The premise of this book -- a woman (re)living parts of her life over and over with slight modifications each time -- started to annoy me fairly earlyThe premise of this book -- a woman (re)living parts of her life over and over with slight modifications each time -- started to annoy me fairly early on, because it set up what to me seemed like rather crude causal networks: this one event changes x, y and z, and you know that it's that one event that made the difference, because when you get to x, y or z, signal metaphors or images from Key Event are there to remind you and hammer the point home.
And then Hitler entered the picture, and that was it for me. I stuck with the book to the somewhat incoherent and unsatisfying end, but nope nope nope. I think parallel lives and stories of time travel are a particular pet peeve of mine, and I have pretty much zero tolerance for speculative fiction about Hitler, so it's quite possible that the problem is me, and not this book. Nonetheless. There is plenty of good fiction out there about Britain during and between the First and Second World Wars. This mostly just made me want to read it instead....more
If you have any connection to the industry, especially to fine dining, nothing in this will really be new to you. But even so, there is a certain pleaIf you have any connection to the industry, especially to fine dining, nothing in this will really be new to you. But even so, there is a certain pleasure to hearing it lovingly, skillfully recounted; an enjoyable sense of recognition, and an appreciation of someone who can get it (at least mostly) right. People who enjoy food but don't know much about what happens behind the scenes will quite probably also like this book, which is a very accessible introduction to that other world. And hopefully, after reading it they will be more appreciative of the humans who work very, very hard to provide them with top-notch meals! ...more
3.5 stars. A wildly uneven book. Utterly captivating for hundreds of pages, and then suddenly, clunkingly bad, in the jarring kind of way that complet3.5 stars. A wildly uneven book. Utterly captivating for hundreds of pages, and then suddenly, clunkingly bad, in the jarring kind of way that completely pulls you out of the story and just annoys the hell out of you. How someone who can write scenes of such astonishing emotional intelligence can suddenly flatten the characters into trite cliches -- and then just as suddenly round them out and make you care about them all over again, I have no idea. On balance, I liked the book, and its coy nods to Dickens and Dostoevsky and slightly maudlin sentimentalizing. But I also wish that a better editor had gotten to it before I did....more
To be honest, the narrative voice in Lila seemed awfully similar to the one in Gilead. Lila's interior monologue was not entirely convincing to me --To be honest, the narrative voice in Lila seemed awfully similar to the one in Gilead. Lila's interior monologue was not entirely convincing to me -- it's hard to persuasively render the thoughts of someone who is meant to be inarticulate -- but the thing was, I didn't really mind. The book is affable, thoughtful, and interesting. It doesn't quite achieve the heights that Gilead did, but it's an enjoyable read nonetheless.
I devoured this with great eagerness, but although I found it engrossing, and Ha Jin's prose as lucid as ever, I was ultimately left a little unsatisfI devoured this with great eagerness, but although I found it engrossing, and Ha Jin's prose as lucid as ever, I was ultimately left a little unsatisfied. The book juggles two interlaced narratives fairly well; the protagonist, Lilian, is learning about and reckoning with her father's past, so we have the process of discovery alongside the product. More impressively, we also have a good 50 years of the history of US-Chinese relations, which are seamlessly and effectively integrated into the narrative. The problem was the characters. It's rare that I say this, but honestly, the book should have been 100 pages longer. The sprawling cast was sketched out just enough for me to believe in and care about them, but not enough to grasp them in their historical totality (because I think the book could be quite impressive as historical fiction). The novel offers a really compelling and unique take on the typical caught-between-world's story of spies (and a really fascinating glimpse at how spycraft has changed in the past 50 years) -- I wish it had been more fully developed. ...more
My incomplete appreciation of this book might be partly caused by my having listened to an audiobook version that was read by a man with an incrediblyMy incomplete appreciation of this book might be partly caused by my having listened to an audiobook version that was read by a man with an incredibly annoying voice. It's unfair, and unfortunate, but that's what it is. There are a lot of interesting things about this book, and it deals with fascinating issues, but I just didn't find it especially successful as a novel. It's plodding and meandering and often deploys the kind of maudlin sentimental language that is typical of writing of the time, and that is really not compelling to me. The final paragraph is powerful and heartbreaking, and there are moments sprinkled throughout where the narrative soars to impressive heights, but the in-between times range from somewhat absorbing to somewhat tedious. While I think it's a book that one ought to read, the value, to my mind, is more historical than it is literary....more
A charming biography with some lovely artwork. It takes awhile to get going, and feels slightly imbalanced (occasional narratorial intrusions or jumpsA charming biography with some lovely artwork. It takes awhile to get going, and feels slightly imbalanced (occasional narratorial intrusions or jumps in time are not unpleasant but they do seem somewhat arbitrarily scattered), but when at its peak, it is quite touching and beautifully conveys a sense of Luxemburg's personality. I especially loved the various nude scenes, hairy legs and all -- a really excellent example of how graphic novels can portray a woman's body in a way that feels intimate without being objectifying or prurient. It might not be the most effective introduction to Luxemburg's work -- it's a little hard to get a grasp on her ideas, or more specifically, what her particular innovations or disagreements with others were. But the book offers plenty of quotes from her writings and certainly gives you a good sense of her overall beliefs. Her life story proceeds in a fairly typical step-by-step fashion: Evans clearly has no compunctions about zooming past the less eventful bits. But there isn't much in the way of intellectual biography here: you don't really see where her ideas are coming from, or how her life experiences influence them. Although there is a nice moment where Evans steps in to say that she will depart from the convention of defining women's lives through their relationships to men, this doesn't seem like a radically new form of biography. Overall though, a very pleasant, and often quite beautiful (in various ways) book....more