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#BookReview: The Maid’s Room by Fiona Mitchell #MPBooks

The Maid's Room book coverTitle: The Maid’s Room

Author: Fiona Mitchell

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Genre: Contemporary

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Description: ‘This is where she sleeps. A cupboard. A bedroom. A windowless box.’
Sisters Dolly and Tala have never felt further from home. In the blistering heat of Singapore, they spend their days enabling ex-pats to have lives they could never afford for themselves.
Even though she has little freedom, Dolly can just about live with her job if it means she’s able to support her beloved young daughter back in the Philippines. One day – if she’s lucky – Dolly may even be able to go back and see her.
Tala, however, just can’t keep her mouth shut about the restrictive, archaic rules maids are forced to abide by on pain of deportation. She risks everything to help her fellow maids, who have struggled to have their voices heard for far too long.
In a world where domestic workers are treated so poorly, The Maid’s Room explores how women can come together to change each other’s lives, and be the architects of their own futures.

My Review: Oh wow, this book! Set in modern day Singapore it follows the stories of three women, two of them maids from the Philippines, and shows the reality of daily life for domestic workers in a country where their human rights are often ignored. I was really blown away with this novel that’s both heart breaking at times and so through provoking.

The book begins with a short prologue and then starts with the story of Jules, a British expat who’s moved to Singapore with her husband David. The story immediately shows you the lives from the point of those who employ the maids as Jules visits a party of one her neighbours. The following chapters all alternate between Jules, Dolly who is a maid to the woman who hosted the party and Tala, her older sister who cleans for others. Each of the chapters is cleverly marked at the start with a symbol which shows you whose story we’re now going to follow, for example a small plane denotes it’s Jules’s story.

As the chapters alternate you get a real sense of what life is like for these maids and how they are treated. When the chapters are from Dolly or Tala’s points of view the text refers to their employers as Ma’am and you feel the tension and often dislike or dismissal of them by the employers. In contrast Jules is treated respectfully by her neighbours who become friends however, unlike the others she sees the idea of the maids and the way they act as something alien. Jules’s perspective is very much how most of us would see the life of these Filipina maids and it was good to have this alternate perspective among all the women who treated their maids unfairly.

A lot happens in this novel and I never knew what was coming next. In fact it became more and more gripping the further I read on. I was soon hooked and I just couldn’t put this book down! Jules’s story continues and is a heart breaking one as her and her husband try desperately to conceive during their third round of IVF. Although I enjoyed reading Jules’s story, it’s really Dolly and Tala’s tales that interested me most. There were some funny moments as well as some truly sad and heart breaking ones. Dolly’s treatment in particular really got to me. There were moments you loved reading about her closeness with the children and yet the way she is treated by not only her immediate employer but also by others made me feel both emotional as well as disgusted. I don’t want to reveal any of the plot but even her treatment, right to the end of the novel is shocking. Tala’s story was an interesting one and I enjoyed the way she is so different from her sister. I especially loved the funny moments where, on more than one occasion, her feet or cooking skills were mentioned!

I really enjoyed this novel, the ending is a really satisfying one and made me want to cry happy tears but the reality of the way the domestic workers are treated in Singapore is heart breaking. In this day and age the rights of these poor women, living in bomb shelters (which act as their room) where there are no windows and often no hot water to wash themselves is just appalling. What makes this book all the more shocking and I believe necessary for all to read, is because this is actually happening in today’s Singapore!

The book contains some swearing, use of the f and s words as well as some sex though this isn’t throughout the novel, because of this I wouldn’t recommend this to young teens but mature teens and older. At the back of the novel there are author’s notes and I’d recommend everyone read them after finishing the book as you’ll be surprised with how much the story is based in reality, much of it being the author’s own experience.

This is such a powerful and heart wrenching novel, it takes you on such an emotional journey, and I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve always loved books with cultural issues but this one has really touched me and I think everyone should read it.
-Thanks to Bookbridgr and the publisher for a free proof copy.

Do you enjoy reading books about cultural issues?  What about this book?  Have you read it before?  did you know of the plight of domestic workers in Singapore?  Please let me know all your thoughts I’d love to hear from you. 

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#BookReview: Yuki Means Happiness by Alison Jean Lester #MPBooks

Yuki Means HappinessTitle: Yuki Means Happiness

Author: Alison Jean Lester

Publisher: John Murray

Genre: Contemporary, Cultural

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Description: Diana is young and uneasy in a new relationship when she leaves America and moves halfway around the world to Tokyo seeking adventure. In Japan she takes a job as a nanny to two-year-old Yuki Yoshimura and sets about adapting to a routine of English practice, ballet and swimming lessons, and Japanese cooking.

But as Diana becomes increasingly attached to Yuki she also becomes aware that everything in the Yoshimura household isn’t as it first seemed. Before long, she must ask herself if she is brave enough to put everything on the line for the child under her care, confronting her own demons at every step of the way.

Yuki Means Happiness is a rich and powerfully illuminating portrait of the intense relationship between a young woman and her small charge, as well as one woman’s journey to discover her true self.

My Review:  This book is a surprisingly emotional read, filled with both heartwarming moments and many darker moments too. Diana is a nurse and having previously helped a Japanese couple with their newborn baby when they were staying in America, she jumps at the chance to travel to Japan and become a nanny for the same couple a few years later. But while there, Diana realises that things are no longer as they were with the couple and worries about Yuki, the little girl she’s promised to look after.

The story is written in the first person and takes place in the nineties with Diana recounting the story of her time with Yuki. I’ll be honest in saying I wasn’t sure I’d get into the book at first, although I had high hopes having read the description, but this is definitely a book that gets better the further you read on. Diana’s story of her time in Japan appears simple at first. She instantly gets attached to Yuki and loves looking after her while getting to know the Japanese culture. But as time goes on the story starts to take a darker edge and it’s at this point that I really began to enjoy this book.

I loved the way the story unfolded, everything seemed fine but then certain circumstances changed all of a sudden and the atmosphere of the story changed too. As Diana learns more about Yuki’s family, the darker the story becomes. Along with dealing with looking after Yuki and the issues surrounding the family, the story of Diana’s own personal experiences both in the past and in Japan, especially the Japanese culture and the more unpleasant aspects of being a woman in modern Japan take on an interesting edge and influence how she feels about her job as a nanny. At times Diana is brutally honest about her past and it gave her character more depth which was good.

The book has a lot about Japanese culture and I loved reading these parts as it really gave me a sense of what it would be like to go to Japan, something I’ve wanted to do for years now. A lot of the ‘tourist’ side of Japan is included but I also loved the more in depth and honest accounts of what Japan is really like in areas where tourists don’t go, and what day to day life is like. The book really had me absorbed in the modern culture of Japan and it left me with mixed feelings about the place, particularly when it comes to women and legal issues.

The ending is very satisfying and made me a little emotional, but in a good way. There is very little use of any swearing, but the f and s words have been used. While there is nothing really offensive in the book, no actual sex or anything violent, Diana is honest about things like sexuality and sex and there are other moments that make you feel a little shocked too.

I’d recommend this book, although it took me a bit of time to really enjoy it, I really got into the story towards the end and the honesty around Japanese culture and things Diana goes through with the Yuki’s family are a very insightful and interesting read.
-Thanks to Bookbridgr and the publisher for a free copy.

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