So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ, Modupe-Bode-Thomas (Translator)

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This novel is in the form of a letter, written by the widowed Ramatoulaye and describing her struggle for survival.

Muslim Ramatoulaye, a Senegalese abandoned wife adjusts to her new role with utter strength tinged with sorrowfulness.

“From then on, my life changed. I had prepared myself for equal sharing, according to the precepts of Islam concerning polygamic life. I was left with empty hands. My children, who disagreed with my decision, sulked. In opposition to me, they
represented a majority I had to respect.”

Bâ invites the reader entry into the depths of Ramatoulaye’s life where all parties and sides are displayed. The complexities, contradictions of Ramatoulaye’s situation adds dimension further explaining the blurred lines of religion, culture and of women.

“Our lives developed in parallel. We experienced the tiffs and reconciliations of married life. In our different ways, we suffered the social constraints and heavy burden of custom. I loved Modou. I compromised with his people. I tolerated his
sisters, who too often would desert their own homes to encumber my own. They allowed themselves to be fed and petted. They would look on, without reacting, as their children romped around on my chairs. I tolerated their spitting, the phlegm expertly secreted under my carpets.”

Ramatoulaye does not point fingers, does not ask for pity, rather she cites all she has learned from her challenge. Her life altered in unimaginable ways she manages to focus on hope rather than lose herself in despair. This beautiful creature forges on in the light of a promising future. A bittersweet story, a remarkable woman. An intimate glance into religion, culture, family and the oppressive plight of women, the ramifications of polygamy. West African customs explored.

A story of friendship, love and hope.

“The word ‘happiness’ does indeed have meaning, doesn’t it? I shall go out in search of it. Too bad for me if once again I have to write you so long a letter….”


Paperback, 90 pages
Published June 28th 1989 by Heinemann Educational Books (first published 1979)
ISBN13: 9780435905552

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This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski

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“Between two throw-ins in a soccer game, right behind my back, three thousand people had been put to death.”

 

A painful writing of the atrocities of Auschwitz. Achingly disturbing. The stories loosely autobiographical. Borowski allows the reader to relive his memories and experiences, leaving you deeply affected and distraught. We are introduced to a prisoner, Tadeusz serving as the voice. Borowski, a young man surviving yet never quite escaping his lingering nightmares. As you read each story you wonder if these served as a catharsis or a dispiriting exercise. Each story inflicts pain, you’re curious if the pain can ever be salved, perhaps Borowski answered my question with this personal account and his demise by his own hand lending this to be an even more incredibly powerful read.

Borowski left me in deep thought as I found myself asking the question of How did this happen? repeatedly and will continue to ask myself this question in the hopes history never repeats.

There can be no beauty if it is paid for by human injustice, nor truth that passes over injustice, nor moral virtue that condones it.”

 


Paperback, 180 pages
Published August 1st 1992 by Penguin Classics (first published 1947)
ISBN13: 9780140186246

Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee

Waiting for the Barbarians

South Africa – a broken nation, war torn for what seems to be forever. Waiting for the Barbarians is a story of moral differences and power. A story depicting the cruelty of humans upon others by the hand of power. The torture scenes are raw, leaving the reader disturbed. The prose both moving and powerful as only Coetzee pens.

“I wondered how much pain a plump comfortable old man would be able to endure in the name of his eccentric notions of how the Empire should conduct itself. But my torturers were not interested in degrees of pain. They were interested only in demonstrating to me what it meant to live in a body, as a body, a body which can entertain notions of justice only as long as it is whole and well, which very soon forgets them when its head is gripped and a pipe is pushed down its gullet and pints of salt water are poured into it till it coughs and retches and flails and voids itself.”

 

The story is poignant and deeply moving, Coetzee’s words leave you breathless. The characters so contrasting – an increasingly sympathetic magistrate and a sadistic, cruel colonial, and of course the barbarians the innocent. A story lingering with the reader for quite a while. Similar to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – haunting, disturbing, memorable.

“Let it at least be said, if it ever comes to be said, if there is ever anyone in some remote future interested to know the way we lived, that in this farthest outpost of the Empire of light there existed one man who in his heart was not a barbarian.”

Published October 1st 1999 by Penguin Books (first published 1980)
Pages 160
ISBN13: 9780140283358

Recommendation: 4/5

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver (The Giver #1)

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”

Such an important message conveyed in this short book. A message stressing the importance of choices, life is nothing without feelings and the capacity to feel, life is experiencing pleasure and pain or it isn’t really life. Wonderful philosophical provocative read. Jonas demonstrates a maturity beyond his years, he is brave and opens his eyes to a ‘reality’ ceasing to exist until new found knowledge is discovered. Lowry succeeds in launching the reader from a utopian to a dystopian society swiftly. The ending leaves the reader lost in thought on its meaning, loads of interpretation to be decoded.


“For the first time, he heard something that he knew to be music. He heard people singing. Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps, it was only an echo.” 

Published January 24th 2006 by Ember (first published 1993)
Pages 179
ISBN13: 9780385732550

Recommendation: 3/5

Walkabout by James Vance Marshall

Walkabout

Walkabout
is a story of diversity, three children’s experience of life through great diversity – culturally, environmentally, racially and rite of passage, death is also addressed.

The arid desolate, barren land of Australia’s Northern Territory is vividly described explaining the difficult surrounding Mary and Peter contended with, while bush boy was one with nature, again contrasts tying the story together.


“Sturt Plain, where the aircraft had crashed, is in the centre of the Northern Territory. It is roughly the size of England and Wales combined; but instead of some 45,000,000 inhabitants, it has roughly 4,500, and instead of some 200,000 roads, it has two, of which one is a fair-weather stock route. Most of the inhabitants are grouped around three or four small towns  Tennant Creek, Hooker Creek, and Daly Waters which means that the rest of the area is virtually uninhabited. The Plain is fourteen hundred miles from Adelaide and is not a good place to be lost in.”

Two separate worlds and three children vastly differing, teaching, learning from each other. Leaning on each other in the name of humanity and its greatest sacrifice.

A subtle story with a powerful message, sad and warming.

Published July 30th 1998 by Puffin (first published January 1st 1959)
Pages 128
ISBN13: 9780140312928

Recommendation: 3/5

Three Bedrooms in Manhattan by Georges Simenon

Three Bedrooms in Manhattan

Three Bedrooms in Manhattan
closely based on the story of Georges Simenon’s own meeting with his second wife.


“It was almost a game–and deeply pleasurable. This was the third room they’d been in together, and in each he’d discovered not only a new Kay but new reasons to love her, different ways of loving her.”

Unemployed French actor whose wife has abandoned him for a much younger man finds himself living in New York coping with loneliness. He happens to meet an equally lonely divorcee and the two attempt to extinguish the pain of loneliness and need.


“Kay would never understand. Why should she? What sort of ridiculous pedestal had he placed her on just because he had run into her one night when he could no longer bear to be alone, a night when she was just looking for a man, or at least a bed?”

Not your average love story by any means…. Both rebounding, lonely and wanting desperately to love and be love we tag along on this sadistic/masochistic emotional relationship. Francoise is obsessed – not only with Kay but with fighting off loneliness. He’s a pendulum swinging with love and loathing for the needy and submissive Kay. Kay fights her ghost of loneliness as well as enables Francoise’s mercurial affections, she is a needy/clingy woman. Two desperate bodies craving to fill the void of emptiness, seeking to repair the damage failing to remember they are broken.

A love story full of sadness, two pitiful souls fractured attempting life together in fast forward motion. Painful and frustrating, fascinating and morbid perhaps embodying the struggle of brain vs. heart with a big fat dose of dysfunctionality for good measure. Effing exhausting!!

Published October 31st 2003 by NYRB Classics (first published 1946)
Pages 176
ISBN13: 9781590170441

Recommendation: 3/5

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

The Lottery and Other Stories

Long before The Hunger Games there was Shirley Jackson’s
The Lottery
.
The Lottery 
is a very short story of a small village, a yearly event of “the lottery” takes place in which one person in the town is randomly chosen via a drawing and wins “the lottery.” I don’t want to tell you what they “win” from the lottery, it would spoil the entire story but it’s not millions of dollars.


The Lottery
is an example of people following and not leading. Powerlessness seems to hold the villagers hostage so they conform and participate in this yearly event despite the fact there is no evidence forcing the inhabitants to continually conduct and participate. Also persecution is strongly present and disturbingly so.

This story packs a strong and powerful message. Jackson uses few words nonetheless penetrating the reader. The reader is enthralled from the start and the build up is great, you know something huge is lurking. Haunting, eerie and frightening, most of all memorable. A must read for all,

The Lottery makes The Hunger Games look like a walk in the park.

Published March 16th 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1948)
Pages 302
ISBN13: 9780374529536

Recommendation: 4/5