Autopsy of a Father by Pascale Kramer

AutopsyFather 2I think it is fair to say that Kramer manages to sneak into your head-space and then lets the events unfold in front of you like a slideshow of personal memories.

Family can give you the best experiences in life, but also the worst. Parental relationships can be the foundations of your identity, however the flip-side of the coin can also be a dysfunctional relationship that means there is no foundation of identity at all or a lack of one.

Although the relationship between Ania and Gabriel takes the main stage in this story, it is so much more than a daughter’s autopsy of the relationship with her father.

Kramer rips a plaster off of the pus filled boil of immigration. She has chosen the suburbs of Paris to point a spotlight at this and the underlying racial tensions in France. To be completely fair, to France that is, it is a topic of contention in quite a lot of western countries at the moment. An issue that has swayed elections and given fodder to the right-wing. We are living in an era where we have to be very careful that we don’t repeat mistakes of the past.

Gabriel is a well-known and admired journalist until he decides to publicly support a group of young French men, who ruthlessly murdered an innocent African immigrant. The victim was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gabriel is vilified for his xenophobic rant. He loses his job, and his neighbours and fellow villagers aren’t afraid to show him how displeased they are by his opinion.

The former left-wing intellectual has suddenly taken on an anti-immigrant stance, which is sort of hypocritical considering that his wife was Iranian. His family structure sort of mirrors that of his home country. His half French and half Iranian daughter embraces her dead mother’s culture and religion. He loved his wife, and yet he rejects his daughter. He used to embrace the diversity in his country and now he rejects anything but the French culture.

Ania is unaware of all of this. The two of them have a fractured relationship. She never lived up to his expectations and he never accepted her shortcomings. The two of them are strangers bound by nothing more than blood. Ania isn’t really bothered by the lack of interest, at least that is what she tells herself. What really gets her goat is when her father treats his grandson, her son, with the same disinterest. I think most readers will be able to comprehend the difference. You get used to the indifference or the negative qualities your parents have and accept them as part of their eccentricities, however we react like protective parents when our children are subjected to the same personality flaws.

There is a moment in the story when Gabriel and Ania are in the same train compartment, and yet he pretends he hasn’t seen them. Almost as if he doesn’t want to associate himself with the two of them in public. Are these the actions of a xenophobe or of a man ashamed of his past actions? Is this realisation the reason he commits suicide?

In a way the story ends without any definitive answers. There is no clarification between Ania and Gabriel, and no resolution in general. Of course that is the reality of life and relationships, sometimes conflicts aren’t resolved.

Aside from the parallels Kramer draws to the political situation in France, which is quite cleverly done in the context of a family setting, I really think she portrayed the relationship between daughter and father well. The dysfunctional side of family, the distances that grow between people, and the hard and hurtful truth that usually remains unspoken.

Buy Autopsy of a Father at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

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A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

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Stick with it, would be my first observation. It may take a while for you to be drawn into this, and to be fair Grossman plays his cards close to his chest. The majority of the book takes place on stage with Dov and his stand-up comedy routine.

Dov bares his emotions and soul to the audience. He pays particular attention to his old acquaintance Avi, after extending a personal invitation to him. Why comedy? Well, that becomes self explanatory when Dov tells everyone what happens to his parents.

Avishai is both observer and narrator, through past and present. I think one of the most important questions is what role he plays in the story. Why does Dovaleh want him there? What will his presence change? Does Dov expect something from Avishai?

I do believe Dov wants Avi to comprehend what he did and how he treated Dov all those years ago. There is a moment during the comedy routine or rather the life monologue where Avi is once again given the choice between looking away or intervening. This decision may be the beginning of a healing process, then again perhaps it is just late justice.

Grossman reminds me of Roald Dahl in a sense that his writing reflects his grief. You can feel the pain of losing his son in his words. Even after a decade he still seems to be searching for the why of it all. This is also a theme within this particular story. Why Dov? What is the point of our existence? Why one person and not the other? Perhaps most importantly why so many of us look the other way when someone is in need or just needs some support.

This is an unusual read, one I can imagine well as a short film. It is a confession of sorts, the type that needs absolution or maybe Dov is seeking it for others. A Horse Walks into a Bar is a complex conversation full of self flagellation in the form of jokes.

Buy A Horse Walks into a Bar at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

homo_deusIt’s smart, complex and quite frankly a wee bit terrifying. Harari doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to saying it like it is. It certainly isn’t the kind of book you read and just delegate to the back rows of read books. It’s the kind of read you digest and ponder over.

One of the issues he discusses or argues is that humans have tried their hand at everything, and the only thing that could possibly stroke their egos more is extending the length of their power. Immortality or as close as we can come to it. It just proves how egotistical and self-enamoured humans are.

Harari wants the reader to put down their phones, step away from technology and perhaps reflect upon the questions, facts and suppositions he throws into the room. It is a very thought-provoking read.

It is quite hard to put the content into just a few words. There is just too much information to do that. I do however have to hand it to Harari for making all the information and hypothetical situations readable and understandable.

Buy Homo Deus at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

The Orphan Mother by Robert Hicks

the-orphan-motherHicks portrays the contentious political atmosphere in 1867 quite well. Despite the Civil Rights Bill and the Freeman’s Bureau, there was still great opposition to the rights and freedom of ex-slaves.

Many of the white people find it difficult to accept the fact the former slaves now have a voice and aren’t afraid to use it. Those that weren’t born into a life of slavery view the ex-slaves as different to themselves, there is even a hierarchy amongst the slaves.

However they do agree on their common enemy. Those that hate all of them, because of the colour of their skin.

There are also the beginnings of the structure of organised disruption and attacks on blacks and white sympathizers. White men banding together to commit murder, arson and torture.

The story wanders from the future into the past and the atmosphere above. Mariah’s tale is slowly woven one, but certainly one worth staying with until the end. The loss of her son determines the rest of her life. His death is the catalyst to the entire events that unfold.

Hicks hits upon so many important issues during that era, but they never overshadow the actual main plot. From Mariah’s strange bond between herself and her former owner, and her quest for answers, which isn’t about vengeance, although Tole mistakenly thinks it is.

I could go on for quite a while about this book, it is a good read, and I just have to add that the author’s note was an interesting conclusion to the read. I really enjoyed the way the author kept a comfortable pace and took his time to let the characters grow, feel and explore within the narrative.

Buy The Orphan Mother at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

P.S: I adore the cover!

Sarah by J.T. Leroy

sarah2It is an unusual but strangely compelling read. It’s as if the world of truck stop prostitution exists as a solitary planet in the universe called earth. To the so-called lizards it is the only life they know and nothing seems to be able to penetrate the bubble of pay as you go sexual relations.

Sarah, Cherry Vanilla or Sam are all one and the same person, who he or she is depends on the situation and environment they find themselves in. Sometimes she is the pretty little girl mirage, sometimes she is the raunchy cherry on the top of the sexual sundae and towards the end he is just himself.

For Sarah/Sam everything he does leads back to Sarah the mother and Sarah the hooker. There is a constant need for acceptance, love and acknowledgement. The neglected child resurfaces over and over again, despite the fact the mother doesn’t acknowledge their biological relationship.

A sleazy tale of abuse via Sarah’s johns emerges, which eventually leads to him working in the same industry as her. As a reader I felt pity for the behaviour he has to endure. He is so desperate for any kind of attention from her that he even misses the insults when she is gone. A sad little boy who only knows the affection of truckers in need of sexual gratification.

It is a bit of an oddball read, but I really enjoyed  it. LeRoy is a breath of fresh air, albeit one that is tainted by the sordid world of prostitution.

Unlike many other reviewers my review is based solely on the book I have read and not on the bizarre story of the pseudo writer and the actual writer behind the pseudonym.

Buy Sarah at Amazon UK or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

paxThis book is for readers aged 10 years and upwards.

The story is complimented by the lovely illustrations by Jon Klassen. Although it is written for younger readers it has themes that everyone can identify with. Those topics range from the bond between a child and their pet, abandonment, PTSD, war and moving on in life.

Pennypacker lets the reader see the topics through two sets of eyes, those of Peter the boy and Pax the fox. It gives an overall view of the world through the eyes of the humans and through the eyes of the animals.

The story starts with Peter being forced to dump his hand-reared fox in the woods. Pax is his best friend and his pet. Peter realises that being hand-reared means possible death to the animal, and sets off to find him. He feels guilty for abandoning his friend and for not standing up to his father.

Meanwhile Pax is re-introduced to his natural environment and to other foxes. They perceive him as the enemy because he smells like, and I quote, ‘Stinky-Human.’

The animals communicate and talk about the humans and their wars. Pennypacker gives the animals more than just a voice, she gives them conversation, opinions and insights.

The story is very subtle, you feel a sense of peace and feel a part of the forest. I think the story of Pax the fox is a lot stronger than that of his human. At the same time Peter’s story is also poignant. His encounter with the veteran, the discussion about PTSD, the debate on war (even the animals get in on that). There was also an interesting parallel made between the aggression in his father and behaviour passed on from generation to generation.

Overall it is definitely literary fiction I would recommend for both younger and older readers.

Buy Pax at Amazon UK or go to Goodreads for any other retailer,

An Eye for an Eye for an Eye by Marc Nash

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A gift or a curse?

Simon Moralee is the man of the hour. The instant crime-solver extraordinaire with an exceptional talent or gift. He can see the face of crime, the face of the murderer and he can see who did what to whom.
I believe the gift isn’t seeing the face of the murderer though.
I think the real gift Moralee has been given is giving the victims a sense of safety, respite even. Why? Because the last thing they see if Moralee connects with them, is his face and not that of the person who killed them. That is the true gift Simon Moralee imparts upon the victims.
Nash has a very distinctive style and I would suggest 52FF to get a better feel of it. His stories are always very complex and he tends to use the readers grey cells like a hockey puck. There is no slacking off you have to pay attention. I enjoy that about his work, although I do feel as if this time it might have been detrimental to the story he wanted to create, as opposed to the actual end product.
However saying that this is probably exactly what he intended.
Initially I thought the concept was crime and solving murders via the strange talents of Mr Moralee. The focus changed and it became more of a dark dialogue of moral right and wrong. The apathy of our society in general plays a huge role in it and I think Nash is trying to make some very important points. In the story the police force is minimized and Moralee is used as a crime solving tool. The easy fix instead of crime scene investigation. Media sensationalism instead of investigation. It is a suitable comparison to our era of less manpower and more social media. The 21st century automaton fix it strategy, which is slowly cutting out the humane aspect of our society.
Overall I think Nash has tried to outsmart the reader with his literary hockey puck and intellectual field plays, which is why his work will appeal to some and not at all to others.
With a Nash story you have to be prepared to look deeper. You have to read between the lines and look behind the corners he creates. Of you want reading material that will make your grey cells need a shot of Whiskey then Nash is your scribe.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author.