Booklist 2017: A Tale for the Time Being (Ruth Ozeki)

This is an ambitious book that weaves together several narrative threads into an engaging and moving story of two souls at different points in time. The story is told from the differing points of view of Nao, a teenager who kept a diary of her life growing up in Japan, and Ruth, a writer in Canada who found Nao’s diary washed up on the seashore.

The book centred on Nao’s story and, as the reader, I found myself reading quickly over Ruth’s sections just so I could get back to Nao. Despite being the main protagonist in the book, Ruth felt like a secondary character to Nao. Some of the story is told through Ruth’s perspective to bring the reader into the present day, but the sections that present Nao’s diary entries were the most engaging. As such, I didn’t think Ruth contributed much to the story other than finding Nao’s diary and having us, the reader, read along with her. Maybe it was my own state of mind of feeling disjointed at the time, but I felt Ruth’s character and her world distracted from Nao’s story.

This was the first book on my list whose ending felt like a let down. A bit too tidy, glossing over a number of heavy subjects (e.g. abuse, bullying, suicide to name a few) in order to make the ending neat(ish). Considering all that Nao experienced, the ending of her story felt too simple. I’m not sure that was the author’s intention, but the whole ending felt like sweeping stuff under the rug to get it out of the way. Despite the ending, overall, it’s a poignant and unique story that’s worth a read.

Booklist 2017: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

There’s a reason why this was shortlisted for Man Booker Prize 2007 – it’s a cracking read. It is no small technical feat to write a story in first person whose protagonist you can sympathise with despite holding some offensive views. The way in which Hamid writes positions the reader in the point of view of ‘The American’ who is the listener to Changez, the narrator. It’s not exactly a comfortable position to be placed because as the reader I was never quite sure who is the hunter and who is the hunted. I was always on my toes, turning the pages, wondering what’s going to happen next. The author is able to simultaneously bring together cultural ideologies, global politics and intensely personal experiences into an engaging and thrilling narrative

This book stood out to me because the narrator struggles with his growing resentment at the country he tried to call home. As a man of Pakistani origins he would always be considered a foreigner in the US, pre- and especially post 9/11, and the character is inwardly torn trying to reconcile his feelings with society’s perceptions of who they think he is.

In my own journey of trying to belong in the UK, I could really relate to the identity struggles faced by the main protagonist. I’ve lived in the UK for over a decade now, and I’ve never felt I’ve truly belonged. Having to reapply for a visa every few years is a tangible reminder that I’m on borrowed time. I suppose, like the protagonist, I feel like an outsider for the most part – always a foreigner, despite all my efforts to integrate.

This story stayed with me and it’s one that I will probably read again someday.

 

Booklist 2017 – Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Imagine a world with knights in shining armour, dragons, evil villains and science experiments. It’s a great recipe for a fantastic adventure, and Nimona delivers just that. The writer and illustrator Noelle Stevenson blurs the line between hero and villain in this graphic novel that’s clever, funny and thoroughly engaging. Nimona started out as an online webcomic that the creator decided to publish as a book in 2015.

Without giving away too much, the story starts off in a classic fairytale intro with hero and villain with sidekick – just not in that order. Nimona crashes into the world of “the villain” – the brilliantly named Lord Baluster Blackheart, who I later learn is pitted against his friend-now-nemesis “the hero”, Sir Ambrosious Goldenlion (try saying that three times in a row without reverting to a radio voice). Yes I use inverted commas because all is not what it seems in the world of Nimona.

I will admit I didn’t like the title character Nimona at first. She was annoying in a hyperactive-child-on-coffee kind of way. She’s unpredictable, brash and impulsive. I pitied Blackheart for putting up with her but as the story progressed I learned to really love Nimona in all her insane impetuousness. She’s brave and wants to be part of something that makes her all the more determined to keep trying. Nimona is a weird, yet fitting addition to a world that acts as if it has clearly drawn sides of good and evil. Her existence helps to uncover the hypocrisy of what is considered “good” and “evil” and her energy is one that can’t be contained in such a binary distinction.

I think part of me would like to be more like her, being the stick in the mud that I am to schedules and plans! The story becomes much more complex than I originally gave it credit for, with twists and turns that I didn’t really expect and some proper laugh out loud moments. It’s no wonder it was a National Book Award Finalist (US based) and I can only (vainly) hope for the possibility of a Nimona 2.