"What China is deceitfully not revealing to the outside world is that it is so successful financially only because it does not play by the rules of j "What China is deceitfully not revealing to the outside world is that it is so successful financially only because it does not play by the rules of justice. A system without justice is a system without hope." This is a discovery Rebiya Kadeer makes at an early age, growing up in the Uyghur nation (known as Uyghurstan or East Turkestan and as the Xinjian Uyghur Autonomous Region to the Chinese), a swath of land north of Tibet bordered by Mongolia, Kazakstan, Kyrgzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and India.
When her family is thrown out of their home and her father is beaten, Kadeer's idyllic childhood comes to tumbling to an end. Though still a young woman, she has a strong sense of civic duty and resolves to defend Uyghurs from the cultural robbery, ideological oppression, violence and tireless Communist indoctrination she sees steadily imposed by the Chinese (by 1957, Kadeer writes, her feelings were clear: "I wanted to stop seeing posters of Chairman Mao's adipose face, with that forever grinning mouth, plastered over every wall").
Unfortunately, with time, the injustices imposed on Uyghurs only increase; Kadeer charts the routine banishment, execution, forced flight, arrest, resettlement, and public humiliation of her Uyghur friends and neighbors. She notes that their persecutors would even shoot the pet dogs of Uyghurs to make a point.
By age 28 Kadeer is a relocated and divorced mother of six. Restless to provide for her children and take control of the future, she remakes herself as a businesswoman and begins unconventional courtship with an Uyghur activist named Sidik Rouzi.
With the security afforded by her business profits and her 2nd marriage, she returns her attention to political activism. Although by the early 90s, the USSR has dissolved, freeing Kazaks, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Krykhiz, and Kadeer has become the wealthiest woman in China, the oppression of Uyghurs has not abated -- what's more, it still remains largely unknown outside of the region.
Even after Kadeer wins a seat in China's National People's Congress, she is unable to counteract the effects of Chinese bureaucrats repopulating the Uyghur region with AIDs patients and botching relief works when the region is struck by an earthquake. Ultimately, the efforts of Kadeer and her husband land her in prisoned for six harsh years.
The remarkable resilience she demonstrates in the face of horrendous prison conditions typifies her dauntless, lifelong struggle. This story of singular bravery is a compelling testament to the human spirit's obstinate right to freedom....more
Chloe Aridjis’s lithe debut novel is the brooding, dreamy tale of one young Mexican woman’s years in Berlin, the city where she has burrowed herself tChloe Aridjis’s lithe debut novel is the brooding, dreamy tale of one young Mexican woman’s years in Berlin, the city where she has burrowed herself to escape the crowd of siblings and expectations awaiting her at home. After placing first in a nationwide language exam, Tatiana is awarded a year’s room and board in Germany. She quickly dissolves into Berlin life (“On some days I felt attached to the city and assimilated, on others like some kind of botched transplant with a few renegade veins”), deciding, when the scholarship runs dry, that she is not ready to emerge and return to Mexico City. Instead, she works a series of odd jobs until she is hired by Doctor Friedrich Weiss, an eccentric historian who requires an assistant to transcribe a number of “mesmeric” dictations he has made. A loner with a fertile imagination, Tatiana is well-suited to the job, and quickly grows absorbed in the work of putting Weiss’s meandering thoughts – “some passages were wistful and poetic, others more factual and restrained” –onto paper. Weiss’s obsession with Berlin’s haunted Nazi and Stasi past complements Tatiana’s own fascination with the city’s underbelly, and as the story unfolds, her professional and personal discoveries become increasingly intertwined. Ultimately, however, the characters and landmarks of this ephemeral novel – Tatiana included – remain essentially enshrouded in a fog of mystery for the book’s duration, making the Book of Clouds a lofty meditation on the power of that which is obscured and unknowable....more
This book is nothing if not a conversation starter -- especially if (like me) you're happy for an excuse to rant about the horrors of the Eat Pray LovThis book is nothing if not a conversation starter -- especially if (like me) you're happy for an excuse to rant about the horrors of the Eat Pray Love Elizabeth Gilbert cult. Oh. But. I never read Eat Pray Love! -- or at least, I hadn't until this delightful spoof of that narcissistic romp fell into my hands. A few pages into Drink Play Fuck, I decided (or rather, was advised by a wise reader peering over my shoulder) that I would be better able to giggle at Drink Play Fuck if I first spent some quality time with the tripe that inspired it. And after spending an afternoon in Barnes and Noble quickly turning Eat Pray Love's pages and pretending to be invisible, I was properly in on the joke: What makes this book fun is that Gottlieb doesn't just mock Gilbert's premise, he studiously snarks her various adventures and platitudes line by line. It's hard to sustain that kind of parody for pages and pages, but to Gottlieb's credit, narrator Bob Sullivan manages to be likeable and entertaining enough to carry the story and do his share of good-humored philosophizing on the gender-trumping predicament of heart-break. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever suspected that boys have a bit more fun than girls do (for all its bravado, Drink Play Fuck reassured me that in fact, they don't, thank you very much). ...more
I had circled around this book for the last couple of years, starting it, putting it down, discussing it without having actually finished reading it,I had circled around this book for the last couple of years, starting it, putting it down, discussing it without having actually finished reading it, etc ... I finally went out and bought a copy and polished off the essays that I had never gotten around to. On the whole, I wasn't wild about this book -- I think I've recently come to realize that Joan Didion isn't everything I wanted her to be when I was just a little bit younger? -- but there are some lovely, resonant moments all the same that make The White Album well-worth the read. An excerpt below:
I am talking here about a time when I began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself, a common condition but one I found troubling. I suppose this period began around 1966 and continued until 1971. During those five years I appeared, on the face of it, a competent enough member of some community or another, a signer of contracts and Air Travel cards, a citizen. I wrote a couple of times a month for one magazine or another, published two books, worked on several motion pictures; participated in the paranoia of the time, in the raising of a small child, and in the entertainment of large numbers of people passing through my house; made gingham curtains for spare bedrooms, remembered to ask agents if any reduction of points would be pari passu with the financing studio, put lentils to soak on Saturday night for lentil soup on Sunday, made quarterly F. I. C. A. payments and renewed my driver's license on time, missing on the written examination only the question about the financial responsibility of California drivers ... This was an adequate enough performance, as improvisations go. The only problem was that my entire education, everything I had ever been told or told myself, insisted that the production was never meant to be improvised. I was supposed to have a script and I had mislaid it. I was supposed to hear cues, and I no longer did. I was meant to know the plot, but all I know was what I saw: flash pictures in variable sequence, images with no "meaning" beyond their temporary arrangement, not a movie but a cutting-room experience. ...more
Masculine women, beautiful sports cars laden with family history, swirling river currents, rugged plains, stubbornness and entropy flavor this spellbiMasculine women, beautiful sports cars laden with family history, swirling river currents, rugged plains, stubbornness and entropy flavor this spellbinding collection of thirty years of Louise Erdrich's stories. Many of Erdrich's protagonists are of American-Indian descent (some part Chipewa, Kapshaw, or Ojibwe) and in the tradition of American history, many share French, German or other mixed ancestry as well. They also share a handful of names which Erdrich seems to favor: Celestines, Sitas, Louises, Adeles, Marys and Karls parade through disconnected episodes of this volume. Erdrich spins their passions into stories that span the conventions of folklore but also capture the pitch of modern lives. "So, you see, it was difficult for Gerry to retain the good humor of his ancestors in these modern times," Erdrich's narrator observes of one protagonist; another, reflecting on his life, concludes that "The only interesting Indian is dead, or dying by falling backwards off a horse." Though strained good humor and absurdity feature prominently in the struggles of Erdrich's characters, her writing makes it clear that the life of an "interesting Indian" takes many shapes. Red Convertible is ultimately nothing short of an exquisite anthology, one that cements Erdrich's reputation as a contemporary American great....more
Early in this biography of Michelle Obama by Washington Post reporter Liza Mundy, the author confesses a significant impediment to her project: "the cEarly in this biography of Michelle Obama by Washington Post reporter Liza Mundy, the author confesses a significant impediment to her project: "the campaign declined access to [Michelle] and discouraged those who know the Obamas from talking." And yet Mundy was undeterred: "Fortunately, enough of those who knew her were willing to be interviewed that it was possible to write what is, I hope, a full and satisfying portrait," she explains. Though Michelle: A Biography is in fact neither full nor satisfying, it is nonetheless a valuable overview of the life of the woman married to the President-elect – a man whose sudden political rise in recent years has been nothing short of monumental (as Mundy puts it, "It was more than a political rise; it was a political levitation. A political teleportation.") With this rise, his wife has found herself the sudden object of media scrutiny and a player on the political arena. The detailed research of this book provide a broad view of Michelle Obama's personal background and a play-by-play recap of major ups and downs on the campaign trail. Although Mundy's is never able to translate these facts into a clearly-organized argument on Michelle's significance – present or future – as a national figure, this biography does well to identify her as a formidable woman in her own right....more
I stumbled upon this at the Brooklyn Festival of the Book and was so intrigued by the Norman Mailer blurb (which I present to you below in full) thatI stumbled upon this at the Brooklyn Festival of the Book and was so intrigued by the Norman Mailer blurb (which I present to you below in full) that I had to have it (being penniless, this meant cajoling the good people hawking it into giving me a free copy). I mean, have you ever seen a blurb like this?
"Crust is unique. I know of no other novel remotely like it. The first words that come to mind are daring, daunting, irreligious in the extreme, an academic send-up and a grasp with no small grin of the essential mindlessness and urge to power that besets humans and creates new ventures. It's wild as sin and revolting as vomit and as exceptional as the lower reaches of insanity itself."
The basic idea is that in the not-so-distant information-overloaded future, nose-picking literally becomes the cultural sensation. I'm prepared for a wild ride; will let you know how it goes.
Update: I'm more than halfway in and more than a little bored. The first 50 pages were fresh and raucous but after that it's just been more of the same. Which is to say, the book seems to deliver a diluted version of its blurbed promises -- it's "perverse" and "single-minded," as Jonathan Lethem put it -- but doesn't seem to have much more to offer. I think I was hoping that the satire would extend beyond narrator Walter Linchak's nasal passage into a more dynamic plotline. Alas. There are no thuggish villains for our protagonist to confront, no explosions and no conspiracies, no chase scenes or mysterious strangers, and really only one joke, stretched thin like an errant strand of snot.
Full disclosure: I didn't read all of this. In fact, I almost didn't read any of it. As much as I enjoy the writings of Wahoo New Yorkers Mike Albo anFull disclosure: I didn't read all of this. In fact, I almost didn't read any of it. As much as I enjoy the writings of Wahoo New Yorkers Mike Albo and Virginia Heffernan, when this book came out, I thought the premise -- the entire book is a passive aggressive monologue of an intimate frenemy who lingers for decades -- was gimmicky (and possibly totally annoying), so I steered clear. An extra copy was sitting around the office earlier this week, though, so I gave it a whirl. Zooming through the opening bit ("you know, the green form"!) the Kinkos scene, the morning-after-brunch, the Conde Nast cafeteria run-in -- oh man. We've all been there. Your funny bone will ache. I'm hanging on to this and plan to take quick, potent hits from it as needed. ...more
I had high hopes for this Booker Prize winner but was unfortunately disappointed -- I'm going to blame the context in which I read it (on several planI had high hopes for this Booker Prize winner but was unfortunately disappointed -- I'm going to blame the context in which I read it (on several planes on a weekend when I'd have been better served to read something funny and breezy) rather than the book itself (which seems to more or less do what it sets out to do). In my reading, this book felt gray and thick and a wee bit ponderous. But try this in one sitting on a rainy day when you were supposed to go to the beach (but are instead forced to contemplate bad weather) and I suspect you'll be more likely to find the reverie of Banville's convalescing narrator enrapturing....more
Friends who have read Borges extensively or not-so extensively: If you have any stories to suggest to me as I pick my way through this one, I will rewFriends who have read Borges extensively or not-so extensively: If you have any stories to suggest to me as I pick my way through this one, I will reward you with Argentinean trinkets next month. ...more
Daniel Mendelsohn observes in this collection's intro that as a critic, "however random the assignments you accept, you always end up writing your ownDaniel Mendelsohn observes in this collection's intro that as a critic, "however random the assignments you accept, you always end up writing your own intellectual autobiography." That's one of the reasons why this volume is so interesting -- reading his careful reviews of everything from The Lovely Bones to Oliver Stone's Alexander to a Broadway staging of The Glass Menagerie starring Jessica Lange and Christian Slater, Mendelsohn's particular proclivities and preoccupations gradually emerge. Having so far read about half the essays in the collection, I'm starting to conclude that there's something a bit prissy about Mendelsohn's approach to criticism -- but that may just be my reaction to his "purist's" background as a Greek/Latin classicist (which of course brings his criticism an admirable rigor as well). And in any case, these essays are brilliant, thoughtful, deeply researched and very engaging. Mendelsohn's review of Kill Bill: Vol 1 answered some unsolved questions I had about what the bloody heck Tarantino was referencing in places; his essay on Dale Peck raises great issues on the practice and function of literary criticism; and in other reviews, he neatly fills in the blanks on the biographies of Henry James and Oscar Wilde and Alexander the Great (while weighing contemporary takes on their work and reminding the reader of the roots of these dead white guys' relevance in the first place). I know more than a few of my Goodreads buddies dig these kinds of explorations as much as I do. It took me a while to get around to picking up this book but I'm glad I finally did ... If you loathed The Lovely Bones but couldn't entirely articulate why it seemed so insidious, this book is for you....more
I went looking for a book like this in McNally Robinson when, after daydreaming about all the possible books that could be written about the subway duI went looking for a book like this in McNally Robinson when, after daydreaming about all the possible books that could be written about the subway during one underground journey, it occurred to me that a lot of very good books about the subway had already been written and were just a credit card swipe away from my sticky fingers. As an anthology of the NYT articles of the guy who has covered the MTA for many years, Subwayland looks at the subway from all angles. Conveniently, each vista is column-sized. Given that my commute to and from work is only about a 15 minute ride each way, I read Subwayland as a series of mostly very enjoyable daily anecdotes about seagulls riding the A train in Rockaway, MTA workers being sent to retrieve sippy cups dropped onto the tracks, and the like. Columns being columns, Subwayland is high on color and low on content -- I still have lots of burning questions about the BMT and the IRT and the demise of the 9 train, but hey, I guess that's what Wikipedia is for. ...more
This droll compendium of all things sex-research could have been subtitled, Everything You Didn't Particulary Want to Know About Sex (and Never ConsidThis droll compendium of all things sex-research could have been subtitled, Everything You Didn't Particulary Want to Know About Sex (and Never Considered to Ask) But Are Nonetheless Quite Amused To Learn. In it, Mary Roach goes spelunking into the musty caves where sex physiology has been studied through the ages. And she has a jolly old time deciphering the explicit cave-paintings and getting to know their dedicated artists (PhDs, porn stars, patent officers, pig farmers, quacks, iconoclasts, etc). She tours a sex toy factory, witnesses penile surgery on an ED patient, fucks her husband in an MRI machine, and pores through ancient Chinese texts for medicinal recommendations. There are a lot of "hehe" moments (panda porn! hehe) -- especially in Roach's extensive footnotes -- and some dirty and gross bits as well (like the part about the guy who died trying to "inhale" a zucchini, and the guy discovered with the vacuum cleaner -- nevermind), but on the whole, the book is high on curiosity and humor and low on prurience (sorry to disappoint). Roach keeps things on the light side -- no Tuskegee syphilis experiments, no violence or pedophilia -- and narrates her findings with wry glee. My mother heard me giggling as I read so I started reading paragraphs outloud. She's claimed my copy next. A sex book for the whole family!...more