Tag Archives: coming of age

The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat

The Parking Lot AttendantTitle: The Parking Lot Attendant
Author: Nafkote Tamirat
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-1250128508
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The Parking Lot Attendant is such a weird book at times and maybe because of all its oddities it works brilliantly for the reader in so many places. The plot is this: An unnamed young woman (a lot of unnamed narrators or protagonists in books these days), who has just recently become a resident on the island of B with her father tells the story of how things came to be. Of why she and her father had to come to this Utopian styled community, leaving their home in Boston. That essentially is the crux of the story. No wait. There is more.

 

There is Ayale, the shady parking lot owner in his mid-thirties who the woman was attracted to while she was living in Boston. Their life as Ethiopians in Boston (this has to be mentioned. You will know why when you read the book). The book is about the woman and her relationship with Ayale, her father and how she has to flee the country with her father. I can’t give away any spoilers, but I guess you get the drift.

 

Tamirat’s writing is refreshing. It doesn’t mostly follow the linearity of time – things happen and jump from one time track to another, so it does take a lot to get into the book, but once you get the hang of the events, it is an easy ride. The story seems awkward but it is anything but that.

 

There is a lot going on – coming of age, the woman’s relationship with her father, the commune and its principles (will almost make you relate to the world we live in) and Ayale’s relationship with the woman (which is so twisted that you have to read it to believe it). “The Parking Lot Attendant” is engaging, stumbles at times, confusing as well, but redeems itself beautifully with the writing and characters. I loved it nonetheless.

 

 

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Ms. Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami

Ms Ice SandwichTitle: Ms Ice Sandwich
Author: Mieko Kawakami
Publisher: Pushkin Press, Japanese Novella Series
ISBN: 978-1782273301
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Now, we think we have read enough stories about first love but it is never enough. First love has its own charm of innocence, heartbreak, and above all the coming-of-age if it happens and when it does, sooner or later. “Ms Ice Sandwich” is one such book of first love, of young love, awkward love that is very happy being just an observer sometimes with want for nothing. You know the kind of love I am talking about, don’t you? We’ve all been there, in one way or another, haven’t we? This book is about those tender moments and I wish weren’t so short though.

A boy is obsessed (well, I wouldn’t call it obsessed, but more like enchanted) with a woman who sells premade sandwiches. He visits the supermarket every day just so he can look at her face, even if it means buying sandwiches he particularly doesn’t enjoy. He just needs to see her and feel the closeness. And in all of this, there are his relationships with his mother and grandmother (rather flimsy but nonetheless important to the narrative). And one fine day, his world crumbles and that’s for the reader to find out how.

The narrative is restrained in so many places and that  is what I guess works for the book. There is drama, some amount of humour, introspection and above all so many moments of kindness in the book that you cannot steer away from it. The two main characters are nameless and that doesn’t bother you at all. I didn’t even think about it till I reached the end of the book. Kawakami’s writing and the translation by Louise Heal Kawai doesn’t  make you want  for more. The writing and the tone of the book is just perfect.  If you’ve never read Japanese literature before, this is a great place to start. If you have, this is a great place to explore it more.

 

The Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette

The Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette Title: The Job of the Wasp
Author: Colin Winnette
Publisher: Soft Skull Press
ISBN: 978-1593766801
Genre: Coming of Age, Gothic, Ghosts
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

An unnamed narrator shows up at a mysterious facility for orphaned boys. The world is strange, eerie and everything seems to be sinister, even the Headmaster. He hears whispers at night. His classmates are volatile and always angry and for some reason, the Headmaster is sending him cryptic messages to confess. But confess about what? What is going on? And then beware, because the corpses start showing up.

This is the plot, to put it loosely of “The Job of the Wasp”. I have just given you the gist. There is so much more to this book that perhaps cannot be put into words. This is such a dark book that for most of the time I found myself jumping in my skin as I was reading it late into the night. I have always found myself strangely attracted to ghost stories, even though I can’t sleep a wink after reading them.

“The Job of the Wasp” will make you paranoid even if you aren’t that person. There are layers of what’s happening and why and though you think you have it all figured, the book takes a sharp turn and leaves you breathless. The writing is in the atmosphere – from the facility to its surroundings to the dark characters, Winnette’s skills just show us the chaos of the world and what goes on in people’s hearts.

The book is so many things – surreal, entertaining, witty, and so bizarre, that it not only takes you by surprise but also leaves you gobsmacked and wanting more and more. I wish I could put the brilliance of this novel in more words, however, all I can say is that you have to get up, go to the nearest bookstore, and pick this up. Don’t drop it till you are done reading it.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent Title: My Absolute Darling
Author: Gabriel Tallent
Publisher: Fourth Estate, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0008185220
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Once in a while, you read a book that makes you angry. Very angry. And you cannot help but cheer so madly and wildly for the underdog. The book takes over your life till you are done reading it and while it is hopeful (in small doses and so not enough), it also leaves you exhausted, frustrated and contemplative about the world you inhabit. “My Absolute Darling” by Gabriel Tallent is one such book and it is very hard to believe that it is only his debut.

“My Absolute Darling” is the kind of book that will in the most brutal manner stay with you long after you’ve finished it. It is one of those books that you wouldn’t even want to stay with you and yet it will. It is the dark “Lolita”. Nabokov’s “Lolita” looks like a bird in front of this one. The book is of the coming-of-age genre in the most raw, terrible manner. The one that no child must go through and perhaps the ones that do, mostly emerge to be the stronger ones. But as the blurb says, “Sometimes strength is not the same as courage” or “Sometimes leaving is not the only way to escape” – this book lives up to it in so many ways.

Julia (Turtle) Alveston is a survivor. She is all of fourteen and has grown-up isolated since the death of her mother. Her father, Martin, is tortured and believes that Julia is the best thing that has happened to him. So much so that he doesn’t want to let go of her. She is after all his, “absolute darling”. Turtle is physically, mentally and emotionally abused by her father. Turtle’s social existence is confined to her school, and sometimes meeting her grandfather, who she is most fond of. She doesn’t have friends. She is angry, miserable, and all she knows is how to survive and that her daddy loves her very much (she also deep down just wants to get away from all of this).

In all of this, Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who reads, is funny and lives in a big clean house with his parents and sister. For once, Turtle feels some kind of normalcy in her life and starts forging friendships. But she now has to find a way to escape her old life and start anew. She wants to leave her “devoted” father. And thus begins the story of Turtle (almost more than halfway through the book). She becomes her own hero and I as a reader often found myself just hooting for her, cheering, interacting with her, wanting to hug her and tell her that it will all be okay, to reach out between the pages and scream at Martin, to perhaps even kill him.

The emotional complexities of this book are of another level. The setting of the book is the outdoors (woods along the Northern California Coast) – where Turtle lives with her father. This adds another layer of fierceness and subtext to the novel. Of how sometimes even though circumstances aren’t just about right, you can still seize what is yours if you want to. But this book thankfully, isn’t preachy. It is real. Sometimes too real.

The story is gripping. You cannot help but turn the pages and yet you don’t want to. Tallent takes you to the heart of darkness (multiple times) and leaves you hanging with what will happen next. He takes you through the maze in Turtle’s head – her confusion, her loss of expression, her self-doubt (always thinking she isn’t pretty and not worthy of anything good), self-loathing and finally being resilient to it all. There are times when words that need Turtle’s expression aren’t there and yet you know it all. The writing is that surreal and empathetic. The prose is measure, even though laborious at times, but it is worth it. Tallent has also referenced so many authors and books in this book, which to me was nothing short of brilliant and each reference made so much sense in the larger sense of the plot (I will list those down soon). There were technicalities with weapons which I didn’t get at all, but I let it go. The characters that Tallent creates are frighteningly real. Such an incident or series of incidents could be happening in your backyard and you wouldn’t know of it.

This one sentence stood out for me as an explanation for the entire book, however the entire book is peppered with so many of them: “Her moments of happiness occur right at the margin of the unbearable”.

Read this book only if you can stomach it. But read it. Make yourself stronger and read it. The prose demands to be read. The emotions most certainly do. Tallent is one author to watch out for. I loved reading this one.

Adrian and the Tree of Secrets – Story by Hubert & Illustrations by Marie Caillou

Title: Adrian and the Tree of Secrets
Story by Hubert
Illustrations by Marie Caillou
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
ISBN: 978-1551525563
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

This book is for anyone who has had a problem fitting in while growing up. When you know that you aren’t like what most people are and yet cannot tell a soul. I love coming of age books and more so when they are in the graphic more and especially more so if it is about being gay and coming out as well – more to yourself than anyone else and “Adrian and the Tree of Secrets” is just the kind of book that you need if you are struggling with it. It is the perfect graphic novel for teenagers struggling with their sexuality or even not – maybe they just will come to know who they really are.

Adrian’s experiences as a teen gay boy are universal. We have all gone through it – been that road – not only for LGBT teens but also the straight ones – to know oneself and to make peace with it is not easy – no matter what your orientation. There is also the angle of bullying at school and how Adrian meets someone special and what happens thereon. At the same time there is Adrian’s mom who is a devout Catholic – you get the drift, don’t you? Well, this in short is the plot of the graphic novel.

The story by Hubert and the illustrations by Marie Caillou go superbly hand in hand. The graphic panels are sparse and minimal and that lends to the story in more ways than one. I will not talk about the ending or else I would be spoiling it for you. The story is touching, will touch a nerve and I hope will make you see the LGBTQ community differently, because at the end of the day we are all the same kind of people looking for the one true thing: love.