When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamín Labatut
Book Review/ 10. April 2022

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut My rating: 1 of 5 stars This is one of the very few books I’m not finishing. Let me explain why: The problem with this one is that Benjamín Labatut introduces the history of an invention to us. Let’s take the first story on “Prussian Blue” as an example: Labatut starts by shortly describing the invention itself and what lead to it. He then proceeds to tell us about the inventor(s) and how they relate to each other and the world. Labatut does this, and that’s my first issue, at break-neck speed. He drops name after name after name and forms connections between them in rarely more than a single sentence. It’s exhausting and not very illuminating. Much worse, though, whenever there’s insufficient historical evidence Labatut chooses the most lurid and raciest possible explanation. For example Fritz Haber’s (Haber played a most prominent role in chemical warfare) wife, Clara Immerwahr, did commit suicide – but the reasons are unclear. Immerwahr’s marriage to Haber was unhappy on many levels and she may or may not have been against World War I – there are conflicting accounts. Labatut, though, decides to paint…

Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir, by Natasha Trethewey
Book Review/ 21. March 2022

Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey My rating: 4 of 5 stars »All those years I thought that I had been running away from my past I had, in fact, been working my way steadily back to it.« This was not easy to read and even less so to review. In “Memorial Drive” Trethewey remembers her childhood, born 1966, in a still very much segregated Gulfport, Mississippi, USA. Her mother black and her father white this clearly was a challenge. Trethewey’s father leaves the family and when her mother meets another man and, ultimately, marries him, things quickly escalate for young Trethewey who is routinely abused by her stepfather, Joel, who also beats his wife and terrorises the entire family.Joel eventually murders his then-ex wife. First and foremost, “Memorial Drive” is about remembering a loving mother and telling her story. When asked about what Trethewey would want to be a key takeaway from reading “Memorial Drive” she answered as follows: “If I was really honest, I would want for people to fall a little bit in love with her the way I love her. I want people to care so much about her life so that when you…

Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage, by Heather Havrilesky
Book Review/ 20. February 2022

Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage by Heather Havrilesky My rating: 5 of 5 stars »Forever is two immortal elves, sipping pink champagne by a burbling stream, then exploring the wild, gorgeous woods around them in everlasting harmony. Forever is set in New Zealand, not New Jersey.« It was around Christmas when I came across Heather Havrilesky’s essay “Marriage Requires Amnesia” (which is an adaptation from this book) in the New York Times. In it, Havrileski poignantly describes her 15-year marriage to Bill Sandoval. While reading it, I laughed out loud and I cried and sometimes all of it at the same time.Being in the 23rd year of my marriage myself, I felt both understood and like gaining a better understanding of my wife. »But we weren’t married yet, so he still thought he could do whatever he wanted.« I couldn’t wait to see “Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage” released in early February because I was hoping for more of the same. And I got it – to some extent. Divided into four parts, “Foreverland” reads like the memoir of a relationship – starting at the tumultuous courtship between Heather and Bill, we learn a lot about…