Sunday, February 25, 2018

Recent Reads | February

After I went on and on in January about how I wasn't going to read as many books this year and I wanted to slow my pace down, I read ten books throughout the month of February. Most were short -- under 250 pages -- and I found myself speeding through them one after another whilst riding the bus during rush hour traffic. I've cut down my list to my top five picks of the month, and a few of them were so good they're likely to make it onto my favorite reads of the year.

The Boat People by Sharon Bala
Having worked in refugee resettlement for 9 months, I found this look at asylum-seekers  in Canada fascinating. Based on the real life happenings of two ships carrying 550 asylum-seeking Tamils reaching Canada's shore, The Boat People follows the fictitious, interwoven storylines of Mahindan and Sellian, a father & son pair seeking refuge; Priya, a Sri Lankan Canadian law intern; and Grace, a Japanese Canadian adjudicator. Though the characters are not real, their fates are based on real people, making The Boat People a powerful, heartbreaking, wholly engrossing read.

I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice*
Chatto & Windus, Publish date: 6 July 2017
I often struggle to connect with memoirs, but this is easily one of the most honest, heartfelt, beautiful books I've ever read. Ruth Fitzmaurice's husband, Simon, has Motor Neurone Disease, which leaves him motionless and only able to communicate via an eye gaze computer. I Found My Tribe is Ruth's commentary on her married life -- not one given in a chronological timeline, but rather one that switches back and forth as she tells of her relationship with her husband, their five children, and her friends. She alternates between tales of what happens inside her home and her own head, and how she and her friends -- the self-named Tragic Wives Swimming Club -- cope with their life challenges by swimming in the sea. Ruth's words are equally humorous and lump-in-throat-forming, and I Found My Tribe is a delight to read from start to finish.

The Innocent by Ian McEwan
I've read a few of McEwan's novels and found them just okay, but I adore all things Cold War Germany so I gave him another chance with The Innocent. It's an unsettling, mysterious Cold War thriller that follows Leonard, a 25-year-old naive English engineer sent to Berlin to assist with a wire-tapping project. As he is pulled deeper into the intelligence world he also finds himself increasingly wrapped up in a relationship with Maria, a German woman five years his senior. There's quite a bit of humor and grisly gore mixed into the story, and McEwan does a marvelous job of writing the thoughts inside a character's head such that you can't help but feel their every anxious and relief-filled moment. Given how much I enjoyed this one, I'm willing to give other McEwan titles a chance.

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons
Afoma mentioned this one a few times on instagram, and as her recommendations are always perfect I of course had to read it. What We Lose is a semi-autobiographical series of vignettes about loss, grief, race, family, life, and identity. It follows Thandi, an African American woman who juggles her identity rooted in her parents' backgrounds in Pennsylvania and Johannesburg, in her light skin, in her loss of a parent. The book is occasionally hard to follow as the plotline is not written chronologically, but What We Lose is less about a storyline and more about the emotions that come with life events. Clemmons debut is a strong, beautiful beginning to hopefully many more titles in the future.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
As someone fascinated by physics but not great at math, I appreciated this words-over-numbers explanation of some of the big theories in the field: relativity, quantum mechanics, black holes, elementary particles, time, and quantum gravity. However, the concepts felt too simplified at times, and I didn't like the author inserting personal stories into his explanations, as they felt overly indulgent and unnecessary. Though I disagreed with some of his applications in regards to humanity's lack of knowledge and I had hoped for a little more substance, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is an engaging, well written summary of the field, and anyone curious about concepts in physics should give it a read.

*I received a free copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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