The book was about two conjoined twins and the story alternated between the two sisters (the device was that one sister wanted to write an autobiograpThe book was about two conjoined twins and the story alternated between the two sisters (the device was that one sister wanted to write an autobiography and asked the other sister to contribute as well). I thought the book was very engaging and finished it the day immediately after I got it from the book club meeting. The narrative voices (first person for each of the sisters) were excellent and I liked how their stories were sometimes contradictory and how each of them told different versions or included different details. For example, one sister would talk about an incident and the other would make no mention or would mention that she's sure the other already discussed it at great length. It was like having two unreliable narrators! It was neat how the two had distinct personalities but were still so close. I also liked the backstories of their adoptive parents.
I looked at some of the other reviews on Goodreads and one negative review caught my eye. The reader noted that she found the (view spoiler)[pregnancy (hide spoiler)]far-fetched, which was fair and, depending on the reader, could affect enjoyment. However, even with that perspective, I still really liked the book; I think that event and some of the other "far-fetched" events were not written to be believable so much as written to examine something about the characters (e.g., for the (view spoiler)[sister who had the baby (hide spoiler)], it was to look at how they dealt with their situation and how the situation really impacted them in terms of life goals, relationships, etc.)
What bothered me actually was their experience in Slovakia which felt sort of simplistic, potentially stereotypical and unexamined and goes back to one bit that I'm not sure how the author wants the reader to interpret (i.e., does she agree or disagree with the teacher) but to me, showed that the sisters weren't perfect, that they were human and they were treated relatively normally by some of the people they encountered. In the incident, one sister wrote a story for school depicting her and her sister as members of a local native group and their teacher called her out on writing a story when she is not part of the group (they're white). I happen to agree more with the teacher that it's not usually advisable to write from the perspective of a member of a marginalized group. Not sure if I would take a very hard line and discourage a writer from it altogether but I would certainly want a writer to examine her reasons for writing from that perspective. The scenes in Slovakia falls into that area to me. In Slovakia, which they visit because of their adoptive father, who is from there, (view spoiler)[they get roped into a situation where a group of women pay to touch where they're connected at the head for good luck, preying on the women's superstition (hide spoiler)]; in the book, it is established that the Slovakian and other Eastern European immigrants are sometimes marginalized in that area at the time of the story. You could use my earlier point that it's similar to the other far-fetched events and was to examine aspects of their life but it didn't feel the same.
Otherwise, I still enjoyed the book and finished it soon after I signed it out.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I'd heard of Jonathan Franzen before and realized that I also actually own The Corrections but never got into it. I can understand why he gets some ofI'd heard of Jonathan Franzen before and realized that I also actually own The Corrections but never got into it. I can understand why he gets some of the buzz/hype that he does but I didn't become a convert or superfan.
I read Freedom for my library book group and while I thought parts of the book were good, during a lot of it, I asked myself what was the point? Did I care what happened to the characters or what they were doing? I felt frustrated at the bad decisions of these incredibly privileged people but was sort of hoping it would all get better so I guess I cared a bit. I did like that the characters became more self-aware though that didn't stop the hurtful behaviour. My favourite parts were the ones in Patty's voice (she had to write out her "autobiography" for therapy). She was only able to write about herself in the third person and as I said before, was showing increased self-awareness and maturity, which I found more compelling. I liked the hopeful ending and didn't mind so much the loose ends. It was kind of weird that I found the book readable despite not liking almost everyone.
I did kind of feel uncomfortable with the character of Lalitha, with her characterization and arc. Was she merely written as a foil to Patty and/or Walter, to provide Walter some love and happiness, and subsequently a reason for Walter's grief when she died? Did the author have her die so that he and Patty could get back together more easily? Her character didn't feel properly fitted into the story or particularly well-developed.
Same with the character of Connie Monaghan. Was she written only as a reason for Joey to become a better person? What was her motivation? How did she become so obsessed with Joey?
On a more superficial note, I also questioned whether the book had to be over 500 pages long.
The first review I read on GR after I finished the book summed it up pretty well - good technique, admiration more than like or love. I don't think I'll pick up The Corrections anytime soon but I'll probably try it eventually....more
This book really opened up my eyes to more of the history of the slave trade including the issues surrounding it. For example, the divide between peopThis book really opened up my eyes to more of the history of the slave trade including the issues surrounding it. For example, the divide between people who were taken from Africa and people who were born in North America in terms of culture, religion and of course, language; the fact that the slaves had their own language; the argument that Africans were enslaving each other already and that the whites would do it better; Aminata's experiences back in Africa (view spoiler)[ - being called a "toubab" with blackface, having to escape being enslaved again, making a deal with devil when she had to get a trader to take her to her village, the helplessness she felt when she saw other people in coffles (hide spoiler)]; the pervasiveness of enslavement and oppression that slaves didn't run away even when not actually tied up; and the creation of Freetown in Sierra Leone.
And speaking on the story level - the book was just amazingly well-written. Aminata's narrative voice, the character's thoughts, emotions and motivations - all were so clearly realized. When I had to put the book down, it wasn't because I found it boring but because it was all too real and because I had become invested in what happened to Aminata.
Also, I'm really glad that the author decided to write that (view spoiler)[Aminata was reunited with her daughter. I wasn't expecting it especially when Aminata herself stopped hoping but even if people argue that it's less "realistic" or "believable", I don't care. She deserves some measure of happiness. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This has been on my to-read list for what seems like forever but I'm glad I finally read it. I think this is my favourite of Ondaatje's books I've reaThis has been on my to-read list for what seems like forever but I'm glad I finally read it. I think this is my favourite of Ondaatje's books I've read (others were In the Skin of a Lion, The English Patient and Divisadero). Gorgeous writing, as always, that evoked a sense of time and place for me - Sri Lanka in the late 1980s, with the war happening and also with the backdrop of its rich history. What also came across was the fear and grief people would have been in at the time with the various acts of violence being committed and often without warning.
I think there were some times when the characters seemed to be used as representatives of certain opinions but this could be that I recognized the sentiments from racefail discussions, etc. But I never felt they were blatant mouthpieces or speaking uncharacteristically; for example, one character briefly talks about Westerners not understanding the character's love for his country and also about the fact that he can't leave while Westerners can. Here's an excerpt:
'American movies, English books - remember how they all end?' Gamini asked that night. 'The American or the Englishman gets on a plane and leaves. That's it. The camera leaves with him. He looks out of the window at Mombasa or Vietnam or Jakarta, someplace now he can look at through the clouds. The tired hero. A couple of words to the girl beside him. He's going home. So the war, to all purposes, is over. That's enough reality for the West. It's probably the history of the last two hundred years of Western political writing. Go home. Write a book. Hit the circuit.'
I liked the characters of this book the most - not necessarily to know them or meet them but to read about them which I didn't feel as strongly about past books.
I also admired the way that descriptions of potentially dry material, such as the afore-mentioned history and the forensic methods/details used to identify a skeleton, were not dry at all and were among the most interesting in the book.
The next part is not super spoiler-y but I'll hide it anyway. (view spoiler)[I also have to admit that part of the ending made me tear up. I was thinking we'd gotten so far through the book, surely everyone would be relatively alright? But no, and it was revealed in such a heart-breaking way for me. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I really enjoyed this book (a collection of short stories, poems and short pieces). When I starting reading this, I was tired so I went through the fiI really enjoyed this book (a collection of short stories, poems and short pieces). When I starting reading this, I was tired so I went through the first story and all the short pieces first before going back to the other short stories and I think I missed connections or juxtapositions so I'm going to reread it.
I was reading this as a "Buddy Read" in my Goodreads group and one of the discussion questions was around whether he's representative or can be seen as a voice for Native Americans. I think there is an aspect to that in his writing but also, he's writing interesting, thought-provoking stuff and not always "about" Native Americans. I like the specificity of Sherman Alexie's writing; there are certain themes he comes back to but he's testing them in different situations and they seem to come from a very personal place so I think that he's balanced that well.
After finishing the book, I Googled for more about it and found a reading plus Q&A he did in Philadelphia for the book, which touches on some of these ideas (link below). I don't know if I necessarily agree with everything he's talking about but I did like the discussion and I think most of the Q&A is worth a listen (the readings too).
I also really enjoyed the different structures he used in his pieces. My favourite piece and a great example was the 15th section of "War Dances", the title piece. The section was called "Exit Interview For My Father" and starts with a list of questions to his dad (view spoiler)[ that includes questions like "Your son has often made the joke that you were the only Indian of your generation who went to Catholic school on purpose. This is, of course, a tasteless joke that makes light of the forced incarceration and subsequent physical, spiritual, cultural, and sexual abuse of tens of thousands of Native American children in Catholic and Protestant boarding schools. In consideration of your son's questionable judgment in telling jokes, do you think there should be any moral limits placed on comedy?"
The section then continues with a poem the main character wrote about his dad and then a rebuttal of sorts pointing out the actual facts of the incident that the poem was meant to be about and just general points about life. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more