Feb. Reading Wrap-Up: Part I & Cape Town Vlog

Hi there! I’m Jen. This is Remembered
Reads. And this is going to be part one of what will probably be a three-part
reading wrap-up and travel vlog. If we’re connected on Instagram you’ll know that
I was in Cape Town South Africa and then traveling across Botswana and then
in Victoria Falls Zimbabwe last month. and going to places like that from Canada
does involve some really long flights which ends up taking up a couple of days
each time, plus some long bus rides going from central Namibia up to
northern Botswana so I did get a lot of reading done in addition to taking a lot
of touristy photos so I’m gonna do three parts combining those so the first thing
that I finished was “second-hand time the last of the Soviets” by Svetlana
Alekseyevich. this, like all of her books is an oral history in which she
interviewed people about a specific event and in this case it is the years
leading up to and then coming out of the fall of the Soviet Union. in this book,
interestingly – unlike the other three books of hers that I’ve read -she is much
more present. she adds more thoughts of her own and provides more context
regarding the lives of the people that she’s talking about, and unlike the
Chernobyl book or the two Second World War books that she’s written ,this covers
something that it’s much has much less an obvious core to it. because there’s so
much involved in the fall of the Soviet Union both politically and socially and
just geographically and linguistically – there’s so much going on that it feels
more broad-ranging. But at the same time I noticed how narrow it was considering
that this is called the last of the Soviets it’s really the last of the
Slavic Soviets what I’ve really noticed here was that as with the other books
I’ve read from her it was very focused on Russians Ukrainians and occasionally
people from Belarus. and in the books about the Second World War where you’re
thinking okay the these are the places that Germany occupied or in the case of
Chernobyl obviously that was in Ukraine and the exclusion zone involves part of
Belarus but in this the Soviet Union was not just Belarus, Ukraine
and Russia. So I really felt the lack of the Baltic countries, the countries and
the caucuses, the countries in Central Asia there’s barely even any mention of
some of those countries there’s one woman whose daughter is in Vilnius and
that is the one mention of not just Lithuania but the Baltics. there is one
woman who whose husband was Tajik and other than that the main information we
get about Central Asia is not from anyone from those countries it is from
Russians commenting on people from the Central Asian Republics who go back to
who have returned to Russia to work and a lot of it’s very xenophobic. and I felt
like that kind of one-sided this was a little shocking because this is not a
portrait of the Soviet Union this is a portrait of the Slavic Soviet Union. so
if you are someone who speaks one of the Baltic or Caucasian or Turkic languages
or any of the other Finnic or any of the other language
yeah you just don’t exist. and as I went on with the book I felt really unhappy
with the lack that because as the interviews go forward in time you get
more of people from the caucuses and the Central Asian countries going to Russia
for work, and there’s a real layer xenophobia to a lot of that. I
thought not having any voices from those countries really mm-hmm
was really not satisfying. now that said, I still put on this really interesting
and it did make me want to read more about the immediate post-soviet world
but I think it’s worth noting that this is very Slavic focused and if you’re
looking for the full post-soviet Soviet Union it’s just not that so after that I
read something that is a little less politically fraught although something
that does cause a lot of people have dramatic reactions I read John Krakauer’s
“into the wild” which is a recounting of the story of a young guy who went to
go live in the wilderness in Alaska and starved to death because he made a few
poor choices when it came to eating seeds essentially. Krakauer
takes a very sympathetic view towards this, whereas a lot of people I
think kind of aggressively say this guy was an idiot and made poor choices and
essentially you know he shouldn’t be viewed heroically and I think it’s an
interesting discussion of is this a kind of romantic lifestyle choice or is it
ridiculous and as I said John cracker is sympathetic and he compares it to some
of his rock climbing and mountaineering misadventures in his youth and he suggests
that some of this guy’s critics probably made similar mistakes in their
youth. And I read that and thought well yes – hey my friends used to
do a lot of interior camping, and in our early camping trips we made a lot of
mistakes and I think being aware that you made mistakes of thinking that was
stupid when we did some of these things is a fair way of viewing that. so I think
his comment that the people who are really negative towards this guy just
aren’t remembering their youth – I don’t think is the right way to interpret that
there has been a movie made of this I have not watched it, but if you have I’d
love to hear how you think it compares to the book. this edition that I read was
one of the later editions wherein there’s added scientific discussion
about this mold and seeds and poisoning and what happened with all of that. I
found that really interesting but yeah I found this to be very slight and I
didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I usually enjoy a Jon Krakauer’s writing.
the first thing that I read from him was “into thin air” and I do enjoy
mountaineering stories, so I did obviously really loved that but even in
his book about the extreme Mormon murders, all of that I found engaging where
is this I did find myself rolling my eyes quite frequently. so your mileage
may vary. but yeah it’s also quite short. so next
up I read a novel and that was Futhi Ntshingila’s “we kissed them with
rain.” this is a South African novel that seems like it’s going to be just a
litany of depressing this because it does deal with basically every social
issue that you can think of when it comes to South Africa for the past 50
years. There is a girl in the modern time who is pregnant because of a rape,
and her mother and stepfather both died of AIDS, and her stepmother was
somebody who came from a mixed-race family that was broken apart during
apartheid times. And it feels like you’re going towards a really depressing ending
but it actually goes in an uplifting direction. so there’s a weird tonal shift
and they the first half the first two-thirds of this book are super
weighted in very serious social issues and then the final part is but things
worked out which feels a little odd as you’re reading it. but it’s written and
the kind of style that it’s like I guess what I would compare it to is that if
you have an older uncle or someone who likes to tell you stories that kind of
meander and then change directions that’s what this feels like it feels
like somebody’s telling you a story and they’re remembering bits and pieces and
adding things in and then it just goes somewhere else. so yeah I thought it was
interesting that I captured that kind of natural storytelling. but it was totally
a little surprising which I think it’s challenging in that I think some people
go into a novel wanting to read something that is really weighty or
something that’s really uplifting and this mixes those two things together in
a way that I think might turn some people off but I did think it was an
interesting writing choice next up I read a memoir and that was “first comes
marriage: my not so typical American love story” by Huda Al-Marashi. this is a
memoir that is essentially detailing the author’s relationship with her husband,
who was someone that she grew up with in California they were both people who had
Iraqi immigrant parents and basically were sort of childhood sweethearts, and
encouraged their parents to agree to leave marriage while they were in
university as a portrait of the first few years of marriage the author is not
afraid to make her selfie very unsympathetic because she’s just narky
and mean to her husband a lot of the time. she, at various points, kind of gives up
on doing some of her educational stuff in favor of his, and he is somewhat less
successful initially and a lot of that I was really cringe-worthy.
she does say that she changes the names of some people but I still I felt sorry
for her husband reading this because you do know that it all worked out from them
for them but it did feel uncomfortable reading it. and it was odd to me going
through some of these and I just thought “what is the point of this?” because the
the marketing is that it’s kind of an exploration of arranged marriages but it
didn’t feel like that. it didn’t it felt like it was just this portrait of her
being unhappy and teaching herself to be happy in this relationship.
near the end there are some interesting conversations with her parents in which
she realizes that her notion of the way she interpreted Iraqi American culture
but Iraqi culture, Arab culture, Middle Eastern culture, that she was framing in
a certain way that was really very specific to her parents regional and
class status and all of that. Which i think is something that’s very tied to people who
came of age prior to say 2005 because I think that’s kind of the point where so
much international media is available online and it’s so easily accessible
that you don’t have the same limitation that people who aren’t from large
immigrant communities, if you’re from a smaller immigrant community your
perception of what your parents culture was like it’s very based on your parents
specific experience. and I think younger people don’t necessarily have that
because you can go on YouTube and find the TV shows from wherever your parents
are from and realize no that’s not “X culture” that’s your parents specific
regional and class and sub sects within religion and so on and so forth. so that
was interesting but that only popped up in the last couple of chapters. so I was
left kind of wondering what the point of this whole fuss because there were
interesting points to be made about seeking it out in relationships which
could be interesting there’s some interesting points about cultural
assimilation they could be interesting but they didn’t just didn’t seem to be a
lot of focus to this so I was left baffled as to why some editor didn’t
come in and clean this up and put the focus on one or two specific things
rather than being here there and everywhere which is
what this felt like. And then after that I read an essay collection that was
edited by Jesmyn Ward and that was “the fire this time: a new generation
speaks about race.” This is a collection of essays by a variety of author
I wouldn’t say generally most of which are not generally about us race
relations. most of them are specifically about either post-katrina New Orleans or
the black lives matter movement and reactions to that. As with any collection
by a variety of authors, this did feel somewhat uneven to me and that some of
it was very specific and very much about personal experiences and some of it was
trying to paint a larger social picture so I ultimately wasn’t super satisfied
with it just because it did feel very scattered now I think for somebody else
that might be that might have more value it might be more of a starting point to
read more about specific things I think if you have read of the black lives
matter movement if you have read about post Katrina New Orleans this is maybe
less interesting but if you haven’t this might be a good starting point and it
might be an introduction to some authors that you’re not necessarily familiar
with so alright so I think that’s enough from video number one I will be back in
a few days with another one of these. if you’ve read any of these I’d love to
hear what you thought of them and yeah. That’s it for now. Ciao!

9 thoughts on “Feb. Reading Wrap-Up: Part I & Cape Town Vlog

  1. Oh wow! First up! Next time you come to SA, you let me know and we can go and get a beer together (or something). Secondly, although I know Cape Town is having the same drought issues we are having in PE. I am shocked to see just how dry it is. When I lived in CT it was much greener. I really hope you had a good holiday.

  2. I remember Into the Wild!!! I read it years ago and remember being unimpressed. I think if you're gonna go out in the woods, you should at least make sure you know what you're doing first, or take along someone who does. like, baby steps, man! I'm not gonna call the guy an idiot as he was more just ignorant/impatient, but yeah…

  3. That was great. I liked Into the Wild a little more than you I think, but I agree that Into Thin Air was still much better.

  4. Hello Jen, I lived in Cape Town for three months under the shadow of Table Mountain – I loved it there! I spent my 40th birthday sitting on the dock of Hout Bay eating freshly caught fish and chips – well the fish was freshly caught anyway! Have you read any of McCall-Smith's No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series set in Botswana? You might enjoy them.

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