Review: The Incarnations

The Incarnations
The Incarnations by Susan Barker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brutal. Ugly. Twisted. But mesmerizingly told. As I finished the last page, I turned again to the beginning.

The Incarnations unwinds the tale of two souls connected throughout many centuries – as family, friends, lovers, enemies. In each time, torturous circumstances yield hope, terror, violence, and death. The stories are told in letters from one soul to the other, delivered anonymously as Beijing readies for the 2008 Olympics. Are they true remembrances, revealed via ingesting prophetic herbs, or the destructive imaginings of a mal-treated madwoman, driven to insanity by the push and pull of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and later Chinese commercialism? We only know that the cycle of damage has continued.

I have never read a book set in China, in any era, that portrayed happiness and well-being. Is this just what gets released for an English-reading audience? If there are contented Chinese novels, please recommend them to me.

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Review: The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984: A Graphic Memoir

The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984: A Graphic Memoir
The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984: A Graphic Memoir by Riad Sattouf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fascinating and disconcerting look at the young childhood of French-Syrian Riad Sattouf, as his family shifts between Paris, rural France, Libya, and Syria. In each location, he is expected to behave according to new rules that he does not understand. The adults around him seem compelled to share only the oddest and most terrifying family stories – What is a four or six year old to make of them? Sattouf’s father comes off badly – he appears capricious, selfish, and unwise, as well as leaning towards abusive. His mother, in this memoir, is silent and nearly without opinion. What version would each of them tell? A window into the mind of the very young, without context or adult perspective. Lots to think about.

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Review: After the Crash

After the Crash
After the Crash by Michel Bussi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I do not understand what the big deal is about this book. I experienced it as more annoying than great.

There are sloppy discrepancies within the text (Ex: Lylie tells the reader that Credule Gand-Duc is a father figure to Marc, someone who has been a consistent presence in Marc’s life. And yet, Marc has to use his influence in his workplace to get Grand Duc’s telephone number? Wouldn’t he have that already?)

It also defies too much belief that none of the bodies of any of the other passengers were found, that no one tried to recover the remains of their family members who perished in the crash. The body of the ‘second’ baby would have been found & comparisons could have been made.

What is the author trying to convey in creating so many characters who are completely bonkers and degenerate, and not in an endearing way? Why so much depravity? And, (spoiler), the fact that any relationship develops between Marc and Malvina is insane. Any real person in his position would have taken his child and run as far as possible away from her poisonous self.

I get that both Bussi, the author, and Grand-Duc, the teller, want to create some suspense in the telling – but the tale is too slowly spun out. What is supposed to be craftily suspenseful, I experienced as manipulative and unnecessary. I also saw the big reveal chapters and chapters before the writer spelled it out.

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