[746]: Saving my Assassin by Virginia Prodan

A gripping memoir of a woman’s staunch faith and unwavering quest to defend those prosecuted by Ceausescu’s brutal regime.


Saving my Assassin
by Virginia Prodan

The author grew up at a time when Romania was in the grips of a dictator named, Nicolae Ceaucescu. However, you need not to widen the scope of the kind of childhood she grew up in to know that she survived far more atrocities. Just witness the difficult homelife she endured in the hands of her ‘mother’, her siblings, and her sometimes indifferent, sometimes caring father. To this day, weeks after finishing this book, I still couldn’t comprehend the awful dynamics of her relationship with her mother. 

It was implied that she might’ve been an illegitimate child of her favourite aunt but I honestly can’t recall whether or not it was determined. In any case, I did not understand the kind of hold her mother had over her aunt. I did wonder, though if having an illegitimate child back then was a criminal act.

The title is very misleading. Perhaps it’s the romantic in me that had me believing that this book would be, in fact, about a love affair that started when an assassin was hired to kill off Virginia. The truth of the matter is, the assassin was introduced as a prologue and we don’t see him again until the end. The entirety of the novel was about Virginia’s childhood, adulthoood and how she came to be the defender of the faithful being prosecuted unjustly at the time of Nicolae Ceausescu’s tyrannical rule.

Virginia didn’t start off as a devout Christian. The evolution of her faith began when, little by little, her eyes were opened to the atrocities of what living in Romania was like. Especially when her people were being punished for their religious beliefs. As a child, she was incessantly curious. She hungered for truth which often got her in trouble. You’re supposed to be quiet if you’re a child. You’re not supposed to ask questions. Her naturally curious disposition had led her to nights of going to bed without meals and added chores as a child. As an adult, it’s what made her the crusader for the truth and justice.

It is odd to feel like someone’s life is a story full of plot holes, but that’s how I felt about Virginia’s book life. I wish I’d known for sure why she was thus hated by her mother, or if her aunt was in fact, her real mother. The assassin’s life also played very little significance to the book other than the beginning and what role she played in his life (which we didn’t witness, by the way).

I went into this book with the assumption that it was going to be a romance. I came out knowing the strength and courage of a woman who feared nothing, and one who only cared about truth, justice, and defending the unjustly aggrieved.

 

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[745]: Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

Georgeous prose, honest and candid. Heart Berries takes the reader on a chaotic journey through an Indigenous woman’s life wracked with obsessive love, maternal love, and mental illness.


Heart Berries
by Terese Marie Mailhot

This book is so profound in ways that I could not begin to translate into words. It’s a tiny book but the destruction that I’m left with is so complete. I don’t know what to do with all of it.

I’m terrified to admit that I found such a tender kinship with the author. I’ve felt it all. The obsessive love, the maternal love that sometimes, I thought I might just be going insane. The difference between us is the consciousness – our state of minds. She knows there’s something wrong with her mind. She takes medicines for it and even have been confined in a mental hospital for rehabitilation. While I, can’t sometimes grasp whether it’s the love I was feeling that was making me insane or am I already there?

In any case, this book had me gasping for breath sometimes. It’s so empathically real that the emotions she conveyed felt visceral. She’s so desperate for a man who may or may not love her but her feelings for him was a gushing faucet that can’t be turned off. Though she tried to – to no avail. She kept coming back to the scene of the crime knowing that the killer is still there and she’d be bludgeoned yet again. But she unabashedly embraced it all.

She writes about her relationship with her mother – who I found was as devoted as they come but yet difficult at times. The scars from being a victim of the residential school integration remains fresh in many native peoples to this day. Poverty, addiction, and broken families seem to be the lasting effect. Terese married young, bore her children young. Lost one child in a custody battle and desperately hung on to the other child despite all odds. To read her try to be a good mother to the one she lost during her supervised visits was heartbreaking. She tries her best as many mothers do.

Mailhot writes from the heart, and sometimes from her broken mind. The result is a heart-rending, fierce memoir that leaves a lasting effect long after you’ve reached the end.

 

 

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[698]: When We Rise by Cleve Jones

A compelling, inspiring memoir about the beginning of the decades-long fight for LGBTQ equality.


When We Rise
by Cleve Jones

When most of Americans exalted at the news that marriage equality was finally the law of their land, the world joined in the celebration. #LoveWins trended for days after the proclamation. And the religious right stayed in their homes clutching their pearls while they prayed for everybody’s souls.

Now I sit here with worry. Because among all the other disturbing things that are happening in the States right now, there is something else simmering on the stove of this ridiculous administration: the new VP is a huge proponent of conversion therapy for gay people. I wouldn’t put it past them to enact something as heinous as sending kids to a gay camp to cure them of their burgeoning homosexuality. Adding to the worry is the vacant SCOTUS seat which, judging by the cabinet members President Shit For Brains has been installing, will more than likely be filled by another bigot. (I feel like I’ve been angry since November and I’m not even sorry. ) For now, at least, the marriage equality is safe (fingers crossed).

When We Rise is a memoir that needs to be read by everyone. It comes at an anxious, but much-needed time. If the November election has thought us anything, it’s that our marches helps fire up a revolution in our own little way. It doesn’t start as a raging inferno. It begins in small sparks. Cleve Jones’ role in the LGBTQ equality was an accumulation of a lifetime of fighting for recognition spurred on by the beatings he’s gotten as a teenager and his parents’ inability to acknowledge him for what he truly was. Yet despite his parents’ shunning, and the bruises he’s endured, his bitterness was noticeably absent.

He was a man who grew up at an age where sexual promiscuity, gratuitous drug use, and decadence was pertinent. A man who didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life other than to make the next buck that will sustain him for the immediate time. He moved from Arizona to San Francisco when his father let him know exactly what he thought of his sexuality. He would travel the world and switch between San Francisco and Europe. So when did his revolution began? I got the impression that everything fell on his lap. Not that it was easy, mind you. You’d care to know that even though San Francisco was the epicenter of it all, none of it was easy.

 The emergence of AIDS in the 80s was when we see him go through griefs for the losses of his friends and lovers. It was during this time when he would be in the biggest fight of his life – literally and figuratively. The number of deaths due to AIDS back then rose to an unfathomable number. Their fight for equal rights stalled all thanks to the prejudice and backlash they’ve gotten because of AIDS. Conservatism and Reagan were in office. And funding for research and cure was not a priority even though it was killing Americans at an inconceivable rate. It would take years and a Democrat in office before America actually paid attention.

When We Rise is a great book to read if you ever need a starting point to understanding the fight that they’ve long since waged. It’s interesting to see the birth of the revolution that wasn’t well received in the State of California at first. Surprising, considering that California is the cradle of progressive government in the country.  Mr. Jones highlighted the many struggles and triumphs that the movement has gone through over the years. The men and women who helped brought forth an awareness to their cause that eventually paved the way for the progress that the American LGBTQ community experiences nowadays. It was great to learn that Nancy Pelosi has been such a long time supporter of equality for the LGBTQ.

Cleve Jones’ memoir chronicles the never-ending fight that the community faces. Along the way, he’ll meet countless of valiant people willing to fight alongside with him. He imparts a message that couldn’t come at a better time than now. That it takes more than one march to fight for your rights, against the injustices of the world, and for what you believe in.

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[692]: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

A personal and political account of what it’s like to grow up in South Africa.


Born A Crime
by Trevor Noah

It is sometimes weird to see him at the desk where Jon Stewart used to slay conservative politicians and pundits alike. In all honesty, I’ve never really acclimated to seeing him there. I’m a big fan of Jon Stewart. He is the one who got me interested in American politics after all. Satire or not, The Daily Show was even more educational than any other cable news on air.

When I learned that Stewart was quitting and was being replaced by this unknown comedian, I was saddened. Because I knew things will never be the same. I’m not gonna lie, I have not watched a single episode of the show ever since he left. Aside from snippets shown on their Facebook page, I’ve never actually sat through a full episode. So when the opportunity to read and review this book came my way, I had to grab the chance. Because I wanted to know a little about this man. I wanted to know how a South African comedian charmed his way into the annals of a sometimes entertaining, more often frustrating American political satire arena.

During the presidential election campaign, he’s become more prominent because he assumed Jon Stewart’s role with great gusto. He was funny and candid; harsh and honest. But as I observed him during the few moments that I’ve seen his shtick, there’s still a bit of him that’s a little uncomfortable. Like, he couldn’t fully play the role of a man commenting on the absurdities of the American politics and life. Like he doesn’t belong.

 I’ve never seen his comedic act before hosting The Daily Show, but it is more or less in this book where he recounts the tales of growing up during and after apartheid. And the stories are funny, sometimes bleak, and in turns, alarming. He tells us that because he was born out of wedlock and a “half-white”, “half-black”, he didn’t really find acceptance.

The only way he could spend time with his Swiss-national father was away from the scrutiny of the public. And because he’s light-skinned, they sometimes resorted to pretending his mother was his nanny. His world was inside the gates of their home because his grandmother feared he would get abducted. He spent most of his time alone but he claimed he was never lonely. He read a lot of books and was perfectly comfortable being in the company of himself. Language, he learned early on, was the key to hiding the fact that he didn’t belong in either white or black community. Because if he could speak a variety of languages, kids could respect him.

If you spoke to me in Zulu, I replied to you in Zulu. If you spoke to me in Tswana, I replied to you in Tswana. Maybe I didn’t look like you, but if I spoke like you, I was you.”

His mother was, by all accounts, the constant figure in his life that made him the man that he is. A woman who never lost faith in her God no matter the odds. The woman who took her kids to three churches on Sundays, whom at one point, threw Trevor off the bus, then jumped with his brother in her arms, to get away from an inevitable rape, and worst, death. She was a woman with conviction who knew what she wanted even if it meant a lifetime of ridicule and persecution because she’d “born a crime”, a half-white child whose Swiss-German father could never really own him. And amidst poverty, hardship, and violence, raised Trevor and his brother with the same dreams and hopes as any loving mother would do.

“For my mother. My first fan. Thank you for making me a man,”

he writes in his dedication. It is true that without his mother and her defiant spirit, he’d never be where he is right now. One of the biggest South African exports, a boy who grew up in small towns and one who was always looking for a place to belong.

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[677]: Angel of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap

27876492 Angel of Oblivion
Stand Alone
Archipelago Books | August 16th, 2016
Source: Finished copy from the Publisher
Memoir
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars


The novel tells the story of a family from the Slovenian minority in Austria. The first-person narrator starts off with her childhood memories of rural life, in a community anchored in the past. Yet behind this rural idyll, an unresolved conflict is smouldering. At first, the child wonders about the border to Yugoslavia, which runs not far away from her home. Then gradually the stories that the adults tell at every opportunity start to make sense. All the locals are scarred by the war. Her grandfather, we find out, was a partisan fighting the Nazis from forest hideouts. Her grandmother was arrested and survived Ravensbrück.

As the narrator grows older, she finds out more. Through conversations at family gatherings and long nights talking to her grandmother, she learns that her father was arrested by the Austrian police and tortured – at the age of ten – to extract information on the whereabouts of his father. Her grandmother lost her foster-daughter and many friends and relatives in Ravensbrück and only escaped the gas chamber by hiding inside the camp itself. The narrator begins to notice the frequent suicides and violent deaths in her home region, and she develops an eye for how the Slovenians are treated by the majority of German-speaking Austrians. As an adult, the narrator becomes politicised and openly criticises the way in which Austria deals with the war and its own Nazi past. In the closing section, she visits Ravensbrück and finds it strangely lifeless – realising that her personal memories of her grandmother are stronger.


The novel begins in a calm tone; a life of rural ideal on a farm near the border of Austria and Yugoslavia. The narrator’s family goes about their lives simply; tending to the farm and their animals while slowly peeling the layers that would eventually show the readers what was hiding behind the calmness.

She’s my Queen Bee and I’m her drone.

The young girl references her great admiration for the matriarch of the family. Her grandmother rules the household with relentless strength rooted in familial love and old tradition. She guides our unknown narrator through early adolescence on through the cusp of adulthood. While in the background is her mother, sensitive and prone to crying. She was hardly shown any respect least of all from her mother in law. In some ways, I felt for her. It was easy to see that she never knew how to raise her own child because someone else did that job for her. So their relationship was fragile and more often unpredictable. The narrator stands in a precarious balance between the love for her mother and her grandmother that ultimately becomes somewhat lopsided.

Throughout the novel, the readers are given a visceral imagery of the kind of influence the grandmother has over our narrator. Her mother tried her best but it was a difficult task to overcome such an overwhelming shadow. And she didn’t get any help from her husband (the narrator’s father) either. He was constantly drunk and frequently unhinged. Though, his instability could be attributed to his childhood experience of unfathomable hell which unsurprisingly influenced the man that he became.

Angel of Oblivion is an unexpected surprise. It’s a glorious feat for an author to leave her readers in a state of complacency all the while telling a difficult and poignant story. Beautiful as it were, devastating in some instances. It reminds us that we are the sum of our memories and even if we feel insignificant now, our stories could hold some influence to someone in the future. This was not an easy read by a long shot but the characters are worth your acquaintance. And because it’s a memoir disguised as fiction, I read it with ease, ironically enough.

 

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