The Year of the Dog is quickly approaching! For our first lunar new year event, we went to a banquet last weekend with my alumni group from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. These are eight of the ten dishes we had. Our group of 30 came from four states. In the weeks to come, I’ll be posting more photos of our Year of the Dog celebrations!
I was looking for something to read and wanted to take a break from my enormous to read pile, so when I found this book at my local public library, I was intrigued by the title. I’ve never been to Berlin, but it’s on my list and when I turned the book over and read the synopsis, I was hooked.
Melanie Joosten’s debut, Berlin Syndrome (Scribe, 2011), was recently republished because its film adaptation came out last year. There’s been so much debate in the US recently about why women stay in crappy and even dangerous situations. The story in this novel is central to that question and I feel Joosten does a fabulous job showing it.
Clare is an Australian photographer who is traveling around the former Eastern Bloc for a photo book she’s working on. When she goes to Berlin, she meets a young local named Andi (short for Andreas). He’s tall, attractive, and speaks English fluently because he’s a high school English teacher and once spent a year in London. Clare doesn’t know that Andi targets her and stages a chance meeting after he sees her reading outside, minding her own business.
But since Andi seems nice and is tall and attractive, Clare also flirts with him and doesn’t do anything to show she’s not interested. Andi follows her and finds her at a bookstore, where they meet again a couple days later. Clare goes home with Andi after they go out for drinks and he offers to cook her dinner at his place.
At this point, I can hear the criticism. She shouldn’t have gone home with him. What was she thinking, going home with a stranger? She asked for what she got.
This is where the dialogue is finally changing. This is where I stop and think he shouldn’t have kidnapped her and kept her against her will for almost a year. Why do we always blame the women when they aren’t the ones committing the crimes? I’ve gone home with people I’ve met on flights in other countries and wasn’t kept against my will. I know people who went home with strangers at the airport in the US when their relatives didn’t pick them up as scheduled after they’d flown halfway across the world for the first time. They weren’t kidnapped either.
Andi didn’t keep Clare locked up after the first night she stayed over. She leaves the next morning and heads toward to the train station to high-tail it out of Berlin. Andi rememberes Clare talking about leaving Berlin, so he guesses she’ll be at a certain station and runs there after he wakes up and Clare is gone. He finds her on the platform and in his deranged state truly believes she’s waiting for him to convince her to stay in Berlin, to go back to his place with him.
Why didn’t she leave? Because she thought he was romantic and a normal guy. He hadn’t shown he was an insecure man with mother issues who didn’t have a grasp on reality. Clare stays over again and they have a good time. She thinks they have a connection. And when she can’t leave the apartment the next day, she sure it’s because Andi absentmindedly forgot to leave a key. It’s true he did forget, but at that point he gets it into his mind that he can always forget a key and at some point she will learn to love him after she gets over the fact that he’s imprisoned her.
And that’s what happens. But imprisoning someone against her will doesn’t always work out for the perpetrator. Andi starts to feel suffocated by Clare’s presence. The stress of losing her is too great for him. He feels he would be better off not having this stress about her leaving (even though she can’t open the door) if only she weren’t at his apartment, yet he can’t get himself to let her go. Imprisoning her is destroying her, but it’s also eating away at him. I’m not empathetic toward Andi at all, but I liked how Joosten showed how it wasn’t all that he thought it would be when he decided to enslave Clare.
The story moves along at a steady pace and several twists pop up along the way. The book is short and a quick read. I like how Joosten shows not only why women stay, but also how after being entrapped for a while, they become conflicted about their captor. Clare has a chance to escape at some point and I can almost hear readers yelling at her to not be so stupid to pass up this chance, but it’s not that simple. When we feel so trapped, so hopeless, we go into survival mode and do whatever we can to normalize our situations. The title of the book refers to Stockholm Syndrome, where people who are captives start to empathize with their captors.
That’s one of the reasons women stay.
The Junibacken wasn’t on the top to-see lists I saw for Stockholm, but it was on mine. After we went to the Vasa Museum on our first full day in Stockholm, I marched the family across the field above to the Junibacken, a museum dedicated to Swedish children’s literature.
I loved the stroller parking and wondered if my kids were a bit old for this museum.
We arrived at the Junibacken around 2:30pm, less than an hour from sunset. The lights on the trees were already on. So we knew it would be dark when we’d leave the museum. Good-bye, daylight!
The exhibits in the Junibacken all center around characters and stories in Swedish children’s books. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to get train tickets for a popular ride that goes through different scenes from children’s books, complete with people dressed in character. But the parts we saw were fun, even though we didn’t know any Swedish children’s books besides Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren.
This room was fun.
Pretty as a picture!
The store in the museum is the largest children’s bookstore in Sweden. The English section was small and expensive.
But we couldn’t not buy a Pippi Longstocking book!
And sure enough, when we left around 5pm, it had been dark for a couple hours.
I’m so glad we went to the Junibacken, even though we missed the train ride. There were plenty of things for the kids to see and they didn’t seem too old. If only there were a similar museum in the US!
I love this photo because it shows how environmentally-friendly people in Stockholm are in that they aren’t driving everywhere like Americans. Many walk or take the subway, bus, or tram. We were also really impressed by how much fathers are involved with childcare in Stockholm. On the tram or along the street, we saw more dads alone with kids than moms. I can’t remember ever seeing that, even in the US.
I met Samira Ahmed last summer at the American Library Association’s annual meeting. Her debut YA novel, Love, Hate, and Other Filters (Soho Teen, 2018) was one of the review copies I picked up at the conference and was the first I read.
It was so much warmer back then! Fast forward six months and today is finally her publication day. I drove out to Anderson’s Bookstore in Naperville, Illinois for her book launch tonight.
She had a full house and talked about the Islamophobia in her book and how her protagonist, Maya, is completely unprepared for it in her Batavia, Illinois high school. Samira also discussed writing about first generation teens. If my kids’ school had YA books, this would be a must-read. But alas, it’s an elementary school and some of the content is a little advanced for 10 year olds. The message is crucial, though.
The questions from the audience were really great, too. Someone asked which part was her favorite to write (the end) and how she names her characters. She replied that she starts her novels with a title in mind and the characters’ names already decided. “It’s like naming your children,” she said. You wouldn’t change your children’s names after they’re ten years old, so it’s the same with her characters’ names.
Even though I had a review copy, I couldn’t not buy a hardcover. It’s so beautiful and every participant received a special card Samira designed.
And check out the back cover!
She’ll be doing events around the country and will be back in Chicago at 57th Street Books on Saturday, February 3rd at 3pm.