More books!

2022 is proving to be very interesting in terms of books I pick. Since my last post, I’ve read Kimberly Amato’s Enemy as part of Blackthorn book tours, Good morning midnight and Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

1. Enemy. Kimberly Amato

Mood: action, fast-paced, dark

Genre: dystopia, thriller

“You can’t have a clean slate if the roach remains”.

In this dystopian plot-oriented topical action thriller, the year is 2045, the US is governed by a Russian-American alliance, women, gender and ethnic minorities have been subdued as the notion of pure race of perfect white men has once again resurfaced. There’s a centre for experimenting on humans on Riker’s Island, representatives of other races are persecuted. A resistance group led by one Ellie Goldman plans one last attack against the current world order. It’s all or nothing for them.

There are several subplots running through the story, it combines political thriller with action and human intetest as we see fates of “subpar” humans in experimentation centre and backstories of the characters are competently woven into the plot. At the centre is Ellie Goldman, the leader of the resistance plot, a tough “I best act solo” agent but with softer sides, mourning the loss of her wife and family. She makes tough choices but for me, in the end, some of them are hardly better than the actions of the regime she’s fighting. I strongly disagree with her final desperately apocalyptic call but the ending goes off with a literal bang. The open epilogue is very interesting if fatalistic. Is hard reset what must be done? It is interesting to consider if, given a chance to evolve again, we would repeat the same cycle or follow a different course? It’s an open question the book asked me in the end. And that was its strongest point for me.

Fighting alongside Ellie are several other characters with complicated situations, including a young genius whose brother is a ward at the experimentation centre and who’s bought into loyalty by a promise of securing treatment for his mother. His resolve is ultimately tested, similarly to others. There are others: a soldier with a Japanese girlfriend, both too “genetically flawed” for the topsiders, and a hardened major set in his own ways. Ellie’s wife makes an appearance and is presented as a sort of a riddle-spaking Eastern sage but I felt that part was overdone. I didn’t really get particularly attached to characters, they served the plot and illustrated it’s various points. I was, however, concerned with the overall fate of humanity and especially regular characters like Iris and Toby. It’s they who pay the price of decisions on BOTH ends: those made by the authorities and those by the resistance.

It reads like an action-packed thriller and is grounded in fears and developments derived from current political climates, especially extremely warped right-wing ideologies that fear difference and hate not being obeyed and that have increasingly swept across not just the US but the world. It’s very easy for an activist lawyer to become a terrorist in the eyes of the state, and for hatred and fear of difference to dominate politics.. The title is very apt and leaves the reader to ponder who or what ENEMY is.

Democracy fails in the hands of fools and demagogues and it’s wasted on those who turn away from the injustices and problems they see.

It is an interesting dystopian political thriller that’s world-aware but also world-weary. It’s fast paced, direct and competently written. Makes for a very good read and could well be an action movie, and also leaves the reader with food for thought.

2. Good morning, Midnight.

Mood: slow-paced, contemplative, descriptive, emotional

Genre: sci-fi,post-apocalyptic, space

Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives?

A thousand doors, wide open now.

When a group of astronauts on board the spacecraft Aether complete their several year-long mission to Jupiter, they are suddenly stumped that radio silence greets them from Earth. Full of unanswered questions, and uncertain whether they will ever get home, they plot their course home, while life still goes on aboard.Mission Specialist Sullivan aboard the Aether has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended.

In the meantime, an ailing astronomer Augustine and a small girl try to survive in Antarctica as Augustine realise they ate alone because radio waves have gone silent

The end of the world is quiet, creeps in on characters without them knowing. Augustine on earth is a man who used to walk with his head in the stars but was otherwise lost and broken in many way. Now, he finds something to ground him as he meets another survivor, a little girl. Love awakens in his heart and makes him see beyond the stars to important matters on earth. The little girl helps him find a purpose despite the catastrophic solitude.

Iris on board Aether is lost too. Disconnected from her family, she loses herself in her work. But finds an unexpected connection and warmth with her commander Harper through little shared moments of surviving the uncertainty. A thousand doors, wide open now.

Augustine and Iris are both broken individuals but unknown to them they share a bond that goes beyond that of the fascination with the stars.

The elegantly written, slow-paced  novel relies a lot on descriptions and images to  offer a quiet reflection. The sense that end comes quietly and the idea of being lost as explored here. The vast silence that accompanies changing seasons on earth in Antarctica and the ship that travels back to Earth without knowing what awaits. It takes a group of people in space and puts them in an impossible situation: what if Earth suddenly went silent while they were out there? What now, what’s there to do?  Down on Earth Augie has to deal with the same question and survive in the wild. I love it puts more questions than answers to the characters.

It’s a subtle exploration of loss, of the vastness of the world and universe in which we feel alone, especially in the silence and also about finding connection in unexpected moments and how they connection gives grounding and something to hope for despite the odds. I really liked Harper.

George Clooney’s movie makes considerable changes: fuses Harper with Thebes into one character, diminishes the connection the commander has with Iris and spells out (a little clumsily in my opinion )  the connection between Iris and Augie, while also losing a lot of the emotional, pensive vastness  and uncertainty the characters face. Perhaps it’s a bit stronger with Clooney’s Augie, but less so with the movie Iris. Other characters are also subtly changed. There are some changes to the plot to make it more hopeful I guess but I prefer the book’s open ending.

I definitely prefer the book with it’s subtly formed connections and that melancholy sense of being dwarfed in the vast, silent  universe.

Very good read. Very reflective, with a focus on bonds and  making connections, doing with grief, loss, finding oneself.

Nevil Shute’s On the Beach might be a good read if you liked this.

3. Maus. Art Spiegelman

Mood: factual, honest, dark,brutal

Genre: biography,, history, war, graphic novel

This graphic novel is definitely a must read. It’s about a father and son’s complicated relationship, the very process of creating Maus, and about Art’s father Vladek’s experience living in Poland during the rise and fall of the Third Reich.

The story of Art Spiegelman’s father is told in simple, dark panels, with characters drawn as animals.

It traces Vladek’s fate from before the war through the entire ordeal, through mamy near misses, near escapes and heart-rending losses. It’s a very honest tale that does not shy away from presenting dark moment’s in your own family. Neither does it idealise anyone. Nazi, Poles, or Jews. It tells it as it is. With all the behaviours Vladek came across, good and bad, and with all the strategies he had to develop to survive. I think this story really successfully drives the point how can a human do something like this to another?

It is also a story about one family, about a son who’s trying to understand and feels guilty about having had an easy life and about ailing father who shares his gruelling story. The bond is warm and loving. They’re not perfect, they’re real. There’s a very dark comic within the comic part, in a different style   in the middle that deals with a tremendously tragic  event within Art’s lifetime.  But  there are touches of humour that break up the darkness a little,  but never really leaving behind the underlying tragedy.   I loved the two, Vladek and Art as they shared and dealt with their demons, loved the love radiating from the pages. Also Anja. The old father, speaking in a broken English, provides a deeply personal, honest account of that constant fear and deprivation.

It’s a powerful and multi-layered narrative with many themes. It’s painful to realise with even more power thanks to the simple storytelling of a graphic novel, how really utterly pointless, senseless losses happened not just because of one man with power to carry out his terrifying and ill-conceived, arrogant, hateful and ignorant vision of “homogeneity” but because people don’t always act like humans. Plus the idea of using animals to represent races without nuancing each individual drives the messages even further home.

There’s so much more to be said about this book. There’s a quote by Samuel Beckett somewhere inside “Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness”. This visual story refutes it.

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