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Dorit Rabinyan is a rising star in the literary world. Born in Israel to Iranien Jewish parents, she has three books translated into English: “Persian Brides”, “Our Weddings” (also published as “Strand of a thousand pearls”) and “All the rivers”. “Persian Brides” won the Jewish Quartely-Wingate Prize in 1999, and “All the rivers” has been an international best seller. However, “All the Rivers”, has been controversial in Israel; despite being well received and winning an award, in 2015 a scandal emerged: a committee of teachers requested the novel to be added to the recommended curriculum for Hebrew high school literature classes. Another committee in the Israeli Ministry of Education however objected to the request and declined to add it, on the grounds, according to The Economist, that it ”promotes intermarriage and assimilation”. In short, ”All the rivers” has gotten flack for portraying an interfaith and intercultural relationship.

Before moving on to the review, I must tell an endearing story about when I was waiting in a posttalk line to have Ms. Rabinyan sign her novel, ”Our weddings”. Ms. Rabinyan had not quite understood that she was suppose to do signings after her talk. Her publisher went to get her for the signing, and when Ms. Rabinyan appeared and saw the line, she exclaimed happily: ”Wow, are all these people here for me? This is fantastic!”.

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All the rivers” tells the sad love story of Liat, a Persian Jewish woman from Israel who, while temporarily living in New York, meets Hilmi, a young Palestinian man. Despite Liat´s internal reluctance, the two fall in love. However the relationship is filled with conflicts and Liat, additionally in her hesitation, hides the relationship from her parents and from many of her friends. Hilmi and Liat, in the midst of their tumultuous relationship, continually revert to mammoth arguments regarding the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Regardless, as the days go by, and the relationship with Hilmi deepens, it becomes harder for Liat to stick with her original plan to merely have a frivolous adventure while on a long trip and to return to her ”normal life” once she leaves the escapade of New York.

While the novels premise may sound banal and the books description would have the book sound like your average star crossed lovers story, ”All the rivers” surprises with a complex, mature and engaging story of politics and life. The novel is told from Liats point of view, and Rabinyan does not shy away from showing her heroine as deeply flawed. Liat often in fights with Hilmi exposes her insensitivity, and she often, and flippantly voices opinions she would be horrified to hear others utter. Yet, at the same time, Liat is very likeable. She is kind, self- critical and deeply cares about Hilmi, her family, and the humanity of all those around her. For those unfamiliar with Jewish culture they will certainly learn much about it through Liat´s narration.

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Hilmi as a character is loveable. Hilmi´s an ambitious and aspiring artist, has a deep and subtle sense of humour, and, despite a past of hardships engendered in the experiences of the Palestinian occupation forsakes bitterness for compassion and understanding. While hurt that Liat hides him from her parents, he has also remarkable patience with Liat. However he is not kind to a fault.

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In the two leads, Rabinyan explores a different spin on the tropes of intercultural relationships. While often in a text which wants the reader to sympathize with the protagonists, the tendency of the narrative of the two lovers would be written as free from prejudice or bias. Here though, we are exposed directly to Liat´s main flaw of her unremitting bias towards Israelis, and her admission of prejudice regarding Arabs, something she shamefully admits and tries to work on. (Note: people of Iranian descent consider themselves Persian, not Arabic). Liat is not purely a bad guy; Rabinyan shows that Liat deeply cares, supports and loves Hilmi, and listens to his stories of oppression without gaslighting him.

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Rabinyan’s plays in a refreshing perspective to the star-crossed lovers story showing us a human relation of real people embedded in both their prejudices and the dilemma of a loving intercultural relationship which resolves to neither the unloving or unkind. The novel paints a very morally complex and honest reality that explores the problematic nexus of privilege and biases, while showing the personal, political struggles the lovers have in recognition of their ignorances and invisible, unchecked privileges. The politics of the story are honest, and multilayered, while also being delicately critical of Israeli norms in understated ways.

Hilmi´s backstory also breaks ground in how Middle Eastern characters are often depicted in both cultural representations and narrative structure. Hilmi talks about his father, who he mentions was an atheist, and while it is never stated Hilmi himself does not seem very religious. While most literature often depicts Middle Easterners as Muslim or Christian, ”All the rivers” depicts two often forgotten groups: Jewish Middle Easterners and Atheist/non-believing Middle Easterners.

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The political context of the novel, one which the lovers are entrenched in and struggling against, revolves ultimately around the paramount and continual system of apartheid system towards the Palestinians in Israel. Hilmi, when going to Ramallah to visit his family, describes the oppressive atmosphere of the wall and details the surprising event of his time in prison for painting as a teen (the authorities thought he had painted the Palestinian flag). The novel, despite being written by an Israeli writer, does not shy away from the less than stellar aspects of the conflict.

The book is addictive, and difficult to put down. Despite being utterly depressing, ”All the rivers” also makes the unfortunately still relevant cautionary tale of not letting intolerance get in the way of the most human of things, our relationships with one another. Liat, despite knowing Hilmi is a good person, and despite acknowledging that she loves him, does not allow herself the relationship she desires due to fear of her parents disapproval. This denial leads to a heartbreaking ending where Liat is forced to face the harsh reality, of not only lost opportunities, but also of injustice as a destructive force. ”All the rivers” will surprise readers greatly, while also making them cry and rethink. Rare books do so much.

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Photo by Benoit Courti

All the rivers” is a triumph. Even if love stories are not your usual cup of tea (or if you just generally don´t like star-crossed lovers stories) still this novel cannot be recommend more highly. Beautifully written, brave and filled with both overt and restrained insights, ”All the rivers” is the love story for the person wanting to understand the world just a little bit more, and think of the individual enterprise a bit more clearly.

2017: New Year, new plans.

Hi Everybody.

It´s 2017. Due to exams, I was not able to be very active on this site in December. However Now it´s a new year, and I have three major plans for the future on this blog.

– Around the end of February, there will be the start of a series called “Pop goes the art!”, where I will examine the portrayel of art in popular Western animation shows.

– I´m starting probably at the end of this moth a long ongoing series called “Maaretta reads Salman Rushdie”. Each post will be a review of novel by Sir Rushdie, starting with “The Satanic Verses”.

– There will also be the ongoing series called “The Literary Quest for Freedom”, where each blog post will contain a review of a book that discusses democracy and human rights.

Hope you all had a good holiday, and let´s fight the power in 2017!

Take Care/ Maaretta

As many of you probably now, I´m of Finnish Descent 🙂 And today marks one of my Homecountries 99 year birthday! Blessed are the Finns today!

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Take care/ Maaretta

“Adua” by Igiaba Scego

My third published article appear on the feminist site “Femtiden” last week. It is a review of a novel published in 2015 by the Somali-Italien writer Igiaba Scego. The novel deals with Italien history from a postcolonial viewpoint. Link down below:

http://www.femtiden.se/kreativt/romanen-adua-behandlar-tillhorighet-skuld-och-ensamhet/

The novel is fantastic. Highly recommended.

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Happy International Men´s Day!

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(Trigger/Content warning: Suicide and depression).

Even if it is perhaps a banal and cliché statement, it still feels right to say that Lygia Bojunga’s ”My friend the painter” is one of the bravest books I have ever read. It takes one of the most taboo and stigmatizing subjects in our society – suicide – and manages to not only capture the grief, loss and confusion that one feels when a loved one has killed themselves, but also depicts the act of suicide in a complex manner, with a voice of honesty, compassion and melancholia. Despite being a middle grade level novel, I would highly recommended this book for all ages. No matter the age, the reader will assuredly get much from this novel.

The story is about 10-year old Sergio, who, in the first chapter, tells the reader about his neighbor and friend, whom he only refers to as the painter. He talks about how the painter educated him in art, and how they in bygone times would play chess together. The chapter ends with Sergio telling the reader that he must now use the past tense, since he won´t be doing anything with his friend anymore. His friend has just died by his own hand.

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The book is entirely from Sergio’s point of view, and therefore the reader is mercifully spared the details of the death and discovery of the body. Instead the book explores Sergio’s resolute search for answers, most prominently to the desperately haunting question: ”why did my friend choose to die?”. The adults around him try their best to shield him at all cost; the painters girlfriend lies and claims that it was an accident, Sergio’s parents blurt out that the reason for the tragedy is that the painter was sick in the head. All the adults of the novel are in a circuit to avoid and ignore Sergio’s confrontations and questions. Sergio feels at a loss, since he feels like the adults don´t take him seriously and never answer any of his questions. To add insult to injury, when Sergio tries to talk about his grief to his child friends, they are too caught up in their own worlds to sympathize. The situation of the grieving child is messy, to say the least.

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In these scenes, Bojunga captures the heartbreak, confusion and hopelessness that comes with the loss of a friend, while showcasing how the adults around Sergio seem too scared or judgmental to even talk about the life that has passed. Especially, when it comes to Sergio as child, the adults are reluctant to explain or discuss anything with him, despite the fact that Sergio was close to the painter, and is seeking a means to understand the death and his own grieving. The perspective of an overlooked child is a common theme in Bojunga´s authorship, and here it´s used to illustrate not only the condescending view of children, but also the stigma of suicide. The tragedy that has taken place is so taboo that the adults try to shield the boy from everything regarding it, even if it only makes the grieving process that more difficult.

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How the novel deals with suicide itself is brilliant as well. Numerous aspects of the painters life is dealt with before his death- his past with being politically persecuted brought about by a critique of the former dictatorship in Brazil, his girlfriend’s withdrawal of support during this oppressive time, his continuous struggles with depression (it is implied that this may be clinical depression, but is gone unnoticed by others), and his difficulty making it as an artist. In real life, why people attempt suicide ranges from a plethora of divergent reasons, from struggles with mental health through loneliness to economic problems. It can also be a case of many of these causes overlapping, and becoming a state unbearable to the bearer of these emotional burdens. Often times, when the suicide attempt becomes fatal, the ones left behind never really find out why the person they knew chose this deadly direction. This is the case with Sergio; he wonders if it was the painters despair in his art, or his conflict with his girlfriend, or some other unseen despair, that was the trigger that drove him to kill himself. The adults around speculate (behind Sergio’s back) that it was his mental health issues or could be seen in the light of his past as a political prisoner that lead to the sad and untimely death. As the many buildings toward the horrific event of the death itself, the novel never lets us resolve this penultimate question with any easy or obvious answers. The reality of surrounding the question of suicide is, at the least, so multilayer-ed that we will never fully understand.

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“Obbachlosigkeith” by Kata Petricevic

The grief that Sergio feels also captures a painful reality; that of being left with trying to cope after a loved one has killed themselves. The novel doesn´t sugarcoat this experience at all; Sergio’s inner thoughts and process when trying to make sense of everything is as devastating to read about as one can imagine.

My Friend the painter” by Lygia Bojunga is a sad, honest depiction of a complex, important issue. With this book, Bojunga gives a realistic and mature depiction of a tough subject, that speaks with a strong voice whist avoiding the capture of judgment and simplification. Strongly recommended.

Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly event hosted by Sam from ”Thoughts on Tomes” where booktubers and bookbloggers list their top five bookish favorites. This week’s theme is favorite Non-canon ships, which means that before we get started let´s do a rundown of some terms people might not know about: Shipping (deprived from the word relationship) is, as wikipedia states: ”the desire by fans for two characters to be in a relationship, romantic or otherwise. It is considered a general term for fans’ emotional involvement with the ongoing development of a relationship in a work of fiction”. With ”canon” one is referring to the original authors confirmation, with ”non-canon” one is referring to imagined alternative scenarios by fans. In this post I will mention five couples I wish were canon, or that I wish could meet. Let´s get started.

1. Consuelo x Polleke (from the ”Polleke”-series by Guus Kuijer): This takes a fifth spot since, unlike the other ships on this list I´m not that enthusiastic about this pairing, however I do believe it would have been much more logical and interesting than the canon couple in the middle grade ”Polleke”-series (even if, yes, both girls are straight in the canon material). The ”Polleke”-pentalogy was funny, sad and dealt with a lot of heavy issues, such as drug abuse and forced marriages. Polleke is a twelve year old girl who likes to write poems, and often feels confused in a world where culture clashes are around every corner. In the series third book she befriends the Native Mexican refugee girl, 14- year old Consuelo, which the series implies fled Mexico after suffering rape at the hands of police. By befriending Consuelo, Polleke starts to become more sensitive and understanding, taking a huge step in empathy. Consuelo on the other hand is fiercely loyal to Polleke, even in cases where Pollekes boyfriend Mimoun is not. Their friendship is precious and the girls stick together through everything, more so than Polleke´s canon love interest. It is arguable possible that Polleke and Consuelo´s relationship would be more balanced and happier; Mimoun had shades of an emotional abuser, while on the other-hand Consuelo is always kind to Polleke. So if it may be humble suggested, Polleke should have left Mimoun for Consuelo.

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2. Harry Potter X Luna Lovegood (from the ”Harry Potter”-series by J.K. Rowling):

In the ”Unpopular opinion book tag”-post, I mentioned that I was never that convinced by Harry and Ginny´s love story; in fact the big love story of the series seemed to belong to Ron and Hermione instead, with Harry and Ginny´s relationship feeling very sudden and out of left field. Harry seemed in fact to be bonding much more with Luna Lovegood, the quirky side character introduced in ”Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”. Harry is a little confused by Luna’s odd behavior, but regardless is open-minded about her ideas, and most certainly warms up to her in a noticeable way. When he even takes her on a friendly ”date” in ”Harry Potter and the half-blooded prince” the pair turns out to have interesting chemistry and bounce of off each other in a sweet, cute kind of way. It would have also been an interesting turn of events had Harry fallen for Luna, since him marrying Ginny followed a traditional childhood romance formula. Luna, like Harry, had experienced death at an early age and like Harry, had a intriging persona. These two would have just been an awesome couple, compensating each other in a heartwarming way.

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3. Emilia (from ”Othello” by William Shakespeare) x Song (from ”M. Butterfly” by David Henry Hwang):

This is a crack/crossover ship, but nonetheless their is a sense that these characters might have gotten along had they ever met. Both are snarky and cynical, yet have clear ideas about what is ”right”. Both react to a grand form of prejudice, in Emilias case she feels anger towards a world where women are seen as inferior. Song on the other hand makes it no secret that he is disgusted with the west´s exotification of Eastern culture. Both characters also express these dislikes with sharp, memorable lines, and both face abuse in their own plays (albeit different kinds of abuse). If they ever met in a ”Once Upon a time”*-type of story, it is no doubt that these two would probably click, and have much to talk (i.e. rant) about together, all day long.

4. Louhi (from ”The Kalevala” by Elias Lönnrot) x Cao Cao (from ”The Romance of the three kingdoms” by Luo Guanzhong)

Another crack/crossover ship, but also more of a ”dark ship”, since both Louhi and Cao Cao are villains. Louhi is the dreaded ruler from the north who does not hesitate to kill off men she deems unworthy of her daughters hand, Cao Cao is an ambitious but ill tempered man who while seeking power causes a lot of deaths. While clearly not good people, what is interesting is that while both characters are clearly evil, their ”evilness” is also in different ways exaggerated. In Louhi´s case, in ”The Kalevala” she is portrayed as a ruthless person but most of the time it seems like the protagonist are causing her more harm than vice versa. Cao Cao on the other hand is based on a real ruler, who modern historians claim was a fairly decent ruler by the times standard. So while I do ship these two in a villainous, dark way, I often imagine them as slightly (just slightly) toned-down villains who help each other out in climbing the ladder to greater power, scheming together how to outsmart everyone else. Both are real fighters, and together would probably be unstoppable, which appeals to lovers of a more twisted power couple.

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5. Moomintroll x Gnorke (from ”The Moomins”-series by Tove Jansson):

I mentioned in a previous post that Moomintroll, one of the main characters in the Moomin franchise, was shown in the original novels as being one of the first to be able to reach to Gnorke, the scary but harmless creature that roams Moominvalley. While in the original novels Moomintroll only has a sort-of friendship with her, the japanese animated show from 1990´s did confirm that Gnorke had a one-sided crush on Moomintroll, which his friends and girlfriend tease him about. To me, this ship works for two reasons: 1. the novels are vague on the ages, so Gnorke and Moomintroll can be imagined as nearly equal aged, and 2. Moomintroll´s kind-hearted nature and willingness to help Gnorke while Gnorke in canon is clearly overjoyed by the contact leads to an interesting dynamic. Gnorke is the hopeless, odd individual in need of comfort; Moomintroll is a loving person who sees beyond what is told to him. As a couple, not only could one explore themes of loneliness and comfort and response, but also what it means that Moomintroll can go so against what he´s been taught. It has the potential for angst, fluff, a real roller-coaster of a relationship. Alas, this will forever only be in fans wildest dreams.

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Fan art by Sildesalaten

That´s my top 5 non-canon literary ships, comment below and tell me some of yours!

* Once Upon a Time is an American fairy tale-retelling dramatic television series that premiered on October 23, 2011, on ABC. The show takes place in the fictional seaside town of Storybrooke, Maine, whose residents are characters from various fairy tales transported to the “real world” town and robbed of their real memories by a powerful curse. – Wikipedia

Fall Time Reading Tag!

Dear readers, Missmagic girl tagged me, so here it comes: my fall reading revelations. Many love fall time for the metamorphoses in nature, cooler environment and for Halloween. I on the other hand am suffering from post-summer blues; no more warm days that require little clothing to keep warm, and days of swimming in open rivers. Alas, times are changing, but luckily books will always be here for comfort. On to the questions!

1. Are there any particular books you plan to read this fall?

Well, for University I hope to read Marja Ågren’s ”Är du finsk eller?…” (”Are you Finish or…?”) which is a sociological study of Swedish people of Finnish descent (i.e. Sweden Finns). I also hope that I´ll be able to read Kari Tarkiainen’s and Jarmo Lainio´s ”Finnarnas historia i sverige del 2&3” (”The History of the Finns in Sweden parts 2&3”), which details the complex history of Finnish culture and language that has existed inside of Swedish borders; these two books cover from about the 18th century up to modern times. These books are bond to be very informal and interesting!

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2. September is associated with the beginning of a school term. What books did you most enjoy reading in school? And what were / are your favorite subjects?

My favorite subjects were history (which I always got the highest marks in), social studies and English. It was so fascinating to learn about the past and about today’s politics. English was also fun for reading and writing. When I was studying in high school I loved Psychology and Finnish. In the Finnish language class we learned all about Finland’s history, which the main Swedish classes left out, and also the history of our literature.

When it comes to books that were read aloud to us I was always fond of the “Vikinga” trilogy by Maj Bylock, which I have blogged about before. “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman was a favorite too, and “George´s marvelous medicine” and “The Witches” by Roald Dahl. I enjoyed “The Witches” so much I actually asked for the book as a Christmas gift and begged my mother to re-read the book to me, which she ended up hating because she fond it’s too dark and depressing. The enjoyment of a book truly is in the ears of the beholder.

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3. Halloween takes place in October. Do you like scary/spooky books and movies, and if so, which ones?

I don’t read that many scary books, but I guess my two favorites would be “The Bloody Chamber and other stories” by Angela Carter and “Arkham Asylum: A serious house on serious earth” by Grant Morrison. “The Bloody Chamber” is a collection of fairy tale re- tellings with a mix of erotic horror. The two scariest stories in this collection are definitely “The werewolf”, which is a red riding hood retelling with a terrifying twist and “The bloody chamber”, which is about a woman who gets married to a blue beard type of man and about her race against the clock to escape him. Those stories are clever, feminist and spooky while leaving a big impact.

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Grant Morrison’s comic “Arkham Asylum” is mostly spooky due to it´s fantastic art style; Arkham Asylum and the super-villains that live there look like a haunted house filled with terrifying monsters, that strengthens the comic´s paranoid atmosphere. The story on the other hand resembles more a psychological thriller, and features one of the best depictions of Two Face.

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I would like to blog about my favorite scary movies later, but for a scary television show you should check out “Gotham”. It has a gloomy atmosphere with many scary criminal and serial killer bad guys, that are terrifying, especially in season two.

4. What books are suitable for cozy reads during the dark autumn evenings?

Definitely most of the Moomin novels by Tove Jansson, or either one from the Lewis Carroll´s “Alice”-duology, “Alice in Wonderland” or “Alice through the looking glass”. Both series are fairly humorous and written in a simple, clear tone that´s oddly comforting and relaxing. Reading these novels is like visiting old, beloved friends. ­

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Original illustration from “Through the looking glass”

5. Once you have crawled up on the couch with a cozy book, which hot drink do you choose to go with it?

I don´t really like all that many hot drinks. Except for Hot chocolate, but those I exclusively by time to time in Coffee shops, sorry to say.

6. Do you have any plans this fall you look forward to?

I´m going for a short, four day trip to Finland and to a week long trip to New York, both in October. So lots to look forward to there. I also hope to get to work on re-awaking this blog after a long hiatus. And of course, voting overseas in the 2016 presidential election 🙂

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Take care!/ Maaretta

Hi Everyone. The long hiatus in August and September was caused by sickness in the family and University work. But now I´m back!

First, here´s the long awaited discussion video I did with Missmagic girl!:

I have also began working for the webb-based only swedish feminist magazine “Femt!den”. Below you will find the two articles I´ve written so far:

My take on the poet Warsan Shire, who worked with Beyouncé on “Lemonade”: http://www.femtiden.se/kreativt/poesi-som-visar-det-manskliga-sidan-i-krig-och-flykt/

A deep look at Nellie Wongs poetry: http://www.femtiden.se/kreativt/nellie-wongs-banbrytande-poesi-skildrar-varlden/

Ms. Wong is perhaps the greatest poet that gets criminally little attention. If you like heartbreaking, political and smart poetry, check her out.

Best Wishes/ Maaretta

Sniff: “It´s so difficult to be noble when you´re suppose to get rich simultaniously”

-“Moomin and the Railwaystation” by Lars Jansson