Look at Me by Mareike Krügel

The novel is moderately paced by its the emotional appeal that will touch readers. As the story rolls out, readers are bound to feel as crippled, helpless and devastated at each point as Katharine.

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Title: Look at Me

Author: Mareike Krugel

Publisher: Text Publishing

Date of Publication: 26 February 2018

Rating: 5/5

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All mothers are concerned about their children but some are a little too concerned. What happens when this over concern enters the realms of paranoia? Will it destroy the mother child relationship or will it create a whole new stance for motherhood?

Katharine is doing her doctorate in musicology and is a mother of two. More like a single mother of two as she receives very little support from her husband Costas who is away most of the time for work. They have had rough times in their relationship and are seeking separation. More like they’re separated, atleast in their hearts. But that’s not the only problem. Katharine is highly indecisive about anything and everything in her life. She is diffident and constantly confused about what could be done next or what the best next move may be. But that’s not the only problem either. She has to raise two kids Helli and Alex all by herself most of the time.

She wishes to be able to give more time to her children as she never received any during the phases of her life she most wanted parental guidance. She feels like a bad parent. When Alex announces about bringing his girlfriend home then all Katharine can do is hope that she knows how to act around them. Over thinking is a trait that she’s unable to let go. It is this that makes her situation all the more difficult. Looking at her teenage daughter Helli, she wishes to be able to share a positive mother-daughter bond that will allow Helli to confide all her worries to her mother instead of her friends. Generation gap and her own fears prevent her from engaging more closely with Helli who is all too confident and carefree. But that is not the problem too. Katharine misses her mother whom she lost to breast cancer and her sister Sissi is a well established musician and professional who does not understand Katharine’s dilemmas. But what will happen if history decides to repeat itself in the form of a lump in Katharine’s breast?

The novel is moderately paced by its the emotional appeal that will touch readers. As the story rolls out, readers are bound to feel as crippled, helpless and devastated at each point as Katharine. She is suffering not just from indecision but also severe depression. Most importantly, her physical health condition remains hidden from the rest of her family and friends. She buries herself under this paranoia and it is utterly hurtful for readers to see her get worse by the chapter.

To make matters harder, she enters into a consensual fling with an old acquaintance. This makes her more guilty and worrisome about her future and her daughter’s in any case that she doesn’t survive. Strangely, she never visits the doctor or seeks medical help for her physical condition and mental distresses. The whole novel is written in the present tense in an interesting manner of dropping climax after climax without much warning. Perhaps, it is only the title that screams for help as Katharine looks clearly disoriented and in dire need for some professional and personal support to sort out her life and work. But her concern for her daughter remains utmost. The novel has been translated from German into English by Imogen Taylor.

Refreshing and depressing at the same time.

 

Committed to Beauty by Ify Okonta

Ugly, blockhead, black skeleton and broomstick are few of the snide remarks that are hurled at her.

Title: Committed to Beauty

Author: Ify Okonta

Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform

Date of Publication: 18 July 2017

Genre: Gender and Literature

Rating: 4/5

A coming of age tale of a girl with aspirations that are constantly thwarted by a shallow world.

Facing constant discrimination since a young age due to her dark skin colour, Ella becomes the butt of several odious jokes. Far from arousing a laughter, they mar her self-esteem and morale. She is always bullied at school and struggles to not feel left out. Ugly, blockhead, black skeleton and broomstick are few of the snide remarks that are hurled at her. Somehow, her skin tone and outer appearance has set the mark for her intellectuality as most of her peers and even elders cannot seem to look past her colour into the nice person that she is.

Added to her undesirous skin tone is her frail structure. Set in Nigeria where the parameters of beauty are different from the rest of the world, Ella takes inspiration from a televised beauty contest and decides to run for a pageant one day. But fate has other plans for her. Running into the boy who spoke up for her when no one else did, she mistakes his momentary kindness as a serious interest in her. Her hopes are frequently dashed as he barely ever notices her. With hardly any friends to rely on and no one to share her emotions with, Ella subconsciously learns how to play the background character in her own life. During days of walking about as a shadow in broad daylight, the news of her father’s transfer to America makes her hopeful of a better beginning only to learn that people’s behaviour towards her isn’t much different. Earlier she was bullied, now she’s plain ignored. She is an excessively black girl in an excessively white land.

The story revolves around several chance happenings where fate and Ella’s own perseverance play a major role in her successful rise before the very eyes of those who constantly taunted her. From contesting a beauty pageant to winning it and becoming a celebrity, Ella’s life before and after the contest are not very different. She barely receives any contracts due to her dark complexion and has to hunt for directors and photographers in unfamiliar cities. The book touches upon some very crucial themes of racism and stereotypes based on skin colour. It portrays the scenes behind the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry in a realistic manner. It highlights the short lived success of reality shows and how such shows leave contestants more desperate and jobless.

Things take a drastic turn as a group of models including one of her friends die in the WTC collapse on 9/11. This begins a series of mishaps and heart breaking incidents that coax Ella into becoming a more independent person who seeks to rely only on God.

People who’ve been in odd situations and felt like fishes out of water will definitely related to this story. It rings a bell with all those who’ve been teased for their appearance or have been through gruesome experiences of stereotyping and racial profiling. The story brings out the startling idea that the society’s ideals about beauty are more or less the same regardless of the racial or geographical differences. People have idealized certain standards of beauty in wanting a fair skin texture which is seen in the episodes in which Ella undergoes trials of bleach creams to attain a fair skin. It is one of the many indications that Okonta makes about the cosmetic industry that allows for such ideals to proliferate and whose main target buyer is the one with broken self-worth. The book also shows that time is the greatest of players and life eventually turns around unpredictably for most people. Those who made fun or ignored others turn out to become worse than their victims and have to battle difficult predicaments. The story is complex and slightly lengthy though that doesn’t drag the story line in any way. Events reveal newer themes and the reader is constantly made to think about these issues with some fairly good lessons. Ella becomes the epitome of hope as a modern, independent woman who can handle her challenges and brave the world on her own terms with her original appearance which is justly elucidated in the title of the book. Okonta strives to portray Ella as being beautiful both inside and out. True beauty irradiates when one begins to love oneself.

Hope giving, captivating and inspiring struggle of a lonesome girl in battling a cacophobic society.

Click the book cover to grab your copy. Happy Reading!