Tag: Culture clash

The Yellow Papers by Dominique Wilson

Posted April 10, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

The Yellow Papers by Dominique WilsonTitle: The Yellow Papers (Goodreads)
Author: Dominique Wilson
Published: Transit Lounge, 2014
Pages: 348
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In an effort to learn the secrets of the West, China sent a group of boys to America to be educated. This was following their defeat in the two Opium Wars in 1872. Seven-year-old Chen Mu was one of the boys sent to America; but at nine he fled to Umberumberka, a mining town in outback Australia. The Yellow Papers is a story of love, obsession and friendship set against a backdrop of war and racial prejudice.

The title refers to a Chinese tradition of determining a soul is at rest; this involves a priest determining if the death fell on a lucky day or not as well as performing some rituals. I couldn’t find much information about this process but the book suggests that the family is given yellow papers to indicate the soul is at rest. Also it may be interesting to note that the colour yellow is considered lucky in Chinese culture but Westerners use it as a racial slur. You might think this information would be useful and paid a big part in the novel, especially when it comes to tackling racism, but it doesn’t.

One of my major gripes with the novel is the fact that it attempts to look at a subject but ends up just glossing over it. The Yellow Papers tries to be a big sweeping historical epic but compact into 300 pages. This means that there are huge gaps that we have to fill in for ourselves and while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing it does detach the reader from the novel. The novel could go into detail about racism, culture clashing, even the Opium Wars but this book avoids dealing with these subjects in great detail.

While The Yellow Papers is essentially the story of Chen Mu, this book is broken into three parts that shifts into different focalisation.  Chen Mu, Edward and Ming Li are the primary focus on the three parts. While Chen Mu is not a well-developed character by any count, Edward and Ming Li’s development fell flat. Both characters are two dimensional with no real indication on personality or motivation. This causes The Yellow Papers to start off well but plateaued out a third of the way through the novel.

There is some beauty within the text; some of the syntax reviews great imagery. While Dominique Wilson never really gives us much to do with scenery, the discourse is often very revealing. “Since that evening the thought that she could not love him had festered like a cancer in his belly.” This sentence hit me pretty hard; the idea of not being love and cancer being used in the same sentence, an idea that suggests being unloved is both unwanted and weighed heavily on him. Sentences like this are found throughout the novel and what saved this book from abandonment.

I wasn’t happy with The Yellow Papers at all and while I see some beauty in Dominique Wilson’s writing, I think she needed to flesh this one out a lot more. It is her first novel and I’m sure she learnt from writing it; her next novel will really determine my opinion of her style. As I’ve said, I found beauty in the syntax, enough to try her again.


We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Posted September 14, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

We Need New Names by NoViolet BulawayoTitle: We Need New Names (Goodreads)
Author: NoViolet Bulawayo
Narrator: Robin Miles
Published: Chatto & Windus, 2013
Pages: 290
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

We Need New Names tells the story of Darling and her friends growing up in what they call Paradise in Zimbabwe. This novel explores the struggles faced growing up in this landlocked country, which isn’t all-bad; the kids find ways to manage and even have fun. When Darling got a little older she was sent to America where a whole new set of mischief and adventures began.

Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo (real name Elizabeth Tshele) does an interesting job of exploring life growing up in Zimbabwe and then learning to live in America. A culture clash, that is not unlike her own story. Darling and her friends seem to make their own fun, from playing made up games like Country Game and stealing guavas. But Zimbabwe is politically unstable and they have suffered because of the white people. There are some interesting insights about life in this country and I really enjoyed learning about Darling’s life.

Then the novel changes drastically and Darling starts her life in America. This might be an improvement in her life style but this doesn’t mean she was not missing her home. The culture clash was the most interesting part of this book, from stealing guavas to survive and making up games to fast food and spending her afternoons with new friends watching redtube. This was a completely different life and story and it was interesting to compare the two and follow Darling’s journey.

At times in the novel I got confused; especially when Darling refers to Shanghai and Budapest, I couldn’t work out how she got to these locations but then worked out these are different sections of Paradise and named after the ethnic groupings. I know, I’m a little slow and a little surprised I didn’t pick up on this right away but Darlings language took me a while to work out and fully understand what she was saying.

While this book is easy to read (once you get to know Darling’s narrative style), this can be hard hitting. The novel is confrontational and will give you some insight into an African life and the struggles facing children in places like Zimbabwe. Struggles you might never have thought of and moving them to a place like America might give them a better chance in life but then you have a whole new set of struggles to understand.

Longlisted for the Man Booker and I was recommend this book by another book blogger (Jennifer from The Relentless Reader), I am really glad I read We Need New Names. The novel took me on an interesting journey and I feel I learnt from it and that is what makes for a great book. I don’t think it will win the Man Booker, but I hope it make the shortlist as well. I wouldn’t call this novel a typical literary prize nomination but a novel that deserves some boost in sales from its nomination.


The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu

Posted May 4, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Young Adult / 0 Comments

The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani BoianjiuTitle: The People of Forever Are Not Afraid (Goodreads)
Author: Shani Boianjiu
Published: Hogarth, 2012
Pages: 320
Genres: Young Adult
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Lea, Avishag and Yael grow up in a small town on the Israel/Lebanon border leaving normal teenage lives. The People of Forever Are Not Afraid tells the story of these three normal Israeli girls from passing notes in school, talking about boys to turning eighteen and being conscripted into the army. Winner of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” authors to watch list in 2011, Shani Boianjiu’s debut novel is a coming of age novel unlike any before. Growing up in this intense war torn world changes everything, even for three normal teenage girls.

First thing I would like to say is I was hugely impressed with The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, I never expected to find a New Adult novel that offers so many different elements. While this seems to be marketed as a Young/New Adult novel, I think this is because the old “coming of age” formula seems to go hand and hand with these two genres. Though this is so much different; these three girls are plucked from their normal teenage lives, put into the army and forced to grow up rather quickly.

There are some really interesting themes throughout this novel. Firstly there are the major themes of growing up as an Israeli girl and conscription, and Shani Boianjiu is the voice of experience here; at the age of 18, she entered the Israeli Defence Forces and served for two years. So you get the sense that maybe this novel is semi-autobiographical but not knowing much about the author I wonder which of the three girl’s best resembles her. Though I have a feeling that Lea, Avishag and Yael all have an element of Boianjiu in them; I like how she has the three different personalities within the book to help show the how war really effects a person.

This brings us to the theme of War; while for the most of the book they are living in a perpetual state of war, the conflict between Israel and Lebanon still puts them into real danger. Though the reader has to ask themselves if eighteen too young to deal with war; they are still in a state of self-discovery when they are thrown into such an extreme situation. I know it is part of their heritage but when you talk about war and even RPG children (“children who tried to shoot RPGs at soldiers and ended up burning each other because they were uninformed, and children”) you really have to wonder how old is old enough to deal with war.

Finally, the book looks at the influence western society has on the Middle Eastern culture; I’m sure girls thought about boys and sex but there is a definite changing that comes through in the novel. References to Dawson’s Creek and Mean Girls and the whole attitude towards relationships (breaking up every week) and sex really feels more like something from an American teen drama than an Israeli town. I don’t know much about their culture but I know enough about pop-culture and the difficulties that western society has on Muslim and Jewish heritage to notice this real culture clash.

The People of Forever Are Not Afraid really is an interesting New Adult novel; it is smart and thought provoking and yet it’s really funny as well. I remember the cheesy lines made me chuckle like the idea of a mother not wanting her daughter to have a party because she was worried that her friends will break her hymen. All these elements seem to work together to produce a novel that is both easy to read and unlike anything I’ve read before.

I was never sure what to make of The People of Forever Are Not Afraid but I’m glad I had a chance to read this novel. It’s a debut novel that shows us that Shani Boianjiu is an author to watch in the future. It’s not without its flaws, the repetitiveness got to me a little but in the end all the good aspects of this book outshined any problems. It’s the type of novel that made me want to turn back to page one and start reading it again. I’m not a fan of Young Adult and New Adult novels in general but I can’t help but recommend this one to all readers.