Highlights in the Charts
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
Review by Natalie Beckett
This is a story about a child who goes to find his mother… But there’s a twist.
Bird Gardener lives in a world where it is dangerous to look like his Chinese-American mother, Margaret. A world where devastating crises have plagued the US; the government’s scapegoat is the Chinese and preserving the peace means a pious-like devotion to American culture and values.
Our Missing Hearts is the latest novel by award-winning author Celeste Ng. Ng is well-known for her bestseller Little Fires Everywhere, which explored themes of class, race and conservatism in Shaker Heights, Ohio in the nineties. Through its excavation of the roots of discrimination and humanity’s ability to turn a blind eye to others suffering, her new novel does not shy away from contending with similarly weighty themes. Like all of Ng’s work, the story draws on lugubrious truths of the modern world; in this case a deep-rooted anti-Asian sentiment that is very real for Asian-American communities living in the US.
A few chapters in the book share the perspective of the mother, Magaret Miu – a poet whose words have unintentionally become the battle cry for rebels. Thus, forcing her to leave home so that her son, Bird, won’t fall victim to government displacement schemes that are moving children out of homes considered to be anti-American. These chapters hold many of the answers to questions asked by Bird, whose perspective we follow for the lion’s share of the book. By exploring both mindsets, Ng reveals the complexity of mother-child relationships and perfectly evidences the universal yearning for a mother’s love in spite of everything, whatever “everything” may be. In Bird's case, society and his own father has told him that his mother is a terrible person, yet he can’t help but seek her out at the first chance he gets.
Most striking, or rather terrifying, about Our Missing Hearts is the plausibility of this story becoming a reality. In this post-Trump, post-Brexit, post-pandemic world, we are living in a time where the unimaginable has already happened. And there is something about Ng’s descriptions of the crises that shatter the US economy and the subsequent ensuing fearmongering which feels a little too close for comfort.
The proximity to our current reality makes the underlying message of Our Missing Hearts even more important. The book is a fervent reminder not only of the very real dangers of prejudice, but the value of art as a vehicle for lifting the world out of darkness.
A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum
Review by Halimah Haque
A Woman is No Man follows the lives of three generations of American-Palestinian women: Isra, her daughter, Deya and mother-in-law Fareeda. The narrative alternates between Isra and Deya's lives, as Deya attempts to take control of her life and unveil the dark, complex secrets which her grandparents have tried to keep hidden.
This book was an emotional rollercoaster. Watching the female protagonists being imprisoned and controlled by traditions of a patriarchal society and culture was extremely difficult to digest – especially when domestic abuse is a reality for many women across the globe. Rum portrays more explicit forms of patriarchy through Isra, who is constantly presented as someone who only exists to support her husband and raise her husband’s children.
In addition, Rum does a fantastic job of capturing the mindset and emotions of each of her narrators. I loved seeing the contrast of their personalities, thoughts and beliefs and although I tried, I couldn't really understand Fareeda and what drove her to accept and uphold the misogynistic attitude that had caused her so much suffering. Despite this, it was interesting to see how she perceived the same event as Isra differently and how she genuinely believed she was helping the women in her life, in her own weird way.
Despite this book’s dark storyline, I felt hopeful when reading about how the female characters were able to rise above their difficulties and try their best to fight back against the stifling circumstances that they were in, as they tried to take control of their lives. Isra, Sarah and Deya’s ability to support one another’s dreams, even when some of the closest women in their life tried to tear them down, was inspiring.
But most of all, I loved how Rum weaved Arab culture into this narrative through the language, traditions and food, highlighting its beauty amidst a very harsh storyline.
Although the story was slow to begin with, the realistic relationships, bonds between the female characters and clever ending, made it all worthwhile. Each character received the perfect ending, but Isra's was by far my favourite, both heartbreaking and happy. You'll have to read it to see what I mean. A Woman is No Man illustrates the harsh reality that many women experience across the globe and is a book that is not to be missed.