Behold This Beautiful Book

For a brand new author, this is a beautiful story. I loved how Mbue used her own Cameroonian roots to develop the main characters in this novel.
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It is the story of Jende and Neni, immigrants from Cameroon, coming to America for their own American dream. Jende comes to the US a few years before sending for Neni and his son. Neni falls in love with NYC, the flashing lights, ethnic people and access to everything. She jumps right into college to become a pharmacist. Meanwhile, Jende gets a great job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a big-wig at Lehman Brothers. 2007/2008 happen, and we all know what happens to Lehman Brothers. The fall out of the financial collapse is the background of this story.

We also get to know Clark’s wife and 2 sons. The collapse of Lehman Brothers exposes cracks in both the Edwards’ relationship, as well as Jende and Neni’s. Navigating the US as immigrants in a country that is fighting to stay financially afloat is extremely difficult, and Mbue documents this beautifully.

It is the differences in marriages from one country and culture to another. It is the determination of men and in how they recover from ruin. It is the determination of wives and how they fight to keep what they believe is theirs. It is the difference in humans; how some believe they are handed a lot in life while others scramble to pave their own way.

A beautiful, exquisite story from beginning to end.

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Joyce Carol Oates Lite

This is Joyce Carol Oates as her lightest…Lauren Kelly is just one of her pseudonyms that she wrote under for a brief spell. For those that find JCO difficult to read, this is a lot easier…less stream of consciousness, more precise story telling.
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However, keeping with her typical dark style, the The Blood Mask itself is very JCO. Diabolical, a little confusing and twisty, slightly morbid, though not overtly grotesque. It is the story of Annabelle (who becomes Marta), a teenager sent to live with her rich, art-influenced (influencing) aunt after her parents become incapable of caring for her. What first seems like a dream come true (moving from a broken home to a mansion) quickly becomes a nightmare of manipulation, unrequited love and a struggle to prove loyalty.

A pretty quick read, yet not amazingly profound in any way. Great for those who’d like to dabble in a little JCO to peak behind those dark brocade curtains of her mind.

The Underground Railroad

I thoroughly enjoyed this book!
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It is the story of Cora, a pre-Civil War era slave who was abandoned by her mother as a child. She lives and grows up on the plantation where she was born, but having no mother, is considered an outcast and is made to live in the undesirable part of the slave quarters. While she mostly keeps to herself, she will defend her small plot of land or the slave children, sometimes to the tune of her own punishment. When a fellow slave asks her to join him on his escape, she agrees with only a few days hesitation. This is where the book takes off.

This story is a heart pounding and heart wrenching chase throughout. Colson’s literal depiction of the Underground Railroad as a physical underground railroad is just enough of a twist to keep this from being a run of the mill slave escape story. This is exactly how many of us envisioned the Underground Railroad as children, when we first learned of it…and this is what Colson’s imagination ran with. Unfortunately there are many who have read this book that find this twist to be too apocryphal given what really happened, and feel this is misleading and confusing to some readers. (I’m assuming they are side-eyeing ‘the children’, for whom we don’t give enough credit.) To those readers who feel this way, shame on you for forgetting the very simple difference between fiction and non-fiction.

Cora finds herself amazed at the work that was put in to something so large yet invisible…by slaves just like her- an entire network of underground tunnels and rails. She also learns that while things were bad and quickly getting worse at the plantation, that things on the outside are sometimes worse…even for those who are not slaves.

Will Cora find safety in the North? Will she find the mother that abandoned her? Will she forgive her for abandoning her as a child? Will the slave catchers find her and send her home for certain death? This is the thrill of The Underground Railroad.

A Beautiful Tragedy

…and isn’t that what Shakespeare was great at? Writing beautiful tragedies?
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The Gap of Time is one of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project books. It is a retelling of The Winter’s Tale– a Shakespeare I have not yet read. Luckily a synopsis is included in the beginning of the book, which is helpful. This is also my first Jeanette Winterson, who herself, makes an appearance in this novel.
In this version, Leo and Xeno are boyhood friends whose lives continue to mix into adulthood. Relationships are made, created and destroyed. Jealousy and controlling behaviors rule. Children are born and lost- or are they?
While this version is meant for the modern era, it still feels timeless. The overtone of the book is sadness- you are sad for the characters- even the ones whose actions don’t deserve sympathy. There are tidbits, hints and nuggets of other Shakespeare’s works in here (Perdita calls herself Miranda, fittingly, at one point) and these are fun to spot.

This is adults behaving badly and how that impacts the lives of their children. It is how the loss of a child can ruin the lives of everyone around her. About how jealousy can explode so far out of it’s container that the shrapnel goes way beyond the immediate parties entwined in it. This was a very quick read.

The character names in the book are versions of the names from the play, which is also fun- the current versions are just that- more modern versions of these names. In the play, the city of Sicilia is the backdrop-in this novel, Sicilia is the company owned by Leo (Leontes from the play). It was nice to see this homage while still keeping the story relevant.

The only negative was the last chapter. It went from telling Shep’s story and rolled into the author making the connection between this and The Winter’s Tale. It was a weird transition and maybe should have just been in it’s own chapter. Otherwise it was beautiful (the cover is also very lovely to look at!).

Thank you Blogging for Books for providing this novel in exchange for my review.