My Poetry Corner: In a Language that You Know by: Len Verwey – a review

“I’d recognize you now

in an instant

yet I’d struggle to describe you to a

friend as you were then.”

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This week I’m introducing My Poetry Corner where I’ll review chapbooks, literary magazines/journals, and other poetry collections. And I might add one of my own pieces from time to time.

In this week’s Poetry Corner I’ll be reviewing Len Verwey’s In a Language that You Know which is scheduled for publication later this year.

Let my start by showing my appreciation to NetGalley and the Publisher for sending me a free copy of the book for in exchange for an honest review.

My initial judgment of a book is usually based on the cover. That’s what caught my attention as I browsed titles on NetGalley. The artwork was intriguing. However, I requested this one because of the title, In a Language that You Know AND because it’s part of the African Poetry Book Series. One of my reading goals is to consume more poetry, especially by South African poets. After all, great writers read.

Initial insights

In a Language that You Know is a collection of poetry that paints the life of a man whose life was shaped by his experiences in Southern Africa. I say Southern Africa, because several poems reference Mozambique. The poems are grouped by life cycle: childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood. Collectively, the poems tell a beautiful coming of age story complemented by the author, Len Verwey’s, well-constructed prose.

What I liked

Verwey’s style, which is mainly prose poetry, gave the collection a narrative feel. The pieces flowed so seamlessly that at times I forgot I was reading poetry. I suppose that’s what prose poetry is meant to do. In several areas, he used titles to set the scene for the next section. Poems like Coast, Experts, Sunnydale, and 1999 ground the reader in the stage of life and era being discussed.

The poems about the Apartheid era are also different from others I’ve read. Verwey’s selection narrates someone who lived his life amid the civil war. He did what he wanted, other times he did as he was told, and in the midst of it, made money when he could. The love poems were sweet and definitely a few of my favorites.

I must say that Verwey writes great endings. There are a few non-rhyming couplets that were really captivating.

What I didn’t like

Although there were some lovely pieces, most of the poems aren’t the kind that stay with you long after you’ve turned the page. There were several moments when I got to the end of a poem and had forgotten what the poem was about.

The forms used are analogous, mostly because of the style. They are almost entirely prose poetry with variations of free form and a few other variations but for the most part, prose broken into verses. Personally, I would have appreciated more variety.

 

Final thoughts

In a Language that You Know was okay. There are one or two pieces I’d go back to and even recall from time to time but overall it was a nice story. Would I recommend it? I don’t know. Maybe. Depending on whether or not you appreciate prose poetry. I do think it would make an interesting mini-series or perhaps even a short film.

2.7/5 stars

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And that’s it for this week’s Poetry Corner.

From Cape Town with Love,

Robyn-Lee

Review: The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth (Book 1) By N.K. Jemisin

fifth_season“Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.”

I’m reading The Broken Earth series with the lovely folks over at the Fantasy Buddy Reads Group on Goodreads.  Beyond Middle Earth and Westeros, I haven’t explored the world of fantasy fiction much. Nevertheless, since I enjoy the genre on both the big and small screens, I took the plunge. And am I ever glad I did.

 

Initial Insights

The Fifth Season is the first book in The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin. In this epic dystopian fantasy, Jemisin narrates the events that led up to the end of the world and the effect it had on the inhabitants of the Stillness.

In The Fifth Season, Jemisin gracefully explores what it means to be human and how ignoring our innate worth can have severe consequences.

“That we’re not human is just the lie they tell themselves so they don’t have to feel bad about how they treat us.”

As a start to the series, it introduces the geography, history, and politics of the Stillness. The Fifth Season also shapes the main characters, giving the reader a look at their humanity and brokenness. It also provides an intro to orogeny which is a valuable but dangerous super power. By the end of The Fifth Season, the reader knows that the world has ended, who caused it and why.

What I liked

I enjoyed Jemisin’s narrative style – which switches between second person and third person depending on the POV. It reminded me of Toni Morrison’s style in The Bluest Eye, which I’ve actually missed in the books I’ve read of late. Jemisin’s ability to weave story lines and arc in an engaging way is remarkable.

Each storyline developed at a great pace filled with action, romance, and suspense. Each character developed through the challenges they faced and the secrets they discovered about the world, the Stillness.

The visuals were great too, from the obelisks to Yumenese and the islands, Jemisin paints lovely and gruesome pictures that allow the reader to escape into Stillness and experience life with the characters. The nature of orogeny and the extent of an orogene’s capabilities is revealed in stages, which lets the reader discover new capabilities with the character.

The foreshadowing in the novel is another well-written feature. There’s an appealing balance between what is revealed and what remains a mystery.

Alabaster was definitely my favourite character other than Syenite. Reading the Fifth Season was also fun because it felt African. The dreadlocks and complexion aside. For instance, there’s a scene where Damaya’s mother calls her “Dama Dama” and it felt like reading something homegrown. It was refreshing.

 

What I didn’t like:

It took a while for me to realize that the story is set in three eras. This made the geography confusing at times. I didn’t care much for the love triangle.

 

Final thoughts

The Fifth Season starts with the end of the world and then moves on to more interesting things. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, the Stillness and its people, and Jemisin’s writing. The Fifth season is definitely making my top ten list. The Prologue was also confusing at first. However, when I finished I re-read portions of it and it made more sense.

5/5 stars

Ball 5 Stars

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Favourite quotes

This read had so many memorable moments and tweetable quotes. Choosing my favourites proved difficult. But here they are:

“He takes all that, the strata and the magma and the people and the power, in his imaginary hands. Everything. He holds it. He is not alone. The earth is with him. Then he breaks it.”

“Nothing to do but follow your crazy, though.”

“The source of the glow is beyond the mountains, as if the setting sun went the wrong way and got stuck there.”

“neither myths nor mysteries can hold a candle to the most infinitesimal spark of hope.”

About the Author

N. K. Jemisin is an author living and writing in Brooklyn, NY. This is fortunate as she enjoys subways, tiny apartments, and long walks through city parks. Her short fiction has been published in a number of magazines and podcast markets, and has been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula award. She won the Locus Award for Best First Novel and the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award.

TBT Review: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

What is clear now is that of all of that hope, fear, lust, love, and grief, nothing remains but Pecola and the unyielding earth. Cholly Breedlove is dead; our innocence too. The seeds shriveled and died; her baby too. There is really nothing more to say—except why. But since why  is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.

Today I’m doing a throwback to a book I read last year. My creative writing lecturer recommended this book years ago because of the timeline Morrison uses in The Bluest Eye. I finally read it. And from the first page Morrison’s style, and play with words captivated me.

Initial Insights

The Bluest Eye was like coming up for air. I’d read three John Grisham novels back to back (which I would not recommend) and needed something that would remind me why I enjoy reading.

Set in Lorain, Ohio, this epic tragedy tells the story of a little black girl, Pecola Breedlove, who longs for Blue Eyes. No. The bluest eyes in the world. Using different POVs and writing techniques, Morrison touches on beauty, abuse, racism, incest, and our innate desire to belong and be loved.

What I liked

The novel starts with a children’s story based on a basal reader Fun With Dick and Jane.

“Here is the house. It is green and white. It has a red door. It is very pretty. Here is the family. Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane live in the green-and-white house. They are very happy. See Jane. She has a red dress. She wants to play. Who will play with Jane?…”

This simple refrain is repeated but deconstructed in a manner that paints the destruction of each character, especially Pecola. It set the tone for the story Morrison’s technique also shadows the events in the story.

Pecola’s story is told through the narrative of others in her community: her friend, her parents, strangers. As if she has no voice of her own, which is sad but the Bluest Eye was meant to be a tragedy.

Morrison’s character development intrigued me. Most chapters had a different story arc that tied into Pecola’s life toward the end but the processed showed the brokenness of each character. I didn’t mind it at first because I suppose she wanted to show the flaws in all of them and the reasons for their actions. I found this interesting because other than Pecola’s father, Cholly Breedlove, I could empathize with all the characters.

Then there were the different narrative styles for each POV. The entire book is narrated by Claudia, who is looking back on a specific year when the Marigolds didn’t grow in their town. In the first section as Pecola’s storyline is explored, the narrative is simple and really true to the narrator. Short sentences humorous moments that reminded me of Scout and Jeremy Finch’s antics in “To Kill a Mocking Bird”.

Later the narrative style changes as Morrison explores Pecola’s parents through flashbacks and more complex sentence structure. Pauline Breedlove’s chapter was fun to read. Mostly because Morrison cut through the flashbacks with stretches of first person monologues. It felt as if Pauline was watching a documentary about her life and then clicked pause to reflect on key moments and their impact in her life and consequently Pecola’s.

Cholly’s chapter follows a similar style to Pauline’s but without the monologues. After Cholly’s back story we have Soaphead, whose story is also told in the third person narrative but includes a letter to God which he essentially writes to vent. In the letter, the reader is given a foretaste into Pecola’s fate.

Morrison ends with a dialogue between Pecola and either her inner self or an imaginary friend about her rape, her blue eyes, and whether she has the bluest eyes in the world. It’s really sad. This section has absolutely no narration just dialogue but again it was used in a creative way to communicate Pecola’s fate.

And then Claudia briefly wraps it all up with commentary on her and the community’s role in what becomes of Pecola. Much like the closing narrative in The Film version of the Help (still need to read the book).
What I didn’t like

After page 125 of this version, it gets quite graphic. There are a number of explicit sections. I skipped much of Cholly’s chapter and Soaphead’s letter.

Though the backstories served a purpose in the overall tale, I grew tired of being introduced to some new in each chapter. And I felt that Soaphead Church’s story was unnecessarily explicit in areas. Much of his letter was unneeded, in my opinion.

Final thoughts

Overall I loved this story. It was sad and deep and dark and it’s definitely a heavy read emotionally. But Morrison’s artistry makes it one of my literary treasures. I’d recommend it. But have something light-hearted on standby.

4/5 stars.

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Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She is the author of several novels, including The Bluest Eye, Beloved (made into a major film), and Love. She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize. She is the Robert F. Goheen Professor at Princeton University.

What type of novels do you prefer?

​Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee – A Book Review

I need a watchman to tell me this is what a man says but this is what he means, to draw a line down the middle and say here is this justice and there is that justice and make me understand the difference.”

From the moment I finished reading “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” I ached for another Harper Lee title to devour. So when I passed an Exclusive Books store and saw the bright orange covers decorating their  display, I had to have a copy – especially since my birthday was days away.
Initial Insights

By the author of “To Kill a Mocking Bird”, Go Set Watchmen chronicles Jean-Louis Finch’s return to Maycomb to look after her aging father. But when she gets home, Jean-Louis, aka Scout, finds that her beloved town and the people she holds dear have changed. Or have they?

In “Go Set a Watchman” Scout discovers the racial tensions that have shaped her society, her family, and herself.

What I liked

Returning to Maycomb and “visiting” with Jean-Louis, Aunt Alexandra, and Atticus was a highlight. I could relate with Scout’s journey home and seeing everyone with a new perspective.

everyone again after all these year. I also enjoyed the moments when Scout reminisces about her youth, her rows with Cal, and annoyances with Jem. I guess it was more the nostalgia of it all than anything else.

Nostalgia aside, Chapters 18 and 19 were okay. In these chapters, Scout, who is angry that her father and fiancé are opposed to the civil rights movement, shares her vexation with her uncle, Jack. But instead of a sympathetic ear, he make her see the light. Uncle Jack spends two chapters explaining why conservative white Americans are “justified” in opposing the civil rights movement and its aftermath.

I don’t agree with any of his claims. Go Set a Watchman, and these chapters in particular, voice the other side of the civil rights discourse. We seldom hear, see, or read literature that shed light on why these movements are opposed. Although I don’t hold those views, I feel it’s important that such voices exist in literature.

What I didn’t like

“Go Set a Watchman” was disappointing, to say the least. I found it unnecessarily long, and there was no clear plot to speak of. It dragged. I didn’t appreciate how all the characters told Scout “You don’t understand”, or “Try looking at things from my perspective” – which is fine but it felt like everyone was telling Scout We are right you are wrong. Also after her conversation with her uncle Scout is so vexed that she wants to leave town. However, after her uncle slaps her she suddenly has an epiphany and everything makes sense. In two sentences she goes from “I’m leaving don’t stop me” to “It all makes sense now” which is unrealistic and disappointing. After that paragraph, I skipped to the last page and ended my misery.
Final Thoughts

I would recommend Go Set a Watchman as a collector’s piece. It’s Harper Lee’s original manuscript and thus has literary and sentimental value. The orange cover will also liven up any bookshelf. Having said that, I would not recommend reading it as fiction. Perhaps as a literary insight into an author’s refining process.

I’ll give it 2/5 stars.

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About the Author

Harper Lee was born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. She is the author of the acclaimed novels To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and numerous other literary awards and honors. She died on February 19, 2016.

What is your favourite historical fiction book?

Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption: A Story from Different Seasons by Stephen King – Review

​“Remember that hope is a good thing, Red, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

I’ve watched The Shawshank Redemption so many times that I could probably recite the opening monolog verbatim. It’s one of my favourite movies. Yet in all the times I’ve seen it, I never noticed the graphic text that read “Based on the novel by Stephen King”. I stumbled across an e-Book version of the novella while doing  Google search and being a self-proclaimed book dragon, I had to read it.

Initial Insights

Written by Stephen King, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption chronicles the life of Andrew Dufresne, a banker, in Shawshank state prison between the years 1948 and 1975. Like the film, the book is narrated by Red, an inmate who has some clout in the prison. I must say, this was my introduction to the writings of Stephen King. And I loved it.

Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is a story about hope, friendship, identity, and unwavering determination in the most hopeless of places – a prison.

What I liked

I enjoyed the narration. Much like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eyes” and Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, RHSR is told in the first person/observer. A fact King mentions often with phrases like “This is what I know…My guess is…”,  “I heard this from…sources”, or “This Andy told me himself” which allowed me to trust the narrator’s account. I knew he was telling me the story as he knew it. It also made it conversational – as if you and Red are on a bus trip across the country and he’s telling you about Andy Dufresne.

Also for the last 10 pages or so, Red basically tell the audience what he thinks happened after the major turning point in the story. I liked this because it has details that the film lacks and it gives the reader insights into Andy’s state of mind towards after years in prison and shows how well the two really knew each other.

King’s use of foreshadowing works well. If I read this novella without having watched the movie, I would have had a lot more “ah” moments. I like the novella’s ending better. Both end the same way but the details differ slightly and for me, the novella’s ending was much more sentimental and rounded off both characters nicely.

What I didn’t like

There were some scenes in the film that weren’t in the book and I missed them… To start, the scene where Andy locks himself in the warden’s office to play the opera vinyl over the speakers. That scene is classic and Red’s monologue unforgettable. I kind of wish King had that idea originally. Then Andy giving Red the harmonica, and finally, the conversation between Red and Andy about hope – “That’s a dangerous thing in a place like this”. So I missed those but only because I saw the film first.

Final thoughts

All in all, I give Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption five stars. It’s message of hope and perseverance stays will stay with me always.

Ball 5 Stars

Favourite quote

“It goes back to what I said about Andy wearing his freedom like an invisible coat, about how he never really developed a prison mentality. His eyes never got that dull look.”

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About the Author

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty worldwide bestsellers including his novel 11/22/63, which was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.