This week's Monday Review contains a varied list of novels read over the last couple of months, in order of when I read them ♡ If you find one that piques your curiousity, I'd love to know.
1. Apeirogon, Colum McCann
Nominated for the Man Booker Prize 2020 (longlist), Apeirogon is a masterpiece of a 'hybrid novel,' in which McCann uses the form's mutability to reflect the real-life relationship between a Palestinian, Bassam Aramin, and an Israeli, Rami Elhanan. "An Israeli, against the occupation. A Palestinian, studying the Holocaust." Both men are united by the grief of losing a daughter to the tension between borders.
Apeirogon, a title derived from the eponymous geometric polygon with a countably infinite number of sides, recounts the tragedies of Bassam and Rami with visceral, sensitive imagery. The language is powerful, almost conversational.
The novel itself is compiled in numbered sequences that travel between past and present. Although I initially felt separated from the narrative because of the unchronological transitions, around mid-way through this distance grew smaller and I was touched by the unfolding stories, how they carried one another in rather unconventional ways.
For all its desperation, Apeirogon speaks to a great and sustaining beauty in sacrifice, forgiveness and healing in unexpected friendship.
2. The Pastor's Kid, Barnabas Piper
I was a Pastor's Kid. What memories and reflections would this book bring to mind? I wondered, and began. I thought, I'll only read a chapter while I wait. But the words and truths continued with written sincerity, and kept my attention to the very end.
Published by David C Cook, The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity is a powerful book, writtten by Barnabas Piper. Many readers would recognise the surname, in relation to the brilliant theologian that is his father, John Piper.
With empathy, humour and collected stories, Barnabas addresses the assumptions, issues and scrutiny faced by PK's (Pastor's Kids ^.^) around the world. More than simply stating these facts, Barnabas speaks to the true freedom and wholeness that comes with understanding the grace of God. I would highly recommend this book if you are a PK yourself or you know children (at any age) who fit this category.
3. This Mournable Body, Tsitsi Dangarembga
When you were young and in fighting spirit, growing mealie cobs in the family field and selling them to raise money for your school fees, you were not this person you have become. When and how did it happen?
Many readers - not me - might be familiar with Tsitsi's classic 1998 novel, Nervous Conditions. Set in late 60s and 70s Rhodesia, before the country gained its independence from Britain in 1980, the novel precedes This Mournable Body and follows a young girl whose endearing defiance enters Dangarembga's Zimbabwe in first person.
In This Mournable Body, adult Tambu returns in second-person point of view. Some readers believe this to be an intentional transition; an emphasis on the life she wishes to distance herself from. I wonder how I would feel about the novel had I read Nervous Conditions, or rather, known that there was a prequel from which to compare or consider the character's evolution. However, beginning this novel blind meant that I was introduced to the Tambu of late 1990s Zimbabwe. I do not know who she was, and who she has become is of little consequence to who she is.
I did not like Tambu. Educated, but unemployed, the middle-aged woman approaches everyone and everything critically, a shadow reflection of herself projected on the socio-economic environment around her. There is one moment of reconciliation between young Tambu and her adult-self that is profound, but this occurs at the denouement.
Although I would not read this novel again, nor did I enjoy the reading of it, I understand that its cynicism and heaviness draw upon the historical, genuine tenderness and weight of Tambu's dealings with racism, prejudice and a country in which she herself does and does no longer belong. This novel was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2020.
4. The Air Year, Caroline Bird
Published by Carcarnet in 2020, The Air Year is a collection that balances flight, transition and deferral. Last year I had the privilege of listening to Caroline Bird recite her poetry at an MSt reading in the Mawby Pavilion, and reading The Air Year, I recognised a couple of pre-published works from this evening. I could almost recollect the memory of her voice in my mind, the passion and conviction with which she read every line, as if each word had been written specifically to be spoken aloud in that moment. It was powerful. A majority of these poems are about love and unrest. If this is your first introduction to Bird's work, I would recommend beginning with an earlier collection.
5. A JUROR MUST FOLD IN ON HERSELF, Kathleen McClung
Kathleen McClung's A Juror Must Fold In On Herself is a truly brilliant chapbook. It arrived, tucked into the envelop with my Rattle Poetry magazine, written 'for all who bend the arc towards justice.' The beginning poems held my attention rapt, with their reconfiguring of what it means to be a juror silently engaged in a devastating court case. The D.A.'s Opening Statement refrain stay with me:
Don't put yourself in anybody's shoes
(The prosecutor looks me in the eye.)
Your logic must prevail here. Win, or lose,
this cast consists of facts. Do not confuse
them with heart tugging the defense will try.
I have never been called to act as a juror, not worked in the judicial system. I can only imagine how difficult this responsibility must weigh, especially the long days and lack of familiar comradery as cases continue to overlap time. But I believe that Kathleen McClung's chapbook reads with such poignancy and force that both those who have and have not shared in her experience will understand the heaviness of this task.
6. If I Had Your Face, Frances Cha
Frances Cha's debut novel, If I Had Your Face, is an arresting novel about five young women in search of empowerment in a world defined by impossible beauty standards, ruthless social hierarchies, K-pop mania, incompatible marriages and after-hours room-salons where women are forced to work for unmanageable, debilitating debt.
Kyuri is achingly beautiful, working a hard-won position at a Seoul "room salon" where the wealthiest businessmen "unwind" and wait for her to pour them alcohol. Her outlook on life is clear-eyed and, despite her compassion and collected nature, one impulsive evening threatens her livelihood and life.
Kyuri's roommate Miho is recipient of an art scholarship. She returns to Korea from New York after completing college, grieving the loss of a dear friend and in relationship with the heir to one of the country's most esteemed conglomerates.
Down the hall lives Ara, a sensitive soul whose voice was lost in a childhood accident. She styles hair as occupation and obsesses over K-pop idol Taemin.
Her roommate and best-friend Sujin struggles with the weight of their shared trauma as best she can, and desperately saves up for extreme plastic surgery in hope its cosmetic power to change her life.
And Wonna, one floor below. A newlywed tries to reconcile with the life she might provide for her unborn baby under the poverty in which she and her devoted husband find themselves straining. How will they afford to raise a child in Korea's brutal, evolving economy.
Cha connects the characters in a way that emphasises the need for empathy, movement and tenacity in friendship and individual stamina. It is a searing book.
Although at times it was difficult to remember whose story was being told when the chapters fluctuated between character-perspectives, Cha is adept at finding ways to integrate, highlight and develop different voices.