(view spoiler)[the thing i liked most in this slim book were the nature descriptions. really poetic and smooth and expert and lovedude.
(to be cont'd)
(view spoiler)[the thing i liked most in this slim book were the nature descriptions. really poetic and smooth and expert and lovely.
but: glossing over the morality of the killings, like this is written by dudes who unthinkingly snuff dudes? like this is genre fiction and one body here one body there nbd? only a couple of sentences from gwen to restore realism and sanity. other than that, all these city people, these people who don't typically kill people or even think about killing people, so ready to take out A.J. -- i mean, for real? *i* would not have considered that for a second! you kill in cold blood a man who is hurt? no way. if todd tracy and oscar go all feral, this needs to be thematized.
and what is with the glorious killing of A.J. by gwen (glorious bc we are rooting for it to happen)? why all the violence? why the sexual threat? why the brutality? surely nina revoyr can write more subtly than this. i mean, i have read her write more subtly than this. is this movie treatment?
and why why why does the one white boy become the sane and stable leader? no no no no no no. the clash of races the book promises, where is it? it's just white boy suddenly becoming the super expert on everything, the hero, the calm still center. why not tracy? why. not. tracy.
and why why why does tracy, a butch woman of color, eventually turn out to be so out of control, overcome by her own rashness and impetuousness?
i am so thankful for the bisexual ending. if that hadn't been there, and if gwen hadn't (co)saved the day, i'd read this as another tale of awesome white masculinity. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
this book has left me speechless. wow. what. a. book. not for the faint of heart (i'm thinking of you, wilhemina, and you, qiana), but, to me, an undithis book has left me speechless. wow. what. a. book. not for the faint of heart (i'm thinking of you, wilhemina, and you, qiana), but, to me, an undisputed masterpiece. ...more
this book is about suicide. it says so in the first couple of pages so i'm not giving anything away. i know a lot about suicide. i am not an anti-suicthis book is about suicide. it says so in the first couple of pages so i'm not giving anything away. i know a lot about suicide. i am not an anti-suicide person. if someone feels it's their time to go; if they feel the pain is too much; if they have suffered long and terribly and see no end in sight, i say, goodbye my friend. in my modest personal experience, these people, the people with so much damage in them they find life a terrible ordeal day after fucking day tend to die early-ish anyway. so many prolonged suicides. you all know what i'm talking about. amy winehouse, michael jackson.
ruth ozeki is not only a remarkable and brave writer, but also a buddhist priest. when writers manage to take buddhism and transform it into great story-telling, the result is breathtaking. i'm thinking about maxine hong kingston's The Fifth Book of Peace.
this book is also about time. it's about Time in the big sense of time and quantum theory and all the stuff that lies at the intersection of physics and new age, insofar as new age is a corruption of both physics and buddhism. this plays a small part in the book. but it's also about time in the sense of what we do with it, how we experience it, and how we tolerate it. in this sense, it's a great, great book to read during the holidays (which is when i read it) because the holidays are all about tolerating time.
also, and crucially for this reader, this is a kick ass story, told in alternating chapters by a japanese teenager who spent the first 15 years of her life in sunnyvale, california, and a japanese american writer (who goes by the name of ruth and resembles the author in just about every respect we are able to detect) who found the girl's diary and notes in a message-in-a-bottle set of hermetically sealed ziplock bags which may or may not have drifted all the way from fukushima as a consequence of the tsunami.
the voice of the teenager is fantastic and brave and occasionally hilarious. the third person narrative about the writer and her semi-happy semi-frustrating life on an island in british columbia is also delightful because so naked and authentic. zen priests (which, in truth, ruth-the-character isn't) are not immune to frustrations, bad moods, marital arguments, petty moments and, you'll be glad to hear, internet addiction.
ozeki interweaves a number of threads: the suicidal teenager and her ordeals, and the impatient writer and her ordeals (which trials weigh more? which are more legitimate?); naoko's great-grandmother the buddhist nun jiko, who's 104 and cleary knows how to live, and that other buddhist, ruth-the-character but also, always, ruth-the-author, who struggles with power outages, writer's block, a stubborn kitty cat, a loving but complex couple relation, and the hardships of living on an island in the pacific northwest while missing the vitality and mess of new york. who is more successful at living the buddhist life? the nun who left everything and lives in serene, accepting contentment or the struggling writer who is trying to change things with her work?
that way i read this book, there is no right, no simple way. old jiko, the role model, the saint, honors everyone's difficulties equally, and does not forget her own. this is, after all, a book about suicide, and time, which also means that it's a book about inevitable failing. you pick up the piece and carry on. if you can. for now. for the time being.
this review does so little justice to the impact this book had on me. i was moved to tears. i laughed with my entire body. i read as slowly as i could. i thought to myself, i want to meet ruth ozeki: will she want another friend? please god let her want me as a friend. i was immensely grateful that ruth's husband, oliver, suffers from a flu-like illness that disables him greatly and from which he gets better only after he and ruth move to the vastly under-civilized island in the pacific northwest. i also suffer from a flu-like illness. should i move to an under-civilized island where it rains 10 months of the year and one has to cut one's own wood, power one's own generator (regular storms fell power lines all the time, and the hydro can fly in only when the storm has passed), and walk to the post office to get one's mail? i don't want to. i wouldn't know how to survive. but: how will i get better? how are we all going to get better?
ruth deals with bills, sneaks in a nasty comment which she immediately regrets about her husband's poor contributions to the household finances (the word she uses is "loser:" ouch!). naoko is vindictive to her classmates and she and her mom are quite uncharitable towards naoko's dad, a hikikomori who longs for suicide. there is nastiness and short-temperedness. how will we all get better? how will we save the planet from self-destruction, from war, from terribly devastating tsunamis and even more devastating, because man-made, defective nuclear power plants? how can we reverse time to before 9/11 and the birth of the global war on terror? what are we to do about the gigantic garbage patches, the largest of which may be as big as the entire united states?
this book tackles all of this, which makes it a miracle of narrative restraint, condensation, and easy fluency. it reminded me a little of Maxine Hong Kingston, of course, but also of Milan Kundera, whom it explicitly names, and David Mitchell, whom it doesn't. how do these writers do it? how do they manage to put the grand entirety of the personal and collective misery of the world in a book about a japanese haulden caulfield who is bullied at school and a japanese american writer with writer's block?
so this is what i leave you with. thank whomever you thank when the world goes the right way for old jiko (fictional), ruth ozeki (nonfictional) and pope francis (also nonfictional), the latter of whom, like jiko, sees and knows the most abject misery (personal and collective) yet keeps reminding us to be joyful and hopeful, and models this joy and hope every day. you can, maybe, be joyful and hopeful even when things go terribly wrong, when you get hit in the teeth, when life bites into your heart like an animal trap with sharp, rusty teeth. you don't need to do anything. just live, for now, for the time being. ...more
this book is simply fantastic. i consider it nothing short of a masterpiece. as i was reading it i kept thinking, how did she do it?
but she did it.
tthis book is simply fantastic. i consider it nothing short of a masterpiece. as i was reading it i kept thinking, how did she do it?
but she did it.
the story is nothing one can summarize and make the book sound as enticing as it is. what makes this book worth reading in spades is the absolute genius, the delightful brilliance of its composition. which composition reveals itself slowly. after the first few chapters the only thing that kept me reading was the loveliness of the language. about half way through (it took me that long) i realized that truong was writing with magic boxes. in one box you find a little bit of story, and it's nothing really special but that's okay. you notice that it is only a fragment of story but don't really mind. often stories are bits of stories. writers leave a full explanation -- a full narrative -- out. you're used to it.
and then the bits of stories become a bit too many, like say one or two too many, and you think, ugh. but you are reading a beautifully written novel and figure, well, it's that kind of novel, the author is into the slightly frustrating practice of dropping little threads, not seeing them through: maybe it's good this way: maybe it's a technique.
and just at this point, just when you are happy to live with all the question marks in your head, truong hits you straight at the center of your heart with a revelation. but you weren't expecting it! you weren't expecting anything! you barely noticed that there were all these unexplained things! because they weren't REALLY unexplained! it was mostly like life, little things here and there you don't get, like when someone writes on facebook "i'm going to spend the weekend with my brother" and you wonder, "do i know she has a brother? has she ever talked about a brother?" but don't ask, cuz you figure maybe it's you. or none of your business.
or maybe you ask, and a riches of narratives is poured into your lap.
so, in this book, once you are explained the first thing, once the first revelation hits you straight at the center of your heart, you need to go back in your head and revisit the entire narrative in the light of this awesome explanation, then you know to expect more.
in truth, i really didn't. i thought some of the things had just passed me by. even having been SHOWN that eventually all the mysteries (little life mysteries, not big whodunnits) would be explained, i STILL thought, maybe we'll never be told about this one.
well, we are told about all of them. even the ones we didn't really notice we didn't understand until truong explained them to us.
and this is how the book ends, with the explanation you spent the entire book thinking to yourself you were never going to get. not expecting it. at all.
this is how magic this book is. it keeps you wondering, uncertain, off balance, all the way through. like life.
i wish i could write more but i've noticed that i am reluctant to read long reviews and i imagine other people are too, so i'll just add this thing:
truong could have written this story straight, beginning to end, and it would have been another story of growing up in the south. but she chose to tell it like this, with magic boxes that spring open at the least expected moments, and the story is magnificent, amazing. it will stay with me forever. and the talent of this writer, the talent of this writer is etched in my heart. ...more
this is a delicate, almost fragile book, and it won't stay with you the way other books do. it will disintegrate in your memory and all you'll remembethis is a delicate, almost fragile book, and it won't stay with you the way other books do. it will disintegrate in your memory and all you'll remember is that a bunch of people got stuck in a basement during a california earthquake and, in order to survive, swapped stories. the stories started off sluggish (who wants to tell stories?) but became terribly urgent as the day and night wore on. this is all you'll remember. you won't remember the stories.
the stories are not remarkable. they are not meant to be remembered. these stories are the stuff of precarious survival and mean much more to the speaker than to the listener. the speaker pours her or his heart in the story because the story is what is holding the speaker together -- never-before-spoken grief, loss, disappointment, regret, a moment of victory, a moment of enlightenment. the story in itself is like an frozen cobweb: it's not meant to endure touch. but in the mind of the speaker the story is as strong as the beams and the rods that kept the collapsed building together and are still preventing it from pancaking on this motley crew.
after each story there is almost no commentary. the story is not meant to be held by the memory of another, only by the memory of the speaker and the evanescent soul of the listening group. this is all the group is meant to do: listen. and the group does.
the stories keep the building from giving.
it is an extra bonus that divakaruni puts such racially, ethically, and religiously disparate people in this group. it is the only less-than-fragile aspect of the book. their difference plays a meaningful role, of course, but only up to a point. the essence of the book is the value of survival -- not only following the earthquake, but especially in the time leading to it.
this fantastic author has been telling fragile stories for a while, but the stories in this book of stories are special. a husband and wife each tell their story. the stories may be devastating but neither spouse changes as a consequence of hearing them. there are no meaningful gestures, ruptures, reconciliations. the stories live in silence. the audience's silence allows the existence of the stories.
we don't often tell stories. i wonder if the chilean miners told each other stories. i like to think they did. i suspect it might be hard to survive so long in a hole underground without telling stories.
it's not that we don't have stories to tell; it's that stories thrive in attentive, uninterrupted, unjudgmental silence. stories ask that advice be withheld. stories don't ask for much. stories ask for absence rather than presence, and we are a fast, active, productive culture. we fill holes. absence makes us nervous.
i wish we were more adept at silence. maybe we can learn. ...more
i'm pretty sure there aren’t many books that focus on teenage girls, not in some special light and under particular (and doubtlessly most worthy) ageni'm pretty sure there aren’t many books that focus on teenage girls, not in some special light and under particular (and doubtlessly most worthy) agendas, but as vibrant, strong people with a rich private and communal life that encompasses all sorts of realities. i can think of books that do this with boys, and from the point of view of boys, but girls, girls are mostly relegated to literature that exposes abuse (i’ll be delighted to be proven wrong).
nancy takahiro is a japanese-american high-school senior and star basketball player who lives in inglewood, an entirely african-american neighborhood of los angeles, with her divorced father. mom left, married a white guy, and pretty much forgot all about nancy, maybe an unpleasant reminder of her racialized past. nancy's dad, wendell, is loving, attentive, and solid, and, while not in a we-tell-each-other-everything way, nancy and he get along great. nancy's rapport with her dad is one of the bearing walls of this novel, and i think it's portrayed beautifully. nancy feels towards him the way a seventeen year old should: she takes for granted his support and protection, looks up to him in a way that has yet to reckon with the fallibility of parents, and pretty much ignores him in order to do her own stuff. the trajectory of their relationship, which is traced throughout the year that constitutes the temporal span of the novel, is a lovely tribute to the way parents and children's love can grow instead of ebb over time.
soon after the beginning of the novel dad falls in love with the mother of another gay high school basketball star he meets at a game, and mother and daughter soon move in. raina, nancy's newly acquired step-sister of sorts, happens to be the girl nancy has long admired and desired.
remarkably, at seventeen, nancy knows that she is, and feels fully comfortable being, gay, and is in close touch with the girls in the high school basketball circuit who are also gay. they consider themselves a "family," and draw a tremendous amount of strength from this statewide community of theirs.
the novel tells us just about all we ever wanted to know about high school basketball in the 80s (i doubt it's much changed), which is a great thing if you like sports. it tells you about tournaments, leagues, camps, training session, seasons, and play-offs; uniforms, shoes, diet, and lifestyle; how kid athletes are seen, the way they negotiate their lives as athletes and their lives as children, students, friends, and the tremendous confidence they derive from being something that is recognized and admired instead of just regular teens trying to find their place in the world. it tells you all about games: moves, tactics, team psychology, coaching, leadership, the advantages of height and weight, and what makes a kid a star and another an ordinary player. and it tells you all about recruitment.
recruitment is another of the bearing wall of the novel; it constitutes a nice focal point for the moment in which nancy and raina will leave home and become (a bit more) adult. both girls, now housemates, have a lot of suitors and they deal with the pressures of recruiting with a mixture of pride, pleasure, and anxiety.
now that raina lives with her, nancy has a whole new problem vis a vis her feelings for her, which grow and grow with each passing day (because of raina, nancy’s been single for two years). through nancy's eyes, raina is the most charismatic kid ever. she's beautiful, a brilliant athlete, strong, focused, and vulnerable in the right amount and fashion for maximum seductiveness. nancy's love for her is boundless. since it is a known fact in the lesbian circle in which raina and nancy navigate that nancy is infatuated with raina, things are complicated between them from the start. nancy makes a high wire act of loving raina without losing her dignity or risking rejection, and raina, for her part, goes out of her way to be kind and friendly toward nancy without giving her the wrong idea. the novel is so drenched in longing, you could wring a bucket out of it. but it's longing mixed with the pure pleasures of childhood – watching tv together, playing one on one or pickup games every afternoon in the park, studying in the same room. nancy lives of the fumes of raina's life – raina has a girlfriend she very much loves and who constantly breaks her heart with her cheating and callousness – but they are rich fumes and keep nancy exhilarated.
The Necessary Hunger does a fabulous job of portraying the miseries and delights of adolescence in the context of ordinary life. revoyr takes her time building the novel, and she gives us nancy's life with a calm, steady pace that takes full pleasure in repeated description of routines and apparently insignificant acts. i found this deliberately slowness intensely mesmerizing. you find yourselves living with these people and finding peace whenever they do. this tempers what could have been an intensely emotional novel and gives a sense of the normality of life, in which deep and rich moments are drowned out, quantitatively, by the simple acts that constitute our getting from morning to night and vice versa.
it is astonishing to see how many profound themes revoyr manages to get deeply into while seeming to spend time on walks in the neighborhood and pancake breakfasts. one of these themes, of course, is the huge complexity of race in a big city like L.A., which is most glaring in the moments in which teams from different part of towns meet (nancy takes awesome pleasure of making mince-meat of the all-white teams from wealthy neighborhoods) and in the fact that nancy and her dad are the only non-black characters of the book, so that every relationship they get into is ipso facto a mixed one.
revoyr describes lovingly the dangers and allures of the run-down neighborhoods that sit on the other side of the tracks. many reviewers have seen this book as a love song to L.A. and revoyr herself describes it as such. the charm of urban america, especially of cities like L.A. that are designed for cars instead of fragile machines of flesh and calcium, is somehow lost on me, but, having lived and sweated in L.A. for a chunk of years, i still see what revoyr and the reviewers mean.
the most striking element of this striking novel is the level of assurance and confidence of girl athletes. these black girls own the town. they have no problem roaming all of its neighborhoods, wealthy or poor, because they have played there and probably beaten their high school teams. their being brown-skinned, gay, poor, and female means nothing to them. they inhabit their bodies and their identity with ease and feel pretty much invincible. in her rough neighborhood, nancy, courted by the best colleges in the country, is a hero, and this makes her feel safe and strong.
at the same time, the novel breaks your heart with the stories of high school athletes who are courted by no one, and whose strength and safety are doomed the day high school is over. nancy knows that most of her teammates and friends from the basketball circuit are headed for dead-end jobs, early pregnancies, crime, and jail, and it hurts her tremendously.
i have delighted in reading so many novels, recently, that deal with what it feels like to be on the cusp of adulthood. the overwhelming sense i have derived from them is that we never get there, that adulthood and childhood are inextricably linked and that pure, unfettered maturity is a fictional construct designed to give us a sense of where we should be more than of where we will ever be.
this is jhumpa lahiri meets zadie smith (look what you've done, jhumpa and zadie! turned a whole generation of women novelists to your stark, in the fthis is jhumpa lahiri meets zadie smith (look what you've done, jhumpa and zadie! turned a whole generation of women novelists to your stark, in the former case, and bleakly humorous, in the latter, demolition of the multiple barriers the human psyche erects to keep itself looking normal) meets dostoevsky. seriously. what a tour de force. susan choi takes the concept of "scene" so seriously that her scenes turn into long long chapters, even when all she describes is a trip from home to campus. the scope is definitely 19th century. this is writing that leaves no stone unturned in its analysis of the movements of the human heart (george eliot? flaubert?). but there is also a nabokovian pleasure in delving into perversity and pettiness. except that, since this delving is from the point of view of the close-third-person protagonist, these agonies of disclosure are stained and rotted by self-doubt, self-contempt, and a feverish, pathological loneliness. lee is the most tortured person i've ever met, either in real life or in fiction.
at the same time (enter zadie and jhumpa) there are all the hallmarks of post-post-modernity in this novel: immigration, cultural impasses, the horrors of academia, the ungraspability of the constructed self, technology, and, of course, terrorism (the novel starts with and centers on a bombing).
i'm just at the 100 page mark. this is not fast going. but wow, susan choi, how could you write this and sleep at night?
now the story is picking up -- lee is a suspect in the bombing -- and while this makes for faster reading, you feel that something is lost (not a bad thing, just a regular loss, one of the losses one gets all the time, every day: hours passing, meals ending, goodbye, goodbye). it was really crazy to see lee at his purest, most solipsistic tortured. now he's got something to be tortured about, and the reader's puzzlement, her... anger? starts being directed elsewhere, i.e. at those brutish FBI people. lee becomes the victim, which makes him likable. sea change!
wow. i just finished this extraordinary book. more on overall impressions tomorrow. it's a masterpiece. i'm surprised it didn't get nominated for any of those awards they are always so eager to give women of color (no slight in the least bit intended -- choi would totally deserve at least a nomination). what a book. i'm reeling.
what an accomplishment. i don't understand why we don't hear about susan choi at least as much as we hear about jhumpa lahiri. the protagonist of this book, lee, is a late-middle-aged asian man, a math professor in an unnamed mid-western college. and already things get strange, because lee's original country, which he left in his late twenties and which was at the time occupied by a repressive communist regime, is never named either. and the time frame doesn't quite work (or at least it didn't for me). like: his next-door colleague, the guy who gets bombed in the first line of the book, is a computer scientist working with dial-up. in fact, he's a pioneer in computer science. so, this is the very beginning of this book, and you read the words "dial-up:" what do you do? you locate yourself immediately in the nineties. but then the FBI shows up, and they have snap phones. did we have snap phones in the 90s? i don't think so. so you readjust your focus, but also keep your eyes peeled for clues. and suddenly you have cassette tapes...
to be sure, choi gives a million time-clues. in fact, she tells us at what approximate age lee graduated from grad school, and what year that was. but i found myself doing the math over and over, and bad as i am at basic arithmetic, i don't typically find myself counting so much in a book. oh wait, it's a book about mathematicians! is that why choi makes us count so much?
same goes with space. once lee leaves his little town, the geographical markers are awfully precise, down to interstate turns. but it's as if his town and state, much like his time, were sunk in fog, slightly off, slightly murky, slightly out of sync with the rest of reality (the reader's reality).
and this is such a great quality of this book, because it makes it vague and mysterious and, also, makes you pay attention. and pay attention is the thing you must do most when you read this book.
which brings me to the what's-this-about question. this book changes aboutness every 100 pages or so. ultimately, i think, it's about love and family, spouses, children, but probably someone else would find the aboutness to be different. these issues are the ones that talked to me. the invisible children that live (more and more noticeably) just under the surface of this novel are its center, and the crotchety and failed fatherhood of lee the very heart of this amazing novel.
it's lovely that the protagonist should be an east-asian guy living in the midwest. even though he is hardly ever described in terms of otherness, you, if you are like me, i.e. a white reader, herself an immigrant, have his otherness imprinted on the inside of your cornea at all times. this is vastly helped by the fact that choi dwells SO MUCH on his physicality -- his clothes, his thinness, his age, his scrawny body, his smallness, the fatigue lines on his face, etc. every time she does that, you are forced to see his asian face. and, if you are like me, what you see is a kind of inscrutability (which is racist, but then this book is also about making us question our subtle racism) because you know that's what lee's fellow midwesterners see, and what you'd see if you were one of them.
and this is certainly not aided by the fact that, in the book, lee is almost always tongue-tied, paralyzed, terrified, blundering, and horribly self-conscious. also, he makes a point of disdaining the most basic social conventions, and seems entirely out of tune with everyone else, as if he were so shy and misanthropic and self-conscious that he didn't have one thought to spare for anyone but his own agonizing self.
so it comes as a surprise when choi goes into flashback mode and you discover than a younger lee was, if not more sociable, capable of passion and, even more surprising, of terrifying outbursts of rage.
and this is another lesson of this book: that we don't know each other. we don't know each other's motivations, desires, inner selves, potentialities, and future actions. we can't predict. the only thing we can do is talk, and connect, and try to find out.
choi writes amazing prose. i can't wait to read her other books. she's a master. ...more
i think that, as short story collections go, this one is up there with the great masterpieces -- flannery o'connor, hawthorne, raymond carver, nadinei think that, as short story collections go, this one is up there with the great masterpieces -- flannery o'connor, hawthorne, raymond carver, nadine gordimer, alice munro (the writers who come to mind are the ones who straightforwardly explore the torments of the human heart). the most extraordinary feeling i have about it is that i glided from story to story without having much of a sense of interruption. the stories flow into each other, having to do with people who are different (in age, gender, lifestyle) but also similar in some deep way, so that you have a sense that you are reading about the same group of folks, people who share a profound connection. the last three stories are interconnected, yet i felt no difference. they all felt interconnected to me.
part of it is that all these characters are locked inside, deeply alone. they are remote from others and also from themselves. i feel it would be extremely hard to have a relationship with them, and i wouldn't want to. yet, they seem so incredibly human, so easy to identify with. this is lahiri's sleight of hand, to make you feel both very close and infinitely distant from these people.
these characters are also intensely self-contained, though not in an assured, relaxed way. they feel to me as if they were tightly wound up, and held themselves together with great care, aware that a sudden movement can make the tightly wound edifice of their lives spring into chaos.
there is of course the theme of immigration, of living in a place that is not yours, and you don't feel as yours. this is always true in the book for the first-generation immigrants, the parents. most of the kids were born here -- hence the tragic, portentous intergenerational strife. all of the children seem married to people with anglo names, some of them clearly identified as white. it's strange how race doesn't seem to be much of a concern for lahiri. apart from one egyptian character, everyone is either bengali or assumed to be a white american. race-based discrimination never comes up. if anything, class is more of a concern. everyone is highly educated and well-off. so, oddly for a book that is so much about cultural and ethnic displacement, this reads to me more like an investigation of a particularly isolated section of the middle/upper middle class than as an investigation of race. in this sense, it is similar to... oh, who writes about the dislocation of the upper middle class in america? i feel i should be able to rattle off authors, yet can think only of movies: the ice storm, ordinary people, six degrees of separation (i guess they need to have donald sutherland in them!).
writers love to probe the dissatisfactions and, ultimately, hidden horrors of the orderly middle/upper-middle class life (see michael haneke's funny games, which is supposed to be about voyeurism instead seems to me to be about class). this is what lahiri does here. is she suggesting that behind wealthy living lies some sort of cultural displacement, that being an immigrant is just one way to be out of place and out of touch?
some more stray comments. this is not a cheerful book. it is, in fact, deeply sad. in one way or another, everyone is unhappy, and unhappiness is offered to you matter-of-fact, the way life is. there is no search for happiness, no pursuit of the american dream. at most, these characters seek tranquility and a quiet contentment. right now, actually, i can think only of the father of the first story... another father later on...
like their parents and their arranged marriages, the second-generation children land in their lives rather than choosing them. there is a story in which a young man "chooses" his life and it is a quiet train wreck. even their jobs and their ph.ds seem to have been handed to them, rather than resulting from passion or aspiration or desire. this is not to say that they are not satisfied with their lives. rather, it's as if happiness, this all-american pursuit, were irrelevant, a foreign concept that doesn't apply.
this book relentless focus is relationships, but they are portrayed as if each member lived in profound insularity. the story's protagonists, whose point of view we adopt, see others as if from inside a fish tank. a lot of time is spent being away from others rather than being with them. love, this other american obsession, is unstated and taken for granted, even when it's not there. same with the loss of love, and, ultimately, even death.
one might be tempted to say that lahiri critiques our american obsession with the pursuit of intimacy -- gently mocks this country that, perhaps more than any other, has so much trouble with intimacy that it needs to keep circling around it, fantasizing about it, obsessing about it. but i don't think lahiri is after critiquing anything. i think she describes life as she sees it, the quiet grinding of it, with a sort of melancholy acceptance that appeals to me tremendously.
one last word about language. this book could not be written in a simpler, plainer language. yet the language is gorgeous and the structure of the stories deep and dreamy and enchanting. the language matches the themes: there is no striving, no pulling, so thrashing. instead, lives are built with simplicity and respect, as if they were handed to the author the same way as they are handed to the characters, already formed, like an arranged marriage. ...more
this is beautifully constructed and gorgeously executed, just not my cup of bee's nectar. can't argue with tastes. i have a lukewarm appreciation of cthis is beautifully constructed and gorgeously executed, just not my cup of bee's nectar. can't argue with tastes. i have a lukewarm appreciation of cartoons, a cool appreciation of mythology, and a negative appreciation of magic. you, though, gene luen yang, most definitely rock....more
i'm almost done with this. this book is breaking my heart. maybe my heart is particularly breakable these days, because other people's reviews don't si'm almost done with this. this book is breaking my heart. maybe my heart is particularly breakable these days, because other people's reviews don't suggest a similarly pained response. more when i finish....more
not much plot, but then one doesn't read michael ondaatje for plot. i can't yet articulate why this book has so mesmerized me -- i'm still fresh fromnot much plot, but then one doesn't read michael ondaatje for plot. i can't yet articulate why this book has so mesmerized me -- i'm still fresh from finishing it -- except to say that the language is fabulously rich and chiseled and yet simple and direct and entirely unpretentious. ...more