Ten Things Books Have Made Me Want To Do

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You know that saying about readers having many lives through the books they read? I love it, because there are so many things I can’t do, but would love to. Then there are some things books have inspired me to do… or at least to dream about.

I’m linking up with Top Ten Tuesdays to bring you (some of the) things book have made me want to do.

1. Go to Boarding School

A la Malory Towers by Enid Blyton, Spud by John van de Ruit, Looking for Alaska by John Green and even Harry Potter, to name but a few.

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What If Slavery Never Fell: Underground Airlines [Book Review]

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I’ve been on a bit of an alternate-history kick recently, which has led me to believe that it is possibly one of the most challenging genres an author might tackle. Call it the Butterfly Effect or Domino Effect or just plain Jenga, but changing a single event in history causes a cascade of changes, and if the author misses even one of those, the book loses its believability.

23208397Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters is an alternate reality in the present day where slavery was never outlawed in the USA, and is still practiced in four major states. It is a horrifying thought and an important topic in light of current race-relations in the USA and much of the world.

World-building is important in alternative-history fiction, but must be subtle. If the world is different to the way we know it, the reader must be able to understand why that is. Winters did this fairly well, in referring to trading sanctions which, for example, result in CDs not yet reaching American markets.

Elaborating on the events in your alternate history is also difficult because the reader does not want to be told so much as shown where history deviated from the plot, but sometimes it is so elaborate that showing is difficult. Winters tends to err on the side of telling in this regard, and it sometimes seems as though our MC is lecturing to someone who does not know the history. To be fair, I have not yet seem an author pull this off in an alternative history.

The purpose of an alternate-reality novel is not just to point out the differences between our situation and the what-ifs, but more jarringly to show the similarities. And that is what I found to be the value (and the horror) of Underground Airlines, because as I read I found myself asking, “But how is this REALLY any different from what black Americans are dealing with in our reality?”

Is Winters suggesting that the prejudice faced by persons of colour today is as bad as though slavery was never abolished? I think that is one of the most important discussion-points stemming from this book. The kind of systemic prejudice facing the free persons of colour in Underground Airlines is not so different from many situations today: you are free, but don’t wear a hoodie or look dangerous. You are free, but don’t carry a weapon if you want to live. You are free, but businesses and places of employment are also free to discriminate. 

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In terms of pacing and dialogue, I definitely felt that the novel could have benefited from more editing. It seemed as the majority of the novel was busy “setting up” for the plot, but the plot struggled to gain momentum. It was a whole lot of planning and back-story and double-agenting, and then the twist came before any plotting really occurred.

In terms of character development, I was told that the protagonist felt anxious and desolate, but I was never really offered the opportunity to get in his head; as though he were too far for the reader to fully grasp. This may be tactical on the author’s part, because Viktor is a mystery to everyone, including himself. Is he a good guy doing bad work? He closes himself TO himself in an effort to avoid the terror of his past and his guilt; but even so, I needed to be able to connect with the MC more.

My biggest problem was the “twist”, which suddenly turns Underground Airlines into more sci-fi than alternate contemporaneous. If you read the blurb you knew there was a secret, but tension in this regard never truly mounts – the tension is always about freedom and not about secrets. It is such a wild twist that it is incongruous with the rest of the novel, and it is jarring in a bad way. It almost feels as if it were an afterthought, and afterward little is done with it. It threatens the integrity of the entire novel.

One of my favourite hot-points suggested in Underground Airlines is that of the “couch activist”. Those who are so privileged that they can side-step dealing with the problem. From Father Barton who says, “I have spoken on it and will continue to speak on it, but speaking is all I do,” to people who won’t buy products of slavery but still benefit from the economic successes thereof.

Its issues in spite, this remains a book I would like to see read in schools and universities to open up robust dialogue. Underground Airlines may well be one of the most “woke” books that has been published this year.

Disclaimer: I received a free eARC via NetGalley and Mulholland Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Preparing for the Next Step: 2017

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The year has passed into its second half, and so I am nearing the beginning of my last rotation of internship. Nearly twenty months of working now, and I’m still a baby-doctor, but I’ve grown so much in confidence and skill.

After the two-year internship comes a year of mandatory community service as a medical officer. Because of a scholarship agreement I am contracted to work in the Western Cape (not an altogether bad thing) for the CosMO year, and four more beyond that.

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A little something-something about my future place of residence😛

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Ten Books Set Outside the USA (and Canada and the UK)

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I love this week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesdays! As a South African, I’m acutely aware of the importance of reading local and international books, but our market is mostly saturated by books from the USA and the UK (I love you guys, but representation matters!)

I have two prior lists with more or less the same topic (links provided at the end), so I will mention different books here. And also, I’m not selecting any South African books because I have a whole list of them here!

1. Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine (YA, sci-fi)

Setting: Egypt (mostly)

A book set in an alternate reality where the Great Library was never destroyed. I felt the book had some problems with character development, but I did enjoy it – especially the setting, and the fact that it was ABOUT BOOKS!!!

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If You Plan To Spend Mandela Day At A Hospital…

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Although I believe that community service should be a habit rather than an annual event, I am a big fan of Mandela Day. I’m a child of the 90s, after all, and my first hero was Nelson Mandela. There’s nothing quite like a day where the whole nation reaches out to one another to build morale. (And it’s not just for South Africans!)

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Public hospitals are a popular venue for community service, which is not entirely a bad thing because many of our patients truly fit the description of being disenfranchised.

But every year, my colleagues and I find ourselves a little annoyed by many of the people who arrive to do their bit. Here are some pointers if you intend to visit a hospital this Mandela Day – or any other day. Continue reading

Top Ten Underrated Books

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I’m linking up with The Broke and The Bookish to bring you ten of my favourite books with fewer than 2,000 ratings. All of my books on last week’s list, save for one, have fewer than 2,000 ratings on Goodreads, so I haven’t included any of those books on this list (but you should totally check them out, too!)

Note: Book titles are linked to my reviews of them, or in the absence of a review, to their Goodreads listing.

  1. The Girl Without A Sound by Buhle Ngaba

30187012Number of ratings: 4

A South African picture book “born out of defiance and as a response to the fairytales we were told as little girls. Stories about white princesses with blue eyes, flowing locks of hair and an overwhelming awareness of their beauty.” And just like Coconut and Kwezi (see last week’s list), even though I’m not the intended target market, I think it is wonderful, and I intend to purchase it for as many kids as I can.

Also, you can get the digital file for free on their website! Continue reading