From Reviews

Reading Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

Spoiler Alert: Although this review contains some spoilers, the book is a treasure trove of metaphors and symbols; you’ll no doubt be captivated once you begin reading.


Chinua Achebe masterfully guides the reader to the Lower Niger region of West Africa to experience the beauty and despair of tribal life and the tumult that accompanies the arrival of Europeans, which is all filtered through the experience of the protagonist, Okwonkwo.

Okwonkwo is one of several respected chiefs in his village of Umuofia – one of a dozen or so villages that make up the region. Okwonkwo has three wives and eight children: Ekwefi (second) , Ojiugo (third), and an unnamed first wife.

Okwonkwo is a fierce warrior. He’s also a hard-worker, being driven by a keen fear of becoming his father. His dad, Unoka, was what some in the village called an agbala, or a man who has taken no title. In this case, Unoka had no title because he was practically destitute and could not provide for his family.

Okwonkwo remembers Unoka was a talented musician who occasionally played music in neighboring villages, but he was nothing more than that. Every time he earned, he’d quickly squander it, forcing young Okwonkwo to teach himself how to become self-sufficient.

“If any money came his way, and it seldom did, he immediately bought gourds of palm-wine…”

Things Fall Apart: p. 4

Okwonkwo, though excelling in every facet that makes him a successful man, deals with completely unexamined emotional trauma that surfaces occasionally in the form of abuse of his wife and children, a stammer and unpredictable flares in temper. In spite of this, Okwonkwo is a likeable character. The reader retains hope that somehow Okwonkwo will come to understand himself and his trauma.

Abruptly, Okwonkwo is forced to exile himself and his family for seven years due to the sudden and accidental murder of a clansman. The seven years he spends with his mother’s tribe in Mbanta are filled with slow, but impactful changes. Rumors of white men and murder spread, then white men and church courts, and then suddenly, Okwonkwo sees the horrifying decline of his people’s way of life.

Okwonkwo felt a cold shudder run through him at the terrible prospect…the prospect of annihilation. He saw himself and his father crowding round their ancestral shrine waiting for worship and sacrifice and finding nothing but ashes…and his children [all] the while praying to the white man’s god.

144

Nwoye’s Mother brings to mind flickering images of the ‘long-suffering’ mammy – an old black woman with deep waves of wrinkles on her face, a light hand tremor and soulful dark eyes that have seen everything; in spite of whatever trauma she experienced, Nwoye is clearly a pillar in the family, however silent her role may be.

Her oldest child is Nwoye, who has disappointed Okwonkwo due to his laziness, a love for ‘women’s’ storytelling and an inclination toward feeling – something that Okwonkwo thinks is womanly.

Eventually, a few years after the first European missionary arrives in Mbanta, Nwoye converts to Christianity to the dismay of his family.

“You have all seen the great abomination of your brother. Now he is no longer my son or your brother. I will only have a son who is a man, who will hold his head up among my people.”

162

The story ends soon after this shocking turn of events. As Okwonkwo watches life as he knows it fade, he’s forced to take action. But the action he decides to take is something I’ll let you read about on your own. Things Fall Apart is highly recommended for your bookshelf. If you have a favorite metaphor or symbol in Things Fall Apart, go ahead and share in the comments!


Reality,  by Alan Fleming

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Reading The Moon Chaser by Alexa Kang

The Moon Chaser, by Alexa Kang

PJ Review Score: 4.8/5


3: 🙂
4: 😊
5: 😲 

Alexa Kang is the author of WWII and 20th Century historical fiction. Her works include the Rose of AnzioShanghai Story (of which Moon Chaser is a spin-off) and Eternal Flame. To learn more about Alexa Kang and her works, visit her website.

Overview

The Moon Chaser is a historical novella within The Darkest Hour anthology about a woman named Yuan Wen-Ying during the Japanese invasion of China. The story is both lighthearted and intense, switching masterfully between cute jokes and tear-jerking scenes.

It takes place in Shanghai from the third-person perspective of Yuan Wen-Ying. Wen-Ying comes from a wealthy and respected family. Due to the harshness of life during the war, her family loses their power. The story picks up in 1944 with Wen-Ying heavily involved in the Tian Di Hui – a rebel group that aimed to undermine Japanese occupation on the mainland.

Analysis

Yuan Wen-Ying is a strong and empathetic character. Although she lost everything in the war, it’s clear that she’s an invaluable asset to the Tian Di Hui. Throughout the story, there are moments when Wen-Ying thinks about how different life was just a decade before. The memories are vivid and add depth to Wen-Ying’s character.

As far as female leads are concerned, Wen-Ying is a refreshing character. She’s honest and true to herself and her values, which makes her quite relatable despite being a woman who lived in the 20th century. Alexa Kang didn’t feel the need to alter Wen-Ying’s personality to make her more relateable, thereby maintaining the historical integrity of Wen-Ying’s character.

Wen-Ying faces several conflicts through the story, both internal and external, involving her ultimate mission and the man she can’t seem to ignore, Masao Takeda.

Critique

It’s clear that Alexa Kang cares about historical accuracy, which is something I respect a lot. Historical fiction done right is when a captivating story is created from non-fictional elements, such as the war itself, the toll the war took on food supplies, the Tian Di Hui, and so much more. As both a fan of historical fiction and a history buff, I was pleasantly surprised by Alexa Kang’s skill and attention to detail.

The book can be purchased via Amazon.


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Book Review: Scraps of Love

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Scraps of Love, Shann Tajiah

PJ Review Score: 3/5

3: 🙂
4: 😊
5: 😲 

Overview

Scraps of Love: Poetry From the Darkest Night 1992 – 2010, is a poetry collection written by Shann Tajiah and published in 2018 by Ithirial Rising Press. The collection is organized logically, starting with the table of contents, followed by an interesting foreword. The table of contents is made up of twelve chapters, all of which are organized in reverse chronological order from dates 2010 and 1997.

As the title suggests, Scraps of Love focuses on the pain of human existence, fear of the unknown, and love of things and people that are familiar. The poetry emphasizes visceral emotions, which stems from the emotional struggles that the writer has experienced or witnessed. From the foreword, the reader can surmise that the writer put a lot of thought and care into this book.

Additional Information

There are several groups of poems for each year, each with distinct titles. The poems themselves seem to match the overall themes of the year. Each year has a short title or phrase that the poems beyond will follow.  For example, the following poem, ‘Naked,’ falls under ‘2002,’ which is titled ‘Life is Written in Ink.’

“The fog is lifting / burned away by a hotter face. Naked now / I stand, my robes gone…”

The next quote is from ‘1999,’ titled ‘Lost Soul.’

“Ashes to ashes / dust to dust / the end of life. The circle will never be broken / one must live / one must die.”

Like most poetry these days, Scraps of Love is made up of mostly free verse poetry. There are simple rhymes in some poems, but mostly, the poems enjoy free reign from metered constraints. The above quotes are an example of Tajiah’s poetry – minimalist, but with echoing emotions and implied endings. Poetry written in this way is something to be enjoyed, at least every now and then, even by people who prefer metered rhymes.

Comments

Scraps of Love has a few quirks, such as, misspelled words in some titles. However, it’s a solid poetry collection with poems written with great care. If you’re interested in reading this book, you can buy it on Amazon. It has a nice book trailer that you can watch on Youtube.


Further Reading:

Book Review: Gladiator

Gladiator, Joshua Chou

PJ Review Score: 3.5/5


3: 🙂
4: 😊
5: 😲 

Overview

Gladiator is an action, fantasy novel written by Joshua Chou. Chou is a NYU graduate, who intends to make a career out of writing. He loves super-heroes, which is evident in this work.  Gladiator, published in 2018, is his first novel.

As you might glean from the book’s title, the book focuses on gladiators – several in particular. The story line is quite entertaining but mostly linear, which means that there aren’t any significant multilateral power struggles. The protagonists and antagonists are mostly clearly defined.

Analysis

Conan is the main protagonist, who seems to be an ordinary high school kid. It turns out he actually might not be so ordinary after he passes out from falling down a flight of stairs. Conan remains a mysterious character throughout the novel. Even at the end of the novel, the reader can’t really be sure that they know Conan. This could be due to the fact that Conan’s character is never really fleshed out enough. His character lacks some development in some areas. On the other hand, it could be because Gladiator is a part of a series in which Conan’s character develops over time.

Gladiator takes place some time in the future. This is just my best guess, as the actual time period remains undefined throughout the novel. The presence of hover cars and superior weaponry is evidence of the future.

In the beginning and toward the end of the book, the reader learns about the city of Colossus. The story opens with the city being plagued by ‘Third republic’ thugs, and having emerged from a fairly recent war with surrounding ‘city-states.’ The ‘Third republic’ are a gang, or operation of rebels.

Critique

As someone who loves delving into novels, and immersing herself in fantastical worlds, I was let down by the lack of attention the writer placed on describing Colossus, and its current relationship with neighboring city-states. Because the city lacked some fundamental descriptions, the story didn’t come alive. At least, not as much as it could have.

I would draw the same conclusions about some periphery characters that appeared in the beginning, and those that remained throughout the novel. So much emphasis was placed on the problems, that not as much attention was given to some details. As a result, there are some lingering questions that are never addressed.

However, the story was good overall, it just did not live up to its full potential. If you’re interested in reading Gladiator for yourself, you can find it on Amazon.


 Recommended:

Book Review: Behold

Behold, Rikke Delhi

PJ Review Score: 4/5

3: 🙂
4: 😊
5: 😲 


Overview

Rikke Dehli is a Danish author of Behold, a poetry collection filled with free verse poetry published in November of 2017. Behold is Rikke Dehli’s first published poetry collection.

The cover art is unique and simplistic. It’s a good representation of the poems that can be found within the book itself.

Analysis

Before delving into this book, it’s important to be aware of several artistic elements that Rikke Dehli employed. First, the book is made up entirely of free verse poems. Each poem has it’s own personality, as far as structure goes. No poem is structured the same in this book. As far as structure goes, there is no pattern. You may be able to say that the pattern here is that there is no pattern. Picture a canvas in which the artist lets the brush lead, instead of her leading the brush. Rikke Dehli’s poems are written in this way.

Further adding to the lack of pattern and doing away with convention, Rikke Dehli boldly omitted titles. She makes a note of this, insisting that readers simply ignore the convention. The reasoning behind the decision to omit poem titles is left entirely up to the reader.

At this point, if you’re a traditionalist, then you’re probably cringing. As a traditionalist, I was not sure what to think. I read through each poem rather quickly, learning to ignore the lack of titles and structure. Once I did, I noticed that Rikke Dehli’s decision was, perhaps, full of symbolism. Instead of interpreting each poem individually, it’s important to read all the poems as a holistic piece.

It’s clear that Rikke Dehli believes in the significance of personal interpretations. She doesn’t want the reader to be bogged down by details that would imply certain meanings, such as the titles of poems. She wants the reader to dive into Behold, and resurface with their own unique thoughts about each poem.

Behold is a holistic poetry collection that delves into the human experience, from the perspective of a young adult female. Each poem tackles the complex emotions of heartache, loss, and love. The poems lack any clear resolutions, which further echoes the realities of the human emotional experience. Take, for example, this poem on the back cover:

“Your lips strike me as poisonous
So I kiss them even harder
They taste so familiar
In the worst possible way.
The taste rings up the echo of someone else
Inside me
And I try my best to pretend
I don’t hear a sound. ”

Critique

Behold is an interesting read, to say the least. If you’re an avid poetry collector who collects unique poems, then I would recommend adding Behold to your collection. However, Behold can also be enjoyed by anyone who is a lover of art, and freedom of expression. You can purchase it through Amazon.


Engaging Reads:

A Song of Seeking Within the Shadows: Discovering the True Shape of Vulnerability

Very rarely can you come across a unique piece like “The Vulnerables”. The Rapper who goes by Lafu Maton brought us to a new level of a dark, soul-crunching experience, which truly showcases the level of beauty and capability of musical expression. A special take on poetry and hip-hop, “The Vulnerables” is a song that explores on music format, pushes boundaries with lyrical content and expresses creativity in production. 

Read more