Recently read

I am a moody reader and player and watcher. That is, my interest in things comes cyclically. I cyclically return to books / games / movies. Until I hit a title that sates me. Then the cycle repeats again. I’d eagerly swallow a lot of things…but time is too short. I try to be picky.  I need to take down what I’ve read periodically so here’s the latest batch.

1. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell 
In August 2019 Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit linguist, and his friends prepare for an epic expedition to outer space that would forever alter their lives.  The story does not classify as an easy ready but it is quite sweeping. The characters are sympathetic, I cheer for them, I encourage them. The central protagonist Emiliano struggles with faith and morality until he is shattered and destroyed.  His party is composed of colourful, lively and lovable characters – Anne and Geroge, Sofia and Jimmy whose delicate and slow courtship brings them really close to my heart and the priests, jovial and understanding. All sorts, with different backgrounds. You really care for this group and individual characters and you sympathise strongly with Emiliano as he goes through his heartbreaking, shattering experiences that put his faith and choices to the ultimate test.  The novel features a rich cultural and linguistic detail. At times I was reminded of movies like Silent with Liam Neeson – where confrontation with a new culture also led  to questioning their faith and the idea behind the mission. The novel had a sequel that I don’t feel was necessary.  Hints of hope in the ending of the first book were enough and left just enough room for interpretation. Having peeked at the sequel in google play and kindle free samples, I can say, I am already dissatisfied with it, because already at the start things simply feel forced, brings the dead that I believe should just stay dead (rescuing them now  doesn’t feel believable to me) and tie loose ends that don’t need tying because ambiguity and the open ending is sometimes better left as is. I’m a little disappointed the sequel exists. The Sparrow is a riveting, thoughtful read, but I cannot say I find myself particularly drawn to the sequel.  

2. The keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan
An interesting premise. A man who lost his fiancee and blames himself for braking a promise to her and losing a keepsake she gave him, tries to make it up to her a and himself by collecting lost things in the hopes of returning them to the owners. The idea is lovely, but the execution falls short.  The magic, a delicate romance that’s there are brought down by a certain heavy-handedness of portraying especially the central character Laura.  There are two stories that eventually intertwine as well but that didn’t do much for the story for me. The idea was absolutely lovely but execution bored me. magic quickly wore off, replaced by explicitly mundane that didn’t really appeal to me in the way it was written. The potential was there, but I felt it fell short.

3. The Story of the Blue Planet by Adri Snaer Magnason
A children’s book in the vein of eco-lit. It’s a cautionary tale and a coming-of-age story, very lyrically told. A reminder to enjoy the simple things and moments in life. A group of children inhabit a planet. They take pleasure in nature, in admiring butterflies and following the natural cycles. Then an adult comes to disrupt their innocence. Offers them gimmicks. The children are changed. Until two of them get lost in another part of the planet and discover the consequences of the fun the adult guest has offered. Really, the translation is beautiful, the language simple but poetic. Lovely.  It features some whimsical illustrations too, they complete the charming feeling of the book.

4. The Paper Menagerie – Ken Liu
Now, these short stories have a touch of magic to them. I’ve only read two stories from the collection so far – Bookmaking Habits of  Selected Species and The Paper Menagerie – ordinary things become quite extraordinary. The Paper Menagerie is a heartbreaking story about a mother’s unconditional love, but also one that talks about how crafts made with love can have a unique life and meaning.

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