sumofparts: picture of books with text 'books are humanity in print' (books)
[personal profile] sumofparts posting in [community profile] 50books_poc
I finished my second set of 50, yay and started a new set. Below are some thoughts on the books.

Remainder of second set:
39. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
40. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee
41. Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice
42. Zone One by Colson Whitehead
43. The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
44. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
45. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
46. Snakes and Ladders by Gita Mehta
47. The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee
48. Beijing Confidential by Jan Wong
49. Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre
50. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
New set:
1. Decoded by Jay-Z

39. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Certain emotions and experiences definitely resonated with me (e.g., being a child of immigrants, changing relationships with parents as one grows older) and the writing was uniformly lovely and not overly flowery or emotionally manipulative. I especially liked the changes in narration and perspective in the second part of the collection (consisting of three linked stories); I thought it was an effective technique for the story the author was telling. Overall, I really enjoyed the collection.

40. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee
I really enjoyed the author's book Native Speaker but did not like this one at all. I think I kind of understand the story the author is trying to write about a man who is looking back on the life he's lived but because so much hinges on the main character, I couldn't get into it. The protagonist is a Japanese man of Korean birth, who served as a medic for the Japanese army during WWII. During that time he fell in love with a Korean woman who was forced to be a "comfort woman" during the war. Content notes: there are descriptions of the treatment/injuries she and other women suffered, including rape. In the present day (the 1990s), he is a retired storeowner (medical supplies) living alone in a small American town and estranged from his adopted Korean daughter. The book is him reflecting on his "gesture life" of being courteous, hardworking, quiet, careful and never causing trouble, especially once he's moved to the US. With the unreliable, overly formal and distant first-person narration and with the disturbing events in the novel and the protagonist's role in them, this was a very uncomfortable read.

41. Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice
I needed a palate cleanser of sorts after A Gesture Life. This one fit the bill in terms of totally different content; it's the story of a grad student in her mid-twenties who is estranged from her formerly alcoholic and negligent mother and returns for a stay after getting into a sort-of depressive funk. While I felt some of the interaction seemed played up for dramatic effect, it all still felt grounded enough in reality. I enjoyed the book.

42. Zone One by Colson Whitehead
This was a book that while interesting and enjoyable wasn't exactly compelling. The book takes place after an apocalypse in which a lot of the human population is infected/killed by a plague that makes its hosts zombies essentially (though never called that explicitly). I really admire the author's writing, especially the imagined aftermath (e.g., survivors of major corporations becoming sponsors and providing goods, survivors on the run sharing "Last Night" stories, the different forms of PASD or Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, pronounced 'past') and wanted to like this book more but it still left me cold. Maybe it was the subject matter and/or plot or maybe that was the intention in that there was never a lot of open emotion from the main character, possibly because of his circumstances but I could never get a good read on the character. This was part of the issue I had with the other book I read by the author, Apex Hides the Hurt. I would definitely still recommend this and will try some of his other books.

43. The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
This is a YA novel about a teenager during the summer after his senior year. He's gay but not out yet, his "boyfriend" doesn't publicly acknowledge him and his parents' relationship is on its last legs. Then he meets and falls in love with someone who triggers changes in his outlook.

I enjoyed the book and liked that the author didn't sugarcoat the homophobia the characters faced but also didn't give all the gay characters a bleak existence (though the ex-boyfriend later dies in a collision, strongly hinted to be self-inflicted). I did find it weird that the new boyfriend, who is supportive and open and a generally nice person is given such short shrift by the story/protagonist. After the ex-boyfriend dies, he's just kind of dropped.

44. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
This is about an 8-year-old girl who is sort of a loner, has a vivid imagination, who sometimes has panic attacks and mood swings and who is biracial. She meets another little girl in whom she finds a friend, sort of a kindred spirit, until she realizes that there's more to her new friend.

I liked this book. It had an interesting premise and I thought the author was good at both showing us the protagonist's POV and showing us the way she's perceived by others and using that disconnect to sometimes spooky effect. A minor quibble: I didn't quite understand some of the mythology though in terms of why/how the twin/spirit was able to manipulate time and space.

45. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
I am a fan of the author even though he's only written a couple books. This novel is actually 6 related stories which I think works on the whole. I was able to overlook the sometimes stilted tone of the narrator (parts of the book are in journal form and the rest I think is the protagonist recounting the story to an unidentified audience) but I couldn't quite believe the narrator is always in the right place at the right time to overhear a lot of the significant conversations that drive the stories.

The author interweaves the coming-of-age story of the protagonist with the conflict in Sri Lanka and how it affected the protagonist and his family, which I found informative. I liked that he touched on the privilege of the richer people in how their actions sometimes harmed others though the story is definitely from a privileged perspective.

The funny boy of the title is the protagonist; he's "funny" as in gay. I liked the way the author wrote about the protagonist coming to terms with his sexuality and describing his emotional turmoil about the ways he is different and not what is expected by his family and society.

46. Snakes and Ladders by Gita Mehta
A collection of essays published in 1997, the 50th anniversary of India's independence from the UK. Not sure what I expected from the essays to be honest but from the book description, they were intended to be "glimpses of modern India". Some of the pieces feel dated or at least like they're missing the next part and I'd like to find an "update" from the last 15 years since the book was published. I think the strongest pieces were about the author's personal experiences. Overall, it was a good primer but seemed to try to be both a history and personal take on India which didn't work for me; the message felt muddled and maybe that's why I had trouble finishing it. The author did introduce me to other writers who I'd like to check out though.

I did try to read Arundhati Roy's Listening to Grasshoppers after this book but was unable to finish.

47. The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee
This was about three generations of a family in Vancouver's Chinatown. I've been meaning to read more about Vancouver since I visited earlier this year but I was also wary of reading this particular book because I thought I knew what it was going to say about the Chinese Canadian experience in Vancouver.

I was pleasantly surprised and found the book compelling and moving, although there were parts I didn't enjoy, e.g., the beginning was slow-going; there were times when I wanted to yell at the characters for not seeing their own dysfunction; the episodic nature mostly worked but there were times when it didn't feel like the whole book tied together especially with the third generation; one of the characters has sex with dubious consent bordering on rape. I agree with one review I've read (review of the book at the Quill and Quire) that it's not mining new "narrative territory" but I didn't find the book cliched or stereotypical. I also agree that there doesn't seem to be any reconciliation between the "East" and "West". However, I would read more of the author's books in future.

48. Beijing Confidential: A Tale of Comrades Lost and Found in the New Forbidden City by Jan Wong
Interesting look at how Beijing and China have changed since the Cultural Revolution as well as telling the story of the author's search for a person she reported to the authorities when she was studying at Beijing University in the 1970s and the story of that person's life after being turned in. The book was published in 2007 and between that time and when I visited Beijing in October 2011, there seemed to be more changes so some of the observations already felt a little dated but the book also opened my eye to things I hadn't noticed since I was getting a much more distant view (I was with a tour group while the author had friends taking her around and had lived in Beijing for longer periods of time). Also, some of the author's observations in comparing Toronto and Beijing seemed off from my perspective (I'm also from Toronto); I think this could be partly because she was making observations assuming a certain audience.

49. Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen Aguirre
Book description from the Goodreads entry: A gripping, darkly comic first-hand account of a young underground revolutionary during the Pinochet dictatorship in 1980s Chile.

I've been meaning to read this book all year and I'm glad I read it because it was really eye-opening and made me realize how much I take for granted. I liked how the author described her life as a revolutionary, "warts and all", and admire her and her family for their commitment and the sacrifices they had to make for the cause. In terms of the book being "darkly comic", I do think it was actually funny in places (for example, in the juxtaposition of what a "normal" girl growing up would expect to experience versus what the author experienced, specifically how matter-of-fact her mom is, and in the author pointing out the irony of certain middle-class "revolutionaries" who continue to enjoy their comfortable lifestyle and privilege) but the darkness is definitely there. It was also a good primer for me on what was (is?) happening in South America in terms of the larger political story/battles and also in the daily reality, e.g., the extreme prejudice against the indigenous people, poor people, etc.

50. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
The story is about, Nazneen, a woman who moves from Bangladesh to London, England in an arranged marriage at age 18, while her sister, Hasina, runs away at age 16 for a love marriage. Later, in her early 30s, Nazneen has an affair with a "handsome young radical...[which] throws her old certainties into chaos" (from the back cover). Most of the story takes place in London, specifically in the housing project where Nazneen and her family lives but are interspersed with letters from Hasina, who runs away from her love marriage because her husband was beating her and tries to live as an unaccompanied woman in the city; it does not go well for her (content notes: there are no graphic descriptions but Hasina is raped). I admired the author's writing which is descriptive, poetic and detailed although some details are a little much, for example, when describing Nazneen having to cut her husband's corns off or trim his nose hairs. There are also some funny parts in the book. For example, the husband, Chanu, in trying to "direct his outrage", tells his daughters one day to wear trousers to school because he wanted them covered to show he "would not be cowed by these Muslim-hating peasants" and another day, to wear skirts because he saw girls go by in hijabs and was "agitated at their display of peasant ignorance". Overall though, I felt the book was draggy and I had trouble finishing it; at a sentence or scene level, the book was fine but it felt like that were too many disparate parts and it all didn't quite gel for me. I did find the article included in my edition more enlightening and it contributed to my enjoyment of the book. The article is titled "The Outrage Economy" (article from The Guardian newspaper published in October 2007).

1. Decoded by Jay-Z
This book is a collection of the lyrics from some of the songs Jay-Z has written with explanations and commentary for each, interspersed with longer sections/pieces that are part-memoir and part-history. I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I am by no means a hip hop fan especially since I hardly pay attention to lyrics in any songs but actually reading the lyrics and explanations really helped me see a lot more of what is behind the songs and where they're coming from and to better understand hip hop as an art and a form of expression. The author is very thoughtful and doesn't seem to sugarcoating his past or the motivations behind any of the songs. I especially enjoyed finding out about the wordplay and layered meanings he puts into his songs. Content notes: the lyrics use the n-word, etc. I read the ebook version so I was able to switch back and forth between the lyrics and notes with links but I'm not sure how that's rendered in the print version.

Tags (there are additional ones that I didn't add to the entry but have included in the body of the post):
39. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
genre(s): literary fiction, format: short stories, author nationality/ethnicity: indian american, subject(s)/theme(s): immigration, author misc: female
40. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee
genre(s): literary fiction, historical fiction, format: novel, author nationality/ethnicity: korean american, subject(s)/theme(s): immigration
41. Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice
genre: literary fiction, format: novel, author nationality/ethnicity: african american, subject(s)/theme(s): mother-daughter bond, author misc: female
42. Zone One by Colson Whitehead
genre: literary fiction, science fiction, format: novel, author nationality/ethnicity: african american, subject(s)/theme(s): zombies
43. The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
genre: young adult, format: novel, author nationality/ethnicity: african american, subject(s)/theme(s): coming of age, glbt
44. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
genre: literary fiction, fantasy, format: novel, author nationality/ethnicity: nigerian british, author misc: female
45. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
genre: literary fiction, historical fiction, format: novel, author nationality/ethnicity: sri lankan canadian, subject(s)/theme(s): coming of age, glbt, author misc: gay
46. Snakes and Ladders by Gita Mehta
genre: non fiction, format: essays, author nationality/ethnicity: indian, author misc: female
47. The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee
genre: literary fiction, historical fiction, format: novel, author nationality/ethnicity: chinese canadian, subject(s)/theme(s): immigration, author misc: female
48. Beijing Confidential by Jan Wong
genre: non fiction, author nationality/ethnicity: chinese canadian, subject(s)/theme(s): cultural revolution, author misc: female
49. Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre
genre: non fiction, format: memoir, author nationality/ethnicity: chilean canadian, subject(s)/theme(s): coming of age, political revolution, author misc: female
50. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
genre: literary fiction, format: novel, author nationality/ethnicity: bangladeshi british, subject(s)/theme(s): immigration, author misc: female
New set:
1. Decoded by Jay-Z
genre: non fiction, author nationality/ethnicity: african american, subject(s)/theme(s): music, poverty, hip hop

Date: 2013-01-13 09:14 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
Felt the same way roughly about Zone One. For what it's worth, his other novels that I've read, The Intuitionist and John Henry Days, are both less emotionally distant than Zone One or Apex Hides the Hurt.

http://50books-poc.dreamwidth.org/390686.html
http://50books-poc.dreamwidth.org/384908.html
http://community.livejournal.com/50books_poc/309634.html
http://community.livejournal.com/50books_poc/328241.html

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