – just like anyone’s life.

Reading the Ceiling was a surprisingly quick read, especially as it spanned a woman’s lifetime three times over. I enjoyed seeing how life in The Gambia may or may not change over fifty years and seeing more of the various countries Ayodele lived in during her three lives. I also enjoyed seeing Ayodele grow as a person, and how her experiences shaped her and may have affected those around her.

REVIEW: The Shape of Water (2017)

In a top-secret research facility in 1960s Baltimore, a lonely cleaner named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) befriends a mysterious amphibious creature (Doug Jones) who is being terrorised by government agent Strickland (Michael Shannon).

The Shape of Water has a magical quality to it. The setting and particularly the music, gives it almost a golden age of Hollywood feel. Especially as the story is almost a classic story of love, friendship and good trying to triumph over evil. It’s almost like a fairy-tale and the way the film is bookended by some narration definitely adds to that feeling.

All the performances in The Shape of Water are great. Sally Hawkins does a brilliant job at conveying Elisa’s thoughts and feelings without ever saying a word. You believe in the connection she’s forming with this creature and seeing the two of the bond is lovely. Michael Shannon’s Strickland is a menacing presence from the first moment he appears. Every time he’s on screen your eyes are on him as he’s like a coiled spring ready to explode at any moment.

The Shape of Water is a bit tonally uneven. At its centre is a sweet story but then there’s sudden bouts of blood and violence – most of which are courtesy of Strickland. It’s also got some surprising moments of humour, a good number of them were from Elisa’s neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) who’s friendship with Elisa is lovely.

The Shape of Water is one of those films where I appreciated it more than I liked it. While for many it is one of their favourite films of the year, for me it was a lovely film with a lot of heart, but I don’t think it will stick with me for very long. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Singapore: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend Nicholas Young, she has no idea what she’s going to face. She’s looking forward to spending time with Nick’s family until she’s faced with private jets, expensive cars and luxury mansions. Rachel is thrown into a world of extravagance and dynastic superiority and nothing could prepare her for Eleanor – Nick’s formidable mother with very strong feelings about who’s the right, or wrong, girl for her son.

Crazy Rich Asians is a lot of fun. It’s over the top and ridiculous a lot of the time but the way it’s written pulls you into these characters lives and their antics. While Rachel and Nick and their relationship is at the heart of this story, you meet a lot of other characters and each chapter is from a different character’s perspective. This makes it interesting as you have Rachel, who’s American born Chinese and while she has a good education and career, is not used to the lavish lifestyle and the way all these people who have grown up in and live in Singapore think about money. It gives you both the outsider and the insider perspective.

I really sympathised with Rachel a lot. While Nick is lovely he’s also very naïve about the wealth he comes from and does nothing to forewarn Rachel about what the world he grew up in is like or talk to his parents about how serious he is about her. Rachel’s left floundering for a lot of the story as she must contend with spiteful and jealous people, mostly women, who believe she’s just after Nick’s fortune.

A lot of the other characters, on the other hand, are unlikable. They’re rude, thoughtless and self-serving but that’s what everyone is like in this upper-class society is painted as. It was heard to connect with a lot of them because so many of them were nasty but were apparently being that way for the sake of the family. Eleanor especially was an interesting yet seemingly heartless woman.

Crazy Rich Asians does have a lot to say on class, immigrants, different types of Asians – those who are from mainland China, those who were educated in England or Australia, and those who have stayed in Singapore for most of their lives. Characters all have different relationships with money and many of them are so far removed from the “real world” that their outbursts over having the right designers or private jet is often unbelievable.

The ending of Crazy Rich Asians does seem a bit rushed, especially after a good portion of the book was building up to one moment. However, it is the first book in a trilogy so perhaps the messy ending is made a bit neater in the sequel. A sequel I’m not sure if I’m desperate to read, as a lot of these characters were just not relatable or even nice people – I don’t think I can survive in their world for long periods of time. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Egypt: A Certain Woman by Hala El Badry

Nahid is a woman determined to go on a journey of self-discovery and understanding. She finds love and sex with novelist Omar, who is stuck in a loveless but marriage with volatile Maggie, while Nahid herself has chosen to keep up a facade of a marriage to Mustafa, a man she does not love for the sake of her middle-class family. This is Nahid’s story of discovery and self-love.

A Certain Woman is told not only from Nahid’s point of view but Omar’s, Maggie’s and Mustafa’s too. These changes in voice aren’t always obvious as there’s no clear signposts at the start of each subchapter who we’re now following. You have to figure out who’s head your now in through their conversations and wishes, sometimes it’s easier to figure out than others.

A Certain Woman is about Nahid’s quest for liberation. Not liberation from societies norms or from a man, but from her own set beliefs that inhibit her from following her heart and finding fulfilment, whether that’s in regard to independence, desire or love. She stays in her loveless marriage because of her children and a fear of trusting someone else with her happiness.

While A Certain Woman is on the short side with just over 200 pages, it’s quite a slow read due to the sometimes-delirious rambling thoughts of Nahid. She, and Omar, frequently change their mind about what they want and the way the story was written made it difficult to connect with either of them.

Nahid is an archaeologist and the sections with her being an archaeologist and finding joys in the digs she was a part of were my favourite parts of the book, but besides that I find it a bit of a slog to get through. A Certain Woman is a romance story and on the whole, that is not my go to genre of choice so maybe that’s why I didn’t particularly care for Nahid nor the situation she was in.

READ THE WORLD – Samoa: Freelove by Sia Figiel

It is 1985 in Western Samoa and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” rules the airwaves. Seventeen and a half-year-old Star Trek fanatic Inosia Alofafua Afatasi is sent to the capital, Apia, to buy three giant white threads. As she waits at the bus stop, Mr Ioane Viliamu, her science and maths teacher and the son of the pastor, and in turn, her spiritual brother, stops to offer her a ride in his red pickup truck. Inosia is faced with choice, does she take the ride or wait for the bus?

Freelove is a story of forbidden romance and a young woman who is smart and capable but still has a lot to learn. Inosia is very academically smart and loves science and space, in part thanks to her obsession with Star Trek. I think having a character who is repeatedly told to be beautiful, also be smart and has a nerdy obsession is quite different.

It took a little while to get used to how Freelove is written. There’s no speech marks when characters talk, instead there’s a new paragraph when someone is speaking and there’s no real signifier when it’s back to being Inosia’s thoughts. You definitely have to pay attention and when there are conversations they flow very quickly. I liked how the book features Samoan though. Sometimes when characters talked it would first be in Samoan and then have the English translation next to it.

There is sexual content in Freelove and I appreciated that any sex was consensual, and the characters were constantly talking about how they were feeling, if anything hurt or they wanted to stop, and they listened to one another. The romance between Inosia and Ioane was interesting because both of them knew what they were doing was “wrong” or wouldn’t be accepted in their village. This was because of the age difference, the fact they are spiritually related to one another and the fact that they weren’t traditionally married. They go into things with their eyes open but as you read you can’t help but wonder when or how everything is going to go wrong for them. It gives you a sense of foreboding that’s never really satisfied.

Freelove is a quick and relatively easy read once you get used to the writing style. The descriptions of Idosia’s day to day life and her family are vivid and while the romance felt a bit rushed to begin with, it’s clear that these two care about one another deeply. 3/5.