Readers Place: Cultures Clash
In her recent article “On optimism and despair,” novelist Zadie Smith wrote, “As a child I did not realize that the life I was living was considered in any way provisional or experimental by others: I thought it was just life. And when I wrote a novel about the London I grew up in, I further did not realize that by describing an environment in which people from different places lived relatively peaceably side by side, I was “championing” a situation that was in fact on trial and whose conditions could suddenly be revoked… The people who ask me about the “failure of multiculturalism” mean to suggest that not only has a political ideology failed but that human beings themselves have changed and are now fundamentally incapable of living peacefully together despite their many differences.” Smith concludes, “Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated, and reimagined if it is to survive.” [New York Review of Books, December 2017]
Following are several new titles depicting the harmonious, or not very, mingling of cultures.
We are unprepared: a novel by Meg Little Reilly, 2016. Ash and Pia move from hipster Brooklyn to rustic Vermont in search of a more authentic life. But just months after settling in, the forecast of a superstorm disrupts their dream. Fear of an impending disaster splits their tight-knit community and exposes the cracks in their marriage.
A separation by Katie M. Kitamura, 2017. A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it’s time for them to separate. As she begins her new life, she gets word that Christopher has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged south of Greece; she reluctantly agrees to go and search for him, still keeping their split to herself. In her heart, she’s not even sure if she wants to find him. Adrift in the wild landscape, she traces the disintegration of their relationship, and discovers she understands less than she thought about the man she used to love.
Bed-Stuy is burning : a novel by Brian Platzer, 2017. Aaron, a disgraced rabbi turned Wall Street banker, and Amelia, his journalist girlfriend, live with their newborn in Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of the most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in New York City. The infusion of upwardly mobile strivers into Bed-Stuy’s historic brownstones belies the tension simmering on the streets below. But after a cop shoots a boy in a nearby park, a riot erupts–with Aaron and his family at its center.
Since I laid my burden down by Brontez Purnell, 2017. DeShawn lives a high, artistic, and promiscuous life in San Francisco. But when he’s called back to his cramped southern hometown for his uncle’s funeral, it’s inevitable that he’ll be hit by flashbacks of handsome, doomed neighbors and sweltering Sunday services. Amidst prickly reminders of his childhood, DeShawn ponders family, church, and the men in his life, prompting the question: Who deserves love?
Fingerprints of previous owners: a novel by Rebecca Entel, 2017. At a Caribbean resort built atop a former slave plantation, Myrna works as a maid by day; by night she trespasses on the resort’s overgrown inland property, secretly excavating the plantation ruins that her island community refuses to acknowledge. When Myrna discovers a book detailing the experiences of slaves, who still share a last name with the majority of the islanders, her investigation becomes deeply personal, extending to her neighbors and friends. A new generation begins to speak about the past just as racial tensions erupt between the resort and the local island community when an African-American tourist at the resort is brutally attacked.
Live from Cairo: a novel by Ian Bassingthwaighte, 2017. An impulsive American attorney, a methodical Egyptian translator, and a disillusioned Iraqi-American resettlement officer try to protect a refugee who finds herself trapped in Cairo during the turbulent aftermath of the January 25 revolution.
Compiled by Ina Rimpau