'How long do souls linger by the side of their bodies? Do they really flutter away like some kind of bird? Is that what trembles the edges of the cand
'How long do souls linger by the side of their bodies? Do they really flutter away like some kind of bird? Is that what trembles the edges of the candle flame? (p. 49)
I've read The Vegetarian but didn't love it quite as much as others did, finding it a bit too distant and cold, so when I heard about this book, I was merely curious but wasn't that excited. Well, am I ever wrong. This haunting novel told in different perspectives through time, with the Gwangju Uprising in 1980 as the brutal thread linking these characters together, however distantly, was brilliant. The violence can come like a lash when a suppressed memory surfaces, or as a slow bleed from wounds that have long festered, as we immediately begin the story with bodies. Bodies upon bodies to be claimed by family, to be buried, to be rid of, to be dealt with. The necessity of practicalities seems especially cruel, but time marches on. The army will march in soon.
There are so many characters that drift in and out as perspectives shift, but their suffering and loss lingers on. There's the boy who became a part of the movement, however small in his youth, when he goes trying to look for his best friend; the ghost of his friend who longs for happy memories and misses his older sister, still existing in some form after death; the prisoner who survives the torture of the cells; the prisoner who survives the cells but doesn't survive; the factory worker who may never voice what happened to her on record, and so on.
'We stayed silent, avoided each other's eyes. We needed time to process what we'd experienced that morning. A scant hour's worth of silent despair, that was the last grace left to us as humans.' (p. 111)
This chapter from the pov of the dead boy's mother, years on, an older lady in spirit and form now, seeing yet another boy who reminds her of her lost son, just about broke me. (I did a lot of quick blinking to keep tears astray, and a lot of deep breaths, living inside this woman's life for how ever many pages.) These lines in particular stood out with its delicate nature, of a mother's memory and mourning and her love, for the boy who will never grow up:
'There was no mistaking those toothpick arms, poking out of your short shirtsleeves. It was your narrow shoulders, your own special way of walking, loping like a little fawn with your head thrust slightly forward. It was definitely you.' (p. 185)
I'm utterly blown away by the humanity in these voices. I'm typing and deleting and re-typing the end of this review because I don't know how to end it. I wouldn't recommend this to everybody but if you were to take the plunge on this, it will stay with you. The balancing act of all of these voices is spectacular - this may be the best second-person narrative I've read. There so many passages that'll twist your heart right out with their strength or vulnerability or denial or everything. Words fail me. Masterful....more
Got up early enough to finish the last story before starting my day, and there's plenty to do, so I'll get a [more concise/readable] review out later.Got up early enough to finish the last story before starting my day, and there's plenty to do, so I'll get a [more concise/readable] review out later. nvm, I started typing and typing and resigned myself to doing an immediate review because THIS IS SO GOOD. I'm still a bit in awe re: the topics in this collection because there's not only so much imagination, but humanity, and history infused in all of it. I'm amazed because with my background, I see certain characters and it's like old friends/a hit of nostalgia, but for others, it's all brand new, and they're seeing them for the first time but still it's all interesting and relatable somehow. Just know that I haven't ever really discussed short stories with my family but just last night was in glee over a folk tale here and there as my parents listened (Good Hunting, btw, was the one I picked), rather surprised but enraptured, and above all, delighted in the recognition of these names.
Not describing/reviewing particular stories because that takes the fun out of discovery for short stories. I don't want to know what I'm getting into for these because the challenge and the best part of it is trying to figure out what it's all about and where you're at, and the brilliance of these stories is making me feel like so much of this is so familiar. I'll name favourites, in only the order they appear [in the book] but not in order of my favour: Good Hunting (this one MIGHT be my favourite because it was the first time I had encountered hulijing being mentioned anywhere outside of the stories I'd watch/hear as a kid - obviously not counting the term being used in a derogative sense towards women luring men away from their families/wives but I'm getting distracted - and it gave me such glee to see how the story could become modern), The Literomancer, The Paper Menagerie, Mono No Aware. (ahem, a clear bias for stories about family and calligraphy and the power of the written word.) I have fondness for All the Flavors onwards (aka the last four stories) for the blending of history and fiction and sci-fi and mythology. It's hard to explain just how much I felt connected to it all. State Change and The Regular were particularly interesting. I'd say that The Waves was the weakest one for me, but that's likely on my weakness re: sci-fi.
Actually, I'm curious if the more sci-fi stories will connect better to a general, unfamiliar audience? I can't tell personally because I do seem to enjoy the historical/fantasy ones better, but I'm filling in the blanks since I'm able, yet I can't judge on how they are to explaining things or certain aspects of the culture coming across to other readers. I hope it's connecting on some level, I really do. There's definitely more work to do to make sense of it all but it's very worth it. Just thinking about GuanYu as an example being this revitalized figure is amusing me a lot.
I'd totally recommend this collection to everyone and anyone who is interested in a variety of stories, mixing elements of fantasy and myth with sci-fi, and retaining the humanity that is inside these individuals. These can be dark stories, in the cruelty that humans are capable of, as history has shown us time and time again, but there's a sense that even without a clear light at the end of the tunnel, we are all bearing witness in some way, and continue to talk about our pasts to keep them alive. There's a beauty in that tradition, and despite how far-reaching some of these worlds go via Ken Liu's imagination, it will continue on until the last light is struck from the page.
I hovered for maybe a few seconds between giving this a 4 or a 5, but I had to round it up for all the times when I was reading when I felt like a gentle kitten was licking the inside of my heart. A worthy bump up for a very worthy collection, and I am very excited to start The Grace of Kings sometime soon. If Ken Liu's long fiction is as strong as this collection, then I'm in for an incredible journey with The Dandelion Dynasty series....more
I haven't read this yet but I just saw this post on Brain Pickings a few minutes ago and am now in tears. I am so buying this book to keep for my own,I haven't read this yet but I just saw this post on Brain Pickings a few minutes ago and am now in tears. I am so buying this book to keep for my own, to read, and to see the illustrations for myself. What an extraordinary book.
I'm also sold anytime Quentin Blake illustrates anything. My childhood with Roald Dahl has just conditioned me to linger longer when I see those familiar drawings.
edit: Finally read this in its entirety and I can confirm that it is heart-wrenchingly sad but poignant. The illustrations are sublime and convey everything that the words can't, though the writing is brilliant as well. It's so honest about grief and the various ways that one can feel it or deal with it. I don't know how effective of a book this would be for kids, I'm not sure of the age group, with it being about the loss of Michael Rosen's son and all, but I think it hits home for adult me. Had a good weep over this one....more
I'm overwhelmed by how much this biography moved me - so often, to tears. As much as I love my books, I've always been more of a lazy reader and decliI'm overwhelmed by how much this biography moved me - so often, to tears. As much as I love my books, I've always been more of a lazy reader and declined to look further into the lives of the authors for more insight, choosing to dive right into their works instead. But this book has changed my mind. If this is what literary bios can do, then I have so much to look forward to. I am struck by just how much I have missed out on when I read Jane Eyre. That's a must re-read for me. It was one of the first classics I picked up on my own and I enjoyed, but beyond a few of the more famous passages, I don't recall much of a visceral connection to it. From this book however, each passage from Jane Eyre just bowled me over with its power. This one in particular, was after reading about Maria and Elizabeth's deaths:
"If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should - so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again."
I somehow managed to read this the first time in Jane Eyre without understanding the significance of it, or how revolutionary it was for Charlotte to write this in the voice of a child. This time, however, I couldn't let myself go on without reading it a few more times. I was talking to my dad (thankfully, with very little resemblance to Patrick Brontë) about this book and even felt compelled to read that particular bit to him to show why I was so drawn to it. Again and again and again, these passages pop up.
Although it does have Charlotte Brontë on the cover, this isn't just a biography of her. It's very much a book about the Brontës as well, and I didn't realize how impossible or rather, how wrong it would be to separate them. Wuthering Heights is cast in a new light now that I know more of Emily's personality. The force of that book somehow is even stronger to me. For how much I loved Charlotte's spirit, and been in awe of Emily's quiet rage - the sister I relate the most to is quiet, forgotten Anne, so I feel awfully guilty for not having read any of her work yet. I'm making it a priority. I need to read Villette first. I have to. I've been meaning to before I read this, but with what I know now, it's going to be a book that wrecks me completely. I can't wait.
There is so, so much more in this book that just brought me joy and surprise and grief and despair (Branwell was always a passing figure for me before but I was amazed to see how close they all were at one point, and the downward spiral is even more tragic). I feel all these losses of these people, long gone, yet so alive in their words that they've left behind. It's an incredible, illuminating biography. My weakness is that: the more I love a book, the less I'm capable of laying out my thoughts in a convincing or engaging or even a coherent enough manner for others to understand just how much I love it. I just want to shove this book towards anyone who enjoyed any of the Brontë's works, or even maybe people who didn't, because you might be surprised. Who knows? I can't get over how good this was. I expect to connect to fiction emotionally but not so much a literary bio, so this was quite the shock. I have to return this to the library tomorrow - last minute reading! - and I'm sad to say goodbye. :(
I know my horizons have been broadened because of this (thanks, Claire Harman!) but I'm also a bit wary as this means I have to add literary bios to my TBRs now and I already have too much to read. ...more
There is no way for me to do this justice, so all I'll say is:
Everything on racial aggressions, from big to small, made my heart hurt.
I wish that eveThere is no way for me to do this justice, so all I'll say is:
Everything on racial aggressions, from big to small, made my heart hurt.
I wish that everyone could read this and understand the harm that goes by unnoticed every day. What you think is a compliment or a throwaway comment can chip away at an individual. I think about the times in the past that I've heard things and either took them as not being a big deal because I've heard it before again and again or else know that it's awful but won't speak up for fear of being singled out. I'm sure that I've been the instigator as well, through my words and actions. We're taught so many things but it's worth fighting those instincts.
This book needs to be as well known as Animal Farm. I realize the history of it and how it's been very difficult for the work to spread but I just canThis book needs to be as well known as Animal Farm. I realize the history of it and how it's been very difficult for the work to spread but I just can't stop thinking about it and wish more people could read this. Georgi Vladimov manages to do so much - I'm in awe of how much depth there is in this little novel. I'm not sure if there's an introduction with some of the background history in every version, but this is such a clear glimpse into the human psychology of the time that it is still effective without it.
Ruslan is the most faithful dog you could have. Obedient, forgiving, and loyal to his master and his training. As a guard dog of a prison camp, he's taught to efficiently maintain control over prisoners and attack them in a hunt if they're to run away. Prisoners must obey, as does he, to his "Master" and the other guards. He is completely suited to the environment and takes his job very seriously. No question about it. Why do the prisoners bother running away when they'll be caught, like they always do? Isn't it nicer and better in the camp than the outside world anyway?
What happens to this dog and his life purpose once the camp is closed down?
It's both a chilling and devastating read. You're able to get inside the head of Ruslan, who is an absolutely riveting character that rivals any human I've read about in any other story, and understand his devotion yet recoil in horror over his instincts to only view the world as the gulag. You can't blame Ruslan or any of the other dogs at the camp because this is all they've ever known. The training of the "Masters," however, are the cruel ones. How do men recover from such horror - whether they are the ones to afflict punishment or the ones to receive it? It is frightening to think about absolute obedience but that's what these characters are taught from the start.
I'm so taken aback by how much character each dog had in this novel. For such a short piece, I felt like I knew them all so well. Despite the identical training they received, their distinct personalities allowed for their lives to diverge in the most natural of ways. Ingus and the Instructor in particular has really stayed with me, for better or worse. But there were so many other anecdotes in there that were fantastic.
Brilliant. Leaves you speechless when you're finished. ...more
This was such an interesting read! I'm still trying to grasp Russian history and generally the books I stumble on or add to my 'to-read' list don't coThis was such an interesting read! I'm still trying to grasp Russian history and generally the books I stumble on or add to my 'to-read' list don't cover the past two decades or so of more recent events, much less get the viewpoint of the people, so this book caught my eye right away. Gregory Feifer has personal ties to the country which I also enjoyed very much - I find that family history that the author shares in these books really help me connect to the bigger picture. He did mention that he was planning on writing this with his father but they could not weave their different past experiences into one coherent narrative, which is unfortunate but maybe the better decision. That said, I'd love to learn about his father's perspective as well.
Fiefer jumps back and forth in time to cover an abundance of topics from the extravagance to the poverty of the people, from domestic relationships to the rules of society, etc. No stone feels unturned. It isn't all doom and gloom or looking back on the past either. He speaks to the people who lives there and ones who have left, provides more insight into the mindset of the nation, and you're left with a better sense of understanding not just the country but the people there. The interviews were very enlightening when Feifer could find willing volunteers to agree to them.
I'll have to get a copy of this for future reference. There's so much I found out about and I'd love to re-read this. An eye-opener of a book....more
As Anya Von Bremzen and her mother attempt to cook dishes to represent each decade of the past century of Soviet history, thWhat a fascinating memoir.
As Anya Von Bremzen and her mother attempt to cook dishes to represent each decade of the past century of Soviet history, they rekindle more than mere feasts but mountains of memories. Both touching and painful, the reader is taken on a journey through the generations of stories in this family, from the last Czar to present-day Putin, connected through food. It's a thread powerful enough to raise or topple leaders, change the course of history with how hunger is managed in the nation.
It's really more than just a memoir or a cookbook. Every recipe, every food, every drink, described in here is intertwined with a part of history, a part of culture, and a part of Anya's family history. There's a great sense of familiarity somehow: Naum's boisterous personality and his luck, Sergei's struggle to stay committed, Larisa's toska, to name a few - and I found myself caring very much about her family. These individuals are voices that ring loud and clear, full of personality and life through the generations. Just as incredible was to see historical almost larger-than-life characters through the food lens: what they ate, what they banned or allowed citizens to eat, what was available, how tastes changed over the years and through the different regimes, how interior and exterior influences molded the diet, etc.
It's such a delicate balance to have all these ingredients without making a mess of it all - either stray too far into family history without providing historical context for those unfamiliar or cover only the history like a dry textbook - and this book has achieved it. It isn't all heartbreak and terror, all fear and propaganda, as told in these stories - as difficult as life could be, there was joy, love and humour to be found. And oh, what humour indeed.
To try a newly learned comparison (and despite not having tried these dishes yet but they sound marvelous), this book was as sensational as Larisa's awe-inspiring kulebiaka combined with Sergei's uber-borshch.
Since I was still half expecting a dagger to be plunged between my shoulder blades, I'm afraid I did not return her hug, which I received in stiff silSince I was still half expecting a dagger to be plunged between my shoulder blades, I'm afraid I did not return her hug, which I received in stiff silence, rather like one of the sentries at Buckingham Palace pretending he doesn't notice the liberties being taken by an excessively affectionate tourist.
To say I'm a fan of this series would be an understatement.
Flavia de Luce is one of my favourite protagonists around. An 11-year old girl with a flair for chemistry and sleuthing, she possesses the perfect combination of skill and curiosity to solve whatever quirky cases happen to pop up in dear ol' Bishop's Lacey. With her trusty bike, Gladys, Flavia makes the most of her wits, sometimes for plotting against her two sisters, Feely (Ophelia) and Daffy (Daphne). Returning characters include: the stoic Colonel, gossipy Mrs. Mullet, silent Dogger, one-step-behind-Flavia-at-all-times Inspector Hewitt, and the most agreeable Sergeant Graves, amongst others.
I expected to love this book and I did; Alan Bradley did not disappoint. It says a lot that I don't even need to read the backflap but instantly recognize new books from this series at the bookstore, and see myself enjoying them all. Flavia is as charming as ever, and has still got an opinion about everything. I've tried marking down moments where she made me chuckle out loud and I had to give up because I was losing count! The unraveling of the mystery is almost secondary to me because I'm getting such a kick from the process. Flavia's methods are unconventional and every hint is a new adventure.
This book might be my favourite out of the series (so far!) because of the emotional depth it had. I was wondering if Flavia was going to mature, seeing as how she is still 11 years old with this mystery, but didn't expect much from the past to be a part of this book. The author did a lot of juggling with the various points but I still connected very much to the moments where Flavia would wonder and miss her mother. It could've bogged down the cases and the humour, but instead, added more depth to this wonderful detective.
I'm also in love with the language of these books. They're breezy to read because the descriptions never bore me (see: a Gypsy caravan: butter yellow with crimson shutters, and its lathwork sides, which sloped gently outwards beneath a rounded roof, gave it the look of a loaf of bread that has puffed out beyond the rim of the baking pan). I find myself flipping to use the helpful map at the beginning of every book, and specks of British slang make it all a delight to read.
I guess I'll just have to wait until the next one. Don't even tell me there won't be a fourth. I expect to be browsing the bookstore and being surprised as usual by another bright, quirky cover. Maybe blue for the colour?...more
And I felt more like me than I ever had, as if the years I'd lived so far had formed layers of skin and muscle over myself that others saw as me whenAnd I felt more like me than I ever had, as if the years I'd lived so far had formed layers of skin and muscle over myself that others saw as me when the real one had been underneath all along, and writing - even writing badly - had peeled away those layers, and I knew then that if I wanted to stay this awake and alive, if I wanted to stay me, I would have to keep writing.
One of the best memoirs I've ever read.
I can't remember how I found this book, maybe a random review of some sort, but the cover kept my attention. It's a stroke of luck since I have never read any of the author's works, and most likely wouldn't have been interested in reading about his life. Something about this story of a boy, living a life I've never known, learning to defend himself and his friends, spoke out to me.
Andre Dubus grew up facing violence in the neighbourhoods he lived in, struggling to find a way to stop hiding from the hits he would be taking from the rougher kids. With his parents divorced, his mother was mainly preoccupied with putting food on the table. Andre being the oldest son meant looking out for his siblings, which he couldn't do until he got the motivation to work out, looking up to muscle men in magazines who had bodies that were enough to intimidate without actually using their fists. Along with this new regiment came confidence, and Andre found himself becoming someone who hungered for opportunities to physically punish wrongdoings, or any reason at all to use his punches to send messages. Strong messages. Eventually it wasn't hard to figure out that this lifestyle wouldn't last long.
Lingering beneath all this is the unconscious abandonment Andre feels from his father, who has gone on to live a new life without the rest of them, starting another family while he teaches at a college. The guilt that his father feels sometimes appears, but only simmers at the surface then wafts away. There's an urge to vent, to speak of all the problems he's had to handle on his own but that, like the guilt, passes. He finds that all the anger, the impulsiveness that he feels, can be slowly whittled away by writing. Words can help him, and it's oddly poetic because his father, the elder Andre Dubus, is also a writer.
I can't say enough about all the emotions this memoir made me feel. The sense of clarity...it's honest. I found myself hoping young Andre's courage to stand up to his bullies would finally come, to stop feeling resigned and expecting crushing blows to his body every day after school, something to just keep quiet about even after he made it home. I felt the satisfaction he described when he got into his first fight and his friends looked at him with a newfound sense of respect, even though I knew it would lead to more repercussions. I wanted him to burst at the seams and yell at his father, then feel guilty because I knew words were never that easily spoken. I felt.
Now that I've finished this memoir, it's probably time to read what else the author's written. Is it possible to top this?...more
This is the last book I've read on the Giller shortlist, and I'd have to say I would pick this for the prize if I could. It's a sensitive topic to wriThis is the last book I've read on the Giller shortlist, and I'd have to say I would pick this for the prize if I could. It's a sensitive topic to write about, but the author manages to make it work and then some. Beyond the main character, Wayne, who is born a hermaphrodite, but the father, Treadway, chooses to raise the baby as a boy, and with that, the child grows up trying to repress the urges to be different, as it is known that Treadway would disapprove.
Kathleen Winter has such a knack for engulfing you with the setting that it's as if you're one of the neighbours being in on the secret about Wayne. There's an almost ethereal quality about the way she describes the town - you yearn to visit but there's a fear that you may find yourself trapped there, just like Jacinta. She never feels a sense of belonging but never has the courage to leave, because Treadway is a safe choice. He is a man of honesty, but with that, rigid rules on upbringing, carrying on traditions of what he thinks a boy should grow up to be, especially in a small town such as this one. Neither of the parents can be labelled as villains, as the author manages to convey how their own views have molded passively into raising Wayne.
"It never once occurred to Treadway...to let the baby live the way it had been born...He did not want to imagine the harm it would cause. He was not an imagining man. He saw deeply into things but he had no desire to entertain possibility that had not yet manifested. He wanted to know what was, not what might be."
This passage, among many, marks the brilliance of Winter to flesh out each of her characters. We're able to understand exactly why they act the way they do. I can't bring myself to feel angry at either Treadway's stubbornness or Jacinta's way of resigning to her husband's demands. There's a lingering sadness to most of this novel, juxtaposed with the strong-willed nature of the setting, easily a character amongst itself. The air of this small coastal town in Labrador lives and breathes, dictating the cycles of the inhabitants as the mere visitors are weeded out. Everything serves a purpose.
This review does the book no justice. I cannot recommend it enough....more
A hockey fan all the way here, but this book was simply addictive! If only Michael Lewis would take to writing something, anything, about my favouriteA hockey fan all the way here, but this book was simply addictive! If only Michael Lewis would take to writing something, anything, about my favourite sport. I have a very limited knowledge of baseball but this book would be compelling for anyone to read, even if it is about winning games through studying statistics. Makes you think if your team could incorporate this method, although the playoffs do seem like a crapshoot.
Can't wait to get my hands on the other books Lewis has written....more