It’s hard to read about how this happy and well-cared for boy could have gone so far off the rails, sliding repeatedly back into addiction and violence. Overall, however, That Fry Boy is an affirmative and powerful read, with a strong character arc that is transformative. Fry’s recovery through Twelve Step, and the way he turns his bad experiences into a toolkit for helping others, is inspirational, and will provide solace for anyone who thinks their own case is hopeless.
West is part espionage thriller, part social realism (circa late ‘70s, early ‘80s) and probably partly autobiographical as well: as a young girl, Julia Franck crossed from East to West Germany with her family. The milieu of a reception centre in West Berlin has a banal horror to it, something akin to the quality of a (childhood) nightmare. Families share rooms with strangers and sleep in bunk beds.
The writing is beautiful throughout, without ever over-shadowing the plot or narrative flow, which moves forward quickly. Starford remains non-judgmental, even towards those who caused her the greatest pain, including the many adults who clearly failed in their duty of care.
The humility to which he begins his story is surprising given this title, starting with a simple, “my full-blown obsession with ping-pong began four years ago with the semi-epic road trip.” From the there the story follows a surprisingly human pattern: Beaten by son (at ping-pong), age begins to show (as blood pressure), attempts to reclaim youthfulness (or, at least, not die).
Smith would have us believe that is a book about nothing. She opens it with a phrase from a dream that haunts her: “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” Those of us who recognise her intense grief, and the determination to capture these experiences in poetic prose, will disagree that this is a book about nothing. Perhaps it’s a book where “nothing” happens: it becomes something.
It’s the story of many things at once: a country torn apart by power factions and manipulation, a story of a man and what happened to his patriotism over time, a story about genetic and cultural inheritance, a story about migration, and above all, what it means to lose a home—something as relevant today as it was during the time of Alizadeh’s migration.
These are close and moving readings that provide depth and personal insight into the narrative framework, the themes that pivot around mental illness and hunger, and the characters that become Wright’s partners through her own recovery. It’s not a facile recovery though. The memory of hunger is almost as acute as the hunger itself.
Some books should not be read with other books. Or the other book will not compare favorably. Some books remind the reader of why books are read in the first place – because they open the eyes and heart to new worlds that the reader had never dreamed of. Some books remove the cap from our head, and open the top of our skulls. And There was Light is such a book — at least in the first section. But for some, it might be the second section. It depends.
What’s so endearing about Falling For Me is that David does not try to portray herself as perfect. She’s just like any other single woman out there, putting her best foot forward trying to fall in love—the only difference is, she’s working on falling in love with herself first.
One of the lovely parts of the story is Veronica’s language—she paints a complex picture of her family, using heavy doses of metaphorical language and lots of questioning about how her life unfolds. She is quite trapped in her lifestyle. She writes much later, looking back and many of the incidences described are all about falling away, falling down, or just not making it.