By Athalie Armon-Jones

We All Looked Up – Tommy Wallach

‘We All Looked Up’ follows four teenagers in America as the world discovers an incoming asteroid and the looming possibility of the end of the world. Each teenager struggles with the sudden panic that ensues whilst dealing with the familiar issues of identity, purpose and what the future holds.

This book is an example of apocalyptic fiction done well; although filled with darkness as doom draws near, frequent tender moments creating a bizarre hopefulness. Wallach provides an insight into human behaviour when faced with a problem they cannot fix: people become selfish and cruel, and more desperate than ever to forge meaningful connections with others.

Amidst the chaos of Covid 19 and the ever-worsening climate crisis, ‘We All Looked Up’ is a reminder of how fragile society is, and how it is essential to find beauty and balance when everything is falling apart.

Quotes:

“Why had he assumed time was some sort of infinite resource? Now the hourglass had busted open, and what he’d always assumed was just a bunch of sand turned out to be a million tiny diamonds.”

“But it was funny, or better than funny, that sometimes two people could be feeling the exact same thing at the exact same time.”

Do not say we have nothing – Madeleine Thein

In Canada 1991, Marie and her mother invite into their home Ai-Ming, a Chinese refugee fleeing the post-Tiananmen Square crackdown. She comes with countless stories, spanning seven decades and several generations of one family experience of Mao’s China. Ai-Ming’s tales outline four main periods of a tumultuous half-century: the land reform campaigns of the early 1950s, described as a ‘classicide’, in which hundreds of thousands of landlords were killed by tenants and land was re-distributed to the peasantry; The Cultural Revolution, 1966-76, a purge of all capitalist and traditional culture to preserve the Communist ideal; the Tiananmen Square protests, 1989, where thousands of students were murdered while demanding freedom of speech, and Marie’s present in Canada, 1991.

‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ is a hard-hitting account of the vast human impact of Mao’s politics; Thein combines historical fact with beautiful storytelling to create a living, breathing memory.

Music is crucial to the stories; the Cultural Revolution features three young musicians struggling to stay loyal to their passion while being persecuted for their talent. The struggle of artists in testing times is achingly relevant: the future of music as a career today is scarily fragile.

Quotes:

“What happened if you melted a person down layer by layer? What if there was nothing between the layers, and nothing at the centre, only quiet?”

“The music made her wonder, ‘Does it alter us more to be heard, or to hear?’”

‘The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone’ – Olivia Laing

‘The Lonely City’ reflects on Laing’s solitary move to New York, and how, when facing unexpectedly brutal loneliness, she found solace in famous artists (such as Andy Warhol) who felt similarly adrift. Warhol’s life was a battle with his body and physical existence, which worsened after he was shot in 1968; the effects of the injury never disappeared, and the artist was prone to passive observation rather than active participation of life.

Laing blends research, biography, and memoir in an examination of what it is to be lonely, compounding her own experiences with those of eight artists who lived in New York and how loneliness permeated their works. She explores a selection of artwork, including Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’ and Warhol’s audio ‘Time Capsules’.

As I reread this in lockdown, its relevance felt universal. The internet was overflowing with feelings of shame around isolation. In ‘The Lonely City’, Laing clarifies that loneliness is valid, and has been a source of inspiration for many great artists.

Quotes:

“Loneliness feels like such a shameful experience, so counter to the lives we are supposed to lead, that it becomes increasingly inadmissible, a taboo state whose confession seems destined to cause others to turn and flee.”

“Loneliness, longing, does not mean one has failed, but simply that one is alive.”

Posted by:RAMpage Website

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