The Week in Books #91

14/14 ✅

Finally I have completed this stack of books and am moving on to the next! Lots of good ones in this pile, my favourite was definitely The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Least favourite probably goes to Kamala or The Good People. Not to say that they were bad reads, but there were some good ones on this stack! I’m just 4 books away from my goal of reading 104 books for the year (2 per week). Go me!

1. City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris. This is technically the second book in a series but I read it as a stand alone as I found this copy at VV and the blurb jumped out at me. There are a number of references to the case solved in the first book but I didn’t think I missed out on anything by skipping the first one, if anyone else wanted to read this as a stand-alone as well. This is a murder mystery/crime thriller, essentially, which I don’t read a lot of but this one was unique in that it was set in Saudi Arabia and contained a lot of commentary on feminism and the treatment of women in Saudi culture. The pacing was good and it was engaging as a thriller as well as informative of the culture in Saudi Arabia (a culture that is obviously so very different from Canadas). When it all boils down the story is essentially the story of a woman murdered by a misogynist, which is overdone to the point where I avoid the genre altogether, but the writing was good and the Saudi setting added more layers that made it much more enjoyable to read.

Women in Saudi Arabia are expected to lead quiet lives circumscribed by Islamic law and tradition. But Katya, one of the few women in the medical examiner’s office, is determined to make her work mean something.

When the body of a brutally beaten woman is found on the beach in Jeddah, the city’s detectives are ready to dismiss the case as another unsolvable murder-chillingly common in a city where the veils of conservative Islam keep women as anonymous in life as this victim is in death. If this is another housemaid killed by her employer, finding the culprit will be all but impossible.

Only Katya is convinced that the victim can be identified and her killer found. She calls upon her friend Nayir for help, and soon discovers that the dead girl was a young filmmaker named Leila, whose controversial documentaries earned her many enemies.

With only the woman’s clandestine footage as a guide, Katya and Nayir must confront the dark side of Jeddah that Leila struggled to expose: an underworld of prostitution, violence, exploitation, and jealously guarded secrets. Along the way, they form an unlikely alliance with an American woman whose husband has disappeared. Their growing search takes them from the city’s car-clogged streets to the deadly vastness of the desert beyond.

Little, Brown

2. The Good People by Hannah Kent. From modern day Saudi Arabia I then bounced to historic Ireland with The Good People. Hannah Kent wrote Burial Rites about the execution of Iceland’s first woman prisoner, a book that was very compelling and moved me to tears by the end. The Good People is in a similar vein but had less of an impact on me. Nora is a superstitious woman who has been convinced by the local herbalist/healer that her disabled grandson has been stolen by “The Good People” and replaced with a fairy. Many of the “cures” they administer to try to restore the boy to health were actually quite disturbing to read, the women essentially torture a handicapped child to try to “fix” him, so if you aren’t into reading about that kind of thing maybe avoid this one. It’s a fairly slow moving story with characters that aren’t really developed, and a plot that isn’t that complex or really satisfying. The language itself was lovely and the atmosphere of the book was achieved well, I felt. In the end I thought it was good, but not great.

Nóra Leahy has lost her daughter and her husband in the same year, and is now burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál. The boy cannot walk, or speak, and Nora, mistrustful of the tongues of gossips, has kept the child hidden from those who might see in his deformity evidence of otherworldly interference.

Unable to care for the child alone, Nóra hires a fourteen-year-old servant girl, Mary, who soon hears the whispers in the valley about the blasted creature causing grief to fall upon the widow’s house.

Alone, hedged in by rumour, Mary and her mistress seek out the only person in the valley who might be able to help Micheál. For although her neighbours are wary of her, it is said that old Nance Roche has the knowledge. That she consorts with Them, the Good People. And that only she can return those whom they have taken…


3. Disorientation: Being Black in the World by Ian Williams. This is a brief collection of short essays and anecdotes about being Black in the world that wasn’t on this stack, but I preordered and was excited to get to. Williams is Canadian and lived between Vancouver and Toronto, so a lot of his observations were made about the city where I grew up. When he wrote about Brampton, Ontario I was reminded of another Canadian memoir by Jagmeet Singh and his experience of growing up Sikh in Brampton. And that reminded me of Jesse Thistle’s memoir (also Canadian) because there was a pretty big common thread between his and Jagmeet’s upbringing there. So many excellent Canadian memoirs! Williams’ collection is very strong, I really enjoyed his insights and observations on race in Canada, America and abroad. He has included an essay about his experience with Margaret Atwood that was very sweet, and many others including mentions for George Floyd and Eric Garner, and a piece about the experience of one of his friends, a Black man that had been pulled over between Abbotsford and greater Vancouver and shared his story with Ian. Very readable, very important.

Up now!

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