A wistful novel set in upstate New York nearing the end of Vietnam War, “A Catalog of Birds” focuses on a recently-returned soldier Billy Flynn who waA wistful novel set in upstate New York nearing the end of Vietnam War, “A Catalog of Birds” focuses on a recently-returned soldier Billy Flynn who was injured —both physically and mentally— from his last battle in Vietnam. He was injured on the right-hand side of his body, in addition to the emotional yet less-visible scar he carries for feeling guilty of having survived the war while his close buddies perished. We will never be entirely sure if the story is meant to be a veiled criticism of the futile war itself, or the inability of the US government to take care of our military veterans well, but it is obvious from the start that the lives of Billy and those around him might never return to “normal” again. The book never even mentions the term PTSD, as the disorder was not commonly-treated back then, but it is evident that PTSD is the overarching theme of Billy’s road to recovery. The book starts with a huge red herring (which I won’t reveal here to avoid spoilers), but this distraction would fool readers into believing that this issue would be resolved at the closing pages. It wouldn’t. Rather, it’s the reaction of those affected by this issue that would ultimately prove to be the cause for redemption —or lack thereof— of the people who were affected. The author Harrington is very adept in using descriptive prose to describe the nature —animate and inanimate ones alike that are found in the environment. I do not even care much for the different type of birds (I cannot even picture a finch or cardinal in my head without doing a Google search), but Harrington can get into detail on the types of birds and the respective noises they make. Hence the title of the novel! The familial relationships among the Flynn family members as well as the romantic relationships they have with other townsfolk also warm the heart at times, as they are the type of close relationship that are to be expected from small town folks. I absolutely love the way Billy and his sister Nell’s relationship are depicted, as they are filled with mutual admiration and respect from one another. There are some religious undertones at times, as the Flynn family is nominally Catholic, but not imposing enough to make the story fall into Christian Fiction genre. For example, Billy’s father Jack prays quite often (as does his sister Sheila), and Father O’Rourke who is the parish priest is shown to be a close friend of the family. Billy often slips in to the confessional box without ever being able to confess his sins in detail, simply because he did things in the war that he was deeply ashamed of (as do most soldiers during war, I suppose). Though there are dreams and wishes that never comes true at the end of the story, it could perhaps serve as a reminder what life expects of us anyway: though we always wish for the best, sometimes there are things that are just not meant to be. Such is life. It goes on....more
This memoir by an undercover South Korean-born journalist working under the guise as a missionary in a Christian-funded university in North Korea is aThis memoir by an undercover South Korean-born journalist working under the guise as a missionary in a Christian-funded university in North Korea is at once both heartwarming and eye-opening.
Unlike most other real-life North Korean-based memoirs out there that were written by/about defectors, this one is written by an outsider who shares her quotidian life in Pyongyang as she taught sons of some of the most powerful families in the capital city from July to December 2011.
I really enjoy reading about the innocence of the young students in their late teens who are untainted by video games, internet, or pornography, but at the same time show great curiosity for girls and anything that lies beyond their closed regime. Naturally, the names and identities of her students and fellow colleagues in the university had been altered to protect their identities.
The author Kim Suki had taken great pains to secretly write this memoir during her time there. Her goal in here is thus primarily not to defend the regime or repeat ad nauseam about the gulags that you might have seen on National Geographic, but to humanize the North Koreans she had come to know in person, who, despite their pledged loyalty to their Great Leader, may one day lead and open up their country to the outside world....more
Reading this Filipina-Canadian lady's memoir of her days growing up in the Philippines in the 1970s and 1980s gives me a sense of longing for a countrReading this Filipina-Canadian lady's memoir of her days growing up in the Philippines in the 1970s and 1980s gives me a sense of longing for a country I have never visited....a country with whom my eastern Indonesian ancestors shared a somewhat close connection.
Having lived in Montreal for around a decade at the time of writing, Lorina Mapa experienced a series of flashbacks when she received a sudden news of her father's demise. These flashbacks were the main story of the book, with the Marcos regime (and their eventual downfall) becoming the backdrop of her story.
With Lorina coming from a prominent family in San Carlos (Negros Occidental), I had a hunch that her family was somehow connected to the Marcos regime (or his cronies), and I was right! However, despite her family's wealth and prominence, she and her family were very unsympathetic towards the dictator's administration, and that one family member who was connected to the Marcos regime (albeit tangentially) proved to be the lone member of the pro-Marcos faction in the family. There are many tidbits about the Marcos family that she recalled in a very disapproving manner, using unsavoury words (especially regarding Imelda's extravagance...do a Google search on the Manila Film Center Tragedy of 1981 if you want to see an example).
She was merely a teenager during the EDSA revolution (more widely known internationally as People Power's Revolution), thus her recollection of the events were interspersed with memories of Duran-Duran, Pearl Jam, and other girlhood obsessions (especially crushes towards celebrities and real-life acquaintances alike). She also recalled fondly of how her parents, uncles, aunts had treated her specially, with her father being the main focal person whom she idolized.
Her family was also heavily involved in both the revolution and Corazon Aquino's presidential campaign, but ironically, her family's visa to the United States was approved on the same year Cory became president.
Reading this book has opened my eyes towards a few facets of the Filipino diaspora around the world.
First, is the fact that the huge wave of Filipinos leaving their birth country in search of better lands initially started by the millions of them who were dissatisfied that their country was heading nowhere during Marcos administration (especially after he announced the infamous martial law). This "culture of corruption" (my term, not the author's) was most likely popularized by Marcos and his cronies, and it has embedded its root so deeply in Filipino politics that until this day, many Filipinos who are sick of being surrounded by a life of bribes and corruption has chosen to seek honest living elsewhere.
Second, is the close kinship of Filipino family, regardless of how large they are. This can be tied down to any combination of reasons, though I think that it was chiefly the Spanish culture which has heavily influenced not just the national Filipino identity of Tagalog language, but also its regional languages (e.g. Visayan, Ilocano, Waray). The prominence of Catholic religion also helps unite these families into stronger sense of kinship, as there is only one sect of Roman Catholicism in the country. Therefore, so many of them believe in the same image of Jesus, profess the same faith in the same doctrines, and can relate to their experience of Catholic mass and going to Catholic schools. Contrast this with families in other Asian families outside of the Philippines, where belief in God is either nonexistent, or consisting of a huge array of different religions/denominations even within the same family (disclosure: my family alone consists of 70% Muslims and 30% Catholics, which means religion/God is a topic I try to avoid talking about when I meet family members who profess a different faith).
Add this to the fact that the vast majority of the population live in Luzon and surrounding islands (Mindoro, Camarines, inter alia), makes it easier for family members to visit one another!
All in all, I admire Lorina for writing her story from both a teenager's and an adult's viewpoints, and being able to admit her shortcomings at times.
I learned a lot of interesting tidbits about the Philippines through Lorina's eyes. Though this is the voice of only one individual, it provides a window to what living as a Filipino was like during the transition from dictatorship to democracy, and how she copes with living apart from family members who are in different time zones. Hopefully we can see more of her works in years to come!...more