Wednesday, May 13, 2015

May 2015 "Quick Lit"

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly Quick Lit post, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading.  I read two books this past month:


The Book of Negroes* by Lawrence Hill
This novel is the story of Aminata, a girl in West Africa in the 1700's, who is captured and put on a slave ship bound for South Carolina.  Her intelligence and usefulness to her captors (she can "catch" babies as her midwife mother did) help her survive the brutality of slavery and racism, although she suffers greatly, being separated from her children and her husband Chekura (who was one of her original captors).  After years in South Carolina, Manhattan, and Nova Scotia, she eventually revisits her African homeland and even travels to London to assist the abolitionist movement.  

The book's title is based on an actual document, "The Book of Negroes," in which the British Military recorded names of  black people who were loyal to Britain and whom the British planned to relocate to Nova Scotia.  (In the novel, Aminata is hired to record the names because of her skill in reading and writing.)  

This is an excellent novel:  Aminata's strength and character are compelling, and her story gives us a glimpse into the horrors of the slave trade and the resilience of individuals and communities.  It covers tough subject matter but not in an overly graphic way -- something I appreciated.  I'd highly recommend this novel.
*Note:  it was first published in Canada; the American title is Somebody Knows My Name.



Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This novel consists of narrator Kathy's recollections of her time in an English boarding school called Hailsham, and particularly of her relationships with two friends, Ruth and Tommy.  As Kathy processes her memories, it slowly becomes clear that Hailsham is no ordinary school; it has a far more sinister purpose.

Ishiguro's best known novel, The Remains of the Day, is one of my favourite books, and this one is actually quite similar in its approach.  In both books, the narrators work backward through old memories, trying to explain and understand events and their own responses to them.  But here the result is far less successful.  In The Remains of the Day, the butler, Mr. Stevens, was a well-defined character with a clear voice; his story played out with important world events as a backdrop; and just how self-deceived he was became clearer (and sadder) as the book progressed.  In Never Let Me Go, Kathy is too bland and faceless.  We have no reason to like her or hate her, trust her or distrust her.  What's really going on at Hailsham takes too long to be revealed, and when it is, there just isn't enough emotional impact.  I'd be interested in seeing the movie based on this novel, but I really didn't care for the book.  


15 comments:

  1. These both sound really good! Thanks!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jillian. While I wasn't crazy about the 2nd of my 2 books, other readers might really enjoy it.

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  2. The Book of Negroes sounds good. Really good. You might have inadvertently convinced me to read The Remains of the Day (have I seen that movie? I forget!). Never Let Me Go's setting sounded good, but then....too bad it wasn't a winner for you. Thanks for sharing though. :)

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    1. Thanks, Anne. It surprised me a bit that Ishiguro would use such a similar technique in another book (these are the only 2 of his I've read). I wanted to love it! But maybe someone will read the 2 books and think the exact opposite of me. That's what's fun about sharing our different preferences.

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  3. The Remains of the Day is one of my very favorites, too! A few weeks ago I picked up Ishiguro's most recent novel, The Buried Giant, thinking it just HAD to be good. I didn't finish it. About 160 pages in, I couldn't take another paragraph. You win some, you lose some. Thanks for your reviews!

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    1. And thanks for stopping by, Teresa. Interesting about The Buried Giant. I don't think I'll be rushing out to get that one. I'm glad you like Remains of the Day, though. It's so brilliant.

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  4. My husband and I watched Never Let Me Go and thought it was terrible; but neither of us had read the book. Maybe that'd make it more appealing?

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    1. Hmm, I wonder? If you disliked the movie, and I disliked the book -- doesn't sound too promising, does it. I usually find I get more out of a movie if I've read the book it's based on first -- but then sometimes it's such a disappointment if the book's good and the movie isn't (The House of Mirth comes to mind; I love that book but the movie was SO bad). Thanks for coming by today!

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    2. I tried reading Never Let Me Go a few months ago and it never grabbed me. Funny thing is, I SAW the movie and had a general understanding of the plot! I can't say I loved the movie, but I remember many parts of it very well, just because it was so strange.

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    3. It does kind of intrigue me, esp because it has Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan in it -- I may give it a try. Have you read Remains of the Day, Dawn? It's so good (in my opinion!).

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  5. No, but I will put it on my list!

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  6. I really liked "Never Let me Go" and the movie was decent. I don't remember not liking it at least :) Glad you liked Book of Negros - the author lives in my city so it's pretty popular here!

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    1. Hi Heather, well I guess I'm just down the 401 from you then! (Kingston) Nice to meet another Canadian. I'm glad to hear you liked "Never Let Me Go" -- to be honest, I'm always reluctant to say I didn't like a book because I think I might be hurting someone's feelings. :-) But life would be boring if we all liked the same things. I appreciate your stopping by today.

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  7. Yes - I'm in Hamilton! Well I just admitted to not liking "To Kill a Mockingbird" on another site! Although I do want to reread it in a non-school setting. I think I was in the right mood for "Never Let Me Go" - the right book at the right time!

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    1. Not liking TKAM: you ARE a rebel! :-) Seriously, though, reading something in school is not at all the same as reading it for pleasure, so you probably should revisit it. Mind you, I hated hated hated Heart of Darkness and I can't imagine ever reading that for pleasure.

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