ext_48823: 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything (Default)
[identity profile] sumofparts.livejournal.com
1. Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai
2. Mr. Muo's Traveling Couch by Dai Sijie (translated by Ina Rilke; white)
3. Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup
4. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley
5. The Circle of Reason by Amitav Ghosh

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tags: a: selvadurai shyam, a: dai sijie, w-t: rilke ina, a: swarup vikas, a: o'malley bryan lee, a: ghosh amitav, chinese, french, indian, canadian, sri lankan, novel, fiction, graphic novel, young adult, china, india, toronto, sri lanka, glbt, mysteryr
[identity profile] puritybrown.livejournal.com
46: The Vagrants by Yiyun Li

I find myself in two minds about this novel. It's undoubtedly a grand achievement: it takes an almost pointillist approach, building a picture of life in an industrial town in the People's Republic of China in 1979 by hopping around from character to character, showing us this person's daily routine, now this person's, now this person's; always letting us know something of their pasts, their hopes, their fears, and their illusions before moving on to the next one. The narrative voice is rather distant, and that's the only way something like this could have been made to work. If we were fully caught up in the minds of these characters, I expect the POV switches would have been wrenching and disorienting; the distance allows us to see all of what they do and feel and believe without getting lost.

I admired this novel; I enjoyed it. And yet while I turned the pages eagerly once I had the book in my hand, I didn't feel a need to go back to it once I'd put it down. There are a lot of momentous events in this novel, but -- perhaps because of the multitude of characters and the distant narrative voice -- there's not much sense of story. Things happen, one after the other, and you can even see the fuses being set (typically by accident, or otherwise unintentionally) that will end up being lit several chapters later. But for all that, I got the feeling that the omniscient narrator could continue to observe the inhabitants of Muddy River and tell me what they were doing and thinking and feeling for a hundred years without stopping. As I said, I don't think Li could have built and explored such a large cast of characters, and thereby created such a vivid sense of the complexity of the society she's writing about, without maintaining that narrative distance. But in making all of the characters equally important (even the ones who only appear for a paragraph), Li ends up making all of the events equally important as well, which leeches the novel of narrative drive and urgency.

Despite this, the novel is still very much worth reading -- for the excellent writing, for the fascinating characters, and for the glimpse of China during the period shortly after Mao's death, when the pro-democracy movement was first making its presence felt. I feel it's a successful book in many ways, even though I hesitate to call it a successful novel.

(tags: a: li yiyun, china, chinese-american)
[identity profile] puritybrown.livejournal.com
42: Sky Burial by Xinran

In two of her other books, Xinran mentions in passing Shu Wen, the elderly woman she ran into who was clearly Chinese in ethnicity but dressed in traditional Tibetan clothing -- a woman who had gone to Tibet in the 1950s to look for her husband, and spent over thirty years there. This is that woman's story, as told to Xinran. And: my God. What a story. I found it deeply, deeply moving, not just the sadness of Shu Wen's situation but the kindness and solidarity she encountered, even as a Chinese woman who had come to Tibet as a soldier during a period when Tibet was being conquered. I'm a sucker for stories about human goodness -- about people helping each other when they have nothing to gain -- and this book is chockfull of it.

I've noticed that one the characteristics of Xinran's writing is that she always strives to see the good in people, to dwell on kindness and compassion, and to ask: how can we care for one another better? In some respects this can be a little frustrating, when it seems she underestimates how hard it can be to get through to the people who cause suffering. In the case of this book in particular, Shu Wen's experience was such as to leave her ignorant of most of what went on in Tibet during her stay there; she didn't learn to speak Tibetan for a long time, and even when she learned the language, she spent most of her time with an isolated nomadic herding family, cut off from events elsewhere in the country. And so Sky Burial does not really address the damage done to Tibet by the Chinese government because Shu Wen didn't know about it; it wasn't relevant to her experience; and so Xinran is able to do what she does best: tell a human story. The politics are sort of there, in the background, out of focus, but this is not the book to read if you want to know about Tibetan history or politics or culture in a broader sense. I came away from it feeling privileged to have read this woman's extraordinary story, but eager to learn more about Tibet from a different (preferably Tibetan) point of view, so as to put Shu Wen's experience into perspective.

43: Reaching for the Stars by Lola Jaye

A short self-help book about achieving goals that seem out of your reach. Jaye is a novelist, apparently quite successful (though I've never read any of her novels), and by her own account her upbringing (though happy) was far from privileged, so her talk of the value of hard work and positive attitudes has a bit more weight than it might do from someone who got more of a head start. Actually, although it's not the best self-help book I've read[1] (it's a bit frothy -- basically an extended pep talk without much in the way of concrete advice), it's rather refreshing in some ways. A couple of times, Jaye mentions that you shouldn't assume that having a criminal record means you're condemned to the scrapheap -- it's not something she dwells on, just a passing aside, but it's the kind of aside I'm not used to seeing in this kind of book. Not enough to recommend it, but worth noting.

[1] Um. I read a slightly embarrassing number of self-help books so I have a pretty good basis for comparison.

(tags: black british, a: jaye lola, a: xinran, china, tibet, self-help)
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[identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
Title: How Tia Lola Came to Visit Stay
Author: Julia Alvarez
Number of Pages: 147 pages
My Rating: 3/5

Jacket Summary: When Miguel's Tia Lola comes from the Dominican Republic to Vermont to help out his Mami, Miguel is worried that his unusual aunt will make it even more difficult to make new friends. It's been hard enough moving from New York City and Leaving Papi behind. Sometimes he wishes Tia Lola would go back to the island. But then he wouldn't have the treats she's putting in his lunch box, which he's sure helped him make the baseball team. And she really needs his help to learn English so she doesn't use all the words she knows at once: "One-way -caution-you're-welcome-thanks-for-asking." So Miguel changes his wish to a new one, and he finally even figures out a clever way to make it come true.

Review: This is a kids' book and while it's cute and I liked it well enough, it's not really one of those kids' books that's terribly enjoyable for an adult. At least not to me.

Title: Ties That Bind, Ties That Break
Author: Lensey Namioka
Number of Pages: 154 pages
My Rating: 4/5

Jacket Summary: Third Sister in the Tao family, Ailin has watched her two older sisters having their feet bound. In China in 1911, all girls of good families follow this ancient practice, which is also an extremely painful one. Ailin loves to run away from her governess and play games with her male cousins. Knowing she will never run again once her feet are bound, she refuses to follow this torturous tradition. As a result, the family of her intended husband breaks their marriage agreement. As she enters adolescence, Ailin finds that her family, shamed by her decision, will no longer support her. Chinese society leaves few options for a single woman of good family, but with bold conviction and an indomitable spirit, Ailin is determined to forge her own destiny.

Review: I enjoyed this. It reminded me a lot of many turn-of-the-century girls' stories I read as a kid, like Anne of Green Gables and stuff.
pauraque: bird flying (Default)
[personal profile] pauraque
This was a book I picked at random off the Asian History shelf at the library, and as soon as I started reading I felt like I had waded in over my head. I had to stop and do some background reading to figure out exactly what the Cultural Revolution *was*. If you don't know, this book won't tell you -- it was written in Chinese for a Chinese audience, and it assumes that you know what the political situation was and who the major government players were. I did not, and I doubt a read-through of a few Wikipedia articles gave me the knowledge that a person should have to fully understand and assess this book.

That said, I read the book anyway. It was a disturbing and puzzling experience on several levels.

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To sum up, I don't think I can really recommend this. It has a few strong points and memorable scenes, and it may read better to someone more familiar with Chinese politics, but by the end I felt the author had painted himself as a cold-hearted bastard who never learns anything from his terrible experiences. I hope that isn't the truth, but it's what I got from his book.

(eta tags: a: ma bo, chinese, china, cultural revolution, memoir)
[identity profile] mizchalmers.livejournal.com
Hi! It's been an unforgivable eleven months since I last posted, so you've probably all forgotten me or had a generational change and transcended to become godlike beings, in which case, good for you! Try to be benevolent. Anyway! I didn't come close to reading 50 books last year or this, but my involvement in this community definitely changed my reading habits for the better, permanently, so, you know, thanks for that.

34. Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

In my defense I read this long before I realized there was going to be a film (which I will probably end up seeing anyway, because Keira Knightley's cheekbones, guh.) Strange, haunting setup as what seems to be no more than a slightly weird British boarding school novel turns into something science-fictional and appalling. I think it works brilliantly as a critique of late-capitalist society, in which we are all fungible body parts intentionally distracted by trivialities while being fed into the rotating knives. But then I always say that.

35. Nora K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Finished it. Didn't fly for me, not sure why, since everyone I know and respect adored it. Will try it again.

36. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Pitch-perfect on the revolting excess and absurdity of the Iraq war. An excellent companion piece to Rory Stewart's The Prince of the Marshes.

37. Gene Yang, Prime Baby

Having loved American Born Chinese with a fond love, I picked this up for Kid #1, who is a prime number enthusiast with a baby sibling. The book - which features an older brother figuring out that his baby sibling is an alien through her strategic deployment of primes - was an instant hit with its target demographic, and has since been taken up by Kid #2 in turn.

38. Kamila Shamsie, Burnt Shadows

Contrived Coincidence.

39. Mei Ling Hopgood, Lucky Girl

40. Jane Jeong Trenka, The Language of Blood

Nothing galvanizes your curiosity about transracial adoption like your best friend adopting transracially (unless, I guess, it is you that is adopting transracially. But I always get the two of us mixed up.) These two adult adoption memoirs are often recommended as point and counterpoint, which is a little unfair to Hopgood, an adult adoptee who was born in Taiwan. Her Lucky Girl is competent and her story extremely interesting, if sometimes too digressive (I am here for the reunion, I am not very interested in the geography of Taiwan right now) and too reliant on journalistic tricks (please do not telegraph your plot twists in advance, thanks, the management.) Hopgood ends up deciding she was better off adopted, which makes her book the darling of adoptive parents who don't really want to hear the bad news.

Trenka: not so much! Her circumstances are very different, for one thing. For another - and this is what makes the comparison unfair - while Hopgood is a perfectly serviceable reporter, Trenka is an extraordinarily gifted writer, and her story is harrowing on any number of levels. I finished The Language of Blood sitting in my favourite cafe with tears and snot running down my face, and it is still with me. Trenka engaged me far beyond my original need to know about international adoption and its injustices and outcome. I'll read everything she writes.

Bonus round! Whether you consider the following writers white or not probably depends on where you grew up. The Australia in which I grew up was so overwhelmingly white that people of Greek ancestry tended not to identify, or to be identified, as "Anglo." That hair-splitting racial tension is ever-present in The Slap and nowhere in Logicomix, not surprisingly, because the latter book is not Australian! But I couldn't figure out a consistent way to include or exclude these two until I decided to list them both as extras, and so here we are!

Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou, Logicomix

If you love mathematics and history and especially the history of mathematics, call me! Or at least walk over broken glass to get your hands on this beautiful, brilliantly-researched graphic novel, which follows the life of a personal hero of mine, Cambridge mathematician Bertrand Russell.

Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap

This book was big news when it was published in Australia last year, and then again in the UK when it was longlisted for the Man Booker. In the English reviews especially there was a lot of handwringing about how awful some of the characters are, especially the deliverer of the eponymous slap. This was very amusing to me, because those characters tended to be note-perfect depictions of the kinds of men I grew up with. Anyway, to conflate the author's opinion with that of a character he is clearly satirizing is to fail lit crit 101. Get on that, London reviewers! More substantial criticisms addressed the sometimes-flabby prose and the invariably-squicky sex scenes. But. But!

Tsiolkas means a lot to me. He has been publishing novels since I was a fresh-out-of-uni candy raver in Sydney. He started in the gay ghetto and this is his first real crossover novel, and I am probably overidentifying more than a little, but I found it quite exhilarating that a writer of more or less my exact generation could take on such an ambitious project and nearly, almost pull it off. It's flawed, sure, but it's picaresque and panopticonic and high realist and it's groping for a Dickensian or Trollopian critique of all of Australian society. I love the book for being at once unapologetically provincial and unashamedly serious. And yet it's also very funny. I'm rambling! But I liked it a lot! Maybe you would too!
gingicat: (geeky - library)
[personal profile] gingicat
I bought this book because I heard Ms. Min speaking about it on NPR:

This book follows the life of Pearl S. Buck, white author of The Good Earth, through the eyes of a life-long Chinese friend. This friend is fictional, based upon several people in Ms. Buck's life.

The narrator is definitely a self-insert character, but *not* a Mary Sue. She is, first and foremost, the person who believes that Pearl is as Chinese as she herself is.

Ms. Min grew up during the Cultural Revolution, and her deep bitterness at how Mao Tse-Tung and Madame Mao treated Pearl Buck and many other people beloved to the narrator is very evident. Nothing is whitewashed.

One thing I found interesting: unlike the characters in The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan, no-one in this book mentions foot-binding. It is unclear whether this is supposed to be because of the influence of Pearl's Christian missionary background, or whether the author, having no experience with it, simply left it out.

I liked the book. I liked it a lot. The images in it have stayed with me, and will for a long time. Apologies for the disorganized review.
ext_22487: Fangirl and proud (books!)
[identity profile] glinda-penguin.livejournal.com
I've been holding off on posting for a while as I had four books by Chinese authors out of the library and I wanted to review them all together. However, Beijing Coma is really interesting but really long so it'll be a while before I finish that and I have other books to write up.

In the Pond - Ha Jin

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Wild Ginger - Anchee Min

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The Garlic Ballads - Mo Yan

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Haroun and the Sea of Stories - Salmon Rushdie

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Low Fat Meals in Minutes - Ainsley Harriott

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[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com
A gorgeously illustrated and lively picture book retelling of the beginning of the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West. (One version of the latter here: The Monkey and the Monk: An Abridgment of The Journey to the West).

Given that it’s a picture book, it concludes once the companions are all assembled, with a note that the real story has only just begun. But it stands well on its own as a playful adventure with tons of action.

I shamefully confess that I haven’t yet read the original, though I have obtained the version I linked above, so I don’t know how accurate this version is. But it tells a good story and might be an easy introduction to the premise and the main characters.

Illustrated by L. K. Tay-Audouard.

Monkey: The Classic Chinese Adventure Tale
[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com
This picture book briefly and simply tells the stories behind some Chinese idioms and references, like “Yu Gong Moves the Mountains” and “A Man From Zheng Buys Shoes.” The illustrations, in very different styles as they’re by different artists, are great. My favorites are the elegant and intricate work on “Yu Gong Moves the Mountains” and the bright, playful watercolors of “The Fox Borrows the Tiger’s Power and Prestige.”

The stories are interesting (some were familiar to me and some were not), about a fox who tricks a tiger, an old man who enlists his family to move mountains, two archers who learn lessons in concentration and skill, and a fool story. The language is flat, but maybe that’s the translation.

The stories had endings which felt a bit abrupt to me, as if they needed one or two more sentences. It’s not that they didn’t conclude, but that they ended the instant the story did, without further reflection or any call-back to the idiom itself. Perhaps this is my unfamiliarity with how the stories work in the culture, though, and other readers would feel that we are supposed to draw our own conclusions or would already be intimately familiar with the meaning, and so anything more would be being insultingly spoon-fed. If you get this for a child who isn’t already familiar with the sayings, it might require some explanation and discussion afterward.

Illustrated by He Youzhi, Ding Xiofang, Wang Xiaoming, and Dai Dunbang.

Stories behind Chinese Idioms (II)
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
44. Jeniffer 8. Lee, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food

A pop non-fiction book covering pretty much every possible topic related to Chinese food in America. There are chapters on the origins of American-Chinese dishes (fortune cookies, chop suey, General Tso's chicken), a history of Chinese immigration to America, the risks taken by deliverymen (including a horrifying story of a deliveryman who got trapped in an elevator for several days, which I took the opportunity to retell when I was briefly stuck in an elevator myself last week, possibly terrifying the people stuck with me), the story of a family who buys a Chinese restaurant, people who have won the lottery using numbers from fortune cookies, and others. I think my favorite chapter was the one where Lee sets out to find the best Chinese restaurant in the world, outside of China itself.

Overall, this is a light, fun read. I have no idea how the book actually originated, but it reads a lot like Lee (who is a journalist) found some vaguely-related articles and reworked them into a book. Which is not necessarily a flaw; it makes for a very breezy book, which is sometimes what I'm in the mood for.
[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com
This illustrated history of Chinese emperors is rather hectic and hard to follow if you’re as ignorant of Chinese history as I am, as it’s a 180 page book which begins with the invention of fire and concludes with the Qing Dynasty. Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining introduction to a vast history.

Rather than attempting a summary, I will simply excerpt some of my favorite bits:

In particular, he [Shennong] is remembered for tasting hundreds of wild herbs in order to find remedies to treat his people’s illnesses. In the process, he suffered from poisoning, even to the extent of being poisoned 70 times on a particular day. Eventually, he tasted a lethal wild herb which tore his intestines apart, and it became known as duanchangcao*

*Herb that tears the intestines apart.

It may be said that the Qin Dynasty was destroyed by eunuch intervention.

This two-panel comic sequence should give you an idea of the “1000 years of history in 15 minutes” flavor of the book:

Panel 1: Emperor Gaozong (peeking into temple to meet Wu Zetian): “Dear, come back to the palace with me.”

Panel 2: Wu Zetian (with sheaf of papers): “I’ve drafted the 12 Guiding Principles for administrative, military, economic, social, and cultural affairs.”

Emperor Gaozong (holding hand over eyes): “I’m weak in health and have contracted an eye disease. You may decide any good policies.”

I note that there is a companion book, Infamous Chinese Emperors, which I sadly don’t own.

Compiled and Illustrated by Tian Hengyu. View on Amazon: Great Chinese Emperors - Tales of Wise and Benevolent Rule
[identity profile] mizchalmers.livejournal.com
28. K. Tempest Bradford, Until Forgiveness Comes

"I used to feel sort of bitter about the people who didn't stop to help the injured and, basically, stepped on them to get out. After that ritual I understood. It was hard not to bolt myself."
Disclosure: Tempest and I are co-bloggers at Geek Feminism, but we haven't met (alas! I am condemned to admire from afar.) "Forgiveness" is a ceremony and a wish-fulfillment fantasy and a serious argument about grief and morality. Above all, it is an effort to placate the angry ghosts in the wake of a terror attack, and to help the living and the dead grope their way towards, if not acceptance, peace. It's an admirably efficient and dense piece of world-building that uses the conventional shorthand of science fiction to shattering political effect. It reminds me a little of the good bits of Frank Herbert's Dune, but it's much better than that.

Now I have to go and read everything else of hers, and she, like all my other favourite short-story writers (Ted Chiang, Leonard Richardson, I'm looking at you) needs to go out and write me a space opera :)

29-30. Octavia Butler, Seed to Harvest and Lilith's Brood

Not that I have time in my life for any other space-operas of genius, not with all the Octavia Butler I have yet to read. I am proud to say I have gotten two middle-aged white men addicted to her works. She's now in my all-time top ten.

If "Fledgling" is about venture capital and "Seed to Harvest" about corporate personhood, limited liability, capitalism and the patriarchy, "Lilith's Brood" - also called the Xenogenesis series - is about rape. Butler tackles the matter from every angle: colonialism, slavery, domestic violence, learned helplessness, genetic engineering, resource exploitation and environmental collapse. Her alien invaders see themselves as benevolent; as behaving as compassionately as they can while obeying the dictates of their genetically-programmed manifest destiny. Her human characters see them as monsters, lovers, saviours and worms.

Her tales are told in her trademark cool, clear, judicious sentences. She gives all her characters agency and integrity. Her jeopardy is not contrived or exaggerated for effect. Instead it stems organically from the facts of the situation. It leaves you with a lump in your throat not unlike the one you may feel when contemplating the death of beloved elders, or studying critical history. She is a bleak writer but she never gives into despair, and the effect of her books, at least for me, is anything but dispiriting. Her clarity of vision gives me courage and stiffens my resolve.

31. Guillermo Rosales, The Halfway House

"I taught five peasants how to read," she confesses.

"Oh yeah? Where?"

"In the Sierra Maestra," she says. "In a place called El Roble."

"I was around there," I say. "I was teaching some of the peasants in La Plata. Three mountains from there."

"How long ago was that, my angel?"

I close my eyes.

"Twenty-two... twenty-three years ago," I say.

"Nobody understands that," she says. "I tell my psychiatrist and he just gives me strong Etafron pills. Twenty-three years, my angel?"

She looks at me with tired eyes.

"I think I'm dead inside," she says.

"Me too."
Now this was a devastating book. William Figueras, a thinly-veiled author avatar, stumbles into a filthy and corrupt community care facility in Miami, where he meets Frances. Both have been betrayed by Cuba, and both still yearn for connection and hope. Simply and vividly written, "Halfway House" evokes the streetscape of Miami, the anxiety of poverty and mental illness and the horror of institutional neglect. If you want your day just freakin' well made, know that this brilliant, unforgettable work was not published until after its author killed himself.

32. Chol Hwan Kang, The Aquariums of Pyongyang

North Korea is pretty much the worst place on earth's government is right down there with the worst in the world. It's the last real Stalinist dictatorship. There is no freedom; of assembly, of religion, of the press, nothing. Kang's book is one of only a handful of pieces of survivor testimony out of the massive concentration camp complex. It's an essential read.

Kang's grandparents were economic migrants from South Korea to Japan, where his grandfather became a successful capitalist while his grandmother became more and more involved in supporting the Communist regime in the North. Eventually she persuaded them to move to Pyongyang. Once there, of course, they could not leave, and predictably enough the capitalist grandfather eventually fell out of favour with the regime.

Among the many diabolical aspects of North Korea is its three-generation punishment policy. Because Kang's grandfather went to the camps, his grandmother, father and all his siblings were sentenced as well. His stories of life in the prison camps are all the more excruciating for their juxtaposition with his normal Westernized childhood in Japan and even his former privileged status in Pyongyang; hence the aquariums of the title. Totalitarian North Korea is not an exotic theme park. It is happening to people like you and me, right now. Go ahead and try not to be haunted by this book.

33. Ying Chang Compestine, The Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party

Repression doesn't have to be total to be horrible. This memoir of growing up in Mao's Cultural Revolution is packaged as a young adult read. It's pretty intense, and the thought of giving it to my daughter depresses me, but hey, it's a dark world out there. The writing is simple and lovely and one narrative twist in particular blindsided me like a whiplash.

(I didn't mean to have three fierce anti-communist screeds in one set of reviews, honest! I'm a very progressive European-style democratic socialist (forget the public option, go single-payer, America!) but I am for, you know, freedom and stuff. To be honest I suspect it's easier for writers of colour to get published if they're writing against nominally leftist regimes and can thus be positioned as poster-children for unregulated industrial capitalism. Saint Octavia, of course, transcends categorization of any kind :))
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
34. Cindy Pon, Silver Phoenix

A YA fantasy novel set in a world based on Chinese legends and history, the plot concerns Ai Ling's search for her father, teaming up with some people she meets on her travels, and finding out about her special destiny. I really enjoyed the vast, vast number of monsters and other supernatural creatures Ai Ling has encounters with; there was always another legend or story popping up, and that felt very fun to me. I also agree with many other reviewers who have said that all the eating scenes in this book are fantastic, and make you hungry. Totally true! Although it made me realize that most fantasies a) don't show the characters eating very often, and b) when they are, it's usually "stew". Or occasionally "bread and cheese". A little description goes a long way, authors!

On the other hand, I felt like the writing was a little flat, and that really prevented me from getting into the story as much as I might have otherwise. Still, a very fun read overall, and I'm looking forward to more books by the author.
[identity profile] sweet-adelheid.livejournal.com
#28 - Desmond Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness (1999, Rider & Co)
Appointed by Nelson Mandela to be co-Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up in South Africa following the transfer of power from the Nationalist Apartheid Government, Desmond Tutu writes in this book about the history leading to the Commission, the progress of the Commission itself, and his thoughts on forgiveness. Link here.

#29 - illustrated by David Diaz, Smoky Night, words by Eve Bunting (1994, Harcourt Brace)
The illustrations are stunning. The backgrounds are mixed media collage: including shards of glass one the page that mentions "smash and destroy", half-crushed rice cracker snacks on the page about the destruction of Mrs Kim's shop. Link here.

#30 - illustrated by David Diaz, Just One Flick of a Finger, words by Marybeth Lorbiecki (1996, Dial)
A beautiful example of the way picture books are meant to work (no matter what age group they are aimed at) and I credit a lot of that to Diaz' design and layout work in addition to his illustrations. Link here.

#31 - Adeline Yen Mah, China: Land of Emperors and Dragons (2008, Allen & Unwin)
It is a *very* basic introduction to Chinese history; very much an overview. It (allied with some Avatar-related posts I've been reading around LJ, and IBARW stuff) has made me realise how much I don't understand about China, and how I do tend to view the entire Imperial era as some sort of pretty fantasy "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" world. Which is a major failing on my part. Link here.

Tags needed: a: tutu desmond, a: mah adeline yen, i: diaz david, (and if we're still going to do whitefella tags, w-a: lorbiecki marybeth, w-a: bunting eve.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
29. Shan Sa, Empress. Translated from French by Adriana Hunter.

A novel based on the life of Wu Zetian (called Heavenlight in the novel), a woman born in China in 625 AD to a relatively obscure family, who rose to eventually become Empress of China- in her own right, not as a wife- and found her own dynasty. The novel, told in first person, covers every single event of Heavenlight's life, from before birth (this may be the only novel which includes a fetus's perspective I've ever read) until after her death. This comprehensiveness is my main complaint with the novel: there are only so many scandals, political power grabs, rebellions inside and outside of the court, and trouble with relatives I can read about before it all starts to sound the same and I stop caring about who is who. I think this would have been a much more interesting book if it had chosen one period and focused on it in detail, instead of trying to cover Heavenlight's entire life.

That said, I did enjoy this novel. The beginning especially had lots of beautiful descriptions and fascinating events. Heavenlight was raised at least partially as a boy, and her accounts of horseback riding were so evocative (Sa is a poet, which I'm sure accounted for the gorgeous language in some parts of the book). Her early days as a concubine in the court were also fascinating, particularly when she develops a relationship with one of the other women. Recommended, though I do warn that it is extremely similar in parts to Anchee Min's Empress Orchid (despite the books being based on two different historical figures).
[identity profile] sairaali.livejournal.com
I'm awful at doing writeups, so this list has just been sitting on my desktop for ages making me feel guilty for not doing writeups.

Soo, I will just put the list up with brief one-liners on whether I liked it or not, and I'd be happy to discuss more in comments.

5) Silver Pheonix by Cindy Pon
Fantasy, adventure, romance, dragons, goddesses, intrigue! What's not to love?

6) Bodies in Motion by Maryanne Mohanraj
This is more of a series of interrelated short stories than a novel. The stories follow three generations of two families who immigrate from Sri Lanka to the US. It portrays a mix of different immigrant experiences, although nearly all of the characters are solidly middle or upper-middle class. The style is very ethereal and dreamy.

7) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
This has been reviewed here a million times. I enjoyed it, but found the casual sexism a bit grating.

8) My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson
If I thought Oscar Wao had a few problematic scenes wrt to gender, holy wow, it was nothing compared to this. Neither the narrator nor any of the characters question the basic assumption that a woman needs a man to love her and that only a domineering man could possibly handle loving a strong independent woman. The story itself was well crafted and tightly written, but I couldn't get past the sexism.

9) Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor
Love! A young girl with the ability to speak to shadows struggles with her community's distrust and fear of female Shadow Speakers, a result of her estranged father's dictatorial and regressive policies. When her father is publicly beheaded, her world is turned inside out, and she embarks on a quest of self-discovery that takes her far away from home, during which she discovers a major military plot against her home.

Girls with cat eyes! Talking camels! Magic plants that grow into houses! A girl meets a strange orphan boy with his own powers and secrets on her quest without a queasy romance subplot being introduced! Again, what's not to love?

10)And the World Changed: Contemporary Stories by Pakistani Women Ed: Muneez Shamshie
Definitely would recommend this. Like any anthology, some of the stories are so-so, some are fantastic.

And I know this comm is focused on books by POC, but I know there are a bunch of SFF fans here and I'd like to make some anti-recs. I found the following books at the $1 ARC sale at Wiscon, and I suggest giving them all a miss for skeevy race issues.
Stone Voice Rising by C Lee Tocci - pseudo-Natives with magic powers just for being Native, and also misappropriational mishmash of at least six different tribes' religious beliefs, that I could recognize. Kokopelli become Popokelli, a demented fae creature who betrays his species and sells out to the (literal) Devil.
Kop and Ex-Kop by Warren Hammond - Locals on a backwater economically depressed planet are being murdered by a serial killer from the orbiting space station, which has technology centuries advanced of what is available planetside. Oh and incidentally, all the space dwellers have perfect milky white skin and the planet dwellers are all dark. Bleck.
[identity profile] osprey-archer.livejournal.com
Amy Tan's The Kitchen God's Wife has all the things I've come to expect from an Amy Tan book - well-formed characters, graceful prose, a solid grasp of history - but it adds, finally, a cracking good plot to tie the whole thing together.

The bulk of the book takes place in the 1930s and 40s in China, during and after the Japanese invasion, which certainly provides a good framework for the story. The descriptions of China are effortlessly evocative - there's no sense, as there often is in historical fiction, that Tan is attempting to shoehorn in references to all the main events of the time.

But the story doesn't use the excitement of its setting as a crutch. The main character, Weiwei, and her relationships with her cruel first husband, her difficult friend Hulan, and (eventually) her second husband are the heart of the narrative and the driving force of the book. The result is always compelling, occasionally depressing (I don't mean this as a criticism; it's realistic and necessary), and sometimes unexpectedly beautiful.

This story is book-ended by a modern day interlude involving Weiwei's American born daughter, Pearl. In fact, Weiwei's story is presented as a story that she's telling Pearl. I'm of two minds about the framing device; on the one hand the first, modern-day chapters are easily the worst part of the book (really, the only boring part of the book), and it saddens me to think of readers turning away before they get to the good part.

But on the other hand, by the end the framing device has become so exquisitely intertwined with the story proper, and so necessary to the book's emotional resonance, that I really can't wish any changes in it except perhaps harsher editing of the first few chapters.

In short: an excellent book, highly recommended. There is some violence, sexual and otherwise (this is World War II, after all), but it's not graphic.
[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com
A completely charming introduction to Chinese food culture, cooking theory, history, and folklore, thoroughly illustrated and told partly in comic book form.

I can’t guarantee the accuracy of the entire thing, but the material that I did recognize didn’t contradict what I already knew (except for the part that said that in America, tofu is sometimes used to make wedding cakes, which is probably true for some couple somewhere on cake wrecks), and the illustrations certainly have that meticulously researched look.

It begins with the discovery of cooking, when unhappy Early Men, often subject to stomach aches, find a burned goat after a forest fire: “Indeed, it smells good and it’s easy to chew, too.” The ensuing whirlwind tour of Chinese foodways touches on Confucius’s ten perfections of Chinese cuisine (like many key terms, these are helpfully shown in hanzi as well as English), banquet etiquette, superstitions and songs about chopsticks, regional cuisine, which foods should not be eaten together, and a great many anecdotes in comic book form about the origin of various foods, including one in which the ubiquitous Zhuge Liang improves his soldiers’ morale via a meat dumpling shaped like an enemy’s head. (There’s another story in which a guy shapes dough into the form of a tyrannical minister and fries it.)

Many of the food origin stories follow this pattern: Political problem; new dish invented; new dish cures ailing person, improves morale, or is used to metaphorically illuminate the political situation; political problem solved!

Yi Yin once carried his cooking utensils and used cooking methods and flavorings to persuade King Cheng Tang to take up leadership of the state and successfully overthrow the corrupt Xia Dynasty.

Comic book Yi Yin, magisterial: “Every food item has unique qualities. You are only the king of a small state. You can’t possibly sample all of the delicacies of this great land. You have to take control of all China, and become the emperor to possess everything.

A tremendously entertaining read in its own right, but also an excellent springboard for further study of Chinese food culture.

Check it out on Amazon: Origins Of Chinese Food Culture


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