excellent! this book examines the reality and feeling of being trapped by the choices that we make (or that were made for us) by looking at life in a...moreexcellent! this book examines the reality and feeling of being trapped by the choices that we make (or that were made for us) by looking at life in a small California town in the mid-century. It uses four different voices to tell a story in small parts that weave together beautifully. The author betrays a love for"Psycho" and the feelings of isolation and powerlessness that it conveys that add a really interesting layer to the story.(less)
I am not as big a fan of speculative/alternate reality stuff as some of my nearest and dearest though I did quite like the Intuitionist. However a str...moreI am not as big a fan of speculative/alternate reality stuff as some of my nearest and dearest though I did quite like the Intuitionist. However a straight piece of fiction by Whitehead seemed just the ticket.
And at first I was way down with this book. Loved the early-80s hip-hop nostalgia, beach town, gangs of boy friends, middle-class talented-tenth black folks, etc.
And then it got to be too much. Too memoiry, too detailed. It was sort of like hanging out with that group of boys who constantly talks shit on other kids to prove how cool they are while obsessively buying sneakers and looking at each other's record collections. Like yawn. And it's so heteronormative.
So I hated it for like 20 pages.
And then...Whitehead just hits you--from out of nowhere--with some serious emotional content that make the whole first 2/3 of the book both fit into place and recede into the background. I don't want to spoil the plot, but yeah, it gets really, really deep without really ever getting too far below the surface. The ending sort of bounces up away from that spot but still manages to wrap up on the right note.
And the revelation of all this deep emotional stuff just worked so well because so much like life, we carry with us happiness, sadness, love, hate, fear all together all the time. So there weren't the melodramatic highs and lows that normally characterize coming-of-age novels. Just the very really mixed up feelings of life.
One unresolved feeling I have about this book is how much the "summer of my youth" stuff is to straight people what coming-out novels are to gays. No matter how well written the book may be, when it uses a sort of emotionally-pre-prepared theme like that, I get nervous. It seems like cheating somehow like you are starting your reader off with unfair (to other authors) boost.
That said Whitehead is clearly in a position to try to pull this kind of thing off and by estimate he succeeds.(less)
I immensely enjoyed spending a Saturday morning with this quick read. However, I wish there had been a little more substance to have indulged in.
This...moreI immensely enjoyed spending a Saturday morning with this quick read. However, I wish there had been a little more substance to have indulged in.
This is the tale of a marriage, an immigration, a family, a boy becoming a man. Unfortunately it's far from a seamless narrative and these various pieces and bits of exposition jumble together in a confusing way sometimes.
The story begins with Ashoke, the patriarch, deciding to move to America to pursue his studies as a engineer because of a near-death experience involving a train. A fellow passenger on the train tells him just before the accident that he regrets coming back to India after lived in the US. He only came back, he says, because his wife if unhappy.
Shortly thereafter, the fellow passenger and hundreds of others die when the train jumps the track. And next thing you know, Ashoke is leaving for the US. His characterization prio had given no clue that this was even on his mind. His mother and father are bereft that he is leaving. And on his first visit home he arranges a marriage because he is lonely in the US.
Maybe some implicit American dream was supposed to be enough to explain to me why this character even left Calcutta, but I didn't get it. And a result, as interesting and engaging as everything was that follows, without understanding the motivation behind this pivotal decision, nothing else totally made sense. After all, Ashima is sad for years. Gogol and Sonia always feel stuck between two worlds. And Ashoke's initial wanderlust ends up with him mostly hanging with other Begalis. At the end, I guess I was left wondering what all their anguish had been for.
And this is a big spoiler, but Ashoke's early death felt contrived. Like its only purpose was to give Gogol an opportunity to make necessary changes in his life.
Despite all of this, I really liked the experience of reading the "Namesake." And Gogol's struggle to become his own person, and his parents' reactions to that, were very interesting and certainly struck a chord with me.(less)
I truly enjoyed reading this book and did so voraciously. Like many others who read it, I'd agree that the first third was much stronger than the othe...moreI truly enjoyed reading this book and did so voraciously. Like many others who read it, I'd agree that the first third was much stronger than the other two, with the last particularly weak.
It's no spoiler though to say that this book is inspired by Laura Bush's life and is, at least initially, what held me in its thrall. However, what emerged more than anything were many of the same themes that Sittenfeld worked over in "Prep." And just as I felt when I reached the end of this book, this one leaves me a bit bit hollowed out and mostly sad.
Sittenfeld's seems to have gotten a reputation for an interest in disaffected outsiders. I don't agree. I think Sittenfeld, like Hollinghurt's protagonist in "Line of Beauty" or Waugh's in "Brideshead Revisited" is more fascinated by the relationship of "average" people to the moneyed and powerful in the US. To some extent, any of us who are not of the background, but through education and other privilege are exposed to it can appreciate the sense of wonderment that such a world exists. However, it is frankly naive to not know about it and there are moral choices involved in thrusting one's self into it.
Both in "Prep" and in "American Wife," this is exactly what the main characters do. Despite their initial misgivings and despite pretty obvious red flags, Alice Blackwell pushes ahead into a relationship with a man whose worldview, politics and possibly base morality are so different than her own--and so seemingly wrong. Despite this, which is obvious to both character and reader alike, we spend almost 300 more pages with Alice after she decides to marry her husband.
Toward the end, Alice asks what the people who judge her husband wants from her and rattles off a list of choices and compromises she made and wonders if it is fair of us to ask if she should have made them. After all, she says, compromise is a part of any relationship and a part of love.
That's true, but of course when we love our selves, we often avoid bad choices in the first place that lead to morally compromising situations. I am not sure Alice grasps that concept and so the book ended somewhat flatly for me.
Despite that, I found "American Wife" quite thought-provoking, touching and well-written (though a bit long). One under-explored theme is Blackwell's attraction to his wife. We spend a lot of time wondering why she is with him, but it's as interesting (if not more when you think about the Bush analogy) to wonder what he sees in her. (less)
So as a speculative fiction/first contact book, I thought this was excellent. Although not every moment of the imagined future and its technology seem...moreSo as a speculative fiction/first contact book, I thought this was excellent. Although not every moment of the imagined future and its technology seemed believable, the larger picture that got painted worked.
As a piece of moral thinking, I am still not sure what this book said. Faith is in the eye of the beholder? Acting in the name of God, without her/his/its/their explicit direction, is a risky business? All of our lives, not matter how small, have value?
There are a lot of layers here that could be unearthed including some metaphoric and thematic ones. I got distracted a lot though by the surface level stuff--especially the amount of male privilege awarded to the main characters, particularly Emilio. And I was disappointed by the portrayal of the two women characters: does there really have to still be a Second Shift in the future, in space and on another planet?
Along those same lines, although there were hints at self-reflective thinking, the tension of the plot relies on the reader being horrified by how the alien society is set-up. I know a character says this (although I am not sure the author really meant it) but who are we to judge with our planet full of poverty and inequity?
I did like the pacing on the whole and the two-part narration, rarely, worked. And though the relationships between the character were probably too quickly formed and too chummy to be reflective of real life, the joy these folks shared with one another took me back to a childhood favorite, Madeline L'Engle that make it seem touchy and homey.
All in all an engaging and enjoyable read, but one that left some unfinished business in my head.(less)
I picked this up at the library recently and about 10 pages in, I realized that I'd read it before. Any concerns I might have about plotting or cliche...moreI picked this up at the library recently and about 10 pages in, I realized that I'd read it before. Any concerns I might have about plotting or cliche are trumped by the fact that this is about the African-American community that flourished in the "slums" that Ed Bacon and his crew would eventually clear to create Society Hill in downtown Philadelphia.(less)
Loved it! The world-building was well done. The main character was a fierce girl and she wasn't depicted in too sexist of a way. I was really fascinat...moreLoved it! The world-building was well done. The main character was a fierce girl and she wasn't depicted in too sexist of a way. I was really fascinated by the idea of daemons, dust and a parallel universe.(less)
Copenhagen, here I come! Crispbread, soft cheese, fruit, and yogurt for lunch with your co-workers on a snowy Danish day fighting genocide across the...moreCopenhagen, here I come! Crispbread, soft cheese, fruit, and yogurt for lunch with your co-workers on a snowy Danish day fighting genocide across the world? What a lovely picture, eh? Well throw in some split personalities, damaged egos, professional climbing, a Serb or two, and you got trouble!
This book was billed as a psychological thriller, but I am not sure that is a great fit description-wise. It was more about situational ethics, groupthink, and the varying perspectives multiple people can have on one series of events. And bullying, lots and lots of bullying.
This was an enjoyable page-turner with a somewhat fresh take on alternating point of view that was pretty well done. It got a bit clunky at times as the author took a few too many detours with educational bits on genocide.
The description of the three female characters began to contain some sexist or sterotypical elements about halfway through that were distracting, but this corrected itself as the plot itself became more and more outlandish toward the end 9but still enjoyable).
All in all, a good book to learn some about a culture I didn't know a lot about, an interesting chance to think about how genocide works some, and most interesting in the exposition of bullying among adults and the way power dynamics among in groups and out groups unravel.(less)
A really interesting piece of early 80's historical fiction. With all of the misinformation about "Islamo-Facists," this book serves as a really inter...moreA really interesting piece of early 80's historical fiction. With all of the misinformation about "Islamo-Facists," this book serves as a really interesting counter-balance. (less)
Well, I read all the other GoodReads reviews and don't have much to add. There are lots of sharp insights below.
In short, yes this was a book told fr...moreWell, I read all the other GoodReads reviews and don't have much to add. There are lots of sharp insights below.
In short, yes this was a book told from probably too many perspectives (I counted at least 9 distinct points of view), there was a bit of over-writing, and there is powerlessness/over-sexualization attached to some of the female characters. And the September 11th terrorist sub-plot borders on the ridiculous...but...I liked it.
I like a chunky book. I like a book with a strong sense of place (Florida). And even if someone of the characters' inner dialogue sounded similar to others, there was still at least some emotional core to the book, and at least once voice that sounded fully fleshed out (even if it took multiple POVs to make it whole).
I thought the contribution of the terrorist character alone, while gimmicky, was still interesting, as we don't have much of a cannon built up yet that contains the rationale/motivation for the people involved in September 11th. And while the characterization of both April and AJ was very, very close to the line in terms of class stereotype, it was still ultimately more sympathetic and expository in a way I found useful.
And Dubus is an excellent writer at the sentence level. This was an enjoyable, fast and thought provoking read for me despite some of the more distracting bells and whistles.(less)