Monthly Archives: April 2018

‘Why Young Men: Rage, Race and the Crisis of Identity’ by Jamil Jivani

This is an important book about the hopelessness that many young men in Canada feel when they grow up with absent fathers, suffer from racial profiling and aggressive policing, and find themselves in a crisis of distrust. When young men are hassled by police and marginalized in society because of the way they look, it affects their self-esteem and makes it very hard for them to find healthy affirmation and be able to point their life in the right direction. They become vulnerable to destructive ideas. When we wonder why young men fail to thrive at best and become radicalized at worst, it helps to have someone tell his own story and we should listen to it. Jivani almost bought a gun when he was a teen. He went home and cried, because he realized his life was headed in the wrong direction. He did not buy the gun, turned his life around, and ended up at Yale.

Jamil Jivani went to Brussels to study a community called Molenbeek, where the Paris bombers originated from. While he was there, the Brussels airport was bombed as well. He went to find out why this kind of place seems to breed some terrorists, but he mostly focused on how many, many more are living there, feeling misrepresented and lumped into the same category, making it even harder for them to participate well in society.

Jivani was recently diagnosed with a serious cancer which has made the achievement of writing this book even more meaningful but he is not without hope for a path to a better future, for himself and for society’s understanding of “why young men.”

Link to The Star article called: He wrote a book about the life choices that young men face. Then he got diagnosed with cancer.

‘Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things’ by Jenny Lawson

“When we share our struggles we let others know it’s okay to share theirs. And suddenly we realize that the things we were ashamed of are the same things everyone deals with at one time or another. We are so much less alone than we think.”

Jenny Lawson, author of a famous blog called, The Bloggess, writes with flagrant humour about mental illness. She herself suffers from a few things: rheumatoid arthritis, depression, anxiety, phobias, insomnia, panic attacks, self-injury, avoidant personality disorder, autoimmune disease, and mild OCD. Yikes! Her work is undoubtedly fearless and honest, whether you find it laugh-out-loud funny or annoyingly irreverent. When she portrays herself as weird and unbalanced, she gives anyone else permission to be weird and unbalanced too (and certainly not as bad as she is), thereby busting the stigma of mental illness.

As you skip through the lightheartedness of this memoir, you do come up against the terror and tragedy that mental illness can bring, and her voice is clear and helpful. Lawson says, “I’ve been there. I’m broken too. I hear you. You are enough. Live your life as best you can, while striving to be furiously happy. Do what you can but don’t settle for less.” When she goes on speaking tours, Lawson’s audiences burst the venues–clearly she is hitting a nerve.

Lawson’s reference to Christine Miserandino’s Spoon Theory* towards the end of the book, was particularly helpful–we all have a limited number of spoons that we start each day with. Some of us have more than others. Just being aware can make a big difference.

*The spoon theory is a disability metaphor and neologism used to explain the reduced amount of energy available for activities of daily living and productive tasks that may result from disability or chronic illness. … A person who runs out of spoons has no choice but to rest until their spoons are replenished.

 

‘The Heart’ by Maylis de Kerangal (translated by Sam Taylor)

Driving back from an early morning surfing trip with two friends, Simon Limbres is involved in a fatal car accident on a deserted country road. In the next 24 hours, his heart will be transferred to a woman close to death. It’s a tragic tale told in ruminative prose. Every possible angle of the medical process of organ transplantation is explored in great depth, like a thorough documentary, and yet the wordy reflection also gives the book a contemplative feel.

The Heart is translated from the French. I’m not sure if the style of this book is typical in that language–I found it quite unique in English and my sense is that the translator did a very good job. The sentences are long (300 + words) with run-on phrasing. I wouldn’t recommend this emotional, stylistic book to everyone, but I found it quite beautiful. The pace is slow, read it when you have time to savour it; this is not a page turner in the traditional sense, although I was completely absorbed by it. The subject matter is heavy, so if you have lost a child yourself, this may be a difficult read. There is hope in the transplant but of course such a medical procedure always has a tragic side to it. I would have liked to experience more redemption in this novel, it felt a bit empty and left some loose ends, but it was a worthwhile reading experience all the same.

‘The White Tiger’ by Aravind Adiga

Balram Halwai is a complicated man. Servant. Philosopher. Entrepreneur. Murderer. Over the course of seven nights, by the scattered light of a preposterous chandelier, Balram tells us the terrible and transfixing story of how he came to be a success in life—having nothing but his own wits to help him along.

This was a debut novel by this author, which immediately won the Man Booker Prize in 2008. It provides a darkly humorous perspective of India’s class struggle in a globalized world, examining issues of religion, caste, loyalty, family, corruption and poverty in India. It begs to be compared to another book about India which I read years ago called A Fine Balance by Canadian author Rohinton Mistry. Both books achieve the same insight but in very different ways.

This novel gets at some hard truths without judgement or sentimentality which I appreciated and I found it to be a hugely compelling and enjoyable story. It is upbeat, pithy, sharp and fast-paced. In contrast, Mistry’s book, though beautifully written, was quite heavy and depressing. Actually this one is just as depressing in what it reveals about India, but because I found it funny, it made it so very readable. Just like The Simpsons, whether you like it or hate it (and most people seem to be in one camp or the other), does get at uncomfortable truths using humour. Whether you enjoy that humour is, of course, a personal matter.  Here is an interesting article from The Guardian about this controversial novel and an interview with the author:

‘The Lost Garden’ by Helen Humphreys

Book clubs always get us reading books we wouldn’t normally pick up. That’s what happened with this short lyrical novel set in WW 2. It beautifully describes the horrors of war from the relative comfort and serenity of an idyllic English country farm, sort of like refracted light.

In the spring of 1941 Gwen Davis leaves the chaos of wartime London to go to Devon. There her new job is to tend a neglected garden at a country house and to take charge of some Land Girls. Their job is to grow potatoes for the war effort. There’s also a house full of handsome soldiers in the house up the lane and a white wisp of a ghost flitting about. Gwen Davis at age 35, is completely unprepared for this assignment because as a horticulturalist, she relates better to  parsnips than people. “They are truly more reliable. The stupidity of vegetables is preferable to the unpredictability of people.” She discovers a lost garden, but also many things inside of herself that she never knew were there, like the capacity to love.

This is a beautifully written little gem by this Canadian author and poet, deceptively simple, subtly comic, yet with layers of depth.