What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

9781594634635_p0_v2_s192x300Helen Oyeyemi’s name was in the wind.  I heard her mentioned in the book I was listening to on Audible, The World Between Two Covers, and a friend suggested reading Oyeyemi’s celebrated Mr. Fox for a book club discussion. When Nancy Hightower of the Washington Post described Oyeyemi’s collection of short stories What Is Yours Is Not Yours as ” a series of loosely connected, magically tinged tales about personal and social justice,” and NPR called her writing masterpieces,  I decided it was time to read her.  Besides, the library conveniently produced What Is Your Is Not Yours in a day.  The universe must be calling.

Keys and locks connect the nine short stories, and as I read the first – “books and roses,” I had the same feeling I get when reading Haruki Murakami – what was I missing?  Some important undercurrent lurked just beyond my grasp, and if I could decipher the meaning, the reward would be great.  Despite rereading the first story, I’m still not sure.

Montserrat, a foundling girl left in a Catalonia chapel with a key hanging around her neck. grows up and finds work in a laundry, where she encounters Señora Lucy, a painter who also wears a key. The strange connection between the two women’s unrelated stories surprisingly merge at the end when Montserrat discovers she and Lucy are linked, as the keys unlock a beautiful garden, and a window into their lives.

Oyeyemi used revealing language to underscore her messages, and comprehension of her plots seemed secondary to reading her words, so I continued.

“Some new tax that only people with no money had to pay.  Or yet another member of the county police force was found to have been an undercover gangster.  If not that then a gang member was found to have been an undercover police officer. An Ottoman-style restaurant opened in a town nearby; it served no food but had a mineral water menu tens of pages long, and fashion models came to drink their way through it while we played football with their bodyguards.”

The second story “‘sorry’ doesn’t sweeten her tea,” begins with a house of locks and two friends, a rock star, and you-tube. Sisters Day and Aisha, who are being raised by their father and his boyfriend, deal with the news that their favorite singer has been accused of savagely beating a woman.When the rock star is exposed by the victim on you-tube, his fans’ reaction is to praise rather than condemn him, and he cynically uses his exposure as a vehicle for his next popular song.  Young Aisha, an ardent fan, now demands not only accountability but also his repentance.  The ending is satisfying, if other worldly, but had me wondering how we would all like to see some comeuppance for those who tend to “get away with it.”

Happy to have found Helen Oyeyemi, I will keep reading – seven more short stories in this book, and hope I will be able to discuss them with someone who has read them.

Have you?

Related Review:  Haruki Murakami

Traveling Vicariously – The World Between Two Covers

9781631490675_p0_v2_s192x300If you are grounded but love to travel, Ann Morgan’s The World Between Two Covers may offer a tonic.  Listening to Morgan’s British accent as she narrates her book on Audible has me transported to some places I am revisiting and others new to me.

When the book opens, Morgan refers to familiar authors as she describes the University Library at Cambridge – Robert Macfarlane, Helen Oyeyemi, Ali Smith.  Her frustration at not being able to keep up with all the library’s offerings struck a chord and her discovery of a wonderful book she had never heard of before, leads to her attempt to read around the world in books. Like Morgan, I tend toward the British and American bestseller writers, with a few from authors in translation and some from deep-thinking award winners – possibly like Morgan’s words – “a literary xenophobe.”

As she “takes on the world’s stories,”  I am ready for the trip, prepared for ten hours of listening, already enamored by Morgan’s academic quest and her British sense of humor.  So far, I am vicariously sitting in a lecture hall in Cambridge, listening to a talented and enthusiastic world literature professor – agreeing with some statements and eagerly learning some new ideas.  Not for everyone – but I like it.

Note of Caution:  From the reviews I checked before starting, I was not put off by Morgan’s clear focus in her book to describe the planning of her project rather than reviewing the books read.  The World between Two Covers is not a discussion of the individual books – although her reviews are available at the blog ayearofreadingtheworld.com – rather, it is a study of the idea of literature around the world.

I did check out her blog and found the list of books Morgan read in her year-long quest for world literature:  The List of Books