Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Riveting tales from the crematory

Smoke Gets in your Eyes - Doughty, CaitlinI first encountered Caitlin Doughty while watching Ted Talks. Her talk, A burial practice that nourishes the planet, explores different ideas for burial that don’t pollute the environment with toxic, cancer-causing formaldehyde. It was absolutely fascinating, so when I learned that she was a published author with three books, I wasted no time getting my hands on them.   

From Here to Eternity - Doughty, CaitlinIn Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Doughty tells the story of her journey into the funeral industry, from crematory assistant, then mortuary school, to founder of the death acceptance collective The Order of the Good Death. The book opens with her first day as a crematory assistant, flashes back to her first encounter with death, and goes over frank and often graphic descriptions of what happens to bodies at the funeral home and beyond. It’s definitely not a book for the faint of heart, but far from being all sadness, horror and gore, this book is also hilarious, candid, and empowering. Doughty challenges the idea of death avoidance that has permeated our society’s death rituals in the last hundred years with the rise of the multimillion-dollar funeral industry. She challenges the reader to ask themselves what do you want to happen to your body when you die?

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? - Doughty, CaitlinHer next two books are equally enjoyable and fascinating. In From Here To Eternity, Doughty explores different current cultural death rituals. From Zoroastrian sky burials, to Bolivian natitas, and Japanese kotsuage ceremonies, there is an immense diversity on how humans care for the dead. In Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, Doughty answers questions children have posed about death such as can Grandma have a Viking funeral?, or what would happen if you swallowed a bag of popcorn before you died and were cremated?

Death is inevitable. No matter how much we might not want to, we will all, eventually, die. It is an unchangeable and, at times, terrifying truth. It certainly terrified me, but after reading Dougthy’s three books, death feels less frightening and more like just another part of being human. It is not something I’m looking forward to but it is not something I avoid talking about. I most definitely recommend these fascinating, hilarious, and poignant books to those of a curious mind and a brave heart. 

Friday, 1 November 2019

New World

Richmond Public Library recently received a bunch of brand-new Graphic Novels which prompted me to revisit this genre. When I saw New World, I was immediately drawn to the striking artwork and knew I had to read this book.  David Jesus Vignolli, a Brazilian graphic novelist, weaves the story of an Indigenous Brazilian warrior, an enslaved African musician, and a Portuguese sailor who come together to battle the pale white giants who have invaded the New World. 

When Iracema discovers the enslaved African people living near her tribe, she must take up arms to free them from the Portuguese colonialists. With this purpose in mind, Iracema goes deep into the woods and is bestowed a lightning bow from the God Tupa. This bow is the only way to protect her people from monsters and evil beings. Along with a band of warriors, Iracema invades the colonialist settlement to free the slaves; however, horrible monsters attack the brave warriors and many perish in the fight. Amakai, a man being sold at the slave auction that day, manages to escape the fight and rescue Iracema from the fray. He is an African prince who can play a flute that draws out the monsters of men. Together, they might have what it takes to take on the monstrous colonialists and protect the New World. 

This book has a fair smattering of historical context and weaves many stories together in a compelling way. There is an overarching narrative on the colonisation of South America scattered through the stories of the main protagonists, Iracema and Amakai.  Magical realism provides a backdrop for this tale, making an easy connection between slave traders and monsters.  While there are illustrations of monstrous figures throughout the story, it is hard to say if the monsters are real or just a projection of the slave owners.  Paired with a simplistic yet colourful and clear art style, there are many nuances to the story left unwritten but open for interpretation. 

Friday, 25 October 2019

By Gaslight

By Gaslight
By Gaslight
By Steven Price

In the foggy, gaslit streets of London, 1885, William Pinkerton of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency has arrived from Chicago.  The dark, hulking Pinkerton has not come on official business, but rather to track down his father’s old nemesis, Edward Shade.  Although Pinkerton senior, also a detective, is known for getting his man, Shade has eluded him for decades.

Pinkerton’s information is that an old associate of Shade’s can be found in London.  Charlotte Reckitt is of questionable character, and she does her best to evade Pinkerton.  But when she turns up dead, Pinkerton gets involved with the case through his contacts at Scotland Yard.

Enter Adam Foole, a former love interest of Reckitt’s and a grifter himself.  Foole is a gentleman with a knack for disguises.  He steals through wit, intelligence and careful planning, and rejects violence as a means to an end.  Still, his team is made up of Fludd, the protector (a.k.a. “the giant”), and Molly, a young girl with a checkered past whom he has taken in off he streets.

Much to his colleagues’ chagrin, Foole teams up with Pinkerton in a desperate attempt to find Charlotte’s killer.  The unlikely pair make their way through the dank, dangerous and often gruesome streets of London, venturing into the back-alley bars and even the sewers to find a lead.  Pinkerton begins to trust Foole, and the two respect each other.  But Foole holds secrets that eventually throw Pinkerton into a tailspin, totally upending his beliefs about his father and his search for Edward Shade.

Author Steven Price drew me in right away with a riveting mystery set in a very believable historic London.  Keep in mind, By Gaslight is not a book for the faint of heart.  It is a grim mystery that mostly takes place in the parts of London that are rife with poverty and struggle.  But it also reads like an epic, moving back and forth through time and history, and bringing all the characters together for its thrilling conclusion.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

The Farm

The Farm
the farm
The Farm by Joanne Ramos

The Farm is the nickname of the luxury estate, Golden Oaks, at which reside a number of women, mostly immigrants from the Philippines. These women are at Golden Oaks because they have agreed to commit 9 months of their lives to producing the perfect offspring for anonymous women who have better things to do with their time than be pregnant.  

For providing this service, the hosts, as they are called, receive a large sum of money upon delivery of said perfect offspring. These funds will help them to support their families.

In this rather Atwoodian dystopia, the lives of the hosts are well programmed, everything is provided for a healthy, stress free pregnancy. Daily exercise, well balanced organic meals, yoga, massage – you name it the hosts have it.

Jane is one of the hosts, hired by Mae Yu, the farm’s executive. Jane has a child of her own, but after recently coming to America and finding herself a poor, single mother, she takes the opportunity offered her to improve life for herself and her daughter, Mali. Things start off well, Jane is happy to be helping someone who can’t have a child, but she misses Mali. She befriends two other hosts who are not as enamoured with the whole process and support Jane in defying the manipulative Mae. Jane becomes determined to get to Mali outside the farm, but she risks losing the money if she leaves. 

While Mae tries to keep her hosts under control, and placate the wealthy clients awaiting their perfect offspring, things begin to unravel, and the more things begin to unravel, the more Mae tries to keep them under control. 

Joanne Ramos writes a good story, and although it has a softer ending than expected, it still intertwines many things to give us food for thought on reproduction and motherhood all wrapped up in gender, race and class.