If you’re me and you’re stuck in bed for a month, you read. A lot. I actually cannot even remember all the books I’ve consumed in the last four weeks, but here are a few of the highlights:
A Little Life: Hanya Yanagihara: This book is absolutely harrowing. It takes a lot for a book to make me cry and this had me weeping. Apparently, when writing this, one of the questions the author had to ask was how much pain can a reader actually take? Subversive and brave, Yanagihara tackles raw, emotive subject matter head on. The 700 page book chronicles the lives of four friends – Willem Ragnarsson, an aspiring actor; Malcolm Irvine, a budding architect; Jean-Baptiste Marion, an artist; and Jude St. Francis, a lawyer with an MBA in pure mathematics. As one reads it becomes clear that Jude is not alright. The book graphically delves into his chronic self-harming, his self-loathing and refusal to see that he deserves anything good and beautiful in his life. Slowly we see snippets of the past that made him what he is – abandoned, brought up in a monastery, sexually abused by one of the brothers, and forced into the world of prostitution and rape at a young age. Jude’s self-harm is a mechanism for survival; and it’s never depicted in a gratuitous way – it’s simply part of who he now is. As much as the story is devastating, it’s also a love story. It’s a story of the purest, most beautiful kind of love Agape – friendship – especially between Willem and Jude, which develops into romantic love, but stays at its core a transcendent connection between two people. If you read this, tell me. We can cry together.
Love in a Time of Cholera: Gabriel García Márquez: A very different kind of love story to A Little Life, Love in a Time of Cholera tells the tale of a man who obsessively falls for a woman, only to have his love unrequited for most of their lifetimes. Poor Florentino Ariza falls hopelessly for a young and beautiful Fermina Daza and a secret romance blossoms between the two, as evidenced by their flurried correspondence via letters. Upon discovery of a match he doesn’t approve of, Fermina’s father whisks her away to another city, and on their return, Fermina falls out of love with Lorenzo and breaks off their relationship. She marries the ambitious and wealthy Dr. Juvenal Urbino, who became a national hero during the cholera outbreak. The Urbinos grow old together as Florentino watches them, remaining absolutely devoted to Fermina (despite working on his own sexual prowess with various women who drift in and out of his life). Then one day, Urbino dies while attempting to catch his parrot and Florentino declares his love for Fermina once more, after five decades of living separate lives. The theme of this book is love – and ultimately, how you’re never too old to begin again.
My Salinger Year: Joanna Rakoff: An easier, gentler read. A bildungsroman of sorts, the story follows Joanna’s journey as she embarks on her literary career at the stoic and old-fashioned ‘The Agency.’ Working in the old-school world of publishing, one of Joanna’s main tasks is to deal with ‘Jerry’ (JD Salinger) and his fan mail – which she defiantly begins to respond to. As Joanna grows and starts to find her own path outside of what’s dictated to her by her family and boyfriend, she begins to read Salinger’s novels and finds something in them of herself.
Half of a Yellow Sun: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Apparently, it’s not that hard for books to make me cry – this one had me sobbing as well. Set in Nigeria during the civil war (1967 – 1970), the story follows five people, loosely bound together as a family. There are two sisters from a wealthy background – Olanna and Kainene – and their respective partners: the academic and argumentative Odenigbo and the reticent English lover, Richard; and Odenigbo’s houseboy, Ugwu. We flit between the early and late 60s, with Ngozi Adichie evocatively documenting the changing political landscape through the family’s domestic snapshots. In the early years, much of the political discussion is brought in through Odenigbo’s debates with his colleagues. Then the war escalates, forcing Olanna and Odenigbo to flee, killing people they love, and eventually depositing them in various refugee towns in rising states of desperation. Tension comes from the war, and from the relationships between the characters – for there’s betrayal there as well.
If you’ve read anything good lately, please let me know! I desperately need some new books in my life.