Confettis of words

the bits and sketches in life


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89 What I read: January and February 2016

My reading resolution for this year is to be able to finish 25 books. I guess I started it quite well by reading 5 books in two months despite my busy schedule (though actually I’m sure I could be faster!). So here are the books I managed to finish in January and February:

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A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara

I had been tempted by the hype around this book, so when I saw it in Kinokuniya, I immediately grabbed it. I was interested by the premise: the friendship between four college friends set in New York.  However, as the story develops, it unfolds many intriguing things. The main character, Jude St. Francis, is a handsome guy with a complex personality. He’s experienced an abusive childhood and it has left a deep scar on his psychological condition. I love Yanagihara’s language in describing Jude’s conflicts and while I’ve never experienced the same thing, I felt somehow emotionally attached to him. I also find the charm from this novel through Jude’s interaction with the people around him.

What I didn’t really enjoy from this book is that some scenes are too graphic, too disturbing. But I guess the details are needed to show how traumatic Jude’s experience is. I also agree with some critics that A Little Life seems to detach itself from reality and context. The story happens in New York in a span of several decades, but the plot never shows it clearly in what era the characters live. Is it before 9/11 or after 9/11? I know that fictional works don’t always have to refer to reality, but somehow this fact makes the novel seem to be isolated while actually it has the potential to be a great novel about New York urban life. Overall, reading A Little Life was a reading experience that involves a lot of emotion and I felt so drained (in a good way) after closing the last page. Rarely a book does that to me. Highly recommended.

And I’ll always keep this quote in my heart:

…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You is a story about family. Not just that, it also deals with racial and gender issues. James Lee is a second generation of Chinese immigrants. All his life, he always had to encounter stereotypes and racial prejudices from the society (the story set in early 60s and 70s when discrimination was still strong). He never became this popular kid at school. Meanwhile,  Marilyn was a smart, rebellious woman who can’t achieve her dream to be a doctor because of her marriage to James. Both of them have unaccomplished goals in life, and knowing they no longer have the capacity to achieve it, they ‘transfer’ their dream to their daughter, Lydia. But then Lydia is found drowned in the lake near their home. Their dream is crushed, and the story slowly tries to reveal to the readers what actually happens to Lydia.

Reading Everything I Never Told You is like watching a family movie with calm, soft colours and many silent scenes. The narration relies much on description of the actions instead of powerful dialogues. There is this one beautiful scene that focuses on Hannah (Lydia’s little sister) who in her naive way realizes what really happens around her siblings and in their family. I think this is Ng’s strength: the ability to reveal emotion of the characters through what they silently do. This debut novel convinces us that we need to watch more of Ng’s works in the future.

Lelaki Harimau by Eka Kurniawan

I don’t really read Indonesian literature that much, but I love Eka Kurniawan’s two novels, Cantik itu Luka and this one, Lelaki Harimau. The way he writes reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and his technique in blending reality and magical sphere in his plot is amazing. Lelaki Harimau tells about a young man named Margio who wakes up in the morning and finds a white tiger next to him. Is the white tiger real or is it just a representation of Margio’s hidden desire? This is what makes Lelaki Harimau so psychoanalytically interesting. Kurniawan’s language is vulgar yet poetic. He always manages to narrate the conflicts of common people with the most unfamiliar, unexpected and violent way. Read the shocking last page of the Lelaki Harimau and you’ll know what I mean.

Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

I stumbled upon Maresi when I was browsing in Book Depository. Got immediately interested since it’s claimed as a feminist book. It’s the first book from The Red Abbey Chronicles, and it can be added into that list of young adult books with dark themes. The world in Maresi is the world when men take control over everything and women are stll buried alive for commiting adultery (well, somewhere in our world people still practice that …). Fleeing from poverty, Maresi goes to Menos, an island inhabited only by women. In this island, Maresi can satisfy her thirst to study and she learns the meaning of sisterhood. But then the peace in the island is disturbed when a group of men come and want to steal the treasure in The Abbey. Adding fantasy elements to her story, Turtschaninoff brings up relevant women issues and makes Maresi a powerful, gripping story. I can’t wait to read the next book in the chronicle, Naondel.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I finished this book but gotta say it’s not my cup of tea. I think We Were Liars  is too pretentious. It tries hard to be emotionally dark but somehow it ends up too much for me. I also think the main character Cady is a spoiled white teenage girl. I can’t pity her at all. I should’ve written a detailed post why I can’t like this book. Too lazy for that though hahaha.

Going to Singapore next weekend, and I’ve already made a list of books that I wanna buy there. Having read the samples in Play Book, I’m thinking to buy London Belongs to Me by Norman Collins, The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan and Euphoria by Lily King. Kinokuniya Takashimaya will make me broke, really broke.

 


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82 She moves in her own way

feet-yokohama

Wow, it’s already November. 2015 has been moving so fast, hasn’t it? However, it’s not time for a year-end review post yet. I’m writing this post as a reminder that life is not a competition.

Sometimes I look at my friends and envy how they’ve come so far. Some have become the manager at their office, some others are taking their doctorate degree, and some are busy managing their family. I’m happy for them, but I can’t help being jealous as well and want to be like them.

But then there are always random moments that remind me that it’s okay to live a different life, it’s okay to live a life that is not measured by wealth and top positions in the office.

Let them run, let them compete, while I’ll be here staying in my own lane and creating my own kind of happiness 🙂


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79 Yeah we’ll go up!

winnerdvd-book

Finally my WINNER Japan Tour 2014 DVD is here after got stuck in the airport post office for a few days. I think they’re confused because of the size of the package. CDJapan didn’t want to fold the bonus poster so they put it and the DVD in a bigger box. Thank God in the end they didn’t do anything to the package and it arrived safely. Unfortunately, I was too late to join the fansign/send-off ballot. It ended on August 31 while my DVD came on September 2. Well, not my luck this time. Being able to see the concert is more than enough for me 🙂

Talking about the DVD, I really enjoyed watching it! The boys are really loud, energetic and playful on stage. They also performed really well. To me, they’ve combined the enthusiasm of a rookie and professionalism in a right proportion. One thing I hope from them is that they will be accompanied by a live band later in the future. Oh, they also covered La La La Love Song, which is probably my most favourite Japanese song of all time. Their rendition is really fresh, and the additional rap part is just right. Two thumbs up for the rapper duo! Now I really, terribly can’t wait to see them live. Three more weeks, insya Allah! ❤ (Funny that September is always my month with WINNER? Last year I also watched them in September in YG Family Concert Singapore)

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Catch you soon, boys!

After a busy week at the university, I finally could have time to read again. I actually haven’t finished Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell but I already started I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin, found it in ak.sa.ra last week. It’s a children book yet it contains political issues, which I think is interesting. The language is also so poetic for a children book. So far I’m enjoying it. Come to think of it, I’ve always been interested in children literature. Now I’m thinking to conduct a research on it … hmmm.

For the next two weeks I’ll be busy preparing things for my Tokyo trip. My bro has already designed our itinerary there. Hopefully all goes well as planned, amen! 🙂


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58 [REVIEW] A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

darkershadeofmagic

Lagi pengen baca buku bertemakan fantasi, gue pun mencoba untuk baca A Darker Shade of Magic dari V.E. Schwab. Gue belum pernah baca karya dia sebelumnya, tapi yang bikin gue tertarik sama novel ini adalah kemampuan si tokoh utama Kell yang bisa berpindah-pindah ruang. Di dunia A Darker Shade of Magic, beberapa orang beruntung (atau malah sial?) terlahir sebagai Antari, penyihir dengan kekuatan yang bersumber dari darah. Para Antari juga diberkahi dengan kemampuan untuk berpindah ruang.

Alasan lain yang bikin gue akhirnya memutuskan baca novel ini adalah latar tempatnya. Schwab merancang empat versi London, yaitu red London (tempat Kell tinggal, di mana sihir ada), grey London (London dunia kita, dan orang-orangnya tidak percaya sihir), white London (ada sihir, tapi dipergunakan bukan untuk tujuan baik) dan black London (kota yang hancur dan dikunci). Gue suka konsep tentang dunia alternatif, jadi awalnya gue anggap novel ini bakal menjanjikan.

Sebagai novel fantasi, A Darker Shade of Magic memang menghibur. Banyak adegan aksinya, dan kadar romansa di antara Kell dan Lila, pencopet wanita yang menyamar jadi pria, juga cukup walau terkadang Hollywood banget. Nah itu, banyak unsur di novel ini yang terlalu Hollwood, terlalu stereotipikal. Pangeran Rhy, saudara tiri Kell, salah satu contohnya. Pangeran tampan berkulit gelap yang suka seenaknya dan playboy? Memang karakter Rhy menggoda tapi we’ve seen this kind of character so many times. Belum lagi tokoh-tokoh antagonisnya yang begitu datar dan tidak punya alasan ‘menarik’ untuk jadi penjahat. Dua saudara Athos dan Astrid digambarkan begitu jahat tapi pembaca tidak diberikan motif yang istimewa mengapa mereka sejahat itu. Mereka kejam karena mereka haus kekuasaan. Ya udah begitu saja, gak ada kesannya. Hasilnya konflik antar protagonis dan antagonis pun cenderung membosankan.

Bagi gue Kell cenderung karakter yang datar. Dengan latar belakang kehidupannya sebagai anak yatim piatu yang diangkat raja dan selalu merasa berbeda, Kell sebenarnya punya potensi untuk disayang. Tapi sayangnya gue gak bisa merasakan simpati ke Kell, gak tau kenapa. Mungkin karena karakternya tidak digali terlalu dalam. Schwab memberi pembaca berbagai motif tapi menurut gue emosi Kell dibiarkan mengambang, ditambah hubungan dia ke beberapa karakter (seperti orangtua Rhy) kurang begitu diekspos.

Sebenarnya ada banyak faktor yang bisa bikin A Darker Shade of Magic setenar seri Harry Potter sebagai novel fantasi. Kalau saja Schwab melakukan eksplorasi terhadap karakter-karakternya dan tidak menjadikan mereka sebagai sekadar tokoh hitam-putih, mungkin gue bisa lebih jatuh cinta sama buku ini.


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46 Book Review: The Door that Led to Where by Sally Gardner

thedoorthatled

The Door that Led to Where, novel terbaru dari Sally Gardner, memiliki beberapa unsur yang merupakan karakteristik dari novel-novel Gardner terdahulu. Seperti Maggot Moon dan The Red Necklace, tokoh utama novel ini adalah seseorang yang dianggap tidak istimewa di lingkungannya. AJ atau Aiden Jobey tidak diperhatikan oleh orang sekitarnya. Ibunya sibuk mengurusi ayah tirinya dan di sekolah prestasinya juga tidak istimewa. Hanya Elsie, tetangganya, dan kedua temannya Leon dan Slim yang peduli dengan AJ. Walaupun buntutnya Leon dan Slim sempat merepotkan AJ juga.

Kehidupan AJ berubah ketika ia mendapatkan pekerjaan di sebuah biro hukum. Tetapi begitu ia mengira kehidupannya akan berjalan lancar, ia menemukan kunci sebuah pintu, pintu yang bisa membawanya ke tahun 1830, London di zaman Ratu Victoria. Turun temurun kunci tersebut dipegang oleh keluarga AJ, dan kali ini ia harus menjalankan tugasnya: mengunci pintu tersebut sehingga masa lalu dan masa kini tidak lagi bisa berbenturan. Tapi sebelum mengunci pintu pemisah dua era itu, AJ harus menyelesaikan misteri pembunuhan keluarganya dan menyelamatkan seorang gadis cantik bernama Esme.

Gue selalu suka novel-novel yang bertemakan era Victoria, dan ketika tahu Gardner menggunakan London zaman Victoria untuk latar cerita, gue langsung tertarik. Charles Dickens juga beberapa kali diacu di dalam The Door that Led to Where karena AJ adalah penggemar berat Dickens. Meskipun tidak terlalu digambarkan dengan rinci, London zaman dulu di novel ini cukup Victorian, dengan nilai-nilai pergaulan dan referensi ke kasus-kasus yang biasa terjadi pada masa itu, misalnya pembunuhan dengan racun secara perlahan.

The Door that Led to Where enak dibaca, seperti novel Gardner lainnya. Sayangnya novel ini seakan dibuat terburu-buru. Ada beberapa hal yang menurut gue masih bisa dijelaskan lebih dalam (misalnya asal mula pintu merah itu). Di sisi lain, ada unsur cerita yang menurut gue terlalu gamblang diceritakan, contohnya kondisi kejiwaan seorang tokoh yang dengan cepat langsung dijabarkan dengan psikoanalisis Freud. Karakteristik salah seorang pelaku juga terlalu stereotipikal, yang membuat sisi feminis gue sedikit terusik.

Terlepas dari kekurangan novel ini, Gardner masih menjadi penulis novel young adult favorit gue. Gue suka karakter-karakternya yang berjuang dari kondisi yang terpinggirkan dan bagaimana dia selalu menulis novel dengan tema dan latar yang bervariasi. Gardner sudah membawa kita ke dunia distopis, Prancis zaman Revolusi, dan London era Victoria. Ke mana lagi dia akan membawa pembacanya di novel berikutnya?


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27 2013 Reading List and 2014 Reading Plan

My 2013 reading list is so poor! I used to be this avid reader who could read 50 books in a year, but now, the reading list doesn’t even reach twenty. No thanks to the hectic schedule. Anyway, here are the books I managed to finish this year:

1. The Night Circus – Erin Morgensten
2. Moominsummer Madness – Tove Jansson (I think I read another book from Moomin series, but I forget which one)
3. Maggot Moon – Sally Gardner
4. The Double Shadow – Sally Gardner
5. The Red Necklace – Sally Gardner
6. The Silver Blade – Sally Gardner
7. Tinder – Sally Gardner
8. The Victorians – Jeremy Paxton
9. Under Wildwood – Colin Meloy
10. Tender Is The Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald
11. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict – Trenton Lee Stewart

I tried to read Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence and The 100-year-old Man who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson but in the end left them unfinished. At the moment I’m reading The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Hopefully I could finish it before the year ends!

Looking at that sad list, I’m planning to read more in 2014 and to motivate my self, I’m making this 2014 reading plan, consisting of books I’m gonna read. 50 would be such an unrealistic number for me now, so I end up with 20 books instead. I already have some of the books in the list but for the rest, I might purchase them via Book Depository or borrow them from the library.

1. Bleak House – Charles Dickens (re-read)
2. The Custom of The Country – Edith Wharton
3. Room – Emma Donohue
4. If This Is A Man + The Truce – Primo Levi
5. The Naive and The Sentimental Novelist – Orhan Pamuk
6. The Life of Pi – Yann Martel (re-read in English)
7. Dombey and Son – Charles Dickens
8. Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell
9. The Orwell Diaries
10. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke (re-read in English)
11. Over to You – Roald Dahl
12. Last Orders – Graham Swift
13. Hangover Square – Patrick Hamilton
14. Another Country – James Baldwin
15. The Innocents Abroad – Mark Twain
16. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
17. The Ambassadors – Henry James
18. The Master – Colm Toibin
19. The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas
20. Wildwood Imperium – Colin Meloy


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13 Where we don’t sing: Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

maggot moon

“This is the dark ages. We don’t sing.”

Even though 1984 is on the list of my favourite novels ever, dystopia has never been my favourite topic in fiction. So I have no idea why at that time I chose to buy Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner. I read I, Coriander (also by Gardner) several years ago and I was impressed by the different tone of the narration. Years after that I finally encountered her work again, Maggot Moon, and reading it is one of the most terrifying literary experiences I’ve had. The dystopian world where Standish Treadwell lives is so intimidating and choking. There’s this mixed feeling when I closed the last page: relieved for the terror is over and sad because as expected, there isn’t any clear solution for this dystopian society.

Maggot Moon’s strength lies on its first person narration that causes the readers to experience and be emotionally involved in the terror suffered by the narrator, Standish. Standish is a dyslexic teenager with two-coloured eyes, and this condition is more than enough to place him at the bottom of society. The society in Maggot Moon is highly controlled by the Motherland, which unavoidably reminds you of Big Brother and the Party. Although not explained clearly, the world in Maggot Moon is divided into several zones, one of which is Zone Seven where Standish lives with his grandfather. In Zone Seven, the only way to survive is to obey the Motherland. Being obedient, however, is not Standish’s way, especially after his meeting with Hector.

At first, Standish doesn’t give a care about the moon landing planned by the Motherland. Yet when Hector finds something behind the fences near their house, things change drastically. This serves as the trigger of the conflict afterward. When Hector and his parents are taken from their house, Standish, who has lost his parents in the same way, proclaims his revolt against the Motherland. But what can a kid like him do? It sounds impossible but through Standish, Gardner sent this message even a hero can appear from the broken and the abandoned.

For a young-adult book, the level of violence in Maggot Moon can be categorized as quite gruesome. The violent scenes are not much, but when the brutality happens to children, the impact is far more frightening. Not to mention that it occurs at school, in which children are supposed to be safe. But this is Zone Seven, nowhere is safe anyway. Or like Standish said,  “Here the sky fell in long ago.”

Despite the bleak and threatening atmosphere, this book also offers some light through Standish’s relationship with the people around him. There are still some people that love him and support him unconditionally. In the end, Maggot Moon tells us that in the darkest situation, there’s always a glimpse of humanity.

Title: Maggot Moon
Author: Sally Gardner
Publisher: Hot Key Books, 279 pages.