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  • The Hate U Give

  • By: Angie Thomas
  • Narrated by: Bahni Turpin
  • Length: 11 hrs and 40 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 24,282
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 22,574
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 22,490

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • This Book Changed My Entire Perspective

  • By Wendi on 01-14-18

A remarkable debut talent that opens out & blooms

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-05-17

Thomas does a good job raising a number of the issues people talk about when we talk about race. This debut YA novel reflects the mindset and confusion of a sixteen-year-old African American girl, Starr, who witnesses up-close-and-personal a police shooting one of her childhood friends, Khalil. Starr lives in a black neighborhood, Garden Heights, but attends a private mostly-white high school an hour away from her home. Her relationship with her white schoolmates becomes a feature of the story.

The clever way Thomas sets up her character list allows us to experience Starr’s own disappointment and dislocation when Khalil is described as a drug dealer gang member to make the cop look less guilty in the eyes of the community. Thomas is especially good at describing a case that is not so completely clear that we can do without the officer’s testimony, but it soon emerges that his explanation, that he thought he was in danger, may have been because he saw a[n unarmed] black man and was afraid.

The YA nature of the material is useful to Thomas’ purpose because young people are not as close-lipped and cautious as adults and haven’t completely formed their worldview. Starr is still learning how the world works and she can be a little naïve and verbalize her learning experiences, and talk them over with her family and friends. We hear the things she is thinking, the things that bother her, the things she ultimately believes.

We can hear her discuss in an utterly realistic way one’s first impressions when confronted with her father’s own prison time, Khalil’s drug sales, Devante’s consideration of gang membership. Extenuating circumstances in each of these situations completely change our view of events and make readers realize how important perspective is when considering lifestyle and crime. Starr’s mother wants to leave the neighborhood for the suburbs to escape the drama and death of Garden Heights but Starr’s father refuses. This particular argument I have been waiting years to hear reasonably articulated, and Thomas does it well.

A new film, Get Out , was just released this month, directed by Jason Peele, a comedian who made his name as one of the Comedy Central duo Key & Peele. The work of these two bi-racial comedians focuses on how white folks are perceived by black folks, and black culture. Their work is funny, not mean, and meant to educate through humor. Thomas does something similar, with Starr articulating those micro aggressions she sustained at school, and with the police…but she is also able to articulate the assumptions, jealousy, and misunderstanding of Starr’s black friends about her opportunities outside of the neighborhood. This is all very well done: pointed but inoffensive.

Thomas says “I want to write the way Tupac Shakur raps”, her title coming from one of Tupac’s torso tattoos. She manages to include an enormous amount of nuance and expression into this novel without making it seem overdone. She throws a lot at us in a short time, giving our emotions a workout. She’d give TV writer and producer Shonda Rhimes a run for her money. Thomas’ characters are realistic if not completely developed, certainly not mere stereotypes. Thomas is helped her portrayals by an extremely talented narrator for the audiobook, Bahni Turpin, whose proficiency with voices and accents goes far beyond the ordinary. The audiobook is an excellent choice for this material, produced by HarperAudio.

I am not a fan of the more talky aspects of YA novels, and I was horrified with the school fight Starr was involved in, and Seven’s tendency to think first of throwing his black body physically against the forces that subjugate him, whether they be a gang leader or a white cop. This is definitely not in my experience and I’m not sad about that. Unfortunately I suspect it was an accurate depiction of how things get resolved in Garden Heights, though Starr's fight happened in the private school. This can’t be a useful habit to carry forward, but these incidents were not adequately editorialized in the novel.

I will, however, admit to being completely impressed with the skill with which Thomas composed her story. She packed in a great deal of human experience on both sides of the color divide and helps readers come to terms with a very difficult and important topic: police intimidation, excessive force, and shootings of unarmed black males. At the same time, she invites us to look at her life, the culture in the neighborhood, and the thought processes of folks who make choices different from white folks in the suburbs.

With literature like this, we get clues to how we can get to know each other better, considering the historic segregation of schools and neighborhoods. Racism, conscious or unconscious, is no longer acceptable to the majority of Americans. It should have ended long ago—by law it had, in practice it has not. Everyone who hasn’t studied up on what this means, can use books like these to make inroads into a greater awareness. Study up. Society is moving ahead. Many artists of color are going out of their way to light the road and explain these issues clearly from their point of view.

The book has been optioned for a film, purportedly with “The Hunger Games” actress Amandla Stenberg to star.

16 of 28 people found this review helpful

  • Secondhand Time

  • The Last of the Soviets
  • By: Svetlana Alexievich, Bela Shayevich - translator
  • Narrated by: full cast
  • Length: 23 hrs and 6 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 390
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 360
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 358

When the Swedish Academy awarded Svetlana Alexievich the Nobel Prize, it cited her for inventing "a new kind of literary genre", describing her work as "a history of emotions - a history of the soul". Alexievich's distinctive documentary style, combining extended individual monologues with a collage of voices, records the stories of ordinary women and men who are rarely given the opportunity to speak, whose experiences are often lost in the official histories of the nation.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • The Heart, Soul & Iron Fist Of Russia

  • By Sara on 02-22-17

Absolutely unforgettable, necessary literature

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-06-16

was eleven or perhaps twelve years old when I learned that ignorance is no excuse for anything.

That revelation completely changed the way I viewed the world. I ran to my parents, separately, I remember, my eyes wide. I said to each of them, “Ignorance is no excuse!” It won’t save anyone from the repercussions of whatever they are ignorant of. You can die as a result of ignorance or you can participate in something evil as a result of ignorance.

As I remember it, my parents did not say anything. There is much I would think as a result of my eleven-year-old coming to me with such a revelation, and I am not sure I would know what to respond, either. But it was a big moment, and it came from reading a novel.

Now I wonder which novel gave me such an insight, but I cannot remember. I was an ordinary schoolgirl, with no special access to literature. I read too much, my sisters said, and most of them were bodice-rippers…

This book reminds me of that moment of realization. The insights into what man is and how he responds to national, political, and personal trauma come fast and hard in this work. Alexievich begins by recording voices from the Gorbachev years: “Those were wonderful, naïve years…” Both for and against Gorbachev, the voices record people’s naiveté. They had an excuse, the lack of reliable, comprehensive news coverage being one of them, but it would not save them from their future nor their past.

There is simply nothing to compare with this fabulous reconstruction of the lives of people under communism and after. Alexievich records the stories of people under the dictatorship of the people, and there is so much nuance, so much pain, fear, crazy love, faith, and delusion tied in with people’s understanding of those years that it becomes as clear a record of what humanity is that we have.

“Changing the nature of man” was on the table. From the sounds of some voices, it succeeded on every measure. But if nature can be changed, we question again that "nature." Naomi Klein tells us man is not hopelessly greedy but it is hard to see that when greed is rewarded and protected. The Soviet Union, Russia, has gone through enormous social upheaval in the last one hundred years, and Alexievich manages to give us a window through which we can begin to see what happened to people. It is breathtaking.

Among the voices are ordinary folk, high Kremlin officials, members of the brigades who spent their days shooting “enemies of the people.” We see what they were thinking at the time and what they are thinking now. Because governance the world over has many similarities, constraints, and imperatives, everyone who can read should see how governance actually plays out, no matter what we believe.

Alexievich has taken memory and made literature. For me, it will be one of the most meaningful books I have ever come across.

8 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • The New Tsar

  • The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin
  • By: Steven Lee Myers
  • Narrated by: René Ruiz
  • Length: 22 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,416
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,273
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,262

The epic tale of the rise to power of Russia's current president - the only complete biography in English - that fully captures his emergence from shrouded obscurity and deprivation to become one of the most consequential and complicated leaders in modern history, by the former New York Times Moscow bureau chief.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • A retelling of facts without much added info

  • By A. M. on 03-07-16

Presents the complexities of Russia & Putin

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-30-16

During the election pre-season in America, I was as surprised and intrigued at the support for Donald Trump as the rest of the thinking universe (not the pundits, of course). As I laughed at his unscripted policy-free speeches and intentionally note-worthy off-the-cuff remarks, I remember thinking I would love to see the effect of his ‘shock and awe’ campaign on someone like Putin. I thought Trump would be too unpredictable and outspoken for Putin. I am ready to take that back. In a weird kind of way, both men, neither political operatives at the start of their careers, are a similar kind of not-liberal, not-conservative, whatever-works nationalist kind of politician. And both have created a cult of personality to facilitate a kind of one-man rule.

Myers allowed me to catch this glimpse of Putin at his start in government as an ordinary man unused to and previously uninterested in political power. When he began in the Sobchak Leningrad government, he may or may not have been involved in skimming from contracts he arranged with the newly burgeoning private sector after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He certainly was in a position to do so, and many of the people he awarded contracts did so: he formed firm friendships and nurtured loyal apparatchiks in Leningrad that reappear throughout his political career. But it is also true that Russia in the early 1990’s was a wild place with many crime lords jockeying for power. Putin’s family was targeted at least once. Putin did not at that time appear to have the trappings of new wealth, though we learned only recently of monies in his name from the Panama Papers. It is possible that his wealth accumulated from later dealings.

It has always been difficult to understand why Putin was reputed to enjoy such wide public support in Russia, but I realize now that our media reporting emphasized bad judgment and outcomes while Russian media outlets emphasized good intent and nationalism. Myers gives a far more nuanced picture of Putin growing into his role as president—prime minister—president again in this book. If Putin didn’t begin as a friend to oligarchs, he gradually relaxed into the role. He began as a man with he stated goal of “making Russia great again.” He could see that some people were gaming the system by purchasing national reserves of commodities improperly priced and selling them at more realistically priced international values. This was not illegal at the time, just morally suspect. Rather than trying to fix the system of laws that allowed this rape of mineral and energy resources to continue, Putin selectively applied legal and taxation rules on the books to hamper, entangle, or otherwise inhibit the activities of people who did not work closely with him.

Myers charts the hardening of Putin’s character, from his shock and dismay upon learning that Yeltsin had chosen him as a political successor to his chagrin upon learning that his chosen successor, Medvedev, had both an opinion and a weakness that didn’t partner Putin well. And what was very clear in Myers’ telling was the perception of U.S. foreign policy decisions by Russians and Putin. By the time Edward Snowden comes on the scene late in the book, we laugh at Putin’s pleasure in pointing out political dissidence and jail is not just a Russian thing: ”Ask yourself, do you need to put such people in jail, or not?”

Putin was more confident during his second presidency and yet the moment he assumed power the second time his poll ratings began to fall. It was the moment citizens realized that there was really no conversation, no political discussion going on. It only takes twenty years for a political climate to change irrevocably: ask Hillary Clinton. In twenty years, young people with no historical memory bring a new clarity to what is happening right now, with no regard to what came before. Pussy Riot called out Putin; Sanders’ supporters are calling out Clinton.

Putin operated, and operates now, by relying on a close and loyal group of political “friends” from his time in the FSB and his time working for Sobchak in Leningrad. Loyalty is so prized that it would not surprise me to learn that some of the political murders committed during Putin’s reign were not “ordered” by himself. It seems entirely possible to me that elements in a large bureaucracy might prove their loyalty by eliminating static that was damaging to the leader. The problem with a large bureaucracy is that it can take on a character of its own and is not easy to change.

A really strange event occurred early in Putin’s first presidency: the bombing of the apartment buildings in Moscow and the sacks of FSB-sourced explosives found in the apartment building in Ryazan. These incidents have never been satisfactorily explained, and could be an example of a bureaucracy grinding out [imperfect] solutions to perceived problems that impact Putin & Co. In a case like that, or in the case of sheer incompetence (also an enduring feature of large bureaucracy), it is not hard to see Putin keeping mum out of loyalty to those he is protecting. Some actions, like poisoning political opponents or shooting reporters in the the stairwells of their buildings, are simply too crude, destructive, and beneath the dignity of someone in power to imagine they are a “command.” Bill Browder’s account of his time making money hand-over-fist in the 1990’s in Russia, RED NOTICE, mentioned that powerful figures known to Putin wanted the real estate on which those apartment buildings were built and were meeting resistance. Whatever the truth of the matter, this did not have to originate in the Kremlin to be horrifying in its motivation. It does appear, however, that it was condoned by the Kremlin since a good explanation was never uncovered.

One of the things that motivates Putin is the expanding power of NATO in Europe. Putin still thinks in terms of great powers and feels he is being hemmed in by Western Europe nibbling away at his satellite countries. It is hard not to sympathize. Certainly that is happening, and will continue to happen in a Clinton presidency, further exacerbating Putin’s bellicosity, and sense of infringement and inferiority.

Russia is a huge country. “Too big, really” says Ian Frazier in his big book TRAVELS IN SIBERIA. Putin says its size and different cultures is the reason there cannot be a representative democracy like that in America. Since even America doesn’t seem to the have the process working very well at the moment, it is difficult to pretend to know what difficulties arise when trying to restore the kind of power that was shattered by the overthrow of the tsar in twentieth century Russia. The only thing I would concede is that ruling Russia must be a very difficult job, particularly when one is looking backward. One must look ahead, not backward, when one is leading, it seems to me.

I feel like I have gotten a terrific education reading this book and am much better able to parse news coming out of Russia, Europe, and the Middle East today. I can now put Putin into the context vis-a-vis U.S. diplomatic relations. Clinton must be the last person Putin would want to see be elected president in the United States, and in some ways Trump is as unpredictable as Putin has claimed he has tried to be. But I am not recommending a vote for Trump. I think a better choice might be neither of these two.


11 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Isabella: The Warrior Queen

  • By: Kirstin Downey
  • Narrated by: Kimberly Farr
  • Length: 21 hrs and 12 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 385
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 345
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 347

Whether saintly or satanic, no female leader has done more to shape our modern world, in which millions of people in two hemispheres speak Spanish and practice Catholicism. Yet history has all but forgotten Isabella's influence, due to hundreds of years of misreporting that often attributed her accomplishments to Ferdinand, the bold and philandering husband she adored.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Good Biography! Learned so much about the Queen

  • By Linda Erlich on 12-03-14

Isabella's influences are everywhere today

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-25-16

This massive undertaking by Kristin Downey gives context to the fifty-three years of Queen Isabella’s life and shares origin stories of people or events we may have heard bits of in our lives but never knew where to find the references:

Monty Python: The Monty Python skit of the soldier who first loses a leg, then an arm, then another arm…you know it…was based on the struggles of Portuguese soldier, Duarte de Almeida, to keep the Portuguese flag flying in the Battle of Toro against Ferdinand and Isabella, who were thought to be illegally seizing the throne in Castile. "It was difficult to recount later exactly what happened because the Portuguese and Castilian accounts differed...the Castilians seized the battle flag, the royal standard of Portugal, despite the valiant efforts of a Portuguese soldier, Duart de Almeida, to retain it. Almeida had been holding the flag aloft in his right arm, which was slashed from his body, and so he transferred the pendant to his other arm and kept fighting. Then his other arm was cut off, and he held the flag in his teeth until he finally succumbed to death."

Count Dracula: Mehmed the Conquerer was determined to expand the Ottoman Empire and conquered Constantinople in 1453. Mehmed renamed the city Istanbul and swore to take Rome within two years. He didn’t, but he managed to take Athens and Corinth and Serbia. In 1462, as Mehmed was attempting to subdue the geographical region of Romania, then called Wallachia, Mehmed came up against his father’s former hostage, Vlad, who had been beaten and abused in the Turkish court and then sent back to Wallachia to rule. “Vlad fought Mehmed ferociously, earning himself the name of Vlad the Impaler, the prototype for the character that came to be known as Count Dracula. He is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people, partly in efforts to repel the Turks. He was finally assassinated.”

The game of chess: "Chess was enormously popular in Spain during Isabella’s rule…and soon after the battle [of Almeria during the Reconquest], the Queen became the single most powerful piece on the chessboard, able to move great distances in all directions, her mission is to protect and defend the key piece on the board, the King. Some versions of chess had had a Queen figure before Isabella’s birth, but it was at this time that the fame, originally invented in India, underwent a complete metamorphosis and the queen became a dominant figure. The changes in the game were chronicled in a popular book on the new rules of chess, published in Salamanca about 1496, written by Ramirez de Lucena. He described the game now as “queen’s chess,” and her new powers allowed her to “advance as far as she liked, as long as her path was clear.” Queen Isabella had memorialized herself as a powerful player in the game of war."

1492 was the year that Americans have enshrined as the year Columbus discovered North America. But in Spain, it is the year that Isabella and Ferdinand finally took back Granada, after the fighting of many years, from the Muslim Nasrid dynasty. “The victory over Granada won acclaim for Isabella and Ferdinand throughout Europe, because it was the first significant triumph against Islam in hundreds of years, and to many Europeans, it was partial payback for the loss of Constantinople.” Cristóbal Colón “was at Granada when the city finally fell to the Christians [to petition the Queen]...but court scholars once again rejected Columbus’s proposal as unsound.” Shortly after meeting with the Queen in Granada, however, the Queen sent a messenger after Columbus, reaching him about ten miles outside of Granada. The trip was approved. Three well-known mariners, the Pinzon brothers, agreed to sign on in leadership positions. Juan de la Costa brought his own ship, Santa Maria. They left August 3, 1492, and sighted land in the Caribbean on October 12, 1492.

Cristóbal Colón: Christopher Columbus was a dreamer with a streak of madness. He wrote in cipher, signed his name in and “indecipherable combination of letters and images.” He heard “voices in the air,” and spent many hours writing feverishly in the margins of books, developing his theories. “…although Columbus showed himself to be an excellent mariner, he was also exposed as a terrible administrator and a man of poor judgement…he faced an almost constant sequences of mutinies among his crew…Columbus’s ferocity in dealing with the Indians was a direct contradiction of his orders from Queen Isabella about how to interact with them…Columbus was viewed with a measure of contempt…Columbus had become very unpopular…at court, and it was getting more difficult for others to stand up for him…He compounded his own problems by denying what was patently obvious. He had promised the sovereigns that he would find a path to the Orient, He had stumbled on something large and important, but it was not the Indies.”

Syphilis It is thought Columbus’s returning ship brought the disease to Europe in 1943.

The Inquisition initially began as an attempt to ferret out insincere Christians, and to correct them. Those deemed unrepentant were burned at the stake, the traditional penalty for heresy. The thing was, Spain was filled with Muslims and Jews as a result of previous conquests. Many declared themselves to be Christians to get along, but retained their old customs and methods of worship. “The governing principle of an Inquisition is that failing to conform to religious and political norms is treason. In Isabella’s age, church and state were one—religious authority and secular power were intermingled….Historians once believed that immense numbers of people were burned at the stake, but more recent scholarship has cast doubt on those assertions…There is no questions that during Isabella’s reign, hundreds of people were put to the flame, probably at least 1,000…” Isabella chose a religious zealot, Cisneros, as archbishop of Toledo, the most important and powerful cleric in Spain. With this, she “put her kingdom on a less tolerant and more religious path,” leading to excesses in the Inquisition.

Cesare Borgia: Isabella was a devout Catholic and was pleased when Rodrigo Borgia ascended to the papacy in August 1492, the second time a Spaniard managed to do so. However, Borgia, who had taken the name of the Greek conquerer Alexander IV, proved himself a corrupt and promiscuous pontiff, fathering a vast number of “beautiful and intelligent” children whom he squired to important ranks in society. Cesare, “the cynical man whom Machiavelli called a political genius,” was one of these.Bonfire of the Vanities took place in Florence, Italy during Lent in 1497 and 1498 when an Italian preacher, determined to rid the Catholic church of corruption, convinced crowds to burn objects that represented human vices and unnecessary luxury. “Items thrown into the bonfire included rich clothing, mirrors, playing cards, and paintings of books, some of which represented pornography but others of which were great works that represented the celebration of sensuality at the heart of the Italian Renaissance.”

Vasco de Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1498 and returned to Portugal with Indian and Asian spices, just about the time Isabella’s daughter, Maria, married Manuel, King of Portugal. Queen Isabella was at the end of her reign, but now that her daughter was Queen of Portugal, “together they ruled over much of the world, and wealth poured into their countries.” Isabella had always been a patron of the arts, commissioning paintings to mark major victories or family events.

Catherine of Aragon was Isabella’s fourth daughter. She was wed to Britain’s Prince of Wales, Arthur, but it is uncertain whether or not the marriage was consummated before Arthur died of the plague in 1502. It was suggested that she marry Arthur’s brother Henry instead of returning to Spain, but in order to do so, Isabella needed a papal dispensation from the Pope she had begun to hate for his excesses, Pope Alexander IV (Rodrigo Borgia). King Ferdinand therefore drafted the request, and after two years the dispensation returned from Italy and was subsequently sent to England.

When Isabella died in 1504, “even her enemies in other countries recognized her [as] one of the wisest and most honourable persons in the world.” In the prosaic way we might recognize today, her son dumped her vast collection of jewels and worldly goods, selling them far below market value so that they were resold later at far higher prices. Her priceless collection of paintings was salvaged in part by a daughter-in-law, Margaret, “who bought many of the paintings of Christ’s life,” which were kept as a set. “Today most of them remain in Madrid’s Royal Palace; the rest are part of the treasured collections of major art museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.”

I am not a historian. The problem I had with this as a work of popular history is that Downey seemed to swoop and swerve, stall and reverse to include every detail that she’d encountered in her researches. The result is a spectacularly detailed, if sometimes mind-numbing, parade of personalities. The back and forth nature of writing history I found disconcerting, though it is surely the most logical way to go about telling such a large personal story. We certainly see the scope and importance of Isabella’s rule.

I read the paper copy and listened to the audio version published by Random House and narrated by Kimberly Farr. Downey and Farr both did a herculean job.

  • Raising My Rainbow

  • Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son
  • By: Lori Duron
  • Narrated by: Lori Duron
  • Length: 6 hrs and 10 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 339
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 312
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 309

Raising My Rainbow is Lori Duron’s frank, heartfelt, and brutally funny account of her and her family's adventures of distress and happiness raising a gender-creative son. Whereas her older son, Chase, is a Lego-loving, sports-playing boy's boy, her younger son, C.J., would much rather twirl around in a pink sparkly tutu, with a Disney Princess in each hand while singing Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi".

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Loving CJ

  • By Pamela Dale Foster on 06-19-14

We can all learn something from Duron's experience

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-07-15

I have always been curious about how folks discover and then adapt to some kind of specialness in their children—and admit to a real fascination with a child such as Duron’s CJ. At age 2-1/2, CJ exhibits such delight in Duron’s boxed 25th-anniversary Barbie that she opens it and…it was the toy he’d always wanted.Duron’s first-born son, Chase, was all boy. CJ, her second-born son, had a strong affinity for girls, and girl things. Duron and her husband were surprised and not entirely thrilled at first, and tried to steer CJ’s inclinations a little, thinking ahead to all the issues her son might encounter in the neighborhood and in the years ahead. But CJ would have none of it. It seems he was fully aware of what he liked “right out of the box,” as it were. He liked dresses, earrings, makeup and high heels rather than Sponge Bob, soccer, and the manly arts. His mother learned to call this “gender nonconforming.”

Duron spent some time struggling with the notion, searching online, talking with specialists, and offering CJ more common options for sports and clothes, and gradually comes to accept that her child is something very special indeed. The year CJ begins pre-kindergarten, she starts writing a blog to address the online information deficit for her experience as a mother of a gender nonconforming child. Through that avenue she makes friends, exchanges information and resources, and eventually becomes a spokesperson for gender-questing individuals. She also receives a lot of hate mail saying she was a bad mother, but fortunately she felt confident that wasn’t true. She was discovering real time that her son was unique. CJ’s proclivities are bred in the bone, and didn’t appear to have anything to do with nurture.

This is a fascinating story, mostly because CJ is one hot ticket. I don’t know how much Duron jazzed up CJ’s language as she reports what he says, but he has real personality in speech, and in choosing styles, colors, and “drape” in his clothing, even as a bitty child. CJ’s brother Chase takes some heat as the result of having a brother with what others perceive as gender confusion, but Duron herself intervenes when it begins to impact Chase’s school work and social interactions.Duron narrates the audiobook of this title, produced by Audible. In an interview at the end of her reading, Duron tells us that she felt she wanted to read the produced book herself to give the needed emphases. She knows her sons will read it one day and wanted to make it sound the way she heard it in her head—accepting and ferociously protective of them. She did well.

Duron admits to being anxious and confused herself, so if occasionally she was a little rough on folks that seemed surprised about or mentioned CJ’s clothes or attitudes, we can probably cut her a break. Encountering a gender creative child for the first time might be a little surprising for some folks, and they may need a little time to process it cognitively. I have never encountered a child like her CJ. From the sounds of things, he is one easy fellow to like. She might be able to lose some of her attitude now: a quietly instructive voice on Duron’s part might be more helpful. I wouldn’t want to give up Duron’s very careful yet casual and joyous way of celebrating her son’s differences, though. I guess I can take a little attitude if we continue to hear more of CJ’s specialness.

Duron’s book was enlightening on a number of levels, not the least being the suggestion that her son’s gender fluidity may be genetic. In addition, one learns a great deal about legal protections already instituted for gender nonconforming children, hopefully ensuring that they needn’t be bullied in schools or communities. This means lots of folks have been through Duron’s experience before, though she did not find personal narratives online and felt she had to write her own. Her blog got so much attention that she was approached about writing a book, film projects, among other things. She is still posting: check it out.

The story of this family is really pretty special, due in no small part to Duron’s own personality. Everyone would get something out of Duron’s experience: even if you don’t have a child who is gender questing, many parents have children who wish they could play with girl toys or boy toys at some time or another. It would be nice to just relax about it--it will make the kids more interesting. I was surprised to hear Duron lived in Orange County, CA. Am I stereotyping if I say I would have thought creative folks around Los Angeles would have inoculated the population against surprise about dressing up? Ah, well. We can‘t all be as fabulous as CJ. What a guy!


1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • A Kim Jong-Il Production

  • The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power
  • By: Paul Fischer
  • Narrated by: Stephen Park
  • Length: 12 hrs and 26 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 320
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 278
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 281

Before becoming the world's most notorious dictator, Kim Jong-Il ran North Korea's Ministry for Propaganda and its film studios. Conceiving every movie made, he acted as producer and screenwriter. Despite this control, he was underwhelmed by the available talent and took drastic steps, ordering the kidnapping of Choi Eun-Hee (Madam Choi) - South Korea's most famous actress - and her ex-husband Shin Sang-Ok, the country's most famous filmmaker.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Absolutely terrifying

  • By Karen Weisneck on 02-19-15

Completely riveting and stupefyingly informative.

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-10-15

This incredible work of creative nonfiction will undoubtedly catch many Asia-watchers with surprise. Facts about North Korea are thin on the ground here in America, but this book blasts open a personal history of Kim Jong-Il with a canny, fluent, and wise commentary that seems far beyond what anyone else has been able to manage. It is an enormous feat of research, but more than that, it is so completely and compulsively readable that we are held captive.

It begins detailing the history of two individuals who were instrumental in the South Korean film industry in the 1940s and 50s. Before you ask how relevant that information is to us today, just remember that the author is a film producer who claims these early films have a cult following now, perhaps because of the Gangnam rage that has spread worldwide, and has opened a glimpse into a world never before considered worthy of serious study. We couldn’t have a better introduction to film in South Korea nor have we ever had a more detailed look at the North Korean film fanatic Kim Jong-Il, who kidnapped the two leading lights in the South Korean film industry to bolster his own propaganda machine.

The beautiful and talented South Korean film star Choi Eun-Hee was kidnapped first. Fischer compares her favorably to Marilyn Monroe in terms of star quality and stage presence. Her former husband, the film director and producer Shin Sang-Ok, was taken later, though because he’d tried to escape he was imprisoned for a number of years. Eventually they were reunited in Pyongyang and began producing films for Kim Jong-Il’s ailing film industry. This book is partially based on their memoir of their time in captivity and their successful escape to the West.

Perhaps more importantly, we learn a huge amount about the Kim regimes. This material may be out there somewhere, in a hundred escape memoirs, spy reports, or academic papers but I have never seen so much information about Kim Jong-Il and North Korea in one place before. Besides all this great new information, the writing is absolutely first-rate, the story completely stupefying, and the immersion into film so well-informed that it seems like a trick.

Who is Paul Fischer and how does he know so much about North Korea? The Introduction and Afterward discuss sources, and mostly my concerns about veracity of content were allayed. It may just be possible that no one ever bothered before to gather together the dispersed information in just this way before. I just don’t know. Frankly, it is Fischer’s skill that is simply stunning, besides the vast trove of collected information about the Kim regime and North Korea. The writing is rich and fluent in a way writers only dream of, and the sections pass easily into one another while we readers are led deeper into the intricacies of film lore and the strange and frightening propaganda machine of Kim Jong-Il.

I have no idea whether or not Shin Sang-Ok and his wife Choi Eun-Hee were abducted or if they defected to North Korea. In my mind it is regrettable either way but not particularly relevant now. It is not what I focused on. I have heard some of the details of kidnapping, of prisons, of life in North Korea, but nothing like this detailed look north of the 38th parallel. This book has everything: grandeur, mystery, terror, and a fluency that makes this tremendous storytelling no matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on.

This book absolutely has to be labelled creative nonfiction because of the conversations recounted verbatim and the reconstructions of scenes so completely you would think Fischer created them. I don’t care. If one-fourth of the information in this is book is true we have made great headway in understanding and demystifying a completely obscure regime. You will recall the splash Truman Capote made with his fictional recreation of the nonfiction event he wrote about in In Cold Blood. Let’s call this in the same vein until we can verify, but remember this man Paul Fischer. He has burst on the literary scene with a truly fantastic and important offering. If he can make films the way he can write we are in for a real treat.

I listened to the Random House Audio production of this book, read beautifully by Stephen Park. I have ordered the print edition to look it over more carefully. As I say, books like this don’t come along very often. To think this was a debut is completely unbelievable.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • King Leopold's Ghost

  • A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
  • By: Adam Hochschild
  • Narrated by: Geoffrey Howard
  • Length: 12 hrs and 34 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 904
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 771
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 776

In the late 1890s, Edmund Dene Morel, a young British shipping company agent, noticed something strange about the cargoes of his company's ships as they arrived from and departed for the Congo. Incoming ships were crammed with valuable ivory and rubber. Outbound ships carried little more than soldiers and firearms. Correctly concluding that only slave labor could account for these cargoes, Morel almost singlehandedly made this slave-labor regime the premier human rights story in the world.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Fascinating

  • By Edith on 01-20-11

The horrors continue to this day in the Congo

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-23-14

This book begins with the assertion of evil. It made me uneasy. I prefer to hear the facts and draw my own conclusions. But I felt far less willing to grant King Leopold’s side another instant of attention after realizing that the facts had been obscured for a century or more by repression of documents relating to the case in Belgian state archives. Better that we finally uncover the ugly truth and take its lesson: unbridled greed may be the ugliest, most unforgivable, most unnecessary sin of all.

How can we not have known this horrible history? It happened only a hundred years ago. Though I am embarrassed I did not know the anguished history and perpetuation of evil in the Congo, I stand in good company. Hochschild tells us of a Belgian diplomat serving in the 1970’s Congo who learned of the atrocities by a chance remark from a chieftain recalling “the first time” of rubber collection. This diplomat-turned-historian, Jules Marchal, spent decades after his retirement from civil service investigating and documenting King Leopold’s personal fiefdom in the Congo and its long list of crimes there at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

What does become amply clear from Hochschild’s account is how it is possible to mount a resistance to a great evil. Resistance requires exceptional people willing to bear witness, but also organization and persistence. Edmund Dene Morel, the shipping clerk who recognized in the 1890’s what was happening in the Congo, immediately called out the injustices he saw there and never hesitated in his mission to publicize it in the years that followed. Fortunately, he was an articulate man with a convincing speaking style and he had enormous drive. He managed to gather like-minded folk to himself to voice a larger protest.

The life of Irishman Roger Casement, the gay man knighted by the Queen for his work as a diplomat and later hanged by Britain as a traitor to the crown for his work as an Irish patriot, stands as an example of the strange dissociation countries in power display when someone challenges their economic and political interests. I fell in love with him a little, Sir Roger Chapman, as a man of great courage and vision: he saw what men are and did not despair, though one might say that, in the end, he died of it. Black Americans who spent their adult lives speaking out against the horror happening in Africa, the Reverend William Henry Sheppard and George Washington Williams, have finally found their way back into history. Many Christian missionaries, though notably, not Catholic missionaries, did their part in publicizing crimes in pursuit of endless demand for rubber.

What I liked most about the book was the way Hochschild brought us past the period of the Congo revelations to the present day, telling us how we could have been ignorant of the time and the period. He followed the lives of Morel and Chapman to their ends, and introduced us to Ambassador Marchal of Belgium. He follows the Congo after Leopold through its Belgian colony status to the demand for self-rule and the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the Congo’s first legally-elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He tells us of Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, Congolese President who continued crimes against his country that Leopold had begun, this time with American support.

I began to realize that some of the surviving chiefs of Leopold’s crimes were sometimes collaborators. Their behaviors have been perpetuated over the generations until there is nothing but misery left in that place. Now I understand better how a country so rich in natural resources could be so socially impoverished. The crimes continue to the present. What can be the solution to this kind of moral destitution?

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • 2666

  • By: Roberto Bolaño
  • Narrated by: John Lee, Armando Durán, G. Valmont Thomas, and others
  • Length: 39 hrs and 15 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 711
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 509
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 515

Composed in the last years of Roberto Bolaño's life, 2666 was greeted across Europe and Latin America as his highest achievement, surpassing even his previous work in its strangeness, beauty, and scope. Its throng of unforgettable characters includes academics and convicts, an American sportswriter, an elusive German novelist, and a teenage student and her widowed, mentally unstable father. Their lives intersect in the urban sprawl of Santa Teresa - a fictional Juárez - on the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • The Best Book I Read or Listened to in 2009

  • By William on 01-05-10

This book reminds me of painting modern art..

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-13-13

I hardly know where to begin reviewing this massive opus. But I know I am not alone because most of the people who have read the thing just rate it with stars to indicate how well they liked it and leave it at that. I don’t even think the star rating system works well when considering this novel. 2666 might almost be thought of as fictional nonfiction in that it reads like remembered thought, something like a memoir, though it is broken into “books” and many people are central rather than a single narrator. It crosses several continents, and takes in pieces of people’s lives that we later discover intersect. Or, more precisely perhaps, their paths cross paths, like meteors leaving trace. This is ‘Life’ writ large: the work is so bulky one can barely see from one end of it to another, one loses one’s way. One makes connections but too late or too slowly sometimes and even then what does it matter? What control did we really have? Could we have made a difference, a difference to us or to everyone else? Ach!

The work is comprised of five Books which Ignacio Echevarría, Bolaño’s literary executor, tells us were meant to be published separately. Echevarría decided, however, that the parts were better off coming together because of their linked quality, which is not apparent until Book Five. Bolaño was first a poet but he thought he’d make more money in novels (publishers and writers will no doubt laugh at this, though this author was probably right in his own case) and there were many times during this opus that I thought he’d have done better to stick to poetry. I was not being facetious. He throws in the kitchen sink, gathering like a vacuum factoids and sidelines from people’s lives that don’t really seem to fit or be at all relevant.

However, in the end, if you can get to the end (and again, I am not being facetious—this takes stamina and stomach) there is something here which is difficult to articulate. It is sorrow, it is appetite, it is fullness, it is all, including the bad bits. At the end we can say we’ve seen it all, experienced it all. If you cling to life in old age or sickness with the idea that somehow tomorrow will be better, put that aside for Life is not especially kind. It has good bits but there is plenty of bad, too, and you can’t have one without the other.

Book One begins with academics following the work of an obscure German writer. They admire his style and tout it successfully enough that the man is mentioned in the same breath as The Nobel Prize. They are curious about his life and where he lives and how he writes. The second book, “The Part about Amalfitano” is about a Chilean transplant to Mexico and appears to be Bolaño’s musings about life, death, love, art, sexuality, and reality. He ranges from “this shithole has no future” to “ Poetry is the only thing that isn’t contaminated…only poetry…isn’t shit.” This section may well contain explanations to the rest of the novel—why Bolaño wrote it, how he felt when he began, and what he intended.

Book Three, The Book about Fate, is a linking book, connecting forgotten and overlooked people whose lives, like threads, nevertheless intersect and overlap others in the ball of string that is life, and move us unfathomably in a direction that appears to be no direction at all. We, each of us, could write a section like this about our lives when we stepped off into the unknowingness of the wider world and played an infinitesimal part in events that occur in the future without our knowledge or consent. This book links directly to Book Four, though we don’t understand the link until Book Five.

Book Four, The Part about the Crimes, is one of the most horrific litanies of rape, murder and torture that I have ever heard, for I listened on audio and the narrator’s deadpan voice did not inflect no matter the nature of the material he recited. A spate (how trivial a word to describe a tidal wave of such proportions) of murders of women was taking place across a section of Mexico. By the end I had concluded that one man couldn’t possibly have done this if he worked full-time at killing, so it was a crime that spawned crime, and crime done with similar hatred and method. I looked in the paper copy of the book to see if the deaths were listed, like they sounded on audio (1,2,3…). But no, Bolaño writes in paragraphs: one’s eyes skim the size and shape of the words on the page and the horror is not revealed until it is spoken or read aloud in an endless, truly agonizing Reading of the Names.

In Book Five, we learn of one killer at least. And we see that elusive author from Book One, Archimboldi, again. It finishes with Bolaño writing to his publishers, friends and readers” “And that’s it, friends. I’ve done it all, I’ve lived it all. If I had the strength, I’d cry. I bid you goodbye.” Bolaño died a matter of months after he finished the book. One senses he knew what he was leaving behind, both in terms of life and in terms of legacy. It is a very difficult work, and one doesn’t need it to live. One cannot help but be awed, though, by the workings of one man’s mind, and enriched by his big, binocular vision of this world and its inhabitants.

The Farrar, Strauss & Giroux hardcover edition has a few really nice touches, besides being beautifully printed. The flyleaf has black and white etchings of sea flora, possibly from Animals and Plants of the European Coastal Region. The cover copy has a single sentence of introduction quoted here in full:Three academics on the trail of a reclusive German author; a New York reporter on his first Mexican assignment, a widowed philosopher; a police detective in love with an elusive older woman--these are among the searchers drawn to the border city of Santa Teresa, where over the course of a decade hundreds of women have disappeared."And a single sentence review from a NY Review of Books critic in the place where the author photo usually is: "An often shockingly raunchy and violent tour de force (though the phrase seems hardly adequate to describe the novel's narrative velocity, polyphonic range, inventiveness, and bravery) based in part on the still unsolved murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez, in the Sonora Desert of Mexico." This is not praise, but has the exhaustive bluntness of belief. The literary world will be divided between those who read and those who did not read this book. This book was recommended to me by Paul Murray, author of Skippy Dies, from an interview he gave to Jill Owens of Powell's on his book tour.

  • Skippy Dies

  • By: Paul Murray
  • Narrated by: Nicola Barber, Fred Berman, Clodagh Bowyer, and others
  • Length: 23 hrs and 41 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 1,739
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 1,107
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 1,126

This touching and uproarious novel by author Paul Murray made everyone’s best fiction of 2010 lists, including The Washington Post, Financial Times, Village Voice, and others. Why Skippy dies and what happens next is the mystery that links the boys of Dublin’s Seabrook College (Ruprecht Van Doren, the overweight genius obsessed with string theory; Carl, the teenager drug dealer and borderline psychotic; Philip Kilfether, the basketball-playing midget) to their parents and teachers in ways that no one could have imagined.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Funny, touching, entertaining

  • By Chicago Laura on 01-22-11

This may be the best audiobook I have ever heard

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-04-13

It’s been years since this book came out. It made such a big splash on its debut I feared it may be popular fiction of a type that doesn’t interest me. I waited a little, had a peek, retreated. A big book in the vernacular of adolescent boys: a wave of exhaustion overcame me. Gradually I began to notice that many people whose reviews I follow were finding it an exceptional read. I took another look. No. Still couldn’t ever seem to find the time to wade through the (what I am embarrassed to say I thought at the time) triviality of the thoughts of fourteen-year-olds.

Wrong.

The voice I had in my head as I read was inadequate to this opus. Out of frustration for my lack of understanding the significance of what others were enjoying, I bought the audio of this, performed with great brio, skill, and cognizance by Nicola Barber, Fred Berman, Clodagh Bowyer, Terry Donnelly, Sean Gormley, Khristine Hvam, John Keating, Lawrence Lowry, Graeme Malcolm, Paul Nugent, produced by Audible, Inc. Suddenly I experienced what I had been missing. This has to be one of the very best audiobook performances I have ever heard.

The book is a symphony in four parts, but in the voices of these performers, it is a four-part spoken opera. It is broken into three parts in print and in audio, but make no mistake: This is music. It is Murray’s attempt to reach those of us in alternate universes:

“There is a certain amount of evidence that music of various kinds is audible in the higher dimensions—“(Ruprecht, p. 590)

This is also a classic of literature, worthy of all the kudos heaped upon it, and many more besides. If I could place it next to another book of comparable stature, it would be Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger’s was slim and this is comparatively huge. But Murray makes his words count.

The four parts are named after video games. Hopeland (? Skippy's father mentions it, asking him why he wasn't "done" with it yet, implying it was easy. Perhaps it is the Last Hope videogame: (An evil empire from another galaxy is heading towards Earth). Heartland (The Heartland has fallen under the rule of the ruthless tyrant Midan and his minions...). Ghostland (The blood elves applied the scorched earth policy to these woodlands...). Afterland (a traveling carnival of magical misfits in the afterlife).

Every review I have seen mentions its size as a stumbling block. Pity. It takes days, weeks even, to get to it all, but after having lived with the boys and teachers of Seabrook College for some time now, I am convinced this tragicomic masterpiece is one of the great books of the new century. Funny, tragic, sad, true, and painfully revealing, it addresses major themes of our times and reminds us, with lacerating humor, just how it is to be young today.

The ferociously hormonal boys central to the drama are engaged in the epic battle we all face but prefer to forget: how best does one grow up, today, in a world of global warming? To a fourteen-year-old, the gloom this question casts is rarely acknowledged but manages to shadow thoughts of the future. Murray captures the idiocy of youth, how they are so unsure of themselves, yet feel immortal at the same time.

The cast of characters is positively Dickensonian. Murray peoples an embattled Catholic boarding school with an administration loathe to lose paying students to competitors yet fully aware and conspiratorially silent about the school’s deficiencies; teachers involved in personal dramas struggle to inspire the teens in their charge while warily watching and abetting the administration in their deceptions.

But he is funny, really funny at the same time he is tearing your heart out with the stories of the boys trying to make their way in such a world.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • NW

  • A Novel
  • By: Zadie Smith
  • Narrated by: Karen Bryson
  • Length: 10 hrs and 58 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 298
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 251
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 252

Somewhere in Northwest London stands Caldwell housing estate, relic of 70s urban planning. Five identical blocks, deliberately named: Hobbes, Smith, Bentham, Locke, and Russell. If you grew up there, the plan was to get out and get on, to something bigger, better. Thirty years later ex-Caldwell kids Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan have all made it out, with varying degrees of succes - whatever that means....

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • I believe this book is best listened to than read

  • By BowedBookshelf on 09-28-12

I believe this book is best listened to than read

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-28-12

Author Smith says NW is about language, and I agree. Language is central to our understanding of the characters, and language defines their lives in many ways. I had the good fortune to listen to the audio of this title, brilliantly read by Karen Bryson and Don Gilet. Having access to a paper copy at the same time, I feel confident that the spoken version is an aid to clarity and understanding, and there was true enjoyment in hearing the range of vocal virtuosity by both readers. I did end up listening to it twice.

A clear example of how language can define one is the incident of a boneheaded young man with the posh accent, Tom, selling an old MG to the young man Felix, who had made great strides towards self-realization despite the tug of his background and the brake of his language. Any observer of that scene would immediately suspect Felix of putting the fix on when objectively that would be far from the case. And Keisha, or Natalie as she began calling herself, managed to change most things about her world when she changed her language. She became a barrister and even forgot what it was like to be poor.

But this novel is also about the process of becoming. To my way of thinking, there are only two central characters in the novel, Leah and Natalie. Both resist adulthood, but the choice is not really theirs to make. They become adults despite their attempts to hold back the process, and end up making decisions that demonstrate authorial control over their own lives, and stopping their ears to very loud protestations from their inner selves. Therefore they land in adulthood awkwardly, splay-legged and wrong-footed, and must find a way to right themselves again before acknowledging they are older, wiser, and already there.

Several other minor characters, e.g., Annie and Nathan, manage to avoid true adulthood altogether by burying their options beneath addictions. Felix was the one that was most consciously “becoming.” He strove daily to be a better man--for his woman, for himself, for his future family. He made himself happy doing it. He got clean, “was conscious,” and made himself and his family proud. But demons chased him down. Maybe you can’t really ever get free.

In the last third of the book, a 50-something female barrister “role model” dressed in a gold satin shirt beneath the expected blazer, and a diamante trim to de rigueur black court shoes tells Natalie: '“Turn yourself down. One notch. Two. Because this is not neutral.” She passed a hand over her neat frame from her head to her lap, like a scanner. “This is never neutral.”'

Of course I’d heard of Zadie Smith, but I’d never read her early work. She was so popular when she first came into print that I decided to wait to form my own opinion when the clamour died down. Sometimes it is so noisy out there when a new, talented author is heralded that I can’t hear myself think.

I never had the feeling while reading this novel that Smith was haphazard in her choice of images or language. The novel is constructed and in the end one looks up to see graffiti covering a wall with violent scribbles of bright color. Overlaid, a couple words traced in black paint stand out over the rest: SEX RACE CLASS

10 of 10 people found this review helpful