Monthly Archives: March 2017

(story)time: The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

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“I was afraid of the sea when I was a girl. Someone said it went on forever and that frightened me. I wondered why my parents had chosen to live at the beginning and the end of the world.”

In contrast to Broken Verses, with its flowery, poetic prose, The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy has a very spare and simple writing structure. It was interesting to read the two, back to back. I read Broken Verses over the course of a week and a half, most of it over breakfast in a hotel, or in small quiet moments in the car. I read The Illusion of Separateness in two nights – the first half while sitting in the tub until the water ran cool, and the second half in bed the following night. This book can be read in two hours – it’s up to you where you want to surrender those hours – soaks or sheets.

I just finished the series opening podcast of Harry Potter and The Sacred Text (Book 3, Chapter 1), and the text was discussed through the lens of “mercy”. The act of mercy is the centerpiece in this novel – each chapter is devoted to a character and a story, and the people in these stories are woven together through several generations and across oceans and battlefields. I plan to read the novel again – to look again at the text through the lens of mercy, and to fully understand how these acts bind the characters together and bring others to life as a result.

“Then, breathing slow, and almost deliberately, stops. But for a moment the old man doesn’t realize he is dead. He can feel Martin’s heart and mistakes it for his own.”

A lovely book to read, and read again. If I implied that this book lacks poetry in my opening paragraph, then I must clarify that. It is replete with it.

“He realized this early on, and realized too that what people think are their lives are merely its conditions. The truth is closer than thought and lies buried in what we already know.”

(story)time: Broken Verses by Kamila Shamsie

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Last week the blog was silent because we took off on a family road trip over spring break. I posted some photos on IG, but I’ll do a trip post soon, probably this weekend. In the meantime, I got some more reading done, so I thought I’d do some quick posts here.

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Broken Verses by Kamila Shamsie was first published over a decade ago. I came across it on a reading list somewhere recently, and I’ve been waiting for my turn to borrow it from the library. The book is set in Karachi, Pakistan, post-9/11, and focuses on a young, upper class woman working on a local television quiz show. Aasmaani is still grappling with the disappearance of her mother, a famous Pakistani activist, and the brutal murder of her mother’s lover, the beloved Poet of Pakistan, two years before her mother goes missing. Because of the mysterious circumstances around their death / disappearance, Aasmaani has been unable to move through the grief process, and is clinging to any hope of a future reunion – seeing clues in both the real and imagined.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, because I think it’s important for the thoughts and letters and search to unfold in Aasmaani’s time. But I will tell you that this is a book to linger over, and to reread in sections. Shamsie’s prose is rich and textured – the lines are really blurred between the Poet’s work and his words, and the words of others. The themes of grief – and grief avoided – as well as clinical depression and familial love are powerful and real. The undercurrents of political movements throughout the 70’s and 80’s, and into the 90’s/post-9/11 are a timely read (aren’t so many things these days, if we’re being honest?).

I’ve been on a bit of a mother-daughter / parent-child run in my reading lately. Unintentional, but very powerful.

(story)time: The Mothers by Brit Bennett

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A few people have recommended The Mothers by Brit Bennett to me recently, and after I wrote about The Turner House, and Kendra mentioned it again, I quickly put it on my library reserve list. I read it within a week, which is a record pace for me at this particular point in my life. I was immediately swept into the story and the secret that is carried throughout the book.

Stepping out a bit from the story, what I thought about the most as I read and after I finished reading, was the idea of this collective community – a village of sorts – involved in the raising of three children into adulthood. Is a secret ever really a secret in this sort of community? “The Mothers” speak occasionally throughout the book as a singular voice; observers of the young, but not actively engaged in their raising. (But perfectly free to discuss their observations – and opinions – amongst themselves.) The literal mothers of the three are complicated as well – choosing to exit their children’s lives prematurely, physically or emotionally, but influencing them still through their absence or withdrawal.

I’m drawn to stories with characters that are simultaneously intimately connected and distantly estranged. The weaving of their stories are powerful and compelling, and in the case of this book, often heartbreaking.

I’m excited to read more of Bennett’s work. What an incredible debut novel.