Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi - Book Review
Like its roundabout, not-actually-tautological title, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is a collection in which each story takes a roundabout turn, Mobius-stripping its way through its plots. Plots, plural, for no story is straightforward in that it has one beginning, one middle, and one end. Most have at least two beginnings and two middles, though the ends vary from being singular to dual to nil. Later in the book, we see Aisha again, all grown up, refusing to have penetrative sex with her boyfriend. And here is where I must come to the conclusion that became clearer to me as I read: this book is incredibly queer, incredibly feminist, and beautiful for it. The first two stories mentioned above contain, first, a pair of star-crossed women lovers and, second, a pair of men who take care of the daughters one of them has from a previous marriage to a woman. In both cases there is no explanation, no coming out story, but simply facts: Lucy is in love with Safiye, Noor is in love with Anton.
From what I can gather so far, each story involves a key of some sort and the protagonist searching for something, be that family, an object, their own identity etc. I finished this story with a lot of admiration for Helen Oyeyemi as a writer and clear master of words however I have to be honest, I also finished the story a little bit confused. When it started, I was immediately intrigued. The unknown mother suggests that this was the best place for her to leave her baby as the baby is black and the monks have a statue of Black Madonna in their premises so she was certain she was leaving her in a good place. Then we follow our female protagonist quite quickly as she grows up, gets work as a laundress and meets another young woman who not only also possesses a strange key but is also waiting for someone and we hear a bit of her story. I absolutely adored the beginning, it felt very fairy-tale like and some of the passages she writes are truly beautiful, especially ones set within the gorgeous library:. However, I do think that because the author completely flooded the narrative with the back stories of both Montse, Lucy and another young woman Safiye, I perhaps got a little overwhelmed about where one story started and the other finished and how that information pertained to each character.
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Helen Oyeyemi’s short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is a new addition to my collection after completing a collection by a different author last year. Maybe it’s also getting used to a different writers style, especially when this is the first thing I’ve read.
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We must learn not to be too attached to our first heroine, even if she is a figure as attractive as a black baby in the lap of the Black Virgin of Monserrat, for she will be unexpectedly supplanted by another, and then probably another again. We must accept that time, too, moves in curious ways, and that there is very little point in trying to work out what historical period you might be in. Subsequent stories, though, test our new reading capacities. The idea is novel and witty - but after such a chase, the screen seems small, and the figures not so much grandly ambiguous as rather indistinct. Making such a child more than an idea is the challenge of the story for both reader and writer, and his first appearance is a triumph. But after that word, Oyeyemi seems to lose interest. Only a few of the tales, in fact, settle at all easily into the confines of the short story.