I so wish I could have given this five stars for the richness of its imagination and the grace of its writing, but I just couldn't.
In this novel, Lee...more I so wish I could have given this five stars for the richness of its imagination and the grace of its writing, but I just couldn't.
In this novel, Lee creates a post-apocalyptic world (it's not clear if there was a war or simply a global environmental disaster) in which privileged elites live in Charter Cities around the globe, other former cities are remade into food production facilities, and the rest of humanity struggles in the largely lawless Counties territories.
The novel centers on Fan, a young woman who one day simply walks out of her production facility city, B-mor (formerly Baltimore) to search for her missing boyfriend, Reg. B-mor has been repopulated by Chinese immigrants taken from an environmentally poisoned village, and they live a sort of Asian hive existence, producing the fish and vegetables sold to the Charter cities. Fan is a fish tank diver, able to hold her breath underwater for long periods, and her largely innocent love story with gangly Reg is broken when he disappears. Rumors abound that he is somehow genetically cancer-free, a rare attribute in a world where nearly everyone seems to die of the disease, and that may have played a role in his disappearance.
In telling this story, Lee has two goals. One is to create a narrative of what happened to Fan after she left, and that part of the novel is gripping, poignant, and at times downright creepy. The strength of Fan's character is that even though she is used by most people she encounters, she never loses her sense of autonomy and freedom.
The other part of the narrative is Lee trying, through an unknown B-more narrators' voice, to talk about why Fan's story became for a time a mythical rallying cry in the city, and in the process philosophizes about conformity and freedom, status and aspiration, assimilation and separateness. These are themes that obviously matter to Lee, but I found these sections of the book, while sometimes brilliant, overly long, and after a while, I just wanted to snip them out so I could get back to Fan's journey.
This irritating double story might have earned an even lower ranking from me if it were not for Lee's prodigious gifts as a writer and stylist.(less)
This is a wonderful novel, with tales of loves lost, loves regained, emigration, repatriation, betrayal, disappointment and reconciliation.
Anju Melvin...more This is a wonderful novel, with tales of loves lost, loves regained, emigration, repatriation, betrayal, disappointment and reconciliation.
Anju Melvin is a studious little girl growing up near Chennai, India. Her father is a chauffeur, and her mother died when she was too young to remember. She lives with her father, her grandmother and her older sister Linno.
As a teen, she wins a scholarship to an exclusive school in Manhattan -- but only because she falsely claims that the brilliant drawings done by Linno are hers. Once in America, she lives with a wealthy Indian-American family in which the mother is a TV host on a program like "The View," and the brash son fashions himself a documentary filmmaker. All goes well until she confesses her false pretenses to the one boy in the school who seems to like her.
When the deed is discovered, Anju is expelled, and rather than face her shame, she runs away to the one other person she has met -- a woman named Bird who works in a hair salon in Queens and who takes her in. Unbeknownst to Anju, Bird has sought her out because of a deep connection she has to Anju's family. And unbeknownst to anyone else, Linno harbors her own dark secret about her mother's death.
Anju believes her family will be shamed by her presence. They vow to find her no matter what, and it is these conflicting currents that lead to the dramatic climax of the book.
In this first novel, James raises questions about affluence, poverty, assimilation, what we give up to pursue other dreams, what we gain when we go home. Well worth the read.(less)
Eric Liu is a first generation Chinese American who was a speechwriter for Bill Clinton and an obvious high achiever. In this thoughtful series of ess...more Eric Liu is a first generation Chinese American who was a speechwriter for Bill Clinton and an obvious high achiever. In this thoughtful series of essays, he explores everything from assimilation to ethnic roots to intermarriage to Chinatowns, real and virtual.
What impressed me most about this book is that he never, ever provides easy answers or pat views. Constantly examining his own inner life, Liu shows just how complicated the issues of ethnicity, Americanism and assimilation are.
So, for instance, when he was a teenager in upstate New York, he found it very important to hang out with students who were safely rebellious pranksters, to defy the stereotype of the goodie two shoes Asian kid, and remembers with chagrin that he also made fun of an earnest, high achieving Indian American girl, and then reflects that both of them were undoubtedly seen by others as Asian nerd kids.
One of his most poignant sections is about visiting his grandmother Po Po in New York's Chinatown, where she came to live after years in Taiwan, and where he found himself with all the mixed feelings of a successful young Asian American who could barely speak the language, whose grandmother made him a huge feast every time he stopped by, and who would hug him fiercely as he left to say, "I wish I had wings so I could fly to where you live!" and yet never left the confines of Chinatown.
This is more than an analysis of being Asian American. It is a fundamental exploration of how we form our identities and our connections to our pasts.(less)
I read this for a project I'm doing on the 100th anniversary of WWI. The photos are mesmerizing and sometimes absolutely gripping, particularly the de...more I read this for a project I'm doing on the 100th anniversary of WWI. The photos are mesmerizing and sometimes absolutely gripping, particularly the dead staring with their eyes open, juxtaposed with cheerful, singing men in the midst of their misery.
The textual sections that introduce the photos of the war -- and this is told from the British perspective -- are rather didactic but do give the basics of the battle movements, and what comes through so strongly is what horrific loss of life there was for such few miles of territory gained. This was not the first war where lethal technology outstripped tactics, but was one of the deadliest, and of course was the last major war that used poison gas as well as bullets and shells.
I've only read one other book in this series, but this was thoroughly enjoyable, and despite the Erlendur tagline, the dyspeptic traditionalist is not...more I've only read one other book in this series, but this was thoroughly enjoyable, and despite the Erlendur tagline, the dyspeptic traditionalist is not part of this plot.
Instead, the lead work is done by a female detective, Elinborg, who has a steady as a rock husband, an older son who seems to be permanently angry at her, another boy who's getting that way, and a daughter who is studious, neat and not at all like her brothers.
Against this backdrop comes the mysterious murder of a young man who starts his evening by taking a date-rape drug with him to a club with the intention of luring a woman home. He is found with his throat slit, wearing a woman's T shirt, and with very little else in the way of clues.
You might describe this as a detective novel by scent, because it is her sense of smell that gives Elinborg, an accomplished cook, her two big breakthroughs in the case. No spoiler alert needed, but suffice to say that what she smells on a scarf found under the victim's bed helps lead her to the victim's family, and another aroma will give her the final clue to who the killer is.
Elinborg must negotiate her way through an uncooperative bunch of witnesses, including one who is mentally ill, and a hard nosed partner who screws up at least one of her interrogations, and her own gnawing guilt that she hasn't done enough for her family.
Despite all that she persists and she triumphs, which is after all the sine qua non of Nordic noir.(less)
In conjunction with a project I'm doing on Asian immigrants, I read in one sitting this mostly funny, sometimes dark and occasionally poignant graphic...more In conjunction with a project I'm doing on Asian immigrants, I read in one sitting this mostly funny, sometimes dark and occasionally poignant graphic novel about a young Chinese-American boy making his way through school.
At first, the graphic novel seemed a mishmash because his story was mixed in with the fable of the Monkey King, but in the end Yang brings both stories together, although at least one character's identity made no sense to me in the context of the school story that had been told. Sorry to be so vague, but I didn't want to use spoiler alerts.
Despite that flaw, I think Yang captured the mixture of emotions for a boy trying to gain acceptance in a new school, falling in love, trying to deal with embarrassing relatives and rigid family expectations, along with the prejudice he faces on his journey.
The ultimate lesson is about accepting yourself for who you are, and if takes the Monkey King and some magic realism to drive the point home, so be it.(less)
Henry Park is a man of secrets. Part of it is his Korean inheritance, assimilating with American culture in an almost seamless way, marrying an Americ...more Henry Park is a man of secrets. Part of it is his Korean inheritance, assimilating with American culture in an almost seamless way, marrying an American wife. And part of it is the fact that he is a spy.
It's a freelance operation that he is part of, doing covert jobs for any number of clients, and that work has contributed to a growing sense that Henry is losing his way. He and his wife are separated, torn apart by the accidental death of their young son. But Henry's work and his almost pathological hiding have played their part as well.
During his personal crisis, Henry has become too emotionally involved with one target, a Filipino psychiatrist, and now he is being put to the test by his enigmatic, dangerous boss, who has asked him to infiltrate the budding mayoral campaign of a New York City councilman, John Kwang.
Along the way, Henry works to get back together with his wife Lelia, to come to terms with his complicated feelings about his birth family, and to balance his admiration for Kwang with the job he has been asked to do.
While there are some dramatic plot developments along the way, as Kwang faces increasing opposition despite his charismatic rise, the real purpose of Native Speaker seems more atmospheric and philosophical.
Lee is a skilled writer and is expert at dealing with the nuances of inheritance, assimilation, difference and characterization. But for my taste, there were a few too many atmospherics in this novel, particularly in Henry's relationship with his wife. For much of the book, I was never quite sure why they were on the outs and what it would take to get them back together.
Still, Lee is such a good writer and is so erudite in the ways of life and people, this is well worth the read.(less)
I was tempted to give this three stars for what I thought were some of the excesses and inconsistencies of the plot, but in the end, I just couldn't r...more I was tempted to give this three stars for what I thought were some of the excesses and inconsistencies of the plot, but in the end, I just couldn't resist four stars on the strength of the real dinosaur science embedded in the book (courtesy of the author's biology background) and the fact she took the trouble to give us full back stories on nearly every major character, including their childhoods, their personal crises and their family dynamics.
I also was intrigued by the fact that both the protagonist, Ph.D. student Anna Bella Nor, and her growing love interest, police officer Soren Marhauge, are dislikable, even after you know some of the personal background that explains their temperament. Soren is hiding from the deep pain of losing his parents; Anna Bella Nor seems almost inexplicably angry at everyone, but she is being put under intense pressure by a seemingly uncaring and abusive dissertation adviser, Lars Helland, whose death sets off the beginning of the mystery.
There are some glitches in this first novel: It is hard to reconcile the Helland who is loved by his wife and daughter with the man described as ruthless and combative by his colleagues; Anna herself seems to lash out inordinately strongly at almost everyone; and a Canadian scientist is another dislikable character who never truly serves as an alternate suspect, but in the end, Gazan spins an entertaining and complicated web that centers on two murders -- Helland and her lab-mate, cross-dressing Johannes. Were they both killed by the same person? Is Anna herself the killer but the author is cloaking that from us?
Cashed it in early on this book. While I enjoyed some of the remembrances by surviving World War I veterans and appreciated Rubin's efforts to tie the...more Cashed it in early on this book. While I enjoyed some of the remembrances by surviving World War I veterans and appreciated Rubin's efforts to tie their memories into larger themes, in the end it felt like he was so overawed at finding centenarians to talk to that he felt obligated to use all their stories, and as anyone who has dealt with a very old person knows, sometimes those memories are vague or their role in the war was not interesting enough to warrant separate chapters.
I think this book could have been about half the length.(less)
Chronically late to the party, I am nevertheless thrilled to add my highest recommendation to the quirky, funny, sad, and yes, wise, work of Allie Bos...more Chronically late to the party, I am nevertheless thrilled to add my highest recommendation to the quirky, funny, sad, and yes, wise, work of Allie Bosh. In this personalized set of cartoons, Allie spends the middle section detailing her bout with depression and particularly its anhedonic form, a formal term she would never use. Describing her struggle to stop feeling nothing at all, she concludes "trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back."
It appears Allie overcame her depression, and that allows her to regale us with stories about her dogs, her childhood, her own personality flaws, her encounter with a manic home-invading goose and other delights.
At one point, with her mentally challenged dogs, she has an imaginary conversation about why they should not eat bees, with the dogs asking the questions:
Q: Should eat bees? A: No. Q: But ... never bees? A: No. You should never eat bees. Q: Bees? A: No. Q: But how does it not eat bees? A: When you see bees, you can avoid eating it by not putting it in your mouth. If you want to be extra sure you will not eat bees, go somewhere where there are no bees until the urge to eat bees passes."
And in a section called Identity One, in which she is trying to figure out why she behaves the way she does, an angry Allie, drawn to look like a fish with a mohawk, stares back from her panel and shouts: "How am I supposed to like myself if all these shitty things keep happening because I do them?"
Wiser words were never spoken. Please get this graphic memoir. Please.