Finally getting to review the 3 books I finished in the first half of 2019. I wasn’t in love with these, but I still found them goodreads to fill my free time with. Interestingly enough, all of the authors were authors I read in college. Very good writers, each with very different styles.
I was introduced to Jesmyn Ward through my creative writing college professor. I remember we read one or two of her short stories in class, and so when I saw this novel by her, I decided to check it out. I like this book primarily for its writing. Ward has a way to make a reading experience really lovely and luxurious almost. Her sentences and words flow so effortlessly and poetically that sometimes I forgot I was in the middle of a scene where I had to pay attention to the details of what was happening. She plays with both reality and the mystical.
The story itself is told in different narrations: The main character, Jojo, his mother, Leonie, and the ghost of a boy named Ricky. The focus is on Jojo’s family, made up of him - a 13 year-old, his 3 year-old sister, his ailing grandmother, his grandfather, his mother, and his ex-con father. It’s very realistic of poor families in the south: being raised by grandparents, while parents are “still figuring things out”, and because of this, I automatically felt drawn to take Jojo’s side throughout whatever dispute that happened between him and his mother especially.
What I didn’t like was the pacing of this book. The majority of it took place on a journey made in one day, not leaving enough room to expound on the mystical elements, as well as other minor characters. But after that journey, the end sort of jumped out very quick, and I felt that everything else that needed to be finalised didn’t have enough time to be saturated well enough. Maybe a couple of hundred more pages would have helped me enjoy the ending better.
This one had so many mixed reviews, but I knew I had to read it to find out how I feel about it for myself. There were some claims that this book was not a novel because of the way it is written. The way it is written is very unorthodox to a novel. The best way I can explain it is that the story is told by two methods. One is through dialogue of various characters, and another is through quotes of various people.
It can be confusing to read the two as one way of telling the story. I just saw the quotes as information needed to understand the context of Lincoln’s life, and the events that occurred during the time period. The dialogue was more of the current story being told.
To me, the writing style ticks all of the boxes of a novel, it’s just seen in an atypical way. The word “bardo” refers to the phase between death and the next phase, though the length varies for each person. In short, this book explores that phase of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willy, shortly after his death. The majority of the story looks into the “lives” of characters who are in the bardo, who try and help Lincoln’s son figure out what exactly is happening to his current state.
There is a lot of humour and sad reality intertwined in this book. It is a clever read and well written, but I think patience and re-reading a little is a MUST to appreciate this kind of writing. Abraham Lincoln is a character, though quite minor, and the most we get to know about him, and even Willy, is from the quotes. Worth a read if you like Saunders or if you like stories with lots of dialogue and innuendo.
Zadie Smith has quite a few books out that are on my to-read list. This book, though, a little under 600 pages, was better than I thought it would be. Super hilarious, satirical, and well researched. It’s full of clever metaphors, dialogue, and character development.
I loved many things about this book: for starters, the characters of color! There was only one, I repeat ONE white main character. The other main character’s were Bengali, Jamaican, Arab, or mixed race. I also enjoyed the diversity in age. The characters whose lives I got to delve into ranged from small kids, to teens, to young adults, to adults, to the elderly, and it was told over a long period of time. The character development felt very real in that sense.
What I loved most was the research Smith put into this story. Nothing was ever generalised; she delved deep into Islam, the lower class, immigration, scientific engineering, war, North London, India, and many other subjects. The book was a bit long, but the pace was good for all that needed to be fleshed out. I can’t say it ended on a positive note - this book is not really a feel good type of book, but one that makes you see the extreme effects of a very complex society, particularly upon families. It’s a good read worth your time especially when on a long commute or trip.