Mini-reviews: Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff and The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec (#20BooksofSummer 10 & 11)

So I’ve been needing to write these two reviews foreva.  What have I been doing so far tonight instead?  Watching videos of the band Cheap Trick on YouTube!  😀 It seems that my mom has hoodwinked me into going with her to see them play live in September at our area County Fair!  Before my YouTube explorations, I knew three Cheap Trick songs:  “I Want You to Want Me,” “Surrender,” and “The Flame.”  So I guess I’m going to continue educating myself in preparation.  I just didn’t want her going by herself, you know?  And mercifully, it’s on a night that my husband has off, so he can care for our son.

25109947Now that I’ve had some caffeine and made myself sit down in front of my computer, let me tell you about Books 10 and 11 from my 20 Books of Summer List.  (Actually, Book 11 wasn’t on either of my lists, so shhhh!  Don’t tell anybody!)  Book 10 is Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff.  It was a pick chosen by my book group last month.  I voted for it too, because it sounded promisingly weird and my fellow book group member who proposed it said that she loved it and no one else she knew had read it and she was dying to talk about it with people.  How could we refuse?

Goodreads Blurb: The critically acclaimed cult novelist makes visceral the terrors of life in Jim Crow America and its lingering effects in this brilliant and wondrous work of the imagination that melds historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror and fantasy

Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, twenty-two year old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned Atticus’s great grandmother—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.

At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.

A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of one black family, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.       

Verdict:  Three Stars.  (Maybe 2.75, honestly.)  I wanted to know why my book group mate liked this book so much, and oddly enough she praised the one thing that bothered me the most about this book:  character development.  I just didn’t really connect to or feel the authenticity of most of the characters in this novel.  I like weird, fantastical story lines, and I am open to supernatural and creepy plot developments, which this book has in abundance.  But I want my characters to feel real; I want to know enough about the inner workings of their minds to understand them.  And I just didn’t get that from this book.

What I did like about this book was the use of fantasy and horror to illustrate historical (and current) racial injustice in America.  For example, in one of the stories (oh yeah, this book is really a bunch of interrelated stories about a group of African Americans around Chicago in the 1950’s, not one long narrative, like I was anticipating…)  a black woman named Ruby drinks a potion that transforms her into a white woman temporarily.  As she inhabits this white body (which also happens to be beautiful) I loved reading her thoughts about the difference in how people treat her.

There was no side-eyeing, no pretending not to see her while wondering what she was up to; she didn’t require attention.  She was free to browse, not just individual establishments, but the world.

What else comes with being you?

All in all, I’m glad I read it.  It wasn’t something I was likely to seek out on my own, but I think I learned something about the sad, sometimes horrifying realities of daily life for African Americans in the 1950’s, even with all the supernatural story elements.  I think that Ruff did the subject matter justice, even as I was a bit conflicted about this not being an Own Voices book. Our book group had a very fruitful discussion about it, and I think it’s a good choice for any group.

34296946Book 11 is The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m half Persian, but I’ve never been to Iran and my father really didn’t talk very much about his (and my) heritage when I was growing up.  So naturally I’m attracted to a book like this, which combines my interest in travel memoirs, food memoirs, and Iran.  This was a quick read for me and I really enjoyed it.  I loved getting a glimpse of other areas of Iran besides Tehran, a city that, understandably, seems to dominate books set in that country.  But let me back up.  Here’s the Goodreads blurb.

In her thirties, Jennifer Klinec abandons a corporate job to launch a cooking school from her London flat. Raised in Canada to Hungarian-Croatian parents, she has already travelled to countries most people are fearful of, in search of ancient recipes. Her quest leads her to Iran where, hair discreetly covered and eyes modest, she is introduced to a local woman who will teach her the secrets of the Persian kitchen.

Vahid is suspicious of the strange foreigner who turns up in his mother’s kitchen; he is unused to seeing an independent woman. But a compelling attraction pulls them together and then pits them against harsh Iranian laws and customs. 

Getting under the skin of one of the most complex and fascinating nations on earth, The Temporary Bride is a soaring story of being loved, being fed, and the struggle to belong.

Verdict:  Four Stars.  This was a lovely book.  The food writing is lush and evocative, but the real center of the book is the unlikely romance between Klinec and the son of a woman who is teaching her how to cook Persian dishes.  It’s a fascinating glimpse of a romantic relationship trying to develop in a country with strict and overbearing rules (both cultural and legal) governing contact between unrelated members of the opposite sex.

Every day Vahid wrote to me.  Brief e-mails, sometimes two or three in one day.  In between short sentences of concern for my well-being and expressions of tenderness, he put the craving for foods in my mouth.  He urged me to wait in the long lines outside the Mahdi ice-cream parlor, to eat their chewy ice cream made with orchid root and mastic that can stretch for several feet without breaking. He described the torshi shops in Bistodoh Bahman Square where vegetables, roots, even young pinecones are pickled, swimming in buckets of caraway seeds and vinegar.  I bought cauliflower, caper shoots and tiny turnips scooped into clear plastic bags and topped with a ladleful of sour brine.  He made it so that when I ate I heard his voice in my head, missing his presence from every meal.  I felt him beside me adding lemon juice and salt, or tapping sugar or crushing sumac between his fingers. 

If you’re a fan of food memoirs or an armchair traveler like me, you’ll probably enjoy this compelling story.  My only slight criticism is that the events happen in such a compressed time frame (just a few months total, I think) that I wanted a bit more on exactly why Klinec fell so hard for Vahid, when everything in her logical mind and in the Iranian society was telling her that they shouldn’t be a couple.  I also wanted more at the end of the book – it felt a bit rushed.  Minor quibbles, though.

So, have you read any H.P. Lovecraft?  Have you read any good books about Iran?  Are you a fan of Cheap Trick?  Let me know in the comments.

 

 

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22 thoughts on “Mini-reviews: Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff and The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec (#20BooksofSummer 10 & 11)

  1. When I read Lovecraft Country (which I liked better than you) I had vague memories of reading Lovecraft, so I looked through our complete Lovecraft and remembered that two of the stories are part of what formed my impression that necromancy never pays (they’re on my recent list of books/stories) and others were creepy stories I had read when younger. I think that’s part of what makes Ruff’s book so great–he builds on those vague, creepy feelings that Lovecraft evokes and many of us half-remember.

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    1. Jeanne, I wondered if I was missing something by not having read Lovecraft before. I asked the woman who chose the book that question, and she didn’t really think so, but your comment makes me think perhaps I did.

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  2. I am definitely going to need to check out the temporary bride!! That looks so good. And I hadn’t realized that you were half Persian; our heritages make reading diverse books so much more special!

    I hadn’t heard of Lovecraft Country – hmmm… not sure if I’ll try it though! 😜

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  3. Oh wow these are two very different books! The first one sounds interesting, and like you, I would have picked it up just based on the recommendation because it’s not normally something I would gravitate to (or get sent by a publisher, quite frankly). Plus, nowadays, it seems like a book dealing with racism is very needed.

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  4. I find it intriguing that the author would have used Lovecraft for a book about racism, since Lovecraft was notoriously hideously racist himself – an actual believer in the genetic superiority of white people in fact, and many of his stories are so racist I find them almost unreadable. Was there a foreword or anything that explained the author’s choice?

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      1. Fascinating interview – thanks for that! Red Hook, which they mention in the interview, was the story that really made me realise just how racist Lovecraft was, far more than other writers even of the same period. Hmm – I feel I must read this book… thanks for intriguing me! I must say the cover is also gloriously Lovecraftian. 😀

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  5. I didn’t know that you are half-Persian. Is Laila a Persian name? I really like it. Temporary Bride sounds wonderful and I am glad that you enjoyed it. I am interested in it already due to the setting and the cultural aspect.

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  6. I do like a few Cheap Trick songs, though I only learned about them from the movie 10 Things I Hate About You, which has a couple of Cheap Trick songs covered by a band with a female lead. The only book I can think of that I’ve read that was set in Iran and written by an Iranian was Persepolis (books 1 and 2) by Marjane Satrapi. She does a somewhat confusing job of explaining how Iran went from very independent and modern to super restrictive and killing its own citizens in book one. In book two she describes the effects of growing up in the middle of a war, seeing carnage, and being moved to a boarding school for her own safety. If you haven’t read them, they’re super famous and should be in your library, so get to it!

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    1. Ha! I didn’t know there were Cheap Trick songs on that soundtrack! It’s been a LONG time since I’ve seen that movie.

      I have read Persepolis, actually, but again, it’s been a long time. I remember liking it. I think I read them both but now I don’t remember.
      Iran is a very complicated and confusing country, that’s for sure. There’s still a lot for me to learn about it.

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  7. I love these two reviews together; the juxtaposition of these two books and your thoughts on them are quite compelling! I haven’t read any Lovecraft, though I do have a collection of his short stories on my bookshelf to be read. That said, since I don’t have any exposure to his works (other than knowing that he wrote Call of Cuthulu), I’m not certain how Lovecraft Country relates back to the author Lovecraft. That said, it sounds like a really intriguing collection of stories. I’m sorry that it didn’t quite work for you– but I can understand how you might feel that way.

    And for The Temporary Bride— This is the sort of book I’m all about. I love memoirs, particularly those which focus on food and different cultures. I wouldn’t call myself an “armchair traveler”, really, but I like learning about the experiences people have outside their own culture and what they know. Were you a bit surprised to run into so much romance? Does the book include recipes? So many questions! 😀

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    1. From my limited understanding of Lovecraft, I think it is a nod to the general creepiness of the atmosphere plus it deals with racial issues and Lovecraft is now considered to be pretty racist, so I think it’s a wink towards that too. There are probably straight-up Lovecraft references that I missed not having read him before.

      I guess I wasn’t exactly surprised by the romance, since the title is the Temporary Bride – but I think it just came about very quickly, considering the short amount of time she spent in Iran. That is seemed to last (minor spoiler?) is also surprising. There are no recipes but a LOT of details about how certain things are made.

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      1. Oh, that’s really interesting! I actually love the idea that Matt Ruff might be trying to combat that in a sense. I wonder how many Lovecraftian references there were– and if that would have made a difference for you upon reading Lovecraft Country

        I’m a bit disappointed in the lack of recipes. That’s one of my favorite things about food memoirs! It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, I’m over the moon. I love trying new recipes.

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  8. My mother was a high-school librarian for some years ((couple decades ago, now) and the boys all loved Lovecraft; I peeked into some of the books she bought but never committed and then, later, learned about his politics, which rather put me off. Ruff’s book, however, sounds fascinating and an interview I heard also piqued my interest. It’s funny that the parts you found weakest were the thoughts your friend thought the most impressive: so curious!

    I just finished reading Shirin Ebadi’s third memoir about her work on human rights in Iran; it was surprisingly accessible and compelling. I had a hard time putting it down!

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    1. I know, I felt a bit bad about not really enjoying the Ruff book very much. But it seemed that others in the group had issues with characterization so it wasn’t just me.

      The Ebadi is on my TBR! I am really looking forward to it!

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