kittiwake (kittiwake) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Books 13 & 14

"Linden Hills" by Gloria Naylor

Not much of an idea? It was a wonderful idea - colossal. Anything that put the music back in Ruth's voice as she spoke to him. He would go into Linden Hills and work his butt off. Then he'd take the money and buy her and Norm a great gift — maybe even a turkey, too. Ruth wanted him to go into Linden Hills and he would go.Ruth wanted him to go into Linden Hills and he would go. He was just sorry that she hadn’t asked him to go into hell for her so he could really prove himself.

Best friends and fellow poets Willie Mason and Lester Tilson, work their way down through the exclusive, and exclusively African-American, suburb of Linden Hills, doing odd jobs to earn money to buy Christmas presents. But the streets of Linden Hills correspond to the circles of hell in Dante's Inferno, and Willie (who lives in the down-market area of Putney Wayne) and Lester (whose family have lived on First Crescent in Linden Hills since the very beginning) are this book's Dante and Virgil.

Lester and Willie's friends Ruth (who during her first marriage lived on Fifth Avenue) and Norman, live in a barely furnished apartment in Putney Wayne and are happy with their lot, and unlike most of their neighbours, they don't aspire to a house in Linden Hills. Those who have already made it into Linden Hills hope to move further down the hill, and ultimately onto Tupelo Drive, just above the moated house belonging to undertaker and property developer Luther Nedeed, whose ancestor bought the hillside back before the American Civil War.

Apart from the poets and their friends, the person I had most sympathy for was Reverend Hollis, a resident of Fifth Crescent who employed Willie and Lester to help him get ready for the children's Christmas party at his church. Reverend Hollis feels his faith seeping away, quashed by the emptiness emanating from his large, wealthy and status-conscious congregation, so every year he throws a party for the children of Putney Wayne at his own expense, in the hope of encouraging some poorer people who are full of God's spirit to start attending his church. The oddest person in the book doesn't even live in Linden Hills. Maxwell Smyth has risen to a high position in General Motors despite the handicap of being black. He controls every aspect of his life to the nth degree, including his dietary and toilet habits, dedicating his life to being so perfect that no-one can doubt that he is the best man for whatever job is on offer.

"The City & The City" by China Mieville

I glanced over the list of code phrases we had agreed to, but none of them— - I miss Besź dumplings = am in trouble, Working on a theory = know who did it— - were remotely germane. “'I feel fucking stupid',” she had said as we came up with them. “'I agree',” I had said. '“I do too. Still.'” Still, we could not assume that our communications would not be listened to, by whatever power it was that had outmanoeuvred us in Besźel. Is it more foolish and childish to assume there is a conspiracy, or that there is not?

A young woman is murdered and dumped on wasteland at night. Her body is found by local teenagers and the city police begin an investigation. so far, this could be just another murder mystery, but this murder has occurred in a city like no other, Beszel is a city-state somewhere in Eastern Europe, that through a forgotten quirk of history, shares the land with another city-state called Ul Qoma. Some areas belong to one city and some to the other, while many streets are cross-hatched, meaning that the buildings are a patchwork of Ul Qoman and Besz buildings and people form both cities walk the street. But although the cities are intertwined around and through each other, they are foreign countries and their citizens learn from an early age to 'unsee' foreign people, buildings and landmarks. A cross-hatched area that is a thriving street in Ul Qoma can be deserted and run-down in Besz, or vice versa, so that citizens of one city are walking through an empty street, while 'unseeing' and avoiding the crowd filling the street of the other city. Learning to drive is especially difficult, as you have to learn to 'unsee' other vehicles at the same time as avoiding them.

The government and police of the two cities are completely separate, and a crime committed in one city will not even be noticed by citizens of the other city. but everyone fears Breach. Silently appearing out of thin air whenever someone contravenes the laws that keep the cities separate, Breach restore order and whisk away the perpetrators of the Breach to be tried in secret. You can be in Breach by stepping into the other city, or even by looking at something in the other city instead of 'unseeing' it (although children and foreigners are given a little leeway), but the most frequent cause of Breaches is traffic accidents.

So this is a fantasy novel as well as a police procedural, and I think it works as both. Unfortunately I can't tell you what I liked best about it, as that would involve a massive spoiler, but I can recommend it wholeheartedly.
Tags: african-american lit, fantasy, police drama, religion

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