It’s time for the mini reviews again! I sometimes feel I read too much because my speed of reading the books and reviewing them is not quite proportional and I need to start changing that. Of course, I am not going to try to review every book I read because I simply don’t have enough time to do that. However, these mini reviews work wonders in trying to bring the books I do wanna review in the spotlight. So yay for that.
So, let’s just dive into them!
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
A portrait of the artist as a young woman. A novel about not just discovering but inventing oneself.
The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings.
At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan’s friends. On the way, she spends two weeks visiting Paris with Svetlana. Selin’s summer in Europe does not resonate with anything she has previously heard about the typical experiences of American college students, or indeed of any other kinds of people. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.
This one is quirky. That is one of the many words I could use for the book. Not much happens but there’s a sense of weird and entertaining and it might not have clicked with me had I not read it at the right time. Seriously.
A story of how a Turkish-American girl navigates through her first year of Harvard, she meets some truly interesting characters from Svetlana, a girl very thoroughly convinced of her own opinions to Ivan, an older, Hungarian student whom she is attracted to, to some more college students as well as faculty members that made her (and sometimes me) laugh (even though perhaps the humour wasn’t in the best taste?)
It’s not a romance, not quite. This is more of Selin’s journey of trying to understand the world around her and in turn, perhaps to better understand herself as well. Selin’s first person POV really works here because we see what she sees and observes and we can find some of the same things as baffling as she does. Despite being a curious observer, we do see her being herself and in a sense, deciding on what she wants. There so many lines that I found absolutely amazing but on a whole, perhaps this book is a bit too long.
This isn’t a book for everyone and how I hate to say it but it truly isn’t. However from its almost cerebral look into Selin’s first year and considering the writing, if you can, please, give this one a shot!
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.
There is hardly going to be anyone who is a fan of Sci-Fi and hasn’t heard of it. It was so incredibly hyped when it came out and even afterwards that I was hesitant to pick it up. Story of my life, eh?
Since this is a novella, I knew going in there might be some stuff missing on a larger scale. I think it is simply impossible with a book like Binti where there are too many things happening. However that did not diminish my enjoyment at all.
As the summary says Binti is one of the very first of her people to get into a prestigious university and that meant leaving behind everything she knew and loved. Binti’s initial journey is amazing to read about. New cultures and friendships and how all of that changes in a heartbeat when the Meduse attack her ship. Binti’s struggles in trying to understand the Meduse could have been a bit more intense, after all, she suffers such a loss at their hands. So if there was one thing that really bothered me, it was the speed of acceptance of the Meduse on Binti’s part.
Despite this little bit of failure on an overarching part, it really is an amazing read because in trying to establish Binti and her culture along with other cultures, Nnedi Okorafor has managed to bring forward some very important matters. Religious and cultural differences and its acceptance. It’s rare to see that and I am so glad that I did get to read it.
Overall, a really good read and I cannot wait to read the next novellas in the series.
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Now that all the others have run out of air, it’s my turn to do a little story-making.
In Homer’s account in The Odyssey, Penelope—wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy—is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan War after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumors, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters, and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and—curiously—twelve of her maids.
In a splendid contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged maids, asking: “What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?”
The concept of The Penelopiad really intrigued me, add to that the beloved author and I was ready to be really impressed. Unfortunately, neither the concept nor the introduction to Atwood managed to wow me. In fact, the overall impression was rather under-whelming.
Now, I will be the first to admit that my expectations were probably coloured by the the fact that Atwood is very renowned feminist author. However after reading this particular book, I am doubtful.
The book starts with Penelope talking to us from beyond the grave, the River Styx to be precise. Over the centuries, she’s gotten bolder and is quite ready to spill some beans. Penelope tries to tell us that Odysseus was no hero or rather he wasn’t as heroic as he’s been written in the history, then there’s Telemachus and how he was rebellious and petunlant (being a typical teenager). These things didn’t really bother me as much.
The main problem I had with was the way Helen and other women were described by Penelope. I really didn’t like how shallow and narcissistic Helen was shown to be. She was taken to Troy against her will and had to watch many unnamed soldiers die for what essentially felt, to her, like her fault. It isn’t only Helen who suffers this gross injustice of characterization, there’s Clytemnestra, Anticlea, etc. Then there’s the matter of the twelve hanged maids. They work well as a chorus but I am not sure if that was enough. Their narrative didn’t really change anything and neither did we come to know more about Penelope.
So after almost two hundred pages, I am just left wondering, what was the point? Other than bashing a few women along the way? Hell, even Odysseus got more respect in this one for all that Penelope is rather blunt about him not being all that heroic. I think I was kind when I gave it 1.5 stars.
These reviews were long overdue but here they are. I hope to do this every month so that you guys get more reviews in one single post. These are super fun to do and it also makes me think harder, I need to keep them short and sort of to the point so that’s an exercise. Also, I am still learning as far as mini reviews are concerned so if they are any pointers, please, feel free to tell me about it in the comments!