No longer at ease by Chinua Achebe

I picked up this book because I wanted to read more books by African authors. When I look back at all the books I’ve read the last few years very little diversity is to be found. This is a shame because reading a great array of diversity is a great way to get new ideas and to learn to understand people. It helps your mind to see that different ways of living are simply another way to be, and not wrong. Chinua Achebe is a well-known Nigerian author, especially for his novel Things Fall Apart which tells about the clash of Nigerian and European culture. Things Fall Apart is part one of The African Trilogy of which No Longer At Ease is part two. Each book in the series is about a different generation of a Nigerian community and their struggles to navigate between traditional values and new ones brought by the missionaries. Each book can be read separately.

No Longer at Ease is set around the 1960s and is about Obi Okonkwo. He is one of the first of his village to go to England for a university education. He was able to do so because a group of men from his village, who call themselves the Umuofia Progressive Union (UPU), collected money to fund his studies abroad. They did so because they wanted to have an educated person in their midst to help them get influence in society. It is believed an English educated person can help a community. The agreement with the UPU is that when Obi returns from his studies in England, he will find a government job and pay back the funds. And indeed, when he came back, he found a job at the scholarship department in the city of Lagos. There he is almost immediately confronted with money problems because life in Lagos is expensive. Also, he receives many offers for bribes to give scholarships to certain people. However, Obi had decided he is against corruption and won’t accept any of them. So, he struggled on to pay his debts, to support his family and to maintain his own life with the salary he gets.

Obi has a girlfriend named Clara Okeke. They met on the boat back to Nigeria. Clara is a nurse who also received an education in England. They want to marry but because she is an osu they are not allowed. According to traditional Nigerian culture, an osu is an outcast, and it is believed that marrying one will bring bad luck to the whole family. Her father was an osu, which makes her one, beyond that, it is not explained why though. Obi ignored that belief and throughout the book is set on marrying her. I liked Clara. She is sensible and portrayed as a woman who knows what goes on in the world and what she can expect from life. She knew way before Obi their relationship was doomed, but something made her stay with Obi. She is also independent and has her own home and income. At one point she even helps Obi with his money problems to Obi’s great shame.

Obi himself is conflicted. He has ideals to avoid corruption and bribes and he wants to say goodbye to traditional beliefs. However, he is bound to those traditions through his family and the UPU. The UPU has a hold on him because Obi has to pay back his student loan and they decide how much he has to pay and when. At first, the UPU was lenient towards him because of his money struggles, but their amicable stance changed when they heard about Clara. They want Obi to break up with her. Also, they expect Obi to be there for them in his hometown and to participate in community life. When Obi refuses to listen, their friendliness changed and they forced Obi to pay back a large part of the loan. This shows the strong hold traditions have on Obi. He struggles how to position himself between the old ways and his ambition for a new life.

The central theme of this book is the clash between the old and new ways. The old ways are the traditional Nigerian religion and beliefs and the new way are the predominantly Western values brought with Christianity and missionary work. Obi finds himself in the middle between those values with his family and community on one hand and his university education and life in the big city on the other hand. This is made clear when Obi talks to his mother about Clara. His mother adheres to traditional values and upon hearing she is an osu tells Obi he cannot marry her or she will kill herself. He either has to wait until she is dead or accept himself to be the murderer of his mother. Also, his father, a devoted Christian, cannot accept Clara. Obi hoped for his father’s blessing because he is a Christian and for that, he gave up his traditional beliefs, but his reaction shows that he has not managed to do so completely. I liked the old-new clash in this book, which was portrayed very well in the interactions between all the different characters, each showing a different element of the interactions.

A second way in which the struggle between old and new is expressed is in the dilemma of corruption and whether to accept bribes or not. In the book, it becomes clear bribes are very normal and it is almost difficult to not take them, be it either in the form of money or sexual favours. This reminded me of something I’ve always wondered concerning corruption. Can it be permissible when everyone around you is doing it, and when it’s the only way to make a decent wage? I don’t agree with the practice, but to which extent is an individual expected to rise against it when it is everywhere around you? This book shows that dilemma very well. Throughout the book, Obi struggles to make ends meet without taking bribes, but we know he will take one eventually -The book starts with his trial after being caught. It is an interesting decision of Achebe to foreshadow such a big outcome of the plot right at the start of the book. It allows us as readers to see the difficulties that can lead a determined man onto a path he never intended to take. It shows Obi as a vulnerable man who was not able to follow his own values in a society where those values are rare. It shows us a human protagonist and gives the perspective of the many people who try, but don’t manage to stand up for their values.

The final thing I want to talk about is the atmosphere of the book. There is such a melancholic undertone to this book that this is an interesting read, even without considering the story. It is done in a very subtle way though, and it took me a while to notice the effect the book had on me. This shows Achebe’s skills to tell a story, and to make the reader ponder its meaning afterwards. The subject matter helped to create the melancholic atmosphere and also the fact that you know from the start it is not going to end well. The tone of the book also helps to drive home the message of the book that the clash of old and new ways is not a happy one, in any place or culture. It always comes with losing grip on familiar ways of doing things and saying goodbye to the world you knew and maybe even to old friends and family. That is maybe also why Obi, his father and the other characters in the book struggle with the question which values to embrace. There is no strict division between people who have embraced the new ways and those who adhere to the old. Obi’s father struggles to let go of traditional beliefs despite being a devoted Christian and Obi clings to a woman he cannot have. Achebe manages to tell a story about the clash and also evokes feelings that can come with an experience like that. In that way, he managed to create a book everybody can connect with who has had similar experiences.

Many people praise Achebe’s series because it shows the African perspective on colonialism and Western influence, especially because most other books on that subject are written by Western authors. However, the book is also critiqued because its portrayal of colonialism is not done very well and limited. I cannot tell you if there is truth in that because I haven’t done the research, but I do wonder if showing the perspective of a whole continent on a big part of history is a bit too much to ask of one book or series. What this book does well is showing the perspective of one Nigerian man and how he tries to navigate between traditional values and new influences. That in itself is an important story to tell and what makes this book worth reading. Focusing on the central theme of this book shows that many people all over the world share the same kind of experiences but in different settings. The clash between traditional and new values is something we can all recognize in our own lives. Everybody has felt in their own way lost like Obi and forced into decisions they don’t want to make. Let’s hope we don’t all end up like Obi but find our own place somewhere between the old and the new.

Have strength growing up award for showing us that it is not easy to keep to your own values in a changing world.

 

Chinua Achebe, No longer at ease (London, 1960)

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Gangsta Granny by David Walliams

This December, I’m going to London for the first time in my life. I definitely want to see some of the big tourist attractions of the city, but probably won’t go to see the Crown Jewels because the queues are apparently endless. If only there was a secret passageway into the Tower to access the Jewel House. If only one could crawl through those tunnels by night and stumble upon the Queen. If only I had a gangsta granny. But I’m not Ben.

Ben is not happy at all with the way his life is going. His mum and dad are obsessed with ballroom dancing and see a shining, glittery future for their son. In the meantime, all Ben wants to be good at is plumbing, but he hardly has the time to read his plumbing magazine because he is dragged to his boring grandmother every Friday night. While he has to endure cabbage soup and scrabble at his granny’s, Ben’s parents watch Dancing with the Stars and fawn over their favourite dancer, the glib Flavio Flavioli. Perhaps you’ve gleaned from the title of this children’s book that there’s more to granny than Ben knows…

Things change for Ben on a Saturday morning when he throws out the watery eggs that granny made him for breakfast and looks for something else to eat. In the biscuit tin on top of the cupboard he finds no chocolate biscuits, but thousands of pounds worth of diamonds. How did his cardigan-wearing, duck-feeding, book-reading granny come by those? Ben decides to follow his grandmother the next night and catches her red-handed, trying to rob a jewellery shop on her mobility scooter. Granny is a thief.

Suddenly, the old woman doesn’t appear so boring anymore. After Ben has sworn not to tell anybody her secrets, granny tells him everything: how she stole her first ring when she was eleven years old, how she was once the most wanted jewellery thief in the world and how she has  always wanted to steal the Crown Jewels. Sadly, they are too well guarded. Or are they? Reading The Plumber, Ben finds an article on the Tower’s old sewer system, forgotten by everyone but a few plumbing enthusiasts. The sewers are the perfect opening for the biggest jewellery heist ever.
Stealing the Crown Jewels is no small feat: obstacles include the nosy neighbour who comes snooping around granny’s house in the name of Neighbourhood Watch, a few dozen policemen, slimy tunnels, Tower guards and, of course, the Queen. But Ben and granny have a good reason to persevere: they have finally found something they can do together.

Gangsta Granny Tony Ross

The story is a lot of fun. There’s scheming, jokes, action scenes and a plot twist, all accompanied by the brilliant illustrations of Tony Ross. The book is packed with wholesome messages as well: pay attention to your children, cabbage gives you flatulence, and old people are still people. To be fair, the writing did disappoint me a little. I saw the BBC film adaptation (also written by David Walliams, by the way) on television while flicking through the channels one time and kept watching. I didn’t know it was an adaptation, so discovering the book was a pleasant surprise. It’s just that the book wasn’t as effortlessly sweet and funny as I remember the film being. It might be the translation to Dutch, but the story and especially the dialogue felt a bit forced, while the characters all remained stereotypes. Walliams’ style has been frequently compared to that of Roald Dahl: the quirky characters, the children who face adult antagonists, the adventurous and unpredictable plots. I don’t think the similarity is a coincidence. I got the feeling that Walliams was trying to write a Roald Dahl story, and obviously failing. That might be the problem: there can only be one Roald Dahl, and David Walliams is not him, so he shouldn’t try to be. However, you expect someone who publishes a children’s book every year to come into his own eventually. Walliams has written seven or eight books since Gangsta Granny, so hopefully that has cleared his pen of the ghost of Roald Dahl.

Of course, the feeling that Walliams tries to imitate Roald Dahl is probably just a problem for the adults reading this book. Millions of children all over the world seem to love his books and that says something. Children are very discerning when it comes to books and won’t read just anything because a grown-up thinks it is what children like. This is actually a theme in the book: Ben’s parents are constantly busy trying to interest Ben in their own hobby and even granny pushes Ben to read the books she loves so much, while the poor child is only really interested in pipes and valves. You cannot force a child to be interested in something, although he might be quite willing to try new things if you just listen to him first.

Almost as important as listening to children is listening to the elderly. They have stories to tell, wisdom to impart and need company and affection just like everyone else. This message in particular is delivered very well in Gangsta Granny. Ben’s parents treat their mother(-in-law) like a nanny and show little to no interest in her. Ben never even imagines that his grandmother has led a whole life of her own until he finds the biscuit tin full of diamonds. He even says some mean things about her on the phone to his parents, feeling ashamed when he suspects she has heard him. When the two plan their heist, they bond, but it is only when they meet the Queen that Ben realises his granny is not just interesting as a thief, but as a person as well. It turns out that even Her Majesty’s grandchildren sometimes think she’s boring – and she’s the one deciding who gets hanged, drowned or quartered in the Tower.

All in all, a nice if not a brilliant book. I’d recommend it for reading to your favourite relative – be it a child or a dance-obsessed uncle with no respect for his mother. It’s a reminder to not judge a book by its cover, or rather, a grandmother by the scraggly hairs on her chin.

Ocean’s Eleven Award for a heist planned by people with very particular skill sets, one of them an eleven-year-old plumber.

David Walliams, Gangsta Granny (London, 2011)

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Jo Robin

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1) by Maggie Stiefvater

Somehow, paranormal things seem to happen mostly in rural areas. This is my conclusion after watching Stranger Things, reading a bunch of books from the 80s and now The Raven Boys. In this context I came across the hype surrounding this book on Tumblr, and at first it didn’t appeal to me. I felt like this was just another rich boy meets poor girl situation with some supernatural elements thrown in. But then I was intrigued: On Tumblr I found random catchphrases (Yeehaw?), something to do with Coca-Cola, a ghost, a baby raven and a psychic named Blue? I couldn’t connect any of these things that the fandom seemed to revolve around, but I did want to know more. Maybe The Raven Boys was a lot better than what I’d thought, so I gave it a try. All of a sudden all of those phrases made sense and I could not put the book down.

Blue Sargent is an ordinary 16-year-old girl, who grows up with her psychic mother and they share their house with a number of ‘aunts’ who are all psychics. The strange thing, though, is that Blue is the only woman in her family who isn’t psychic: she only makes the powers of the women around her stronger, just with her presence. The story starts off when Blue accompanies her aunt to the ghost watch, where they can see the people who are going to die in that year. Blue normally never sees anyone, because she isn’t psychic, but this year she does see one boy quite clearly and she even talks to him. That’s how she finds out his name is Gansey. There are only two possible explanations for her seeing a ghost all of a sudden: either he is her true love or he will be killed by her. Also, Blue grew up with the warning that if she ever kissed her true love, he would die.

At the same time, four boys go to school at the prestigious Anglionby in the same little town that Blue lives in, called Henrietta. Due to the crest on their uniforms, people often call them the ‘Raven boys’. Richard Gansey III is something of a crazy scientist, though only seventeen, who believes that there is a Welsh King buried in that small town. He drags his three friends, Adam, Ronan and Noah, along with him in his quest. When the boys go out for pizza one night, they meet Blue for the first time, who works as a waitress. But it’s not Gansey who takes an interest in Blue, he actually fights with her, but it’s Adam. As the days continue, the boys and Blue cross paths once again when they visit her mother for a reading and Adam and Blue strike up a friendship of sorts.

Soon, the five of them turn into a little gang and Gansey’s dreams of finding the body of the Welsh king Glendower sweeps them up. During his search he has found that a ley line, an alignment of landmarks that are said to have potent spiritual abilities, runs through Henrietta and he believes to find the king there. During their search they find that magic is real, that a ley line can be woken up and that Blue’s powers are significant on their own. They encounter woods that change seasons rapidly, a ghost, trees that speak in Latin, a landmark that gives one visions and a dark secret concerning one of their professors. It’s all very thrilling, but saying anything more means I would go into spoilers unfortunately.

One of the great things about this novel, and the reason I could not put it down, was the style in which it is written. Maggie Stiefvater writes in a very simplistic style, so it takes you no effort at all to read her book. This used to be one of the reasons I looked down on reading Young Adult books, because in my mind a book had to be difficult to read? It made no sense, and I’m so glad I’m over that now. But The Raven Boys keeps you turning pages and I loved it. There was even the occasional gorgeous sentence that just made me go: Wow… Let me give you one example:

“You’re looking for a god. Didn’t you suspect that there was also a devil?”

But the best thing about it was the dialogue. Some of the things people said in this book were simply hilarious, because it was both awkward and something one would say blurting out. This made it incredibly realistic, like when people are funny before they realise it themselves. It’s a rare thing to read dialogue in a book that makes you feel like you’re actually part of a small group of friends just chatting. Let me give you another example:

“How do you feel about helicopters?”
There was a long pause. “How do you mean? Ethically?”
“As a mode of transportation.”
“Faster than camels, but less sustainable.”

And these two examples are actually great for describing the mood of he book. Maggie Stiefvater manages to create an atmosphere that is often eerie, supernatural and threatening even, but the characters, like most teenagers would, make light of it, even though they’re actually scared.

And this brings me to the characters. Blue was actually my least favourite character, because she really is a bit of a cliché: the quirky kid who makes her own clothes and keeps to herself, because of her unusual background. The one thing I will say for her is how I really liked that she’s just so down to earth and doesn’t ask many questions: ‘Oh, so we’re looking for a dead Welsh king? Cool. Sure. Let’s go.’ Gansey is described by the others to have two sides to him. One is his outward polite rich-kid side with an ever-charming smile and the other is his inward crazy explorer side, obsessed with ley lines and finding Glendower. I liked that he is the epitome of ‘don’t judge a book by his cover’. Ronan is the perpetually angry and dangerous rich kid, but, as all the boys, he has a trauma of his own he struggles with. He is described as dark and Irish, with a big tattoo covering his back that he got just to piss off his brother. But when he owns a pet baby raven, named Chainsaw, a sweet and nurturing side comes out that he keeps for his friends in crises only. Noah is the smudgy friend, who is very shy, but funny when you least expect it. Like when he explains his looks being due to the fact that he’s been dead for seven years now. Lastly there’s Adam and he’s probably the character I admire most. He’s not rich, but is obsessed almost with not taking any favours from the rich boys. At home, he gets beaten on regularly, but he will not leave unless he has something to show for and is able to walk out of the driveway with his head held high. As you can see, I loved these boys as a group, but I would have to describe them as boys with in general bad coping mechanisms.

Now, let me get to the cliché that this book contains and what turned me off of it at first: the simple girl from a small town falls in love with the rich and mysterious boy. Now I’m not one for this kind of plot. I usually don’t like the rich kid and the strange redemption arch that somehow has to explain why he behaves like an arrogant spoiled little kid. I find it very unrealistic that these boys all have a soft side that opens up once you get to know them, especially if you’re a quirky outsider girl. I grew up in a town filled with mostly rich people and I got bullied a lot because I wasn’t rich: most rich kids simply aren’t that nice. So at first this made me dislike the book, because at the beginning it feels like the book is heading towards that place that millions of books have gone to before. Only Stiefvater doesn’t go there and I loved it! Gansey is the rich kid as we often see him and he has very little idea of the price of things. He cannot understand that Adam won’t take his money or accept his help. In short, he doesn’t understand the value of money, and this makes him annoyingly naïve on the subject. But I expect that Stiefvater has done this on purpose: it’s just one of the things that makes the characters seem less like adults who just happen to still be in school and more like actual teenagers. Also, Blue doesn’t fall in love with this rich kid, and even though there is romance involved in the book, it never becomes a main part of the plot. The plot is finding a dead Welsh king, not ‘to kiss or not to kiss’. Thank you, Maggie Stiefvater!

All in all, this book was not what I expected. For the first hundred pages I thought that the idea was original, but the story could turn out either being boring or really great. The latter is true in my opinion, and the characters have a lot to do with that. The fact that Stiefvater writes teenagers very well, as well as representing poverty in believable manner, does it for me. This is however just the first book in the series and the book does have an ending of sorts, but I’m still left with a lot of question. Literally, the last sentence of the book opens up a whole new realm of possibilities, and I love it. However, a lot is left unexplained and I’m not sure why I should care about certain things: like, why are we looking for this king really? But I want to know more, so now I just need to get my hands on the next three books.

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover Award: for Gansey and anyone scared of picking up yet another angsty teenager romance novel

Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1) (New York City, 2012)

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Thura Nightingale  

 

Our Cancer Year (American Splendor) by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner

I first learned about the comic writer Harvey Pekar in the movie made about his life called American Splendor. The movie was advertised to me as telling the story of a cynical grumpy man who always sees how things could go wrong but somehow tells about that in a funny way. This together with the optimistic-sounding title American Splendor sold me. The contradiction between an optimistic title and his feeling of always being down on his luck and cynicism works very humorously. Especially when you combine that with Harvey’s croaky voice, which makes him the ideal tragicomic character. The comic Our Cancer Year has the same tone and is written together with his wife, Joyce Brabner, and is about the year he got diagnosed with cancer and the consecutive treatments. And although it is obvious that a book about cancer has a tragic element, the true achievement of this book is to find a light tone within the drama as well.

Our Cancer Year starts with a marital squabble between Harvey and Joyce whether to buy a house or not. Joyce wants to own a house, but Harvey thinks it’s too expensive and he does not like change. Eventually, he agrees, because as a man he feels he has to take care of his wife. He decides to do a big part of the move himself. While carrying boxes of books and records he falls ill and is rushed to the hospital. In the hospital, they discover he has cancer. They operate him to remove the cancer, which goes well. The real challenge starts after the operation when they decide to give Harvey chemotherapy to make sure the cancer does not come back. The chemotherapy consists of twelve weekly instalments. During the treatment, Harvey is adamant to keep working for as long as possible during the treatment because he is the kind of guy that only feels at ease when he has a stable job and provides for his wife. Not that Joyce needs him to provide for her though: she is a writer of journalistic comic books and is very independent. The book she is working on prior to  Harvey’s illness is one about teenagers who have survived the horrors of war. These children are from all over the world and Joyce travels the world to see them and to bring the teenagers in contact with each other. Our Cancer Year is both about Harvey’s illness and Joyce contact with the teenagers.

In the book the perspective switches between Harvey and Joyce. In this way, as a reader, you get both the story from the perspective of a person suffering from cancer and of someone close to them. From Harvey’s side, we learn how he battles with depression and dark thoughts about his chances of survival. He struggles to keep his spirits high, which is difficult because he is generally not an optimistic man. He sees the downside of everything and walks around muttering and complaining about even the smallest thing. I would probably get very tired of him in real life because he complains about everything, but in the comic, it works very well. Maybe grumpy people work better in books because you can stop reading when you get tired of them. Luckily for Joyce, she has known Harvey for a long time, so she knows how to deal with him. At one point she negotiates with the doctors to force him to stop working because they are the only people he would listen to. To me, the core element of this book is the relationship between Harvey and Joyce. It is beautiful to read how much they love and know each other. They completely accept the idiosyncrasies of each and because of that, they are able to support each other because they know what the other needs. That is maybe why the book is titled Our Cancer Year, to signify that they went through it together as husband and wife.

As I said, their love for each other becomes apparent in the way they treat each other when dealing with cancer. Harvey does not manage to go through treatment in twelve weeks because he has become too weak. He is full of dark thoughts and struggles to admit how ill he actually is. He hides all of that for Joyce to not worry her in the same way that Joyce hides her struggles from Harvey. She knows he won’t allow her to help him if he knows how tough it is on her. Anyone who has experienced a severe illness of a loved one or has been ill themselves, be it physically or mentally, will recognize those urges to protect the other. That is what I admire about this book: it shows how tough it is for everyone when cancer is involved. Joyce is strong, but she is never portrayed as a saint who takes everything with a smile. She gets angry with Harvey, desperate and frustrated because of the situation she’s in, but she doesn’t give up and they pull through. Because the book shows both perspectives, the work is truly a collaboration between the two. The book is mostly in the style of Harvey’s other books, but he would not have been able to go into dept as much as he does now without his wife’s side of the story. If Harvey had written the book on his own, he might not even have known about Joyce’s side of the story. That makes this book interesting because it gives insight into different perspectives. It shows both the high and low moments and the moments of strength and frustration for both.

This leads to an interesting question regarding autobiographical books: how do you decide what to show out of your own life? Especially in this case, in which they intended to write a book about their experience prior to going through all the treatments. For Harvey, it must have been a natural decision to chronicle his cancer year because all of his previous work was autobiographical. It does, however, bring people in a strange situation where they see everything that happens to them as a potential story. This makes me wonder how that allows them to deal with important things in their life. If you look at everything with the eyes of a potential audience, to which extent can you still call your life your own? Real life events make good stories, but it also feels a bit voyeuristic to get so many intimate details of someone’s life. It is as if we as readers enjoy things we should not even know about. In this case, it was Harvey’s own decision to share though because he wrote the book himself. He even went so far as to let the illustrator Frank Stack live with them to better portray their ‘Cancer year’. Still, one can wonder whether he would have been able to go through cancer in private if he had wanted to.

The main body of work of Harvey Pekar is several volumes of short stories called American Splendor that he writes about his day to day life and the people he meets in Cleveland, USA. The first part was published in 1976 and the last one in 2008. Our Cancer Year is separated from the main body of his work because the book is about one event in his life. Reading his work makes you wonder if he meets more interesting people in his life, or whether he is very good at seeing the interesting side of everyone. He writes about people’s idiosyncrasies but never gets mean. Joyce Brabner writes political comics. I haven’t read any of her other work though so I don’t know how this book compares to her other books. They are both not illustrators, but they work with different people. In this book, the artwork is done by Frank Stack. An interesting rumour about him is that at some point he asked the Pekar’s to re-stage some of the things that happened because it would look better in a different angle. I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly shows dedication from everyone involved to write this story. Here is an example of Frank’s work:

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The way this story is told gets confusing at times because events do not follow each other in a logical manner all the time. Maybe that is because Harvey is used to writing short stories and struggled with writing a long one. I can’t say how that is for Joyce though, because I haven’t read her other work. Or maybe it is because the cancer part of the story is alternated with the story of Joyce and her work on the comic about teenagers and war traumas. This being an autobiographical work it makes sense to include the teenagers and Joyce’s work because it was a big part of her life back then. Still, it is also a bit random and made this book difficult to read at times. The plans for that comic book were cancelled and it feels as if she was looking for a way to tell the teenagers’ story anyway. Their story is important, but it would have worked better in a separate book. There was no clear connection between the teenagers and Harvey’s cancer. Not everything in life is connected of course, but it does make for confusing reading to force elements of a story together.

The strength of Harvey Pekar and his books is that he talks about ordinary life and ordinary people and makes it interesting. He also never had the ambition to tell a different kind of story, because he thought there is enough importance and interest in a normal life. His stories become even more interesting because he writes with wit, cynicism and a good deal of dark humour. The best part of this book though is the focus on love. Not in the grand sweeping-off-your-feet kind of way, but about the long-term love of people who know each other and still care for each other. Harvey and Joyce do not hide their faults but they use them to tell a great story. Harvey has managed to turn his grumpy and down-on-his-luck attitude into art for all of us to enjoy. This book is an anthem for normalcy and a cry to appreciate ordinary life full of all the fascinating people you meet and the joy of long-term relationships and friendships.

Adorable cynic award because we all love a grumpy hero

Our Cancer Year by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner (New York, 1994)

 

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