In 1913, Tomas Madeiros sends his youngest daughter Leah, stricken with tuberculosis, to a Catholic orphanage in Oahu's Kalihi Valley. Her older sisteIn 1913, Tomas Madeiros sends his youngest daughter Leah, stricken with tuberculosis, to a Catholic orphanage in Oahu's Kalihi Valley. Her older sister Aki follows in 1914, and eldest sister Anah in 1915. Although the girls' mother Sumi and beloved brother Charles promise to visit, on the one visiting day each month, the Madeiros girls are the only patients who receive no one. As far as Tomas and eldest son Thomas are concerned, the girls are dead, and Tomas doesn't allow either Charles, now living as a virtual slave to his father's extended family, nor Sumi who is half-mad with grief to visit. Anah, at age 8 a surrogate mother to her two younger sisters, repeatedly promises that they will all go home one day. When first Leah and later Aki die, their spirits stay with Anah, Leah to beg to be taken home and Aki to torment Anah for her "lies." Although Anah survives TB and eventually leaves the orphanage to marry, she no longer has any blood family, except the ghosts of her sisters and father who continue to demand and extract sacrifices from her.
This isn't an easy book to read. There is brutality on every single page and Yamanaka doesn't shy away from the graphic. But there is also goodness and compassion, despite everything. It's not a happy story, but it is hopeful and redemptive. This is Yamanaka's fifth and probably best novel. She has an uncanny ability to convey a fully formed character in just a single line of dialogue, and her prose is elegant but highly emotional, in the sense that you shouldn't read this book in public unless you want strangers to come up and ask you why you're crying. I would recommend Behold the Many to anyone, with the caveat that much of the dialogue is written in Hawaiian pidgin. It's not difficult to understand; even if you're not familiar with pidgin, you get most of it from context, but it does require a little extra effort from the reader, so you kind of have to be in the right mood....more
Raymond Ding is 40, divorced, and, as a boyfriend, sort of lecture-y and condescending. He works as the Assistant Director of Minority Affairs at JackRaymond Ding is 40, divorced, and, as a boyfriend, sort of lecture-y and condescending. He works as the Assistant Director of Minority Affairs at Jack London College in Oakland and, in his relationship with Aurora Crane, a younger Eurasian woman, he can't seem to forget that he's the guy she's sleeping with and not her Ethnic Studies professor. Interminable conversations about the sexual politics of race and the racial politics of sex abound, and eventually Aurora asks him to move out. Raymond has the typical mid-life crisis but only because he feels it's expected of him, has another relationship, helps his dad come to terms with aging, figures a few things out, and does a lot of growing up. But I never really liked Raymond enough to care about any of it.
The book itself is often very funny, especially in Raymond's conversations with his dad or his friend Jimmy. It is also frequently sexually explicit -- which as an Asian person I appreciated since it shows we don't spend all our spare time doing math problems -- but which as a reader, I found sometimes unnecessary if not awkward. Wong is a good writer and I'd like to read some of his other work, but I didn't love this one. ...more
This is a short book that would have benefited from being shorter. Set mostly in 1960 - 1961 at a boys' boarding academy, the first 100 pages or so ofThis is a short book that would have benefited from being shorter. Set mostly in 1960 - 1961 at a boys' boarding academy, the first 100 pages or so of Old School is reminiscent of A Separate Peace and The Catcher in the Rye both in terms of how boring it is and in how much in love the unnamed narrator is with what he has convinced himself is is own tragic isolation. He's basically an emo kid in a natty blazer.
At this unnamed school (which shares some traditions with The Hill School, a prep school in Pennsylvania from which Wolff was expelled in 1964), visiting writers are hosted three times a year and one student is selected, on the basis of a short story writing competition, for a private audience. In the '60-'61 academic year, the writers slated to visit are Robert Frost, whom Wolff portrays as phonily self-effacing, Ayn Rand, whom Wolff skewers in one of the relatively hilarious segments of the book, and Ernest Hemingway, whose pending visit is the keystone of the novel. The problem is that Wolff doesn't get to it until close to 120 pages into this 195 page novel. Once he gets there, it's tremendously good. Just as wonderful and awful and tragic as Natty Emo Narrator would want it to be, right up until the story's natural conclusion about 30 pages later. Unfortunately, Wolff then keeps talking for another 45 pages or so and kind of ruins the whole thing.
At one point, the narrator says, "as a writer, how could I refuse to bring the story to so satisfying and shapely a close? Maybe that shapely close was part of what held me back. The appetite for decisive endings, even the belief that they're possible, makes me uneasy in life as in writing ..." Wolff himself goes way beyond the shapely close and tries to provide at least three shapely closes, each one less necessary than the previous one. Had he stopped in 1961, with the narrator pushing his way into the smoking car of the passenger train, this would have been a much, much better novel. ...more