sumofparts: picture of books with text 'books are humanity in print' (books)
[personal profile] sumofparts
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

Cut for length )
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Beware of spoilers:

This novel will cut you.

There are only a handful of novels that I can remember affecting me so strongly that I had to put them down while I was reading them, the words on the page too much to handle. One of them was Alice Walker's The Color Purple. The most recent is Sapphire's 1996 novel Push.

The basic plot of the book should be familiar to anyone who was paying attention during last year's Oscar season when the movie adaptation, "Precious" swept through the awards circuit. A young teenager named Precious who is illiterate, unloved and sexually abused, pushes through her circumstances in order to find, if not happiness, then a little bit of hope, a sliver of light in a well of darkness.

Continue... )
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#25. This Bridge Called My Back, ed. Cherríe Moraga & Gloria Anzaldúa
1981/'83, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press

This is another book that is so full of... ideas and thinking and newness, and that has so many visions and so much emotion in it, and that contains both so much I can identify with and so much that seems deeply foreign -- I don't mean only the experiences and attitudes of the women who wrote it, but also, which is harder for me to assimilate, the lens through which they view the world: the moment of history, cultural and political, in which thy formulated these ideas and these manifestoes -- that I feel overwhelmed when I try to think about posting a review of it.

But I also feel kind of like a coward for backing out of reviewing it. What to do? I think I will let it simmer for a while. I may also read the much more recent companion book to it (this bridge we call home, used, I see, as an icon for this group ;), and see if that helps me understand, and bridge the thirty years of historical difference between these women and me.

[tags I would add if I could: assimilation, sociology, spirituality [or: religion/spirituality], puerto rican, a: morales rosario, a: rushin donna kate, a: wong nellie, a: lee mary hope, a: littlebear naomi, a: lim genny, a: yamada mitsuye, a: valerio anita, a: cameron barbara, a: levins morales anita, a: carillo jo, a: daniels gabrielle, a: moschkovich judit, a: davenport doris, a: gossett hattie, a: smith barbara, a: smith beverly, a: clarke cheryl, a: noda barbara, a: woo merle, a: quintanales mirtha, a: anzaldua gloria, a: alarcon norma, a: combahee river collective, a: canaan andrea, a: parker pat] 

(Also, apropos of nothing: Whoo! Halfway through! This book feels like an appropriate one for that milestone.)

ext_48823: 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything (Default)
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Description (The New Yorker via
Desai's second novel is set in the nineteen-eighties in the northeast corner of India, where the borders of several Himalayan states—Bhutan and Sikkim, Nepal and Tibet—meet. At the head of the novel's teeming cast is Jemubhai Patel, a Cambridge-educated judge who has retired from serving a country he finds "too messy for justice." He lives in an isolated house with his cook, his orphaned seventeen-year-old granddaughter, and a red setter, whose company Jemubhai prefers to that of human beings. The tranquillity of his existence is contrasted with the life of the cook's son, working in grimy Manhattan restaurants, and with his granddaughter's affair with a Nepali tutor involved in an insurgency that irrevocably alters Jemubhai's life. Briskly paced and sumptuously written, the novel ponders questions of nationhood, modernity, and class, in ways both moving and revelatory.

My Impressions
I can't say I liked the book as a story but I enjoyed the writing in isolated doses. There is a lot of detail that I was fascinated and drawn in by. I really get a sense of place in both settings - the 'grimy Manhattan restaurants' and the spaces illegal immigrants inhabit; and the isolation and emptiness of the house and the inner workings of the community in the Himalayas both for the rich 'outsiders' who have made their home here and the poorer locals. I also get a sense of the head-space of the various characters - their emotional turmoil, guilt, worry, obligations, etc. This was the first book that I read for this challenge for which I felt I needed to take notes. There were just so many thought-provoking passages and lines throughout, especially about "the consequences of colonialism and global conflicts of religion, race, and nationalism" (from back cover). There were also passages and lines that were just beautifully written and evocative. Somehow despite all this, the book left me cold. I just couldn't bring myself to care all that much for the plot or the majority of the characters. It always felt like there was a barrier, like this was all distant and far-off and somehow not compelling enough. Add all this to the fact that this is not a happy book. Possibly spoiler-y ) Overall, I admire the book but couldn't enjoy it fully.
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A Small Place, Jamaica Kincaid
1988.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux

I am a fan of Jamaica Kincaid.  In the last year or so I have read her books At the Bottom of the River, Annie John, and Lucy, and got a lot out of each of them.  I was looking forward to reading A Small Place because I was looking forward to learning more about Antigua, the Caribbean island she comes from.  (Both Annie John and At the Bottom of the River are set on Antigua, but since they are pretty much in the mind of a first-person narrator, who is usually a child, there is not the kind of distance that you'd need to be _told about_ Antigua -- the kind of political, historical, or sociological things about it that might be interesting to a grown-up North American reader.)

I am disappointed in A Small Place, partly because... I'm not sure what the book wants to be.  I've seen it described as a "travelogue," and also as a "jeremiad."  The first section, or chapter (like many of Kincaid's books, it is very short: 80 pages of large, clear print), starts off in second-person: it is telling "you," the traveller, what to expect when you arrive in Antigua.  The next two sections are in first person, with many recollections of Kincaid's early life in Antigua, which move out and away to analysis of what the problems of the island are (the second section considers mostly colonialism and slavery, the third the island's desperate political corruption.)  There is also a very short fourth section, which feels sort of tacked on for closure. 

I guess I feel as if the book is not very tight or well-held together, in spite of its size -- and a small book needs that even more, doesn't it?  Although her fiction is also full of digressions, I feel as if they work and shape to a larger whole.  A Small Place is strangely imbalanced, though: analysis, personal recollection, anger carrying the writer away.. Part of the issue, maybe, is that she seems to sort of be writing around or even trying to get at certain ideas and concepts which have, I think, been formulated more concisely and forcefully by various other post-colonialist theorists and writers.   But Kincaid does not want to seem to avail herself of any of that language or intellectual discourse, and so it feels as if she is lurching at things and coming up short.  (It feels odd and audacious to level this criticism at Jamaica Kincaid, whose intellect is profound and formidable and whose writing sometimes borders on genius.  But nonetheless, that is how the book made me feel.)

Despite that, there were entire passages I want to copy out to think about and remember. )
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The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

I really haven't read much of Toni Morrison's work.  (Another good reason for me to sign on for this project.)  I read The Bluest Eye many years ago, I believe -- someone probably made me do it for school -- and that was it, I think, until a year and a half ago when I read Beloved.  Now, Beloved is brilliant, and it also is intriguing to me on a number of levels: i am extremely interested in literature of the fantastic, and in American literature of the fantastic in particular, and this book does a truly fascinating job of balancing the-real with the-symbolic and the-obviously-not-literally-possible.  Anyway, I agree with the general consensus that it is a great book.  Often painful, sometimes disturbing, occasionally moving; and great.

The Bluest Eye is not a great book.  I mean, analyzing it, that is OK; it doesn't have to be.  It was Morrison's first published novel (Beloved wouldn't appear for almost another twenty years), and in many ways the writer seems to be experimenting to see how she can fit her message, her characters, her narrative momentum, her symbolism, her plot -- how she can make them all fit together.  She doesn't succeed in every respect. 

The book is, still, interesting.  And written in prose that is both spare and beautiful (which happens to be a combination that I admire greatly).  It is also extremely painful, which is probably, in retrospect, one reason I have unthinkingly shied away in post-high-school life from Morrison's books: painfully realistic, and painfully... painful.  Can I mention that there is more than one scene in which an innocent must watch an animal brutally destroyed?  That is the most graphic violence -- even the rape is less graphic; the many episodes of psychic and emotional violence are clear and precise but less physical (though I might not say less visceral).  It's not really a pleasant experience, this book.  You feel poverty and it is painful; you feel the frustration of racial discrimination and it is painful; you see how these two elements, prejudice and poverty, bend mothers to hurt their children, bend children to hurt each other, bend young people's developing ideas in ways that hurt themselves.  And it's really... It hurts a lot.  It's a horrible feeling, really.  If the book's prose weren't so well-turned, there wouldn't be enough to keep you invested, to keep you going, and one would only read this, I think, if required to do so in school, or if setting oneself to a project of learning, or as a kind of penance.  That is, if one were like me.

What can I say about this?  This book was difficult to read.  Have I learned the lesson I was supposed to learn?  What was Toni Morrison trying to tell me in this?  What do you think?


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Writers of Color 50 Books Challenge

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