Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Trans and Cis




The Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently had a spot of bother after she suggested that the experiences of transgender women were different from the cisgender women (I believe this is the term for those individuals who are born women, and either are happy to live as women, or, if they aren’t, don’t make a fuss about it—so we don’t know).

You might argue that it is impossible for Adichie, or any other cisgender woman, to talk with authority about the experiences of trans-gender women, because Adichie was not born a man, and therefore cannot possibly know what it is like to be a man, and, by extension, what it is like to be convinced that one would be better off as a woman, because in spite of one’s chromosome and anatomy one is convinced in one’s mind that one ought to be a woman.

Adichie’s explanation as to why she is reluctant to consider trans-gender women as—for the want of better phrase—real women was neither medical nor psychological; it was socio-political. Adichie said in her interview that if you lived in this world as a man with the privileges the world accords to men, and then switched gender, it was difficult for Adichie to accept that you (a transgender woman) could equate your experience with the experience of a woman who had always lived as a woman, and not enjoyed the privileges as a man.

Adichie’s answer to this dilemma? Trans-women are trans-women, and cis-women are cis-women.

Adichie’s argument risks attracting the accusation, among other things, of making sweeping judgments about the privileges the men supposedly enjoy, and women don’t. She tries to link it to this peculiar condition, which, I believe, is recognised as some sort of psychiatric condition—although I’d wager a hundred pounds that such individuals, while they may experience a variety of emotional distress, do not consider the core issue, that they are born in the wrong body, as a psychiatric condition.

Going by Adichie’s argument, a man, who wants to be a woman for reasons best known to him, is, therefore, willing to give up the privileges of men. Why might he do that? I read that the Indian leader of the twentieth century, Gandhi, who led his country to freedom from British Imperialism, gave up on the Western attire and went through his life wearing a loin cloth. Gandhi took this step because he felt uneasy about wearing Western (or, for that matter, Eastern) dress that would cover his spindly legs and chest hair, when he saw that his countrymen were going around semi-naked because they were so impoverished under the British Raj that they could not clothe themselves adequately. Gandhi, who was a Western-educated barrister, and, at one stage, had a flourishing practice, decided that he too was going to live like his poor countrymen: if they could not afford to wear clothes and went around half-naked, so would he. You might say that Gandhi was displaying an extreme form of empathy. I should doubt very much that the men who choose to be women, and go all the way to have reconstructive surgery, do this because they want to experience, in a Gandhiesque manner, the disadvantages of womanhood. These men want their penises chopped off because they don’t like their penises; they want to have vaginas, instead.

And what about women who want to be men? This trans-business, surely, is not confined only to men who are desperate to be women. Adichie makes no comments about women who have had reconstructive surgeries, and, with hormonal treatment, boast cobwebs on their chins. One would, going by Adichie’s argument, suppose, that these trans-men can’t be real men because they have not enjoyed the privileges of being men right from birth.

Not surprisingly, many trans-women (if that is the correct term to describe these individuals) were unhappy at not being considered for the privileges of being full-women (or cis-women), although Adichie seems to think that it is no picnic going through life as a woman, and you’d be better off as men if you love the privileges (what might these be?). You can understand the dismay of the trans-women. They have gone to get lengths to achieve the appearance of what they always believed themselves to be in their minds, only to be told by some uppity novelist, who does not look like she has lacked privileges any time, that sorry, you are not a real woman because you lived as a man. It’s a bit like telling Nigel Farage that after all he is not going to be the British ambassador to the USA, when in his mind (and in the mind of, or, what passes for the mind of Donald Trump), he is the most suitable chap for the job, and, moreover, has gone to great lengths to improve the relationship between the UK and the USA now that we shall crash out of the Euro. Life is a bitch (or a trans-bitch).

I have not personally known any trans-gender individuals. Years ago I vaguely knew a woman who was married to an IT specialist. I had met her husband in a social do. He was a pot-bellied man with an Arafat-style beard and thick glasses. He had a square face, rubbery lips, and kept one hand in the pocket of his trousers, twiddling, I hoped, loose change. He looked rather dull and did not speak much. The woman, on the other hand, was physically attractive, if slightly on the bigger side (nothing wrong with being a full breasted woman who likes chocolate gateaux) and had an air about her, the way she looked at you, which suggested that she had just finished a marathon sex session. She also had opinions on most matters which she did not hesitate to express. I had also heard that a few years earlier the woman had had an affair with one of our colleagues in the company. In the course of the evening the main topic of the woman’s conversation was how she was going to have children, and how a year-long maternity leave (even on full pay) was not enough. The husband sat listening unenthusiastically to all this. I asked the woman how long the two had been married for. They had been married for almost ten years. I asked her whether they had now decided to have children. This turned out to be a mistake. The woman became tearful, and I was subjected to a tedious account of the unsuccessful efforts the couple had had over the years to have children. I wanted to tell her, “Look woman, I am just trying to make small talk, seeing as you have been rabbiting on about maternity leave for the past half an hour.” But I didn’t, because that would have been rude. “We even had David’s sperm count done,” the woman announced at a volume that could have been heard in the next restaurant. We all waited to hear what she was going to say. “He is OK,” the woman revealed after a dramatic pause. My only thought was that the talk of maternity leave was a bit premature seeing as the woman had trouble conceiving. The couple, I learned later (by this time the woman had left the company), did not have children. In fact the marriage broke down, after the woman found the husband dressed in women’s underclothes late one night in the garden shade. (Poor woman. She thought that all the lingerie he bought was for her). The man with the beard is now a woman (probably as photogenic as psoriasis). He provides support to trans-gender individuals, and is also writing a novel (what a surprise!).  

I wonder what the square faced man with rubbery lips would have made of Adichie’s comments about the male privileges. To me, Adichie’s comments do not ring true. If she were to say that she did not consider a trans-woman a woman because, let’s face it, no amount of cosmetic surgery is going to change your chromosomal make-up; you may shave off your chest hair and have false breasts hoisted on your chest, and pay (or, if you are in the UK, get the tax-payers to pay) to create a vagina that is literally and figuratively going nowhere, you will never have other female internal organs such as the uterus and ovaries, you are never going to menstruate, you will never have children, and, most importantly, you are never going to be as good as the real women at being upset, that would have been accurate. I should hazard a guess (and it will be a guess) that most men would not be interested in a facsimile when they can get the real version, if you get my drift. Would you go on a vacation to Slough when you can go to London? (Even the tourist office in Slough probably advises the tourists that they should get the f**k out of Slough on the first available train, and go to London).

That’s what Germaine Greer—bless her!—the old battle-axe did a couple of years ago. Greer said: “Just because you lop off your d**k and then wear a dress doesn't make you a ******* woman. I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that won’t turn me into a ******* cocker spaniel. . . I do understand that some people are born intersex and they deserve support in coming to terms with their gender but it’s not the same thing. A man who gets his d**k chopped off is actually inflicting an extraordinary act of violence on himself.”

There was a predictable furore over Greer’s comments, and I think some lecture of hers arranged at Cardiff University was cancelled, because some student body with the collective maturity of minus 250, and outraged members of Idiots’ Anonymous were threatening to throw tomatoes at her.

Greer does have a point, it could be argued, which she expressed in her customary forthright manner (she is Australian, so she hasn’t got the British talent, despite living in Britain for decades, of saying unpalatable truth without sounding offensive).

If you ask me, the issue is the sense of entitlement. Not happy that you are going bald? Have a hair-transplant. Unhappy that your tits are too small? Insert breast implants. Ashamed of your chipolata, and want a big fat sausage?  Go under the surgeon’s knife. Not prepared to age gracefully? Have a botox. Not happy that you are a man (or a woman), and would rather be a woman (or a man)? No worries; the medical science will make it possible for you. Except that it won’t. You can inject oneself with a bathful of hormones and chop off as many body parts as you want, the reality of your chromosomes will not change. Psychiatrists and psychologists may disagree. They will lecture you on the intolerable inner turmoil these individuals face because of their conviction that they are born in the wrong body, and the only way to bring some sort of inner peace is for them to be allowed to have series of medical and surgical procedures so that they can go through rest of their lives as parodies of sex they can never genuinely be. OK, being eaten up by misery usually does not improve things, but, surely, there must be other ways to deal with this self-pity (preferably those which do not put extra burden on the cash-strapped NHS). You cpuld try Stoicism, or Mindfulness . . . whatever. Somehow train your mind to accept that you can’t get everything in life you want. You were born a man (or a woman). Deal with it. If you are not able to crow that is probably because you are not a rooster. You are a hen. Learn to live with it.

There are some barriers between men and women which simply can’t be breached: men can go to great lengths to look and live like women, they can’t be women. Women, similarly, can never be men. That is the biological reality.



Saturday, 25 March 2017

Book of the Month: NW (Zadie Smith)




British writer Zadie Smith’s fourth novel, NW (for North West London in which the novel is set) is the state of London novel.

The novel, set broadly in three sections (there are five parts), tells the story of the lives of the three main protagonists of the novel: Leah Hanwell, Felix, and Keisha (or Natalie). A peripheral character, Nathan makes intermittent appearances.

In the first section we meet Leah Hanwell, a thirty something woman of Irish descent. As the novel opens Leah is fleeced by a drug-addict, whom Leah has known over the years. The drug-addled woman, who goes by the name of Shar, enters Leah’s flat one afternoon and manages to relieve Leah of thirty pounds by telling her the faintly possible (but mostly improbable) story of her child having been taken to a hospital (she can’t tell Leah the name of the hospital, which, you would have thought, should have made most people a tiny bit suspicious). Afterwards Leah is suitably berated by her French-African husband (Michel) and her mother for her gullibility. Shar, as it happens, went to the same state school Leah went to and lives in the nearby poor estate where Leah grew up. However, when Leah (and on one occasion, Michel) unwisely try to confront her, Shar’s companion gives them the message to leave Shar alone. Leah has a school friend Keisha who lives in a nearby, very posh area with her successful husband. Keisha is of Caribbean descent. Her family lived next door to Leah’s, and the two girls have been close friends since their school days. Keisha has left her council house life behind her and has become a successful barrister. She has also changed her name to Natalie. Natalie Blake lives with her husband, Francesco—the product of a brief liaison between a rich Italian countess and a Caribbean train driver—works in the city. Leah herself has a university degree in History but works in a council-run office for black teenagers. Leah and Michel have managed to move out of Caldwell, the run-down council estate in Willesden, of her childhood, and move into a nearby and marginally better (but still working class) area. Michel, in his quest to become rich, has taken to online investing. Leah and Michel meet regularly with Natalie and Frank, and are frequently invited to their dinner parties. Such invitations are a source of great pride for Michel (who runs a hairdressing saloon) although Leah suspects that her childhood friend is bored by the association and continues to invite them to the parties only out of an old sense of loyalty even though these meetings are beginning to irritate her. As the first section ends Lea and Michel are meeting with Natalie and Frank at the house of one of Frank’s rich friends to watch the Notting Hill carnival from a vantage point and safe distance. It is while they are at the friend’s house that they hear on the television that there has been a stabbing in their area, of a man called Felix.

In the brief second part / section of the novel we meet the murdered Felix, in the days leading to his pointless and senseless murder. Felix, a young black man, is a recovering drug addict (I think that is the phrase). He used to deal in and supply drugs, too. But Felix has turned the corner. He no longer takes drugs, he has got a steady job in a garage, and he is in a relationship with a woman with whom he hopes to settle down. He has taken to visiting his Rastafarian father, Lloyd, perpetually high on the cannabis airplane (and in urgent need of a shower).  Indeed so suffused is Felix with the zeal to inform other drug addicts, including his former customers, about his path to recovery that on the day of his murder he visits an aristocratic white woman, now a junkie, with whom he has slept in the past. Felix informs the junkie that he has moved to the next level; he would no longer be sampling her wares, as he has a girl-friend of his own who is prepared to sleep with him and without demanding drugs in return. The next level Felix is talking about turns out regrettably to be the next world as he is knifed in the streets of Caldwell who have taken offence to his suggestion to them in a packed London underground train that one of them should consider taking his feet off the opposite seat so that a pregnant white woman could sit there.

The rest of the sections of the novel tell the story of Natalie Blake, Leah Hanwell’s friend, the reader. The third part, which is the longest, traces Natalie’s life from her impoverished working class childhood in the 1980s to her present day opulence. (It is never really explained why she changes her name from Keisha to Natalie). Along the way the reader meets a host of secondary characters such as Rodney—Natalie’s first lover and a failed lawyer—and Frank whom she ends up marrying and having two kids with, and whom, as the years go by, she falls out of love with. Natalie takes to moonlighting as a prostitute, indulging in gleesome threesomes with folks who have a thing for what is acronymically described on the website on which Natalie has opened an account as BF.  It is inevitable that Frank will stumble on to what Natalie is getting up to (or down to depending on what her customers wish). This leads to a confrontation of sorts between Natalie and Frank with Natalie (briefly) walking out on her family. In the brief fourth part Natalie runs into Nathan, a bright boy from their school who has now become a homeless junkie. In the company of Nathan Natalie takes a detour of the area, from Willesden across Hampstead Heath to Hornsey lane. In the (even briefer) final part of the novel Natalie has returned to the loveless marriage and is impervious to her husband’s suggestion that she should find another place for herself. She then visits her childhood friend Leah where she remembers an incident from her (you hope) brief career as a prostitute which she is convinced will throw light on the unfortunate murder of the unfortunate Felix.

NW, Smith’s fourth novel, was published after a gap of almost six years after the 2006 Orange Prize winner On Beauty. It has flashes of brilliance but ultimately fails to enthuse. The plot, such as it is, is vapour thin. The novel is more like a hotchpotch of novellas which are loosely linked, as the same characters appear in them. You might say that the same underlying theme binds the different sections of the novel: the life in the twenty-first century London. 

There is no settled feel to the narrative style. The first section is narrated in a James Joyce-stream-of-consciousness style. While there may be fans of this style I am not one of them. Stream-of-consciousness is not my—what’s the term stronger than ‘not my cup of tea’? In keeping with the Joycean influence Smith has done away with speech marks in this section, replacing them with dashes to indicate spoken speech. (She is not the first modern author to do this. Nadine Gordimer prefers this style, first used by Joyce, apparently, in all of her novels.) At times, the use of dashes makes things more confusing than they are already, as the characters change contexts mid-sentences. And since what they are saying is most of the time utterly banal, it is difficult to see what purpose it has other than testing the reader’s patience. Mercifully Smith jettisons the stream-of-consciousness style and returns to the more traditional territory (with punctuation marks) in the second part (involving Felix), which—peppered with astute observations of London life—is the most engaging part of the novel; also the funniest, until the reader is stunned into silence by Felix’s sudden and tragic death. The third, and the longest, part of the novel which tells the story of Natalie Blake is uneven. It consists of 185 chapters, many of which a paragraph long, sometimes comprising only a single sentence. Perhaps Smith is trying to give an idea of Natalie Blake’s life in a series of snapshots. You might not find it to your taste as you are jerked from one chapter to the next; reading this section is a bit like riding in a car on a road full of potholes. The chapters have got titles, some of which, if you have the interest and the aptitude (I don’t) to decipher their links to cultural phenomena, you might find interesting. The narrative style is detached—the protagonist is frequently referred to as Natalie Blake or Ms Blake. Keisha Blake changes her name to Natalie, probably to distance herself from her working class black Kilburn background; but she finds herself returning, time and again, to her parents’ flat rather like a murderer returning to the scene of crime. Natalie also has a secret life; that of a prostitute. Smith leaves it to the reader to figure out why this highly successful barrister, married to a rich socialite, feels the need to visit strangers in their apartments and have torrid sex, and walk the streets wearing skimpy skirts under which, as Felix observes, minutes before his death, the muscles of her buttocks ripple. You struggle to make any sense of it; it is unconvincing to say the least. In the final part of the novel it is linked to the murder of Felix in a very contrived manner.

Zadie Smith once wrote (while responding to James Wood’s criticism of White Teeth, Smith’s debut, and most famous, novel) that writers do not write what they want; they write what they can.

Zadie Smith (real name Sadie Smith) is generally recognized to be a prodigious talent, ever since she burst on the British literary scene in 2000 with White Teeth, her brilliant (if flawed) debut novel.  She has been selected twice in the Granta list of the best young British writers in 2003 and 2013.  I have read all of Smith’s subsequent novels up to NW, of which I liked The Autograph Man, perhaps her least successful novel, the most. On Beuty, which fetched Smith the prestigious Orange Prize is beautifully written, but is so heavily inspired by E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End (without any official acknowledgement, if I remember correctly), you could almost call it derivative. NW, Smith’s fourth is, for me the most disappointing; but she remains one of my favourite writers.



Monday, 27 February 2017

Book of the Month: Lights Out in Wonderland (DBC Pierre)




DBC (Dirty But Clean) Pierre (real name Peter Finley) won several literary awards with his debut novel, Vernon God Little, The Booker Prize being one of them. He also won the Whitbread (as it was called then) First Novel award. The novel had attracted mixed reviews, if I recall correctly. I don’t remember much of the novel, which read once it became available in paperback other than that it took me a while to get into it, but, once I did, I enjoyed it thoroughly; I thought the novel was very funny.

What I also recall about Vernon God Little is was an easy enough novel to read. Which, Pierre’s third novel, Lights Out in Wonderland, isn’t.

The protagonist of Lights Out in Wonderland is twenty-five-year old Gabriel Brockwell, the only child of middle-class, divorced, British parents. His father, before he took to Capitalism ‘like a paedophile’,  had travelled to Germany after the collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), and, in the company of an East German, had run a club called Pego in the former East Berlin. When the novel opens we meet Gabriel in a private rehab, where he is admitted with his father’s money, determined to take his discharge so that he can commit suicide. Why does Gabriel want to kill himself? Gabriel wants to kill himself because he is disillusioned. Gabriel is anti-Capitalist, and is heavily involved in anti-Capitalist activism in the company of others who purport to loathe Capitalism with the same fervour as he. Except that they don’t, really, and are treating this enterprise as a way to earn money; which, to Gabriel’s horror, it does. So Gabriel is going to kill himself; but not just yet. He wants to have one last hurrah, the mother of all bacchanals (a word that gets repeated in the novel several times), before he removes himself from the human pool. He then flies to Japan, having siphoned off money from the account of his anti-capitalist organization—much to the disgust of his colleagues, all of whom, as we have seen, Gabriel regards as fraud, for they have accumulated money for the anti-Capitalist organization, using capitalist methods. Why Japan? Because Japan is where Gabriel’s childhood friend, a South African called Nelson Smuts, who has become a genius chef, a hybrid of Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal, works as a chef in the kind of restaurant where the likes of me would have to take out a second mortgage for an evening’s meal. Smuts, if it is possible, is even wackier than Gabriel. The hoity-toity Japanese restaurant Smuts works in specialises in barely legal (probably illegal) haute cuisine such as poisonous offal and ovaries of blowfish which, if you miscalculate the proportions (as Smuts does), and serve the wrong organ, can kill the diners instead of imparting delicious tingling to their lips. When the two rabble-rousers meet they waste little time in getting wasted on industrial quantities of cocaine and alcohol. The inevitable happens. Smuts serves the wrong fish or the wrong organ of the fish to one of the customers—a gangster, no less—who dies. This lands Smuts in prison facing charges of first degree murder, and Gabriel on his way to Berlin where he once lived as a child, in search of his father’s former business partner when the two of them ran Pego. Gabriel has been led to believe by his father that he did not cash in his part of the business when he returned to England from Berlin, and, technically, the German partner, Gerd, owes him money. Gabriel believes that through his contact with the partner, he would be able to host another bacchanal for the mysterious Frenchman Didier Le Basque, who specialises in arranging decadent parties for the uber-rich (read bankers and financiers) of such uber-decadence the likes of which are beyond the imaginations of you and me who think eating in Michele Rouex Junior is the height of sophistication. (How would arranging a decadent party at his father’s former club save Smuts? Don’t ask me. We are invited to consider that Le Basque is the provider of the illegal fish to the Japanese restaurant and, since the man has acquired outlandish wealth by arranging outlandish bacchanals with outlandish gastronomic themes for outlandishly rich clients at outlandish venues, he would be loath to part with the services of the outlandishly talented Nelson Smuts.)  

In the Berlin section, the novel becomes less surreal than—though as absurd as—the Tokyo section. Gabriel manages to locate Gerd in the about-to-be-closed Tempelhof airport. It turns out that Gerd owes Gabriel’s father nothing; it was, in fact, Gabriel’s father who fleeced Gerd off money and then legged it to England. Gabriel, despite hiccoughs (such as the disastrous night out with a German aristocrat—Le Basque’s middle man in German—, a couple of whores, and a basinful of illicit drugs), is, nevertheless, able to arrange the greatest bacchanal ‘since the fall of Rome’ with Le Basque’s money and contacts, which includes delicacies (the novel gives recipes, so the interested readers, if they have the means, could try them out) such as ‘caramelised milk-fed tiger cub’, ‘confit of Koala leg with lemon saffron chutney’, or ‘golden lion tamarin brain with blue cheese ravioli’; and the piece de resisatnce, ‘olive ridley turtle necks in parmesan and brioche crumbs’, the turtles, whose necks go into the delicious, mouth-watering recipe, being more than hundred year old protected species from Madagascar, from where Le Basque has smuggled them.

Lights Out in Wonderland, if it is a proof of anything, is the proof of how outrageously imaginative DBC Pierre is. The blurb on the hardback edition I read described the novel as ‘a sly commentary on these End Times and the entropic march towards insensate banality’. That’s about right, I think, even though I do not fully understand what it means. As you read the novel you can’t make up your mind whether the prose reflects the entropic banality (the words ‘nimbus’, ‘limbo’ and bacchanal’ appear on every other page) or is brilliant. I voted, in the end in favour of brilliance. The sentence structures are unusual, the choice of words interesting—all of which go on to give a kind of surreal feel to the narrative, which, I think, was the author’s intention. At times Pierre overdoes it (there is a section of the novel where the word nimbus appears in every second line), but, on the whole, it works. Just about.


Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Donald




The Donald has had hectic few weeks since he entered the White House. (His Slovenian wife will join him in the White House in summer). The Donald has been busy and he has kept everyone busy.

Let me see. The Donald has quit the Trans-Pacific partnership (Ok, in reality it was mostly a symbolic gesture, as the Republicans were blocking it even before The Donald launched his assault on the White House). He is demanding a radical renegotiation of the North Atlantic Fair Trade Treaty (NAFTA), and, if his demands and authority are not respected, will pull out of that treaty, too, faster than a sailor out of prostitute. He is trying to impose a travel-ban on seven countries (not exactly beacons of democracy, it has to be said), the citizens of which, he is insisting, are waiting to enter America, explosives tied to their genitals, with the sole aim of wreaking havoc. The Donald was not pleased when a ‘so called judge’ had the temerity to put a halt to The Donald’s attempts to make America safe.

What else? Oh the wall. Let’s not forget The Wall. The Donald was not speaking metaphorically when he promised to build the wall between America and Mexico during his election campaign. He was as concrete as the wall he is going to build. Rather the Mexicans are going to build. The Mexicans are certainly going to pay for it. They think they won’t, but The Donald knows better. He will make the Mexicans pay for the wall. (He will probably also need Mexican labourers to build it.)

The Donald may or may not start trade-wars against an indeterminate number of countries (which may or may not include China). He has successfully bullied a handful of organisations from taking jobs out of America. Jolly good.

The Donald slammed the phone down (allegedly) on the Australian Prime-minister (not before shouting at the Aussie, allegedly) during a courtesy call, when the Australian Prime-minister had the temerity to suggest that The Donald honour an agreement about taking into America Muslim refugees (whom no one wants, least of all their home countries, it would appear) agreed by The Donald’s predecessor, Obama Barak. I should hazard a guess that interpersonal sensitivity is not a signature trait of The Donald.

I have a feeling that I am forgetting something. I know: global warming and climate change. The Donald, I can inform you, does not believe in man-made global warming; nor is he worried about climate change. That is not quite correct. The Donald is concerned about climate change only to the extent that it might make the American businesses uncompetitive. What has climate change got to do with the competitiveness of American business? The Donald can explain. Climate change, The Donald twitted back in 2012, is a conspiracy created by and for the Chinese to make American businesses weak and uncompetitive.

As regards global warming, The Donald says, “Relax!” There is no global warming. It is going to start cooling down any time now. In the 1920s (The Donald educated in an interview in 2015) people were talking about global cooling; they were worried that earth was going to cool down. Now some ninnies are beating their breasts about global warming. You can’t take any of this seriously. Life is too short to worry about this. We are all going to perish anyway, when the sun dies. What is a few millennia here and there?

As for the Europeans, if they thought that they could fool The Donald into supporting their free-loading life-style by namby-pamby notions of defending democracy, free world etcetera, just forget it. Europeans must learn to look after themselves. The Donald is going to make them cough up more money for NATO, if they want Americans’ cooperation. They can no longer expect America to bank-roll their security, that’s not gonna happen. There is an internal logic in The Donald’s thinking (he does that sometimes, the thinking). He thinks NATO is obsolete. He does not think that Russia poses great threat either to America or to the world peace. Putin, The Donald has declared, is a smart guy. So why pour money into NATO? You might as well flush it down the toilet. The shitty Baltic countries can look after themselves. If they can’t, well, that is just too bad. There are bigger enemies The Donald wants to dispose off first. Such as the Jihadists. The Donald is convinced that the Islamists pose the greatest threat to America. And he might need help of the Ex-KGB psychopath in getting rid of them. Together The Donald and Putin are going to smash the Allah brigade. The Europeans had better wake up to this reality, and adjust. If they want to carry on with their silly feuds with Putin, well, don’t expect The Donald to side with them just because all the previous American presidents did. Have they not yet got into their brains? The Donald is anti-establishment. Before he smashes up the camel-jockeys he is going to smash the American establishment and its liberal mentality, which brought nothing but strife to the rednecks. (On the plus side it also brought The Donald to the White House).

It has to be accepted that The Donald has brought with him (at least for the time being) a degree of optimism; and not only amongst the hill-billies, but amongst the American businesses as well. This confidence is reflected in the impressive 6% rise in the S & P 500 index since The Donald stormed into the White House. No doubt the hope is that there would be tax reforms (read: cutting of corporate taxes). The companies would bring home profits stolen in the past few years by the Asian economies because Obama et al did not have the balls to tell these thieves where to get off. Once that happens what is to stop a domestic spending boom? The Donald has already promised investment in the infrastructure. The wages which have been stagnant for years will at last increase.

That is the hope. Let’s see how The Donald executes this. The world will know about it on the twitter before probably the Federal Reserve does.

Where does all this leave Great Britain, heading inexorably towards what Theresa is now calling a ‘clean’ Brexit? The British have decided to leave the Single European Market; and they will have to leave the customs union so that they can negotiate individual treaties with individual nations. (With Dr Liam Fox, the trade secretary, in charge what could possibly go wrong?) We shall see. The Brexiters doled out copious (and inherently contradictory) promises (as opposed to the abundant threats issued by the Remain camp), and now it is May’s job to execute the will of the British public. Call it a wide guess, but I don’t think that the majority of those who voted for Brexit for myriad reasons (including but not limited to their hatred for the foreigners) would accept becoming poorer as a result of their stupid decision. And if they do, May will pay for it. (Except she won’t, as we have a useless crumpled suit as the opposition leader, who has made the Labour unelectable till 2030. He told Jon Snow of Channel 4 in an interview that, of course, he wants to be the prime minister, with all the enthusiasm of a man ordered to approach a poisonous rattle-snake.) On the evidence so far, May will find cards overwhelmingly stacked against her when the negotiations begin. Many in Britain, both who voted for Remain and Brexit, alike, appear to labour under the belief that the UK will be in the driving seat while negotiating Brexit, which, I think, is a bit like hoping that goat sent into the Lion’s cage will have negotiating powers. And I am not sure that issuing crude threats to the EU leaders, as she did in her speech in January 2017, when she at last made her vision for Brexit clear (immigration control and controlling the border were more important than staying in the single market), is likely to yield the desired results.

However, May and her colleagues can take heart from the knowledge that The Donald approves wholeheartedly of Brexit. He predicted it, remember? He can’t wait to sign off a trade-deal with Great Britain, which, the great protectionist The Donald is, would be entirely fair, rest assured. There would be no winners, and the trade agreements would be mutually beneficial to both the countries. I listened to BBC Radio 4, the other day, to the nasal twang of an American dude from the farming industry, a big-shot, apparently, somewhere in the South, assuring Sarah Montague (who refused to be assured) that there was absolutely no problem in eating chickens that had basinful of hormones injected into their asses—he grew up eating the hypertrophied thighs and breasts of these animals, and he turned out all right, didn’t he?—or chomping on pig’s scrotum (or some such body part) bathed in chlorinated water. The American was followed by a British farmer, who, true to form, displayed an impressive talent for moaning. He fretted that the Americans would have undue advantage over the British farmer if the British farmers were not also allowed use hormones in doses high enough to give the chickens tumours. Did he have any evidence to support this? Of course not; he was just concerned. In anticipation. As I listened to the moan-fest, I wondered about the possible difficulties the British farmers were going to face if they were expected to compete with the American farmers for the domestic market, being forced to use the same methods as those of the American farmers (not that the British bloke had any qualms about it) and having to export meat to the EU, with its regulations longer than the treaty of Versailles. (This, of course, assuming the Americans are allowed to export the tortured carcasses of farmyard animals to the UK.)

May was the first world leader to visit after The Donald was ensconced in the White House. She crossed the Atlantic, more needy than a smack-head desperate for a fix, for rendezvous with The Donald.  She tried not to retch as The Donald grabbed her hand (he was going to grab something; we are releived that it was only the hand). The UK was never more in need to be reassured of the special relationship than now. The Donald was as reassuring as his nature would permit. Trade deals? No problem. We will wrap it up in no time. Just as he had promised a hotelier in Scotland that he would lift the ban on Haggis (“Consider it done!”) It is not clear how far up The Donald’s list of priorities Britain is, though, considering less than one sixth of America’s import come from Britain. Britain exports far more to the EU than to America at present. So, when we crash out of the EU we had better hope that The Donald’s attention span will be long enough to remind him that the tiny island has a special relationship with America.

Deciphering The Donald is not easy. Like that intellectual giant, the last Republican president, George W Bush, The Donald deals in absolutes. There are good guys and bad guys. And The Donald is with the angels on every issue. And he is here to stay. At least for the next four years, unless he loses interest and jacks it in (no, he will not be impeached; don’t raise your hopes). As Cassius Clay once said, he ain’t half as dumb as he looks.



Monday, 30 January 2017

Book of the Month: Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie




Ifemelu, the feisty protagonist of Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s third novel, has views on most things, and, not having been blessed with much in the way of frontal control, Ifemelu does not shy away from airing her views, which, more often than not, amount to acerbic animadversion: be they her dismissal of V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River, which, apparently, is all about the battered self-image of an Indian man, fatally wounded about not being born a European, or the racism—in particular those of the liberals—in America.

There are lots of characters in Americanah, but at its centre are Ifemelu and Obinze. Ifemelu and Obinze are childhood sweethearts, both belonging to the educated Nigerian middle-class, Obinze, being the child of a university professor, perhaps a few rungs higher than Ifemelu. Obinze and Ifemelu both want to migrate to America. Why? They are not starving or fleeing war or starvation, as Ifemelu admits at one point. They both are “raised well”. Yet they want to immigrate because they are fleeing “the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness” in Nigeria. Such examples as are given of the lack of choice available to the young and educated protagonists include recurrent strikes in Nigeria and the obligatory corruption scandals (both of which are, of course, unheard of in Europe or America). So Ifemelu and Obinze wish to escape Nigeria and find a haven of satisfaction and fulfilment in America, except that Ifemelu ends up, as planned, in America, while Obinze travels to England. Neither finds the conditions in the countries to which they have immigrated quite up to their satisfaction. Indeed, as their story unfolds—Ifemelu spends many years doing menial jobs as a nanny and au pair; Obinze is a manual labourer. Both do illegal things to make ends meet, Obinze even attempting a sham marriage after his valid visa expires in order to extend his stay in the United Kingdom—you wonder whether the “lethargy of choicelessness” in Nigeria would have been all that worse than the shadowy, humiliating, soul-destroying lives they lead in America and England. Obinze, who is less irritating of the two main protagonists—probably because he does not hold clichéd views about the country to which he has chosen to spend his life in—is caught at the registry office just when he is about to declare his marriage to a woman of Angolan-Portuguese descent, and is deported back to Nigeria. Obinze accepts his fate without protestation. He does not fight the deportation citing human rights abuse; and, upon his return to Nigeria, does that which he could have done without travelling to the United Kingdom to do back-breaking work in a warehouse: he becomes the middle-man of a local big man—a property developer more dodgy than the donor kebab in your local Turkish Takeaway—and becomes filthy rich. He marries a good Nigerian woman who has child-bearing thighs, who goes to the local Church, and responds to Obinze’s every wish as a dictate from the Holy Trinity. What more can a man want? In Obinze’s case, he wants Ifemelu, who, after she went to America, inexplicably (to Obinze) dropped him. Ifemelu, in America, has done somewhat better than Obinze (she does not get deported, for a start): she lands a job with a liberal white family as an au pair (and repays the awkward kindness shown her by her employer by nursing a smouldering resentment); then hooks up with a stinking rich nephew of the mother of the children she is looking after. When the nephew ditches her (because she is unfaithful) Ifemelu gets together with an African-American academic faster than a stripper in Devil’s Advocate gets out of her outfit. All of this leaves Ifemelu with plenty of time and energy to run a blog about race (“Raceteenth or Various Observations about American Blacks”), which is a perfect outlet to give vent to the negative energy—a radioactive fusion of feud and resentment, fostered by Ifemelu’s talent for ferreting out insults and snubs by the whites, when probably none is intended—which Ifemelu possesses in abundance. In this blog—which becomes more popular than that of the woman who wrote Eat Praay and LoveIfemelu writes on topics such as Barak Obama (yawn), her relationship with her white boyfriend (yawn, yawn), the difference between African-American and American-African (honestly, do the majority of the African-Americans or American-Africans care?), and hair of the Africans (rather a lot on this topic: that the majority of African-American (or American-African, for that matter) women do not allow the hair to grow into a natural afro and endure unspeakable miseries and hardship to make them soft and straight, is down to the racism of white folk—don’t ask me how; I didn’t get it either). In the blog, Ifemelu makes profound observations such as she did not realise that she was black in her native Nigeria, and how she fit the description only after she arrived in America (probably because, unlike America, Nigeria is not a multi-racial, multi-cultural society—surely, this would not have escaped Ifemelu’s notice). Finally, Ifemelu, too, returns to Nigeria, where—guess what?—she decides, eventually, to start another blog (an idea that evidently did not occur to her before she went to America and lived illegally). She reignites her relationship with Obinze, who, unsurprisingly and notwithstanding his wife’s child-bearing thighs (perhaps because of them), is still holding out a candle for Ifemelu. As this sprawling novel comes to an end, the reader is reasonably certain that Ifemelu has wrecked Obinze’s marriage.

Ifemelu exists on the most captivating edge of cynicism when it comes to race, although you get the impression that she can’t be truly sardonic: despite her outward scornful and mocking disposition, Ifemelu does seem to be in touch with her emotions, and her various actions throughout the novel suggest that she is also a hard-nosed realist. In other words, in Ifemelu, Adichie has valiantly tried to create a character that is complicated: witty, mordant, intelligent, outspoken, but also with its vulnerable side, all of which ought to make Ifemelu the kind of girl-friend every red-blooded man with higher than average IQ would wish for, the kind of girl-friend who would fulfil all your dirty desires in bed, and, afterwards, hold an intellectually invigorating discussion with you on the race-relations in America, making provocative statements, if you happen to have an interest in the matter.

Americanaha attempts simultaneously to be a love story as well as a commentary on the race relations in America from the eyes of an immigrant (hence the distinction between African-American and American-African), but manages, regrettably, to do neither convincingly. The key event in the novel that makes Ifemelu sever contact with Obinze is unconvincing, not least in light of the trajectory of Ifemelu’s life after this supposedly seminal event. As for the various observations focusing on the attitudes of whites, their hypocrisies and unconscious prejudices, towards blacks, these are, no doubt, intended to be incisive, pithy, trenchant etcetera. To be fair to Adichie, they are all of these at times; however, for the most part they seem just shallow, banal and petulant. It is impossible to draw generalized conclusions based on these observations, which rarely rise above the cliché. Ifemelu, you get the impression, is, forever, like the first year university student who is trying oh-so-hard to be interesting, cool, and different from the rest. She is mildly amusing in the beginning; afterwards she grates on your nerves.

The strength of the novel is Adichie’s prose, which flows smoothly and, and times, manages to be sharp and observant. That, however, is not good enough, I am afraid, to shift the novel out of the second lane. This is not a novel that is generous in its tone. It lacks poignancy. It also lacks drama. It is not a novel that makes you think, something which Sir Vidiya’s novel did with great success.
































































Monday, 2 January 2017

Books read in 2016


Below is a list of the books I read in 2016.

Fiction

  1. Dogs of Littlefield (Suzanne Berne)
  2. Worst. Person. Ever. (Douglas Coupland)
  3. Skylight (Jose Saramago)
  4. Money (re-read) (Martin Amis)
  5. Life After Life (Kate Atkinson)
  6. Leave Me Alone (Murong)
  7. The Spy who Came in from the Cold (Re-read) (John le Carre)
  8. The Graveyard (Marek Hlasko)                              
  9. Eternal Philistine (Odon Von Horvath)
  10. La Place De L’etoile (Patrick Modiano)   
  11. Zone of Interest (Martin Amis)
  12. The Cellist of Sarajevo (Stephen Galloway)
  13. The Betrayers (David Bezmozgis)
  14. Elizabeth is Missing (Emma Healey)
  15. Enchantress of Florence (Salman Rushdie)
  16. The Vegetarian (Han Kamg)
  17. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
  18. Strange Weather in Tokyo (Hiromi Kawakami)  
  19. The Sympathizer (Viet Thanah Nguyen)
  20. Les Enfants Terribles (Jean Cocteau)
  21. Darkness and Day (Ivy Compton-Burnett)
  22. Go Set the Watchman (Harper Lee)
  23. The Mission Song (John Le Cerre)
  24. Noise of Time (Julian Barnes)
  25. Expo 58 (Jonathan Coe)
  26. Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout)
  27. The President’s Hat (Antoine Lauren)
  28. The Trial (Franz Kafka)

 Non-Fiction

  1. Moranthology (Kaitlin Moran)
  2. Impossible Exile (George Prochnik)
  3. Stringer (Anjan Sundaram)
  4. Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson)
  5. Chernobyl Prayers (Svetlana Alexievich)
  6. A Moveable Feast (Ernest Hemingway)
  7. Unchosen (Julie Burchill)
  8. It’s All News to Me (Jeremy Vine)
  9. As I Was Saying (Jeremy Clarkson)

I ended 2016 by finishing Franz Kafka’s The Trial. The novel was chosen by my book-group, and we were going to discuss it in December, over the Christmas meal; however, one of the members sent an e-mail informing that he was getting very depressed by the book, and could we please, please not discuss it over the festive meal? He suggested that instead of The Trial, we should discuss a book we had enjoyed reading. (To this another member replied, what if “we have hugely enjoyed The Trial?”) In the end, taking cognisance of the delicate emotional health of the depressed group- member, it was decided that any book other that The Trial which the group-members might have read and (on the outside chance) enjoyed should be discussed over the Christmas meal.

The Christmas meal of the book-group took place in a vegetarian Indian restaurant, highly recommended by the aforementioned depressed group-member (depression possibly triggered by a century old German novel written by a tubercular writer, who thought the novel was so poor that he left instructions that it should not be published, which begs the question why he did not destroy the manuscript himself). The service was poor, food awful, and the waiter (who may well have been the owner) oleaginous (he enlightened us on the seventeen-thousand ingredients that went into the making of the dish, the complicated and nerve-racking process of preparing the dish, the region in India it originated from etc., as if that would compensate for the poor quality of the food). The resident expert on Indian food in our book-group, by dint of being ethnically Indian, was asked for his views on the food. He said (with distinct lack of enthusiasm) that it was ‘alright’. I thought he was lying. Another member decided that this was exactly the right time to subject us to a detailed feedback on the colonoscopy he had undergone last month, and forthcoming cystoscopy (he talked nonchalantly and made several droll comments, all aimed at conveying that the whole thing was actually very serious and he was coping with great fortitude). It was just as well that The Trial was not discussed.

I started reading The Trial over the Christmas period, and finished it just before midnight on 31 December. Written in 1914, The Trial could be interpreted as a heavy and macabre satire of the bureaucracy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (though I doubt it; it was not a Stasi-style dictatorship), or a commentary on insidious and destructive (yet very bureaucratic) totalitarian regimes. I particularly enjoyed the penultimate chapter—the meeting between Joseph K. and the prison chaplain in the unnamed city’s cathedral, when the chaplain tells Joseph K. a parable to explain his situation (it doesn’t).

I didn’t read many books in 2016—thirty-seven in total, which must be the lowest number in many years. The year started well, and, by the end of summer, I had read more than twenty-five books. It almost ground to a halt in the second half of 2016, and I managed to read no more than half a dozen books in the last six months of 2016. I did not quite get round to finishing a few of the books in the list. A Moveable Feast, Les Enfants Terrible, and Darkness and Day were three such books. I shall finish reading them in 2017; however, I have listed them here because I have read more than two-third of each of the books. I should like to say that this was because I was distracted by weightier matters such as Brexit and the election of the Donald to the presidency of the USA, but if I did that I’d be lying. For what it is worth, I found all of the three books heavy-going. I remember reading somewhere that the queen likes reading the novels of Ivy Compton Burnett. I should very much doubt whether Darkness and Day, first published in 1951, is one of them. Written almost entirely in dialogues, this should have been an easy and quick read for me; but it wasn’t, not least because of the labyrinthine sentence-structure. Almost everyone in the novel (including the domestics) speaks archly and obliquely, which made it difficult at times to figure out what was really hinted at. The dialogues were sometimes funny, occasionally confusing, and mostly tedious. Les Enfants Terribles is a surreal novel. I was expecting that, having watched the film The Dreamers a few years ago, which apparently was inspired by the novel (I haven’t seen the film Cocteau himself made, based on his novel). I was also expecting sexual tension, eroticism and emotional sado-masochism (again, having watched The Dreamers). What I was not expecting was how difficult and tedious I would find the novel to be. This, I concluded, was mostly because of the prose, reading which was like wading through treacle. I found this surprising because the novel is translated by none other than Rosamond Lehmann. I guess Les Enfants Terribles must be a very difficult novel to translate. On the whole I found Les Enfants Terribles distinctly underwhelming. I shall finish reading it this year, but I don’t think I shall change my views.

Below are some of the books I enjoyed reading in 2016.

The Noise of Time is Julian Barnes’s first novel after his Booker Prized winning A Sense of an Ending. It belongs to an increasingly popular genre: fictional biography. David Lodge has exploited this genre effectively in recent years. I don’t mind it, especially when the novel is written by my favourite author. I would rather read a fictional biography than a biography (which I find often dry). The Noise of Time tells the story of the genius Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich, who survived Stalin’s terror, and successive Soviet dictators. The Noise of Time, stylistically, is not dissimilar to Barnes’s earlier masterpiece The Flaubert’s Parrot. There are several vignettes and anecdotes which are narrated and re-narrated in Barnes’s deceptively laconic style. The end result is a gripping tale of how one of the musical geniuses of the twentieth century battled with his conscience to survive dictatorships.

I read two books of Martin Amis, who, like Julian Barnes, is a favourite author. One was Money, Amis’s old classic. I reread it because it was selected by the book-group, and found it as impressive as I did when I read it first. It of course captures the zeitgeist of the 1980s perfectly, but its themes transcend time. And I can never tire of Amis’s prose style.  The second Martin Amis novel I read is his most recent, The Zone of Interest. Zone of Interest is a Holocaust novel, Amis's second, after The Time’s Arrow (which was nominated for the Booker decades ago). Amis is in splendid form here. Written in three sections, The Zone of Interest, at its heart, is a grim satire, and throws into sharp relief the utter banality at the heart of evil. A superb novel.

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible was one of the best novels I read in 2016. I had been meaning to read this novel for a long time. I’d read a couple of novels of Kingsolver, earlier, and had liked them. I finally got round to read The Poisonwood Bible in the summer of 2016. It tells the story of the family of a Christian fanatical preacher, Nathan Price, who goes to what is now The Democratic Republic (DR) of Congo. The novel has multiple narrators: Nathan Price’s wife and four daughters. Kingsolver has a great writing style, and she uses it to great effect to deliver a devastating commentary on the tragic consequences of the rigid and obsessive adherence to any doctrine.

The Sympathizer, the debut novel of the Vietnamese-American author Viet Thanah Nguyen, was the surprise winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for literature. The novel can be considered to be in the tradition of John Lecarre novels: a literary thriller, a spy novel. It is also a confession—a confession by the unnamed narrator, for the benefit of a commissar. It is only towards the end that the context and location of the narration become clear to the reader. The Sympathizer may not be in the same lane as the best of John Lecarre novels; however, packed with different stories, it is an engaging read.

Another Pulitzer winning novel I read in 2016 was Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. Olive Kitteridge, promoted as a novel, is really a collection of several stories in small-town America, at the centre of some of which is the cantankerous eponymous heroin of the novel. Almost all of the stories are interesting, some riveting, even, although Olive Kitteridge is only a peripheral character in many of them. I liked Olive Kitteridge, all said than done, although I also do not think it is a novel; it is a collection of very well written short stories. 

Like Olive Kitteridge, Jose Saramago’s Skylight , also published as a novel, is a collection of short stories, though they cohere together better than Olive Kitteridge. Skylight was the first novel Saramago wrote when he was a young man, in the 1950s. He sent it to a publishing company, but heard nothing from the company—did not even receive the rejected manuscript. Saramago did not write another novel for several years. Fast forward several years, to the late 1980s. Saramago, who, by this time, had become a celebrated author in Portugal (though still some years away from winning the Nobel Prize for Literature) received a phone-call from the publishing company which had rejected the novels decades ago. During the shifting of the company's offices to another premise in Lisbon, the old (and only) manuscript of the novel was discovered. The publishing company, having made the belated discovery that the novel was in fact a masterpiece (that Saramago, by this time, had become a renowned and critically acclaimed author, I am sure, had nothing to do with it), sought Saramago's permission to publish the novel. Saramago denied the permission on in-my-view-rather-dubious-grounds that the novel was not worth publishing, as it was rejected the first time. After Saramago’s death, his widow and estate allowed the publication novel. Skylight, thus, saw the light of the day more than sixty years after it was first written. I am very glad that they did. I loved Skylight, which is very different in prose style (much less dense) (I am making this judgement based only on the translated novels of the great author) and subject matter, from the novels which Saramago went on to write later (which established his reputation; this was perhaps the reason why Sarmago was not keen for Skylight to be published).

I read more translated novels in 2016 than I generally do. I have reviewed a few of them on this blog in 2016.
I did not read many non-fiction books in 2016, which was par for the course. Three books stood out for me.  By far the best was Anjan Sundaram’s Stringer, which is about the current day DR Congo. Sundaram explores DR Congo without trying to teach a lesson. He has no agenda; he lays out the canvas and lets the reader reach his own conclusions. Stringer is a superb book. Based on this evidence, Sundaram seems to be a worthy successor of the great V.S. Naipaul.

Unlike Sundaram, Bryan Stevenson, in Just Mercy, has a very clear agenda—to lay bare the institutional racism in the American justice system. Just Mercy is one of the most moving books I have read in a long time.

Svetlana Alexievich was awarded the Novel prize for Literature in 2015. Chernobyl Prayers tells the devastating consequences for the ordinary people of the worst nuclear disaster in the twentieth century, compounded by the conspiracy of silence of the Soviet dictatorship.

I decided to buy It is all News to Me after hearing its author Jeremy Vine, who is a BBC Radio 2 presenter, in a literary programme, where he read excerpts from the book. They were hilarious. Vine himself came across in the programme as a man with a great sense of humour (and stage-presence). The memoir is not bad, but I realised that the passages Vine read out in the programme were the only funny bits in it.

I enjoy reading Jeremy Clarkson the same way I used to enjoy listening to a cantankerous uncle of mine, who would rant about anything and everything. Just like my uncle’s ranting (which grew fiercer as Alzheimer set in) I find it impossible to take anything Clarkson writes seriously (I suspect he does, too), but he does bring a smile to your face. Ideal book to read in the loo or on a long flight.

The top ten novels in 2016 were as follows:



1.       The Zone of Interest (Martin Amis)


2.       The Spy who Came in from the Cold (John Lecarre)


3.       The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)


4.       The Noise of Time (Julian Barnes)


5.       Skylight (Jose Saramago)


6.       Money (Martin Amis)


7.       The President’s Hat (Antoine Lauren)


8.       The Sympathizer (Viet Thanah Nguyen)


9.       Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout)


10.   Worst. Person. Ever (Douglas Coupland)

I must get my reading back on track this year.