**spoiler alert** The book follows the narrator's life from age 10 or 11 (when she arrives in New York from Hong Kong with her mother) through her tee**spoiler alert** The book follows the narrator's life from age 10 or 11 (when she arrives in New York from Hong Kong with her mother) through her teens and then makes a 12 year jump ahead to show what happens when she grows up. I mostly loved the main character, Kimberly, who is a brilliant student finding her way in a strange culture with a less-than-perfect grasp of English. She and her mother work incredibly hard at a factory run by her jealous, mean aunt. They live in a crappy, roach-infested slum apartment with broken windows for 7 years while repaying their debt to Aunt Paula. All the while, Kimberly quietly goes without possessions or a social life for the most part. She has one close friend, but is not allowed to hang out with her much because a) she spends most of her time working (even as a kid) and b) Kimberly's mom is dead set against having people see their disgusting home and fears owing people favors she can't return. Kimberly eventually gets interested in boys, but only has one real love of her life, who she breaks up with because she doesn't think it'll work out.
I loved the descriptions, Kimberly's awesomeness, the way she misinterprets a few words she hears in ways that don't make sense, the way she explains Chinese idioms and attitudes, and the bittersweet love story part.
What I hated... I just couldn't buy it. Don't get me wrong. I know poverty like that exists. What I couldn't believe was that a brilliant girl like Kimberly could endure 7 brutally cold winters with no heat and never once decide to board up that broken window. I'm sorry, but even if you are broke you can find something better than a garbage bag to cover a broken window. We are also expected to believe that Kimberly's mother, who was a violin teacher in Hong Kong, couldn't find a job teaching violin lessons in Chinatown and absolutely HAD to work in that sweatshop.
And it seemed a little over-the-top PC, like the author wanted to make sure everything was cool with black readers so she had one friendly black shop owner who interacts with them a few times and one really smart poor black student (who you don't really get to know at all) and one black neighbor lady with a baby who Kimberly admires through the window a few times. Kimberly admires the looks of the black people in the welfare line on her first day and says several times that she identifies more with the black kids in school because they are poor and don't have see-through skin, but I find that unrealistic considering her only friends are white and Chinese. Really it's just Chinese and white characters that have any substantial roles in the book. You would think if one grew up in a black neighborhood they'd get to know more than one black person pretty well. And you would probably meet some black jerks, too. This book only contains white and Chinese jerks.
Finally, although I said I liked the bittersweet love story, I was totally not OK with how it ended. I was OK with the fiction romance formula in the beginning (boy meets girl but it takes a long time for them to get together because someone doesn't express themselves and they don't know the other one really digs them, blah blah blah). But once they did express themselves and it was pretty clear that they were both head-over-heels for each other, how could she make the decision that it wouldn't work without giving it a shot at least? He says he wants to support her on crappy wages and stay in Chinatown, but she wants to go to Yale and become a surgeon. Maybe it's a Chinese thing to pursue success before romance. But I thought she should have at least asked him to consider doing things her way rather than assuming he wouldn't prefer a life with her over a life being the provider of the family with someone else....more
I might not get around to finishing this one because it's so dense. I have trouble keeping all the names straight. But this book intrigues me. The AmeI might not get around to finishing this one because it's so dense. I have trouble keeping all the names straight. But this book intrigues me. The Americans are not all good and the Germans are not all bad. I suppose I didn't really expect everything to be black and white, but it's scary to see that the American ambassador's daughter so glibly wrote "we don't really like the Jews anyway."
With current U.S. politics being so full of fanatical right-wingers, I am very concerned that we might see a similar series of events unfold, especially since we become more territorial and suspicious of out-groups when resources are scarce. ...more
If I were an English teacher, I'd have a field day with this one. I'd start by asking what the end means, since there are so many layers of meaning orIf I were an English teacher, I'd have a field day with this one. I'd start by asking what the end means, since there are so many layers of meaning or possible meanings in there. I won't say how it ends and spoil it for you, but there are several different narrators and stories that are connected by lineage, place and imagination.
The author inserts himself as the hero (played by the Hobbit in the film version), an American who goes to the Ukraine to find his grandfather's shtetl. When he gets there, he meets his translator Alex (played by the singer of the awesome band Gogol Bordello), along with Alex's grandfather and seeing-eye bitch Sammy Davis Junior, Jr. Alex's story is told in letters addressed to Jonathan, plus his own account in prose form. We also get a fantasy version of the lives of Jonathan's ancestors that Alex has presumably read and comments on in his letters.
What makes this book great to me is that some really heart-wrenching moments (Holocaust! Impossible loves!) are tempered by ridiculous malapropisms by Alex (My grandfather doesn't work anymore. He's retarded!) and funny imagined past lives of the village of Trachimbrod (the Kolker lives with a saw blade in his head! The Slouchers! The dead philosopher Pinchas T, who still gets to vote!), as well as hard-to-pin-down actions that you might find hard to justify, like condemning one person to save another and living with guilt.
Now go listen to some Gogol Bordello.
P.S. My book club just discussed this book and I was the only one who identified Alex as being gay and having a crush on Jonathan. When Alex talks about how he identifies with some of the women in Jonathan's fictional history and says Jonathan is the male characters, I didn't see how you could interpret it any other way as saying he was in love with Jonathan and disappointed that Jonathan doomed his characters to not live happily ever after. In other parts, Alex says his dad teased him by saying he would come home from the disco with a comrade AND he expresses frustration in not being allowed to love who he wants, although there doesn't appear to be anyone he has expressed interest in aside from Jonathan. I will now conclude this review with my favorite phrase from the book. Premium penis. ...more
I thought I had an understanding of what it meant to be autistic after reading Temple Grandin's "Animals in Translation," but I guess either she doesnI thought I had an understanding of what it meant to be autistic after reading Temple Grandin's "Animals in Translation," but I guess either she doesn't scream, groan and hit people inappropriately, or she left those things out of her book. In "The Curious Incident," the 15-year-old narrator struggles with things like human touch, wetting himself, the colors yellow and brown, foods touching each other, seeing four yellow cars in a row, etc. His parents also struggle with having a son who is like this, and the parents at times can't handle it. One of the things that I love about books like this is that people can be so upset with each other, but you understand why each does what they do. For example, this narrator explains that he can't understand metaphors or colloquialisms, so if someone answers his questions with one that doesn't really count and he has to ask again. I'd be frustrated and depressed if I had to live with someone who didn't understand what I said or the expressions on my face, too, and suspect that a lot of parents of special needs kids react in ways similar to the parents in this book. Your options are: 1) be caring and understanding, 2) pawn the child off on someone else to take care of, 3) lash out in anger. ...more
This is a newish book by a journalist from America born to an Iranian father and Japanese mother. She was making a living as a reporter in Iran and doThis is a newish book by a journalist from America born to an Iranian father and Japanese mother. She was making a living as a reporter in Iran and doing research for a nonfiction book about the country when she was arrested and accused of being a spy for the CIA. Saberi is then coerced into a confession, which she later recants. It appears that her accusers don't really believe she's a spy, but try to make her confess anyway. She isn't tortured, but she is kept in a tiny cell with little hope for release until it becomes clear that her case is becoming an international issue.
I found myself a little bit jealous of Saberi's success as a journalist, but then reminded myself that at least I have never been imprisoned. Then I thought she didn't get pissed off enough. The woman claimed to love Iran through the whole ordeal, but it doesn't seem possible....more
Hazy Coogan is a housekeeper/confidante/coach to a Liz Taylor-like actress, Katherine Kenton, a fading beauty with tons of trophies people give her foHazy Coogan is a housekeeper/confidante/coach to a Liz Taylor-like actress, Katherine Kenton, a fading beauty with tons of trophies people give her for no reason except she is famous. There's a crypt they keep returning to, where the dead dogs and an ex husband are kept in urns, with a mirror of Katherine's wrinkles that I really thought might have some greater significance in the whole plot. But eh. There's also a self-important actress named Lillian Hellman (I pictured Joan Crawford) who distorts major events into crazy action sequences with her as the hero, and a hot young man who wants to be the next Mr. Katherine Kenton, and a whole bunch of dropped names that I assume are all real famous people, but not necessarily still living (Groucho Marx and Walter Winchell died in the 70s, so maybe this was set then?). Like all of the author's books, there is a huge turnaround, and I kind of guessed it, but was a little disappointed that some of the storyline didn't make all that much sense. Not to give too much away, but one of the characters believes herself to be in grave danger of being murdered, but does not distance herself from the suspect or report her suspicions to the police. Eh? I had a hard time swallowing that one....more
The subtitle should have been "Mr. Blue's Story" because all these years after I read the book all I could remember was "That guy was in Reservoir DogThe subtitle should have been "Mr. Blue's Story" because all these years after I read the book all I could remember was "That guy was in Reservoir Dogs" and "Holy, crap, this guy's life story is incredible!" Not that I approve of crime, mind you. But I do appreciate a good story from several states away, where it's not my car getting stolen....more
I'm not sure how old William Kamkwamba is, but this book came out very recently and he was still a teenager, I think. "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind"I'm not sure how old William Kamkwamba is, but this book came out very recently and he was still a teenager, I think. "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind" is his life's story up until iPodNano(2008? 2009?) when he began to get international recognition for being a self-taught mechanical genius who built his own windmill and generated power for his family's house to have electric lights. This, despite two awful harvest years (see: famine) and being so poor he almost starved to death. Oh, and he had to drop out of school for a few years because secondary school isn't free in Malawi.
As a life's story, this one is pretty good. I'm sure I'm not the only one who cried while reading about the guy's poor dog that he couldn't afford to feed or who wanted to help him at the end when he talked about building more windmills. Kamkwamba and his family are really good people and reading this book makes you feel like you've met them.
The only reason I didn't give it five stars is because it's not the best work of literature ever. The first half of the book drags because there are so many events and ideas that really don't seem necessary. The book goes off on a lot of tangents involving one-off events that don't really build up to anything until William starts tinkering with radios. But I liked the story because it's true. If it was a novel, I wouldn't have believed it. But these things happened to a real boy genius in the middle of please-can-I-have-some-more Africa and I'm glad he's finally got access to the resources he needs. Now he'll never go hungry or have to work a week to buy a bag of bolts. ...more
Imagine your mailbox being filled with bizarre postcards everyday--secrets from strangers all over the world. That's life for Frank Warren over the laImagine your mailbox being filled with bizarre postcards everyday--secrets from strangers all over the world. That's life for Frank Warren over the last few years, ever since he invited the mail to come in. I hope he never sells his house and moves, because that Copper Ridge Rd. address will probably keep getting postcards for a long time. I'm tempted to send him a card myself, after flipping through this collection and seeing some affixed to the staircase wall at the Visionary Art Museum yesterday. My favorite secrets are the funny ones, like the teachers who admit to hating kids. I also appreciate the artistry of some of these postcards... Looks like a lot of good artists came forward to bare their souls! This is Warren's fourth (?) book of PostSecret postcards and probably has more religious secrets than the others, but also has plenty of other topics like the person who doesn't shave on days she might be tempted to have sex with someone she shouldn't....more
Parts autobiography, parts true crime thriller, "Cult Insanity" is the story of Ervil LeBaron's rise to power in two fundamentalist Mormon nut-job culParts autobiography, parts true crime thriller, "Cult Insanity" is the story of Ervil LeBaron's rise to power in two fundamentalist Mormon nut-job cults. First he's the number two man in his brother Joel's Church of the First Born, but he gets kicked out for a long list of screw-ups including an increasing thirst for "blood atonement." Basically, the guy quoted scriptures that said you could put people to death for even petty crimes. Most of which he commits himself, but you know, it's cool with God if Ervil steals food or someone else's wife or promotes the wrong person as a prophet. So Joel kicks Ervil out of his church, but Ervil just starts his own group, the Lambs of God, and has Joel and a bunch of other people including his teenage daughter and one of his wives killed. Nice guy. The book's author, Irene Spencer, was the second wife of Ervil's brother Verlan, who ended up running the Church of the First Born after Joel was killed. In this book, she concentrates more on Ervil's insanity and crimes but paints the rest of the church as basically normal... Say what? In "Shattered Dreams," she goes into more detail about how bad it sucked to be in a polygamist marriage....more
I put this one in the "effed-up memoirs" category not because it is a memoir, but it is written like one. Henry Day is kidnapped by hobgoblins at ageI put this one in the "effed-up memoirs" category not because it is a memoir, but it is written like one. Henry Day is kidnapped by hobgoblins at age 7. They drown him and he is reborn as one of them, granted supernatural powers but forced to live in the wilderness with the new name Aniday. Meanwhile, the hobgoblin who took his place usurps his personality and grows into an adult. At first his biggest fear is being found out. Eventually, he loses his supernatural powers and the ability to understand the hobgoblins. As an adult, he struggles to remember who he was and fears that the faeries might take his son.
I liked the dual narrator approach, especially since both narrators are Henry Day in a sense. And although I lumped this into the horror category, too, it wasn't particularly scary...only a little creepy at some points. ...more
Apparently, I am drawn to books written by gay men. I've never read any of Burroughs' work before, but own a copy of "Running with Scissors" that lookApparently, I am drawn to books written by gay men. I've never read any of Burroughs' work before, but own a copy of "Running with Scissors" that looked good from the dust jacket summary. This one makes me laugh and question whether I, too, might be an alcoholic since I've justified my drinking with many of the same excuses: "That person criticizing me never has any fun," "What else am I supposed to do in my 20's?" and my favorite, "I hate people who don't drink." For the record, I am NOT an alcoholic. But if my boss sent me to rehab for 30 days I would be like, "Cool, 30 days paid vacation? Thanks!"
P.S. Now that I've finished I can comment more about the whole book. First off, 30 days of rehab no longer sounds like fun. It sounds like an extended version of a church lock-in I attended in high school that was full of awful self-esteem boosting exercises. Everyone talks about their feelings all day. No wonder they all wanted to drink more than anything in the world.
It was heartbreaking and funny, although I suppose the progression of the author's alcoholism from denial to acceptance to sobriety to relapse and back again was exactly the formula I expected. Imagine how bad the reviews would have been if he went to rehab and came out still thinking it was a load of garbage that did not teach him anything?
I suppose it was inspiring if you need help warding off the drink, but I'm not going there. I love the drink. I will say I could relate to the author's addiction to Foster, the hot crack addict. And I cried twice while listening to passages about Pighead, the author's best friend with HIV. ...more
I'm jealous of the journalistic niche Evan Wright has carved out for himself. Over a 10-year span at different publications including Hustler and RollI'm jealous of the journalistic niche Evan Wright has carved out for himself. Over a 10-year span at different publications including Hustler and Rolling Stone, he manages to keep getting assigned feature stories on people who have achieved infamy in some way. I know from experience how uncomfortable it can be to interview a murderer... This guy interviews more than one. There are also chapters on porn, taxi-dance halls, Motley Crue, soldiers in Afghanistan, professional skateboarders, anarchists, white supremacists, con artists and a crazy Hollywood filmmaker turned pro-war conservative darling.
In the introduction, Wright talks about trying to let the facts speak for themselves, citing the white supremacist chapter (his first feature article) as one that he thought was too forgiving. But reading this, I didn't think he maintained a tone of neutrality, even if he was trying. Some of the things his subjects say are so completely stupid that you can't read their quotes without coming to the conclusion that they are stupid. For example, one of the Motley Crue girlfriends is quoted as saying 75% of American women have fake boobs. And of course, it's REALLY hard to be neutral when your subject has tried to sue you, in the case of Seth Warshavsky. No matter. It was everything I want in a book--informative, depraved and hilarious....more
Jeannette Walls' childhood was basically terrible. Sure, her parents and siblings loved her. Sure, they were a talented bunch of people and contributeJeannette Walls' childhood was basically terrible. Sure, her parents and siblings loved her. Sure, they were a talented bunch of people and contributed to her becoming a smart, well-rounded person. But her parents really shouldn't have been parents. Rex Walls, the father, is a drunk who at one point takes his 14-year-old daughter to a bar and allows a man to maul her and almost rape her. And he kills cats. He is an engineer, but spends most of the book unemployed. The mom, Rosemary, is also able to work as a teacher, but prefers to make art she can't sell. She is totally nonchalant about crisis. You can tell things are going to be bad for little Jeanette when she burns herself at age 3 while cooking hot dogs on the stove unsupervised. The family goes hungry all the time and the mom keeps a diamond ring the kids found and valuable land she inherits rather than liquidate the assets and put food on the table. I wanted to yell at them. ...more
Marjane Satrapi is thoughtful, funny and wise beyond her years. In this simply illustrated graphic novel, the author tells her life's story as an IranMarjane Satrapi is thoughtful, funny and wise beyond her years. In this simply illustrated graphic novel, the author tells her life's story as an Iranian child and a foreign teenager in Austria, followed by a young adulthood and marriage back in Iran. As a child she contemplates politics and religion and rebels against oppression where she sees it (in school, naturally). When her home country of Iran becomes dangerous, her parents send her off to study in Vienna, where she has to think about less abstract things like whether to sleep with boys. I love it when she asserts her independence, even when it is foolish to do so (for instance, opting for homelessness instead of dealing with a nasty landlady or telling the imam responsible for your college admissions that you aren't in full agreement with his religion). There are also some great observations about people, like how makeup on one girl can mean she is self-obsessed while on another girl it can mean she is defiant. In some ways, these books reminded me of Catch-22. For example, the university allows women to study art and draw from live models, but the female models have to be shrouded in clothes and the male models should preferably not be looked at by female students at all. ...more