The book has been published with 2 variant subtitles, Promiscuities: A Secret History of Female Desire and Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for WomaThe book has been published with 2 variant subtitles, Promiscuities: A Secret History of Female Desire and Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood. As a cultural critique Promiscuities may seem limited by the narrow focus on Wolf's personal experiences. As a memoir, or an ethnological study, of growing up female in the liberal/radical social milieu of San Francisco in the 1970's, it is a worthwhile read. It is interesting to note that Wolf makes a case for the reintegration of coming-of-age ritual(s) in the life of teenagers, something which Steve Biddulph also proposes in Manhood. ...more
This is a series of passages on the waning of social tolerance towards promiscuity and the re-emergence of puritanical attitudes towards sexuality inThis is a series of passages on the waning of social tolerance towards promiscuity and the re-emergence of puritanical attitudes towards sexuality in US society, in the 1980's and early 1990's. The writing style is closer to personal musings and observation rather than stuctured essays with definite conclusions. Many of the questions Roiphe poses remain unanswered.
The trends/attitudes she charts (the spread of the virus of fear) are still very much with us today, especially now with the prominence of neoconservatism. The author's tone is personal and honest, and one is left with a sense of melancholy, that our behavior cannot be as 'carefree' as it once was. Although it must be noted that Roiphe tends to believe one is/was never free to act at will without suffering some kind of consequence, either physical, moral, or social, even the during the decades when sexual permissiveness was more openly tolerated.
If you are intrigued by the myth and mystique of New York City and the infinite possibilities of life in the megalopolis, this is a must-read.
JosephIf you are intrigued by the myth and mystique of New York City and the infinite possibilities of life in the megalopolis, this is a must-read.
Joseph Mitchell's book is about the legendary 'bohemian' Joe Gould, a character who frequented the cheap cafes and ratty bars of the down-and-out neighborhoods of NYC, long before these same locations became trendy destinations. All the energy and paranoia of a life lived the street permeates the portrait of this rather extraordinary person, who claims he is working on a piece called the 'Oral History', an apocryphal work whose existence remains unverified.
There's something offputting about the narrative voice, especially in the beginning - the forced lyricism coming off as stilted and stuckup - soon thoThere's something offputting about the narrative voice, especially in the beginning - the forced lyricism coming off as stilted and stuckup - soon though the compelling story takes over and it's an engrossing story from then on. There are a host of facts and details that seem to be besides the point at first, of course in the end the threads unite into the single inescapable fact that Eduardo's fate was at the mercy of sociopolitical forces beyond his control. ...more
Although it's a book written primarily for a teen audience, it contains subtleties that an adult reader can appreciate. Beginning with the novel’s titAlthough it's a book written primarily for a teen audience, it contains subtleties that an adult reader can appreciate. Beginning with the novel’s title, where the contradictory qualifiers ‘absolutely true’ and yet ‘part-time’ prepare the reader for what is to come - the hyperboles are much more than teenage angst, the tongue-in-cheek humility, all that is ridiculous and yet so true of life on the ‘rez’.
The accompanying cartoon illustrations are instrumental in highlighting the sardonic aspect of the narrative. And yet, while browsing numerous reviews of the novel online, I find that readers tend to focus on the text as if it were indeed autobiographical, or else they tend to interpret Arnold/Junior’s experiences as an inspiration/role model for teen readers, and in so doing, disregard the obvious jabs Alexie makes at the prevalence of white/Anglo stereotyping both in fiction (literature or cinema) as well as in politics.
I’m not so sure Junior is meant to be (primarily) a teen role model, someone who despite all the hardships, drawbacks, and limitations, makes a success of himself. The way in which he becomes an instant hit - teenage stud, star athlete, academic achiever - is an obvious exaggeration that neither adult nor teen readers should take at face value. It’s obviously every teenager’s fantasy – success is the best revenge for every insult and indignity foisted upon the individual by life or by one’s own peers – but here the message is more political than educational. While reading I was mindful of the author’s mockery the realities of life in the USA, by playing up the conventions and misbeliefs prevalent in mainstream American culture. Maybe one needs to listen to the author reading from Absolutely True… in order to grasp the right tone of the narrative (here and here).
What gives Junior away is how he is portrayed as being wise beyond his years despite obvious limitations, like not knowing how to deal with girls, or even the meanings of certain words. He is cast as the stereotypical sagacious Indian, mouthing one aphorism after the other in the manner of Black Elk Speaks, etc.
Alexie further mocks this Anglo-white stereotype of the sagacious native, by making the grandmother mouth certain ‘truths’ that mainstream America may not care to hear ("Gay people are like Swiss army knives") and, more tellingly, with the incident of Billionaire Ted and Grandmother’s powwow outfit that has the whole rez roaring with laughing at her funeral. On a more subtle level, the stereotype is turned upside down, by having Junior embody the traits of the typically white-European American highschooler that's a mainstay in Hollywood teen comedies, that of a teenager who delights in crass bodily functions – this story is full of talk about vomit, farting, and other eschatological goings-on. Lest we still think the rez residents are the downtrodden yet proud race, the repository of ancient wisdoms despite their unfortunate history, here’s Junior proclaiming their humble humanity: “We Indians like to talk dirty.”
Junior’s troubles go beyond his adolescent awkwardness, his hydrocephaly and other biological characteristics, or his economic situation. What’s bugging him is that as a ‘native’ American he is treated as if he’s an immigrant in his own country. I would go so far as to say that the protagonist’s dual name is a sly jab at the phenomenon whereby someone like ‘Conan the Barbarian’ can become governor of a U.S. state, while so-called natives are not as prominent in the public eye, unable to garner respect and attention.
Another socio-politically charged theme of Absolutely True is that of students from underprivileged socio-economical backgrounds being welcomed by educational institutions mainly because they display star athlete potential and not for their overall performance or personality. It doesn’t really make a difference whether Junior has a high GPA, and can go against the resident geek of the ‘white’ school one-on-one; it’s solely his athletic capabilities that are his entry ticket to escape the rez. Of course, one wonders how many native Americans have actually made it ‘out’ in this particular way, compared to the degree that African Americans migrate from poverty and into the sports hall of fame. What preoccupies Junior is the contrast between his successful escape and his sister’s failed migration. Potential writers like her, with hopes of becoming a writer (albeit a romance novelist) aren’t going to be noticed by the ‘mainstream’ establishment, and that’s the real shame.
The final irony is that Alexie has succeeded in writing an award-winning book, and Absolutely True has become part of the school curriculum (in spite of motions to ban it for its supposed prurient content), a feat symbolic as well as transformative. It's a feat that transcends Junior's throwing of the outdated textbook straight into Mr. P's face. ...more
I am filing this novel with a host of other readable, but ultimately forgettable, "light fiction by women writers covering the EastmeetsWest theme" -I am filing this novel with a host of other readable, but ultimately forgettable, "light fiction by women writers covering the EastmeetsWest theme" - Chitra Divakaruni, Preethi Nair, Roopa Farooki, Nikita Lalwani* (all reviewed here on my bookshelf).
Although momentous historical events (Partition, 9/11) & complex cultural/religious issues feature in The Writing on My Forehead, the treatment is too "light" to bear any substantial commentary on these complex socio-political issues. The book has the feel of a cut-and-paste formula, with the characters displaying, more so than not, by now familiar (at least to me) characters & storylines that I have already encountered in the works of the women writers listed above.
One exception is the theme of storytelling, especially of narrative elision, that figures prominently in The Writing on My Forehead. Saira's life story is inextricably dependent on the fact that she grows up unaware of the complete story of both her mother's and her father's families. Her resolve to do what she wants in life, contrary to tradition and expectation, is fueled by the revelation that both her parents conceal crucialed details of their respective family histories.
Ironically, I feel that narrative omission is what weakens the novel. Eventually we learn that Saira herself is guilty of the same deed - she conceals crucial facts about herself from her family, too. It's not that elision I'm referring to.
The period of Saira's life as a journalist is markedly absent from the plot. It's just a background detail merely referenced to, and yet it's supposed to figure prominently in her motivations and her decisions. The story focuses on the whys and wherefores of her return to her family & cultural/social/religious roots, following those educational & edifying experiences. The narrated timeline skips that part of her life altogether. She comes back to her roots when she realizes that's what matters to her most, after traveling round the world. But we are told only of her rebellion and then her return, we don't have the opportunity to know what/why/how transpired in the meantime, what life experiences (besides the romance) she ratcheted up. And this for me is what accounts for the lack of multidimensionality in Saira's character. In the end, Saira's concluding revelations are a bit too sensational & formulaic for my taste, even though they were unforeseeable.
* I recommend - Kamila Shamsie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Bharati Mukherjee....more
I actually enjoyed reading it, and I would recommend it to others. But it failed to 'wow' me.... For some reason the plot seemed a tad too obvious. II actually enjoyed reading it, and I would recommend it to others. But it failed to 'wow' me.... For some reason the plot seemed a tad too obvious. I could tell more or less what was going to happen, in which direction the scenes were developing. So I was reading at two levels, one to read the plot, and another to sense/study the words on the page. That second aspect however wasn't taking me anywhere. I expected to be engaged by the narrative exposition – looking forward to discover irony, double meanings, etc. - the kind of elements I had previously admired in Shamsie's novel Broken Verses. Somehow the story and the telling of it felt as if the novel lacked much of that. I had the distinct impression the novel was written with a film adaptation in mind. “The English Patient” I thought on a number of times. Eventually I came to the final section’s title; it validated my impression. Without saying it's necessarily a bad thing, there were also moments when works by other writers came to mind (Nicole Krauss The History of Love, Stephanie Kallos Broken for You, Marina Lewicka We Are All Made of Glue, Andre Dubus III The House of Sand and Fog). I'm not saying that Shamsie is emulating any of these works, it's just that her novel didn't seem distinctively unique from these other works with similar themes. If Burnt Shadows is derivative of any particular story, Vikram Seth's Two Lives (a biography of his Indian uncle who married a German woman in England after WWII) may have been a major source: Hiroko's stoic quietude is an apt homage to V. Seth's German "Aunty." And for Raza Hazara's character, I would venture to guess the tragic& complex story of Carlos Mavroleon may have been an inspiration.
The story should have gotten under my skin, but it didn’t. Why not? It's not that I sensed the plot elements lacked credibility, or that these characters' coming together, drawing apart, only to be united again, seemed too farfetched to bear a resemblance to reality. Far from it, it mirrored my own family’s photo album (WWII, post-Partition Karachi, the Suez, a cemetary in Korea, etc.) and I had no problem with all these seemingly disparate elements coming together in a six-degrees of separation kind of way. Nearing the final page of the book, I tried to find the root of my lack of excitement over this novel. One thing that bothered me is the “young” generation's (Kim's and Raza's) lack of a coherent political conscience. At this point I felt the characters lacked a substantial dimension; they became pawns in the storyboard the author was setting up for the final climactic scene. Despite the complexity of their heritage and their "inside" knowledge of history's details, they come off as somewhat naive (in an insular sort of way, which they clearly weren't) and that did not convince me, given their background. More than anything, the last 40-50 pages of the book (the New York section) are the most "screenplayish" of all. It's all about plot; there is nothing of the carefully crafted dialogue and scenic descriptions of the first part of the book (the Nagasaki and Dilli sections). Another thing I felt cheated by is that we are told time and time again that Hiroko and Raza are fascinated by language, yet that is not reflected into the work itself. Having read Shamsie's Broken Verses, where the literary element is an integral feature of the story, I expected to find that kind of meta-fictional play at work here, too, but it is missing. ...more