Since my kitchen is also my living/dining/bedroom, I thought it might be nice to share some thoughts on some of my other interests, most of which revolve around arts and culture in various ways. Here’s a quick review of some of the books I’ve been reading in the Balmain Kitchen recently.
Jacob’s Folly by Rebecca Miller. Having first encountered Rebecca Miller’s work when I read her first novel The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, I was excited to see her second novel on the shelves in my local bookstore recently and bought it straight away, even though it wasn’t in the budget. Some books are worth cutting back on the grocery bill for though and this is definitely one of them! The story is a parallel tale of two Jewish people who take a wayward turn from their faith at different points in time. It’s told through the eyes of a fly who we discover is the later incarnation of one of the two characters in question, an eighteenth century Parisian Jew. The fly gives us insight into the travails and mishaps of his own life whilst also looking on over the life of the modern day heroine Masha, an enigmatic beauty gifted with grace and talents that set her apart from her conservative but deeply loving family. Miller’s prose is skilfully crafted in a way that is beautiful but not contrived, and she shows a depth of human understanding in her writing that is thought provoking and moving. As with Private Lives, Jacob’s Folly emphasises the beauty in human frailty and the lessons that can only be learned by life’s journeys.
The Reader by Bernard Schlink. I read this book in two sittings as it’s not a long one and has a natural, easy rhythm that lends itself to prolonged sittings. What it lacks in length it makes up for in substance, and is another thought provoking and challenging work that examines truth, fear, love and justice in post war German society. It’s the story of a fifteen year old who has a brief affair with an older woman in the years just after World War Two, who then goes on to witness her on trial for a Nazi crime years later as a law student. The Reader raises some interesting moral and ethical questions, most especially surrounding culpability and absolution in the post-war period. It’s an intricately developed novel that follows a story of love and personal pride on one level, and also speaks to the generational conflict between the children of Nazi Germany and their parents. More than anything, The Reader brought home to me the fact that ‘the truth of what one says lies in what one does.’
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book was educational and enjoyable at the same time. It’s the story of a Nigerian couple who part ways early in their university days to study abroad and who both return home after years of immersion in a foreign society. Much of the story revolves around Ifemelu, whose career develops from struggling student to famed and successful blogger on race relations in the US. Her counterpart Obinze spends a brief amount of time in the UK, unable to gain entry to the US on account of heightened security measures post 9/11. Obinze suffers the degradation of having to borrow somebody else’s national insurance number to work, for which he pays a hefty weekly commission and for which he is also finally, humiliatingly, deported home. Americanah traces the experiences of Ifemelu and Obinze on their respective continents and draws some interesting comparisons between race relations in the US and the UK. It’s definitely a political novel but there is also a strong element of humanism to Ifemelu, which perhaps helps to highlight the underlying themes within the book. One of the things which stood out the most to me whilst reading Americanah was the fact that it’s easy to take a politically correct position when you come from a position of political privilege. I was also especially drawn to Ifemelu’s personal strength and willingness to embrace her own individuality. Adichie manages to write in an insightful and intelligent way that is sharp and direct without being judgemental, and I felt that I had much to learn from all of the characters portrayed within the novel.
That’s the wrap of my latest reads, please feel free to share your thoughts with me, and offer any recommendations for future reads. I’m currently delving into Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour, and it’s shaping up to be another great read..I love a good run of books!
Until next time,