July 8, 2018

Some marginalia

In the past, I was better about sharing my marginalia from the books I read. In the past, I was better at scribbling in the margins.

Over the past year or so, I have fallen out of the habit; it is a habit I hope to recover.

To begin, here are a few notes from a few books I have recently read. I will share more soon.

Here Comes the Sun, Nicole Dennis-Benn

The first and only time I stayed at a Caribbean resort (in the Dominican Republic), I befriended a local young man who worked at the resort; he took me to town and showed me how his family lived, how he was applauded for getting a good job at one of the tourist resorts. It was jarring, compared to the life I was living at the resort. Nicole Dennis-Benn’s novel is equally as jarring, an equally poignant yet unsettling look at the world hidden away from the tourism—a world of people looking to survive and thrive and build their hopes and dreams through the next generation to come.

A Boy in Winter, Rachel Seiffert

I think a lot about movement as I read A Boy in Winter, about being herded together and being displaced. I think a lot about how conflict—war, racism, othering—forces people to move, whether through fleeing or through forced migration or through the rounding up a group of people who are forced to work, or perish. I think a lot about what it means to be displaced, and what it means to not know where home will be next, if there will be any. I think a lot about how some things don’t seem to change, and how heartbreaking that really is.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Reza Aslan

I am not sure what Reza Aslan set out to do when he wrote Zealot, but whatever it may have been, he sure succeeded in getting exposure. This is what sits with me the entire time as I read the book: that this was a tome not meant to elucidate, but provoke. And that, inherently, is its biggest failing. It is a fascinating read because of the way Aslan weaves a story, but it is a vacuous one because it does not have a convincing argument. Nonetheless, it entertains—and I never thought I’d say that about a book about a religious figure.

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

The tragedy in An American Marriage is not in the dissolution of a perfect union, but instead in the way the criminal justice system can tear apart a family, tear apart an individual from their own innate self, all because of a wrongful conviction. This novel is a tragedy told through letters; a part-epistolary novel that shows the frailty of maintaining a connection through the tenuous medium of postal correspondence, while also showing us that even the strongest of bonds can fray.

The King Is Always Above the People, Daniel Alarcón

One of the stories that Daniel Alarcón shares in this collection, República and Grau,” features a blind beggar and a young boy who joins him to beg for money to supplement the family income. The boy changes his appearance, his mannerisms, all to make more money on the street corner. In The Provincials,” Nelson pretends to be his more successful brother, turning pretense into personality, losing himself, and eventually, the people around him, too. What changes do we make to who we are in order to get more, be more? Who are we, really, when we continually shift ourselves based on where we are and who we are with? Questions Alarcón leaves us with; questions that are almost impossible to answer.


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