Category: Literature


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

“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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(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

My sincere apology for a very late wrap up of June. Here are five awesome things that took place last month:

1. Favorite Cultural Event: Chris Kraus at the Culture House´s International Writers Scene.

On June 2th Chris Kraus, the author of cult-classic mosaic-like novel ”I love Dick”, visited Stockholm´s international writers scene. She talked about failure, writing, and art. Kraus explained that while failure is a painful thing, it is also at times necessary: ”When you fail, you hit a brick wall. That means that it is truly over, and you must start again, on something new, and when you start trying something new you will discover new things”, Kraus also spoke about how her debut novel came about: ”Well, I started writing a letter to this man I was infatuated with, but as time went on, I started to view the Chris and the husband in the letters as characters instead. They seemed funny to me”. Kraus continued with adding: ”It was important that I imagined this Dick (this man I was writing to) as my audience. When you write, you need to think of an audience, to think of how someone will react and respond to your text, otherwise writing is nearly impossible”. (This seems to have truth to it. Writers that brag about only writing for themselves seem always unreliable in their talents). When asked if her most famous quote from ”I love Dick”, ”WHO GETS TO SPEAK AND WHY? IS THE ONLY QUESTION ”, is still an important question to regard, she replied: ”Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. While it is much more easy for women to get their voices heard nowadays, the question is still relevant when it comes to class. Because how often do we get to hear the voices and experiences from the lower classes? Almost never”.

2. Favorite Cartoon Moment: Steven Universe season 3 so far. (Spoilers!)

Last Month I binged watched the season 3 of ”Steven Universe”, which gave two exciting conclusions to season 2´s major story arch’s and had Alexandrite (the fusion of Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl) return. Steven also had a almost bottle-like episode with the newly reformed and befriended gem Peridot (while they were drilling into the earth’s center). We also got a sweet, tender episode with Steven and Lapis Lazuli bonding. Lapis and Steven have such a great dynamic together, and it will be super exciting to see what direction the show has in store for Lapis´ character. Hopefully we will see more screen time given to her and Stevens touching, and budding, friendship. Also, in this set of the series their was a baseball themed episode and it is as hilarious as it sounds.

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Steven and Lapis

3. Favorite Outdoor Event: Dancing around the May Pole

In Sweden, during the day of midsummer, it is traditional to dance around a decorated pole that is adorned with grass and flowers while singing classic children’s songs. This is done to celebrate the rebirth of nature during summer time and sunnier days that are ahead in summertime. It is believed to be a ritual that steams from pre- christian beliefs (maybe the phallic nature of the pole?). Where I live they have, nearby, a annual dance about the “Maypole” to celebrate the longest daylight of the year, and the beginning of summer. I´ve attended this festival for three years in a row now. At the same location they have a Four-H club/farm/stable with pigs, chickens, ducks and horses. The pigs are just the cutest!

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The dancing and the maypole look like this

4. Favorite Reading experience: ”The Lover” by Marguerite Duras.

Last month was a great reading month for me. Many of the books that I read I ended up loving, but my favorite was Duras´ adult novel ”The Lover”, which is often marketed as a sexy and steamy read, but to my surprise is also a book about class, race and features one assuredly maladjusted parent-child relationship with a frightening portrait of an older brother who´s a violent bully thrown into the narrative mix. The prose is so beautiful that the words leap from the pages, and many of the marvelous sentences feel as though one should re-read over and over again. The main character talks about a desire to become a writer, being super-aware of her white privilege (despite growing up in an economically unstable family), and the two major loves of her life: her younger brother Paolo and the elder Chinese man who was her lover in her teen years. The book also describes in stunning detail the complicated emotions that occur when ones parent is suffering of a bipolar disorder, which leads to the mother sometimes becoming so depressed that she´s unable to feed the young of the family. Despite being only 117 pages long, this petite novel covered so many topics in such a engaging way that it´s hard not to just fall in love with it. One of my new favorite books, definitely.

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5. Favorite Shopping moment: The Helsinki Academic Bookstore had a 70% sale.

When visiting Finland for a week, I always drop by my second favorite book store in the world (first one being Strand in Manhattan). In June I was lucky to discover that they had a 70% (!) sale on various books, and to seize the opportunity I bought 5 novels and two graphic novels. 6 of these were written in Finnish by a Finnish writer and one was from an American author. One of the purchased Finnish Novels was a middle grade book dealing with immigration and depression. This Novel is quite well known in the Finnish context as it was the winner of the Finlandia Junior prize in 2015. I also bought Elina Hirvonens third novel, Emmi Nieminens ”Damage limit”, Joel Haahtolas novel ”Lumipäiväkirja” (”Snow diary”) and Ronald De Feos second novel. Pictures down below.

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That´s it. How was everybody else’s month?

Best Regards , Maaretta

Today´s post will be a book tag, that was created by the booktuber A Clockwork reader. All the questions are based on characters from Nickelodian´s most popular cartoon, “Avatar: The last Airbender”, which is a fantasy-based world where different nations have unique people that can control certain elements. The summary of the shows three seasons arch is:

Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed, until one day two teens Sokka and Katara discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang. The Trio must then travel the world looking for teachers to help Aang control all four elements, so he can then save everyone from the ruthless Fire nations head lord.

A Clockwork Reader divided her questions into the four nations, and the questions are regarding the central characters of each nation and how they relate to other structures of literary or narrative mythos. Let´s get started.

Water:

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1. Sokka and Katara, or your favorite sibling relationship: (Sokka and Katara are the shows main leading heroes along with the Protagonist Aang, being a loyal and steadfast brother-sister team). Hansel and Gretel from the classic Grimm´s fairy tale. While it is a short fairy tale, it has always seemed remarkable to me how Hansel and Gretel are so fiercely loyal to each other. Despite being abandoned in the woods, and then being enslaved and breed for eating, Hansel and Gretel never double cross each other and never leave the other to their own faith. It´s even Gretel who in the end not only saves herself, but her brother, and together they bring back gold to their parents. While no doubt the parenting can seem more than lacking to modern audiences, the shere comradeship of these two is just awesome.

Hansel_and_Gretel

2. Yue, or your favorite cross-stared lovers: (Yue is a princess that Sokka falls in love with, but due to complications they are never able to get together).

This was the most difficult question, and it seems the best answer would be the German girl Regine and the polish boy Jan from the young adult historical novel ”His name was Jan” by Irina Korschunow. It´s the story of a German girl growing up during WWII who accidentally falls in love with a Polish boy, something that is forbidden. The two are tragically split up apart by the 2/3´s mark of the novel, and Regine is left speculating whether or not Jan has been killed. It´s a little known book written by a German writer who herself was a teen during WWII and the novel displays a hauntingly accurate portrayal of the propaganda of the Nazis, the rounding up of Jewish neighbors, disappearances of dissidents, and fear of death being common place in this sad novel.

er-hiess-jan

3. Bloodbending, or a book with a disturbing concept: (“Bloodbending” is the knowledge of how to control a person through taking control of their blood; inside the show this was seen as the ultimate violation of a person).

For a song and a thousand songs” by Liao Yiwu. This prison memoir is disturbing in not only it´s theme, an inside look into infamous Chinese prisons, but also in its execution of sparing no detail of the gruesome fates the prisoners meet; violence, rape and humiliation. While the book recounts many of the prisoners helping each other, it is especially Mr. Liao who comes to the assistance of the more bullied prisoners. There are several scenes that make the reader squirm at the recounting of the most horrible acts you will ever read in your life. But the author´s beautiful prose will help the reader through it all.

Earth:

Earth_Kingdom_emblem

1. Toph, or a character who´s strength surprised you: (Toph was a blind, young girl who many underestimated due to her disability, but turned out being powerful enough to become a teacher to Aang).

Moomintroll, from ”The Moomins”-series. In the series, Moomintroll is, in the first of these series of novels, shown as a very kind creature, but very naive. A creature who often bumbles his way through life. However, in the fifth book, ”Moominland Midwinter” and in the seventh book, ”Moominpappa at sea”, we see that despite his naivety Moomintroll is a strong person in his own right, and that his kindness gives him an advantage. In ”Moominland Midwinter” he kindly and adeptly balances several spontaneous, unexpected, even slightly bad-timed guests imposing on him and his family, and in ”Moominpappa at sea” he is able to befriend and give comfort to Groke, the series’ most scary character, something that no other character does in the entire series. These actions illustrate that being nice makes Moomintroll able to overcome prejudices and to take a closer look at individuals that others simply reject. This kindly openness may not often or traditionally be considered a physical power, but nonetheless in the novel it is shown as a form of strength worthy of admiration.

groke

Original picture from “Moominpappa at sea”

2. Tales of Ba sing se, or your favorite short story or poetry collection: (this was an episode that was a collection of small stories of many characters, which was a one-time “bottle episode” in the continuity of the show)

Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park” by Nellie Wong. Ms. Wong´s almost entirely unknown poetry collection has short, prose like poems that discuss racism towards Chinese-Americans, sexism, poverty and family. Her poems are as beautiful as they are powerful, talking about melancholy themes with a honest voice.

nellie

3. Kioshi Warriors, or your favorite warrior character: (Kioshi Warriors are respected all-female armies that appear in the show)

Mulan, from the Disney´s “Mulan”. This is cheating since this one is a cartoon character and not the original literary one. Anyhow, she is still very endearing and one of the best heroines in children´s cartoons ever. She´s been discussed on this blog before, so just shortly this: what makes her such a great warrior is not just strength, but also her use of intelligence to undermine her enemies (instead of just using brutal force) while her loyalty is strong and steadfast. She accepts no rest until she has successfully protected those she has sworn to defend. That is what makes her a great warrior.

Fire:

Fire_Nation_emblem

1. Zuko, or your favorite redemption arch: (Zuko is a character who starts out as a villain, but as the series progressives changes his ways and befriends Aang)

Macon ´Milkman´ Dean III in ”Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison. While Macon technically is never a villain, or necessarily evil in this novel, he does come to a realization regarding his male privilege and more unkind actions towards the women around him. This book is cool and epic and important, so there will be not much detail here, but Macon has a prideful and disregarding relationship to his sisters and mother, that changes after some maturing and life changing events. He realizes that he has not been the most understanding or empathic to this female relatives, and comes to regret his actions. This all takes place inside Macon´s mind, where he asks himself hard questions about himself, even cringeing when remembering what he´s said and done, and comes to realize that his sister’s critique of his behavior was correct all along. It´s a stunning, amazingly written scene, where the deep thoughts of a character create much more drama than many action scenes would.

solomon

2. Iroh, or the wisest character: (Iroh is Zukos uncle, who often is the shows source of elderly wisdom).

Dumbledore from the ”Harry Potter”-series. For better or for worse, Albus Dumbledore is the smartest person in the ”Harry Potter”-series, and one of the most famous wise characters in literature.

3. Azula, or best downfall: (Azula is a villain who falls from grace as the show progressives). Difficult question, but guess a good example would be the downfall of Thomas´ abusive father from ”The Book of everything” by Guus Kuijer. For more details, here´s my review.

Air:

air_nomads_symbol_background_by_shibalove

1. Appa, or favorite pet/animal: (Appa is Aang´s pet flying bison).

Cheshire Cat from ”Alice in Wonderland”. While he´s mostly trouble in Disney´s animated classic, he´s more of a harmless trickster in Lewis Carroll´s novel. Alice, who is a definite cat person, even becomes somewhat friendly towards him. The Cheshire cat is just the right blend of befuddling kindness, and playful trouble. Of manifest weirdness, but grand sanity by Wonderland standards. As a highlight his levitating head successfully trolls the Queen of hearts, starting a serious debate about decapitations. Fun!

Cheshire_Cat_on_a_tree

2. Aang, or the purest cinnamon roll: (Aang is often portrayed as the kindest, purest character inside of the show).

Josef K från ”The Trial” by Franz Kafka. While one of the driving questions in this novel is whether everyone by just mere existence is guilty of criminality, or if society continously, willfully, and wrongfully accuses everyone of crimes, Josef K is still a character who gives of impressions of being overly nice even in the face of empty madness. While Josef K could very well have done something to bring upon the notice of society (he is after all very quick to say he hasn´t) his actions throughout the novel are incessantly altruistic and exceptionally humble. He tries helping others, he is soft spoken and never causes any trouble (that we know of). His character is very lovable, with his awkward bumbling through a nightmare, and whether or not he is guilty of the unnamed crime he nonetheless always comes across as a sweet, nice man.

3. Avatar state, or a stubborn character/a character that has trouble letting go: (Aang, when triggered, goes into a state where he is mentally absent with a concurrent dark force taking control of him. This causes often much destruction, but can result in both good and bad effects).

Lila from ”My Brilliant Friend”. While I have only read about 40% of the first Neapolitan novel, which means that all the characters could very well change, so far Lila, the narrators friend, is by all accounts a very stubborn, competitive and prideful child. She is too stubborn to ever admit defeat or to being wrong. She´s determined to get to all her goals despite it often being hurtful, and she is very manipulative. She has trouble letting go in the face of being second place, and stubbornly claws her way through life. Quite the hellraiser.

my-brilliant-friend-cover

Hope you all enjoyed, comment down below what some of your picks would be!.

Take Care/ Maaretta

Inspired by Missmagicgirl´s monthly wrap up post, where she lists her favorite events and memories from a previous month, it is my ambition to (starting from this month) to feature a similar monthly wrap up here at Ruby Soup. The wrap up will cover books, comics, movies, activism and all sorts of fun news from the previous month. With no further ado, let´s get started.

1.Favorite Activist Moment: Protesting Torture in Mexico with Amnesty International.

A former fellow activist (who I had worked with previously in a University based Amnesty group) posted on social media that she was going to attend a protest about the torture of civilians by the military in Mexico. After asking if I could participate, and despite living in Stockholm, I jumped on a train and went up to Uppsala (it´s about 30-60 minutes away from Stockholm). The event was a mash up of protest walking, with activists (including me) brandishing signs stating ”Stop torture” and ”Stop torture in Mexico”, while others dressed up as military folks or their (through fake rope, chains and make up) tortured victims. We marched for about an hour and 15 minutes. Some of the activists asked onlookers to sign Amnesty´s petitions that would be sent to Mexico´s authorities. The activist group was friendly, and the protest was very fruitful.  We got five pages of signatures.

Web Stop Torture main pg_0

2. Favorite Graphic Novel: ”All My Darling Daughters” by Fumi Yoshinaga.

This one-shot manga is written in a series of short story form. All of the stories follow a woman and the friends and family around her. The manga is melancholy, at times bittersweet, at times gloomy, exploring the ways that life can go wrong. “All my darling daughters” begins with a woman who, convinced that her mother’s new husband (who is young enough to be our heroines younger brother) is conning her mother, decides to leave the family home. Other stories follow the woman´s sister, who is struggling to find a husband to avoid the stigma of being ”too old to marry” (it is hinted that she may be asexual); the protagonist´s male friend who accidentally gets involved with a student who suffers from severe low self-esteem and a former class mate who is heartbroken to see his female friend become more and more disillusioned, loosing her ambition for independence. ”All my darling daughters” shows life at its most uncomfortable, most unresolved and most frightening. The subject of abuse (emotional, physical and even sexual) is intertwined with the themes of power, relationships and family. The manga gives us candid depictions of the limited working options given to women and unequal division of labor. In fact, many of the female characters express frustration regarding the sexist double standards women face in the work place, like being dismissed as unqualified solely due to gender, as well as the injustice of the wage gap. The occasional humor is pitch black and the human interactions captivating. Along with the question of gender, the manga also explores mother-daughter relationships with a complex look at human psychology. Despite the stories often leaning towards a depressing angle, the reader will most likely have quite the difficulty putting this manga down.

daughtershug

3. Favorite Film:”Spotlight”, directed Thomas McCarthy.

This Oscar nominated film, based on a true story, follows the whistle-blowing of the systematic cover-up in the Catholic Church regarding the sexual abuse of adolescent and pre-adolescent boys and girls suffered at the hands of priests. While perhaps not the best of movies dealing with this subject, the film still gives a fascinating look at how journalism works (real life journalist have praised this films accurate depiction), features several accounts of survivors telling their stories and gives some chilling insights regarding child abuse. As one quote from the film states: ”If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one too”. The acting is great, but the pacing is at times a little slow. Still worth a watch.

4.Favorite TV Moment(s): John Oliver tackles the economic meltdown of Puerto Rico and the journalistic simplification of science, while the wonderful Holly Walker at ”The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” nobly rages at sexual assault in the military.

Right now we have golden era for political comedy shows. ”Full frontal with Samantha Bee” is fiercely feminist and funny. ”Nightly show with Larry Wilmore” discusses politics and race in a honest dialogue while having a diverse cast of correspondents, with four kick ass women being part of that cast. ”Last week with John Oliver” is hilarious, while giving American TV a much needed international lens. I myself try to watch as many episodes of all these series. The ”Last week” episodes mentioned, that tackled the economic meltdown of Puerto Rico, saw many hospitals and schools having to be shutdown. Oliver went thoughtfully through the issue, and ended the subject with a actual live performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda who has written and directed ”Hamilton”, who himself has Puerto Rican parents. Oliver also discussed how science, through click-bait culture, has been made misrepresented and belittled into more of a headline than the complex field that it is. With a fun parody of Ted-talks to top it off.

Holly Walker, one of the most energetic correspondents on “The nightly show”, took the viewer through a sketch on how infuriating the lack of action around sexual assault in US armies is. It was short, but fun. Holly Walker, just by her sheer presence, is smashing the erasure of middle aged women of color in mainstream media.

hollywalker

5.Favorite Novel: ”Florian Knol” by Guus Kuijer.

This children´s novel tells the story of  10-year old ginger Florian, who one day has a bird suddenly land on his head. The next day he meets Katja, an big and tall girl who goes to the same school, who confesses her love to him. The duo later bumps into an old woman who can´t find her key (which she calls a ”fork”) and has only one shoe on despite being out in the streets. The pair decide to help the woman  in secret, but things get out of hand when Florian has to juggle his indecision with dating a bigger, taller girl, his parents constant fights and keeping the old woman’s increasingly severe Alzheimers disease unknown to the adults who they fear would send her to an alienating retirement home. A tragicomic novel that addresses aging and anxieties of oneself in a clear, hopeful way that also has a colorful cast of characters. Recommended.

florian

There´s my month. How was your month, dear readers?