The Read Around The World Book Club discussion

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July 2018 - TAIWAN > Notebook 1 - 4

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message 1: by Melanie (new)

Melanie | 338 comments Mod
First impressions?


message 2: by Melanie (new)

Melanie | 338 comments Mod
I only read Notebook 1 so far, but I really enjoy this so far.


message 3: by Melanie (new)

Melanie | 338 comments Mod
So I am at the halfway point. I have to say that I am really loving it so far. The author does a brilliant job of conveying the feeling of shame and despair when your sexuality is not what is perceived to be the norm. Also, the feelings of depression and anxiety are brilliantly captured. The fact that they are highly intelligent people yet totally struggle on an emotional level is also very apt. I enjoy the imagery of the crocodile too: appearance and inner life not being the same.


message 4: by Linda (new)

Linda (lindaleehall) | 30 comments I have finished the first half and find the book really intriguing. I don't know if enjoy is the right word? But it expressing the struggle with identity and isolation beautifully. I think I would call it gripping and enlightening.


message 5: by Helen (last edited Jul 15, 2018 04:42AM) (new)

Helen Noah | 5 comments Finished notebook 1, just commencing the second.
Two things caught my interest: the sensual describtion of surroundings, like weather and bodily phenomena. I really enjoy this, it lets me participate and experience in a way. Second: the infatuation ( I wouldn't call it "love") that the main character has for Shui Ling. This is such a crass counter balance to the cemented road in life (prescribed by taiwanese society in that day and age) that is .."compulsary education, compulsary labor, and compulsary marriage." Who wouldn't want to escape that? But cultivating an "amour fou" cannot be a long time solution, can it? The narrator cultivates a myth around her dream relationship, it seems to serve as fuel for her ambitions as an author. ..What about that crazy guy Meng Sheng? ..I'll find out...


message 6: by Melanie (new)

Melanie | 338 comments Mod
Helen wrote: "Finished notebook 1, just commencing the second.
Two things caught my interest: the sensual describtion of surroundings, like weather and bodily phenomena. I really enjoy this, it lets me participa..."


I agree with you: infatuation as opposed to love. I don't think, she has the capacity or understanding what it means to be in love yet.


message 7: by Stacey (new)

Stacey (modica03) | 82 comments I’m into Notebook 4, and find myself creeping along. I often read sentences or passages more than once, to catalog more deeply the tragedy and feelings, the torture and inner turmoil of the characters. And, oh the underling. Yep, I’m underlinging and writing in my book. With suicide still a factor due to the emotional struggle, the want or need for conformity, cultural expectations and constriction, and the void of acceptance (in some cases) of the individual, and society, it’s an important piece of literature. We’ve all heard, and understand on the surface, and empathize, but, we don’t live the pain and reality for some people as this book allows. I agree, that I wouldn’t say, “ I’m enjoying” it, but I’m grateful for it.


message 8: by Marie (new)

Marie (marieemonaghan) | 59 comments I’m halfway through this now, & I think it is a remarkable book so far - but so, so sad. The whole thing feels like the most ‘real’ portrayal of depression I’ve ever read. She’s acutely aware of her societal privilege, and struggling to understand how she can feel so unhappy with life at the same time.
“So what if these were just kids’ problems? Like hitting a patch of broken glass while biking, they could leave you fragile, and unable to speak.”
Can’t help but wonder how much the author has put of herself into the character of Lazi.

The relationship with Shui Ling is very interesting. The blurb on the back of the book describes “her fatalistic attraction to an older woman”, but in fact I think both women read as equally emotionally immature and on an equal power footing in the relationship. They are just both so self-absorbed and lacking in self-esteem. I would be interested to hear things from Shui Ling’s perspective.

Meng Sheng seems awful, so far, so I’m intrigued to see where his character will go.

I really like her observations on college and university life. Lazi & her friends seem to be in a state of arrested development. These are all people in their early twenties, but they sometimes seem to have the emotional maturity and interpersonal skills of teenagers. Is that just because of the time period, or the Taiwanese culture, or something else?

Stacey - I have also been doing lots of underlining and note-taking, which is really unusual for me!


message 9: by Jo (last edited Jul 19, 2018 10:42AM) (new)

Jo | 37 comments At first I thought this might be a difficult read, difficult in the sense of getting into but there is something compelling in it. There is the feeling that this isn’t going to end well for anyone in the book partly because of the opening scenes, perhaps partly because of the authors own history.

The way in which Lazi is obsessed with but then rejects Shui Ling, who I wouldn’t personally call an ‘older woman’, seems almost self-destructive and shows how she is torn between her love and her desire to be free in a society where there are so many familial and societal pressures. I agree with Marie that there is something almost teenager like in their behavior but I wonder if that’s because I am so far away from these years that I’ve forgotten what it’s like or perhaps, because there are so many more constraints and a rigid structure in Taiwan at this time that keeps them more helpless and immature? Qiu Miaojin does, however, show anxiety and depression really well in these characters, the feeling of being lonely while surrounded by people.

Final thought, the crocodile sections do confuse me a little. I’m assuming that Lazi is the crocodile and this is the queer part of her she has to hide but the news and articles written throw me off a bit. Can anyone enlighten me as to its symbolism a little more? Thanks


message 10: by Melanie (new)

Melanie | 338 comments Mod
Jo wrote: "At first I thought this might be a difficult read, difficult in the sense of getting into but there is something compelling in it. There is the feeling that this isn’t going to end well for anyone ..."

I think the crocodile symbolises that LBGTQ+ people who don't conform with the norm have to dress in human suits to go out so as to not attract most attention, because society is both fascinated with their life and yet at the same time is scared of them. The crocodile wishes people would take the time to get to know it because if they did they would realise that crocodiles are beautiful and not that scary.


message 11: by Jo (new)

Jo | 37 comments Thanks Mel, I found that Notebook five was more explicit about this which really helped but your explanation really clarified it for me.


message 12: by Susan (new)

Susan | 13 comments This month's read is wonderful. I can't add anything to the comments above other than to say the writing is excellent and so is the translation.


message 13: by Candace (new)

Candace | 53 comments It is definitely an interesting read and I’m glad to read it with you all as there is a lot to discuss and hear people’s reactions. The crocodile symbolism really allows for the reader to understand how Lazi feels and my heart goes out to her and the people she connects with. So many of them are depressed and alone and have hit the “wall of absurdity.” My book has the author bio in the beginning so I was sad to read about the author’s life.

I think the writing and translation is some of the best we’ve read so far.


message 14: by Stacey (new)

Stacey (modica03) | 82 comments Candace wrote: "It is definitely an interesting read and I’m glad to read it with you all as there is a lot to discuss and hear people’s reactions. The crocodile symbolism really allows for the reader to understan..."

I'm interested to hear your comments for the second half.


message 15: by Stacey (new)

Stacey (modica03) | 82 comments Jo wrote: "At first I thought this might be a difficult read, difficult in the sense of getting into but there is something compelling in it. There is the feeling that this isn’t going to end well for anyone ..."

Jo wrote: "At first I thought this might be a difficult read, difficult in the sense of getting into but there is something compelling in it. There is the feeling that this isn’t going to end well for anyone ..."

Marie wrote: "I’m halfway through this now, & I think it is a remarkable book so far - but so, so sad. The whole thing feels like the most ‘real’ portrayal of depression I’ve ever read. She’s acutely aware of he..."

I agree with many things shared here. The level of immaturity was arresting. It's a shame that all the characters had such a low level of self-awareness, but they Were struggling to understand themselves, and each other. I think coming to terms with their sexuality was but a piece, they faced, lack of self-awareness, mental instability, including depression, but also lack of self esteem, denial, and immaturity. What a deadly cocktail!

I perceived this to be semi-autobiographical, the parallels were far to coincidental. It's tragic she was devastated, it seems in every area of her life, and felt there wasn't any other option than death.

I conçur with Mel's statement about the simile of the crocodile being a suit they must wear to publicly adapt to societal norms. Only when they are locked in their rooms, or with the very few they trust can they remove their crocodile skin. It's interesting that even in the conformity representatively suit, they feel misunderstood, different, rare, and elusive.


message 16: by Britta (new)

Britta Böhler | 51 comments Sorry, I didn't manage to read & participate this month...


message 17: by Melanie (new)

Melanie | 338 comments Mod
Britta wrote: "Sorry, I didn't manage to read & participate this month..."

That's ok :) Hopefully, you can join in next month


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