Highlights in the Charts
By Cassie Waters and Natalie Joyce
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Exciting Times has recently made the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 longlist, and deservingly so. Dolan’s prose is pared back, sharp and mean, capturing the essence of what it’s like to be in your twenties today.
The novel follows Ava, an Irish 22-year-old who has come to Hong Kong to teach English as a foreign language to wealthy children.
Ava describes herself as being ‘good at men’ and sees relationships as an “ultimately shallow emotional transaction”. Lonely and unhappy in her shared Airbnb, Ava meets wealthy banker Julian and is immediately attracted to the size of his bank balance. They form a sexual relationship that oscillates between revulsion and ambivalence towards each other, but that suits them both. Ava moves into Julian’s luxury apartment without paying rent, and in return, she acts as a companion/almost housekeeper.
When Julian goes away to work in England, Ava meets Edith, a corporate lawyer from a wealthy Hong Kong family. Edith is meticulously dressed, with an equally meticulous Instagram account, and spends most of their conversations feverishly answering work emails. Their friendship quickly becomes more as Ava begins to explore her queerness, the two begin a relationship, unbeknownst to Julian.
Alongside the narrative, much of the book focuses on Ava’s hyper fixation around language. Having been assigned teaching grammar because she ‘lacks warmth’, Ava obsesses over every detail of the written and spoken word. She spends hours writing and rewriting texts and waiting for the tantalising yet anxiety-provoking three dots to appear. “Edith is typing...”
In a novel where the protagonist is constantly trying to work out who she is and what it means to be human, there is no better summary of what it is like to be young in the age of the internet.
The Twins of Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor
“Anger and hate are seeds that germinate war. Forgiveness is a seed for peace. It is the ultimate act of self-healing.”
The Twins of Auschwitz is a heart-breaking and inspiring true story of a young girl’s strength to survive the most horrific experience.
Eva and Miriam Mozes Kor were identical twins born into a Jewish family in Romania in 1934. Their school life was made difficult by their classmates who bullied and called them derogatory names due to their Jewish faith. In June 1941, Hungary entered World War II as an ally of Adolf Hitler and Germany. As a result, the Jewish people of Europe were forced to wear the yellow Star of David, a form of Jewish identification. Eva and her family became increasingly isolated in their village, as young Nazis targeted them by shouting obscenities at their house. They also threw tomatoes and rocks at their windows, and their fellow villagers also joined in. Such incidents meant that they were unable to leave their home for three days.
In September 1943, the family tried to get over the border to the non-Hungarian side of Romania but were caught by Hungarian Nazi Youths guarding their farm, threatening to shoot if they did not retreat. After news of their attempted escape, the family were moved to a transportation centre by Hungarian gendarmes. At the centre, the family was told they would be taken to and remain in a labour camp until the war ended. In reality, there was no work camp, only Auschwitz.
Upon arrival at Auschwitz, the twins were torn away from their mother, father and sisters, whom they never saw again. Eva and Miriam were sent to Dr Josef Mengele, also known as the Angel of Death, and subjected to horrific experiments to satisfy his obsession with eugenics. Many twins died due to the brutal and barbaric tests, while others fell victim to diseases or the starvation that was rife at the camp.
In January of 1945, the Red Army liberated Auschwitz, saving the twins and others, and the girls eventually returned home to Romania. Later, they emigrated to Israel, where Eva married an American and fellow Holocaust survivor. Finally, she moved to the US, where she became a citizen. In her later life, Eva became an internationally recognised speaker on the Holocaust.
The most astonishing thing about this memoir is Eva’s gift of forgiveness. Despite her and Miriam’s horrendous ordeal at the hands of Mengele, she forgave him and his associates for all that they did. She had the power to forgive, and no one could take that away from her.