I bought this book with an expectation of reading about sisters...but at 40% of the book realized that the story was more about regrets, anger, choice...moreI bought this book with an expectation of reading about sisters...but at 40% of the book realized that the story was more about regrets, anger, choices, cancer and dying. It's a story about a Korean family that abandoned everything at home to immigrate here, then moved back for Dad's cancer treatment after about 20 years. The story is almost about their everyday life. The organization is a bit loose, jumping back and forth from present to the past and back, telling stories that are real in the life of the family or not. It would have had great potential if the writing is a bit more organized, characters are a bit deeper and consistent, events more believable and the changes in setting more smooth. There was nothing in this story about Asian American conflicts and struggles that one hasn't read of. The characters do not have enough descriptions or self-inspections so we could understand them more, so both the parents and the daughters ended up superficial and will not be retained in my mind after finishing the book. I do have to applaud the aunt, Komo...which is a unique character that stood out for me. I was about to abandon the book near 40 to 50%, where the two unlikeable Korean sisters were constantly fighting and bickering, their personality keep changing... I persisted to give the author a fair evaluation. (less)
I usually do not read books about love, unless the writing captivates me and the words/phrases in the book make me think. This...moreThis book is about love.
I usually do not read books about love, unless the writing captivates me and the words/phrases in the book make me think. This book drew me in from the first page until the end. The book was written in a narrative, story-telling style that is very intriguing and mythical. Having the majority of the story taking place in Burma also added to the allure.
The story begins when Julia Win arrived Burma, looking for her Father who left suddenly without a trace 4 years ago, leaving her Mom and two children. She met an older man in a tea house who asked her a question:
"Do you believe in love?" "Of course I am not referring to those outbursts of passion that drive us to do and say things that well will later regret, that delude us into think we cannot live without a certain person....a feeling that impoverishes rather than enriches us because we long to possess what we cannot, to hold on to what we cannot." "No. I speak of a love that brings sight to the blind. Of a love stronger than fear. I speak of a love that breathes meaning into life, that defies the natural laws of deterioration, that causes us to flourish, that knows no bounds. I speak of the triumph of the human spirit over selfishness and death."
Thus this unforgettable story begins, a love that transcends 50 years, from Kalaw to New York and back; a love that defies time and distance. The descriptions of Asia and mythical practices and beliefs were very accurate, though unbelievable for most westerners. The ending was quite satisfactory in my point of view. Although I would love to hear more about Julia and his Dad's life in New York, as well as more descriptions of everyday life in Burma, since this story captivated me so. I guess I just didn't want it to end...
I do have a question remain after finishing the book: Is the bond of romantic love is ultimately stronger than the familial one, or are the two incomparable? Can they be exclusive? If they are, which one would you give up?(less)
All the Flowers of Shanghai...Before I give my review of this book, I have to clarify that I've read many books about China, Chinese Women and the Cul...moreAll the Flowers of Shanghai...Before I give my review of this book, I have to clarify that I've read many books about China, Chinese Women and the Cultural Revolution. Being Chinese my self, surrounded by older Chinese women also gave me invaluable insights into the basic struggles and values of them. The bottom line is that I probably had a higher expectation for the book than most.
The story was told in the voice of Xiao Feng, as a letter to the daughter she never raised, recounting her own and her family's history. I love the beginning of the book, where Feng described her happy childhood in Shanghai during the 1930s, spending the day with her Grandfather around town, visiting public gardens, learning names of flowers in Latin and sampling street delicacies. The author's description of Shanghai, possibly in it's most delightful and successful era of history, where all fancy merchandises from all over the world were purchasable, was accurate and enlightening. I almost didn't want her simple childhood to end. Xiao Feng in this part of the book was naive, simple curious, smart, loving and forgiving. She knew that happiness does not come from beauty or wealth, but within.
I love the last 15% of the book as well, where Feng ended up in a sewing factory during the cultural revolution, being reformed and corrected by working hard and enjoying very little. There was a glimpse into the mind and functions of the Red Army members, who were barely immature teenagers themselves. Feng, in this section, did not talk much about her feelings, yet her actions showed she was loving and forgiving, too. The ending was abrupt, leading lots of questions unanswered.
Now it brings us to the major and middle section of the book, which I found unbearable, and not only because of the boring tone of her monologue and her description of mundane things over and over again. This section begins as Feng was married into one of the richest family in Shanghai, which I could not describe how she ended up without spoilers. Her husband was not good-looking, but loved and treasured her. This part should have had lots of potential for the author to develop conflicts and relationships, whether positive or negative, between Feng and her family...but no. Feng spent all her self dwelling in self-pity, repeating meaningless things around her and describing how she resists performing the marriage ritual with her husband, night in and night out. I had no idea how she transformed from the loving girl in the beginning to this materialistic, hateful, deceitful, angry, loveless and full of revenge character overnight. I did not see the causes or events leading to it. I almost stopped reading a few times to get over the torture. Her resistance of performing wife duties was a bit unrealistic and forceful as well, especially for women of that era.
All in all, there are much better books to understand China, and the mentality of Chinese women with.
I love funny and heart-warming memoirs, and this one is one of, if not the best. I'm glad I didn't know Dr. Tony Youn is so well-known, otherwise I wo...moreI love funny and heart-warming memoirs, and this one is one of, if not the best. I'm glad I didn't know Dr. Tony Youn is so well-known, otherwise I would have missed out on this little gem of a book, due to the fact that I usually avoid books written by Hollywood celebrities and the like.
Youn, a Korean American raised by very old-fashioned and stern Asian parents, recounted his childhood experiences up to and included his 4 years of medical school. His father, an OB/gynecologist, decided that Tony was going to be a surgeon right after he was born...and constantly reminded Tony of that; "Family Practice: Work all day, all night, weekend, make no money. Go broke! Surgery only thing. Psychiatry? No. Too many crazy people. Pediatrics? No. Little Kids, little dollah. Surgery! One proceejah, two thousand dollah!" Without doubt, Youn knew he was going to grow up becoming a doctor.
The book wouldn't be so fun to read if Youn lacked either the humor, or his deep understanding of life. I have read lots of so-called humor books that lack substance; the writer tried too hard to be funny. Youn has the talent of presenting us one joke after another within the same page or even paragraph. The humor is always just right. He knows exactly when to stop.
On the other hand, he has a pretty clear and deep sense of what life is all about; what make us human. One of my favorite passage was from his chapter on his Anatomy class, where he found a whole bin full of cadaver hands. This is what he wrote, "Doctors need to be detached, right? Impersonal. What is more personal than our face? Our hands. We use our hands for everything-to touch, to write, to build, to play, to cook, to clean, to feed, to feel, to guide, to caress, to love. Our hands serve us as extensions of our minds and our hearts....." It took Youn four year, or almost four years, to finally understand why he has become a doctor, and what he's going to do with it.
Every little joke, or experience in this book offers valuable insights for other students who's thinking about a medical career...or any student who's facing life. Youn is gifted in his writing style. He probably has the same witty personality that's wise and humorous. No wonder he's so well-known. This book deserves a 4.5 stars, and I'm eagerly waiting for another book.
Wow....wait, I need to capitalize this: WOW...This story took me through an emotional roller coaster that reminded me of all my personal shortcomings...moreWow....wait, I need to capitalize this: WOW...This story took me through an emotional roller coaster that reminded me of all my personal shortcomings in the relationship department with my own family and my Mom. The last time I was this wrecked was when my father passed away of cancer 2 years ago.
The story begins when the 70-year old mother of a family disappears from a Seoul train station. The family, 5 grown children and her husband, is desperate to find her and yet, on the other hand, are blaming themselves and each other for not spending more time or paying more attention to her. The book is divided into 4 major sections with 4 narrative voices: the oldest daughter, the oldest son, the husband and the mom herself, with a shorter epilogue again narrated by the oldest daughter. A second person narration is heavily used in the book..in all except for the personal narration of Mom. It takes a little getting used to but then ultimately one would start to identify with the voice:
"You were the one who always hung up first. You would say, "Mom, I'll call you back," and then you didn't. You didn't have time to sit and listen to everything your Mom had to say..."
"Mom was the kitchen and the kitchen was Mom. You never wondered, did Mom like being in the kitchen?"
As the story unfolds with each person's narration, we understand a little more about Mom, her love for all, her everyday life, her relationship with each of her children, her relationship with her husband and her husband's demanding older sister. We come to know that her children and her husband know very little of her, except that she was always there for them, taking care of them. When Mom's voice starts narrating at the end, we get the complete picture, almost...
It's no coincidence that the Korean word for "death" is a homonym for the number 4 (same in Chinese). This is a very sad story to read, yet I can't stop reading, especially toward the end. The translation is great, leaving Shin's original writing style unchanged. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves his/her Mom.(less)