Let’s get a couple things straight right off the bat: I wanted to love this book. I really did! In a day and age (still!) where it is unfortunately common to belittle a woman’s intellect, deny her the same accolades freely offered to a man, a woman’s work in ANY field to be viewed as lackluster compared to a male counterpart, I wanted to love this book HARD. But I didn’t. Even with stories of women being passed over for men being so common, I felt that this particular story was forced. A huge assumption was made in something that is supposed to be historical fiction, and in order to lift a woman up, someone else had to be torn down. In this case, another very real person: Einstein.
First and foremost, I feel it necessary to give every trigger imaginable for rape, sexual assault and just assault in general for this beautifully dark book. “Drowning Above Water” is about a woman who first finds herself as a child prostitute when her addiction to pain medication drives her to do anything for her next fix, and then a victim of sex trafficking as her own mother pushes her into the arms of someone who whisks Teckla—now Malina—to the states from Poland where she stays for years. That is until she decides she will not be forced into having another abortion. She’s going to keep this baby, and do whatever is necessary to ensure its survival. “Drowning Above Water” is a seriously heavy read, and yet I couldn’t put it down. I devoured this book; I ached alongside Malina, Petyr, and Guin, and I was transfixed by Malina’s journey through the underbelly of the sex “industry”. This book is heavy, dark, and beautifully written, and it’s an important story that is, unfortunately, not fiction for many across the world.
“All the Tomorrows” is a lovely dive into a culture I am unfamiliar with outside of popular movies and music. Nasser brings the reader immediately into an authentic portrayal of India with its buzzing streets, fragrant foods, beautiful clothing, and traditional Indian family values such as arranged marriages and daughters caring for their parents if they are unwed. You have to be willing to accept those cultural differences or Jaya’s subservient behavior to her cruel mother will immediately anger you and make it hard to continue on. But that’s also what makes this book important: to see and be exposed to a real look at a different culture, not one that selectively shows you the good and fun bits like the Holi Festival. I really appreciated that in Nasser’s book and the author does a lovely job of describing the sights, sounds, and smells of Bombay to where I felt like I was on the streets with Jaya and Akash. I just wished I loved the characters themselves as much as I loved the rest of Nasser’s writing.
I’m going to just come out and say this upfront: this is a weird book. Absolutely gorgeous in terms of writing and its literary finesse, but the story is… odd. In short, “The Lightning Stenography Device” (or LSD for short, ha) is about a thought to text device (basically you think instead of typing, taking away all hesitation from getting words on the page) that has managed to write a story while a pair of writers was asleep. Which is cool! These stories somehow predict the future! Crazy, right? Except this sparks an insanely long, prose filled philosophical debate/discussion on who is doing the writing—basically a debate of religion and who, or what I suppose, is God. That debate takes up about half the book I’d say, and it’s interspersed between the 4(ish) characters we are introduced to via their own sections. These sections highlight someone’s experience of using the LSD and the “story” it tells before it ends with a head scratching epiphany that would be so incredibly beautiful and satisfying if it didn’t take so damn long to get to.
“Borne” is my first foray into the work of Mr. Vandermeer. I didn’t get this book because I had heard anything about him, or his popular series, or the movie that’s being made of one of his books. I was at a bookstore and this cover grabbed me and I have no regrets about that. But being unfamiliar with the author’s other work, I can’t say if “Borne” is the best he has to offer, or if his other series are his shining achievement. I will say that this book has some incredible prose, made me rethink how scary bears should (or shouldn’t) be, and just where the line should be for science-fiction, science-fantasy, or just plain fantasy.
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