Marjane Satrapi’s tale of growing up in Iran is presented in a unique and often hilarious comic-book format. She is obviously a talented writer and storyteller and artist (three skills that seldom overlap). While the voice is strictly that of the coming-of-age girl (born in 1970 in Iran) the illustrations and Greek chorus-style renderings of authority figures beautifully convey what many Persians must have been feeling in the years surrounding the 1979 Revolution.
The writing is what’s often referred to as economical. You won’t find paragraphs of lyrical prose or florid descriptions of, well, anything. In that, there’s genius. We’re seeing the world entirely through Satrapi’s often-skewed eyes and dialogue with her family and friends. Because of that, the story is told with such authenticity that I don’t doubt a single word of it. The rumors and rules, protests and chaos, bombings and rampant decline of a once-proud country–this is how it really happened.
(On a personal note, my “godparents” hail from Tehran, and were close enough to hear the riots around the U.S. Embassy during those fateful days.)
Lately, thanks to our political climate in the U.S., the notions of freedom and immigration issues and fairness loom large in the public eye. At the very least, Satrapi’s heartbreaking story should be included in any intelligent discussion–a cautionary tale about what could happen. After all, as she states several times in the book, nobody foretold a theocratic regime taking over Iran. Who would take that idea seriously?
I really enjoyed Sue Monk Kidd’s debut novel for a number of reasons. One could call it a “harmless” meditation on the bonds of motherhood or sisterhood. One could also say it’s a spiritual adventure which doesn’t belong to any particular denomination (the Boatwright sisters have their own Mary-centric denomination). Set in 1964, it’s also a statement on the Civil Rights Movement and our perceptions of equality (certainly relevant to today’s political mess and us-vs.-them societal questions).
More than any other reason, the book shines because it’s a kind of celebration of the power of love and the human spirit. With August Boatwright, adolescent heroine Lily Owens finds the mother she’s never had and a community (‘colored,’ gasp, honey farmers) she can belong to. After running away from an abusive, rage-filled bigot father (a South Carolina peach farmer) Lily and her African-American nanny, Rosaleen, find a Home in Tiburon. The great tragedy is that Lily can’t pursue love with Zach Taylor because of his skin color (it’s still South Carolina in the 1960s). But Kidd lets us know that the two will remain close friends and that Zach has a real future as an ass-busting lawyer, so it works.
“The Secret Life of Bees” is a rich story that never drags and never tries to reveal some shocking human truth that people haven’t thought of before. There’s something to be said for that kind of ‘simplicity’ and containment. As the story comes full-circle (in tidy, predictable fashion) and offers a few lessons about that other world (The South, 50 years ago) this is the kind of book that should probably be required reading in high school.
Here’s my Goodreads review of Richard Ford’s 1996 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel on all things American:
Here’s my review of Katherine Applegate’s “The One and Only Ivan.”
Obviously, I loved it and I wouldn’t change a thing about the story. Kudos to her for taking a relatively simple concept and crafting one of the most poignant stories of our time.
The One and Only Ivan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is an amazing story told with clarity and clever devices. My son read this for 4th grade, and it’s really the kind of book that should be required reading in our school systems–especially today.
Told from the perspective of a thoughtful if downtrodden Silverback gorilla, “Ivan” puts readers into his domain–a cage in the center of a down-and-out circus-themed mall. You buy every word of it. There’s no Disney-type anthropomorphic gags, and the humor is mostly of the poignant variety. Start to finish, the story and characters are spot-on.
Author Katherine Applegate also is a master in the use of white space and import. The book is largely written with a poet’s economy of words. When Ivan thinks something profound, it resonates in part because of how those words dominate a largely blank page. It’s a genius tactic, leaving the reader to ponder many facets of the Human condition.
View all my Goodreads reviews.
November wasn’t the super-fat successful writing month it was supposed to be. My NaNoWriMo efforts–like the rest of mindset–kind of took a crowbar to the back of the head. That said, I made some progress on the sequel to “Endgame.”
The novel opens with our heroine, June Vereeth, and buddy Prubius providing sharpshooter watch over a bizarre mission: Locate (and retrieve an item from) a downed freighter sitting atop rock towers some 3,000 feet off the ground. Catch 1: Intense, relentless fog. Catch 2: The rock’s chemical makeup emits enough electromagnetic radiation that nothing electrical–like weapons or radar–will work within twenty miles. Catch 3: June Vereeth and company know they aren’t alone. Catch 4: Their sworn enemies, the Mitasterites, are not their only problem up here.
I hurried to the top of the tower and took a knee. The strap for the knee-pad was biting into my calf again, but it made a 400-degree swivel easier. The sky was clear—for now.
Something caught my attention on the next pillar, but I made sure my eyes registered no threat before I returned to that something.
Fifty yards away, it was suspended from the side of the next tower. Hanging by a parachute, swaying in the breeze. On scope, I confirmed the bizarre sight: the top third of a Mitasterite. His frayed, dark-stained uniform ended mid-chest. His expressionless face was lolled to the side. A piece of material was flapping. The parachute backpack had pulled up—still hanging on—so his arms were unnaturally raised like a doll’s. At any moment, I hoped, he would fall away.
Drop, you bastard. Get out of my sight.
“Satok,” someone said, coming up on my left. Hulk. “Well that’s one way to go.”
“Yeah. Damned quick.”
Three hours of raking in the autumn rain
Fresh air, peace, effort – good for the brain
But a Halloween witch sneered down at my gem
“Fool!” she snickered. “Try again.”
I just published a second short story related to my novel Endgame.
The Mitasterites–the aggressors in what is thus far known as the Great War–come off as a bit one-sided in the events of “Endgame.” The novel (and its successors) is told from the point of view of Captain June Vereeth, a “normal girl” sniper who, no surprise, has little pity or empathy for her enemies.
Is that entirely fair? Though it works for the novel, that answer would be ‘no.’ Some of the best novels and movies around present villains who are more than cardboard cut-outs. One of Anthony Doerr’s main characters in All the Light We Cannot See is a German soldier during WWII. We mourn for Werner Pfennig as a poor orphan with enormous potential who gets swept up into the madness of war. We sympathize even though he is, unwillingly, part of the aggressor side (and he carries some culpability for his actions).
Would the role of Khan in Star Trek II be as memorable if we couldn’t feel a little pity for Khan’s plight? Despite his madness and sense of hell-bent vengeance, it’s easy to understand why he’s a little pissed-off. In The Empire Strikes Back, we’re meant to feel a little concern for the fate of the newly-promoted Admiral Piet. Being the man in charge under Lord Vader has consequences (and never mind the fact that, in “Jedi”, he gets vaporized by an inbound A-wing). Even in The Silence of the Lambs, the musical score evokes the slightest amount of sympathy for the imprisoned Hannibal Lecter. Yes, that Hannibal Lecter. This was no accident on Director Demme’s part. Feeling something for villains makes them richer, more human.
In this story, Marecik is an Executive Officer who, along with Captain Hargarah, must watch when the Admiral’s grand battle plan for conquering P-75 goes up in flames. There’s no option to disobey. To disagree with a superior officer in the Mitasterite Empire means death via sword. So Marecik and his boss (a man he respects) are stuck. As Tennyson famously wrote, “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.”
Above It All