The Living Infinite by Chantel Acevedo
As a young man, Tomas, beguiled by the novels of Jules Verne (from one of which the novel takes its title), longs to see the world. So when the opportunity arises for him to travel by ship to Cuba and from there to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, he takes it, although he’d never expected to embark on his great adventure with his mother in tow. But she wants to meet again her estranged friend, Gisela, who returned to her roots in Cuba decades before.
At the same time, and not unconnected, Eulalia and her husband are making a parallel journey. Officially, she is travelling as a royal emissary to calm the revolutionary fervour in Cuba and represent the Bourbon dynasty at the Fair. Unofficially, she hopes to publish her memoir, revealing the hypocrisy and misogyny of the cloistered Spanish court.
Strongly embedded in the history of the time, The Living Infinite is a story of love, duty and rebellion, and the extent to which we can choose our own path through life. Thanks to Europa editions for my review copy.
Yuki Means Happiness by Alison Jean Lester
In between language practice, ballet and swimming lessons, shopping and cooking and navigating Tokyo’s super-crowded commuter trains, and letters to a man who’d like to be more than a friend back in the USA, Diana unpicks more of the story until it looks as if both she and Yuki might be at risk. A poignant coming-of-age story, Yuki Means Happiness turns out to be more disturbing than I expected from the blurb (leading me to a somewhat truncated review for fear of spoiling the story for others), but in a good way, raising questions about the responsibilities of a surrogate parent in a foreign land. I was keen to read this after enjoying the author’s debut, Lillian on Life. Published by John Murray, who provided my review copy, Yuki Means Happiness is both different and even better.
My Shitty Twenties by Emily Morris
Given my general aversion to memoir, you’d be forgiven for wondering why I took this on (suggesting an interesting parallel with the surprise expressed by several of Emily’s friends when they discovered she was proceeding with the pregnancy). Publisher Salt who kindly provided my review copy might not be so pleased to know it was partly as research for my current and next WIP, for which I was gratified to learn that yes, a young woman with no prior qualifications for the job can competently take care of a baby and that some real-life mothers’ groups are even worse than the one I imagined. But much more interesting is that, although questioning in a couple of places whether she needed to share so much of her thought processes, I was won over by both her story and the language through which she tells it.
Partly what I most appreciated was how, in her reflections on society’s responses to pregnancy and motherhood, makes this a political book. Attitudes to single mothers have become less punishing in recent decades, yet Emily still felt shamed by her predicament: not, as in the bad old days, because it’s evidence that unmarried people have sex, but because she feels foolish for not safeguarding against pregnancy. Theses have been written (I imagine; if they haven’t, they certainly ought to have been) on how pregnant women are involuntary containers for society’s projections. Likewise single mothers and any woman, it seems, who impedes the frantic pace of modern life by inhabiting social space with a child and its necessary accoutrements.
As with the novel After Birth, it’s honest about the inadequacy of genuine support, counterbalanced by a strong thread of gratitude for those, particularly her mother, who helped her through. It’s an uplifting story in that, despite the difficulties, motherhood turns out to be so much better than she expected. Some – okay, me and the horrible yummy mummies on a mothering website – might wonder about the wisdom of taking a child not yet two on a budget holiday to Australia, but many will be inspired by her ability to do it her own way and I expect her son will benefit from her refusal to give herself any reason to resent him.
I’ve moved away from macabre thoughts of baby harvesting for my flash, basing it instead on a recent experience of running a stall at a book fair in a marketplace, fortunately more successfully than implied here. But when I mentioned to a friend what I’d be doing at the weekend, she asked if I’d be giving away apples with every book. How could I, in July, before they were ready? Now if I’d got a chance in September …
Proud of my harvest, I hired a market stall. As I was leaving, threw in a bag of surplus veg. Arriving early, I wrote my pitch: FREE VEGETABLES WITH EVERY BOOK. People stopped, but there were no takers, while the queue for the organic produce stall snaked through the aisles. That night, I packed some fancy boxes: a lettuce, a cucumber, three varieties of tomato and a handful of plums in each. Could I get away with charging a tenner for stuff I’d grown for nowt? My new sign read: FREE BOOK WITH EVERY VEG BOX. Apparently, I could.