There is anger in the rain Each drop a pellet that doesn't break the skin But bruises deep
There is anger in the air Each breath drawing particles that cannot be seen But burns the lungs
There is anger in my tears Each rivulet too small to be called a river But breaks the heart
There is anger in my heart Each beat too soft to be heard But deafens out the universe
There is anger everywhere In the rain, in the air, in my tears and in my heart. Each scream into the void is a brush stroke that slaps against the canvas that is now more black than shades of in-between
There is anger in my soul and anger is all I have left.
That feeling when your instinct urges you to buy a random book that you come across, and you end up falling in love...it's indescribable.
As usual, I was at Kinokuniya, looking for the final installment of the KL Noir series. Out of habit, I browsed the Young Adult section, and I came across this book. These Gentle Wounds. How can you not fall in love with the title alone? Perfect, perfect title for a brilliantly written book.
These Gentle Wounds (I can never grow tired writing and saying the book title) is a debut novel by Helene Dunbar, and I'll say right from the start, she's one to look out for. The book starts like this:
The last thing I saw before the car hit the water was an eagle pasted against the sky.
And what I remember is this: his tapered wings filled the width of the dirty window; the air held him up with the promise of magic; he looked free.
I used to dream about that bird.
But I don't have dreams anymore.
All I have are memories.
Bam! If the title is not enough to pull you in, the opening passages will do the work. The novel centers around Gordie "Ice" Allen, a fifteen-year-old boy who survived after his mother drove her car into a river five years back, with him and his three younger siblings in it. All he has left is his older half-brother Kevin who shared the same mother. His abusive father disappeared after the funeral, and now all Gordie wants is a semblance of normalcy.
But what is normal when you have to live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that looms over you every single day for the past five years? This is the basis for the story arc in These Gentle Wounds.
Far off in the distance, a yellow balloon rises in the sky. Some kid must have let go of it. I wish so badly I could catch the string in my hand and let it pull me away.
It's words like these that pull you in deeper. There's an understated brilliance in Ms Dunbar's writing. The words do not distract you by their beauty, but lends to the broken beauty that is Gordie. The words are not big, but they ring true. They make Gordie and his brother Kevin into flesh and bones, and you can't help but feel the urge to hug them close and tell them that everything's going to be okay, because they need to know that.
Because you need them to know that.
Because you need to know that.
Before the event that forever altered his life, Gordie's father wanted him to be a hockey star. Now that his father is out of the picture, ice hockey becomes his salvation. That is, until his father enters the picture and wants him back. Just when he's finally doing okay, with a potential love interest in the new girl Sarah Miller, his life starts to spin out of control again.
Kevin, equally broken, has always been Gordie's anchor, his strength. When Sarah enters the equation, he feels as though his role as the guardian is being replaced, and he lashes out. The darker side of him surfaces, but his character is so compelling that you feel for him.
Sarah, despite her being a troubled child, always in the shadows of her elder brother, and everything a rebellious teenager is, becomes perfection in comparison. I love how Ms Dunbar doesn' make her that unobtainable queen bee. I love how she is a just a regular girl who knows what she wants. And the romance between Sarah and Gordie is tentative, just hinted at. I love this.
The one criticism that I have is about Jordan who, when compared to the main characters, isn't fully fleshed out, becomes a plot device. For someone who plays a pivotal role in motivating Gordie's actions, he is sorely underdeveloped and underplayed.
In an umbrella-genre that's inundated with selfish, insecure teenagers whose only thoughts are how to make a guy/girl fall in love with them, a novel about a boy dealing with PTSD is a much-needed breath of fresh air.
May These Gentle Wounds help kids who need to know that they deserve to be loved, that they deserve to live.
May Ms Dunbar keep producing more important works like this.
Author Stephanie Perkins made her name with the first book of this series, Anna and the French Kiss. And it's a goooood book. When I went to Paris, I wanted to experience the Paris Anna and Etienne St. Clair did in their grand teenage romance.
When I bought the third book, Isla and the Happily Ever After--in hardcover--I bought the book based on the faith that the author would deliver.
Yeah, that didn't happen.
Isla (not Is-la, but Ai-la, like island minus the nd sound) is a senior at an American school in Paris, the kind of place where privileged children attend because schools back in the States are for commoners, y'all. She's had a crush with this lonely, troubled Senator's son, Josh, since forever (beginning of high school, but you know how alike teenage years and dog years are) but he's only recently back in the market. Turns out, he's had a crush on her like forever too, but he's always thought Isla and her best friend Kurt are an item.
So, girl meets boy, boy meets girl, they fall in love, they go to Barcelona to have teenage sex, they get into trouble, things happen, and girl thinks boy doesn't love her as much as she loves him so she takes the preemptive strike and dumps him, and then she pines for her happily ever after.
There. An entire book in a paragraph sentence.
Oops. Spoiler alert.
Of course, Ms Perkins is a talented enough writer to keep me engaged with good characterization and writing, but there is. No. Plot. Whatsoever. As I read on, annoyed by Isla's self-absorbed insecurities, I kept asking myself, "What's the freaking point?"
Because life, as messy and twisted as it can be, needs to have a point. Our lives need to have a point or nothing matters. Even if your life, my life, doesn't have a direction, we need for it to matter. That's why we tell stories in the first place. We want to make sense of everything around us.
Wait. I hear you telling me that the summary above is teenage life in a sentence. That's the point in this book, that it highlights teenage romance. So I'll reply, "Romeo and Juliet is teenage romance. But it also has a point, a point that makes the story everlasting: love triumphs. Love transcends generations-old enmity, love transcends death."
This book, however, is just about a petite but pretty girl who's also the top of her class, who acts anything but. To use the author's own words, Josh, who's the object of Isla's affection and obsession, is merely a placeholder. He becomes her universe and she becomes consumed by it, but at the same time it's never about him, but about how she is a blank canvas that's desperate to be painted upon.
Kinda like Twilight, but at least Twilight has a point.
Mothers who champion women empowerment, mothers who wholeheartedly approve of Frozen, they'll want to reconsider before buying this book for their children (daughters and sons alike).
Sure. There are cameos by characters from the first two books. Sure, there's a surprise ending for those cameo characters that's just awesome (and begs to be told in detail), and sure, the saving grace in this book is its ending, which is just adorable, which means you'll have to bear with the book to get to that excellent part, but come on.
What's the point?
Also, there is no sense of place. Places are named, some descriptions are thrown in, but there is absolutely no sense of place. Not like the first book.
2/5 stars for me. The writing is good. Above average, in fact, but for an author who brought Anna and Etienne to life, this one's a major disappointment. It feels like a sellout, something produced to fulfil a contract. Not a project of love.
A chance encounter between a disgraced music-business executive and a young singer-songwriter new to Manhattan turns into a promising collaboration between the two talents.
I didn't know about this movie when it came out. I don't even know if it was released here in Malaysia. I was just browsing for new movies to watch some weeks ago, and my interest was piqued by the synopsis. I readily admit that I love movies about music. Not the High School Musical kind, but the Fame and Once kind.
I acquired this movie some weeks ago, but I only managed to watch it tonight. Man, what a mistake it was.
For waiting too long to watch it.
Begin Again is about a young singer/songwriter from England (Keira Knightley) who followed her boyfriend (Adam Levine), who has just singed a major record deal, to New York. He gets caught up in the newfound fame and attention, and she leaves him when he betrays her trust. Her friend forces her to play a song at a small bar, where a music executive who's just lost his job (Mark Ruffalo) discovers her.
There's a stark contrast between the treatment given by a major record lable and a music executive who only has his passion left. There's also a stark contrast between a musician who's caught up in a tide of a corporation that's bent on selling a label, and another musician who's adamant about staying true to herself.
This is where the magic happens. The contrasts, they aren't shoved into your face; they are elegently subtle that you don't notice them at first. And when the contrasts click, oh how they click.
The movie starts slow, and it only takes off at the tent pole, the middle of the movie. Just like Once, however, it's the brilliant music that keeps the viewers' attention. The brilliant acting as well, but it's the music that makes this particular movie.
Not the songs, though they are a part of it.
Also, just like Once, the chemistry between the two main characters is so strong that we root for them, that we want something to happen between them. I won't give any spoilers, but the ending cannot be anymore perfect than it is.
This movie is not for everyone. Definitely not for everyone. And I won't shove it in your face. I do, however, recommend it to family and friends who ride on the same wavelength (on occasions) as I do, musically and artistically. Most important, however, Begin Again moved me. It has inspired me to be great at my own pace, in my own way.
It's been a long while since I was instantly moved by a book or a movie. I should have watched this movie the instant I acquired it. I should have stolen some time instead of being too busy to take time off for myself.
May more brilliance like Begin Again be shared with the whole world. Thank you, Mr John Carney.
It was love at first sight (Not true. You hated me when we first met) Well, it was love at first sight, for me at least. It was more than just the way you looked, though I couldn’t take my eyes off you. It was more than how you were strong, without ever being mean. It was the French accent that showed more than just in the way you speak.
You cursed at me in French (and in Tamil and Cantonese, and other languages you collected along the way) Oh, how I loved to hear the words that I never understood. We fought brilliantly. Our arguments were epic. At times they were pointless, but I would pick a fight just to hear you curse at me in French.
We kissed under the sun. We kissed under the moon. We kissed under the starless sky. We kissed under the bridge as our boat cruised along the river Rhine. We kissed behind the walls of the surau when no one was watching (it’ll be our little secret) We kissed as we drifted to sleep.
You went off to fight a war that was never yours. You went off to a land that was never ours. We don’t even speak their language, though in our prayers we mutter their words. You went off to fight in a strange land because that’s the only form of protest you believe in. I stayed behind and heal perfect strangers because that’s the only form of protest I believe in.
The news kept pouring in Of children dying as they attended school Of mothers who were no longer mothers, sisters or even wives. Of fires falling from the sky, claiming the land in a supernova. Of deaths that will never make sense. But I’m thankful the news always came from you. And I laughed when you cursed at them in a language you just picked up. Because when the news came from you, I could always hope. That you would come back to me.
And you did come back. Flown in with full honors. But you didn’t come back to me. You returned to a place I can never reach. At least, not yet. Not while I have breath in my lungs. And even though you hated me at first sight (Not true. You fell for me faster than I did for you) I can never hate you for giving your life for something you believed in.
And so I say this, as I kiss all that’s left of you for the last time The words that I could never get right Because I wanted you to say them to me, as we drifted to sleep...
If one’s life can fit in boxes 1 trip, 2 trips, 3 trips down the corridor and packed in a car to be shipped (or flown, though it’ll be expensive) to a place used to be called home to a place where loved ones await to a place far away from loved ones Is there anything to keep one grounded? Or will one’s life be shipped in boxes (or flown, though it’ll be expensive) 1 ocean, 2 oceans, 3 oceans away wherever the waves deem fit?
I bought this book almost at random. I was looking for interesting YA books at Kinokuniya, and the cover intrigued me. Because of the headphones. And the redhead. So maybe I have a thing for redheads. It wasn't until after I bought the book that I found out how well-received it was. Not that it mattered; I always approach a new book ready to fall in love.
In essence, Eleanor & Park is about first love, about puppy love. In my language, we call it cinta monyet (monkey love). Unlike Romeo & Juliet, however, the protagonists do not fall in love at first sight. In fact, they are discomfited by each other's presence. And like all stories of first loves, this one hangs on to the promise of forever, though everyone knows the improbability of its very concept.
I don't really care about what other people say about a book when I'm reading it, but in certain cases, like this one, I checked out reviews on Eleanor & Park on Goodreads. Which brought about more conflicting emotions. There's nothing inherently wrong about the writing; the prose is clean if somewhat juvenile. There's a difference between using a teenage narrative voice and talking down to teenagers who read the book, and this one edges too close to the latter.
It's not about the writing, though. It's the story itself. Eleanor is what one would call a white trash. Flaming red & unruly hair, plus-sized (it's never clear if she's plump or fat), a stepfather who abuses her mother and a mother who is so trapped in an abusive marriage, she cannot even think about escaping, four younger siblings who all share the same room with Eleanor, weird sense of fashion because that's all she can afford. Park, on the other hand, is half Korean (his mom) and half Irish (his dad), but like his name, looks totally Asian. He has a younger brother named Josh, who, like his name, looks totally Caucasian.
Don't tell me you don't find anything wrong with that last statement.
Anyway. Park's mom, despite being Korean, comes off with a more Vietnamese vibe, but then again, Asian is Asian is Asian. Park doesn't really mix around with others but, the fact that his dad's family has deep roots in the community, he doesn't get teased or bullied. In 1986 America, where racial segregation was still an issue.
Let me backtrack. How the heck does a couple from different races produce children where one's fully Asian, and the other apparently fully Caucasian? Is it like eye or hair color or even blood type?
Hence, my first problem with this book.
Back to where I was. Park doesn't hang out with others other than his 'best friend' Cal (who the author forgot about from the middle of the book onward), listens to rock and punk music all the time, and loves comic books. For the record, I love how Ms Rowell uses comic books as a reference instead of the usual Catcher in the Rye or Charlotte's Web or Jane Eyre or other American classics that other American authors seem to love to mention to show how literate their protagonists are.
The stage is set. Two protagonists who are ripe to be social outcasts. The more gushing and eloquent reviews mention the inclusivity of diversity in this novel. Right now people are talking about diversity in YA, about how they want to see more protagonists who are persons of color (PoC) – I still consider PoC a derogatory term – and female protagonists who don't fit the typical cheerleader and/or bookworm-overachiever mold. To put it bluntly, this is what I think the author is capitalizing on. Her characters feel like props customized to fit the story. They don't feel…organic. Eleanor could have been a Goth or a gleek, and it would not have changed the story. Park could have been the whitest White kid, and it wouldn't have changed the story. The only reason he's Asian (other than his name) is because Eleanor keeps reminding us every couple of chapters or so – stupid Asian kid, grinning until his eyes disappears, straight black hair, skin like sunshine seen through honey (I love this reference, by the way).
The way the romance in this book unfolds, stealing the words from John Green (from his book The Fault in Our Stars), is like falling asleep: slowly at first, then all at once. Park gives up the aisle side of his seat in the bus because he pities the new girl, who is not welcomed to occupy any other seats. Eleanor thinks Park is weird. After a few rides, he notices she's stealing glances at the comics he's reading, but instead of offering to read together, he just opens the comics wider and keeps on the same pages longer. Then he leaves a stack of comics on her seat beside his for her to take home. Eventually they talk about music after he notices a song title on her book. Then he makes her a mix tape and supplies her with batteries for her Walkman at home. When Park realizes he likes Eleanor, he has reservations at first; he doesn't know how not to be embarrassed about it. And then he's completely in love and is willing to go to the ends of Earth for her. Park is a giver. He's definitely a giver.
Eleanor, on the other hand, takes, takes, takes. She doesn't like him at first because he's this weird Asian kid. Yes, I understand that she's afraid to open up to others because she doesn't want to know that her stepdad hits her mom and is angry all the time. She doesn't want to know that her family is dirt-poor and she wears Goodwill clothes. And when she's in love with Park, she doesn't want her family to poison that one pure thing she has, so she keeps him a secret from even her siblings. However, even at the end of the book, she only thinks about herself. Eleanor comes first. Eleanor comes second. Eleanor comes last. Me, me, me.
Park's family, despite his Korean mom, is as White American as it gets. Boring. Very blah. Eleanor's family. However, is a goldmine that, sadly, has been underplayed. Her mother is a gone case, that much is clear, but she's a loose end that should have been tied. Her younger siblings…well, if they never existed, the story would not have changed. Not even a bit. Which is a shame, as they would have added depth to Eleanor's shallowness if their characters had been employed properly.
As far as modern YA books go, Eleanor & Park plays it mild and safe. Lots of kisses and groping hands, one scene with alcohol and joint, but that's it. The main characters don't even smoke. The alternating perspectives between Eleanor and Park, albeit single-voiced, are well-played. The exchanges between the main characters are adorable, and sometimes brilliant. Other than that, however, I don't get why people are all gushy about this book. Maybe it's because the John Green gave it a glowing review, and that kinda clouded people's judgment. Maybe it's because there's an Asian and a plump outcast girl as main characters, reaching out to other outcast girls who want their own Park.
To me, this book doesn't reach its potential. Eleanor, at the end of the story, is the same as how she begins. She doesn't change. Park finds the courage to stand up for what he believes in, but this story is more about Eleanor than it is about Park. And there are too many loose ends. What happens to Eleanor's two Black friends? Or her mother and her younger siblings? We know what happens to their frienemies Tina and Steve, but other important named characters? Forgotten when the author devised an ending aimed to make readers cry. I love tear-jerker endings, but this one falls flat.
Oh. And the overuse of "practically"? Definitely did not appreciate that.
If you're looking for a book that has both diversity in YA and a much better read, check out Adorkable by Sara Manning. Even with the British humor, even with the elements that's more adult than YA, it's a much stronger book with similar protagonists.
I fell in love with Benjamin Alire Saenz's writing when I was reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Not after. During. What I did after was look for more books from Mr Saenz. Unfortunately, Kinokuniya only carried another title, Last Night I Sang to the Monster. I had to buy other books through Amazon.com.
I love technology.
In Perfect Light arrived a little worse for wear, with dented and creased edges, brownish discoloration of the pages, and a black marker mark at the bottom. It's the first paperback edition, printed in 2008 (the hardcover was first published in 2005). I've had it for a couple of years now, I think, but only came around to reading it last Sunday. And I finished it in one night.
I love the book.
Specifically, I love the story. Mr Saenz is a brilliant storyteller. Having read several novels and a book of poem of his, I appreciate the recurring themes he employs in his writing. He conveys the harsh beauty of the desert and El Paso, Texas. He brings to light perspectives and characters that are inherently Mexican, the pain of life as harsh as the desert. The pain that only he can tell, the way he tells it.
In Perfect Light tells the story of twenty-six-year-old Andres Segovia who, because of his past (which unravels as the book progresses), has lost his drive to live. He's not suicidal, but living for him means getting through the day, pushing everyone away. The book also tells the stories of three main supporting characters, Dave Duncan, who is Andres's lawyer and guardian angel, Grace Delgado, a therapist who has helped Dave before, and now is recruited to help Andres, and Mister Delgado, Grace's son who, despite not having any direct contact with Andres, plays a pivotal role in helping the story reach its end.
In Perfect Light is, despite its name, far from perfect. There are short chapters, interludes, that are told in the present tense, that show a glimpse of all four main characters at that very same moment. These interludes take getting used to, and they distract readers (well, me at least) from the story. There are parts where we jump into one character's head for a short dialog-paragraph when the section is told in another's perspective. There are long-winded sentences that have no punctuation marks. There are conversations in Mexican that are not translated into English and at times can alienate readers who do not understand the language. The prose itself, when compared to the elegance that is Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, feels clumsy. The beat, the lyrical arrangement, the signature storytelling are all there, but less refined. Perhaps the reason is that In Perfect Light was written years before Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Perhaps this book was written this way for an adult audience, and the other was made more minimalist for its target young adult audience. The magic that Mr Saenz offers in his works is still there, just not as brilliant as I expect of him.
That said, the story itself makes up for more than the clunky prose. There is pain in this book, pain that transcends written words, transcends fiction. Andres's pain, his past and his present, it feels real. It is real. Andres is not a character out of a book, but a young man who has been through so much hurt, it's a miracle he's still a whole person. Andres's character and past are similar to Zach's in Last Night I Sang to the Monster, and like other main characters in Mr Saenz's other books, has an affinity toward poetry and the beauty of the desert. Despite his harsh upbringing, Andres has an unquenchable thirst for books and learning, and this thirst makes him stand out, and saves his life.
All four main characters in this book are fully fleshed out, and feel absolutely real, but it is Andres that pulls us in. It is his past that brings us to tears, and it is his pain that makes us want to reach out to him. Even though it has been several days since I finished reading the book, I still think about Andres. I want to buy him lunch and just hang out with him. I want to show him that I'm there for him, whenever he's ready to reach out to others. I want to sit beside him as he leans back against the wall, a lit cigarette in one hand, and a crumpled piece of paper with a poem he's written in the other. I want to hug him and tell him that everything will be all right. I don't know if anything will be, but I want to tell him that.
I wish I were half as good a writer as Mr Saenz is. I wish I can have that effect on others, that they want to hang out with the characters in my stories, that they want to hug them and tell them that everything will be all right.
For me, this book is not about the technique or the poetry in the prose or the storytelling. I can talk about the plot, but I want you to experience it yourself. This book is about evoking a raw urge to protect children from the ugliness in the world, and if that is too late, help them see the beauty the world still has to offer. It's about realizing the depth of a person's resilience, and the strength of one's spirit.
It's about Andres Segovia, who, despite being a fictional character, feels so real that I hope one day he'll read this, and know that there is still beauty in the world. There are still things that can be seen in perfect light.
To all the Andres Segovias out there, I don't know how, I don't know when, but things will be all right.
"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. This is your captain speaking."
The plane cruises over the South China Sea. The endless expanses of sky and sea are of the exact same shade of brilliant blue, and the clouds, patches of sun-kissed cotton candy, greet the rising sun as if they were a congregation of angels. And maybe they are. These clouds. Maybe they are angels watching over the land, and this is how we perceive their existence.
"This is your captain speaking."
How often do I hear this, without really paying attention? I never register the names of the flight crew, not even the good-looking ones as they make their rounds along the aisle, serving food and beverages and making sure the flight is as comfortable as possible for everyone on-board.
I'm sitting beside the window, the kind of seat I'm always willing to pay extra for whenever I book a flight ticket. I'm watching the sky and the sea and the sun-kissed clouds. Earlier I requested for a pillow for the little girl sitting beside me. I don't engage in small talk with her or her mother. Or maybe her grandmother, who has aged gracefully. I don't even ask for their names, though they remind me of my mother and my niece, those two who share an inseparable bond only unquestioning love can forge. In front of me, a man is snapping pictures of his teenage son. He's holding his dSLR wrong. He's even using the built-in flash. Amateur.
The plane sings a constant hum, though I'm sure outside it's roaring in defiance. A human-made bird of metal dares to take flight, to traverse across mountains and oceans to reach lands half a world away in a matter of hours.
"This is your captain speaking."
It's almost two weeks since the disappearance of flight MH370, bound from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. In the almost-two-weeks, the entire nation has moved from shocked disbelief to rallying people to pray for the safety of the 239 people on-board to craking jokes about our efforts to search for the plane that include employing shamans, and officials who appear to hide more than they are willing to share, and to conspiracy theories cropping up faster than malignant cancer cells do.
A baby is crying somewhere in front of me, and I can see heads turning, discomfited by the noise. I can only imagine the parents cycling between trying to calm the baby and stealing apologetic glances at other passengers. I have my noise-canceling headphones on, so the cries are muted. I may not come across the child again, or the parents, or the other passengers, or even the flight crew.
After the initial flurry of show of solidarity and prayers offered to God (and other deities) via Facebook status updates and Twitter and hashtags, things have noticeably slowed down. In my head, an army of angels are sitting in front of rows upon rows of computer screens, taking down all the typed prayers. Maybe the hashtags make things easier for them to monitor those prayers. Things sure have changed since the days of prayers whispered in the reverent hush of mosques and churches and temples.
The hashtags may have slowed down, but the conspiracy theories are only picking up steam. So are the jokes and parodies. And bomoh mobile apps. In a little less than two weeks, it is evident that the rest of the world is moving on. Their own lives are more interesting. It's back to hashtags like #foodporn and #selfie and #holiday. Maybe more than half the angels assigned to monitoring the internet are reassigned back to their original tasks.
A woman accompanying her son to the toilet stops to chat with another woman sitting behind me. They know each other. They exchange names of mutual friends, and promise to catch up back home. Or something like that. I don't really care. I'm writing this.
First the speculations revolved around the two passengers using stolen passports. Then it was hijacking by people of countries much more powerful than ours. Now it's the pilot who's under scrutiny. For some reason, his unyielding support toward a politician is emphasized. Maybe it's because his support is for a prominent opposing party, and not the ruling one. And his home-built flight simulation, first mentioned to show how dedicated he is to his work, now an object of further speculation, what with the wiped-out data.
I don't really pay attention to speculations and newspaper articles. In my head, I visualize a plane bigger than the one I'm in, with over 200 passengers on-board, flying over a pitch-black ocean, under an even darker sky but with silent starlight forming constellations. Maybe one of the passengers were looking out the window, figuring out the configurations of starlight that looked familiar but somehow different than those seen from outside the window of his or her home. I imagine a colicky baby crying, inconsolable, and the parents darting apologetic glances to everyone around them. Or maybe both the babies in the plane were sleeping in their parent's arms when all communications from the plane stopped.
I can only imagine, based on fiction and movies about airplane disasters, what went on when the blip of the flight disappeared from radars. I can only imagine the abject terror that gripped those on-board, the frantic prayers and the regrets and the anger and the love and the resignation. I don't know any of the passengers or flight crew. I don't eve know their names. I can only imagine the fear that overrode everything else. The absolute certainty that you are about to meet the Maker, but you don't want to. Not now. Not yet. I've lived through that same fear, though for me, I was ready to let go of everything.
I can only imagine. I can only speculate.
Perhaps I am no better than the conspiracy theorists and opportunists, after all.
We may have moved on, and the hashtags may have changed back to normal, but the lives of the families of the missing persons are forever changed. They are still holding on to that frail hope that gets ever smaller with each passing day. I can only imagine how hard it is for them, the fear of not knowing the fate of the missing people.
That's what we're forgetting. In the comfort of our offices and homes and restaurants, we speculate and crack jokes about how backwater our country is in handling this crisis. We share photos of parodies of bomohs (who were actually doing something, though using highly questionable practices) and apps that make light of the situation. We chat about corrupt politicians and conspiracy theories. We conveniently forget about the 239 people on-board that flight, because we don't know them at a personal level. Their lives don't really matter to us because despite the crisis, our lives are not affected. We can still Instagram delicious-looking food in restaurants and tag #foodporn and wait for strangers to click 'Like'.
When a crisis occurs, our first instinct is to find something or someone to blame. Let's face it. It terrifies us when something bad occurs and we cannot explain it. It means that the same can happen to us and that life is beyond our control and comprehension. It means that life is much larger than you and me and we have no say about it. Hence, the urge to villify someone. If the passport thiefs were terrorists, then it makes sense. If the pilot deliberately hijacked the plane, then it makes sense. If there was a technical error depriving everyone of oxygen at such a high altitude then it makes sense.
In order to make sense, in order to feel that much safer when we book a flight ticket, we come up with all these theories. We start scrutinizing everyone, from the flight company to every passenger. Compassion turns to morbid interest. We deconstruct people and make them less human. Even a pilot's political affiliation comes into question. Even a co-pilot's social activities become his undoing.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking."
How many times do we hear this and feel reassured by it? How many times do we trust our lives in that stranger in a sharp uniform and a distinct cap? How many times do we trust our lives in that gargantuan metal construct that seems impossible to take flight just by looking at it?
Our lives may have moved on, but for the families of the people on-board MH370, life is at a standstill. So please, find it in your heart to respect that, to respect them, and may we offer silent prayers in our own hallowed spaces even though the hashtags have slowed down to a trickle.
May angels keep them safe, no matter where they are.
May angels lead them home, no matter where that home is.
If there is one word to describe this book, unapologetic would be it.
Nazi Goreng by Marco Ferrarese is about a young Malay man, Asrul, who goes through a traumatic experience in the hands of a group of Indian thugs, and is then taken under the wings of one charismatic Malik, who is several years older than Asrul. I don't normally emphasize on race, but race is everything in this book. Everything. You see, Malik is a Malay supremacist skinhead who sees other races as impure, corrupt, a cancer that gnaws on the sovereignty of Malaysia. Much like White supremacist skinheads in the US or UK.
I kid you not.
This duo then escapes backwater Alor Star for better opportunities in Penang, and get involved with drug traffickers. Much like White supremacist skinheads from Lima, Ohio, who get involved with Mexican drug cartels. Why do I keep comparing the protagonists with White skinheads? Because, essentially, if you transplant these Malaysian characters and settings into an American one, you'll get the makings of an American novel/movie.
So is the book inherently Malaysian, you ask? I've been implied to take into consideration an author's Whiteness in writing a Malaysian book. In truth, I don't really care who the writer is; to me, the writing is everything. I got irked when author Marc DeFaoite kept using "Kay El" regardless the narrator is Bangladeshi, Indonesian, Nepalese, Malay, Indian, or whatever nationality that is not Western. In this book, Mr Ferrarese injects Italian sensibilities in a protagonist that has never been out of Alor Star. He compares characters and objects with Venus, Cyclops and Jesus. The main character, Asrul, is a practicing Muslim, by the way, though 'practicing' is a strong word for what he does.
But oh. My. God. Mr Ferrarese is one hell of a compelling writer. I finished the book in less than a day. The opening chapters are beautifully written, with exquisite imagery and characterization. Despite what I will say in the following paragraphs, reading this book makes me feel that the culture of skinhead Malay supremacists is pervasive throughout peninsular Malaysia, and that they represent an actual cancer that gnaws at the fragile equilibrium that is Malaysia. Reading this book makes me believe that the threat is real, and racism in Malaysia has deeper roots than I'm willing to admit. And that, to me, makes for a successful novel.
Nazi Goreng, in the introductory chapters, holds so much promise, so much potential. It has the makings of something great. Killer opener? Check. Excellent writing that feels real? Check. High concept? Skinhead racists plus Iranian cartels plus trigger-happy Africans plus multiple locations in Malaysia (and one in Taipei). Check. Page-turning thriller with danger at every corner? Check. Stakes that grow bigger and bigger? Check. A likeable protagonist? Check.
So what went wrong?
When Asrul and Malik get involved with the Iranian drug lord and aspire to do more than just trafficking drug at the Malaysian/Thai border, Asrul's life careens out of control. Unfortunately, so does the book. It's like the author introduces too many action/thriller elements and doesn't know what to do with them. Good news is, he tries to tie these elements together at the end of the novel. Bad news is, he loses interest in the main characters and is more invested in the stolen money instead. More on the ending later.
In the middle of the book, the author breaks off from the main characters and writes a few chapters on a group of four immigrants, Ngoc, Nyan, Cam and Than. I know, right? Not only are the names too close and confusing, introducing new named characters that are not essential in the middle of a book is not a good idea. Sure, Mr Ferrarese is smart enough to use these characters later in the book to move it, but if his intention to spend two chapters on their backgrounds and wants and needs to humanize them, to build sympathy toward marginalized immigrants, I say he's not done enough. In the end, these chapters and characters become mere fluff to thicken the novel, fluff that distracts a reader's attention, risking losing that attention altogether. Even if the author did not employ these characters' perspectives, did not even name them, he could still use them later on to move the story as he needed. This bit of fluff has earned the author some negative marking.
So Mr Ferrerese throws in Iranian drug lords, African rival cartels, sleazy bartenders, one hot Chinese national drug mule, and one not-so-hot Indonesian maid, with high-speed chase and machine guns, kapows and ratatatats that lead to torture and murder, all in the name of stolen money with a grand total of…drumroll please…
That's USD 12,182.12, according to Google.
Even a terrace house in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur costs over a million ringgit. Heck, give me forty-thousand ringgits and half a day at Pavilion, and I'll ask if you have another forty-thousand to spare at the end of three hours. Maybe two, depending on which stores I visit first.
The first job Asrul and Malik secure, transporting drugs in a car tire without them realizing it, earns them RM8,000. Have them do five jobs, they'll get the same amount of money. So all these murder and mayhem in the name of RM 40,000…. What I'm saying is that the stakes are not high enough. Not nearly enough. Too low, in fact. If it were USD 40,000 (which Google converts to RM 131,340.03), then it would have been something at least. Still not high enough, but much higher than what the author uses.
Also, Malik keeps mentioning he has connections in high places. At first Asrul thinks it's his connections with police officers who believe in Kuasa Melayu (Malay Power) as much as Malik does, but that's not it. When Malik does reveal who he actually is…OH COME ON! THAT'S IT?! Speaking of, I would have appreciated more insight on what makes Malik tick. He's a sociopath, that's clear, but why is he such an angry racist in the first place? With Asrul, it's pretty clear. Take a traumatic experience and a highly impressionable young man in his late teens, you get Asrul. Malik, however…. I think it's a lost opportunity with him. Would have made for a mighty interesting story.
Now. Coming to the ending.
I fell asleep at the supposed climax.
Like I mentioned before, when the ending comes, it's no longer about Asrul and Malik's journey, but about the missing money. It doesn't really matter what becomes of them; the protagonists are relegated into secondary characters. Worse, the greatest sin of all, the author ends the novel with exposition after exposition. It's like reading Naruto, where you're getting to the climatic fight (for that chapter in Naruto's life), and then you see the inevitable black background and you're forced to read ANOTHER back story. For an action thriller novel, writing a climax using exposition is not only anti-climactic, it's buzzkill. It's robbing a reader of a much-needed release. It causes blue balls.
Blue balls are NEVER good.
I don't think the author's entirely at fault here. It was pretty clear that he lost control of the story when Asrul lost control of his life. Mr Ferrarese did not self-publish this book, so an editor is involved. An invested editor takes the rein when the author loses control. Or supposed to, anyway. I wasn't lying when I said the beginning is brilliant and the writing is engaging. They are. Mr Ferrarese has the mark of a good writer. What he needed for Nazi Goreng was a team of good editors, editors who, without compromising his stylistic and artistic integrity, guide the story back to its intended path, to smoothen out kinks like Italian mythology in Malay characters, derogatory descriptions of a Muslim praying (he uses "kisses the floor" throughout the book to describe praying), to correct his consistently wrong usage of colons, all that jazz. And he needed a good proofreader (or two) to spot and correct the horrendous amount of typos, missed spaces, wrong punctuations.
In essence, Mr Ferrarese was sold short with Nazi Goreng, and what could have been a brilliant novel is merely a book of good writing, unrealized potentials, and a non-existent climax. What we have here is a book that causes blue balls.
When I started reading the book, despite what my friend said, I wanted to give it a 4.5 to 5 star rating. When the story went out of control, I wanted to give the book a 3.5 star rating, rounded up. With the ending taken into consideration, I'll only give it 3.5 stars, rounded down.
The author holds so much promise, and the book so much potential. It's unfortunate, really. I hope, if Mr Ferrarese writes another novel, he is fortunate enough to invest in invested editors.