Recently, people close to me have been handing me books to read. I’m pretty sure that most of them are ones they want to get rid of so they can conserve space rather than genuinely recommending them. It definitely makes it more difficult to get through the stack of books I already need to get through. At the very least, they’ve been moderately enjoyable.
Chains (Seeds of America #1) by Laurie Halse Anderson
I’ve yet to read a novel by Laurie Halse Anderson that I didn’t enjoy; they’re usually written so well that you feel as if you’re an observer within the world she creates. Annoyingly, it’s part of a series that isn’t completely published, which is something I hate getting into because I’m impatient about being able to read the whole thing as soon as possible.
The story is about Isabel, an enslaved black girl from Rhode Island during the American Revolution who was meant to be freed after the death of her former owner. Due to the movement of people before and during the war, the lawyer who had knowledge of the will that would free Isabel and her sister, Ruth, wasn’t around; the owner’s only relative was impatient to have all of her belongings sold or moved, which included the girls. She was sold to Loyalists from New York, which enabled her to be used and manipulated by the Patriots to gain information about the movements of the British.
The story is set against the backdrop of one of the most hypocritical historical events of American history, which is its intent. It discusses how the Patriots were seeking freedom for themselves while also showing how unwilling they were to grant it to the very people who were actually enslaved, including how black slaves were treated by both sides; neither side would help grant the slaves freedom unless it somehow benefited themselves.
While the story is well-written, the use of primary documents from well-known historical figures at the beginning of each chapter feels disconnected. They often don’t relate thematically to anything within the chapter and seem to just exist as some form of decoration; they usually just feel somewhat out of place and inconsistent.
Also, I’m not sure who chose the quotes on the back of the book, but there was one quote they included to talk about how good the book was that felt completely out of place for a book where the protagonist is an enslaved black girl: “Readers will deeply care about Isabel.” If readers don’t care about the protagonist, it means the author has done a terrible job. Including that was absurd.
Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki with Rande Brown
Mineko Iwasaki is known for having been one of the geishas interviewed for Arthur Golden’s trash heap novel: Memoirs of a Geisha.
She wrote entirely about her experiences while growing up, starting from the youngest age that she could possibly remember and ending with her being the final owner of the okiya. She writes about the beauty of Gion in great detail, and she talks equally about the good and the bad that she incurred throughout her life there. She also spends a great deal describing the various dances that she learned, as learning to dance appeared to be one of her most favourite things about being a geisha.
It’s entirely enlightening, especially when much of the information that Western people have about geishas comes from entirely fictionalised accounts of what being a geisha honestly was and how they acted. It was also wonderful to read about the friendships that Mineko cultivated during her life and what they meant to her. I think more Westerners should read this, as it gives quite a lot of insight into a life that many people have little knowledge about.
I wish I had more to say about this book, but I rarely have a lot to say about things I absolutely adore. I wanted to know more, but I’m glad I was able to know this.
A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett
This is a book that I was given by a friend, which she had said she quite enjoyed and related with. I don’t think I share her sentiment; I found it hard to relate to Amanda, particularly as I don’t understand the desire to become a country-counting traveller; I may have some form of wanderlust, but I want to deeply learn about the places that I visit.
Having backpacked through most of the world and attempted to carve out a career while based in war-torn Iraq, Amanda Lindhout appeared to be a traveller with quite a lot of experience in handling some difficult situations. However, she later would go through an excruciatingly painful ordeal when she was kidnapped in Somalia and held hostage for more than a year. The memoir is primarily about her survival and the methods or events that led her to finally becoming safer.
Aspects of the memoir are terrifying. The amount of times she writes about sexual abuse that she incurred, particularly after she pointed out that someone had been abusing her, is horrible; it was difficult to get through those sections, and I found that I frequently had to put the book down. The different type of abuse that she suffered in comparison to her male companion, Nigel, is also troubling; though his circumstances were not amazing, they were far better than those that Amanda said she went through.
There are aspects that I find completely troubling, though, and much of it falls squarely in the first few chapters. There are a number of superfluous details that feel uncomfortable; she talks about her mother’s abusive relationship with a man named Russell, which could fit nicely in the story. However, it’s the fact that there is a point where she talks about the indigenous population in her area, and they feel incredibly stereotypical; they’re all drunk, they’re all uneducated, they’re all abusive in some way, and they all don’t seem to understand family planning. I find it hard to believe that the entirety of the reservation in that area would only have stereotypical indigenous people and never have had any other personalities. Some of those same ways of talking about other cultures occasionally leaks into other chapters, too; it really detracts from areas of her story.