Friday, May 8, 2020

Review: The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana by Maryse Condé

Title: The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana
Author: Maryse Condé
Format: Ebook
Publisher: World Editions
Publish Date: May 5, 2020
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Born in Guadeloupe, Ivan and Ivana are twins with a bond so strong they become afraid of their feelings for one another. When their mother sends them off to live with their father in Mali they begin to grow apart, until, as young adults in Paris, Ivana’s youthful altruism compels her to join the police academy, while Ivan, stunted by early experiences of rejection and exploitation, walks the path of radicalization. The twins, unable to live either with or without each other, become perpetrator and victim in a wave of violent attacks. In The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana, Maryse Condé, winner of the 2018 Alternative Nobel prize in literature, touches upon major contemporary issues such as racism, terrorism, political corruption, economic inequality, globalization, and migration. With her most modern novel to date, this master storyteller offers an impressive picture of a colorful yet turbulent 21st century."

My Two Cents:

"The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana" is the story of fraternal twins born on the island of Guadeloupe to a single mother. Their father, a famous musician in Mali, looms larger than life, over their childhood as their mother has imparted that if their father had just stayed that Ivan and Ivana would have had a much better life. The twins are closer than close (this is reiterated often throughout the book). They will travel from their island home to their father's homeland of Mali to Paris. This book is explores what happens when a seemingly unbreakable bond is broken by terrible events.

The highlight of the book for me was all of the detail about the various locations throughout the book. Guadeloupe and Mali were new-to-me locations in terms of reading about them. I really liked how the author brought both of these to life for me. You can feel the breeze in Guadeloupe and see the stores and restaurants in Mali. You get a good sense of how Ivan and Ivana see Paris.  The places almost become characters in the book, which I really liked.

The relationship between Ivan and Ivana is so incredibly close, particularly with regard to how Ivan sees Ivana. Parts of this were definitely out of my comfort zone but I think the idea was to just show a general closeness or essentially one being in two bodies. In particular, Ivan's romantic ideas about his sister are reiterated over again throughout the book (perhaps to exhaustion). The repetitive nature did take something away from the story, however, the closeness sets the scene for just how devastating the later events of the book are.

What kept me reading is the good writing and pacing. While the subject matter was uncomfortable, Conde's details kept the book flowing.  


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