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One fun aspect of Festivals is that, while roaming the areas, you might stumble upon something you are not familiar with.. Or, if you are lucky, something obscure, a hidden gem of sorts. Last month there was a yearly held comic festival, where I ended up buying the small graphic story collection, ”Becoming an Ex-Mormon” (2016) by Cajsa Nordlund. The format she uses is called a fanzine (a non-professional and non-official form of publishing produced by enthusiast in a certain sub-culture or community for fellow members, in Ms. Nordlund´s case Ex-Mormons and people interested in the phenomenon of de-conversion) which entailed a related collection of drawings with dialog.

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Cajsa Nordlund is a Swedish artist who is also a former Mormon. It is hard to find much information on her, but according to her instragram account @tossaniska she´s a painter and graphic story artist, who, in addition to this volume, has just published another comic-based collection, ”Lite Mycket Begärt” (”A Bit Much of a Request”, roughly). In the graphic volumes back cover there is a short biographical explanatory text, where it is informed that Ms. Nordlund was a Mormon for six years, and married whilst a believer and member of the church. At the age of 27 she left the church and got a divorce. The comic collection, ”Becoming an Ex-Mormon”, is, according to the volume, based on real experiences from Nordlund and other Ex-Mormons.

The Mormon church was founded in America and is still predominately an American religion, but due to their global missionary program (in which young men travel abroad to convert others) they have been able to create a substantial following in other countries. Mormonism has been present in Sweden since 1850. Today Sweden has about 9000 Mormons (a fairly notable number, when you take the countries size and famous lack of religious people into account). Missionaries are common in Stockholm, in fact my Chinese significant other had more than one encounter with young Mormon men who approached him using Mandarin as an “in” to begin the missionary moment. A Mormon church also exists in Finland, with about 5,000 members according to the CLDS own reckoning. Finland’s first contact with the Church came from Swedish emigrants baptized in the early 1870s and Swedish missionary brothers who preached in Vaasa. In 1876, the first converts in Finland were baptized, and by 1886, 25 people had been baptized among the Swedish-speaking Finns. My first ever encounter with Mormons was that of a Finnish woman who had converted and was married to an American man, both residing in Finland. (For those who want, check the star below the review for more History of Mormons in Finland*).

The sketches in ”Becoming an Ex-Mormon” are short, pithy, insightful and, probably needless to say, humorous in nature. There is no singular directive story, just the revolution around the denunciation of peoples commitment to the Mormon religion. The sketches are separated into three sections: ”Benefits of Becoming an Ex-Mormon”, ”Downsides of Becoming an Ex-mormon” and ”Before & After”. These three sections work very much to the comic structure benefiting from sharp and short narratives which cleverly embody both the thoughts and feelings of former believers and fleshing out the experience of leaving the calming steadfastness of the Mormon belief and the more generalized condition of loss as Nordlund and others tumble from their former community. In a minimized format of the comic formulation Nordlund is able to give a big and nuanced perspective on a life changing event, both as vast philosophical rupture and the loss of the safety of the social. While self-discovery often is empowering, it also does comes with a vanished connection to both thought and emotion, and Nordlund is not shy of facing this uncertainty doing so, in her work, with passion, humor, and sassiness. While ”Becoming an Ex-Mormon” does ultimately state that leaving the church is an empowering moment to face the many and ambiguous truths of the world, it also never shirks the reality and downsides to leaving a very tight community and wade into the realities of persistent doubts, open bouts of loneliness and the existential fears this entails.

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In the Benefits section, the stories move around the newly found freedom and advantages of not being Mormon. Many of the advantages the stories talk about are quite Mormon specific, like finally being able to drink coffee, whilst others are more generally applicable to a number of different religions (like being able to skip inconvenient, and constant, praying). Some of the enclosed graphic stories in the volume are difficult to understand unless one has at least a passing knowledge of Mormonism, as, for instance, Nordland comments on the relief of being able to laugh loudly after leaving the church. Despite this the reader will never feel abandoned to the mysteries of religion in this compendiums graphic tales as, in the unfolding of the total work, the reader is almost invisibly explained the customs in the Mormon church (such as the pressure to storage food for the latter days, the strict dress codes, and the pressure to marry) while not bogging down the narrative flow which rests instead on the ex-believers journey.

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Nordlund´s stories also touch upon the gender dynamics in the church, bringing up a number of a feminist issues in the tales, for instance with the collection critiquing the notion embodied in church doctrine that the fundamental role of womanhood entails primarily their functioning as mothers. Because of this the ideological community of the Mormon dictates strict rules regarding women´s bodies (a universal critic of religious communities) and their functioning visibility in the social. Nordlund underlines this uneasy genetic behavioral doctrine, and her adamant rejection of its biological determinism, with a strong sketch panel where we find a naked woman smiling with her arms spread out, and a text pronouncing: “Now my body is mine and No One can tell me what to do with it”.

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While Nordlund´s comic is a critic of the Latter Day Saints Church, her sketches are also critical regarding gender roles and expectations inside of overall society; she´s able to play with this dynamic masterfully through her illustrations. For instance, in one segment, the comic notes that one of the supreme benefits young heterosexual couples have in communities (and familial structures) is that people withhold asking them, verses single members/ dating couples of society, when they will get married. Followed by the constant query of when they will have children. A woman in the strip notes, after the later advantage is discussed, that it is useless as: “Just kidding. Pretty much everyone everywhere assume all people want kids”.

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an Illustration by Ms. Nodlund; while not present in the comic, still very interesting.

The Downsides segment is a laugh inducing and poignant examination of more unfortunate sides of losing one’s religion. This section of the graphic stories revolves around the issues of confronting the existential dilemmas of understanding and thought, and the penultimate responsibility for the future (since it is no longer the latter days of the saints of the church Ex-Mormons looks to for morality) in which the individual must generate and embody themselves and their ideas in living. Choices are now the choices made and lived by each of us in the community, and there are no straight-forward answers (give to us by others) in which we can hide from the responsibilities of our decisions. Outside of the rigid theist setting of rules and actions, Nordlund, (as all humans in the field of thought, belief and acts) battles with the questions, not the least the existentialist, of life.

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The last section, “Before & After” differs from the previous two sections in that the situations the individuals find themselves in are explored in two panels, while the previous sections explored themes in one panel. “Before & After” deals with many different experiences with the theme being anxiety and shame before, and peaceful relief afterwards. The sketches deal with topics such as LGBT+, disability**, body issues etc. The issues confronted in this section regard the often, almost subliminal, feelings of shame, nonconformity, abnormality and guilt due to the incongruence between the norms of the church and the (in actuality) normal actions of being an individual. Neverr reductionistic, the group of insights here show that after leaving the church, the journey of exploring who you are, and learning to accept this ambiguous and messy self its founded on a freedom (not only in the lack of pressure to conform to a narrow model of the human) based on the emancipatory realization of the self beyond simple boundaries and contradictory foundations. While less funny, many of these sketches are very moving and show the complexities of becoming human in the greatest sense.

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Becoming an Ex-Mormon” is an easy (I read it in an hour and a half), enlightening, and read, and is without a doubt worth re-reading as well. The illustrations are straight-forward and simple, yet appeasing nuanced in their declarations. Well worth checking out!

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* In 1903, Apostle Elder Francis M. Lyman visited Finland. The Finnish Mission was organized in 1947, when there were only 129 members in Finland. During the next seven years, the Church gained legal status and the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, a companion scripture to the Bible, was translated into Finnish. The Helsinki Stake was organized in October 1977 with 3,642 members. Ten years later, Church membership was 4,100. The main Chruch for latter day saints today resides in Helsinki.

** While many religious people are supportive of disability rights, there are parts of religious texts and beliefs which hold very ableist opinions. This side of religion/superstition is rarely discussed inside of narrative media, and it was great to see it presented in this collection.

Happy Nationalday to Norway, Finland´s and Sweden´s cool neighbour!

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Take Care/ Maaretta

February in The United States is ”Black History Month”, a national holiday in which Americans remember the long, multilayered history of Black Americans. The holiday sheds light on events and struggles Black Americans have faced, but also highlights the contributions that this minority has made nationally and internationally. In honor of this holiday, here are five diverse Cultural items that discuss race and experiences of Black Americans, and which, naturally, are headed or produced by members of this vibrant community.

1. ”Kindred” by Octavia E. Butler (published 1979): While often referred to as the first science fiction book written by a Black American woman, Butler herself considered it a fantasy novel. This splendid novel follows a time travel tale of the protagonist Dana, who one day is suddenly transported from 1976 to the 19th century, where she encounters her ancestral for-bearers, who are both white slave owners and Black slaves. Thus begins a journey that not only openly discusses American Slavery, but also raises complex questions about morality and power. This novel interestingly deconstructs the concept of time traveling, while also showcasing some of the most horrid and uncomfortable aspects of human nature. Not for the hesitant, or those who have a light acquaintance with the realities of slavery, the book deals with rape quite heavily, and is explicit in the sexual violence that Black women (both free and enslaved) were subjected to. The protagonist Dana, herself, often is ensnared in situations where she wanders into morally uncomfortable territory, and a subtle swell of self doubt is entangled in the interactions and reflections she experiences with her white husband (who time travels with her) with his faint dismissals of the repugnance relations of slavery. Her relationship with Rufus, her white slave-owning ancestor, is twisted and full of abuse, verging continually between friendship and hatred. Yet regardless of all this ”Kindred” mesmerizes and can only be called a real page turner. Fast paced and very exciting; Butler is able to mix historical fiction, social commentary and action-packed fantasy all into one book. Highly recommended to both genre and literary fiction lovers.

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2. ”Lemonade: the Visual album” (2016) by Beyonce: Few culture events were as buzzed about last year as Beyonce´s visual album ”Lemonade”. This ambitious hour-long odyssey adeptly combined poetry, songs and visual, while simultaneously being both an ode to Black Womanhood and Beyonce’s own personal explorations, including facing the anger for her husbands infidelity, the eternal messiness of complicated relationships one has with ones parents, Black lives matter, to name a few. Both the lyrics of Beyonce´s songs and the poems (a collaboration between Beyonce and British poet Warsan Shire) survey a riveting tale of a woman living and dealing with anger, jealousy, sadness and ultimately forgiveness towards her husband, while also remembering the resentment and love she felt towards her father, who cheated on her mother when she was a child. The mixture of visuals reflect not only the long form music video form but also makes loving nods to the production of visual artists from the likes of Matthew Barney to Pippilotti Rist. The stirring and lingering camera and vocals looking at the strides and difficulties of the Black Lives Matter movement, touch us especially as a melancholy segment where the group of (real life) Mothers of unarmed young black men gunned down in obviously racist events, stand as the human face of the stricken down in evident calm and startlingly noble demeanor. Loss and strength of a people are embodied in this scene where it´s hard not to tear up. So much has already been talked about “Lemonade”, so all that’s left to say is: watch it, you won´t regret it.

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3. ”A Patch of Blue” (1965), directed by Guy Green: This classic drama which resonates with elements of the romantic genre follows the young blind girl Selina who lives with an abusive mother. Selina´s mother has not only barred her from attending school, but seeks to totally and sadistically isolate her entirely from society. By accident, Selina stumbles upon Gordon, a (unknown to her) black man, and the two become friends. The movie stars Sidney Portier and Elizabeth Hartman (who would later voice Mrs. Brisby in ”The Secret of NIMF”). These two galvanizing presences enlighten the screen and give the tale a touch nuance a midst the strength of many heartfelt moments. The film discusses Gordon’s experiences with racial segregation of the period, and how his friendship with the white woman reverberates with fears, hesitations, and anxieties. Selina, trapped in her own segregation from the society, deals with a systematized ableist world which looks askance and down on the “less than human” of her blindness. The two characters, both dealing with their own oppression’s but also empowerment, bond and encourage one other, which blooms into a deep human relation. Connecting the leads, here, nothing more important need be said then that they really do seem to have an authentic and sweet feel between them. The movie also plays with the romantic aspect in a realistic way; while the film hints at a mutual attraction, the movie does not overly prioritize the love story, and instead focuses on Selina´s development and new fond chance to get education. A little known gem, but totally worth checking out.

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4. ”Home” by Toni Morrison (published 2012): While all of Morrison’s novels are worth reading, ”Home” is one of her newest releases and is fairly short, so a much more of a quicker read. The book follows two siblings, Frank and Ycindra Money, in Post-Korean war America. Frank is suffering PTSD from his time in the war, and lives in a world composed of continual confusions and a persistent mourning of the death of his fallen friends. “Home” begins with the duo being split due to Franks time in Korea, followed by him moving in with his girlfriend. Frank then hears via letter that Ycindra has grown sick, and must rush to her side. The book is told in a series of nonlinear flash backs from both Ycindra’s and Frank’s point of view, and is rounded out with segments of Frank´s internal dialogue candidly presented to the reader. While the book tackles issues such as racial discrimination and eugenics, the book also confronts the subjects of guilt, unreliable narration, and family. The relationship between Frank and Ycindra, who´s parents died when they were young and, therefore, were raised by unkind grandparents, is moving but also with it´s darker elements. The novel explores race and gender in subtle ways, with themes that anyone regardless of their backgrounds can relate to. ”Home” also gives a shocking twist that is bound to get the reader thinking. A must read.

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5. ”for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf ” by Ntozake Shange (published and first performed 1976): This experimental play has a dedicated fan-base, but was highly controversial at the time of its release. The author was accused of hating men, and the all black cast was unusual for the time. The play is told in verses, and if read in book form comes across as more poetic than play (Ms. Shange is a poet, as well as a playwright and novelist). The narrative follows the intertwined stories of a group of Black women, all having their own chronicles of joy and heartbreak. The poetic text tells a myriad of tales of rape, domestic abuse, sexual awakenings, the discovery of reading, and independence. The form of the play lies with each women telling their stories, playing on a narrative open field which moves from the uplifting to the funny and, naturally, through the devastating. The style also makes the reading experience unique. The cast is entirely female, entirely black, and talks about issues that revolutionized theater in America and beyond. A play that deserves the title classic in every way.

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So those are a few suggestions in honor of Black History Month. What would you all recommend? Comment down below!

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

Happy International Men´s Day!

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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!

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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.

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

Take Care/ Maaretta

(This is Part 1 in the theme month of Child Abuse Awareness)

Guus Kuijer is a respected children´s books author who has won several awards, including the prestigious Astrid Lingren memorial prize. His bibliography includes novels for both young and old, and is a household name for exploring faith, multiculturalism and dementia in his works. His magnum opus however is “The Book of Everything”, about a young boy named Thomas who, like his mother, is ruthlessly and routinely physically abused by his zealot father.

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Guus Kuijer

The novel is slim, yet captures and intertwines many issues in a complex manor. The main focus of the story is the devastating effect physical abuse has on young Thomas and his mother. The novel chronicles their struggle to survive in a violent home and their forlorn attempts to overcome the mental prison the father has created. The book also shows the problematic aspects of loyalty inside families while baring witness to the strengths of such loyalty as well and illustrates the residency of the unimaginable power positive communities can bestow. Kuijer, while following this predominate story of abuse, additionally, tackles the issues of superficial appearances and our uncritical responses in a tangent thread which the story details with Thomas coming to different realizations regarding his thinking towards many of the characters in the novel. As Thomas grows in the storyline he comes to see many people around him in a completely different light than what he does at the novels beginning. By combining all of these themes, Kuijer paints a breathtaking and moving story of how, through courage and altruism, one can use the willpower and thinking to right the wronged.

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From the first chapter Kuijer presents us with Thomas who is often and regularly beaten by his father for so-called sins. While this is devastating for Thomas, he is much more concerned about his mother, who is as often beaten for her “sins”. From the very first pages, we are pitted into Thomas’s deep despair and abject feelings of powerless to save himself or his mother and the first chapter ends on a prayer where Thomas in his devotion pleads to god: “I hope you exist. He (the father) hit mother just now and it was not for the first time”.

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As the story unfolds we discover more about nine year old Thomas and the 50´s Dutch town he lives in. Thomas is in love with a teen girl who is often ostracized for having a fake leg and he is very much afraid of his neighbor, whom the children have gossiped about being a witch. However one day, after being beaten senseless by his father the previous night, Thomas happens upon his “witchy” neighbor and spontaneously offers to help her carry her bags. This leads to the surprising discovery that she is in fact a kind and generous person and one who, in her kindness, introduces Thomas to the realm of books. After establishing a friendship, the woman asks Thomas if he is beaten at home. Thomas, out of fear and confused loyalty, quickly denies this well-founded charge. Kuijer in this scene illustrates a sad yet very realistic event for the abused. Where the vast chaos of the abused subjects mind, created by confusions of the ever present trauma of violence, fuses with the constant fear and hate with an immeasurably, and horribly misplaced, loyalty to the abuser. Thomas´ emotions are a bundle of self-blame, anxiety and hopelessness.

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The father (per classical abuser manipulations) upon finding out Thomas has found a passage outside of his control, condemns Thomas’s reading of books (other than the bible) and demands he revoke the companionship of the neighbor, whom he sees as a “dirty communist”. Yet the real tale of the neighbor is whispered to Thomas in the absence of the horrific father when the mother recounts how the woman had hidden people from the Nazis during WWII and grants Thomas access and encouragement to foster the friendship. Even in the despairing prison of abuse the mother encourages Thomas in the appreciation and harboring of the altruistic, and that she struggles against the onslaught of destroying violence to give alternative life advice to her children differing from the father´s absolutism. Her bravery shines multiple times as beacons of hope in the dark cruelty, where she repeatedly attempts to defend Thomas from her husband´s aggression. Kuijer’s novel is continually punctuated with scenes like these, describing the ghastly nuances used in abuse and in fleshing out a subtle horror and hope in Thomas´ character as well as his mother´s.

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The Book of Everything”, though looking appallingly askance at the violent religious fundamentalism of the father, is embedded with strong sacred elements combined with magical realism; for instance throughout the entirety of the book Thomas witnesses odd things that resemble the plagues of Egypt. Whether these are real or not are dubious, adding an unsettling but lingering touch to questioning the reader about its authenticity. As with most classic magic realism tradition, the fantastical is strongly symbolic and reflective of the strong emotional situation that Thomas is in while, as occurrences of events, play a titanic task in giving Thomas psychological strength.

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But the real emotive power of this novel lies in its climax, where Kuijer illustrates the possibility of depowerment of the tyrannical abuser and the gaining confidences of the suppressed and abused. From the onset of the novel the character of Margot, Thomas´s teenage sister, is seen as “stupid”, however this assessment comes to a startling change when her character takes surprising action. Late in the book once again we find the vicious repetitions of the father threatening Thomas with violence, yet now the simple Margot dives at her father and holding a knife to his throat, exclaiming: “Now I have had enough. I´ve had it up to my throat with this. You always say mum and Thomas are bad, but you´re wrong, they are more than kind, but you are not kind. Don´t think I won´t do it, I’m just like you, I am not nice neither”. With this final desperate act we come to understand, finally, that throughout trails of the family the supposedly simple Margot has been persistently challenging the brutality of the father in subtle ways, and now, when all else has failed, she goes to the final resource of physical in a scene that will have the reader cheering her on. Through this instance of Margot’s rage and agency, the mother finds an inner strength, and she, together with the kindly neighbor, arrange for a celebratory party later that day. The mother, motivated by Margot´s counterexample, rejects now all of the father´s opinions, manipulations, enticements, and lastly the importance of his person: “´But what about me? Yelled dad from upstairs. ´What am I suppose to do tonight?´. He got no reply”. Margot’s act gives the mother a chance to wrench herself and Thomas from the obliteration of the father and to become a part of a whole community which calls to them. The community opens them up to new possibilities, a place to become oneself with others who encourage and, as a final nurturing, a place which will protect her, and her family from the violence of the husband. Through new found friendships and community, the mother and Thomas rekindle there lust for life.

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A novel of immanent power, this book for older children is a MUST read for even adults. It´s a portrait of the damage of abuse, but also of survival and love. “The Book of Everything” is above all, a story of two souls who not only survive abuse but find the power to live on and embrace new changes.

Happy Valentines Day!

Greetings from Maaretta! This moth will be a divide of post-Valentine subjects and reivews of classic Black American Novels (due to it now being Black History moth). Stay tuned.

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Well, the years is coming to an end, and Missmagic girl sent this tag to make promises I probably can´t keep. But as a dreamer and a reader who adores a challenge, I will promptly answer these questions in all my humble, enthusiastic honesty. Let´s begin!

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1. The promise to read a Classic: This year I saw the newest film adaptation of “Far from the madding Crowd”, which is based on the 19th century novel written by Thomas Hardy. The films was so poignant and wonderful that I instantly bought myself a copy of said novel. The film dealt with issues such as female independence, stability vs. passion and realistic depictions of Victorian age farmers. The book is usually always better than the filmic version, which makes me hopeful that those themes will be even more present in the novel.

“Seven Brothers” by Aleksis Kivi is a book that as a Finnish speaker I´m ashamed of admitting I´ve never read. It is one of the founding literary works in Finnish literature as well as Aleksis Kivi being a pioneer in writing in the Finnish language, paving the way for future of the Finnish language. Therefore it is a must read for all Finnish speakers.

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“Germinal” by Emile Zola is about Miners in 19th century France. It was a big influence on changing the way France viewed worker´s rights. Sounds interesting.

“I am a cat” by Natsume Soseki. It´s a novel with a cat as a narrator that snarks about society and human frailty. How can one not want to read that book?

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2. A promise to Finish a book series: I have two books still to go in the “Sms from Soppero”-Quartet by Ann-Helén Laestadius, that focus on the Sami girl Agnes. The series’ first book, “Sms from Soppero”, is a masterpiece. The sequal “Hej vacker (Hey beautiful) was a bit of a let down, but still enjoyable and in fact informs the reader about Sami culture a bit more than does its predecessor. I have also bought “Ingen annan är som du” (“No one else is like you”) and “Hitta hem” (“Finding your way home”), which I pray won´t be delayed by too much university work to get to quickly!

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“Wizard of eathsea” is a series I have read the first book in, but never read any of the other books in the series. Same goes for the “The giver”-quartet by Lois Lowry. I hope to be able to continue both series, since the first installments were highly thought provoking and entertaining.

3.A series I promise to start: “Uglies”-Quartet by Scott Westersend. It seems to have everything I love in books; strong female protagonist, social commentary and topical issues (in this series case, body issues and beauty standards).

“Pimeys”-trilogy by Asko Sahlberg is another series I want to desperately read. It follows a lonely, bitter Finnish man living in Gothemburg during the 60´s and 70´s. The subject matter seems like one that might hit a bit close to home for me, but then again the best reading experiences do just that.

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I haven´t read many books by Romani writers, so hopefully that will change next year with me beginning this endeavor with reading Katarina Taikon´s “Katitzi”-novels, a classic children’s books series that deals with the everyday joys and discriminations in the life of the Swedish Roma. Same for Kiba Lumberg´s “Musta perhonen”-trilogy (Black butterfly), which on the other hand discusses gendered violence in the Finnish Roma community.

3.A writer I promise to read something from: So so many. So I’m going to cheat and just make a name list: Mariama Ba, Ngugi Wo Thiongo, Maya Angelou, Moses Isegawa, Percival Everest, Grace Ogot, Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Ernest Gaines, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Samar Yazbek, Hanan al-shaykh, Susanna Abulhawa, Mohammed Choukri and Heidi Köngäs.

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4.Books I will re-read: “Nervous conditions” by Tsitsi Dangarembga, which I loved in high school but remembered only partially now. After a re-read I would like to review it on this blog.

“Beloved” by Toni Morrison, because it´s so epic it needs a second read. “Candide” by Voltaire would be fun to re-visit, as well as “Joy Luck club” by Amy Tan.

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5.Genre I promise to try out: Arabic, Korean and Kurdish literature! I haven´t read much of from those literary fields but would love to explore them. If anyone has any good recommendations, feel free to leave them in the comments! I will also try out reading a fantasy novel (a genre I miss continually in my reading), specifically “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman which according to Mr. Gaiman himself is a supernatural exploration of homelessness.

6.Graphic novel I promise to read: “Make me a woman” by Vanessa Davis has been on the radar for a while, as well as “All-star superman” by Grant Morrison. “Vagina Dentata” by Emmi Nieminen is a comic I recently heard about and sounds interesting. It explores male sexual trauma.

7.A Short Story I promise to read: Any of the short stories by Grace Pailey I can get my hands on!. “The Crab Cannery Boat” by Takiji Kobayashi is a short story I read half way through for a University class in Japanese literature, and I would like to Finish. Also More stories by Yu Dafu would be awesome. I wish to also be able to read the collection “Below the line” by Sara Chin.

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8.A book I promise to read despite it dealing with a tough but important subject: This promise is the easiest one for me, since as you can probably tell by my book reviews I tend to read novels and stories with heavy issues quite often. However there are still subjects that repel me and that can be quite upsetting to come across regardless of the amount of exposure. For me, two of the roughest things to get through are torture and sexual abuse against children. So I promise that despite it being infamous for the gory depictions of torture, I will read “The feast of the goat” by Mario Vargas Llosa. I will also try to read Lydia Cacho´s memoir “Memorias de una infamia” (Memoirs of An Infamy) which deals with her struggles after her whistle blowing on a corrupt, pedophilic network inside of the high powers in Mexico.

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9. A book that for the longest time I haven´t read but will: “Tuez-les tous” by Salim Bachi (“Kill them all”) is a book that´s been on my radar for two years but I haven´t read yet. Hopefully that´ll change this year.

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Swedish tranlation of said novel

10. Debut I will want to read: “Ole hyvä” (“You´re welcome”) by Riikka Takala, which is a satire about unemployment and idealism. Its focus and center is on unemployed women, which is refreshing, since most books on this theme have a male protagonist. It was the novel debut of Ms. Takala in 2014.

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11. A book or book series I have previously judged as uninteresting, but will give a new chance next year: “Is” (“Ice”) by Ulla-Lena Lundberg. I judged previously, and maybe prematurely, as sounding boring and without plot. But all my close friends love it so I´ll give it a try.

Happy New Year! Take Care/ Maaretta

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Happy New Year, Everyone!

Happy New Year, Dear readers!

I have been off since I got two upcoming exams on Tuesday and Monday the 13th. But After that is done, I will try to be vack kicking!

This Month I will try to keep up my short story series and start a trilogy on problematic elements in “The Simpsons”. Despite how awesome the show has been, there has also been downfalls.

Best Regards, Maaretta