I was recently prompted to read Little Fires Everywhere after watching the trailer for the TV show. I was intrigued by the concept but knew I wanted to read the book first and I am so glad that I did.
The novel centres around two families living in 1990s Shaker Heights, Ohio, who are brought together through they’re children. However, the matriarchs each take vastly different approaches to parenting. Mrs Richardson is committed to the rules, believing that if everyone simply conforms to the right way of doing things then there will be a perfect community, whereas Mia is an artist who has moved from place to place with her daughter, Pearl, living how she wants to and never staying in one place for too long.
This unspoken conflict between Mia and Mrs Richardson ultimately comes to a head in a custody dispute between family friends of the Richardson’s and a co-worker of Mia’s. After Bebe hits rock bottom and doesn’t know where to turn she leaves her baby at a fire station, where a social worker is called and the baby ends up being placed with the McCulloughs, who have been trying have a baby for almost a decade. Once Bebe finally receives the help she needs she desperately wants her baby back and so beings the tense custody battle and the catalyst for the downfall of Mia and Mrs Richardson’s relationship.
The story at the centre of the novel was what primarily caught my attention as it allows for exploration of the intersection between motherhood and socio-economic circumstances. This book considers how we as a society punish mothers simply because they have less money or struggle from social difficulties, such as being a single mother or an immigrant. If a mother feels unable to care for her child and abandons them, at what point does that become an irreversible decisions?
Finally, I think part of the brilliance of this novel is also found in how well Ng writes about Shaker Heights. On the surface, Shaker Heights seems like an idyllic place to live, where everyone has a nice house and every child goes to a good school, but the more I found out about it, the uneasier I became. The way Ng was able to create a building tension around seemingly harmless aspects of the community was very impressive. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the bins being kept at the back of the house, rather than the front, but every time a little rule like this is mentioned I was left feeling slightly more unsettled. This ever-present tension meant I couldn’t put the book down, always on the edge of my seat, waiting to find out what was going to happen.
This book is well-written with a simple story of motherhoos at its heart that still keeps you turning the pages, desperate to find out what will happen next. I would definitely recommend this book.
Before the Coffee gets Cold is a Japanese bestseller about a small cafe in Tokyo which offers the customers the chance to travel back in time. In this book we meet four customers, all of whom have reason to time travel, one to speak to a lover who left, one to read a letter written by her husband with Alzheimer’s, one to see her recently deceased sister and one to meet the daughter she never got to know.
This is a charming exploration of missed opportunities that begs the question; who would you travel through time to see? This novel is deeply moving, however my favourite part of reading it was finding out about the various regular characters found in the cafe. Learning about the intriguing stories of the cafe staff is a is gradually told at a pace that always keeps you on edge to find out more.
When it comes to translated fiction I generally don’t comment on the language because I am not reading the book as it was written. Therefore, although I found some of the language slightly repetitive at times, I would credit the translation as being intelligently written.
I will admit that I found there to be slightly more exposition than necessary in the first chapter which meant that it took getting through this chapter before I started to really enjoy the book. However, I also think that may be a tricky pitfall to avoid with a book fo this nature as there are various rules for the time travel that must be explained in order for the rest of the book to be as good as it was.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this unusual concept found in a charming piece of translated fiction. I would definitely recommend this quick read.
Since it’s the start of Ramadan and I recently came across the #RamadanReadathon myself, I thought I would I put together this post to recommend some literary blogs by Muslim bloggers and highlight some brilliant Muslim authors.
Headscarves and Hardbacks
Recommended Ramadan Readathon Reads:
Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
Author: Uzma Jalaluddin
Synopsis: Ayesha doesn’t want an arranged marriage, unlike her cousin Hafsah, and so is irritated when she is drawn to conservative, traditional Khalid. The two are forced to confront what they want and their feelings towards one another when an unexpected engagement is arranged between Hafsah and Khalid.
It’s not about the Burqa
Author: Mariam Khan
Synopsis: A collection of essays addressing what it means to be a Muslim woman in the West today.
The things I would tell you: British Muslim Women Write
Author: Sabrina Mahfouz (editor)
Synopsis: A collection of short stories, essays, plays and poems by Muslim women from all across the UK.
All American Muslim Girl
Author: Nadine Jolie Courtney
Synopsis: Allie is a young, white-passing teen in Texas who decides to embrace her faith after witnessing numerous instances of Islamophobia.
The Beauty of your Face
Author: Sahar Mustafah
Synopsis: A Palestinian American woman dealing with her faith and identity before coming face-to-face with a school shooter.