Book Review: She Matters by Susanna Sonnenberg

It took me a while to read this book, not because I couldn’t get into it, pretty much the exact opposite, just because it’s a book that can be read in installments, each chapter a story in itself, intertwined with all of the other chapter/stories to create a life in words. She Matters – A Life in Friendships is a collection of stories of Susanna Sonnenberg’s friendships that have come, gone and/or spanned a lifetime.

I had actually never heard of Susanna Sonnenberg before, and picked up She Matters one day while I was roaming around St Mark’s Bookshop for something new to read. The idea just really appealed to me, and after I had read the first chapter I wished it was the book I had thought of to write. It’s beautifully written, and a lot of the stories hit very close to home, mainly because of Sonnenberg’s complete ability to be truthful to herself and the reader. Some of the friendships she describes are balanced and go the distance; others end in tears, break-ups, or just sputter out along the way. Friendships that are built out of happenstance or a mutual interest; women who are brought together via a common cause, because they share the same classes or become roommates randomly after college. Some of the friendships have their ups and downs but settle down and become lifelong. Others last a couple of years and disappear due to neglect or distance. And others end in tears and pain, due to one or the other woman’s issues or selfishness. All are friendships that we can relate to – we have all had a Rachel, a Debra, a Louise in our lives. We have all met women with whom we have bonded immediately, women with whom we wanted to be friends no matter what, women who we disliked but then learnt to love. We have all had long-lasting and short-term friendships with women, and we have all had our hearts broken by a woman friend.

If I were to write a similar style project I think that I would not be able to only contain my work to female friendships that have shaped parts of my life, but I really love how Sonnenberg wrote and produced her work, creating a book that is both wonderfully written and so truthful as well as true to life that you don’t really want it to end. Very inspiring.

Book Review: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I reviewed Adichie's second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, last year when I was working at the BAM book/merch kiosk (review HERE). I picked it up on one of those days when I was working a double and had finished the book I was reading and needed something to pass the time. As you can see from my review, I fell in love with the story and her prose, and couldn't wait to read her first novel and her collection of short stories. It took me a year to get back to her, because I am terrible with keeping up to date on my reading lists (if you saw the pile of books waiting to be read next to my bed you would understand), and because I only remembered to buy her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, when I read a review on the release of her third novel, Americanah.

I don't usually start a book with the feeling that it may not be as good as I am hoping it to be, but I did with this one, seeing as I had read her second novel before her first, and how much of a mark it had left on my brain and my heart. I couldn't have been more wrong. Adichie had definitely already found her voice before she started writing Purple Hibiscus, and the prose is just as stunning and sublime as it was in Half of a Yellow Sun. From here on out I shall stop comparing, as although both novels are set in Nigeria, that is where the resemblances end.

Purple Hibiscus is set in post-colonial Nigeria, and revolves around the home of Kambili, the narrator, a quiet, shy and studious 15 year old girl, her older brother Jaja, her father Eugene and her mother Beatrice. With the backdrop of a military coup and military crackdowns and the beginnings of uprisings in the country, we see Kambili's small world grow while she herself comes to terms with her problems at home, and those of the country she lives in. Eugene is wealthy and well-respected in the community, aiming to give his family the best education and life that he can, as well as helping those around him. But he is also a religious zealot and a tyrant at home, with a violent temper and prone to doling out harrowing punishments that make your heart hurt. When Eugene's sister, Ifeoma, persuades him to let her take Kambili and Jaja to stay with her in her town for a week, the children both learn of a world outside of theirs that is bigger and more complicated than they can ever expect, which in turn leads them both to question their own lives and how their father wants them to live them.

At times beautiful, at times horrific, Purple Hibiscus draws you into a world that is so different, but at the same time so similar, and wraps itself around you tightly. Once you have Kambili's voice inside your head you are loathe to let her go, even after you have turned the last page and there are no more words. There are times where I just wanted to shake her and say "speak up, let your voice be heard!", and then would remember myself at her age, and how I often found it impossible to say anything out of fear of being heard. I love Adichie's character development skills - her characters are always so real and so human, never black or white or one-sided, but colourful and full of emotion. This novel is so harrowing and so beautiful it will remain with you well after you have finished it.

After chatting to one of my friends about how I loved Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's work last night, she sent me an interview she had come across not so long ago in the New York Times. I can't wait to read Americanah (and will do once it is out in paperback - I find hardbacks too heavy to carry around and too annoying to bulky in bed), and this interview just really emphasized why I love this amazingly talented author so much.

Book Review - Arcadia by Lauren Groff

There are times when I start to read a novel and by the first sentence I am completely hooked, reluctant to put it down and always thinking about the next moment that I will have a free minute so that I can pick it up again and continue to read the story. There are other times when I read a few pages and lose interest, dropping it down on the pile of books on my nightstand, sometimes going back to it on another day, other times just leaving it there until it makes it's way back into one of my book cases. And then there are the times that I start a book, and have a little trouble in the beginning, but keep at it, because I know deep down that it is going to be a gem of a story, one that will hold onto my heart for a long time. Arcadia by Lauren Groff falls into the latter category.

Set in three different periods of time, Arcadia follows little Bit's life, from when he is born into a commune named Arcadia in the late 60's, through his early 30's in New York City and then finally back in Arcadia in his 50's. Born to Abe, a pillar of the Arcadian community, and Hannah, strong and beautiful but prone to bouts of debilitating depression, the only life Bit knows until his early teens is that of Arcadia. A commune based on utopia ideals that works and then falls apart, where everyone works together to create a place where the rules of the outside world are not needed in order to survive. Where music and love and hard work create a home where happiness is meant to be prevalent, and politics, hypocrisy and hatred are non-existent. Arcadia works well in a confined place with a small amount of inhabitants but once it becomes popular the population grows and grows, and the ideals inevitably start to crumble. We see Arcadia through Bit's eyes and hear it's music through Bit's ears, we become part of his life, ask the same questions as him, love his friends the way he loves them and fall in love with the troubled Helle, the girl and then woman who occupies his heart even when he doesn't want her to, when he does. When Arcadia falls apart Abe and Hannah decide to take their son out into the world, before they are crushed by the consequences, and Bit has to learn how to live as most people live, away from the protection of the commune and from the freedom he always knew.

Groff's prose is absolutely beautiful. Her descriptions of Arcadia are stunning and so realistic you can only imagine being there; however, it is the way that she portrays love, heartbreak and pure sadness that really hit me in the stomach. We all know these feelings all too well, but when the prose you are reading actually makes you feel the exact emotions the main character is feeling, down to the very core, something special happens. It's as if it releases something inside of you, a mixture of pure sadness and the realization that you have touched something very beautiful and very clear. I hope that one day my own writing can create the same type of feeling in others, because there is something so incredible about how this type of writing continues to make you feel, days after you have finished the book. Groff has an amazing talent, and I hope she continues to create such wonderful stories for us.

Arcadia is not only a terrific story in itself, it is also, in my opinion, a stunning piece of literature.

Lauren Groff's Website

Book Review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

I don't even know where to start with this. This novel has so many layers and depths. Every time you uncover another depth or peel away another layer you can't help but sit back and bask in the absolute greatness of it all. This isn't just a good book, it's an amazing piece of modern literature, a work of art. I never doubted Eugenides talent, but this is honestly him at his best (in my opinion). This may be because a lot of the story lines hit home. It wasn't just that I completely related to the characters, more that I felt that there were huge parts of me in all of them. Or maybe huge parts of them in me? Who knows. Let's start with the first paragraph...

"To start with, look at all the books. There were her Edith Wharton novels, arranged not by title but date of publication; there was the complete Modern Library set of Henry James, a gift from her father on her twenty-first birthday; there were the dog-eared paperbacks assigned in her college courses, a lot of Dickens, a dmidgen of Trollope, along with good helpings of Austen, George Eliot, and the redoutable Brontë sisters. There were a whole lot of black-and-white New Directions paperbacks, mostly poetry by people like H.D. or Denise Levertov. There were the Colette novels she read on the sly. There was the first edition of Couples, belonging to her mother, which Madeleine had surreptitiously dipped into back in sixth grade and which she was using now to provide textual support in her English honors thesis on the marriage plot. There was, in short, this mid-size but still portable library representing pretty much everything Madeleine had read in college, a collection of texts, seemingly chosen at random, whose focus slowly narrowed, like a personality test, a sophisticated one you couldn't trick by anticipating the implications of its questions and finally got so lost in that your only recourse was to answer the simple truth. And then you waited for the result, hoping for "Artistic" or "Passionate", thinking that you could live with "Sensitive", secretly fearing "Narcissistic" and "Domestic", but finally being presented with an outcome that cut both ways and made you feel different depending on the day, the hour, or the guy you happened to be dating: "Incurably Romantic."

I already identified with Madeleine from the first lines. Add some Hardy, Tolstoy, Byron, Rimbaud, Keats, de Nerval and Baudelaire in there and it could have been me. Sitting in a room surrounded by novels that depict love lost and found, heartbreak and happiness within pages and pages of beautiful words has always been my safe place - as it seems to be Madeleine's. Although I feel I am still more pulled towards the darker side, more Hardy and Tess than Austen and Emma. But anyway, am going to try to not to get sidetracked and talk about myself as usual, as I doubt Eugenides wrote this novel with me in mind...

Madeleine is writing her thesis on the marriage plot in 19th century Victorian literature (think Jane Austen's work as a prime example), and how with the changes in society (divorce etc) and marriage not being as important as it once was, the novel itself seems to have slightly lost the plot (so to say). By depicting Madeleine's real life love triangle with her manic-depressive boyfriend Leonard and her friend who happens to be madly in love with her, Mitchell Grammaticus, Eugenides reinvents the marriage plot in it's modern form and gives us a good dose of the modern mixed with the classic, with twists and turns that you cannot even expect to expect, right down to the last page.

Leonard is the one character I so wanted to despise, but just couldn't. Eugenides has a very clear view of what manic-depression does to people, and the picture he portrays of Leonard is one that way too many of us go through every day. (FYI the novel is set in the early 80's, so all of the older terms of this illness and medication are used in the novel). Some times you just want to shake Leonard and tell him to snap out of it, other times you just want him to do the right thing and disappear, leaving Madeleine to live a happier life with someone like Mitchell. Mitchell, on the other hand, is just as lost as the other two, travelling around Europe and India, searching for his spiritual self while pining after Madeleine at every waking moment. Every time you feel like you finally know one of the characters they turn round and show you another side of themselves, just like people in real life. Nothing is ever exactly how it seems and failure to communicate correctly can lead to disastrous as well as spectacular experiences. However many times you think that you know the outcome, it most often doesn't fall quite into place the way you would like it to - which is not always a bad thing. And then sometimes, once in a while, it all just works out perfectly, even if this wasn't what you thought you wanted.

I don't want to talk more about the plot of the novel, as I think everyone will have their own feelings about this, but not only is this a wonderful story, beautifully written, it's also a great psychological insight and social study on how we all react and communicate (or not) with each other on a daily basis. You can protect yourself from everything to avoid pain, but in the end there will always be some cracks in the armour. A serious must-read in my books.

Book Review: My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

I had an unexpected night off last night so I decided that an "early" night (meaning around midnight) was in order. I finished this new book off that I was reading and fell asleep... The first few hours of that supposedly "good" sleep were plagued with the weirdest borderline nightmare dreams that kept waking me up. Needless to say the last 5 hours of the sleep (5am - 10am) were just lovely. At first this got me thinking that I just can't have a proper sleep unless I fall asleep after 3am, but then I thought back to another time, years ago when I was a watching a documentary about the same subject as the book I finished last night and had the worst nightmares I had ever had... I suppose I should consider this a lesson: don't read or watch anything about Jeffrey Dahmer before going to sleep. (I guess that would be an obvious conclusion to make).

I've never been a big reader of graphic novels, probably because I never made an effort to read any, and wasn't introduced to any by any of my friends when I was younger (apart from Sambre, the collection that I have written about on here before). A few weeks ago I came across a graphic novel display at the bookstore and was drawn to one that was sitting right in the middle: My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf. Of course I had to pick it up. And buy it. I have no qualms about talking about my long-standing interest in the psyche of serial killers. In my teens I wanted to become a criminal profiler and work for the FBI, or the British or French equivalent (I was already aware of the fact that the US government probably wasn't going to hand me a green card just because I wanted to join the FBI). Of course I never became a criminal profiler (probably for the best - I doubt my mind could have dealt with seeing murders and atrocities on an ongoing basis), but my interest in the minds of killers never really went away. I can't really say I am alone in this either - Criminal Minds is one of the most popular shows on TV!

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Backderf was at high school with Jeffrey Dahmer and depicts his relationship with him, as well as Jeffrey's home life and school life in an awesome graphic novel, recreating the darkness and boredom felt living in a small town, a school where kids grew together in cliques and where there were always different levels on the social ladder. Backderf tries his best to display Dahmer as a person, an introverted and shy teenager with the tendancy to make others laugh with his freakish behaviour. A loner who had no real friends and who had fantasies and urges he couldn't bear to deal with. We see a Dahmer who spends his days drinking behind the school walls, and no one even noticed it, especially not the teachers or most of the kids. Even those who would speak to him never really saw it as something that they should be worried about - they just moved away from him and left him alone. Nothing really shocking about that though - he had no real close friends and his life at home was dire.

There have been so many books and documentaries that discuss Dahmer's horrific crimes and atrocities, but I think this is the first story I have read that tries to show what he was like before he became the serial killer he was. Backderf does not attempt to make anyone feel bad for the young Dahmer, many people have had shitty childhoods and don't automatically turn into serial killers, but he does succeed in giving a monster a human side. Backderf's drawings are perfect for the dark and gloomy Middle America depressed teen story; sometimes reminding me of a dark, graphic version of Dazed and Confused. A coming of age story with a severe nuclear fall-out. The idea of making a graphic novel out of this story is actually perfect - the images are able to display the exact setting and atmosphere of the time and the place that I doubt any words could, and in the end I feel like it makes the story more profound. It didn't make me feel any more sympathy towards Dahmer, but it did show a side that I doubt many people never knew of him, or didn't remember about him. Interesting read, but not something you probably want to read before you go to sleep. I need to explore the world of graphic novels now - I'm sure there are a whole bunch that I will enjoy.

Book Review: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

In August 2005 I had been living in the States for less than 6 months and was still getting used to the life of finally having my own apartment (tiny place in Spanish Harlem) and a corporate job, as well as just life in general in NYC. I couldn't afford cable TV at that point, so would watch the news every day on the "regular" TV channels, trying to figure out what was important and what was not as important. I'd never lived in a country where hurricane season actually caused damage, and was following the formation and tracking of all of the tropical storms and hurricanes with avid interest. When Hurricane Katrina went from a category 1 to a 3 and then a 5 in a short period of time, and looked like it was heading right for New Orleans and the surrounding areas I did wonder what would happen when it finally made landfall. I never thought it would create the absolute destruction and devastation that it did. Obviously I wasn't the only one to think that way either, but then again, I really had nothing to compare it to, never having been in a hurricane myself.

Salvage the Bones takes place over 12 days in August, 2005 in the Mississippi town of Bois Sauvage. 9 days before Katrina hits, the days of the hurricane, and then the aftermath. It's the story of a family of four children and their father, the mother long gone, taken away by death at the birth of her last child. Esch, the main character, speaks in the first person, and the story is mainly hers, spoken from her eyes and mind. Esch is the third child and the only daughter, looks up to her brothers Skeetah and Randall, and looks out for the youngest, Junior. Their father is bringing them up in the only way he knows how, often drunk and often aggressive, but still trying, in his own way. The children are fiercely loyal and protective, and live how they can; Randall intent on getting a basketball scholarship to get him out of the town, Skeetah obsessed with his prize fighter pitbull China and her puppies, Esch wondering how she can keep her pregnancy from everyone and Junior trying to grow up without ever having known his mother.

The father knows that a big storm is heading their way and can feel that it's not going to be like any other storm they have had to face over the past few years. The kids only half listen to their father's fears but help prepare as much as they can, boarding up windows, saving water, buying non-perishable food... When the evacuation call comes in they just put the phone right back down again, as they know there is nowhere else to go but brave the storm at home. But when the hurricane finally hits it is worse than expected, and all of their survival instincts kick in to face the destruction together, as the family they have always been.

The story is heart-breaking, but very realistic: the poverty, the loyalty, the love, the survival and the ability to face destruction and continue with life as you know it, just because there is no other option. The writing in the present tense just amplifies the life in the moment-feel and the way the family lives to survive each day, together, despite whatever they may come across, or whatever comes across them. Amidst the destruction there is still an element of hope that everything will be allright in the end. I literally bawled my eyes out in several sections of the novel, and Ward really doesn't hold back - there are certain scenes where you just want to close your eyes while reading so you don't have to imagine them so vividly. Read this book if you are not scared of reading about real life in the South, because that's what it's all about.

Jesmyn Ward's blog HERE

Book Review: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I love that moment when you read the first sentence of a book and you know that you are immediately hooked. Your eyes widen, your hands clench the book a little tighter and you feel yourself sinking into the words... That's exactly the way I felt when I opened Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I love historical fiction and I am particularly interested in recent African history at the moment, so the fact that this book caught my eye is a no-brainer, but there is SO much more to it than that (more about that a bit further down).

Half of a Yellow Sun is set in Nigeria in the early and late 60's, before, during and a little after the civil war that ensued after Biafra attempts to secede from the rest of the state of Nigeria. Adichie takes us from the independence from Great Britain in 1960, through the military coups that follow, the rising ethnic clashes and violence (specifically against the Igbo) and resulting secession and declaration of independence of Biafra and it's struggle to survive amidst a civil war that breaks out. We follow the story through the eyes and words of five very strong characters: Ugwu, a houseboy who comes to work for the revolutionary university professor Odenigbo; Odenigbo's lover, the beautiful and well-educated Olanna; Olanna's twin sister Kainene; and Kainene's lover Richard, the Englishman who makes his way to Nigeria to write about Igbo art, and falls in love with both the country and Kainene.The story weaves through these characters lives and portrays an image of life in Nigeria before the war: the passion of the Igbo and the creation of their own state, the interactions with life in the villages, life within the urban middle-class and the remaining British ex-pats who keep themselves away from the Nigerian population, hanging on to what is left of the colony days. Adichie provides us with a beautiful story of love, hatred, war, death and humanity (as well as inhumanity).

There is no need to be interested in African history to enjoy this novel, although if you are it is definitely a must-read. Adichie's prose is pretty much sublime in my opinion - she builds such a passionate story line, and develops her characters so intensely well that you are standing there with them all the way, hurting when they hurt, laughing when they laugh, falling in love when they fall in love. My favourite character (after much deliberation) is Ugwu, the young boy who becomes an indispensable part of the family that hires him. I also love Olanna's fierce independence that is coupled with her fear of losing everything she loves... Each character is completely human, imperfect and real, I feel like there is a part of everyone in all of them. There are many difficult parts, specifically the descriptions of massacres, rape, death and starvation, but all are important in understanding the complexity of the situation and the passion of the people to be free of outside, controlling power.

I cried a lot reading this book, and it probably wasn't a good idea to finish it on my subway ride back home last night, with tears running down my face; and many a time I felt like I was being punched in the stomach, but all the same, I couldn't stop reading. I could literally see and smell the country through the words, and this is something that I admire so much in a writer - the ability to really create a world that I have never seen before right before my eyes. Adichie is only a year older than me, and I feel like she has created a beauty of a novel, set in very disturbing times. I can't wait to read her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, and her collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck. So very inspiring.

More information:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's website

Book Review: The Red Leather Diary by Lily Koppel

 The Red Leather Diary - Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal, by Lily Koppel

I still have all of my diaries that I have kept over the years, the first one being from when I was 10 years old if I am not mistaken. Over the years I see changes in handwriting, developing ideas, crushes and heartbreak, drawings, sadness, happiness. Some of the journals are full, others conclude halfway through with a sentence along the lines of "this is the end of this part of my life and therefore a new journal is to be commenced". I still keep a journal, at 34, but today it is more of a scrapbook than just writing, snippets of sentences created by emotions and visions, photos, drawings, concert tickets, notes from friends, lists and so on. I love rereading entries from years ago, but I doubt they really would be of any interest to anyone else. Except of course if I become a world famous author, because then, after my death, scholars will devour my teenage thoughts to try to figure out who I was, just like I did when I was writing my thesis on Sylvia Plath.(Yes, yes, one can dream).

I love reading the journals of famous artists. Not because I want to actually determine who so and so actually is, but because they always contain a deeper view into feelings and thoughts and emotions, and also because they often contain some of the best writing. One writes a journal with the knowledge that it is not going to be read by anyone else, so therefore one allows oneself to be more free and open. That's the way I see it anyway. For example, Sylvia Plath's unabridged journals may contain some of the darkest prose that she had ever written, in my opinion it also contained some of the best.

What would you do if you were a budding journalist and one day came across a five year journal, started by a 14 year old living in Manhattan in the 1920's? You would probably read it, and then see if you could get it published in some way or form. Lily Koppel went a few steps further than that: she read it, went on a search for the author, and once she found her, rewrote those five years in her own words, interspersing the prose with snippets from the journal itself. Early in her career with the New York Times, Koppel was leaving her apartment building one morning when she came across a dumpster containing trunks dating back to the previous century. The building management had decided to get rid of content that previous residents had left in the basement and never come back to collect. Can you imagine getting a chance to go through such treasures? Old photos and clothes and books and letters and ornaments and hats and cards and maps! I would have had a field day! The red leather journal was found in one of those trunks and belonged to a young lady called Florence Wolfson.

Florence was a smart, fashionable, precocious teenager, with many interests, mainly in the usual pursuits of the young, love, sex, friendship, as well as the world of Art that the city of New York had to offer at the time. She wrote of books, plays, actors and actresses, poems, paintings, and focused a lot of her own time on writing and drawing, as well as going to performances and other activities such as tennis, fashion and parties. Her journal portrays a woman of her time, as well as a glowing Manhattan of the late 20's and early 30's (including mentions of the more darker times after the Wall Street Crash of 1929). I was first drawn to the book after reading the cover because I wanted to delve into the life of a teenager in the city during the 20's, but once I started to read the book it was Koppel's wonderful writing that really drew me in. Koppel has the ability to recreate a life lived so long ago into a story of such tenderness and beauty that I was brought to tears in several different parts. For a time I felt like I was actually living right by Florence, and imagined my own teenage life side by side with hers. The beauty of this book is that Koppel added a part of herself into Florence's life, giving us readers the chance to do the same.

Inspiring, to say the least.

More information on the book and the author HERE

Book Review: Patti Smith - Just Kids

Just Kids by Patti Smith

I own this book in it's beautiful hardcover edition and recently acquired a paperback copy, courtesy of a friend. Said paperback copy was read within 24 hours (one should probably say devoured) and marked up with my own scrawling notes in French. I feel sorry for the person who is currently reading this copy, as they are probably getting distracted every other page, trying to decipher what my notes mean in comparison with Patti Smith's text. Maybe the next reader will add his/her own comments, and bit by bit, my copy of the book will be filled with the feelings the text evoked in others? Sounds like a pretty interesting idea actually...

I've always loved Patti Smith. I've seen her perform multiple times, love her writing, her music, her personality, just everything about her. A few years ago I went to a very small venue to see Karen Elson perform and nearly had a heart attack when I realised Patti Smith was standing right next to me. Like 5 centimetres away. I told her psychically (i.e. my brain sent out a message) that I adored her, because there was no way I was actually going to be able to say that out loud. Maybe she heard it, maybe she didn't. In any case, I love her. I think I was drawn to her at first because of her very healthy obsession with Rimbaud, which is very similar to my own very healthy obsession with Rimbaud. But I had no idea how similar a lot of my interests at the age of 19 were with hers, many years before that, when she was 20 and moved to NYC.

Just Kids is Patti Smith's tale of her story with Robert Mapplethorpe, how they met, how they grew close, their relationship, their life together, amidst the world of bohemian art and music in the late 60's and the 70's in New York City. The way she describes the New York she lived in is the same as the one I imagined growing up, a paradox: gritty but blooming, urban but bohemian, dangerous but safe at the same time, ugly but beautiful... One of those places where anyone and everyone, no matter what your background, interests, faiths or nationality is, can go and blend in and find other people just like them. I don't think that from this standpoint the city has really changed (although it is probably a lot safer than it was in the 70's and the 80's). Patti's New York resembles my own New York, a place that could have been my downfall, but ended up being my home.

Patti arrives in New York without an idea of what she is really doing there, practically lives on the streets, roaming around, and finds Robert, and both become inseparable, pushing each others boundaries within the world of art and within their own world, a world created amidst dreams and reality. Patti's writing has always been poetic in nature, even her songs are first and foremost poems that work insanely well with music. There is something so innocent and wonderful about her relationship with Robert, even when she describes the days when they are without money, Robert's obsessions with displaying his darker sides through his art, their break up and all of the other obstacles that pop up along their journey together. I think the most beautiful part of the whole story is the love that they have for each other, something that everyone in this world (I hope) can relate to. Everyone wants to have a Robert or a Patti in their lives, and if you have one, cherish him or her.

When I was 19 my best friend Maud and I decided to go on a trip to Paris. It was only three hours away from Grenoble on the TGV, but a huge deal for us because we were going to be able to walk along the quais of the Seine together and visit all of the sites that we had read about in our books. Our obsession with Gérard de Nerval was so huge that we did a lot of research into finding the exact spot where he had died, so that we could visit it ourselves (the exact street does not exist anymore if you are interested). When I got to the part in Just Kids where Patti makes her way to Paris and describes how she went on a search to find the spot where Gérard de Nerval used to drink I nearly burst into tears. Gérard de Nerval! My absolute favourite French poet and writer. When she describes how Robert introduced her to Tim Buckley and Tim Hardin I literally did start crying, as these were my own father's favourite singers, and he introduced them to my mum who introduced them to me. But it wasn't just these random occurrences that made me feel so close to Patti, it was just the way her mind worked at the time, how she would react to certain situations and how shy she would feel around people and at the same time how she wouldn't hesitate to speak her mind, whether it verbally or through some form of art.

I haven't read a book where I relate so much to one of the characters in a while, and this was all the more powerful because Patti is real, and really did live through all of this. I'm sure many other people relate to her just as much as I did and still do, but what I found the most interesting was that I felt like my 19 year old self again when reading the book: well-read, shy, obsessed with 19th century literature and music, sad but happy, full of poetry and ideas and living a different lifestyle to most of my peers (apart from the group of friends I had with similar aspirations). I'm so inspired again right now. Patti's tales of how she dressed and how her and Robert would search for the right outfit for the right occasion, are so spot on, tell of a time and a place but are also completely timeless. Robert also took some stunning pictures of Patti - I actually really want to get some prints of his portraits because they are really good.

I love the fact that Just Kids mostly tells of Patti and Robert's days before they became famous, and contains a fuzzy, fairy-tale type aura around it. It remains somewhat innocent and happy, despite some of the more difficult times depicted in the narration. I also wish I had the copy of the book I had annotated now, because I had made some comments that I am sure should be in this post write now. Probably something about paradoxical decadence, or another one of those phrases I used to bandy about when I was a teenager. So there you go... Paradoxical Decadence.

Read Just Kids. It's absolutely wonderful.

Patti Smith Website

Book Review: Sold by Patricia McCormick

 Those of you who regularly read this blog know that I focus a lot of my attention on what is going on in this world, with a particular focus on atrocities committed towards women and children, mainly trafficking, mass murder and genocide, rape and the recruitment of children to become soldiers. I real a lot of writing concentrated on these topics, both fiction and non-fiction and try to review the ones that touch me the most on here. For every story told, there are millions of others to be heard, and, in my opinion, these stories cannot be heard enough.

A few years ago I reviewed a book called The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine on here, the story of a young Indian girl, sold by her family into child prostitution. Today I picked up another book in the same genre, Sold by Patricia McCormick.This is a story of a young Nepali girl called Lakshmi, who, after her stepfather has gambled away all of the money her family has earned with their meager rice paddies, is sold into sexual slavery in India. During her time in the brothel she learns what the meaning of evil is, but also that where evil prevails, good can also be found. The novel starts with Lakshmi describing her less than idyllic life in Nepal with tenderness, and then descends into the pits of what becomes her own personal hell as a child prostitute. At times beautiful, but mainly heartbreaking, all you want to do is jump into the book, wrap Lakshmi in her shall and carry her away with you into a world where no one else can harm her.

Written in a simple, but very lyrical prose, that often comes across as poetry, McCormick creates a story told from the eyes of a young, innocent girl, forced into the heart of of disgusting trade that continues to happen all over the world. This may be fiction, but it comes from reality, and McCormick did a lot of her research on the topic by traveling to India and Nepal, interviewing the victims, traffickers and people who have created shelters for the victims. I don't know how to answer the eternal questions of how people can sell their own children into slavery, how grown men can pay for sex with mere children and not even question their actions, and how grown women can enforce this in the brothels. But I do know that there ARE ways to help stop this, and hopefully, one day, this can all be somehow outlawed. Yes, still the idealist at heart, but without hope I don't know how I could live.

While I am on the subject of women, children, India and shelters, I will be helping my friend Theresa VanderMeer who I interviewed a while ago on here this weekend at the NYC Green Festival at Javits Center North.WORK+SHELTER will have a stand at the festival so come visit if you are around.

Some more information on the novel, and further links on the topic:
Patricia McCormick official website
Vital Voices
Amnesty International