Selasa, 8 April 2014

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Inhuman #1

Posted: 07 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

The Inhumans have played an important role in the Marvel world.

THE Inhumans may not have not reached the heights of popularity enjoyed by the likes of the X-Men or Avengers, but they have played an important role in Marvel continuity, including a pivotal role in last year's epic Infinity event.

Created by Stan Lee and John Kirby in 1965 as back-up characters in Fantastic Four #45, the Inhumans have had four short-lived series of their own over the years (the last one in 2003).

The result of Kree experiments on ancient Homo sapiens when humankind was in its infancy, the Inhumans are a new race of people who not only possess enhanced physical abilities, but – through exposure to a chemical agent called Terrigen – superpowers as well. The most famous of them so far are Black Bolt, King of the Inhumans and member of the Illuminati, and his wife Medusa.

In Infinity, the Inhuman city of Attilan was attacked by Thanos, but Black Bolt retaliated by detonating a Terrigen Bomb that not only destroyed the entire city, but also released an unknown amount of Terrigen gas into the world's atmosphere.

As a result, every single person in the world with Inhuman ancestry (whether they were aware of it or not) were transformed into super-powered Inhumans (including the latest incarnation of Ms Marvel, Kamala Khan).

At the beginning of Inhuman, Medusa is the sole ruler of the Inhumans, as Black Bolt is missing and presumed dead after the Attilan disaster. Faced with thousands of new Inhumans appearing all over the world, she sets out to collect them and bring them into the fold of New Attilan.

Besides Medusa, Inhuman #1 focuses on three new characters – new Inhumans Kristian (powers unknown), Dante (fire powers), and Lash, an Inhuman from the hidden city of Orollan. The main protagonist of Inhuman, Lash believes that Inhuman powers are a gift that should only be wielded by a chosen few, and is on a mission to seek out those who are unworthy of their new Inhuman status.

In this first issue, Soule wastes no time in setting up the premise of the entire series, introducing the new characters while giving some useful bits of exposition at the same time. The entire issue is well paced with typically excellent Madureira artwork, but somehow, it doesn't really stand out in the way Soule's She-Hulk or even the new Ms. Marvel did with their All-New Marvel Now debuts.

In fact, much of it plays out like one of those "previously on…" recaps on TV shows, and the introduction of Lash and the rest of the new characters just isn't captivating enough to make us want more.

It also doesn't help that the whole Terrigen Bomb incident happened almost five months ago, and has since been brought up and rehashed over and over again in various books leading up to this.

As a result, Inhuman #1 feels a little lethargic, and suffers from a lack of freshness and originality. It's not a bad start to the series, but it's just a shame that Black Bolt and his Inhumans have started out with a whisper rather than a shout.

We are water

Posted: 07 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

A novel with deep, dark secrets.

IS Wally Lamb's We Are Water the definitive post-racial, post-9/11 American novel?

Its premise sounds simple enough: Annie Oh, artist and divorced mother of three, is about to marry Viveca, the woman who helped further her career as an artist.

Her decision shakes up her family a bit, not least because Annie was already seeing Viveca while her marriage was on the rocks and her son, a born-again Christian and army nurse, objects to his mother's same-sex marriage.

Not to worry, we will get more than just Annie's family trying to adjust to their mother's new direction in life and getting along with the new (mum?)in-law.

Besides Annie, her children and her ex-husband Orion (what's with that name?), the numerous narrators in the novel include an elderly art curator and several other characters from Annie and Orion's pasts.

A seemingly unrelated interview with said curator and his tale of the mysterious death of a black artist – the type whose genius only surfaces decades later – leads to Annie's introduction and the art she produces.

As the story progresses, we get hints of something terrible that happened during Annie's childhood that might have fuelled her "angry art" and have repercussions for her family and the day of the marriage.

We get an idea that Annie's is not a typical American family. Originally a red-headed lass with Irish roots, she'd married Orion who is of Italian-Chinese descent. By the time she meets the Greek lady Viveca, her children are already grown up. Besides her army-nurse son, Annie has two daughters: one's an earth-mother type and the other is young, hip and dreams of Hollywood stardom.

But this portrait of the new post-racial American family is not quite all hunky-dory, either. Under the glittering surface of the Ohs' facade lie murky depths where secrets lurk. All of them have something to hide from the world and each other, but perhaps nothing as dark as what Annie had tucked away in her memories.

One complaint is that the pace at which the long story of this family (over 500 pages) unfolds is painfully slow. While much of the backstory is meant to give the characters more depth and character, I found a lot of it as enlightening as white noise.

The again, I generally follow the news and goings-on in the United States more than of what goes on at home, so a lot of it sounds all too familiar.

With regards to the Ohs' first-person narration: the tone is mostly ranty and whining. We have details that add meat to the characters, their ways of thinking, and motivations, fears and hopes, but half the time they just seem to be venting. It's like reading a blog by a dysfunctional family.

At some point, their troubles and secrets no longer matter, as this reader, bogged down by fatigue, started skimming in haste towards the ending – which, I suppose, bears the promise that, no matter how difficult the past and present, there's always light at the end of the tunnel. And family will always be family.

I'm not particularly impressed by this novel; reading it was like a rough tumble in a white-water raft. However, those with a penchant for novels that plumb deep, dark family secrets will find Lamb's turbulent, turbid waters a satisfactory, if challenging, dip.

Worthless People

Posted: 07 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

An amazing novel that pulls at the heartstrings.

"When the man is born, the child dies." This African proverb opens Skeeter Wilson's debut novel,Worthless People.

The start of the novel sees the protagonist, Dave, move from being a child to a man. His friend, Asan, is also poised to become a man but must first undergo a circumcision ceremony. Following this ceremony, Asan and other boys his age will be sent to live in the desert for two years to learn to become warriors. Only then will they be acknowledged as fully-fledged men.

But though Dave is also about to enter manhood, he is treated differently from Asan.

In a clever twist, Wilson reveals that while his protagonist is African, he is also Caucasian. Dave is the son of white Americans who had come to work in Africa.

Dave's parents may have had good intentions in wanting to help the African continent but in doing do they have become estranged from their son, who feels more at home with the natives of the land than he does with his own parents.

In fact, so uninvolved are Dave's parents that they don't even bother to accompany the lad on his first day at boarding school, leaving it to Dave's friend and fellow boarder Scott and Scott's father to handle enrolment. Further emphasising Dave's disconnect with the white world, he speaks Swahili to the woman at the registration desk.

There is another thing that sets Dave apart from the other children at school: he is not 100% healthy. The bones in his foot are not fully formed, and he has heart problems, and both issues do not allow him to participate in sporting events. Thus he is left out of the team-building and bonding games that his fellow classmates and borders engage in.

To pass the lonely minutes during recess every day, Dave looks out of the school compound into the vastness of Africa.

In a poignant moment, Dave tells the African family that he has befriended about how the whites fence themselves in to keep the rest of Africa out. On the surface, it seems as though Dave is referring to the school, where the white children are kept behind the fence for most of the day; but Wilson is also showing the chasm between foreigners and the natives, with the foreigners fearing the Africans to the point that they maintain a physical separation.

There are other ways in which Wilson sketches out the differences between whites and blacks, such as with Dave's relationship with Gracie, a girl from the Malusi tribe. The divide between traditional Africa and modern America is apparent during the conversation between the two teens: Gracie believes a husband shows affection by beating his wife while Dave maintains love is gentler. While the exchange is humorous, it also shows the vast differences between the two peoples.

Of course, as with most children of expatriates, Dave is aware that his time in Africa is temporary, that his parents will eventually leave Africa and that he will have to follow them back to the United States – which he refers to as "my parents' homeland".

In what is perhaps the saddest conversation in the novel, Dave asks Mama, the matriarch of the African family he befriended, if he belongs in Africa. Mama's response: "My son, you belong to everybody and nobody." Like most children who grew up learning the cultures of one society while belonging to another, Dave is lost, belonging to neither Africa nor America.

Though it is largely poignant and heart-breaking, Worthless People is also triumphant in the sense that despite his limitations, Dave has carved a path for himself. His biological parents may be complete strangers to him, but Dave has found a whole tribe that accepts him as one of their own despite the colour of his skin.

Dave cannot explain why his parents ever conceived him and they never tell their side of the story. Perhaps Wilson, who was born to American missionaries and grew up as a Caucasian in British Colonial East Africa, did not know either. The lack of their voice shows the abyss between Dave (and perhaps Wilson) and his parents.

A pet peeve: Wilson keeps referring to the country where Dave grew up and went to school as "Africa" when he should have narrowed it down to one of the 52 countries the African continent holds.

That aside, Worthless People is an amazing novel that pulls at the heartstrings. It not only shows the different ideologies between two nations, it also shows how the privileged sometimes take things for granted. In Dave's parents' case, their privilege was in having him but, for reasons only known to them (and perhaps to Wilson), saving a continent that does not want saving by foreigners becomes their priority.

The underlying message throughout the novel is that Dave wants to belong. Regardless of the colour his skin, his nationality and his passport, Dave wants to be with people who love him enough to want him around. It just so happens that those people are from an African family whose traditions clash with those of modern America.

The title, by the way, does not refer to Dave's parents but to the Waduni, a people who are so irresponsible they have lost their cattle and are forced to hunt wild animals to survive; they are considered worthless yet are also known to be mighty hunters. In a poignant way, Dave also considers himself a worthless person, as he will not need to hunt to survive in America.

Pick up Worthless People, you won't be disappointed.


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