The Week in Books #40

Another week, another stack. I made it through 4.5 books this week, a good chunk of the pile I put together last week. Between social distancing and now the apocalyptic-looking and v hazardous smokey air blowing up from the wildfires in California and Oregon, I’ve been spending quite a lot of time indoors. Glad I have books to keep me sane, at least! I’m still really enjoying spending as little time on the “nightmare rectangle” as possible, haha.

It’s been amazing how many books I can blast through just by eliminating mindless scrolling and replacing it with reading actual books. It is also having the desired effect on Mavis as she is picking up more of her books to copy me. Win win.

1. From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle. I loved this memoir, which feels weird to say given how hard a life Jesse has lived. I spent many years working with folks like Jesse in Vancouver so the descriptions of his struggle with addiction and crime didn’t surprise me, per se, but that didn’t lessen the impact of his story. This is a powerful book. I was especially surprised to learn of his role in the arrest and conviction of the men that killed Baljinder Singh Rai, the cab driver murdered in Brampton, Ontario in 2000 that happened to be Jagmeet Singh’s uncle. Jagmeet wrote in his memoir of the time he spent with Baljinder in the hours before he went to work that night, and the immense sadness of learning of his murder shortly thereafter. To then read of the event from Jesse’s perspective, in the days following the murder as he realized he knew the two teenagers that did it and was in fact being set up by them to take the fall, was very unexpected. Jesse alerted the police immediately and thanks to him the men were caught and convicted. An interesting connection between great Canadian memoirs. Truly exceptional read.

In this extraordinary and inspiring debut memoir, Jesse Thistle, once a high school dropout and now a rising Indigenous scholar, chronicles his life on the streets and how he overcame trauma and addiction to discover the truth about who he is.

2. Tin Man by Sarah Winman. This is a short novel that packs a pretty serious punch. I wasn’t sure I would like it at first but once it got going I was really swept up in it. Be ready to cry as this book hits on hard subjects like the AIDS crisis, sudden loss, and lasting grief. Well put together and super readable.

Ellis and Michael are twelve when they first become friends, and for a long time it is just the two of them, cycling the streets of Oxford, teaching themselves how to swim, discovering poetry, and dodging the fists of overbearing fathers. And then one day this closest of friendships grows into something more.

But then we fast-forward a decade or so, to find that Ellis is married to Annie, and Michael is nowhere in sight. Which leads to the question, what happened in the years between?

With beautiful prose and characters that are so real they jump off the page, Tin Man is a love letter to human kindness and friendship, and to loss and living.

Google Books

3. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. I saw that this book had solid reviews on GR and indigo, and found a copy one day in-store… on the $10 or less table. Not to be judgey, but the table was full of trash reads and then Home Fire, so I was suspicious, lol. I lucked out though and this was a great read. It was also long listed for the Man Booker Prize, which I feel is a good indication that a book is worth checking out. It tells the story of two British Muslim families connected by unexpected circumstances, and is based on the play Antigone by Sophocles (a Greek tragedy). I liked the way the story was told through the eyes of five different characters starting with Isma and ending with Eamonn’s father. Each perspective brought something new to the story and highlighted how the same events can be twisted through the eyes of others.

Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

Penguin Randomhouse

4. The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee. Oof, this novel was difficult. Unpleasant subject matter (mysterious murder of two children, statutory rape, disturbed children doing uncomfortable things, etc), events that didn’t seem to have any bearing in the plot or character development, a fairly unlikeable protagonist, and a totally unsatisfying ending. I did like that it was set in Vancouver, my hometown, and I recognized all the areas between North Vancouver, Chinatown, Stanley Park, Grouse Mountain, Lions Bay, East Vancouver, etc, and that Jessica was a social worker, but the rest of this book was pretty uncomfortable. The pacing was fair and I found it very readable, though the actual event that the story is based on is (spoiler alert) never described to the reader and you don’t find out the truth about what happened. Do you need to know what happened to enjoy a story? Maybe not, but it definitely helps.

Reading this book felt Like this scene from Big Bang Theory

On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery, two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers. She remembers a pair of foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng, troubled, beautiful, and wild teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown. After six weeks, they disappeared; social workers, police officers, and Jessica herself assumed they had run away.

As Jessica learns more about Casey, Jamie, and their troubled immigrant Chinese parents, she also unearths dark stories about Donna, whom she had always thought of as the perfect mother. The complicated truths she uncovers force her to take stock of own life.

Moving between present and past, this riveting novel unflinchingly examines the myth of social heroism and traces the often-hidden fractures that divide our diverse cities.

Google Books

Book hauls! Ok so I’ve been reading at a good clip finally so I felt justified in buying some new books to keep me busy. But then I went a bit nuts, haha. New books this week: A History of my Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt, Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson, The Water Dancer by Ta-Nahesi Coates, Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead, Binti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor, Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi, The City we Became by N. K. Jemisin, Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. I also found thrift store copies of Can We All Be Feminists? Edited by June Eric-Udorie, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (which I already had haha) and The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma.

I’m over halfway through The Mars Room, which admittedly I hated the first 60 pages of, but after checking out some reviews online I was reassured that it was a thoroughly researched novel touching on race and class in the prison system in the USA and so I persisted, and am now enjoying it. More on this book next week!

Happy reading!

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