Hello. I’ve changed the title for today’s post. As you know, there is a horrible war in Ukraine that should not have to be fought, and this post’s title tries to honor that fact.
Now. On to the reviews.
The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin
“I sing the city. Fucking city. I stand on the rooftop of a building I don’t live in and spread my arms and tighten my middle and yell nonsense ululations at the construction site that blocks my view. I’m really singing to the cityscape beyond. The city’ll figure it out.”
This book is about a bunch of people who embody the soul of New York City, which for some reason has just been born in the 2020s. There’s Manny (Manhattan), Queens (Queens!), Bronca (the Bronx), Brooklyn (Guess), and Aislyn (Staten Island). There’s also a sleeping embodiment of the city itself. Now, the avatars of the boroughs have to get together and wake the city.
This book was action-packed (literally), while also having a lot of moments for reflection. I really enjoyed the humor and the points it made, but sometimes it felt a bit like “Action scene! Reaction/reflection scene! Action scene! Reaction/reflection scene!” which, although it was entertaining, sometimes felt like Jemisin had heard that books worked well if they had this structure and decided to go with it no matter what.
In any case, this is a good book and I would definitely recommend it. It’s also the first in a trilogy so 🙂
“Mother Courage and Her Children,”
by Bertolt Brecht, Translated by Eric Bentley
“For marching never could hurt him!
From the north to the south he will march through the land
With his knife at his side and his gun in his hand:
That’s what the soldiers told the wise woman.
Woe to you who defies the advice of the wise!
If you wade in the water, it will drown you!
Don’t ignore what I say or you’ll rue it one day,
Said the wise woman to the soldier.”
Called one of the greatest anti-war plays of our time, this is the story of a woman who’s trying to get her kids out of the war alive. However in the process she starts profiteering off the war, and finds herself sacrificing humanity and human lives for the sake of material gain. Will this catch up to her? Read the book, and reflect on how awful war is, to find out.
This play was really good. None of the characters were that sympathetic, but they got across the horror of war and that’s what seemed to matter the most to Brecht.
Also, there was a particularly striking scene near the end which involved someone playing a drum on a rooftop which got to me. I won’t spoil it, but I’ll probably keep thinking about that scene for a while.
In any case, I would definitely recommend this play, especially nowadays.
The Orphanage, by Serhiy Zhadan,
Translated by Reilly Costigan-Humes
and Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler
“[…] an incredibly young rifleman tugs on his sleeve [….] While the woman’s pouring their drinks, he roots around in his pockets, takes out a handful of small bills, scrutinizes them discontentedly, reaches into his pockets again without letting go of Pasha’s arm, and then suddenly produces a hand grenade. The woman freezes; the rifleman places the grenade on the counter and keeps rummaging through his pockets as the grenade starts rolling down the counter, rolling and rolling, very slowly. The woman can’t take her eyes off it, the cup runs over, and the other people standing around also notice the grenade, but they can’t get anything out. All they can do is watch it roll slowly, very slowly, toward the edge, pause, roll over the edge, and plunge to the floor.”
This book is set in Ukraine, and is about a guy named Pasha who needs to get his nephew Sasha out of an orphanage during the war. During the story, he meets a bunch of people and learns that trying to stay out of politics is never a good idea because politics and war eventually catch up to you anyway and force you to choose a side.
The book was very poetic. Sometimes it felt overly poetic. Sometimes, every other line felt like a comparison of one thing to another thing.
And sometimes, the author seemed to overuse certain kinds of dialogue tags—“asked skeptically” and “said, surprised” seemed to be favorites. This doesn’t really matter much in the grand scheme of things, but it did kind of make me feel like his characters were being restricted to just following a path the author laid down before them, being confined to embody what the author wanted them to embody rather than turning into fully fleshed out human beings.
In spite of this, I would still recommend this book. It’s a very good (and sometimes moving) depiction of war and its impact on civilians, and how you can’t escape it, and how bad it is, and how much wars in Ukraine (and wars in general) should just end as soon as humanly possible.