I am holding on for dear life, zooming atop the La Bestia, hurtling at mad speed towards El Dorado. The noise of the wheels against the tracks is deafening. Tension soars. I’m trying to stay alive, as are others. To not fall on to the tracks, to make sure everybody ducks before an approaching tunnel, look out for overpasses that can neatly slice off my head and to avoid all tree branches and shrubs that can leave me maimed if not dead.
Then there’s a loud thud and I wake from the rollercoaster ride that is American Dirt. I realise I am sitting safely in front of my laptop, attempting to write a Pandemic Perusing column on the reading I’ve been doing since end March 2020.
Phew. If ever there was a book that begs, demands and screams for film adaptation it is this one. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Jeanine Cummins has made a movie that can be held in one’s hands. From the moment it begins till the end, her narrative plays out before the reader’s eye, as visually alive as any book can possibly be.
I can see why the book has become so controversial and attracted the ire of Mexicans worldwide at the portrayal of their country. It makes me believe that India – a fairly lawless and unfair society — is absolute paradise. Narco-infested Mexico — or at least the author’s portrayal of it — is nothing short of terrifying. It also offers a microscopic insight into what it takes for migrants to make it from the mayhem of Mexico to the safety of the Americas and the sheer desperation that drives many. It’s not a book that stays with you or will change you forever but I do recommend it for a hard-to-put-down all-nighter. The book is also aptly timed — when forced migrations dot the globe, raising many ethical, moral and societal concerns for both communities seeking refuge and those offering it.
Far slower paced, more nuanced and written with a maturity far beyond her years (the author is 1989 born) is Yaa Gyaasi’s Homegoing. The American immigrant has woven this wonderful tale after a visit to her home country, Ghana. Ms Gyaasi’s evocative prose draws you into the Asante slave history and drops you in the midst of Cape Castle and the Gold Coast. She traces the history through a story of two sisters and their successive generations with each chapter dedicated to one protagonist. The style is both captivating and irritating: It pulls you into one life story with its intricate web but thrusts you into the next before you’ve had enough of the first! There are many characters I don’t want to leave just yet but there’s no choice because Ms Gyaasi’s pen has placed a new dagger at your throat. The novel — it has won and been nominated for many awards — is far more accomplished than one would expect from a writer in her 20s (published in 2016) and makes me hope we have a new Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the making. In general, I find African writers manage to bring a gravitas in their musings that few others can match. Maybe it has something to do with the deep cultural roots, the adversities almost all of them face and the mystery of the continent that constitutes Africa.
I also set myself the task of reading another award-winning writer Anne Enright and I ordered The Forgotten Waltz, all read less than halfway. While I have a deep resonance with Irish writers and the darkness that surrounds them — despite the virtually unparalleled beauty of their environment — I have failed miserably with Ms Enright almost always. I have no intention of giving up, however, and will be picking up all the aforementioned books
yet again. What if I’m letting a John Boyne or a Colm Toibin go by? That’s too great a loss to afford.
I have also been struggling with Booker winner Anna Burns’ The Buried Giant, the only Ishiguro I have not read and reread.