This book is a feat of compassion: Val Brelinski takes us deep into a world of religion, jealousy, fear, rejection, and tragedy and brings us out on tThis book is a feat of compassion: Val Brelinski takes us deep into a world of religion, jealousy, fear, rejection, and tragedy and brings us out on the other side with a feeling of hope and a new understanding of family love. Relayed by a less masterful storyteller, the events in The Girl Who Slept With God might leave us shocked, but the author helps us to suspend judgment. Told from the perspective of younger sister, Jory, the book has an innocent quality. Despite (or perhaps thanks to) the frailties of each character, the novel leaves you with a sense of understanding and empathy for jealous Jory, zealos Grace, misfit / outlaw Grip, and cowardly father, even in their darkest moments. As we're swept along with curiosity about how the sisters' story will unfold, we feel anger, sorrow, frustration, sweetness, and understanding for each character in turn. Brelinski captures the place and the community in that moment in history and uses the broader scenery: the hot outskirts of an Idaho town, its devout evangelical community, the raucous local public high school, a community of hippies, as a rich field in which her characters gain color and depth. Overall, it is a gem of a novel: well-written, hard to put down, complex characters who you can relate to even though they're wildly different from you, and a deep sense of place that makes the story both particular and universal. ...more
I picked this up in part, because my mum grew up in Singapore and it has always been a place that is both familiar and foreign. I was curious about hoI picked this up in part, because my mum grew up in Singapore and it has always been a place that is both familiar and foreign. I was curious about how Yao Wei Wei would evoke the feeling of this vibrant city-nation which has the outward cool, clean gleam of modernity and East Asian restraint, which may bely messy human history and emotions just below the surface.
I wasn't disappointed. Her carefully chosen descriptions bring the emotions of her characters to life and weave them into the landscapes in a way that brings both the people and the place more fully to life. In "Beer in Fukuoka" Hwee-Min, recently returned to Singapore from studies abroad in the UK, catches a "whiff of autumnal air" in the middle of monsoon season. The image conjures up the very human feeling of longing and loss that we all feel when we leave a dear person or place behind.
On the other hand, at times, the characters felt as if they were invented only to explore these feelings, so that the overall effect left them ghost-like rather than as opaque, warm beings in their own right. I felt this particularly in the dialogue which could feel clunky, as if it were a mouthpiece for the author versus an organic part of the characters in the stories. While the stories evoke human vulnerability, particularly guilt and longing, for me, they felt more allegorical or mystical than messy and human, and so left me more cool than I wished....more
I've been on an Asian (and South Asian) writer kick lately. I found this paperback lying around at my parents house over the holidays and took it to rI've been on an Asian (and South Asian) writer kick lately. I found this paperback lying around at my parents house over the holidays and took it to read on the plane ride back from Boston. I liked the focus on Malaysia before-during-after the time of Japanese occupation because my mum is from Singapore and I've always been a bit fascinated by that period based on snippets of stories I've heard from her. I also have a memory of being in Singapore as a child and watching a TV documentary on the Japanese occupation. The one part I remember clearly is footage of soldiers entering homes and bayoneting babies. I have never gotten that image out of my brain. That kind of violence played a key role in this book, but wasn't gratuitous and didn't overpower the other themes. It was a book about family, culture, love, strong women, sorrow, regret, and the resilience of the human psyche, all situated within a particular historical moment. All in all, I enjoyed the book. My cup of tea. The writing was a bit overwrought at times, especially the use of metaphors, but it mostly didn't bother me and the lushness of the description evoked the lushness of the tropical setting and the thickness of emotion and social bonds. ...more
Second time around reading this book* and I very much enjoyed it. Loved, especially, that the late Oliver Sacks praised it as "moving, plausible, andSecond time around reading this book* and I very much enjoyed it. Loved, especially, that the late Oliver Sacks praised it as "moving, plausible, and very funny." I can't comment on the plausible part, since I have very little experience with autism, but I did find it moving, funny, and well-written... hard to put down. I always love a good look into someone else's psyche -- it's a good way to think about your own internal life and the secret lives of those around you. The protagonist-narrator's extreme forthrightness and unemotional efforts to make sense of other humans actions and emotions really made me think about all the ways that we filter what we really think and feel when maybe we shouldn't, and how even those of us who are *so-called* "normal" are still constantly baffled by questions about what makes others tick...
*It's a blessing and a curse that I don't remember 95% of all the books I've read. I know I've integrated their essence somehow in my spirit, but ask me the name of the main characters or the basic plot line and...memory crickets....more
I read a bootleg copy of Karen Armstrong's A History Of God years back while living in Cambodia and found it fascinating. In this book, Armstrong agaiI read a bootleg copy of Karen Armstrong's A History Of God years back while living in Cambodia and found it fascinating. In this book, Armstrong again takes up the investigation of the world's three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but this time from the perspective of the rise of fundamentalism as a response to modernity. The book is very dense -- I'm honestly not sure if I can remember a single name of a religious figure from the entire thing (other than Jerry Falwell) -- but the major themes are fascinating to explore and illuminated by her very specific examples throughout history. I loved thinking about the two types of knowledge, logos and mythos, and the ways in which modernity has managed to overshadow more spiritual and timeless modes of 'knowing' with an unflagging belief in rational, time-bound, scientific knowledge. It's a topic that's been very present in my own life lately and has led to a deeper exploration of spiritual practices and the arts. When it comes to addressing the fundamentalists and the major individuals, institutions, and forces they are operating against, Armstrong is somehow critical, balanced, and compassionate all at once. She does not hesitate to point out times in history where groups and institutions on all sides of the logos - mythos divide demonstrate cruelty and/or lose the spirit of love that is at the true heart of all religions. ...more
I picked this book up at the Stone Office at the Tassajara Zen Center in California. I'd been flipping through it while waiting to ask a question of tI picked this book up at the Stone Office at the Tassajara Zen Center in California. I'd been flipping through it while waiting to ask a question of the woman at the front desk. I don't remember which passage I read, but something about the tone of the teachings, more than the substance, struck me. They sounded clear and sweet and in Seung Sahn's words, "correct" but also quite confusing to my thinking brain. Like a good Zen riddle or koan is supposed to, maybe? I haven't meditated enough to know, I guess. Anyway, it kept echoing in my brain over the next couple of days, so I finally went back to buy the book and devoured most of it within a couple of days. (I am working on moderation, among other things).
The book is a compilation of teachings from Seung Sahn by one of his students. I won't pretend to understand what they all meant, but I liked them all the same. They made me feel happy and like "all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well" (as the Catholic mystic Julian or Norwich said). They also made me feel as if, if I practice diligently, I'll be able to take that sense of "all shall be well" around with my in my body more regularly instead of struggling so hard to come back to that peacefulness after straying far into the land of overthinking and overefforting and anxiousness.
Recently, my brain has felt overloaded from trying to figure things out, so I'm trying not to think too much (VERY difficult for me), and am trusting some other part of myself more. Perhaps one day after I've done all that practicing diligently, I'll come back and update the review and say something wiser that might tell you more about Seung Sahn's teachings. Or maybe not?
One of the things I do remember is the story of someone passing along a tape recording of Seung Sahn's voice to a friend who was stressed and anxious so that she couldn't sleep and was having all sorts of health problems as a result. I can't remember if he was speaking in Korean on the tapes or if she couldn't understand English, but either way, she couldn't understand what he was saying. Her friend knew this, but gave her the tapes on purpose, knowing that just hearing Seung Sahn's voice and the kindness and clarity and "correctness" in it was enough to sooth her and make her feel at peace.
I could relate to that lady. Like I have no more space in my brain, but I just needed the feeling of wisdom washing over me... That's how this book felt. (I get the same feeling reading Rilke or Rumi or being in nature or seeing paintings by some favorite artists)......more