Nine-year old Emma and her sister, fourteen-year old Joan, live a pretty luxurious life in Hong Kong, until war intrudes. With Japan invading Hong Kon...moreNine-year old Emma and her sister, fourteen-year old Joan, live a pretty luxurious life in Hong Kong, until war intrudes. With Japan invading Hong Kong and snatching it away from Britain, Emma and her family move to the Portuguese colony Macao, where Emma meets her best friend, and Joan tries to drown herself in cooking to escape from a morale-shattering incident that happened just before they left. After the war, however, their mom sends Joan out on countless dates so that Joan can get married but either Joan is the unluckiest girl in the world or fate has different plans for her.
Spanning two-and-a-half decades, Night of Many Dreams is a coming of age story, focusing mostly on Emma and Joan, but also sometimes on their mother, Kum Ling, and their aunt, Go. Sisters Emma and Joan grow up in a traditional Chinese household, with their expected roles already carved out for them. Pretty Joan loved acting and spent much of her time trying to imitate other actresses. Studies and books never fascinated her and everyone expected her to get married soon and settle into a life of afternoon teas and mahjong games. Emma, on the other hand, is never described as being pretty but her intelligence is considered her strong suit. When World War 2 invades their safe cocoon, their father is forced to send out Joan to collect money from people who owe him, a job traditionally passed on to a son, but Joan takes it up as she is the elder sibling. For a fourteen year old, she shows a lot of maturity and composure when faced with red-faced angry men trying to get out of having to pay.
There really isn't a specific plot to Night of Many Dreams, as is the norm with some coming-of-age books. It is about these four women and their relationships with each other. Emma really just wants to travel the world and when she eventually manages to go to San Francisco, she is thrilled. Joan follows several different passions - acting, cooking, helping at her aunt's business part-time. But her life doesn't go smoothly - the men she falls for appear to be spineless. Go and Kum Ling are cousins and have a shared history of a tragedy in their past. Kum Ling is facing the pressures of the society and wants her daughters to get married, but a lot doesn't work out the way she wished. Go provides Kum Ling the voice of reasoning most of the time, not that Kum Ling wants to hear, but it gives the girls some more freedom.
I found Night of Many Dreams to be very readable and fast-paced. It was always wonderful to pick this book up and resume reading their stories. But I wasn't a fan of the chronology or the narration. The story is told linearly, but occasionally, years would have passed between chapters. That jumping narration made me wonder about what some characters were thinking when their lives took a certain course. Consecutive chapters also had different narrators - this got me get very invested in a character and then suddenly the voice changed. I felt that this type of narration kept me from actually connecting with any of the characters.
It also bothered me a lot to see a string a bad news follow these women. Sure, life happens, some people have it worse than others, but some of the events in this book felt more manipulative than genuine, almost as if to meet some goal. Somehow, in the end, they all ended up where they started, with each having lost something and gained something else. Although I enjoyed reading this book for its pacing and my curiosity, I felt let down by the narration and poor execution.
Jew. Gypsy. Stopthief. Runt. These are some of the names by which the protagonist of Milkweed is known. He doesn't remember what he was called by his...moreJew. Gypsy. Stopthief. Runt. These are some of the names by which the protagonist of Milkweed is known. He doesn't remember what he was called by his parents, nor does he remember the parents either. His very first memory is running. Running away after stealing something. A friend names his Misha, and that becomes his name for a long time. He makes his living by stealing from the streets of Warsaw, he enjoys parades, and loves shiny German boots. He wants to become a Nazi some day because they smile, throw flowers and laugh. Until one day, something happens that changes his mind about them.
I hadn't heard about Milkweed until my friends gifted me this book for my birthday this year. Couple of things attracted me to it right away - the Newbery Medal label on the cover and the fact that the book is set in World War II. It typically takes me a while to get to a book on my physical shelf, but the fact that I knew next-to-nothing about this book made me pick it up sooner. It's now been about a month since I read it, so some of the details have evaporated from my gray matter, but I do remember enjoying it a lot.
Milkweed is written in first person. The boy of many names, but who I will address as Misha for now, also happens to be a very naive character, which makes for very interesting observations. Misha is ignorant of a lot of things and actually likes the Nazis a lot. When he sees tanks and Nazi officers and Nazi parades, he usually has a huge smile on his face. Sometimes, he salutes them. He wants to be them. He doesn't yet know anything about the horrors that are coming, nor does he see any hint of it. Misha is also very fast, which makes his main means of feeding himself - stealing - very easy. He makes a few friends on the streets and lives with them.
After the Nazis take him and his friends to the Polish camp, he still manages to eke out his living as before. His tiny frame makes it easy for him to sneak out of the camp at nights, and when he brings food - he gives a good amount to the doctor who is looking after orphans, and to the family that he has grown close to. Through this family, he becomes friends and adopted siblings with a girl named Janina.
The friendship between Janina and Misha was heartbreaking. Janina loses a parent, and still has a few people from her family. Misha has none. Janina wants to be like Misha - a midnight thief, but both her father and Misha do not want her to join that club. At one point, however, things get very tragic for them, and that's the point when Misha changes completely.
To me, Milkweed was more than just the story of a person coming of age during the war. It was about an orphan who wants to give something to other orphans, without realizing or understanding his altruistic gesture. It is about a child who knew no parents, and is thus happy to believe the first story that was bestowed on him by a friend. It is about a boy who knew no family but when he was welcomed into the folds of one family, he was fiercely protective and proud to be one of them.
Milkweed is written as if from Misha's memory. He talks of his camp days and the aftermath. Even though his post-camp days span a few pages, they are just as harrowing as his experiences in the camp. He sees sights that no child should see. His transition from the boy who loved Nazis to one who learned how to avoid them is shown very subtly. But most painful was his transition from the pre-war to the post-war days - he finds that he has lost his voice.
Jerry Spinelli, the author, won a Newbery Medal for Maniac Magee, which also sounds as fascinating as this one sounded. After reading Milkweed, I'm eager to check out his award-winning book.(less)
At Lincoln's workplace, it is a rule that the work email should not be used for personal purposes, and it is Lincoln's job to enforce that ruling and...moreAt Lincoln's workplace, it is a rule that the work email should not be used for personal purposes, and it is Lincoln's job to enforce that ruling and warn any employee found violating the rule. Some have been fired, while a few have been let off with warnings. Even Beth and Jennifer, two employees in his company know of this, but that doesn't stop them from slowly testing their boundaries by starting off with small talk and then expanding into talking about all their problems through email. Lincoln knows he should stop them, but initially they seem harmless and over time, he starts getting intrigued by these two women. He ends up liking them so much that he starts looking forward to their emails. And then he falls in love with Beth, who doesn't even know him.
I won Attachments couple of years ago on someone's blog, when it first came out. At that time, even though many said that they enjoyed it, I wasn't interested. The premise didn't quite jump at me and I had been having a bad time with similar books. And so it languished on my shelf until Rainbow Rowell burst on the book scene early this year with her Eleanor & Park. I was still not so sure but after all the solid reviews, it was hard to pass by this book and not read it.
I'm glad that I eventually got to this book. Attachments wasn't a five-star read but it was so much fun to be lost in it!
I'm not sure if they still do the monitoring email thing. Lincoln's company seemed to be obsessed with keeping its email filters clean. Lincoln thinks it's a petty priority but he is at a stage in his life when he isn't sure what he wants to do. So he takes up this menial task, while he figures things out. He was also staying with his mom, who loved having someone to pamper. Lincoln doesn't mind it one bit but his sister has been trying to get him out of there. So with the boredom that is his job everyday, when Beth's and Jennifer's emails start showing up in his filters, he can't help but read them.
Beth and Jennifer, however, don't seem too worried about being caught. At least Beth wasn't. Jennifer would still freak out occasionally, while Beth seemed to be tempting the dragon with each email. Almost-happily married Jennifer's big problem is that she doesn't want kids but her husband does. Beth's problem is that her boyfriend isn't exactly behaving like a boyfriend should but she doesn't quite want to be single. As these two spend their days chatting about love matters via email, Lincoln was getting attached to them.
The whole story is really not such a big deal. It's all predictable, and nothing shocking happens. But it's so heartwarming that I enjoyed every bit of it. It gives the same feeling as watching movies like When Harry Met Sally or You've Got Mail or many other romantic comedies does. (It is not a coincidence that almost all the romantic movies I talk about star Meg Ryan!) You can't help but smile throughout. And when you close the book, you feel genuinely happy like the characters were your best buddies. I'm a sucker for romantic comedies. There's nothing better I like to watch on TV than movies that make me feel all girly and warm and happy and smiley without making me roll my eyes. When a book does the same thing, you can't go wrong with it.(less)
I first read Maus in March of 2011. I remember approaching it with some trepidation - after all, this book is in a lot of lists and has even won the P...moreI first read Maus in March of 2011. I remember approaching it with some trepidation - after all, this book is in a lot of lists and has even won the Pulitzer. What if I didn't get the "greatness" of this book? When I finished it, however, I loved it. This book blew my mind in a way no other graphic book did but when I sat down to review it, I couldn't for the life of me string two words together to form a coherent review. I eventually decided not to review it. Some books are great, and it is enough to say that.
Last year, I reread Maus. That's rare for me - I rarely reread and if I do, it is always the Harry Potter books that get that honor. So I'm not sure what made me want to reread this one, though wanting to read MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus after, may have something to do with it. I reread Maus and rediscovered how amazing this book is. Again though, I couldn't put a review together to say all I wanted to. But I'm giving it a try this time.
Maus is a graphic memoir/biography written by Art Speigelman about his father's WW2 experience and Art's years interviewing his father for the details. Art's father, Vladek was a Holocaust survivor, who managed to survive the unspeakable horrors with his wife, Anja. They lost their first son, Richie, to the genocide - the son who was now a photo on a mantel, and was often this idea of a perfect son causing Art to bristle at that. Art was born after the war and had no idea of the profundity of the life his family led before the war though he knew that they were survivors.
Maus is both Art's and Vladek's story. On the one side, Art narrates his father's story, as told to him by his father, beginning from his marriage to Anja to the end of the war. Theirs is a story of intense suffering. After managing to ride out the initial calls to camp, they were eventually brought to Auschwitz, where they were separated, each with no idea of whether the other had survived.
On the other side, in listening to and narrating Vladek's story, Art begins to feel several negative emotions. He feels that he didn't achieve much, considering everything that his father had been through. He feels annoyed that he is not a Mr. Fixit, while his father has an innate knack for how things work. He cannot stomach his father's miserliness, even though his father learned to stock and hoard after seeing the value of things in WW2. Art also gets bouts of depressions while he wades through his father's recordings and looks to a psychologist-friend to help him out.
During my second time with this book, I found some sections I didn't recollect. Part of it is because who remembers everything about a book? But part of it is also because every snippet in the book contains several layers, and it generally takes several rereadings to get it all. I even reread some sections a third time while reading MetaMaus, and found even more things to wonder about. This isn't a complicated graphic book. But it is a very well-made one with only the important stuff jumping at you at first read and then more elements of the situation becoming obvious on rereads. Art's use of animals to characterize in Maus is now legend. And in MetaMaus, he explains more about why he did that. It wasn't hard at all to look behind the mask and to empathize with the suffering mouse.
There is so much about Vladek that is endearing. A lot of his personality was born through his experiences in WW2. As Art mentions once, I did feel that Vladek was incredible lucky as well. He was resourceful, and had a few useful talents and contacts that helped him a lot at Auschwitz. Still, that is not to say that he didn't suffer. His wife wasn't that lucky, but she thrived in her own way. They both lose a lot though. There are some truly heartbreaking scenes in this book, such as when Vladek's father was registering to get papers along with other Jews, he decides to skip over to the "wrong side" to join his daughter and her four kids when he saw that they were going to Auschwitz.
If you haven't read Maus yet, you absolutely have to. Whether you read graphic books or not, whether you are tired of WW2 stories, whether the mouse and cats in books bother you, Maus is a book that is very accessible, moving, tragic, and empowering.(less)
Stoic, illiterate Bhima has worked as a maid for years, just like her mother, grandmother and daughter. While she anticipated her son and granddaughte...moreStoic, illiterate Bhima has worked as a maid for years, just like her mother, grandmother and daughter. While she anticipated her son and granddaughter to have an education and a better future, a series of tragedies set different events in motion. She now wakes up everyday facing a new problem - unmarried Maya, the granddaughter, is pregnant and Bhima cannot help but worry about what this means - no more college education and no decent marriage either, as who would want to marry a girl who is no longer a virgin. The Sera Dubash household, where Bhima works, have their own daughter, Dinaz, who is also expecting, but the circumstances are happier, more celebratory. While the Dubash household helps Maya in "fixing" her situation, Maya isn't that happy about it and as more secrets tumble out, the demarcation between the rich and the poor takes center-stage.
Thrity Umrigar clearly has a lot of fans out there, and after reading The Space Between Us, it isn't hard to understand why. There is a quiet comfortable lyrical quality to her writing that makes you want to pick it up when in need of relaxed reading, despite the ugly nature of the problems and issues she talks about. One of the things that typically worry me about books set in India and written by Indian authors, is that sometimes they are too Westernized for me to be able to relate. Umrigar's book didn't disappoint me - it was well rooted in Indian culture and the characters were well created.
Bhima has learned the hard way how much a lack of education can change fortunes. Not knowing to read or write, she had been taken advantage of, many times, by people higher up in the social strata, who didn't care too much about how the poor lived their lives. She didn't care to educate her daughter either because no man from her social class wanted an educated wife, he only wanted a wife who could look after his home and children. Her family didn't receive timely medical care, and the usual vices that ailed a lot of the poor dogged her family too. On the other hand, rich assured Sera and her family could command righteous treatment just by their very presence. Sometimes, a few bills changed hands, and sometimes, threats did the job. But they were also one of the few families who actually treated their maids with respect and dignity. Despite that, Sera did feel uncomfortable with the idea of touching Bhima or allowing Bhima to use the same dishes as them.
The first half of The Space Between Us went back and forth between Bhima and Sera, as Umrigar led us through the circumstances that shaped the women's personality and beliefs. Both women have endured similar experiences, involving abusive men and disappointing lives. There is not much forward progress happening in this half, which made the book feel a bit slow for me, but the second half picks up the main thread of the story and lays out the stark difference between the two women. While they debate on what to do about Maya's pregnancy, Maya herself has her thoughts on the matter, which are pretty much not considered.
Umrigar's writing is beautiful. I love how well she has captured the Indianness of the places and the people bordering the story and stayed true to character. Occasionally, it is easy to forget the social divisions among the people as one gets deeper into the character's thoughts. Often, I railed against the injustices of the caste system and wanted the characters to fight for themselves. Sometimes they fought and lost. Other times, they didn't fight at all. The caste system is not designed in their favor and they have learned not to fight it.
Although the first half didn't impress me too much - I'm not one to enjoy too many flashbacks, without any movement in the present - the second half made reading this book so worthwhile. Umrigar doesn't waste her words in sugar-coating the dark underbelly of the Mumbai slums nor does she glorify the richness or poorness of the people. Using a setting such as an Indian household, especially the kitchen, where people of two different classes mingle with each other in common spheres that touch yet do not really touch, she was able to masterfully demonstrate their different circumstances and how that can be the difference between getting preferential treatment and being left to die, or being swindled out of money and getting any job, or getting a college education and being a maid for life.(less)