Saying goodbye to the cinemas has been hard, even if it is only temporary. On the bright side, that means more time for books.
What I managed to read were excellent, though incidentally clouded in grey, which inspired a revisit of my favourite graphic novel series for much-needed cheer.
How We Disappeared (by Jing-Jing Lee, 2019)
He knew what the unsaid did to people. Ate away at them from the inside. He had told Wang Di nothing. Not until a few years into their marriage, following a rare day at the beach. After that, all he wanted to do was talk about the war. What he had done. Not done.
I have often wondered about the stories left untold as the number of war survivors dwindle with time. Inspired by author Lee Jing-Jing’s own family history, How We Disappeared is thus a remnant to be treasured. The novel recounts one of the darkest chapters of Singapore’s history, where the Japanese army had ruthlessly enslaved and murdered women.
This heartbreaking narrative extends to the difficulties the survivors faced even after the war as they tried to move on in an unforgiving society. Forward in time, it also reminds us of a harrowing truth – in how we sometimes allow the older generation to fade, when they have so much more to give.
Shame (by Melanie Finn, 2016)
Their anger, their sorrow would make me real; like Frankenstein’s monster, make me exist. I could not pull away from myself, this grasping, selfish woman who wanted to feel guilt not for what she had done, but so she could prove to herself that she existed.
A devastating accident marks the turning point in the life of Pilgrim Jones, who finds her escape in a small Tanzanian village. Still, she carries with her the weight of her guilt that blinds her to the beauty of all around her. Shame is an arresting story about grief and the intractable ache that comes along and never goes away.
It is beautifully written, as disturbing as it is haunting. Across chapters, we see how irrevocable mistakes can happen in a split second and change our lives forever. We are made to feel the despair of Pilgrim and the strangers she meet, each haunted by their own moments of loss and lifetimes of pain.
Dark Tales (by Shirley Jackson, 2013)
I sat up in bed and backed as far away from the picture as I could, realising, in the one lucid moment I had before the cold terror of that thing hit me, that she was on the inside of the glass, and couldn’t get out.
The Lottery may be Shirley Jackson’s most famous short story, but there’s more where that came from. Dark Tales is her collection of 17 such stories of varying lengths, each a flaunt of her flair for horror writing. It is no surprise that she is now regarded as one of the most influential writers in the genre.
Her stories adeptly draw the unsettling out of what appears ordinary, many invoking chilling existential questions. There is also a strong taste of the bizarre. Women contemplate unprovoked crimes, commit them, ignore glaring portents, and edge towards death wishes. Ill intents are never overt or obvious, illustrating the terrifying unpredictability of human nature.
Captain America: Winter Soldier Vol. 1 & 2 (by Ed Brubaker, 2006)
I decided to break the streak of dark books with their depressing subjects at half-mark, and picked up The Winter Soldier graphic novels – again. It turned out a wonderful decision; this really still is one of my favourite arcs.