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Book Review: The Bay of Foxes by Sheila Kohler

Young African man peaking around a door.Summary:
Dawit is a twenty year old Ethiopian refugee hiding out illegally in Paris and barely surviving.  One day he runs into the elderly, famous French writer, M., in a cafe.  Utterly charmed by him and how he reminds her of her long-lost lover she had growing up in Africa, she invites him to come live with her.  But Dawit is unable to give M. what she wants, leading to dangerous conflict between them.

Review:
This starts out with an interesting chance meeting in a cafe but proceeds to meander through horror without much of a point.

Although in the third person, we only get Dawit’s perspective, and although he is a sympathetic character, he sometimes seems not entirely well-rounded.  Through flashbacks we learn that he grew up as some sort of nobility (like a duke, as he explains to the Romans).  His family is killed and imprisoned, and he is eventually helped to escape by an ex-lover and makes it to Paris.  This is clearly a painful story, but something about Dawit in his current state keeps the reader from entirely empathizing with him.  He was raised noble and privileged, including boarding schools and learning many languages, but he looks down his nose at the French bourgeois, who, let’s be honest, are basically the equivalent of nobility.  He judges M. for spending all her money on him instead of sending it to Ethiopia to feed people, but he also accepts the lavish gifts and money himself.  Admittedly, he sends some to his friends, but he just seems a bit hypocritical throughout the whole thing.  He never really reflects on the toppling of the Emperor in Ethiopia or precisely how society should be ordered to be better.  He just essentially says, “Oh, the Emperor wasn’t all that bad, crazy rebels, by the way, M., why aren’t you donating this money to charity instead of spending it on me? But I will tooootally take that cashmere scarf.” Ugh.

That said, Dawit is still more sympathetic than M., who besides being a stuck-up, lazy, self-centered hack also repeatedly rapes Dawit.  Yeah. That happened. Quite a few times.  And while I get the point that Kohler is making (evil old colonialists raping Ethiopians), well, I suppose I just don’t think it was a very clever allegory.  I’d rather read about that actually happening.

In spite of being thoroughly disturbed and squicked out by everyone in the story, I kept reading because Kohler’s prose is so pretty, and I honestly couldn’t figure out how she’d manage to wrap everything up.  What point was she going to make?  Well, I got to the ending, and honestly the ending didn’t do it for me.  I found it a bit convenient and simplistic after the rest of the novel, and it left me kind of wondering what the heck I just spent my time reading.

So, clearly this book rubbed me the wrong way, except for the fact that certain passages are beautifully written.  Will it work for other readers?  Maybe.  Although the readers I know with a vested interest in the effects of colonialism would probably find the allegory as simplistic as I did.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Counts For:
Specific country? Ethiopia. South African author.

Book Review: Hetalia: Axis Powers Volume 2 by Hidekaz Himaruya (Series, #2) (Manga)

November 15, 2011 Leave a comment

China Germany and Italy standing on the globeSummary:
The manga featuring the countries from WWII as characters is back this time focusing more on the future of the nations after WWII instead of the history before WWII.  Russia’s dilemmas with his sisters the Ukraine and Belarus are explored.  Canada’s persistent ability to somehow be invisible to most of the rest of the G8 nations (and also to be mistaken for America).  The various vignettes are punctuated with Japan-kun and America-kun visiting each other’s homes and attempting to reach a cultural understanding.

Review:
Himaruya’s tongue in cheek representation of global politics and national cultures is just as strong here as in the first entry into the series.  I appreciate that he addressed before and after WWII first.  It puts everything into an interesting historic perspective.

The art is still gorgeous.  The countries who are “relatives” of each other are similar looking but still decipherable from each other (although Canada probably wishes he looked a bit less like America).  There is a lot to feast your eyes upon on every page.

I again found myself laughing uproariously at the wit within the pages.  Every country is teased by the author, including his own.  He points out shortcomings without judging them too harshly.  It is what it is, and the more I read nations as characters, the easier it is to see the world as one big loopy extended family.

I particularly appreciate how Himaruya explains the former Soviet Union nations’ problems so clearly.  It’s something that I must admit as an American we didn’t ever really address in school, so this was all new to me and yet I came away knowing the facts from a manga.

That’s what makes this series awesome.  It’s factual without being judgmental.  It sees the humor in local customs and quirks.  And somehow it teaches you something in the meantime.   Highly recommended to all.  Just remember to start reading it at the back. 😉

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Previous Books in Series:
Hetalia: Axis Powers, Vol. 1 (review)