Adult Books Books by Region GB Challenges Genre International Lifespan of a Reader Literary Fiction Literary Voyage 2018

[Saturday Reads | #LitWorld2018GB] My #LitsyBuddyRead Has Led Me Back To Sweden and the US

A Fatima Farheen Mirza and Fredrik Backman #LitsyBuddyRead special.


Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

I can claim without reservation that my active participation in Litsy has introduced me to so many recently published novels – including these two that I am featuring here, which were selected for #LitsyBuddyRead. Litsy is a bookish app – think Goodreads and Instagram had a baby and named it Litsy – see some of my old posts about Litsy here.

A Place For Us

Written by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Published by Hogarth (2018)
ISBN: 178109070X (ISBN13: 9781781090701).
Review copy provided by Pansing Books. Book quotes edited using Typorama.

This is a story that revolves around an Indian Muslim family living in California. The narrative weaves across different timelines – sometimes even within a particular narrative itself with remembered memories or childhood anecdotes.

There is the emotionally distant and easy to anger father; the overwhelmed but well-meaning and pious mother. Then there is the eldest daughter, Hadia, who happens to be eager-to-please, intelligent, and highly competitive (see quote below):

… the middle sister Huda who is blunt yet thoughtful, and whose refreshing in-your-face candour is more than welcome throughout the story; then there is the cherished son Amar who is inquisitive (mistaken for constantly challenging authority), has the sensitive soul of the poet but has received nothing but teasing and disparagement for this, and who has never really gotten over the heartbreak brought about by his first true love (see Amar’s feelings for Amira below).

I wanted to like the novel more than I actually did. I found the constant shifts across different timelines disruptive – not to mention repetitive – particularly when I reached Part Four when everything seemed to have been needlessly repeated but this time from the eyes of the Father (see a quote from the Father’s perspective below).

While I appreciated the reflections on religion, outright racism, the ruminations on belonging and home (see Amar’s thoughts below):

I have to admit that I found the narrative style long-winded with an intent to manipulate the reader into feeling something. I was thinking that if the different perspectives had been juxtaposed more effectively – allowing the reader more spaces to navigate their way around this distinct reality on their own – then it would have worked more for me. Generally, I found it heavy-handed, overly-dramatic, and lacking in subtlety. Yet, despite this, it was a story I appreciated and felt privileged inhabiting during the entire week I was reading it.

Us Against You

Written by Fredrik Backman Translated by Neil Smith
Published by Atria Books (2018, first published 2017) Original Title Vi Mot Er
ISBN: 1501160796 (ISBN13: 9781501160790)
Bought a personal copy of the book. Book quotes edited using Typorama.

I have fallen in love with Backman’s Beartown a few months back (also for #LItsyBuddyRead – see my review here). So when I learned that there was a sequel, I pre-ordered this even before it came out in the middle of the year.

Backman has a clear, ringing voice that cuts to the heart of bullshit, articulating the inexpressible, and pronouncing judgments on people’s choices in a fearless – but highly considered manner. I took a screenshot of my Litsy update a few months back, because as I was reading the book, I had a feeling that Backman would break my heart into little pieces – and so I was reciting the mantra below to ward off those energies.

Similar to the narrative style in Beartown where the foreshadowing constituted much of the narrative, it was also utilized to the fullest here – but perhaps with lesser impact, mainly because I am already familiar with Backman’s writing style, gradual build-up, and his anticlimactic-but-still-highly-effective endings.

For people who claim that they are discouraged by the fact that this story deals with hockey, and they aren’t avid sports fans, and so may not resonate well with the narrative – I implore you to think again. This is more than just about a hockey game, although that remains central to the narrative. Backman is so deft a writer that his nuanced insights about sports become revelations about life itself, like little nuggets of truth that he hands out like popcorn while you watch the game on the arena.

Similar to watching a fast-paced, heart-racing, scream-inducing hockey game – reading Us Against You made my heart race, made me scream several times (prompting my husband to wonder what was wrong with me), and made me cheer aloud – sometimes in frustration, other times in outrage, a few times in jubilation. Backman is masterful in creating snippets of stories that seem episodic in nature, giving the reader enough breathing space before the next hair-racing scenario or episode that he would skilfully weave into a narrative so unapologetic, raw, and distilled.

While Maya’s rape is not really explored in great depth here, Backman astounds me with his intimate knowledge of women’s fears and the million and one things that males take for granted:

There is divisiveness here – which is something we can also say about the world and most countries at the moment; there is hatred – too much of it everywhere these days; there is grief and loss too.

But then at the very heart of it, one goes back to hockey, which becomes a microcosm of life itself:

If you have not had the chance to read Backman yet, do yourself a favour, and read him before the year ends. I assure you that it will be an experience.

#LitWorld2018GB Update: Sweden | US

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

1 comment on “[Saturday Reads | #LitWorld2018GB] My #LitsyBuddyRead Has Led Me Back To Sweden and the US

  1. Pingback: [Saturday Reads] My #ReadIntl2020 Has Led Me Once Again To Backman – Gathering Books

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