Tuesday, August 8, 2017

My Weekend Reads

I read three books over the long weekend, but would really only recommend the last one...

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

This is a fairly standard refugee story except that we never know what country the protagonists begin in and the London and California they land in are somewhat futuristic.  I suppose at its heart this is a love story which shows us the limits of what a relationship can endure.  Saeed and Nadia meet when they are both night students in their unnamed homeland.  Though she is covered from head to toe in black robes, in fact this is a bit of a disguise - intended to keep men away from her as she lives her life independent of her family (and thus estranged from them).  Saeed is really the more gentle and conservative one - he prays regularly and insists on "waiting until marriage".

When war takes its toll on the couple they pay smugglers to help them out of the country.  But all of the smuggling is described as a series of hidden doors which must be found and opened in order to land in a better life on the other side.  Through these doors Saeed and Nadia first land on an idyllic Greek island, but they are not able to stay there for long.

They exit another door and wake up as squatters in a home in London.  This is a futuristic imaginary London where illegal immigrants from all over the world have taken over huge swaths of London - living in mansions and fighting the government which tries to smoke the illegals out by turning off the water and electricity.  In London Saeed has trouble fitting in with the mostly Nigerian families living in the mansion and turns to religion and others from his homeland to try to fit in.  Nadia on the other hand becomes emboldened and politically active - carving a leadership role for herself amongst the Nigerian elder women.

Eventually the couple is forced to go through one further door and ends up in Marin county, California.  They live as squatters in a tent city which has sprouted up in the county.  Again Saeed is drawn further into his community while Nadia drifts further away.  It is in the United States where we see how the couple ultimately fares.

One further note - interspersed with the main story are these bizarre chapters which deal with unidentified people all over the world.  We just get a little snippet of their lives.  I read somewhere the author intends these to show how life goes on for everyone else.  I just found them distracting.

Over all the book was a little too weird for me.  I prefer refugee stories that make it easier to relate to the characters and their surroundings.

The People we Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder

This was another book where I just couldn't sympathize with (or really like) any of the characters.  Paul and Alice are siblings living in the US (Philadelphia and LA respectively).  They grew up in suburban Chicago with their mother, Donna, and their now deceased father who was Donna's second husband.  Their half-sister, Eloise, was fathered by Donna's first husband who was a wealthy Frenchman.  So Paul and Alice envy the more glamorous life that Eloise lived while with her father (and with his money).  And now Eloise is getting married in London and the clan must travel there for the festivities.

Alice is happy to go to the wedding despite the resentments she harbours over both Eloise's perceived better life and how Eloise treated her when she had a hard time several years earlier (in case you read the book I won't get into the details so as not to spoil it).  She also tries to convince her married boss who she's having an affair with to come with her.  Of course, he isn't interested.  But she has to spend more energy convincing Paul to come.  He hasn't spoken to his other since shortly after his father's death due to his perception that his mother cut his father out of her life much too abruptly.  In fact, his mother had her reasons which are eventually revealed to both the reader and Paul.  Paul brings his partner with him - and he may be the least likeable character in a cast of not very likeable folks.  He is mean to Paul and only agrees to come to London because he has plans to force Paul into a threesome with a friend in London.

Much angst and hilarity ensues when the family finally gets together.  I will admit there were a few very funny scenes, but they didn't really save the book for me.  We see all kinds of interactions between Eloise and her half siblings, Paul and his odious partner, Alice and her married lover (over the phone since he didn't come) and Donna and her ex-husband.  In the end many misunderstandings are resolved.  And if I have to pick characters I thought helped rather than hurt the relationships it would be Eloise and her fiancé.

I wouldn't really waste my time on this book.

Miss You by Kate Eberlen

In contrast to the other two books, I did really enjoy this one.  The title leads one to believe it is about two people who meet and then miss each other emotionally.  In fact it is about two people who meet and then literally miss each other time and time again as their lives intersect without their knowledge.

Tess and Gus meet in passing when they are travelling in Italy as teenagers.  Tess is there with her best friend, Doll, before she intends to go to college in the fall.  Gus is there with his family as they try to recover from the tragic death of his older brother the previous Christmas.  They meet in a church and exchange glances, later on a bridge where Gus takes Tess and Doll's picture and then briefly when Gus is in line for gelato and Tess suggests he try another place instead.  They then return to England to lead their separate lives.

Gus head to medical school as planned where he befriends Nash who has coincidentally moved into the room in residence which was originally supposed to be Tess's.  Tess never makes it college because her mother has developed ovarian cancer and is dying quickly and Tess must take care of her 5 year old sister, Hope.

For sixteen years Gus and Tess lead their separate lives.  We follow them through love affairs, marriage (in Gus' case), broken engagements (in Tess's) and raising children (Gus, his own, and Tess, her sister).  On numerous occasions they just miss each other or even spot each other without knowing who the other is.  Finally 16 years later they are able to speak to each other again in Italy and they learn how often they missed each other.

I don't think it would help to describe in more detail the separate lives Gus and Tess lived - but they were shared with many flawed but extremely likeable characters - all of the bit players were fascinating.

I definitely recommend this one - not that it's deep literature or anything, but it's a really enjoyable read.

No comments:

Post a Comment