My Thoughts: Purple Hibiscus

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

126381Yes, I have read Half of a Yellow Sun, and I have also read Americanah. I’ve watched loads of this woman’s speeches and read some of her short stories featured in online publications. No, I have not yet read The Thing Around Your Neck, but even so, I hold fast to the belief that I now have: Purple Hibiscus is her most relevant work. (To me.)

I have been absolutely astounded to discover that mainstream media has gotten Half of a Yellow Sun to all but overshadow Purple Hibiscus to the point of near obscurity. I have tried and tried to find an article, interview, whatever, of Chimamanda, specifically in relation to this book (not Half of a Yellow Sun with Purple Hibiscus casually thrown in) and I have failed. All I seem to be getting is a bunch of websites with lesson notes. This isn’t at all what I am looking for.

[Side note: I have been holding in for so long a rant about how we have managed to reduce a lot of great things to technical academia, which sometimes renders discussion of said pieces of work nearly non-existent outside of the classroom context. But this is not the time. *upside-down smiley emoji *]

I have been looking for something more along the lines of how this book changed some teenager’s perception of African literature, shook a devout parent, dissembled an oppressive African environment… But more than that, I have been looking for an explanation, perhaps from Adichie herself, of the paradoxical nature of many of the characters.

I have to say that this book has been the most emotionally taxing book I have read all year. It is not inherently the most painful. I think the most painful so far has been A Thousand Splendid Suns. But the reason this got me in my feels so much and so hard is that I could personally recognize – like really recognize, as if I had known them in real life – just about all of the characters. Engaging with this book was intense, I can’t even lie.

I know I could never have written it, though, because of the perspective it was told through; Kambili, the quiet, the falsely indoctrinated, the academically brilliant but otherwise foolish main character, really threatened to get me to punch my Kindle multiple times. I could barely stand her thoughts and decisions, even though I knew why they were what they were. The thing is that, I’m just not that kind of person. The flame in Amaka and her fearless outspokenness is the only perspective I could have possibly told this story though Plus the ridiculous inferiority complex and all.

With this story told through Kambili, it was like a thick, translucent sheet had been placed over a raging sea. When you watched it, you didn’t get the full experience. Or maybe I should rather compare it to a bunch of words being told through a text-to-speech application, as opposed to an emotive human being reading something to you.

I really could talk about this book continuously but I want to focus on this thing that has been bothering me since: the character of Eugene. He is one of the biggest character paradoxes I have ever read, and the book still ended with him unexplained. It rather perplexed me further!

I simply could not – absolutely not – understand how a man could so thoroughly brainwash himself into becoming full of hate for anything contrary to a deity he really does seem to have made up for himself. God wasn’t his god; religion was. Religion in the sense of habitual practices, and orders followed. And it’s not like he was that much of a hypocrite too; he actually seemed to fully believe in all that he did. My brain refuses to wrap its head around a well-meaning tyrant.

For someone who frequently abused his wife and children in the name of religious discipline and implicitly encouraged perpetual silence about the matter (and just general subdued demeanours that turned his whole family into metaphorical robots), I fail to see how he was so devoted to the exposure of the scandalous truth of his country that he was the publisher of the Standard, whose content consistently got people in political trouble. It simply doesn’t add up. Especially not how protective he seemed to be of Ade Coker.

That’s another thing. I’m not entirely sure what exactly the relevance of Ade Coker was in the story. Maybe it was just to confuse me. It did cross my mind that maybe Eugene and Ade had some sort of affair, and Eugene’s tyrannical religious ways were his mechanisms of dealing with the guilt. But then if that is true, what was the point of him recounting the abomination (can’t recall the specific words he himself used) of that one time he masturbated to Kambili?

The final stroke of confusion was when he was discovered to have anonymously donated money to charities and such. But he couldn’t take care of his own father, and nearly ostracized his broke sister and her family? I swear, I don’t get it. And Adichie had the gall to end the book without explaining all this to me. Like, I’m mad. And I can’t even find a single decent interview. (But if you can find one for me, that’d be great. LOL.)

There are so many relevant themes that I know I won’t touch on now. But now that I’ve read the book, it/they will start popping up slowly in my conversations and subsequent writings.

I think everyone should read this book. I really do. Also, I may have a crush on Obiora. But that’s just by the way. J

 

This is what I felt was the single, most centrally relevant quote, by Aunty Ifeoma’s friend:

“It is what happens when you sit back and do nothing about tyranny. Your child becomes something you cannot recognize.”

-Akotowaa

My Thoughts on Minaret

Author: Leila Aboulela (Egyptian-Sudanese)

leila-aboulela-book-minaretMinaret was fine. I found that my favourite parts of it were minor themes that may not even have been that intentional.

So the story follows this girl called Najwa, high in class in Sudan – and we’re talking family-is-besties-with-the-president kinda high class. She’s an average girl, but because of all that she has, it appears as if her future looks bright. That’s a mistake, though. Because everything crashes when her parents die, the money leaves, she and her twin brother become immigrants, and he gets locked up.

I didn’t get attached to any characters. I think that after reading the blurb, I was expectant of things that I didn’t get. I was thinking along the lines of Elif Safak’s The Forty Rules of Love (OMG why am I constantly talking about this book?!) or even a Khaled Hosseini And The Mountains Echoed kind of thing. But nah. I think its (lack of) depth disappointed me. There seemed to be numerous opportunities for the narration, or main character, Najwa, or anyone else, really, to go deep into introspection and general attempts to figure this crazy “life” thing out. But I feel like someone (writer? Characters?) got scared every time they were probing a bit too low beneath the surface, and then would quickly come up for air. =(

The writing…hmm. It was very simple. Immature is not the right word to use, though. I don’t know how to describe it. As I read it, some of the thoughts that flew through my head were:

a) Aboulela must have been really young when she released this book. (Not so. She was like 40.)

b) English must not be her first language. (I don’t know if that’s true. I listened to her speak on a BBC World Book Club podcast, and she sounded like English was extremely comfortable to her.)

I suppose in the end, the language itself seemed basic and unembellished to me. Which is not to say that it made it a bad read. In a way, I think the language itself complemented the (way the) story (that) was told. The story sounded like everyday life. Like a bunch of journal entries, or a memoir. It didn’t sound like something that was supposed to be dramatically spectacular. It sounded…ordinary.

Najwa’s life disappointed me with her mildly frustrating lack of personal talents, abilities and convictions, and her allowing herself to remain at a low status as she inevitably grew older. And the book’s ending didn’t satisfy me at all. But let me talk about the minor themes that I enjoyed.

 

  1. CLASS

Najwa comes from the high class of a lowly ranked country. Bang, an easy target; and a nice perspective to tell an African story through. People are (and as at 2004, when this was published), I believe, not used to that one. Despite Najwa’s lack of a superiority complex (she never felt “better” off than others, never maltreated/disrespected maids, never used her money to get her places; she just lived like she thought people were meant to live), she is still a target for bozos like Anwar (least favourite character to read; interestingly, Aboulela’s declared favourite character to write) to tease because she has what a lot of people don’t. She’s more “Westernized” though neither of them are (were?) religious. Had never been outside Khartoum, the capital.

Here’s a quote that struck me:

“I would always be inferior to his ‘masses’, my problems less trivial and less worthy”. –Najwa, about how Anwar, who was even supposed to be her boyfriend at some points, viewed her.

And yes, I can, of course, personally relate to this somewhat-displacement or whatever. But, I mean, Anwar is just…unnecessary. I got tired of him so fast, especially when he was in London with Najwa. (Side note: this Najwa name really reminds me of ‘Nana Adwoa’! LOL)

 

  1. FAMILIAL RELATIONSHIPS

Obligatory accord and natural discord create a dynamic in relationships that I just can’t stop being fascinated by.

I honestly did not feel like Najwa had any kind of close relationship with her parents; but their death still shook her. I was fascinated by her undying love for her twin brother, Omar, despite all the faults and vices he descended into, as well as their disagreeing viewpoints. I loved this particular sentence about him:

“He sits in his chair and a world separates us in spite of genes and love.”

Right? Even love and blood can’t bring you closer than as close as you can get! When you’re different, you’re different!

Lamya, Najwa’s eventual employer, has friction with everybody: her brother, her husband, her mother, Najwa herself. Tamer, Lamya’s brother, feels someway about his father (who is absent the whole book, by the way), that I can understand:

“I don’t think he was listening to me. He will never change his point of view.” – Tamer.

He was talking in terms of academic interest here, by the way! If you know me well, you know why this excites me.

I think Tamer is the most beautifully written character. I like how Najwa sees him, at the point where she says:

“He flickers between soulful depth and immaturity.”

LOL, I feel like that’s what I do too.

 

  1. WRITING IN ENGLISH

Anwar is some super anti-Western world guy. Then somehow, he finds himself living in Britain. He is inactive in his activism and feels useless. All he can do there is write. And his English too is bad. (First language was Arabic.) I don’t know why this filled me with such evil glee. And his pride wouldn’t even let Najwa (whom he made edit his essays that kept getting rejected anyway) give him advice constructive enough to help him improve. I mean, in my head, I was just like, “Yoo, be there and not move forward.”

 

Now here’s a theme in the book that I didn’t like: religion. And no, this is not because I myself am not a Muslim. I think spirituality from anywhere, when represented well, earns my respect. (Refer again to how much I adore The Forty Rules of Love and even Eat, Pray, Love.) But that’s the problem, I guess. I didn’t find much spirituality in this book. There was religion, yes. But spirituality? Nah. Again, I think I would attribute this to a general shallowness, and hesitation on someone/everyone’s part, to go deeper. Apart from some one time Najwa said she actually listened to prayers for the first time, or something like that, I didn’t feel the strength of spirituality. What I did see was the use of religion as a fall-back mechanism. So, yeah.

A quote that I found funny:

“All through life there were distinctions – toilets for men, toilets for women, clothes for men, clothes for women – then at the end, the graves were identical.”

 

A quote that got me reflecting:

“I did reach a kind of detachment, like things didn’t matter, not in a careless, angry sort of way, but more like I could take them in my stride. So what if I didn’t like what I was studying, it would just be three years and they’ll pass fast. But the feeling didn’t last long. I couldn’t get it to last. While it did, though, while I was there, I was happy.” – Tamer.

 

I would neither highly recommend, nor discourage anyone from reading this book.

-Akotowaa

 

The Magnificent Relevance of Motherfuckitude

Warning: long read.

Motherfuckitude: The Naked Ones, as it stands now, is my favourite spoken word EP, by Ghanaian poet, Poetra Asantewa. It came out in October 2015 and so obviously this post is way overdue, but better late than never. I don’t think I’ve seen as extensive a review of it as I would like to have seen – so, as is the general rule of life, I must make one myself.

I had the pleasure of being invited to perform as one of the opening acts for the Motherfuckitude concert at Poetra’s official launching of the EP. When a classmate found out I was performing at a concert dubbed, of all things, “Motherfuckitude”, he was so excited to come, because he thought there’d be lots of swearing and obscenity. It was very amusing to disillusion him. The EP is not a careless throwing about of cuss-words to sound cool; sorry if the title misled you. Here’s where it actually came from:

There is a writer called Cheryl Strayed. Once upon a time, a twenty-six year old woman called Elissa Bassist wrote a letter to the advice column Cheryl was running, and expressed her fears and insecurities that she was a terrible writer and would never amount to anything – or something along these lines. Cheryl Strayed gave her a very long response, entitled “Write Like a Motherfucker”. One of the most defining, most powerful things she told this Bassist woman was:

“So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.” – Cheryl Strayed

You can read more about the Art of Motherfuckitude from Brain Pickings, and/or read the actual letter verbatim from here. I’m all about that manipulation of words to mean what you need them to mean – it’s part of my lexivist nature. I don’t want to define Motherfuckitude myself because  I might not hit the mark, but here’s what Strayed defines being a motherfucker as:

“But being a motherfucker, it’s a way of life, really… It’s about having strength rather than fragility, resilience, and faith, and nerve, and really leaning hard into work rather than worry and anxiety.” – Cheryl Strayed

Now that we’ve gone past the title, let’s talk about the EP in general.

Link to streaming the entire EP: https://soundcloud.com/poetra-asantewa/sets/motherfuckitude

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Amazing cover art by Enosh Ghansah

Poetra Asantewa amazed me entirely with this EP. The quality of production was nearly the first thing that excited me. I’ve heard a lot of sub-par production of recorded poetry – and disconnection between the background sounds and the actual words. I’m not talking about just in Ghana. World-class, the production of this EP is great. Now that I have said that, I think it is safe to say that this thing has mercilessly broken down the standard of any poetry project that has come from Ghana, in my opinion. If anything (including anything I ever produce) manages to top this, I will applaud for an hour. It’s executively produced by the multi-talented guitarist, Kyekyeku – clean and coherent. Music hasn’t been forced into any track. Where it is needed, it is added. At some points in a track, stops. In POA, for example, there is no musical background at all – but it doesn’t lack stylistic features either.

The listening experience is much more pleasant than I had expected it to be – even after I had heard some of these poems already performed live, in different forms. Here’s something curious about Poetra’s delivery: when she performs her poems, they sound exactly like performance poetry. When she records them and puts them out, they sound exactly like they were made to be listened to through headphones as you de-stress in your bedroom. It’s kind of insane how excellently she transforms the same pieces based on context.

Her messages though – once again, I have never heard things like this said around me, through art. Every single poem on the EP is undeniably relevant to our context – the context being the country, the society of Accra-ian creatives, the bulk of these creatives’ audiences, and beyond all of these as well. I don’t know if anyone else has gotten as bored as me by the rising mounds of Ghanaian poetry that only seem to come in two forms: Christian poems that don’t really teach me anything and don’t even suggest a deeper insight of the poets themselves about the messages they are apparently trying to deliver; and poetry about Africa or Ghana that don’t sound any different from each other anyway, which sound like they were all written to be read on Independence Day or African Union day.

So what’s Poetra talking about that makes her so freaking different? She’s talking about what audiences do and don’t want to hear. She’s talking about the internal battle of a creator who believes there is a standard of what they should sound like. She’s talking about womanhood and society’s caging perception of it. She’s talking about the perceived (ir)relevance of poetry. She’s talking about the coexistence of artists as both creators and merely psychologically troubled people. She talks about the coexistence and complementary nature of opposing kinds of love. Does that sound “relatable” or nah? Because to me it doesn’t sound like the kind of subject matter the public has been known to chase after and consume like they’re drinking water. This poetry isn’t for people who aren’t ready to think and re-evaluate anything.

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These are my commentaries according to individual track listing: (All the lyrics are in the descriptions of the Soundcloud files, by the way!)

1 – Naked Listeners

“They only hear you when you speaking lewd
They only hear you when you show them nudes
They never wanna hear you when it’s about the people
Never wanna hear you when it’s about the country” – Poetra Asantewa

This is the refrain. Do you think it’s “debatable”? Well, perhaps so does she. In this intro to the EP, you hear, before the poem even starts, a dialogue between two Poetra Asantewas. One is arguing that people only want to hear about sex. The other is arguing that nah, people want to hear about deep stuff, and “what’s different about you.” Is it impossible that both could be right? But I fear the former is righter than the latter.

“Standing on the podium preaching about unification
Talking about how the masses have been destabilized
and how we need to quarantine the brilliant to enforce a revolution
And somehow, nobody hears a thing
But let me say that I swear I have no panties on,
And suddenly, I have your attention.” – Poetra Asantewa

There are so many paradoxes in these lines that I’m still trying to figure out whatever in heaven they mean! On their own, these are already questionable topics. “Unification” sounds like a cliche. “The masses have been destabilized” sounds like an empty sentence uttered by a politician who didn’t write his own speech. The phrase “quarantine the brilliant to enforce a revolution” basically slapped me in the face! What does that mean? So…what’s the mental capacity of the people who are apparently “enforcing the revolution” then?! It looks like the issue doesn’t even matter, though, because nobody’s listening. But then everyone wants to talk about how scandalous it is that some girl isn’t wearing panties? Yes, that’s definitely an attention grabber.

“And he says he likes his women intelligent,
but befuddle his mind and he’ll tell you,
“Mami, I just want to see some ass” – that’s what he’s here for” – Poetra Asantewa

Look at the accurate portrayal of the disparate between what we say we want and what we practice. I can’t say I’ve never had any experiences with males who immediately get intimidated by women who are smart(er than them), or witnessed people I thought were intelligent boys fuelled by testosterone, looking at smart girls as mere sexual conquests.

If this poem doesn’t make you wonder what kind of art (songs and movies included) you are attracted to and what it actually means, I don’t think you’re listening to Naked Listeners right.

But the question still burns within me: why are the listeners naked? Is their nakedness the reason they can relate so well to some girl not having panties on? Or is it just a metaphor for the true nature of the audiences being, in a sense, exposed?

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2 – P.O.A.

This is my favourite track on the EP. And it has nothing to do with how it’s the only track that doesn’t have a musical background.

“I’m a member of the band, but I croon a different tune” – Poetra Asantewa

From the very first line, I knew I’d be able to relate to the poem, because I immediately saw the theme of feeling like a poet and yet not feeling like a poet; wondering whether what you create is legit, because it kind of sounds like its genre but it sounds nothing like it at the same time. Is all the personal and individual effort that we put into our creation worth it at all?

“Of the road leading to narrow-mindedness and oh, how it can seduce” – Poetra Asantewa

…Or should we just give in to the lure of the established conventional styles and subject matters?

“There’s a funeral in my mind
been trying too hard to rhyme
tried to bind my words to the rule of sublime
Nobody said I could mimic greatness
without the need to rhyme” – Poetra Asantewa

I believe in this refrain, “rhyme” is a metonymy of sorts (if you don’t already know this device, I’m pleased to have contributed to your knowledge!) – an attribute used to represent something bigger than itself. So here, rhyme, an attribute of many forms of poetry, is standing in for any and all of the other devices used in, if I could say, conventional poetry. Take the misconception that I would suspect many children have: if it rhymes, it’s poetry, and if it’s poetry, it must rhyme. So don’t take this refrain too literally: it represents something greater than it. It represents a battle – fighting what you want to create to “binding” yourself to what is apparently accepted and beautiful; what is perceived as “greatness”. So…Did you know your poetry could be great if it didn’t rhyme? Are you killing your creativity by trying to make it conform? Is there a “funeral in your mind”?

“We put language in cages and teach it tricks to get the people to praise
Spew a couple of words and wait for an applause like it’s a fourth generation Chevrolet” – Poetra Asantewa

You have no idea – NO IDEA – how much of a problem I have with poets who say nothing at all in their poems, but have punchlines galore. And punchlines are great for entertainment purposes, but how much nothing kraa, do you have to say?

“Look ma, I think I got a headache ma
They’re using too many big words ma
There are too many metaphors in her speech
I can’t hear it clear enough to break free
They’re too eager for the punchline and not enough for the message” – Poetra Asantewa

Furthermore, you have NO IDEA how much of a problem I have with audiences who just don’t have any capacity to understand any kind of literary device that isn’t a punchline. The metaphor part really hit me because Extended Metaphor and I are best friends. This thing makes me so bitter. On too many occasions I have felt frustration from people telling me that my poetry’s language is “too high” for the masses to understand. I mean, think about it. Is this a call for the poet to dumb it down, or for the listener to take their freaking education more seriously? Definitely, certainly too eager for the punchline, and not enough for the message!

 

3 – No Panties

This is lots of people’s favourite track on the EP, and I don’t even want to ask why. It seems to prove a point Poetra already made in Naked Listeners. You grab people’s attention best when you talk about some girl not wearing panties? Oh, the beautiful irony!

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Photocred: Yoyo Tinz

But look! Once again, we have a splendid use of metaphor! The fictional persona, Annie, wearing no panties, is quite simply a symbol for a girl who legit does not give a shit.

It does not matter what kind of woman you “expect” Annie to be, in order to be perceived as a proper or respectable woman. It does not matter what conclusions you draw of Annie based on her behaviour. It is absolutely inconsequential whether you think Annie is overly prudish, or not sexy enough.

“She might have put a foreclosure sign on her morals
She might have been labelled the devil’s temptress for her looks
She might have a body not aesthetically built to please men
She might be wearing no panties
But thank God she’s brilliant
Thank God she’s relentlessly unapologetic
Thank God she has her own
Thank God likeability is not a prerequisite for her awesomeness
Thank God she’s an infinitely evolving creature who has not a care to give because” – Poetra Asantewa

So yes this is all a very relevant message about self-confidence in whichever way one chooses to manifest their womanhood, delivered in a very badass way, but what else did you expect from a project called Motherfuckitude? In a lot of ways I love it. On one hand, you could deliver a message. On another hand, you can deliver a message with a sucker-punch that makes them dizzy enough to listen.

 

4 – Poetry Ain’t Shit

This is another one I’d heard before. This poem is a magnificently self-ironic piece. It is a whole poem delivered by a fictional persona to a poet, saying that poetry is inconsequential and non-utilitarian; that it won’t change anything. It’s a poem insulting poetry, as highlighted by the last lines:

He tells me accurately in a poem,
how poetry won’t save the world. – Poetra Asantewa

Throughout the poem, she seems to state all the amazing things that poetry might be able to do, but put a very loud So what? in front of them.

“It won’t be the lone voice
perfectly transcribing the story of my life.
It won’t revolutionize the status quo,
it won’t be the quantum leap to a confused generation
It won’t be the therapeutic pathway to my mental freedom
It won’t be the words that make me wonder if you live in my head.” – Poetra Asantewa

Consistently there are underlying questions of internal insecurities, like, am I being fake? After all why talk about “Cousin Joe” when there is not a single Joe in your family? When you write motivational pieces, do you practice what you preach? When you write about your faith, do you believe what you are saying? Do you have mediocre sex and write poetry about mind-blowing orgasms? LOL. Do you make all things seem “bigger than they really are”?

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There are a lot of questions asked that do not necessarily have answers attached to them and I think that is the best way a poem such as this could possibly exist.

 

5- Masked Commoners

I like this poem because it seems to ask and perhaps attempt to answer the overarching question of Who or what is an artist? And is there anything that sets us apart from – so to speak – ordinary people? Or are we just commoners wearing strange masks?

“We become art in an attempt to skip the death chair
We become poets in attempt to skip shrink sessions
We become rappers in an attempt to transform
our manifestos into a way of being
We become nuanced in an attempt to get the bigger picture” – Poetra Asantewa

And are we all madmen looking for ways to escape being condemned for our madness?

Throughout the poem there is the theme of blatant hypocrisy – in our acts of charity, humility, political stance, even answering a question as simple as “how are you?” Why on earth is everyone lying? Look at all the things so-called artists are plagued with! How could you say these are unique afflictions?

“In the end, we’re all ordinary people in disguise.” – Poetra Asantewa

This is the only conclusive hint of an answer to all the questions the poem asks, before it returns to conclude with the very same lines it started with.

 

6 – All Love

This is the only full-on song on the EP. So perhaps it’s not right to call Motherfuckitude a spoken word EP? Whatever.

Surprisingly, it took me quite a while to actually listen to and understand this song, beyond simply being carried away by Poetra’s melodic voice.

It describes the dynamics of a love between two fictional (or real) people who love in entirely different ways.

“He says “I love you, baby sit right here”
I say “I love you, baby I want you nowhere near” ” – Poetra Asantewa

One person is saying come close, the other one is saying go away, and in the end, all she asks is “Isn’t it all love” though?

This line made me laugh:

“My love is a religious abab rhyme scheme
His love is an ab,1,2,5,6,7,9,10” -Poetra Asantewa

Not only do I see is a difference in the way these two people love, but in the strength of their personalities as well. Especially when it is insinuated that the guy being spoken of is very easygoing, wanting to take love “one day at a time” and the persona is rather an overwhelmingly devoted character, saying “m3do wo akosi ewiey3” [roughly translated as: I will love you to the grave]. And it’s all extremely frustrating, I would imagine to love so disparately but in the end it should work! It has to!

“Red or blue
Baby, black or white
Love is gonna thrive as long as we can make it work” – Poetra Asantewa

As long as you make it work, it works!

She said poetry won’t be the revolution, but it’s already the revolution of my conception of poetry. This is an entirely new standard that has been set. I wonder now how I could ever do the craft justice.

-Akotowaa

My Thoughts: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids

Author: Sarah Ockler

According to my research, this is Sarah Ockler’s latest book, and not necessarily her most popular. And even though I’d never heard of her before I randomly downloaded this (simply because I liked the cover and the title after seeing it on someone’s book blog), I am going to be extremely unfounded and biased, and say it should be her most popular. Before I even finished this book, there were reasons which, when put together, meant that I couldn’t possibly have disliked it.

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  1. It’s a fairytale remix! Yep, The Little mermaid. There was even a Sebastian and an Ursula in it. But do you know me and fairytales? Do you know me and fairytale remixes? Wo boa kraa. Once Upon A Time, most books by Alex Flinn, Cinder by Marissa Meyer…If there are fairytales involved, you’ve trapped me already.
  2. It’s YA fiction! Now, I had a lot of heavy, deeply profound fiction at my disposal, but I needed a book to read at a time when I was far too stressed out to decipher language involving racial, classist, political, societal issues, designed for readers 25 and above. That’s not what my brain wants when it needs rest. The fantastic thing about YA fiction is that it manages to be entertaining without being daft, and because of its target audience, you can tell that they’re not trying to fall into criteria that makes them eligible for a Pulitzer or a Caine prize or whatever.
  3. There was mythology involved! Do you know me and mythology? LOL, everything by Rick Riordan, Disney’s Hercules, et cetera. The deity involved here was the Syrian goddess (of whom I didn’t know before reading this), Atargatis, the goddess of fertility who is usually portrayed with a fish tail. The book compromised a bit on the identity of Atargatis that I read about from outside sources, but that’s fine with me. Fiction doesn’t have to be a history book. You can tweak the truth as much as you can tweak the myth.

Here’s the basic background of the story: A Tobagonian girl called Elyse d’Abreau had a near-fatal birth (the irony. Anyway, it was fatal actually – her mother died.) in the sea, and years later, a tragic accident involving a near-drowning experience which stole her voice. There was a surgery afterwards and her voice suffered permanent damage, making her mute. (As mute as Ariel when Ursula stole her voice. Except, in this book Ursula isn’t the bad-guy.) It was particularly devastating because she and her twin sister, Natalie, were planning their futures as world-famous singers.

Unable to deal with the emotional pain, she left Trinidad and Tobago to live with her aunt Ursula and her cousin Kirby. There, she meets Christian Kane, Stanford student, perfect guy, player of the century. The classic YA boy a YA-loving teenage girl will fall in love with. (Stop giving me side-eyes. Yes, I’m guilty.) And a bunch of stuff happens. It’s really fun.

I love how relaxed the book was. Even the most urgent scenes were quietly tense, not like action-movie-ish. Quietly tense? LOL, that must be why: the main character can’t be anything but quiet.  Haha. Bad joke? Okay. Sorry.

Sarah Ockler’s writing greatly impressed me. It was in no way dumbed-down or daft. In fact, words and expressions were very deliberately chosen. Throughout the whole book, there was all this beach and sea imagery. It was all so glaringly obvious; yet I feel that some readers may miss 50% of the wordplay. Heck, I might even have missed way more than I realized. But I thought it was fantastic that she had a punny, metaphorical theme going through the ENTIRE book. That’s actually really hard work.

Of course, if you’re interested, there was all that exciting, hot romance stuff that’s characteristic of a lot of YA fiction.

Some gender stuff was brought up, which I felt was noteworthy. The main character signed up to be the first mate to Christian Kane in a regatta, and the misogyny in certain characters was really brought out. A girl can’t be a sailor? A girl can’t be a “pirate”? Also, Christian’s little brother, Sebastian, is shunned for doing supposedly effeminate things like liking mermaids and wanting to dress as one (complete with the seashell bra) in a mermaid parade. It was all interesting, thought-provoking stuff, that was just deep enough to get a teenager thinking.

A note to prospective readers: there are a lot of questions you may ask, which will remain unanswered by the time the book ends. You may be dissatisfied like I was at first. But later on, after a period of reflection, I’ve decided I’m cool with the unanswered questions, because of how the omission certain details of the past shines a brighter spotlight on the events of the fictional present.

A few (a lot of) favourite quotes:

  • I’d seen bodies defy words, how a person’s eyes and hands revealed truths their mouths were trying so desperately to deny.

  • Crying never brought anything back from the dead. It only felt like the ocean trying to drown you from the inside out.

  • That’s what happens when you see yourself through someone else’s mirror, Elyse. You build your dreams for them, ignoring your own heart. One day you wake up and wonder how the fire went out.

  • Treacherous as the sea, yet fragile as a bubble.

  • …I realised just how many people would rather leave without their due than try to make conversation with a mute.

  • …she’d spent so much time cultivating an image, the real her was pushed down, locked away deep inside.

  • Voice and speech aren’t the same thing. You’ve lost your ability to speak, to sing. But the only thing that can take your voice away – your true voice – is you.

  • Anger was easier to hold, to focus on, than grief. Anger was sharp-edged and clear. Grief was messy, blurry. But in the end both left you hollowed out inside.

  • Sorry for all the little ways that the people who were supposed to love us most could hurt us so deeply, despite their shared heritage and blood, as though their knowledge of our pasts gave them unlimited access to all the most tender places, the old wounds that could be so easily reopened with no more than a glance, a comment, a passing reminder of all the ways in which we’d failed to live up to their expectations.

  • Sometimes love was a tonic. Sometimes it was a weapon. And so often it was nearly impossible to tell the difference.

  • Putting a thing to words gave it power; it pulled the maybe from the mist and gave it form, solid and black.

  • The sign of a deep connection wasn’t necessarily outward affection, but silence. The ability to sit still with another, wholly aware of him, neither needing nor desiring anything but his presence, the shape of him, his breath in the air between you.

And finally, a poem by the narrator:

“For all the strength of men,

And the divine power of their gods

But for a spell in a pale blue dream

Not even the wisest among them

Can harness the silver moon

Nor cease with thoughts or words

The beating of their own fragile hearts.”

 

In summary: This book was beautiful! Read it!

-Akotowaa

Update: I don’t know how I missed this thing that I had meant to add but somehow forgot: the aspect of diversity. The author is white, yes, but the fact that the narrator is Tobagonian and speaks of home a lot makes a reader at least a little curious about what life and culture is in Trinidad and Tobago, and so I think that’s a fun way of fuelling diversity and curiousity of other people’s cultures. For example, I’d like to find out more about all those festivals, and what soca music is, et cetera.