Monster, Walter Dean Myers
Steve Harmon is on trial for felony murder. Was he part of the team whose robbery went wrong and resulted in the murder of a drugstore in Harlem, USA? A budding filmmaker, Steve’s story is mostly told through a screenplay he writes about his trial. He’s a young black man so race is part of the equation but so are questions of memory, intention and identity. This is a short, compelling read with an unique way of telling the story and dealing with point of view.
Bittersweet, Colleen McCullough
This story of the four Australian sisters in the 1920s and 30s features an ensemble cast but it’s really the story of the youngest sister, Kitty. From the opening pages we’re told that she is prominent among them because of her beauty and that rather than resenting her, the sisters love her even more because they feel protective of her because of the attention she receives. So there’s something ironic to the fact that I found Kitty far less compelling than the other sisters and wished I’d heard more of their stories. The first half of this novel reads like a fairly unsubtle quartet of love stories but as it moves on, we see the characters change and how that affects their marriages or lack thereof. However, the thing I found most interesting in this book was its exploration of the relationship between the sisters: how the relational dynamics change with new life stages; how both drawing near and becoming distant can be manifestations of love; how sharing a past can both clarify and obscure the meaning of current behaviour.
The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
This book is basically a butler telling you all his thoughts on butlering. Nothing happens. It’s full of long explications on the identity of a butler, and I was quite amazed by Ishiguro’s ability to enter that world and spend so much time and detail on the philosophy of it. As the book unfolds, what becomes apparent in the butler is a sense of loss or perhaps disappointment. When you spend your life serving someone else, to what extent is the worth of your life determined by their mistakes? When you spend your time so consumed by your profession, are you merely one dimensional? In the end, the slowness of the narrative matches the quiet and unfolding despair of this butler. The only thing that kept me going was that Ishiguro appears on all these ‘must read’ lists so I wanted to finish at least one of his. This butler’s story is profound, but also kind of boring.
Sister Wives, Kody Brown, Meri Brown, Janelle Brown, Christine Brown, Robyn Brown
Like the Duggars’ book, Sister Wives is written by the stars of a reality TV show but this book is an apologetic rather than a polemic. They are not offering advice so much as defending their lifestyle. They have all experienced the stereotype that all polygamists are part of a cult like Warren Jeffs‘ Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints and they want to show how normal they are. The first section of the book is devoted to each wife telling her story of how she came to join the family and then it moves on to discussing their relationships with each other and parenting. Most of the wives were raised in polygamous families but all can point to their own moment of decision when they felt ‘called’ to this lifestyle. They mention benefits such as being able to work outside the home because you can trust your sister wives to take care of the children and home. They’re honest about the struggles and jealousy of living ‘the principle’ but they attribute these tensions to their own inadequacy rather than polygamy itself. One way they cope with these is that they don’t want to know about each others’ private lives with Kody: he shows no physical affection to one in front of the others. One aim of the book is to explain the dynamics of a polygamous family but I still came out of it confused. For example, Kody and his wives say his marriage to each one is distinct, but he speaks of he and Meri marrying second wife Janelle, of Meri courting third wife Christine and of both he and Meri being bitten by the love bug when it came to Robyn. Another confusing thing was that they all claim the polygamous marriage is a spiritual practice, but they never explain is religious character or theology.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.