Book Review: Exit West

Book Review: Exit West

“The end of the world can be cozy at times.” – Exit West

I like to believe that every reader has one of those writers. The ones whose book you read and talk about to anyone who cares to listen and who lead you down a rabbit hole of everything the internet can throw up about them including where they went for high school when nobody cared for their existence because that’s how this works, right? Right? I’m probably just a creep and the internet should be abolished never mind me. The thing is, Mohsin Hamid put me in a bottle with The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007). It took 3 months after reading it to eventually get Exit West (2017).

“To love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.” – Exit West

I love love. Doesn’t everyone? Love stories even better. You see, the reason I’m in this Mohsin bottle is because the love story in The Reluctant Fundamentalist was everything a *wipes tear* romcom should be. Tragic and sweet in all of the right places. And just…sigh. What I’m trying to get at are the expectations with which I got to Exit West.  All the hype it came with did not make it better for me. Man Booker and shit. I was ready.

“…for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.” – Exit West

This feels like I’m setting up stage to say I was disappointed. But it’s not a yes or no question. This book talks about very important issues of migration. Nadia and Saeed have to leave their home country which is in a civil war. That’s the trying-to-be-serious-reviewer me and I fail miserably.

“…for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does.” –  Exit West

What this book really is about is Nadia and Saeed’s love affair. It begins outside a lecture hall and when their lives are swept out from under their feet by the civil war that breaks out, continues in Nadia’s apartment where Saeed has to wear a robe and pretend to be her sister until the bombs get too close when Saeed’s mother passes. Nadia moves in, unplanned of course, with Saeed and his dad and eventually, they have no option but to leave this country. I love their love story. And because Mohsin is my favorite romance writer, he does that so well. The story invites you to the hesitation before the falling in love, the standards they set for their relationship and how those make no sense when the world is burning right outside their doors, the progression from lover to partner, and my oh my, the falling out of love. These are the love stories that I love to read.

“Every time a couple moves they begin, if their attention is still drawn to one another, to see each other differently, for personalities are not a single immutable color, like white or blue, but rather illuminated screens, and the shades we reflect depend much on what is around us.” – Exit West

I like how elaborate the way they fall out of love is. I’m not a sadist but it’s my favorite thing in the book. Mostly because this is not something we tell very well.

“In times of violence, there is always that first acquaintance or intimate of ours, who, when they are touched, makes what had seemed like a bad dream suddenly, evisceratingly real.” – Page 31, Exit West

So even though I was not particularly um, what’s the word, invested in how Mohsin told the story of this grand issue (migration), I was very invested in this love story. I was invested in how they handled their losses, in how they built their lives while looking for home.

“…we are all children who lose our parents, all of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will all be lost by those who comes after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity unites every human being, the temporary nature of our beingness…” – Exit West

I do wish I had read this book before The Reluctant Fundamentalist though. I mean, I’d still be in a bottle that’s for sure.

Book Review : Sol T Plaatje’s Mhudi

Book Review : Sol T Plaatje’s Mhudi

I am deeply sentimental and I also believe in signs and the like. A little over a month ago I lost my grandfather and I often mention how my love for reading stems from being raised by both he and my late grandmother. They were both avid readers and they read everything, my childhood home has so many books and each time I find gems that i didn’t know they had.

The week after my grandfather’s funeral I was in Exclusive Books with my daughter, I didn’t intend on buying any book, I was at the mall for a pair of black formal pants. The quick turn into the bookstore was to just quickly browse what they had. I found this copy of Mhudi by Sol T Plaatje tucked between Zakes Mda’s Little Suns and another book I can’t quite remember. I immediately knew I had to get it. It had to be a small smile from above.

Here’s a short backstory; Mhudi was one of those books I came across as a confused child reader who was still enjoying her Sweet Valley High books and books about while fences and ross gardens in American suburbs. I had no interest in books by African writers especially ones written many many years ago. It was special to my grandfather because of the author’s relationship with Kimberley, his hometown. Mhudi and Rathaga were also displaced after Mzilikazi attacked the Barolong and found each other. Similarly or not so similar, the romantic in me wants to relate this to my grandparents- my grandmother a Mosotho who followed her husband to a new country where they started a new life.

I don’t remember what happened to that copy of Mhudi and I hope I some day find it. I bought this book for a few reasons; I believe it was a sign, a comfort of some sort, secondly I’m wiser now and I read much better books haha and because my friend Eunice wrote some nice words about it this one time and couldn’t stop raving about it.

Mhudi was completed in 1920 and published ten years after. It tells events that happened a century before its publication, the 1830s. It’s a story of the Tswana tribes and how they lived and plotted revenge after King Mzilikazi attacked the Barolong. Mhudi a maiden Barolong woman meets Rathaga after the attack and together they form a bond. Mhudi is described as brave, independent and opinionated. She is not afraid to tell her husband her concerns and her opinions. A true leading woman.

The book is however not just about Mhudi and Rathaga’s escapades, a recurring theme in the book is land. Mzilikazi after leaving Shaka travels acquiring land from the smaller tribes he comes across. The Barolong lose their land to Mzilikazi and later to the Boers. I find that the movement of the tribes and where they eventually settled is very interesting and it is something i would like to further look into.

The book is about friendship and love despite the odds. It is a love story embedded in a historical recount of the Difacane wars. Rathaga develops a friendship with one of the Boers, Phil Jay. The friendship grew with time even though it was looked upon by the other boers who believed that they should never get that close to ‘kaffirs’.

In the book Mzilikazi is not just a warmonger chief but he has a soft spot for his wife Umnandi. A woman who reveals the soft side to her husband. Mzilikazi’s one true aim seems to be to turn the Matebele into one of the most powerful tribe in the land.

Mhudi is an African story that shows life before colonisation. It is a classic that holds so much history. I remember asking someone about it a few months ago and they described it as a love story, something which however true is not what I took away from the book. It is a recount of displacement and war and survival against all odds. I would recommend it to anyone. I now hold Mhudi and Kintu in the same regard, books that should be read. Necessary reads.

Of Wine & Long Letters About Books: Get To Know Esther Mirembe

Of Wine & Long Letters About Books: Get To Know Esther Mirembe

1. What’s the first book you remember reading?

i’m not actually sure you know. maybe treasure island, maybe tom sawyer, maybe Gulu Gulu goes to school(this was about a goat that went to school. I really loved it). What I know for sure is that I hated school and my big sister who was studying literature at the time, used to send me books at the beginning of every month. I was required to send the books back with a detailed letter of what I thought about the book. That’s how I got through primary school and how I fell in love with Jane Eyre. I thought it was revolutionary lmao.

2. Standalones or series?

Listen. I’m anxiously waiting for season 3 of Insecure and I wish it were a movie I could just get over with. No. No series please. I was so devastated after finishing the Twilight series lmao. Probably read all fan fiction that my 13 year old self could find.

3. Three books you would recommend to 16 year old you?

The Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid. 16 year old me would have been shocked at first. And inspired. She needed to know women like Xuella.

Bone by Yrsa Daley-ward. 16 year old me wrote a lot of poetry that didn’t(or couldn’t) quite find the words for the things she wanted to say. She would have been so thrilled to read this book.

Under the Udala Trees and/or Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta. These are stories she never knew she needed.

(I would add Nervous Conditions if you hadn’t limited me but oh well, *shrugs)

4. Where is Kainene Esther? Very important question 😂💔

Do we have to go here right now? I need a minute…

5. What’s your fondest memory regarding a book or book lover?

The first is writing letters to my sister about books. That *really* got me through primary school(I’m not exaggerating I promise. I absolutely hated school).

Then reading with the lover. It’s one of those things…

And having whole conversations about stories with someone who loves stories as much as I do. You know? Where you make references without having to explain and just go on and on and on are my favorite people. (This one time very recently I had failed to get out of bed because why do I have to and someone that I absolutely love called to talk about Happiness, Like Water. Well, mostly because they were going to write a chapter of something about it. And after talking about all the stories, I felt so ready to begin my day you know? Never mind that I didn’t tihihi)

6. Perfect reading setting? Curious to know If it involves either a glass or bottle of wine? 😂

I like cold grey days where I can wear colorful socks and read with no interruptions. Well, I’ll just say I love colorful socks. And we’ll go with a glass, thank you. If it’s a bottle, I’ll end up singing. (Wine makes me a fine musician you wouldn’t know haha)

7. If you could read one book for the rest of your life which one would it be?

I didn’t quite hear you properly, what did you say?… Come again… *Line goes dead*

8. What does the perfect bookstore look like?

ALL OF THE BOOKS I WANT ARE AVAILABLE 🗣🗣 and at prices in my tax bracket. And you can sit and read for hours surrounded by books and book lovers.

9. Do you write on your books? I’m judging you for this one.

What monster? Noooo. I have the little pointing sticky notes (page markers?), they do an amazingly colorful job. It’s interesting to see what caught you attention when you go back to the book much later.

10. Life changing book you read this year?

We are going to have to go with The Autobiography of my Mother.

Half the Wine: Kearoma Mido Mosata

Half the Wine: Kearoma Mido Mosata

What is Read Between the Wines?

My new baby. To me, it is a collaboration of like minds from two different places on the continent. Connected by a love of literature and wine ;). I’m excited about the future of this little venture. I wouldn’t have picked a better person to do this with.

Let’s talk about Struggling Bookworm. Why you created it. How the blogging journey with it has been so far…

Struggling Bookworm is my first ever blog. I created it because I wanted an outlet to talk about books, review them, rave about them, drool for the ones I can’t afford and so on. The name actually came from how as a reader in Botswana I jump(ed) through hoops to get books. Be it bookstores that don’t stock my favorite books, to their orders taking forever to arrive to the cost of buying books not just in Botswana but I think the continent too.


How did you begin to love books?

My late grandparents were avid readers. Most books in my collection were from their bookshelves. My fondest memory of them is sitting on the stoep, it’s a verandah in proper English right? Yes sitting on the stoep, they each had books in their hands and their spectacles on (papa never called them glasses haha). I also had a book in my hands. I don’t remember which one. Their love for reading and encouraging me to read is what made me a reader. Mama(my grandmother) subscribed to Readers Digest and they had these amazing stories. She felt I was too young to read some of them but I always snuck into their room to steal a few copies and read.

What kind of books do you like to read? What are you reading now?

I read everything to be honest. Thrillers, sci-fi, romance everything. I don’t think I would ever be bored if ever I’m stranded somewhere.

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You are a writer as well. Did this come from reading? Or was the writing the one that came before?

I would like to think that it did come from reading. Reading came first. The writing came and went when I was a kid, did the same in my teens till I was really taking it seriously in my late teens.

I love your story, ‘The Last Mathematician’. Mostly because you studied Mathematics. Do you think that you only have to be either the writer or the mathematician? This seems like a very directed question but I promise it’s very open.

Hmm. Interesting question. I think life might be short but it’s long enough to be whatever one wants. Even if it’s 5 different things haha. I still have about 3 other things I want to venture into, I won’t leave behind the writing or the Maths. So no, I don’t think one has to be labelled as one single thing.

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I’m hoping you do write a book some day (no pressure ;). When you do, what would you want it to be about? Who would you want to write like?

Wow Esther. Look at all that Pressure you claim to not have in this question hovering above me. Lol. I have thought about this a lot. Sometimes I have an answer and other times I think “wow dude a whole book. Do you know how long a whole book is?”. But I know that there will be a book, or 11 like Toni.

I want it to be a body of work that transcends time. I want to write a book that my daughter and other young girls will read years from now and resonate with. I don’t know What it will be about, maybe a book about a young black woman superhero who saves libraries using her magic book. Hahaha. Now there’s a plot for a short story.

What fascinates you the most about being a reader or how you are perceived as a reader?

I love how reading opens me up to new worlds. Not just those in the book but on social media too. Being a reader has connected me with some amazing people. I was that odd kid in junior school with a novel in her bag all the time. Now I know there’s more weirdos who read more than 2 books at a time and hoard books and spend all their savings on New books.


White or Red wine? (Will be judging your answers (: )

Hahaha. Can I answer this by saying I’m a new mommy who’s breastfeeding her baby? Good me would say that but honest me who wants to right the wrongs done by white wine lovers will say RED. always red. Haha. White on rare days but forever red.

Should we expect wine recommendations 👀

Lol I wish. The cheap boxed wines I like? Yes. Of course. But maybe during the course of this new journey I will become a connoisseur of good wine and I will be able to recommend the best pinotage and all.