Roopa Farooki’s ‘The Good Children’

the good childrenRoopa Farooki’s ‘The Good Children’ focuses on the lives of the Suddeq family in Lahore, the Punjab.

From birth, the Suddeq children – Sully, Jakie, Mae and Lana – are pushed into set roles determined by their gender and by social expectations. The boys will study, go abroad for education and return as successful doctors. The girls will be dutiful daughters, marry well and help to keep the family in the highest social standing.

But their mother’s determination to force them into these ideals of ‘good children’ forces a wedge between her and her children. All four grow up to rebel and push the boundaries in their own way – Sully marries outside of his religion and Jakie falls in love with a white Irishman, while the girls leave their husbands and raise their children with Western values.

Despite scattering to all corners of the globe to escape their mother’s grasp over their lives, their childhood in the Punjab profoundly affects all four of the children. As they build their lives in new surroundings and carve their own path away from family and cultural expectations, they all struggle to some extent with feelings of enduring guilt or resentment. Many years later, they are drawn back to their childhood home and forced to come to terms with their upbringing and the choices they’ve made since. Continue reading

‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

AmericanahAs teenagers in Nigeria, Ifem and Obinze plan a new life far away in America, aiming to leave the coups and the strikes behind. The reality, when it comes, is very different. Separated, isolated and strangers in foreign countries, Ifem and Obinze and driven apart. Years later, they are given the opportunity to reconnect. But has time changed too much to bring them back together?

Their story is the glue that holds this novel together, but it does take somewhat of a back seat to the themes that the author works so hard to develop and address. In Ifem, Adichie creates a strong, individual voice which shines through the writing. Her character is not without its flaws, but that’s what makes her real. I particularly loved the sections where Ifem speaks through her blog. These sections is particular are used to provide an in-depth commentary and critique on the issues surrounding race and class in America, and later also in Nigeria. She cuts right to the heart of some fairly controversial issues and lays everything on the table for us to consider and make our own opinions on in our own time.

I also found the parts of the novel set back in Nigeria really interesting. Ifem leaves America longing for home, but when she gets there, she finds herself changed. When the fantasy becomes a reality, it is distinctly underwhelming, and Ifem is still left looking for something more. This feeling of displacement, and not truly fitting in anywhere other than with other expats, is a constant theme throughout the book – no matter where she is living. Continue reading

‘Honour’ by Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak’s Honour hinges around one horrible crime. The nature of this crime itself is revealed within the first few pages, and the rest of the book is spent examining the lives of the people affected and the events that led up to and contributed to the event.Honour

It’s a story that spans four generations, split between the remote villages of Turkey and the metropolis of 1970’s London. When Pembe and Adem leave their home country to build a new life in Britain, their children must find a way to mesh new traditions with the old, to speak two languages and to adapt the cultural norms of their heritage to new situations.

In Honour, Elif Shafak examines how gender, history and expectations combine to have a powerful impact on our behaviour and our future actions. It’s also fair to say that this book is an exploration of immigrant culture. It looks in detail at the relationships between parents and their children and how a rich cultural history is blended with new experiences.

I actually read this book while I was in Turkey, and the sections set in the villages really came to life for me. However, it felt as though it was lacking in the crucial emotional connection to the central characters. The narrative style, which tends to jump around between different times and different viewpoints, also made the novel quite hard to follow. It also meant that certain events were revealed out of sequence, taking away some of the tension from the main plotline.

Honour does a great job of setting out facts and events and of creating a very real and powerful backdrop, but at no point does the author really use her position to give an opinion on the twin cultures that she’s describing. It’s up to us as readers to make the observations for ourselves. In doing so, I think the author misses out on an opportunity to get across what has the potential to be a very powerful statement.

Imperial War Museum North

After living in Manchester for almost six years, last weekend I finally got around to visiting one of the city’s most established and impressive tourist attractions – the Imperial War Museum North. Located near Salford Quays, opposite the newly developed MediaCityUk development, the most immediately striking feature of the museum is its stunning architecture.

Designed by award winning architect Daniel Libeskind, the three main shards of the building are imagined to be the remnants of an imagined globe shattered by conflict, represent the elements of air, earth and water. Each shard serves a different functional purpose, with earth housing the main exhibition spaces, air leading up to the viewing area and observatory platform and finally water holding the main cafe.

The museum is easily accessible by tram from Manchester city centre and is free to enter, although it’s run as a charity so we made sure to buy a museum guide and left a donation to help maintain the exhibits.

Once inside, the main space that houses the permanent exhibitions is large and excellently laid out, with a chronological display and timeline feature running around the gallery’s 200 metre perimeter to guide visitors through a complete history of conflict from the First World War to present day. As well as larger artefacts such as fighter jets, sea mines and the like, the exhibition is brought to life by the many effects, including diaries, photographs, letters and records, that came together to reveal a very personal experience of war. There’s something about knowing who a particular uniform belonged to or learning about events through the eyes of the very people that experienced them first hand that gives the IWMN a really personal touch and through reading their individual stories I felt a real connection to the past.

There are also hourly audiovisual shows, projected onto the main exhibition space, which bring together recollections of war shown with video and photographic material from a variety of conflict from around the globe spanning the past century.That we saw three of these shows gives some indication of how long we were in there for!

At the moment, there’s also a special ‘Saving Lives’ exhibition on that is definitely worth a visit. Examining all aspects of medical care on the front line, from the trenches of the First World War to present-day Afghanistan, the exhibition by its own description ‘looks at the physical and emotional impact on individuals in fighting wars and the wider consequences for society’. As part of this, it explores the development of modern medicine through a variety of media including personal interviews with medics, soldiers and volunteers.

I’m definitely glad we went and would recommend anyone in Manchester, whether it’s just for flying visit or if, like me, you actually live in Manchester and have never been, to give it a go!

More information on the IWMN, it’s exhibits and how to find it can be found here.

Hello world!

As this is my very first blog post, I thought I’d take the time to introduce myself, my life and my thoughts on blogging. I’m 24 and graduated from the University of Manchester with a 2:1 in History in 2010. Since then, I’ve been working in PR at a full service marketing communications agency based in the centre of Manchester. I’m originally from Southampton, so Manchester was a big move for me and ever since I graduated, I’ve been saying that my goal is to move back down south again and to (hopefully) work in London. My current job is great and I’ve learnt a hell of a lot and taken on a fair bit of responsibility, but I work mainly in the business to business arena and although I do spend most of my days writing, much of this is usually about the next big thing in DIY tools or plastic packaging. So I’ve decided that when the big move finally occurs I’m going to try and move into a career that I’m more passionate about.

For me, that’s what this blog is all about. My life outside of work is books, reading, writing, finding new places to go and new places to see. Hopefully, this blog will express some of those views and will help inspire others through its reviews.

I’m a book fanatic and so there’s naturally going to be a big focus on literature and the such like, but I hope that keeping a blog will also encourage me to try and experience some of the weird and wonderful things that Manchester, London and everywhere else in the UK have to offer – at the very least it’ll make for an interesting post! I’m also by my own admission a bit of a serial fadder when it comes to sports and hobbies. I’ve tried my hand at lot of things, from military fitness classes to Bikram Yoga to ballet, and I’m sure I won’t stop at that. But I’ll keep updating as I go along and hopefully soon I’ll find something that sticks!