Last month I traversed some of the most glorious capital cities in the world, got a glimpse into the mind of a genius and witnessed a tale of two young girls in black mid-west. This was what I thought of each experience:
Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London - Lauren Elkin
Flaneur: A French noun that historically refers to a purely male figure who 'saunters around observing society'. In her book, Elkin begs to differ that only men have, and can, participate in such an activity. As a passionate wanderer herself, Elkin felt inspired to tell her story and the stories of other notable women in the past, which see the reclaiming of space in the city even during times in which women were restricted. In this nuanced analysis of urban life, Elkin transforms the image of the flaneur into the flaneuse; of women who were bold enough to pound the pavements of London despite Victorian social mores (Virginia Woolf), protested in the streets of Paris and reported from war zones (Martha Gellhorn) plus many, many more.
This book is a beautiful blend of personal memoir and historical non-fiction. Contrary to a couple of reviews I have read, I quite enjoyed reading about Elkin's own personal experiences, as I not only relate to her love for urban life and desire to travel, but I felt they helped prevent the book from being saturated by facts. Indeed, while it read like an academic paper at times, I found it to be a pleasurable, and even sometimes whimsical, read.
Pure Juliet - Stella Gibbons
Juliet has always been a peculiar child. Her mother likes to joke that she is more interested in elephants than she ever would be in boys. She spends days and nights in her room solving complicated mathematical equations. And she never seems to be in the present; she would rather occupy her time pondering the nature of coincidences and it is this intriguing interest that she will dedicate the rest of her life figuring out.
I liked this book. It had wit, charm and the main character Juliet was so peculiar that I didn't lose interest. But it was forgetful overall, especially as the ending was quite a let down. It was like a beautifully shot film with an absence of depth. I found it hard to empathize with any of the characters and the biggest let down was Gibbons failure to address how, exactly, a maths prodigy thinks about and solves the mystery behind 'coincidence'. This is obviously no simple ask, but without a solution, I wonder why it was written at all.
Sula - Toni Morrison
I've been slowly getting through Morrison's body of work, with adequate spaces of time in between each novel. Every time, I fall in love once more with Morrison's prose, and Sula is no exception. Sula focuses primarily on a friendship between two black girls that is shattered one day after a tragic event. The story spans their paths into adulthood, with Nel Wright chosing to stay in 'Bottom' (the poverty stricken black neighbourhood in Ohio), and Sula escaping to the city. Upon her return to Bottom, she is ostracized from the community and eventually from Nel, as she is seen as a rebel and seductress.
Much like all the other titles I have read by Morrison, Sula provides a harrowing reflection of what it means to be coloured and female in America and what hardships these women faced in the 1920s specifically.