Education

I am nearly finished reading this booked called ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover. Oh my goodness. I CAN’T put it down. It’s a memoir that certainly needed to be written. You know how some 20-somethings write ‘memoirs’ and you’re just reading it thinking, ok first, did this person ever read anything apart from the back of a jam jar? And secondly, this person did not live life yet, and the life they lived already is so mundane that they really should not have written about it.

But, like, teenagers buy this book by the millions because it’s a famous YouTuber that they love.

Yes, this book is NOT like those books. Sure, Tara Westover is relatively young, but her life is so strange and odd and powerful, and the way she writes is so intense and gripping, that I have to read it every second I get, and when I am not reading it I am thinking about it.

It’s all about how she was brought up in the isolated mountains of Idaho as a Mormon, with an extreme father. She never set foot in a school and her family thought the Medical Establishment was part of the Illuminati and the Government were evil and wanted to control everybody. She barely learnt anything ‘academic’, but her life was filled with roughness, injury, thinking on the spot and extreme resourcefulness. In spite of, or perhaps because of this, she managed to succeed at exams to get her into a good university, which then allowed her to get a very prestigious scholarship into Cambridge University.

The story is gripping, detailing, among other things, the horrific injuries she, her siblings and parents obtained from reckless and ruthless actions (driving through snowstorms with no seats in the car and enduring severe accidents, climbing into dumping baskets in a junkyard, setting themselves on fire ‘accidentally’) without medical intervention, just recovery at home at the hands of their herbal expert mother. I cannot get it out of my head.

Above all, this story inspires me so much. That a person who had never studied or read anything apart from the Bible and Book of Mormon could then go and write the ‘best essays seen in 30 years of teaching’ (Cambridge senior profession proclamation) SHOWS me that sometimes what we pin as of ultimate importance, perhaps is just not that important. Maybe training kids from an early age to think the academic thoughts others have had before them and which have been refined for their brains is the wrong way to go about it? Maybe you ought to let children be as free as possible, and think as much of their own individual thoughts as possible, in order to create great thinkers within them?

Tara Westover describes her childhood as ‘loveless’, she was abused physically by her older brother, and felt that all her siblings and her mother suffered at the hands of her bipolar lunatic father. Yet at the same time she was given experiences that very few other children have. She worked in a junkyard with her father at age ten and learnt so many things which she applied in her later years studying at college, things which were not academic in the slightest but gave her a high advantage over others who had been trained for this sort of education their whole lives.

One of the main things to take away from this book is that the author suffered crippling depression from the aftermath of what she endured as a child. She became ostracised from her family for daring to speak up about the physical and verbal abuse she received from her older brother, but she still weathered through it and got a PhD, achieved her goals, and above all, did not let her experiences mould her. She decided to take control and mould herself. That is what is inspiring about Tara Westover.

If you love reading about lives that are out of the ordinary, and minds filled with the richness of learning, both physical and mental, and experiences which are painful and horrific but also very true, and which shaped a life in such an interesting way, then this book is certainly for you.

It’s for sure for me. It’s made me even more determined to get a Master’s degree, something I have been wanting for a while but have been dubious about following through with.

On Human Suffering

I managed to read two books this week because I deleted instagram from my phone. Instagram is highly addictive because it contains all sorts of high quality imagery as well as lets you know via short videos what your friends and ‘influencers’ are up to.

I used to use it for fashion inspiration and also to see what nice pictures my friends took on their out-and-abouts, but now my feed is all full of parenting, education and food ‘inspiration’. I must say I have learnt a lot about how to deal with my toddler by following the relevant experts and experienced mothers.

It helps when you’re isolated and can’t really share experiences with many mothers.

However, it is also a waste of time because you can end up scrolling your feed for 45 WHOLE MINUTES after your bubba has gone to bed and not realise the time.

‘That’s it,’ I said firmly last Monday, ‘THAT IS IT. I’m done with this sodding app.’

And because I suddenly had pockets of time free from scrolling, when I picked up my phone I went to the ‘books’ section to see what I’d left to dwindle.

And I found I had two books in there at 0%.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christie Lefteri, and The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

I know. Deep and heavy subject matter. But I delved in.

I started with The Beekeeper of Aleppo, purely because it was the first option in my library. It read like a sad, haunting poem. The imagery in this book was beautiful. The story was heartbreaking and you really felt like you were in the characters’ shoes. Christie Lefteri is the daughter of Cypriot refugees, and she was brought up in London. And, speaking as someone with Arab blood, I could very much tell that her portrayal of Syrians, their food and their way of life, even the words they used and how they spoke to each other, was very much through an overly romanticised western lens. This bothered me a little, but the story was so well-written that I was completely hooked throughout. Christie Lefteri did a beautiful job portraying the lives of people who are so often vilified in today’s media, and for that alone she deserves five stars. Most people like the Ibrahim family in this book will certainly not have the happy ending they did, but I think more than anything this story was meant to humanise refugees, and show that if they had any other choice, they would not be making these devastating decisions. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book and it haunted me for days afterwards. The author based this story on a collection of true stories she had heard from the mouths of refugees during her time as a volunteer at several refugee camps.

I then moved on to The Tattooist of Auschwitz. It was written well, certainly, but after Christie Lefteri’s haunting writing, this one felt a little monotonous. Like I was reading a screenplay. Throughout the entire book I never knew how the characters really felt, it was like I was being held at arms length by the author. If you overlook that, and just read the book for the sake of the plot (which is based on a true story), then you begin to really feel the story. And there are parts which are absolutely horrifying and I wish I never read, but know that it was a must to know these things. Because these things are happening again to many people around the world, and they always say ‘We will never forget the holocaust’ but they did forget it. Because humans are still suffering in horrible ways today, at the hands of evil regimes, for their religion! I was hooked on this book, I both dreaded each new page and anticipated it.

Reading two books so close to one another, both of which detail human suffering in such explicit ways makes me grateful, so grateful, that I live in ‘peace’. I have a home that isn’t bombed to a shell, my son is not lying dead in my arms with unseeing eyes. My family are not being gassed in chambers or taken away to evil camps. My siblings are squabbling peacefully and my mother is ranting about my sister’s shoes in the hallway. We are going through hard times, for sure. People are losing their jobs, dying, losing loved ones. But opening my eyes to this sort of suffering makes me realise that sometimes I complain too much, and it’s much better to count one’s blessings.

And delete instagram and read real books.

24 out of my 25 books for 2020. I think I am doing quite well.

I’ll Give You the Sun

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First, before I delve into anything, I just want to say that if you are wearing shorts and have bare legs and live in a cold-ish country, don’t put your metal laptop on your lap. I just did that and the cold metal felt like searing heat on my poor legs.

Anyway. When I was 19 and still rather green, I read this wonderful book called ‘The Sky is Everywhere‘ by this vivacious YA writer named Jandy Nelson. I honestly thought the sky soared out of her pen. I was captivated and mesmerised and just head over heels in love with how this woman wrote.

Which is why, three years ago, I saw one of her books at a charity shop and picked it up immediately, nestled it under my coat to protect it from the rain, and placed it lovingly in my bookshelf where it sat through a new job, pregnancy, new motherhood … to now.

It’s called ‘I’ll Give You the Sun’ and I am writing about it because I have realised that I am just plain old, folks.

Jandy Nelson writes like there are fireworks in her fingers. Her brain has ethereal, colourful wings. Her mind is ridiculously fantastic. She writes so wonderfully, and her magic still made me hooked on her story, but I couldn’t help thinking how contrived it all was.

Let me make myself clear. I’ll Give You the Sun is a YA novel about grief, love and growth. It centres around a pair of twins, boy and girl, who used to be inseparable until a tragedy befalls them, and deals with how each twin navigates this tragedy, how it affects them individually and their relationship with each other, as well as how they view the outside world. The boy is gay, so there is some LGBTQ romance in there too. There is a lot of talk about soulmates and artistic genius and, told from the point of view of 14 and 16 year olds, every emotion is heightened and you can FEEL the hormones just leaping out of the page…

It is a beautiful story, but my 25 year old self is not my 19 year old self. I honestly felt like it was just a tad too wishy washy and dreamy for me. I scoffed at times, while reading some of the romantic exchanges. Like, how can you fall in love and be SOULMATES after having had just one conversation?

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Like, a LOT of the feelings of love being described made me grin. I was 16 once. I was ‘in love’. It’s all just screaming lust. Not that lust cannot lead to love, of course, but adult me shared a grin with adult inner-me. 19 year old me would roll her eyes and say I was just cynical. I am not.

But this story is not just about romance. It deals with so much more and deals with it so well, that even cynical old 25 year old me felt some emotions and was hooked till the very last page. So, if you like contrived soul-matey very lucky teenage ‘true love’, grief, happiness, art, vivacious writing and lots of metaphors, then this book is for you.

origin

There.

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Here are a few more quotes.

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I love this one. This one is often true for me.

Purple, Orange and Black

Books and films, in essence, are thoughts. Other people’s thoughts, that you think when you read them. You may take them as an opinion and inherently disagree, but these are still thoughts and ideas, and they add to your trove of thoughts and ideas and influence you. That is all there is to say about that.

I was not worried that The Colour Purple would influence me negatively, because if anything, it is the story of strength and perseverance through the roughest of lives. But I remember reading Alice Walker as a child, and Toni Morrison, and I remember feeling terrified and revolted, and wishing that the BOOK, you know, the symbol of happiness and life and adventure, wasn’t so vicious and dark. I kept trying to pick it up again, hoping this time it wouldn’t be as gruesome, but it was, and I felt violated. Of course, I am not blaming the books. The books are wonderful, and helped to highlight to many unfortunate things in the world, and gave a voice to previously unheard voices. But I was only nine, and I wasn’t allowed to read it but I still did, so I only had myself to blame.

And so, when I read The Colour Purple, I was tentative and afraid.  I was worried I would read more terrible things that would leave a nasty taste in my mouth, no matter they were the harsh reality, and still are the harsh reality of so many women around the earth. I don’t want to know that these things can happen, I don’t want to read about them in sordid detail, and hear the literary thoughts of those who inflict them, because these thoughts are the real thoughts that have been thought by real people. People who, if I saw on a day to day basis, I would probably avoid. I would. I think I would. I wouldn’t want to associate with them, because I wouldn’t want to learn what was in such a toxic brain. I wouldn’t want to familiarise myself with those kinds of thoughts. And so, when such thoughts, even when married to GOOD ones, are in my hands, in my living room, on my sofa, I feel violated. I feel obnoxious and worried and disgusted and heartbroken.

I watched the most recent season of Orange is the new Black, and while it was raw and honest and reflective of what is true for so many black people in America, I felt that it was poor. Why do the white people get good endings? Why did the black girl have to be condemned, and the Mexican girl get deported? Life is hopeless if you’re ‘coloured’ in America, this show seems to say. There is no hope for you.

I think that is a shockingly poor message. I think that while reflecting on what really does happen, there should be something to incite some change, too. Some flicker of hope. Something to suggest that there is a way out, that we have to keep fighting, not just give up. Was this show made by white people? This is black, this is white. That is the message I got. And that is how it is.

And reading The Colour Purple, right after watching the last season of Orange is the New Black, opened my eyes wide. Things have only changed in the past hundred or so years in terms of technology and social perception. Things have not changed when it comes to how non-white people are treated in America. But Alice Walker comes out soaring, compared to the makers of OITNB. She screams from the rooftops that all is not lost, that there is hope, that a poor, black woman can overcome her adversaries and succeed. In spite of them, because of them.

 

 

 

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The Basics of Burgers

Recently I have been feeling really gross. Everything is disgusting. Everything smells bad and makes me gag. You know what smell makes me the most sick? It’s WASHING POWDER, folks. Yes, the stuff I use to make my clothes clean. I cannot STAND it. I take one whiff and I am done for. The very thought is making me heave.

why do you look like you’ve been slapped in the face? my husband asks, innocently, munching the instant noodles he has just cooked, oblivious to the fact that he has let out an instant-noodle stink bomb which has slowly spread its foul tentacles throughout the entire house.

because you’ve slapped me in the face with that abhorrent smell!

I have not been eating much, suffice to say, and as such I have been making myself more sick, and yes, more hungry. It really is a vicious cycle!

Which is why, yesterday, I let my husband drag me to a restaurant/’diner’ in Manchester called the ‘New Yorker Diner’.

It is set in an area which is practically the definition of Manchester. It’s on the same street as the Britannia hotel, which, despite its name and its grand exterior, has only been labelled a 3-star hotel. A horde of nightclubs and gay bars are situated on every corner, and if you walk five minutes in a straight line you will be passing under the majestic arch of Manchester’s Chinatown (does every city in the world have a Chinatown?!). Parking is scarce, or really expensive (I am staring at you, NCP. I have a massive beef with you. £7/hour in MANCHESTER?! Dirty piece of crap), and there are dubious goings on in the narrow streets behind the fancy main roads. Dolled up girls and dapper dudes, and sometimes dolled up dudes and dapper girls line the streets when the sun begins to set on a Saturday evening, laughing and drinking in readiness for a classic British night out with the lads and the girls and the both. Sometimes groups of women in a loudly stated ‘Hen’ huddle waddle and totter along, carrying massive blow-up male genitalia and declaring their nightly intentions with vivid pink sashes emblazoned across their fronts. Mottled-looking folk with extra large jackets trot nervously down dark alleyways and exchange goods behind filthy, overflowing bins. Groups of girls in hijab laugh and joke amongst themselves along the streets, as the night gets darker, and despite the strong smell of alcohol and weed and the dubiousness of the surroundings, one feels safe on the busy streets of Manchester. Everybody is out, everybody is intermingling.

The New Yorker Diner itself is designed to look like a cross between an underground bunker and an industrial site. You have to go down metal steps to be seated in an underground room, with naked retro bulbs dangling from wires which wrap around metal beams and line brick walls. Neon signs flash in the windows which are half covered on top by the ceiling, and you can watch people’s feetsies walk by. Very hipster indeed, but does look faux-grimy too, which, perhaps, is New Yorky? I wouldn’t know.

Anyway. I tell you I was retching all the way through the streets, passed the rubbish bins and plumes of weed smoke, holding my breath as I entered the restaurant. What if I couldn’t stand the smell? What would I do?

I took a tentative sniff and my goodness, I felt fine!

And when my burger arrived, handmade in a brioche bun with all the regular fixin’s; melty REAL cheese, sliced pickles, lettuce and tomato, and some beautiful sauce that was a little spicy and a lot I don’t know what, with a side of fries tossed in some kind of spice mix, and I took the first bite, I was transported, folks.

Transported and sublimed. I inhaled that burger, and those fries. Well, not the whole thing, I had the other half for breakfast the next day, but my GOODNESS.

I don’t know if it was because by that point I was half starved from being sick, so any food would taste like heaven exploded in my mouth, but man oh MAN I have been thinking of that meal ever since.

That SAUCE, what was it?? They call it ‘Brooklyn sauce’ but there is no indication of what might be in it. It is yellow, and very tasty, and so divine. It definitely isn’t mustard. Please, if you know, share your knowledge!

The basics of a good burger, I find, is to have a solid but tasty bun. The burger must be real meat, seasoned adequately and griddled to juicy perfection. The sauce must be hot, the lettuce fresh, the the tomato turgid. The pickles should be sliced generously, not too skinny that they flop flaccidly, and not too thick that they hinder the bite. And the cheese should be generous, yet not overpower the rest of the ingredients.

Also, New Yorker Diner? 10/10. No questions. You have to be comfy in a fast-foody-looking setting, though, because you order at the till and get one of those buzzy things that tells you when your food is cooked, and boy oh boy is it COOKED. Sizzling hot and melty and just divine. I am already planning my next sojourn there.

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NOT my photo – but this is the burger I had.

The Thorn Birds

A peado priest falls in love with a little girl.

No, I am joking. He doesn’t. He only ‘falls in love’ with her when she develops a pair of … I can’t think of a dignified name for those things.

No that is too vulgar. Anyway that really isn’t the entirety of the story, but I think it caused sensation when it was published because that is what stood out the most.

That isn’t what this book was about. I read the last sentence today.

And we still do it. Still we do it.

Do what?

Put thorns in our breasts, that’s what.

This book touched me beyond my brain cells. It touched somewhere deep inside my cranium, some would call it a soul. It prodded it and then it simpered like an evil waif, and vanished, leaving me looking down at a new hole. A bit surprised, actually. I didn’t think it would affect me this way.

Somebody once told me that once you have read or seen something, it is a thought in your brain. It belongs to you. You cannot un-think it.

When a writer writes so well that you feel like you are one with the characters, feeling things they feel, even though you have never felt these things… you have bent to the will of the pen. You have never felt those things? Oh, but you have. You’ve felt an echo of them. And now, you know.

I didn’t like all of the characters, but I liked them immensely.

This book didn’t sear me because of its plot, or its characters. Its plot was devastating, to be sure, and its characters deeply twisted and vastly, enormously human. But this book had a soul of its own. It is life, itself.

Sure, it was life from the perspective of one individual brain, but it seethed into being, it spluttered, it gasped, it breathed.

I really wish I didn’t read it, because I can’t un-think it.

But I am glad I did.

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Rilla of Ingleside

I have heartache, dearest reader.

A heartache borne of the most insipid of things. It’s tragic, really. So painful. The world is so bleak and old, yet so young and fresh.

A long time ago, when I was a wee mite of eight years old, I acquainted myself with Anne Shirely. She lit my life, I assure you. She was eclectic and electric, and her mind soared through mine, influencing everything I touched and saw after that.

Just everything.

I only had the first three books growing up, and the sixth. And oh, how fitting, really. No pain or fear or sorrow touched my soul, the literary world remained quite tame.

Now, I am 23 years old, and have tripped back to old Prince Edward Island, only Anne is older and she has a budding family. Today, I finished reading the last proper book in the Anne of Green Gables series, ‘Rilla of Ingleside.’

I am left feeling bereft. Almost in grief, and it is so stupid, because it isn’t even real, and real life is so much more than this. So why do I feel this way?

You see, in the later ‘Anne’ books, the Anne Shirely we know and love so dearly recedes further and further away from us. In fact, she has already receded by the end of Anne of the Island. Going into Anne of Windy Poplars, we have her in epistolary form, and it isn’t quite tangible because she spends all her time talking about other people. People who aren’t the old, loved Avonlea people, at that! In Anne’s House of Dreams, it is much the same way. Anne starts a new life with Gilbert but we actually learn far more about those around them, than we do about Anne and Gilbert. It’s sad, but Montgomery seems to have drifted away from them. I don’t feel like we had a proper goodbye.

Anne’s House of Dreams introduces us, in so many words, to the first sore loss suffered by Anne. Her first born child dies mere hours after birth, and little ‘Joyce’ is buried in the garden of her ‘House of Dreams’. Montgomery skirts ever so delicately around the subject, dressing it with literary frills, most likely due to the impropriety of uttering such things aloud.

But, in Rilla of Ingleside, it is much worse. Oh, so much worse. Anne is a mother, and we barely ever hear from her except a reaction here, a comment there, an illness over thataway and a reproachful look or two. We learn Marilla Cuthbert has died, but not how or when. We learn Mrs Rachel Lynde has made a throw for the spare room bed, but never hear a single peep from the respected lady. In fact, we’ve heard neither a peep or pipe from neither of the two ladies since Anne’s House of Dreams, and even then they barely said two sentenced. As for the prolific, bursting-with-character Davy, why, he went off and married and had kids and that, reader, seemed to be that! This book is about Rilla Blythe, the youngest of the Blythe children, during the First World War.

This book is about growth and pain. This book is about the blooming of life, and the suddenness of death. This is about anticipation and terror, about love and suffering and patience and, well yes, laughter. Plenty of it. The same spirit of Anne of Green Gables, the same odd characters, but tinged now, tinged with the burnt brush of life. Singed and papery, ready to crumble at any moment.

The older I grow, the more my mind expands, the more I am aware of the sheer finiteness of life. The definite end, looming in sight. The pain, just around the corner. The sheer love, enveloping everything. The yearning hunger that is humanity, always reaching, always wanting, always crying out for more. But can we handle more? So much love, yet so much pain.

Rilla of Ingleside brought all that to the forefront in the most raw way possible.

You see, Anne has always been in my heart. Her children have always been in my heart. I dreamed their lives were so wonderful, and they are, they are such fantastic people, one can very well see why Montgomery wanted to escape her grim life and lose herself amongst her almost-perfect characters.

And because Anne has always been in my heart, her joys and pains are my joys and pains. Her children, in some strange way, feel like mine. Rilla’s siblings, feel like mine.

Walter Blythe (oh it hurts) feels like my brother, my son, my lost beautiful soul following the call of the piper, part of the dead army, fighting for the freedom of his loved ones.

Why, when he isn’t real?! When none of them are real?!WHY? And why does it hurt so much to say goodbye?

Ebullient

Well isn’t my Monday-Friday daily posting schedule going well! (not)

Fridays are supposed to be my ‘review’ days, and last week I posted a book review. I have not read nor watched anything particularly enticing recently, so I will review this week.

This week was an event. It was an event I will call ‘Ebullient’, which means ‘bubbling over’. This word can have positive connotations; to be in an ebullient mood is to be excited and enthusiastic about something. However, I like to think that it can also have negative connotations! Bubbling over means danger, heat, suspense. It can translate to anxiety, worry and fear.

Excited and enthusiastic I certainly was about this week, but I was also anxious and worrisome and dreading of it. Is that correct English?

So I geared myself up for it in good cheer, talked myself into a great mood, and plunged myself full swing into some hard work and lots of smiling.

I had two days of training, which was to take place at the golf club next to my workplace. Fear not, we did no golfing. We listened to lectures, saw presentations and participated in ‘exercises’. We were encouraged to ‘network, network, network’ and because I am antisocial and socially awkward, I found this particularly challenging. I like watching people and talking to people, but I think I don’t know how to.

They served a delicious dinner, the highlight of which was a massive tureen of profiteroles and oozing, hot, chocolate sauce.

Both days I returned home late, exhausted and zombie-like. How on earth did I survive university?

After this there was a company team-building day, followed by an evening event.

That was exhausting. I learnt a great deal, I like to think I participated well, but it was exhausting. Every laugh I laughed was forced and fake and eventually it began to hurt my brain.

There were some great highlights, some lovely people, and some excellent food.

But my heart raced, my palms sweated, and I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time. I was so tempted to go home, but I forced myself to attend an evening of socialising. It was difficult. But I was ebullient, in appearance at the very least.

I am twenty three years old, and it might be time to accept that while I am confident, I might just not be the funny, capable, social person I used to think I was.

That was back when I had a firm group of friends, you see. Now I am a nomad and my network of security (of family and friends) is spread over several continents.

Now I am drifting alone, sort of on a little bit of driftwood, following in the wake of the mad backwash created by a magnificent cruise-ship. I can hear the laughter, but never be a part of it. I can see the joy, but can’t feel it. I can sense the warmth, but cannot touch it.

I can be on the fringes, but never in the middle.

I can dance through the dance floor, but my arms will be cold.

I can flit from one group to another, but shoulders will get ever closer together.

I can smile my widest smile, but eventually it will fade, leaving a forced ache in my cheeks.

Today was a crap day. Like a hangover, but a social one. I don’t feel like being nice to anybody, I just want to curl up and be alone for a while. I feel like I’ve had too much socialising with far too many people and I need a break!

Good job it’s the weekend! Time to recuperate!

How was your week? Do you enjoy ‘networking’ and socialising, or does it tire you out and make you desire solitude?

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Amy and Isabelle

I bought this book as an afterthought, selected out of a range of pickings offered to me on Amazon after I’d purchased a book already. It stood out because of its simple, no-nonsense title; I wanted to know more.

The New York Times Book Review daubed it “one of those rare, invigorating books that take an apparently familiar world and peer into it with ruthless intimacy, revealing a strange and startling place”.

Set in a baking town in the middle of an intensely hot summer, the vivid imagery of a rotting green river snaking through the heart of the town makes for a stunning metaphor of the rotting sickness underlying the relationship between mother and daughter. Not that its long-term, of course. The story explores the complicated relationship between a girl on the cusp of adulthood, and a mother who has made many sacrifices in order to lead, at least in her own mind, a ‘respectable’ life.

At the heart of this story is a tale of two minds, formed and influenced by unfortunate circumstances. It speaks of loneliness, desperation for human contact, and highlights the way your own mind can form a barrier between you and your basic human desire to be social. In a way this novel spoke to me directly, because I related on a very personal level with the loneliness felt by Isabelle, the construction of social events in her mind. I was terribly lonely when I moved to a different city, leaving all my friends behind. Gradually we lost contact, and I found it immensely difficult to make new friends. It got to a point so severe that I did something incredibly stupid – for want of human contact. It’s sad and pathetic, but so real. Elizabeth Stout painted this in such a raw, open way. It was quite tough subject matter to navigate through.

Despite loneliness being the driving force behind the main characters’ actions, there were many more complex themes driving the plot forward. Amy’s burgeoning sexuality, Isabelle’s anxious, overprotective and even jealous tendencies towards her daughter, feelings of inadequacy, lack of communication and even Amy feeling a little embarrassed of her mother, were just some aspects explored by Stout, and which made for often uncomfortable reading.

I didn’t particularly enjoy reading this book. It was difficult, at times revolting. Despite this, I couldn’t put it down. The narrative was compelling; with Strout interweaving the minds of the two protagonists, combining two very separate outlooks on the same world (which I suppose is the reality of our lives, viewing the world through a million different perspectives), and setting them amidst vivid descriptions of the town, the slow, almost zombie-like townsfolk who, as it happened, had very real, very raw lives of their own.

This book was brilliantly written, the exposition foreshadowed almost poetically, and the emergence into truth almost like a blossoming of understanding, which I felt fitted in marvellously with the subject-matter. The novel ‘came of age’ beautifully, in a way which is wistfully reminiscent of much of our growth and understanding. This novel is about learning to love, learning to let go, and learning to ‘live’.

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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I just watched this film and didn’t quite know what to make of it.

I usually enjoy films like this; sweet and romantic, with vivid imagery and significant conversations.

This one fell a little flat, somehow. Maybe it was because I grew up in the Middle East. One of my closest friends at school was Yemeni. I was submerged in the Arabian culture, and even met plenty of bedouins.

The thing that stands out about these people is that they are intrinsically tough, but a lifestyle of riches and ease has made them softer. Their natures are harsh, but they are the most generous, warm and hospitable people I have ever met. The desert folk are certainly not as affectionate as, say, the Lebanese or the Syrians, or even the Moroccans. However, they have a charm of their own, a charm which is years of strife in the heat and strong family connections and a deep sense of self-less generosity.

Salmon fishing in the Yemen is a story about a sheikh who wants to bring salmon fishing to his people in Yemen, a scientist who strongly opposes the absurd notion of taking British salmon to a torrid country, and the young woman who works for the sheikh, and plays a large part in persuading the scientist (Dr. Alfred Jones) to help make the project happen.

Essentially, this is a love story. The story of a scientist in a dead-end marriage, a young woman who has promised herself to a British soldier whom she barely knows, and a sheikh intent on changing his homeland to make it better for his people and join the tribes together.

Growing up in the Middle-East, the whole tribe thing was very much a real situation. My husband, who also grew up there, bore the brunt of it. He went to an all-boys government school, populated by the sons of bedouins, and if you looked a certain way, or talked differently, you were bullied. If you were friends with a boy with that particular surname, then the boys of another surname would harass you and attack you. He was called ‘Bush’ because he was white, and came from England, and the boys hated ‘Bush’ because Bush bombed other countries. He had to survive by mocking them and their ways, and learning how to fight. Only when he fought them, was he accepted as their equal. It was ultimately tribal, and small boys learned from older boys who learned from their parents.

On the girls side, it was less violent and more catty. It was more bragging about how many princesses they know and who’s mother was friends with which princess. If a girl was from a revered tribe, the other girls would treat her royally. For me, it was disgusting, and I wanted no part of it. For that, I was made to feel like a ratty little girl from the slums who sweats. Ugh, how could she sweat?! How undignified. Look at her, let’s ignore her because she is not as pretty as us and her hair is not straight. Look at her uniform, and my goodness, she uses the same school bag every year?! That was honestly the reason why a lot of girls shunned me or looked down on me. They all followed fashion trends when it came to accessories and because my parents were British and working class, they didn’t see fit to waste money on a new bag when I already had a perfectly useful one. So while all the other girls had their gleaming, satin trim Lulu Catty bags, I walked in with my square pattern, solid bag coloured a drab brown.

Of course, as I grew older, and my little enemies became my very close friends, because bags no longer mattered and deep down, these girls were wonderful and had deep, understanding personalities. I am still in contact with a few of them and they are some of the truest friends I have ever had. I learned that tribal feuds were very real, but also not as nuanced as the days of yore because everybody’s lifestyle had changed.

The point is, of course, that Salmon Fishing in the Yemen portrayed a glorified and unrealistic Arab sheikh. Even when they were speaking with each other, I had to laugh. Every man had a different dialect, and some were speaking Standard Arabic, which is like Shakespeare to desert-folk. They only use it for poetry and when they recite the Qur-an. Literally nobody, ESPECIALLY not a bedouin, speaks like that. I know I am nitpicking. I know. But for me, it dimmed the magic of the story somewhat.

Then we move on to the story itself. The plot was actually wonderful. It was a story of survival, faith, a merging of cultures, acceptance and ultimately, of course, love. If you took the love equation out of it all, the story would have been magnificent. However I think the filmmakers tried way too hard. They romanticised the sheikh to an absurd level. I found it hard to buy his character, namely because it was a version designed to fit the Western ideals of good and bad. It wasn’t true to Yemen or the Arabs.

I felt there was no chemistry between the lead actor (Obi Wan in the prequel series! Ewan McGregor) and actress (Emily Blunt, who is brilliantly beautiful, I have to say). I didn’t see why they had to fall in love, they basically had nothing in common and certainly nothing real to talk about. Blunt’s character was grieving for her army boyfriend throughout their ‘courtship’, so falling for Dr. Jones seemed vastly inappropriate and exceedingly uncomfortable, especially when her boyfriend was miraculously found alive. Dr. Jones said some dubious things to him, and it really didn’t go down well for me or add to his character. Not to mention that he was already married!? I didn’t like how he left his wife, sending her a text saying ‘it’s for the best.’ That was cruel and harsh. If there had been a real reason to be so horrid, it would have made sense, but to me, marriage is sacred, and one could at least make a show of trying, rather than scarpering at the call of the first attractive young woman. It was ridiculous and cheap.

To be honest, I didn’t feel invested in the story. The dialogue was dry and tried too hard to appeal to emotions, ultimately failing to convince me of anything.

I heard this film was based on a book, but frankly I have no interest in reading it. Who knows, it might be brilliant, but I just didn’t buy it. I hate that sometimes other cultures are ‘Westernised’ to fit into the Western ideal or understanding. They are romanticised and made to seem ethereal and magical, when in reality they are just other people living their lives just like we are.

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