Sunday, October 4, 2015

Identity, Considered

In The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida (HarperCollins 2015), a young, unnamed woman travels to Casablanca, where her backpack and passport are promptly stolen at the very moment she checks in to her hotel. The local authorities, more interested in not having problems than retrieving her actual documents, insist that she accept another similarly-featured foreigner's recovered passport and close the case. In possession of someone else's identity, our narrator begins to shed her own bit by bit, first out of necessity, and then more deliberately. As she does, the disturbing truth about her flight overseas is also slowly unveiled. I loved the premise and the intrigue of the story, and the constant surprise and bewilderment of things going wrong at every turn. The narrator, who quickly reveals herself as a hot mess, draws you in with first with absurdity and impossibility, and then with great sympathy. It's a smartly written, fast-paced novel, perfect for travel enthusiasts with a love of the literary - and a good reminder to never set down your backpack.

Lori Jakiela's Belief is its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe (Atticus Books, 2015) is a moving memoir of self-discovery. When Jakiela's adoptive mother dies, the author - a mother herself -  is completely devastated. In her profound grief, and perhaps in an attempt to fill the new and significant hole in her life, the author decides to find her birth mother. With the exception of meeting her brother, the reunion with her birth family is complicated and painful. The birth mother sends hateful and rejecting emails, and a sister, too, seems completely erratic and unstable. Through the retelling of this difficult experience, however, Jakiela beautifully considers both identity and motherhood. What makes us who we are - is it the person who gives us life, or the people who choose to love us, or the family and life we build ourselves?

I remember reading a short story by Tawnysha Greene online a few years ago and being struck both by the beauty of her writing and the cruelty of the story it told. The story, which appears again as the opening to the novel A House Made of Stars (Burlesque Press, 2015), is story of a young girl, her mother, and younger siblings struggling to survive in a home with an unpredictable and abusive father. It is not an easy novel to read - it is heartbreaking and disturbing, but it is also an important one. With spare and compelling writing, nuanced descriptions of living in poverty, parenting under stress, and the emotional terror of turbulent relationships, the author reminded me that just as there are no simple people, there are no simple answers.  The brutality is just balanced by the remarkable beauty in the narrator's strength and resilience. She, too, is able to forge an identity that is not defined by those who surround her.

I borrowed my copy of The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty from the library and purchased Belief and A House Made of Stars. Happy reading!

1 comment :

  1. The first one really does sound like a good reminder to never set down your backpack (I'm so paranoid about that while traveling!). These books look great. Thanks for the reviews!


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