Neshama’s Choices for August 8th

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A Tiny Upward Shove  

Poor Marina, first living with her beloved lola (grandmother), then with the mother who’s incapable of mothering her, then in institutional custody until she’s “emancipated,” then on the streets and finally dead.  Throughout, an Aswan--a figure from Filipino mythology-- is inhabiting her, fulfilling the family’s grim destiny and bringing a serial killer to justice. Peppered with Tagalog words which enhance the novel’s texture. Rich character development, including the extremely creepy pig farmer who’s brought so many girls to grief in Vancouver. Gritty magical realism, positively hypnotic.  


I can’t get enough of these reworking of Greek myths from a woman’s perspective.  Turns out Theseus, the “hero” who slew the Minotaur, was slippery and self-aggrandizing. He dumped Ariadne off on Naxos, went on to his homeland, and married Ariadne’s younger sister Phaedra who thought Ariadne was dead. Dionysus created a paradise on Naxos as a sanctuary for women but Ariadne finally discovers his true nature and what he and those Maenads have been doing up in the hills. Saint casts the old story in a pitiless new light.   

30 Things I Love About Myself

Nina’s relationship with her best friend Nikhil slid into coupledom but she realized it wasn’t enough and broke it off.  To the dismay of her widowed mother who’d hoped Nina would finally settle down and stop embarrassing her in their gossipy London community. Instead, Nina makes spectacular mistakes, starting with an overnight in jail where she finds the book that will change her life.  At first, she can only eke out five things to love about herself, but as each experience jolts her out of her discomfort zone, she can add more. The underlying family story: father, very depressed, committed suicide and brother is mired in mental illness too. Lots of woo-woo (astrology, yoga, reiki, tantric sex) and lots of gentle humor. A rom-com with underlying wisdom.  


In Oakland the squalid Regal-Hi apartments feature a pool which serves as a dumping place for dog turds.  That characterizes young Kiara’s life though she certainly tries hard. Her mother is mostly MIA, her brother wants to be a rapper, and it’s up to Kiara to come up with the rent which keeps increasing. A kid next door is pretty much abandoned, and Kiara takes him on too. Her only option is the streets, made even more terrifying when local cops “arrest” her, then take turns. The scandal is uncovered, Kiara is a key witness, and the trial is a humiliating ordeal. Sounds quite grim but there are examples of courage and tenderness amid the murk. Mottley was Oakland ’s Youth Poet Laureate and she writes with grounded, fine-tuned power.