Monthly Archives: June 2020

Looking back some more, and forward

When I had the idea to cover more [than my average] black fiction during June, I came up with a lot of titles and authors. And then I realised that many of these authors were white, which is what much of the criticism of books featuring black characters has been about. So I vowed to avoid those books, however great they may be.

I also came up with a list of books I wanted to read, but was unable to fit into one month. If nothing else, it would have been unfair to the books, as I wouldn’t have given them the time they deserved.

Two ‘recent’ books were Mare’s War by Tanita S Davis, and Home Home by Lisa Allen-Agostini. The former is about black American women serving in Europe during WWII, and the latter is about being an immigrant in a very white part of Canada. Neither is typical and I enjoyed them. Also, the two authors are not really household names, which adds to the fun.

Speaking of household names, I am getting a lot closer to reading Toni Morrison. And despite her being very well known, I have to admit to wanting to read Michelle Obama’s autobiography. And Kwame Alexander’s The Undefeated which, while being a picture book, is so much more.

Mohinder’s War

Bali Rai’s short novel set in France during WWII is in one way an ordinary war adventure, showing the courage so many displayed while fighting the enemy and hoping to survive.

But the hero here is Mohinder Singh, a Sikh pilot with the RAF, who crash-lands his plane somewhere in occupied France. He is found by 13-year-old Joelle, who with her parents feed and shelter people who need help, be they members of the Resistance or as in this case, a foreign soldier.

This is what’s important. You learn, if you didn’t already know, that Indians fought for Britain in the war, flying from England. And you discover that the hero of a story like this can be a Sikh pilot, which will feel good for not just young Sikhs, but for anyone who might believe that the British don’t take ‘immigrants’ seriously, and who don’t know that many of them died for what was someone else’s country.

Mo is as brave as any RAF hero, and he brings with him his Sikh values, which he teaches to Joelle, as they run from the Germans.

The book begins with Mohinder’s funeral, at the grand old age of 105, and Joelle is there too. This helps, because at least you know that the two of them survived the war. The bad things they encountered were bad enough, and you don’t want to worry about whether they will make it.

I could do with more stories like this one. We might know that all sorts of people fought in the war, while not really understanding, unless it’s spelled out to us.

I had lemonade instead

It had been sitting on my desktop for weeks, that screengrab reminding me of an online event Meg Rosoff was doing for indie bookshop week, at Aldeburgh Jubilee Hall on Thursday evening. And for anyone who doesn’t already know, she’s my favourite author.

But still I drank lemonade instead.

Such is the power of lockdown, that anything out of the ordinary – like out of our house – commands immediate attention. So Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant and I toddled over to the garden of a neighbour in the next street, carrying plastic Marimekko glasses for the lemonade we’d been promised.

It was very nice. Pretty, Scottish garden, balmy evening sunshine in that typical Scottish way, and iced lemonade.

We talked about the forgotten grape in New Zealand. I’d had no idea of the seriousness of this. And waiting out bad weather on a small island in Loch Lomond. Fibre broadband and how pretty your pavement looks before and after. Not going to Nice with your school. Watching baby pigeons die. How cute the rabbits are as they eat your homegrown produce.

That kind of thing.

And when I tried this morning, just in case Meg on air was still there, somehow, I don’t believe she was.

But the lemonade was good.

Persepolis

There was obviously a hidden agenda when I gave the Resident IT Consultant three graphic autobiographies for Christmas. I wanted to read them myself.

I loved George Takei, as I said.

Then I went for Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I’d seen the film years ago and really enjoyed it. But I have to admit to having struggled to like the book. I am currently ‘resting’ between book one and book two.

This is about a period in Iranian history that I have lived through, and I read about it in the papers at the time. I felt I understood it reasonably, but Persepolis has me confused. I don’t know what side the girl’s parents are on. Neither does she. Or she doesn’t even know there are sides. I think.

After much confusion on both our parts, the Shah is gone and she has at least one dead uncle and most of her peers have escaped abroad. Her well-off parents are getting worried, and are sending her to Austria. That’s as far as I got.

I can see they are upset, and that the girl is confused and worried. And I remember feeling worked up on her behalf when she was in Vienna in the film. She looked so alone.

I’m not sure I will return to the book. We shall see.

The Honorary Consul

No, not the novel by Graham Greene. I read that a long time ago.

This is about the kind of person you sometimes need when in another country, if only to hand out a new passport if that’s what you require. They are surprisingly often not the same nationality as you, nor do they speak your language.

Honorary means not paid, and I’m guessing the post is usually taken for the honour (hah) or for making your business cards look great. The one I have had most experience of said openly – to a very kind and well-meaning person – that they had no interest in things Swedish.

Well, then.

The good news is that the post of Swedish Honorary Consul in Edinburgh has just been given to a Swede. What’s more, he speaks Swedish. And he’s got a good way with people.

OK, so he’s called Mike, but that might work better in an English-speaking environment, the city where he runs a group of bars and restaurants. I’m thinking this is an improvement to the bored monolingual solicitor type.

They Called Us Enemy

Not being a trekkie I didn’t know who George Takei was when his interesting snippets turned up on social media. I simply liked them.

Now I have read his graphic, well, I suppose, autobiography, from WWII onwards, about the interning – imprisonment – of American citizens of Japanese background after Pearl Harbour. It is a great book about this atrocious and shameful history. (The only thing I knew about this before came from watching the film I’ll Remember April some years ago.)

George was four when his family were more or less removed from their beds in Los Angeles in the middle of the night, and taken on a long journey to Arkansas at the other end of the country, where they were to stay for most of the war.

I have deep admiration for George’s father, who worked hard, kept the peace and made himself useful to his fellow ‘prisoners’ for the duration of this wrongful treatment. His behaviour also meant that this whole period seemed like an adventure to George, and possibly as almost normal to his two younger siblings.

Through George’s later fame, some of this unfair treatment has reached more people than might otherwise have been possible.

And I was reminded of what I read on Normblog some years ago; something which made me want to cry again. But mostly good crying. In a world of many really very bad people, and leaders, there are good ones too.

(Almost as an afterthought, I have to comment on how easy it was to read this graphic novel. They aren’t always, but this one worked perfectly.)

World Refugee Day 2020

It’s worse than ever, isn’t it? For refugees, and for anyone who’s left their original home for a new one, not feeling at home or being accepted.

And usually it’s easier to feel something when World Refugee Day (or Week) comes round. But right now my softer feelings are worn so thin for so many reasons that it seems as if I almost don’t have them.

But I would like to tank the generous Debi Gliori for setting me on the road to – occasionally – donating money to The Scottish Refugee Council. She once did something very kind for me, and refused payment, instead suggesting I give the money to a refugee organisation. And then, when I suddenly had people asking what I wanted as payment for doing stuff, and it felt like ‘yes I did do this thing but money isn’t the way to deal with your gratitude’ I realised I could also do that; I could ask them to donate. So this has happened a few times now. If you feel the urge to give me money, think of the Scottish Refugee Council instead.

Because it’s Carnegie/Greenaway medal week, I will leave you with a reminder of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. It’s such a beautiful book, showing a lone man arriving somewhere strange, to him. But not to all the people already there. And with time, he too gets used to his new home. The strange is no longer quite so strange, but on the other hand, it will never be ‘home’ as in the place you come from.

Jag vet varför burfågeln sjunger

Or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, as you will know it.

There was a time when I read books simply because I had them to hand. Like all Swedes I subscribed to book parcels from Bra Böcker for a number of years. They published three volumes of an encyclopaedia a year. Along with it came a couple of novels. Usually they were not books I’d heard of, or they were oldish Swedish classics. But I was young and believed collecting books was a good thing.

It obviously is, but perhaps not this way. I suspect the Billy bookcases were born to deal with Bra Böcker.

One of those novels was Maya Angelou’s Jag vet varför burfågeln sjunger. As so often, I didn’t like the title, but read the book anyway. And what a book! I bought all of them in the end. Although, perhaps not. I see now there were seven, and in my day there were only three. They were the ones I read.

I was shocked by what happened to young Maya, believing abuse like that was a modern thing. But what an inspiration she was, and how far she went, and all in the face of a difficult start in life.

I wish I’d known then that she would go on to even greater things, reading her poems and launching Presidents, eventually being awarded the Medal of Freedom. She’s quite a role model.

And I’m thinking that those unsolicited books were indeed A Good Thing. They opened my eyes and my mind.

Medals for ‘my’ boys

It’s good to know the witch senses are working just fine. I could simply not see any other outcome regarding the Carnegie Medal than that Anthony McGowan would be awarded it for Lark. It could have happened sooner, but this way we got all four books of the trilogy in.

(And I’m saying this even keeping in mind the competition Tony was up against.)

For the Kate Greenaway medal it was Shaun Tan for his Tales From the Inner City (which I’ve yet to read). One of my most favourite illustrators, and I’m more than satisfied.

This year the proceedings were short and on Radio 4, on Front Row. They interviewed both Tony and Shaun and both read from their books, and explained the background to what they’d written. Tony got so excited he had to be interrupted in the middle of his ‘terrific’ answer…

According to Shaun ‘painting is really a way of exploring anxiety’. Plenty of that around.

Yep, very satisfied with this.

Anthony McGowan, Winner of the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2020 from CILIP CKG Children’s Book Awards on Vimeo.

Stay at Home!

It’s not only sourdough bread that has happened over the last three months. Many authors have come up with online material to offer readers. In fact, there’s been such a glut that I’ve not been able to keep up. I just know there is much to find.

Small Scottish publisher Cranachan Publishing has a free ebook offering a wide variety of things to read. Their ‘Stay at Home! Poems and Prose for Children in Lockdown is a a free, illustrated anthology of poems and stories for children aged 8-12, comprising specially written lockdown-themed contributions by 40 writers based in Scotland.’

Try it! There are household names, and there are names you might not have heard of. Yet. But this is a nice collection, and what’s almost nicer still, is how people have pulled together to make it happen.