‘Amnesty’ by Aravind Adiga

amnesty-adigaWhat does it mean live in a world where not being seen is the only thing that will sustain you when being seen is the only thing that can keep your spirit alive?

Danny is struggling with just this question as an illegal immigrant in Aravind Adiga’s latest novel, Amnesty. Danny is a cleaner, cleaning away the secrets and mysteries of the privileged, white Aussies who refuse to do it for themselves. Those same people who see him only as the color of his skin or the thickness of his accent. Those people who see him as the same brown person from across the street or from that south east Asian restaurant. Danny spends his days both hiding from and trying to be seen by these people.

And then he meets Radha, a brown woman whose luxurious home he’s hired to clean. A woman who at first seems to genuinely care for him, who offers to help him, but who ends up being as corrupted and swallowed by the white-washed world she lives in, forced to take on a certain persona to protect herself from further degradation because of the color of her skin. She treats him like a pet, taking him to gamble and drink with her and her secret lover Prakash. Danny has left that life behind though, refusing to clean for Radha and her lover for months. Until the morning he’s cleaning a neighbor’s home and finds that Radha has been murdered.

Danny tries to convince himself that Radha’s murder was random, an act of violence committed by any person who might have had nothing against her. But he knows this isn’t true. He knows Prakash had something to do with it. He knows Prakash has murdered her. But what can he do? He, an invisible, illegal immigrant? Someone no one sees? Someone who spends his life trying to be invisible and slowly dying because of it?

Danny struggles with these fundamental moral questions as he weighs what it means to be human, to be a human who has suffered, to be a human has an obligation to those around him even if they don’t look like him or want him.

A beautiful and poignant novel that tells a story that was dying to be told, Aravind Adiga’s Amnesty is a must read of 2020.

Slated for release by Scribner in February 2020, you can preorder a copy of Adiga’s Amnesty from your local independent bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

 

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘American Dirt’ by Jeanine Cummins

American-Dirt-CumminsAmerican Dirt by Jeanine Cummins tells one of the most important stories of our time. A story of heroism and bravery, of fear and unfairness, and of what it means to live a life to its fullest.

Lydia and Luca are the two main characters of American Dirt: an upper-middle class mother and son from Acapulco. Their lives are turned upside down on page one when their entire family is murdered by an infamous gang. The pair narrowly escape from the wreckage alive and quickly turn from their quiet lives to become migrants in a sea of rage and despair. Their destination is el norte, but they have no idea how they’re going to get there or of the terrors they will encounter on the way.

On their journey, Lydia and Luca befriend others who are fleeing dangerous and unstable lives for the hope of something better. While their journey is a harrowing one and the messages that come from it are important, where American Dirt falls flat is in its character development and plotline. The characters all have interesting and exciting backgrounds that the reader gains access to, but it often feels like the way in which we learn about those characters is through an information dump rather than through slow and meticulous crafting of the characters and their relationships to one another. People die, but never is the reader close enough to the character or the action to feel the anguish of that death. Similarly, the plot points in the book are action packed and empirically should evoke terror, but they feel very scripted and somewhat too easily escaped. In this way, the important messages of American Dirt, while still visible and pertinent, get somewhat lost in the book’s almost didactic feel.

Overall, Jeanine Cummins’ book is one that tells a story of paramount importance at a time when migration and migrants are such buzz words in our contemporary culture. It becomes problematic when told by someone who lives outside of the reality of what it means to be Mexican, Mexican-American, or an asylum seeker. The issues brought up in the book need attention called to them, but the questions remain as to whether this was the best way or best person to tell this story. Cummins herself addresses this in the afterword of her novel, but defends her decision to write the book based on personal experience, heritage, and the importance of the story itself.

Slated for release from Flatiron Books in January of 2020, you can preorder a copy of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins at your local independent bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir’ by Jean Guerrero

crux-guerreroWhat is it that determines definitions: defines something as one thing instead of another? What delimits fiction from reality, sanity from insanity? Borders: the lines that stand between; the lines that distinguish “different” from “same.” Borders that are rarely clear and often obfuscated by our own perceptions, by what we bring to the table, the baggage we carry.

Borders are what Jean Guerrero investigates in her narrative nonfiction release Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir. Guerrero sets out not only to tell her story, but to tell that of her father through both her memories and the investigative work it requires to unravel her family’s troubled and often curricular past.

Guerrero begins by setting the scene, by introducing the reader to her parents, to what life was like growing up as the child of her parents. Her mother, an acclaimed doctor with expectations that reach no lower that straight A grades and flawless chastity, holds one end of the parenting tight rope. Her father, a potential schizophrenic who sees every action as sabotage or a symptom of being spoiled, holds the other. Guerrero finds herself trying to walk between them, seeking desperately to both please and thwart their expectations, wishes, and demands of her.

Most of Guerrero’s life is spent without her father, wondering where he is, thinking he’s dead. The other part of the time, Guerrero spends, at least her childhood, terrified of her father. Terrified of his mania, of his accusations, of feeling like a failure in his eyes. Her mother spends most of Guerrero’s childhood trying to forget her husband, arguing that he’s schizophrenic and telling Guerrero, whenever she acts out of line in her mother’s eyes, that she suffers from the same mental illness. Her father meanwhile, claims he is being targeted by the CIA for mind control experiments, and Guerrero experiences moments that make her question the dubiousness of his statements.

Guerrero finds her way through her troubled childhood to come out an investigative journalist constantly seeking for the truth that alluded her as a child. But the biggest mystery, the biggest truth she hopes to hold is that of her father’s life. Travelling through Mexico to piece together the mystery of her family and her father’s past, Guerrero uncovers a cycle of abuse that has perpetuated her family’s suffering. She learns of the terrors that the women who came before her suffered to give her father life and her. She learns of the terrors her own father suffered and that potentially led him to the depths of his current despair.

A beautifully moving and terrifying memoir, Crux is a book that attempts not to teach, but to learn and keep on learning beyond the pages of its covers. Guerrero brings to the table systemic issues that cannot be eradicated by a single story, but she suggests that maybe through constant inquiry, searching, and an attempt to do better we can break free of the demons of our past.

Slated for release by One World Press on July 17, 2018, you can preorder a copy of Crux: A Cross-Border at your local bookstore.

Read more nonfiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘A Place for Us’ by Fatima Farheen Mirza

a-place-for-us-mirzaA Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza is work of art. A melody, almost, that sings to the reader and never stops, not even when the pages are closed.

A Place For Us tells a story of the “All American” life in a very different way than anglo white Americans will be used to. The family that Mirza follows is an American family, Hadia, Huda, and Amar are all born in America. The family identifies as much with being American as they do being Muslim, and that for some in the family is a challenge, especially those who don’t always want to identify with being Muslim. The children, fighting to fit in both at their mosque and in school struggle often to come to terms with what it means to be an American and a Muslim. Besides, for most of the story, they are only children, also struggling to find meaning and purpose, to feel loved, and to accomplish what they feel is expected of them.

Mirza does a beautiful job of weaving past and present as if it were a seamless tapestry, shifting between time periods almost unnoticed. We hear from nearly every family member’s perspective as Mirza slowly unravels the tragic, beautiful, and engrossing narrative of the family’s life. Throughout the novel, as the perspective shifts, we begin to know each character more intimately, finding more and more respect, forgiveness, or anger at that character depending on the reveal.

Perhaps what makes the novel so moving, so fully charged with an energy that not only propels readers forward but makes it nearly impossible to stop is that the main themes of the book are inescapable for us all. Issues of family, duty, faith, and regret are those that shadow all our lives whether for good or for bad in ways that make the novel somehow relatable even if the reader does not share the faith of the family, their home country, or their problems. Through bursts of anger, disappointment, and doubt though the family holds some thread of being together as a family, of their culture, of their lives as Muslim Americans.

Mirza has a beautiful and poetic voice that rings out with an aura of wisdom. You wouldn’t know this was her first book if the back cover didn’t say so: she has the power and grace of a generations old writer.

Slated for release by Hogarth Press in June of 2018, you can preorder a copy of A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text

 

 

‘The Sky at Our Feet’ by Nadia Hasimi

the-sky-at-our-feet-hashimiNadia Hashimi’s second foray into middle grade fiction, The Sky at Our Feet, is just as thrilling, relevant, and heartfelt as her first, One Half from the East. In The Sky at Our Feet, we meet Jason D. an Afghan, or an American, or maybe both, he’s still not quite sure himself. A young boy who has just been told some of the dark secrets from his mother’s past, Jason D. suddenly has a lot more questions about his past, his family, and his own identity.

One month after finding out that his mother is living as an illegal immigrant in the United States, she is taken from the laundromat where she works as Jason D. watches helpless from afar. Now, Jason D. is more than confused, he is alone, scared, and suddenly charged with a mission to find his mother. Through a series of seemingly unfortunate events, Jason D. ends up in a hospital where he meets Max, the girl who will help him to answer some of the deepest questions he has. On a day trip that turns into the biggest adventure of his life, Max learns more about himself and what it means to have an identity than he ever could have imagined.

The Sky at Our Feet is a story that is relevant not only because of the heightened media around illegal immigration, but also because of the deeper questions it asks. What makes somebody who they are? What does it mean to have an identity? What does it mean to have an identity that is tied to the place that you live? The place that you’re from.

An artful and exciting novel, The Sky at Our Feet is both inspiring and thought-provoking without ever letting the reader stop for air. With its fast-paced, non-stop action, it’s hard not to read The Sky at Our Feet all in one sitting.

Slated for release by Harper Collins in March of 2018, you can preorder a copy of Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi at your local bookstore.

Read more young adult fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.