Saturday, June 7, 2014

Two Recent Books

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole

This is a really quick and interesting read.  The books is narrated in the first person by a young medical student studying to be a psychiatrist, whose name we never learn.  He was born in Nigeria but has lived in the US for many years and returns for his first visit.  He left after some sort of personal tragedy which caused him to be estranged from his mother but we never really learn the details of that either.

It is fascinating to see Nigeria through the eyes of someone who once lived there comfortably but now filters all he sees through North American sensibilities.  He is now taken aback by the extent of the corruption (he sees internet fraudsters in action at local internet cafes and is approached for bribes for just about anything he does).  He is also disappointed by the terrible lack of displays at the local museum - he feels Nigerian history, culture and art is better documented in museums in London and elsewhere.  He also has trouble truly connecting with his former friends - though he does have a good relationship with his aunts and uncles.  There are also cultural advances that surprise and delight him - a woman reading literature on a bus, a sophisticated music school (unfortunately only accessible by the most wealthy Nigerians) and a well stocked book store.  The story is interspersed with photographs taken by the author which appropriately illustrate his impressions of the country.

At the end the narrator is still torn about whether he can return to the country permanently or not - and it is easy to understand his mixed feelings.

It's Kind of A Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

This is a sad but hopeful story about a depressed teenager who thinks of committing suicide one night but instead calls a suicide hotline and is encouraged to check himself into a local hospital's psychiatric ward.  The author clearly illustrates the devastating effects of too much pressure on a teenager in today's competitive environment.

Craig devoted himself to the sole purpose of getting accepted at a prestigious Manhattan high school - but as soon as he gets there his life begins to unravel.  He gets in with a group of less than desirable friends, develops a crush on his best friend's girlfriend and feels totally incapable of achieving the marks he wants.  His worry spirals and he becomes unable to sleep and eat.

In the hospital, faced with others who have had lifelong struggles or new ones like himself, he learns about himself and finds that art grounds him.  After five days he makes friends, changes his life goals,  settles into appropriate therapy and medication and we come away feeling he'll have to struggle with depression and anxiety forever but that he'll have the inner tools he needs to survive.

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