I am short story susceptible anyway, right, I realize this. But honestly: these are amazing. If you listed to All Eternals Deck while you re...moreOh my God.
I am short story susceptible anyway, right, I realize this. But honestly: these are amazing. If you listed to All Eternals Deck while you read them, you'd probably develop paranoia and depression (no, but there is one kind of happy story here) but it would be worth it.(less)
I give The Years of Rice and Salt five stars for concept, but it really did not keep my attention very well. A lot of it is just the development of hu...moreI give The Years of Rice and Salt five stars for concept, but it really did not keep my attention very well. A lot of it is just the development of human society told through conversation, and some of that is more interesting than other parts (interesting: philosophy; not so interesting: science experiments). There weren't many women, either, which was annoying.(less)
The Jade Peony is the kind of book you read with a sense of ever-growing dread, because it seems like something horrible waits around the corner. But...moreThe Jade Peony is the kind of book you read with a sense of ever-growing dread, because it seems like something horrible waits around the corner. But in some ways, that sense makes reading about the bad stuff that does happen a lot easier - the devastating stuff is indeed devastating, but it's mostly the sort of devastation you can handle. You know: it's just the business of living.
I thought it was a brave choice to refuse any kind of traditional narrative closure. The three narrators, all equally sympathetic and equally compromised (this is all sort of an exercise in agnotology) by childhood myopia, hand off at partings/epiphanies. Choy's writing is clean and effective, conveying nuances to the readers that the narrators may miss.(less)
1. There is no closure in this book, absolutely none. And more than half the characters are absent. But there are also plenty of new characters, too (...more1. There is no closure in this book, absolutely none. And more than half the characters are absent. But there are also plenty of new characters, too (and some of them do get closure!) and it's all wrapped up in an appealing postmodern timeline.
2. I wish more people read this, and had read Sea of Poppies - although by this, I guess I mostly mean "I wish more people I knew read Sea of Poppies" - because it is the sort of book I want to discuss obsessively thirty seconds after I finish it. River of Smoke provokes the same response. But it is a lot funnier than Sea of Poppies, and parts of SOP were pretty funny! It is also . . . less romantic. There is a sort-of love story, but it is told entirely through euphemisms (funny ones!). Good people aren't victims of the villainous so much as they are victims of their own bad decisions.
3. Next time HBO wants to adapt a book into a miniseries, it should be this trilogy. Except I don't know how they manage the language, honestly. But I feel like there are roles for both Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee and Gracy Singh and probably one of the kids from the fourth season of The Wire - so how am I not supposed to long for that?
4. Ghosh does many things well, but perhaps the most striking is his illustration of the way in which colonialism and greed both relied upon and betrayed Enlightenment ideals. His ability to write the bad faith of the powerful, entitled, and delusionally self-righteous was a vivid element of Sea of Poppies, and it's returned here. The more typical strengths were all present, too, of course - character, above all.(less)
Oh, Fareed Zakaria! So handsome, so reasonable - likable, intelligent, and accessible. And his book is all of those things (well - not so much the han...moreOh, Fareed Zakaria! So handsome, so reasonable - likable, intelligent, and accessible. And his book is all of those things (well - not so much the handsome, maybe, though this edition is very attractive). He makes many trenchant observations, particularly in relation to the culture of fear and fear-mongering that portions the United States have gobbled up like the second coming of the Beatles: "A cottage industry of scaremongering his flourished in the West - especially in the United States - since 9/11." Later he writes, "[FDR] was arguing against fear when America's economic and political system was near collapse, when a quarter of the workforce was unemployed, and when fascism was on the march around the world. Somehow we have managed to spook ourselves in a time of worldwide peace and prosperity."
My favorite part of the book (that wasn't about India in ways that brought warm memories of A Suitable Boy) was this footnote: "The right-wing attack on American universities as being out-of-touch ivory towers has always puzzled me. In a highly competitive global environment, these institutions dominate the field." The Post-American World is a book by a reasonable guy who doesn't take himself too seriously and wishes everyone else would stop running around screaming and maybe, you know, count their blessings. It's not a book about the fall of the American empire, he stresses more than once, but about the rise of everyone else. There are more players on the stage now - we should be happy about this. They're playing our game, most of them. And they want to be friends. (Sometimes they also want us to be an older sibling: "what the world really wants from America is not that it offer a concession on trade here and there but that it affirm its own ideals." As an American, I would also really like this.)
So, I appreciated Zakaria's book. His cool-headedness is of the optimistic variety, and he's skeptical about the zeitgeist, about paranoia, about stagnant systems.
But. But, but but.
Well - his ethical vision is flawed. In fact, it seems to be nonexistent. He spends no time questioning, or even justifying, his adherence to the basic concepts of his work: justice, the free market/capitalism, Western civilization, power dynamics, virtue and power and their relationship. Tracing power dynamics is actually the big strength of the book, examining their relationship to justice is one of its big weaknesses.
Zakaria argues for a utilitarian foreign and economic policy - but not in the sense that J.S. Mill would recognize; it might ring some bells with Bentham, though. He makes the basic assumption that US involvement abroad has historically been a good thing, and this is certainly not the case. Which, actually, I get the impression he knows - but doesn't feel it is necessary to integrate this into his argument. (For example, sometimes "fighting Communism" was equated with "fighting for justice" and that is simply not a universal truth, okay.) His take on the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is far too cheerful, though not uncritical. And while he is dedicated to calming conservative paranoia, not that I disagree with that goal, he doesn't really address concerns from the other side. (Fair enough, I guess, given the political trends in the US.) My preoccupations and concerns work in the opposite direction of the people normally worried about the collapse of America's influence - Zakaria makes a good case for this worry being ridiculous, by the way - so I worry about too much American power, a continued prioritization of Western values (since they often mean racism and other oppressions).
My understanding of economics is not even worth talking about, but I do wonder how the current global economic situation would alter Zakaria's arguments about how good everyone has it. I suspect not much, although things could certainly do with improving. The foreword to the paperback edition (my edition) seems just as optimistic, though more cautious. Maybe Zakaria's playing a long game, though - he knows more about economics than I do.
It's an interesting book, and like I said extremely accessible and clever. I'm glad I read it, but I wish it had been less like a Newsweek article (well) and more like, you know, a book.(less)
I've lately had the uncomfortable and sort of embarrassing feeling reading Kay's books that he's not capable of reining his id, and instead lets it ha...moreI've lately had the uncomfortable and sort of embarrassing feeling reading Kay's books that he's not capable of reining his id, and instead lets it have full and glorious expression. Under Heaven has other problems, too, but that's the most damning, for me.
I like the premise, but I don't think he used the idea of not-quite-China enough, and also it ended up being kind of cliched and orientalist. Also, I dare you to care about the characters. But you can't do it, can you? Nope.
Plus, not-quite-Mongolia would be waaaay more interesting.(less)
So, I didn't like Beijing Coma much at all. Part of the reason, I'm sure, was the translation. I've no idea how faithful it was to Ma Jian's style, or...moreSo, I didn't like Beijing Coma much at all. Part of the reason, I'm sure, was the translation. I've no idea how faithful it was to Ma Jian's style, or tone, or anything, but it often read like something that had been only partially translated into idiomatic English. There was a strange mix of English-language slang, and often I think a phrase closer to the original Chinese idiom would have been a better choice. But then there are other times where things that I suspect were puns popped up, and they didn't make any sense.
However, by far the greatest problems I had with the novel originated with Ma Jian and not his translator. For example, I rarely spend most of a book hoping the narrator will die. But honestly, I would have volunteered to put arsenic in Dai Wei's feeding tube myself. He's an extremely irritating character - completely self-absorbed and sex-obsessed - and ultimately not very interesting. The story he tells is interesting, although the way it is presented makes it feel more like medicine than anything else. It reminds me a bit of Ten Days That Shook the World in this medicinal-feeling . . . and for other reasons.
What the book really needed was a harsh editor. It's much, much, much too long and repetitive. I've enjoyed long books - A Suitable Boy? I'm in love with ASB! - and long books about idealistic revolutions - A Place of Greater Safety? Sign me up - but there's no compelling reason for it to drag on like it does. Switching back and forth between Dai Wei's coma-existence after Tiananmen and the pre-coma story leading up to the protests makes the book drag even more. Inevitably one storyline seems more interesting than the other, and the book as a whole suffers. There's a third thread of italicized reflections that don't really work either, but at least that part is brief.
Anyway, this was not a book I enjoyed at all.(less)
I found Hanna's book very interesting, but rather disappointing. There is a great deal of space devoted to identifying places where gender and sex pla...moreI found Hanna's book very interesting, but rather disappointing. There is a great deal of space devoted to identifying places where gender and sex play a role in dance (this is especially true of the sections about non-Western dance) and then moves on to a different region or piece or something. So sometimes the book reads a little like a glorified list. Which isn't to say that it's not a useful book, only that it falls short of what it could be.
I like Hanna's specificity about the historical role dance played in various locations, and I admire her ability to pinpoint power tensions as expressed through dance. But I think the book would have benefited greatly from some sort of intersectionality, while race is present it is really only acknowledged in reference to men (look, I admire Bill T. Jones as much as anyone, he's awesome! But I think women are affected by race too). The book is about 20 years old, and I know that the thinking on sex/gender and race has shifted since it was published, but that shift can still make it a bit unfulfilling. Sometimes it also makes it disturbing.
On a final note, did U of Chicago P fire all their proofreaders the year this came out? Seriously, there were a distracting number of errors.(less)
1. Okay, first of all . . . I'm glad this book exists. If I had to do a cheesy one-sentence pitch for it, I would say it is like This Bridge Called My...more1. Okay, first of all . . . I'm glad this book exists. If I had to do a cheesy one-sentence pitch for it, I would say it is like This Bridge Called My Back except without the open veins and with more a significantly more academic tone. (Although, of course, the writers are critical of establishments such as academia.)
2. That said, it is very much a book of its moment - this is most apparent in the references to global political situations that have since, um, changed quite a bit. So, I would really love an updated version of some of these articles.
3. Also, the writers talk a lot about the trap of individualism, and fair enough. Any work that critiques Western society (including mainstream feminism) should seriously consider/critique the harms a too-individualistic zeitgeist can cause. But at the same time, I really feel very strongly that individuals matter more than movements. Have I read too much Forster? Probably. Certainly, my position isn't that "it's all about ME and MY PAIN" is the Way Forward. That's a stupid and harmful position, and wallowing doesn't do much good. Look, I know the necessity of despair - but there's a reason Romanticism (and, for that matter, existentialism) floundered after it could stop rebelling against Neoclassicism. You can't have ONLY Pope and ONLY Shelley, right? You need Auden too. Or something.
4. I really liked the following articles: "The Truth That Never Hurts: Black Lesbians in Fiction in the 1980s," "Building Politics from Personal Lives: Discussions on Sexuality among Poor Women in Brazil," "Women and Crime in the United States," "Gender and Islamic Fundamentalism: Feminist Politics in Iran," and "'We Cannot Live without Our Lives': White Women, Antiracism, and Feminsim."(less)
This is a really great book with case studies about the development of (wait for it) nationalism and feminism in several countries. Jayawardena writes...moreThis is a really great book with case studies about the development of (wait for it) nationalism and feminism in several countries. Jayawardena writes very clearly, and the book is able to combine several themes with a careful examination of the specific case of each country. I liked that she stressed the interconnectedness of these movements, whether because of their relationship to other philosophies or to other countries and events.(less)
I should have read China Mountain Zhang a long time ago, and I'm definitely moving Nekropolis higher up my list. China Mountain Zhang is mostly about...moreI should have read China Mountain Zhang a long time ago, and I'm definitely moving Nekropolis higher up my list. China Mountain Zhang is mostly about the title character, a mostly young, mostly Chinese engineer in a not-quite-dystopian future version of the world. McHugh gives us a world where economic upheaval, global climate change, and political unrest led to socialist or quasi-socialist revolutions. (There is also some colonizing of space involved, in kind of a cool way.) The majority of the book is from Zhang's point of view, but there are five other characters who offer their own looks at this new world and whose lives intersect with Zhang's to varying degrees. It's probably significant that four of them are women; China Mountain Zhang is a book perfectly aware of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity and how they shape the lived-experience. The bleakest passage in the book belongs to San-xiang, an ugly girl who is now pretty. And, indeed, there are a lot of bleak things in China Mountain Zhang, but it is certainly not a novel without hope.
One of the things I really appreciate was the book's apparent lack of plot. I'll admit to skepticism about the alternate view points (I'm not terrible sympathetic, at least aesthetically, to first person narration, especially when there are several first person narrators) and I'll also admit that my skepticism was due in part to the extremely loose relationship the character threads have to each other, and even to the main thread. (On reflection, I would really like to hear more about Baffin Island.) However, this technique worked really well. I'm not a reader who thrives on plot, honestly, I like watching characters bounce off each other - and the most effective plots are usually the simplest ones (ie: everything is ruined forever). China Mountain Zhang is, in some sense, a bildungsroman - but in a very tangential sense. It is very much about people trying to work out their lives. Most sff "needs" some kind of sweeping goal, even/especially dystopian sff, but China Mountain Zhang's goals are more personal - and highly relatable.
Also, I don't think this gets mentioned enough in discussions of the book, but it's actually really funny. The humor is, admittedly, mostly through Zhang's self-deprecating and sardonic throw-away comments and asides: "There had to be flies in China, I think, climbing a narrow stairway surface in black, industrial no-slip material. I just never noticed them. (Right, flies in the Wuxi Complex. A fly in Wuxi would have realized its hubris and died of embarrassment.)" It's a bit sly, very quick, and quite detail-oriented. Which makes the humor of the book very much one with the protagonist of the book, whom I love and want to be happy.(less)
Karen Leong has a really interesting thesis, but unfortunately her book doesn't live up to it. Now, sometimes you read books by academics and you are...moreKaren Leong has a really interesting thesis, but unfortunately her book doesn't live up to it. Now, sometimes you read books by academics and you are like, "well, I hope you get tenure soon because you are Not a Writer" - and I know it is kind of shitty of me to want everyone who writes a book to be a Writer, because they are not (oh . . . philosophy, why are you the way you are) and they shouldn't have to be, should they? No, no, books are infinite, they contain multitudes. Or anyway, they are finite and contain multitudes, which is still pretty cool, right?
I think that the biggest problem is the way Leong gets sucked into biography instead of analysis. Not that there isn't analysis, but rather that she relies a great deal on telling us what happened instead of telling us why it was important. Which would be a fine strategy for a novel, but I think we can all see why ambiguity is an asset in a work of fiction and a demerit in a work of nonfiction. Right? We can, can't we? So sometimes it read like, "Mayling Soong did x, y, z which had effect a on the China mystique" - a concept articulated less clearly than I would have liked - without any connection between the assertions. I think this is less of a flaw in the section on Pearl S. Buck, although I know very little about Pearl S. Buck external to this book and this one Anchee Min interview (apparently Anchee Min is kind of down with Pearl S. Buck?), and so I couldn't really evaluate that. But: as a white woman and an AUTHOR, Buck's position re: creating CHINA in the United States is more obvious, it needs less explaining in order to justify a position because it's fairly easy to fill in the blanks with the standard comments on privilege and white people and white womanhood. That's ground well-trod. So, ideologically or thematically, the Buck section is the clearest.
BUT, let's be honest, I don't really care about Pearl S. Buck or Mayling Soong (quick: who's your favorite Soong sister! Mine's Qingling.) I am here for Anna May Wong, light of my life and fire of my loins [not really] [but she is pretttttty cool though, jsyk]. There will never be enough written about Anna May Wong and it would have been cool if Karen Leong hadn't made the weird choice to take most of Wong's public statements in good faith. WHY do biographers (this isn't really a bio, but movie on) do this? I realize much of it results from a dearth of materials about the subject, but seriously: knowing what we know about the studio system, about early Hollywood (about CONTEMPORARY Hollywood), about how people of color have to function in order to survive in a corrupt and white supremacist system, why would you decide to take probably-studio-directed-statements at face value? Would you do that for a book on Gloria Swanson or Mary Pickford? YOU WOULD NOT. Why would you do this for Anna May Wong? And, if you decide to do so, why wouldn't you offer some sort of . . . I'm hesitant to say "justification" - I suppose what I mean is some sort of methodology.
Anyway, it fills a niche. I wish it had been less cursory - but it is quite short, so.
Now I sound like Bernard Black, I guess. W/e.(less)
This is a very insightful look at Hollywood's treatment of American-Asian relationships. Marchetti examines race, class, sexuality, and gender in the...moreThis is a very insightful look at Hollywood's treatment of American-Asian relationships. Marchetti examines race, class, sexuality, and gender in the movies.(less)
Anna May Wong was a really interesting figure in early Hollywood, and her legacy is complicated. Unfortunately, Hodges' biography doesn't grasp a lot...moreAnna May Wong was a really interesting figure in early Hollywood, and her legacy is complicated. Unfortunately, Hodges' biography doesn't grasp a lot of the complexity. He's best when talking about race in the early twentieth century, and weakest when talking about personalities. A biography should probably be the other way around. A lot of the time it reads like a first draft rather than a final one, and sometimes it seems like Hodges didn't even watch the rarer movies. He very rarely quotes from primary sources, although he does summarize them very well.
It's still worth it for a basic outline of Wong's life, especially if you're unfamiliar with the specifics. Hopefully, she'll get a better biography in a few years. I'd recommend getting it from the library instead of buying it.(less)
Weatherford writes coherently and interestingly. He seems, however, very quick to judge Genghis Khan favorably and those he opposed negatively. The ef...moreWeatherford writes coherently and interestingly. He seems, however, very quick to judge Genghis Khan favorably and those he opposed negatively. The effort to rehabilitate, or at least re-examine, Genghis Khan is a worthy one and Weatherford certainly seems to know his stuff, but a little less credulity might be nice in a history book. A good deal of his sources seem more poetical than historical, and sometimes he fails to take this into account.
However, I enjoyed this book a lot. His description of the role of women was especially interesting.(less)