The Magicians by Lev Grossman

“I think you’re magicians because you’re unhappy. A magician is strong because he feels pain. He feels the difference between what the world is and what he would make of it. Or what did you think that stuff in your chest was? A magician is strong because he hurts more than others. His wound is his strength.
Most people carry that pain around inside them their whole lives, until they kill the pain by other means, or until it kills them. But you, my friends, you found another way: a way to use the pain. To burn it as fuel, for light and warmth. You have learned to break the world that has tried to break you.”

Published by Viking, 2009, 402 pages.
Edition: Viking, 2009, 402 pages.

I’ve read very mixed opinions about this book, and at least partly I think it’s the fault of the marketing that labels this books as “Harry Potter for grown ups.” I would definitely advise going into this book without such expectations, because, even though the author intentionally alludes to and plays with familiar elements from the Harry Potter series and The Chronicles of Narnia, that is where the similarities stop.

The majority of criticism seems to geared towards the main character, Quentin Coldwater, a self-proclaimed genius, who is at the same time a self-absorbed, sarcastic douchebag and a self-conscious and angsty teenager. He is full of doubts and can’t seem to find meaning in his life, and I found that the flaws in his personality made him a realistic and interesting main character. Moreover, at the beginning of the book, he is only 17, which is still that difficult transitional stage in a young person’s life between being a teenager and an adult, and that often comes with a big dose of arrogance.

All his life Quentin has dreamed of escaping from the mundanity of everyday life into the world of his favourite childhood fantasy series – Fillory. One day, he suddenly receives an invitation from the elite Brakebills magic school, a plot point reminiscent of the dream of many Harry Potter fans to receive an acceptance letter from Hogwarts. However, Brakebills is not Hogwarts and it’s not enough to be born as the chosen one. It was refreshing to see the characters struggling to learn magic. In Brakebills magic always comes with a cost and, to become a great magician, students must put a lot of effort into their studies. It was refreshing to read about a magic school, in which the study of magic requires a lot of perseverance, dedication and hard work, instead of just natural talent. Also, in the spare time from their hard studies, these young magicians party like there is no tomorrow.

Comparisons to the Harry Potter series, and my previous experience with the fantasy genre, made me expect that the story will be plot driven and follow the adventures of the group of young magicians in the magic school, however, the book actually focuses more on the feelings and inner turmoil of these characters, who long for the fulfilment of their dreams and a clear goal in life, as well as their disappointment in the reality of adult life.

The book asks some very interesting questions about what would happen if your biggest wish came true? Would that actually make you happy? And how much would you be willing to sacrifice for it?

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A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

“But in another city, another valley, another ghetto, another slum, another favela, another township, another intifada, another war, another birth, somebody is singing Redemption Song, as if the Singer wrote it for no other reason but for this sufferah to sing, shout, whisper, weep, bawl, and scream right here, right now.”

Published by Oneworld Publications, 2014, 688 pages
Edition: Oneworld Publications, 2014, 688 pages.

Winner of the 2015 Man Booker prize

Narrated by an assortment of fascinating voices, this is a remarkable and multi-layered account of the political and social situation in the 1970s and 1980s Jamaica, as well as a look into the lives of Jamaican immigrants in New York.

The central point of the novel is the attempted assassination of Reggae superstar Bob Marley in 1976. The novel shifts between several perspectives (assassins, gang leaders, drug dealers, a CIA agent, music journalist and even a ghost), and each of these characters brings a unique perspective to the story. Amid the political rivalry between the two biggest Jamaican political parties (J.L.P. and P.N.P), we also get a glimpse of various foreign powers (CIA, Columbian drug cartel, Cubans, who are opponents to Castro’s regime) that are all trying to establish their influence in Jamaica.

The author successfully avoided clichés in the characterisation and has managed to create very memorable and credible characters. Through the prism of various different personal experiences, thoughts and feelings, the reader becomes an eyewitness to the events that were happening in Jamaica at that time. I would particularly like to mention Nina Burgess, a young and opinionated woman, who goes to the US in search of a better life. She is a very strong and fascinating character and one of the best female voices that I’ve read in a while.

I should note that some of the characters speak in the local Jamaican dialect, which at some points makes it a challenging read, but it’s well worth the effort and adds authenticity to these voices. I would also like to warn any readers, who are sensitive to graphic depictions of violence. James doesn’t hold back in describing very disturbing scenes of violence. But, keeping that in mind, this is a very thought-provoking and a history lesson in Caribbean politics against the background of the Cold War. Definitely one of my favourites of the year.

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