inkstone: the cover of an old book with ragged edges next to some flowers (reading: old books)
[personal profile] inkstone
This is a debut young adult novel and is that rare breed of dystopian that's more action-driven in terms of the plot. Think more Hunger Games, less Delirium.

The basic set-up is that some catastrophe happened and in the aftermath, the western coast of the U.S. broke off and formed the Republic. The Republic is under the totalitarian rule of a dictator who's been in power for 44 years. The Republic is at constant war with the Colonies. I never quite figured out who the Colonies were -- I couldn't tell if they meant a different country (like Mexico or Canada) or if they meant the rest of what was once the United States. I'm thinking the latter but it's never explicitly spelled out although I could have missed it. There are also these rebels called Patriots, who believe the United States once existed. (In this reality, everyone thinks the United States is just a legend and never existed.)

The story is about the Republic prodigy, June Iparis. She scored a perfect 1500 on the test that essentially determines the rest of her life and is well on her way to having a distinguished career in the military. But when her brother, a military officer, dies in the line of duty, she graduates early and becomes the youngest detective agent ever. To test her, they send her after Day, the Republic's most infamous criminal, who's in desperate straits because his younger brother has been infected by the plague. (The plague is a highly mutable virus that sweeps through the slums on an annual basis.)

The book is pretty predictable. Though I can see why it'd be considered pretty original if the other books in its category are more introspective and emotionally driven like Delirium, Matched, and Wither. But despite the fact I could pretty much tell where we were going, I did enjoy reading it.

I wish we could see have seen more done with the genetic engineering being conducted by the Republic's regime. The way it's handled here is kind of throwaway but it really shouldn't be since it's the main reason why June and Day are on opposite sides of the law!

My other complaint has to do with the fact that, of course, it's the guy (Day) who's right about things and it's the girl (June) who needs to be enlightened in order to get onto the right path. It'd be nice if we could have that plot point gender-reversed once in a while. I'm failing to think of a YA book where it's the guy who's aligned with the sketchy, evil people and the girl who's just trying to do what's right.

On a side note, Day is biracial (Asian/white) and so is June. (Day thinks June is part Native -- which I assume means Native American and would support how her hair is constantly described in the book.) Their race has no bearing on the story but I thought I'd mention it.
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[personal profile] annwfyn
'The Taming of Mei Lin' by Jeannie Lin

This isn't really a novel - it's more of a short story - so I feel like a bit of a cheat adding this. However, I'm lazy and therefore willing to do this.

First of all, this story is a bit of a spin off to 'Butterfly Swords' and is the story of Ai Li's grandmother and grandfather, who are mentioned in that novel, and if you're a 'Butterfly Swords' fan, it's probably worth reading for that. If you haven't read 'Butterfly Swords' or didn't enjoy it, I'm not so sure I'd recommend it.

I mean, it's not bad, it just feels a lot more generic. Yes, the setting is still a historical China, which is cool, but I felt that far less effort had gone into creating the texture and flavour that I adored in 'Butterfly Swords'. As well as that, the characters were infinitely less interesting, and I honestly found the hero quite generic. A lone brooding duellist, captured by a spunky young heroine? Really? Goodness, that's original!

I'm being harsh, I know, especially as it is only a short story and there isn't really as much room to build up the setting as there would be in a full length novel. I also suspect that because I enjoyed 'Butterfly Swords' so much, I've set the bar much higher and I probably should be kinder, but I'm a harsh person and don't want to give Jeannie Lin too much of a 'get out of jail free' card, because I know she's capable of so much more.


'Ash' by Malinda Lo

This novel is the novel that I think proves Father Christmas exists.

No, really. How else could it be that someone could write an awesome young adult lesbian fairytale romance, featuring two kick arse heroines, some fairies, awesome world building and a happy ever after filled with adventure and the promise of more awesome things they can do together? I mean, that doesn't just happen, does it?

I adored Ash from start to finish, and my only sadness about this book is that it wasn't around when I was a teenager. It reminds me a little of a non-hetero Robin McKinley novel - it takes a very traditional fairy story (in this case, Cinderella) and reworks it absolutely beautifully.

I would recommend this absolutely and wholeheartedly, and I am fighting back the urge to say that if you don't like it at all, you are dead inside, have no soul, and I pity you.

Um. Apparently I didn't fight back the urge that well, did I?
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[personal profile] alias_sqbr
I stopped counting books when I realised it was making reading feel like a chore. While I've read a lot of manga I realised I'd never read any novels by Japanese people, so I decided to make a special effort to do so.

Under the cut:
Meanwhile by Jason Shiga
Aya by Margauerite Aboue
The Manga Guide to Databases by Mana Takahashi
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa
Twelve Kingdoms: Shadow of the Moon by Fuyumi Ono
Harboiled and Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto

Read more... )
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The Lifecycle of Software Objects may be a novella, but its story stretches out over years, with Chiang providing a compelling narrative which leads us through the early years in the life of several digients, i.e. computer software avatars imbued with artificial intelligence. The story begins with their creation and development as overseen by two people who work at Blue Gamma, the company that creates them: Ana and Derek. Both are impressed with the technology and quickly become attached to the childish avatars. While the digients are a success, their popularity is short-lived. Being first generation digients they quickly become unpopular and out-moded. While most are quick to abandon their digients, Ana and Derek adopt some and develop a child-parent bond with these cyber creatures, eventually proving they will do almost anything to ensure their safety even as the online world limits their choices.

There is a curious lack of sensory detail in the book. This has been a frustrating feature of Chiang's previous work, but the absence is particularly felt here, when the differences between the flatness of the online world and the richness of the real world is made so apparent. In Chiang's world the digients are able to transcend the online world by downloading their software into a robot body which allows them to interact with their trainers in a new way. Ana, training her future digient adoptee, is hugged by him in his robot form, an obviously emotional moment. Later the narrator notes that Not surprisingly, the sensor pads in the robot's fingers are the first thing that needs replacement. In the world of the novella, the avatars become enchanted by the real world, craving time in the robot suit so that they can feel. Unfortunately, Chiang's world is devoid of any richness in detail which leaves an uncomfortable void running through the novella. There are also some truly terrible transitions. The story flips through the years at a brisk pace, but Chiang often chooses to convey this with the phrase A year passed which seems clumsy the first time it is used and downright annoying by the sixth or seventh time. 

What Chiang does excellently though is track the decline and fall of the digients. There is an undercurrent of sweetness and nostalgia running through the book. The more time and energy their care-givers give to the digients and the more self-aware and intelligent they become, the better they are able to realize that software incompatibilities mean that their world is rapidly shrinking. The ugly choices that Ana and Derek consider in order to give them a full "life" are devastating and would have seemed even more so if only Chiang had spent a little more time on the emotional and a little less of the scientific.
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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)
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The full title of this book is Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History, by Yunte Huang.

It's a fascinating read. )
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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.
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41. Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama, The Four Immigrants Manga

This book is so freakin' awesome I can't even tell you. I love 20th-century memoir, I love San Francisco local history and I love graphic novels: The Four Immigrants Manga is a standout in all three categories. Even the tale of its rediscovery is freakin' awesome. Frederik L. Schodt was researching a book on Japanese manga in 1980 (how avant is THAT?) when he stumbled across this in a Berkeley library. It took another EIGHTEEN YEARS before his translation was published. Seriously, you should just go and read it right now. Schodt's translation is very clever and sensitive, with English and translated-Japanese rendered in different styles, so you always know where you are.

And the story itself, holy cow! It's the tale of the author, who came to San Francisco to study, and three friends he met on the boat. They land in 1904 and the book follows their lives for twenty years, so yes, there's a huge earthquake right up front, but in fact what happens after that is often even awesomer and stranger. (Hint: farm work is much harder than you think.) And it's funnier than hell. Can you tell that I liked it? The Four Immigrants Manga is one of those texts that reaches across a language barrier and a hundred years and shakes the teeth out of your head. It brings my beloved San Francisco to life in new ways. It should be required reading in California schools, and if it were, the kids would love it. BECAUSE IT'S GREAT.

42-3. Sanjay Patel, The Little Book of Hindu Deities and Ramayana: Divine Loophole

Actually all five of the books I'm reviewing today have strong links to the Bay Area, and that's because San Francisco is my adopted home and I love it like food. Go Giants! Patel is an animator at Pixar, across the Bay. I first encountered his Hindu-deity-art at his Web site, Ghee Happy, and I was one of many nagging him to just go publish a book already. Little Book is a useful reference, if you're like me and can't always keep your Gods straight, but Ramayana is an honest-to-God masterpiece. My husband read it to my daughters, aged 7 and 4, and they were spellbound by it every night. The illustrations are really beyond beautiful, and Chronicle Books has done a nice job with the binding: it's an object with heft and sheen, a desirable thing. Highly recommended, if only as a counterbalance to the Greek revival of the Percy Jackson series.

44. Jen Wang, Koko Be Good

Wang is another local graphic artist and Koko is not only set in San Francisco, like the great Wyatt Cenac film Medicine for Melancholy it's set in my San Francisco, south of Market Street, the San Francisco of beer at Zeitgeist and Al's Comics and the fog rolling in under Sutro Tower. It's intensely evocative and very good on random encounters and the strength of the relationships they can drag in their wake, especially for people in transition. If I found the ending both telegraphed and a bit unsatisfying, it's because I'm an extremely fussy old lady with brutally high standards in graphic novels. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it, and if you like it you will love Paul Madonna's sublime All Over Coffee.

45. Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking

I've only just started reading this and it's going to take a while, because I will only read it during daylight, not while I am trying to go to sleep. Not since Truman Capote's In Cold Blood have I read anything that is quite so high-octane nightmare fuel, and for very much the same reasons: the killings it describes are real, random and purposeless, and the prose itself is beautiful, clear, organized and relentless.

One of the oldest cities of China, [Suchow] was prized for its delicate silk embroidery, palaces, and temples. Its canals and ancient bridges had earned the city its Western nickname as "the Venice of China." On November 19, on a morning of pouring rain, a Japanese advance guard marched through the gates of Suchow, wearing hoods that prevented the Chinese sentries from recognizing them. Once inside, the Japanese murdered and plundered the city for days, burning down ancient landmarks and abducting thousands of Chinese women for sexual slavery. The invasion, according to the China Weekly Review, caused the population of the city to drop from 350,000 to less than 500.
It's a controversial book - Wikipedia has some useful starting-points for a discussion of factual inaccuracies and disputed interpretations - and on the whole you'd probably rather not have it be the famous plagiarist Stephen Ambrose who declares you "one of the best of our young historians." But it is an important book, that helped revive the memory of Nanking in the West.

Chang took her own life in 2004, and I am sorry for the books of hers we will not get to read.
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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!
ext_48823: 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything (books)
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Here is a batch of mini-reviews and notes on books I read from May to October. I started including descriptions from other websites but didn't do that for all the books. Also, please note there are potentially triggering scenes and events in some of the books (e.g., rape, childhood abuse, incidents with dubious consent, violence). Please let me know if you need more detail.

List of Books Read
33. Burndive by Karin Lowachee
34. Cagebird by Karin Lowachee
35. Ocean of Words by Ha Jin
36. Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith
37. The Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong
38. Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang
39. The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh
40. Pulse by Lydia Kwa
41. Choose Me by Evelyn Lau
42. The Monkey King & Other Stories edited by Griffin Ondaatje
43. The Gaslight Dogs by Karin Lowachee
44. Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? by Anita Rau Badami

Reviews )
pauraque: bird flying (Default)
[personal profile] pauraque
Hello! Happy to be here.

My 7-year-old loves the Bad Kitty series of books, but I didn't realize until recently that Nick Bruel, the author and illustrator, is Chinese-American. We just read the latest in the series together, so it gets to be my first post here.

The Bad Kitty series, which is about -- get this -- the travails of a disobedient cat named Kitty, hovers somewhere between picture books and chapter books. They're sort of graphic novels for younger kids. This one has 150 pages, many of which are almost all pictures, but some of which are almost all text, and lots that are a mix. (Some of the text pages got long for said 7-year-old to read; he wanted to get back to the pictures.)

Bruel really has a handle on how cats think; anyone who knows cats will greet Kitty's behavior and (internal) thought processes with a mixture of laughter and grim recognition. :P In this one there are also some non-fiction asides discussing why cats behave the way they do -- why they fear strangers and loud noises and so on -- which are lightly-handled and not too long.

The art makes these books. Bruel's style is loose and expressive, effortlessly nailing the facial expressions of animals and people on every page. He is fluent in the language of comics, and can make you giggle with just the turn of a line. My kid just about dies laughing when he sees some of these pictures.

I'm not sure what age group the books are aimed at, but 7 seems just about right, though a slightly older reader would be able to get through more of the text without help. Recommended if you have kids around that age.

(Not sure how to tag the subject beyond it being a children's book. It's about a cat who has to cope with being babysat by a stranger. What does that fall under? :P)

(eta tags: a: bruel nick, children's books, chinese-american)
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American Born Chinese American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

I got to the end of the book and declared it awesome, but not unlike the movie of "The House of Sand and Fog", while I was reading it I wasn't entirely certain *why* it had the Printz Award sticker on the front cover. Clearly it was considered an amazing book - you don't win the Printz for something mediocre - but at the three-quarter point I was still wondering how the "Cousin Chin-Kee" storyline fit into the rest of it, and why on earth someone would write that storyline to begin with. And yet it all worked. In a really very awesome way.

Contains spoilers )
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I haven't been doing as well about either reviewing or cross-posting as I'd like, but here are some books I've read in the last few months:

SF, fantasy, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction--mostly young adult--7 reviews )

(Additional Tags: Muscogee Creek Nation)
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Laurence Yep, The traitor. This is the fourth book, chronologically, in Yep's Golden Mountain series - I read Dragonwings (set next, chronologically, but written earlier) years ago, when I was obsessed with fantasy (it was next to Jane Yolen's dragon books, and I picked it up assuming it was similar), and liked it but was grumpy about encountering only metaphorical dragons. Currently I am grumpy about endless fantasy trilogies instead, so possibly I should have gone back to these earlier - I hadn't realised until I picked this up that the series was now up to nine books.

Laurence Yep, The traitor. )

Caryl Phillips, The nature of blood. )

And it's beautifully written but unremittingly bleak. I've read a lot of good but depressing books recently, and although I've enjoyed them I wouldn't mind something lighter for contrast. Maybe I should avoid literary fiction in general (it hasn't been ending well for me for a while!) but I thought I might just take this opportunity to ask the community if they had any recommendations for this challenge that were a bit more upbeat, and weren't children's or YA - other genre is fine.
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32) Tempting Faith by David Kuo

Kuo wrote this book after leaving the Bush White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives, where he worked from 2001-2003. It's a memoir of his experience mixing politics and religion from his teenage years through his service in the White House.

It follows the standard narrative of politics corrupting the idealist, but features a few fascinating revelations as well as some stirring passages. Kuo's experience before the White House was largely as a speechwriter, for Bill Bennett, Ralph Reed, John Ashcroft, and others. My favorite passage:

The lesson soon led to another, much bigger one, about the role of government in caring for America's soul. For years a national debate had raged over whether America was falling apart morally and culturally. Like so many other Christian conservatives, I knew the answer: absolutely. New policies, new strategies, and political leaders were needed to help us reclaim America's greatness. On 9/12 I discovered something else.

At the time, I was put in charge of assisting "all" of America's charities and mobilizing "all" of America's religious groups, a task that both highlighted the White House-centric view of the world and showed how desperately we all wanted to help. Our office developed a massive list of ideas and plans: we planned candlelight services and telethons and moments of silence. Then we discovered the obvious. People were doing all of those things on their own. They didn't need us to do it. America didn't need anyone else to rally it. It rallied itself. The American soul wasn't sick.

The big revelation for me was that Kuo was involved in the development of a particularly insidious speechwriting technique, wherein a politically moderate speaker would insert figures from the Gospels in their speeches in order to communicate to evangelical voters, in code, that he was one of them. Kuo suggests that in the case of some of the speakers he used the trick for, like Jack Kemp, the speakers weren't even aware of the significance of the coded phrases. Talk about shibboleths.

I wish I had the sense that Kuo had deconstructed his belief that just because a person loves Jesus, their heart must be in the right place. It leads to some puzzling passages where he is trying to denounce some action of Bush's while insisting that his heart was in the right place. I leave the book unclear if Kuo recognizes the problem with this logic.

tags: memoir, non-fiction, politics, a: kuo david, chinese-american
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2. Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese is a graphic novel with three stories that gradually become connected in surprising (to me, anyway) ways: the legend of the Monkey King, the story of a second-generation Chinese American boy named Jin Wang, and the story of an American boy named Danny and his cousin Chin-Kee, the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype. The last story thread threw me for a loop at first, but it ends up tying in with the others in the end.

Yang's art (colored by Lark Pien) is fluid and lively; it's kind of what I think of as a "memoir" style, a bit reminiscent in its simplified but expressive appearance of graphic novel memoirs like Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis or Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. Although the story has fantastic elements, the characters feel very emotionally real.

The intertwined stories are all, in the end, about identity, and especially about owning your own identity in a wider society that doesn't approve of it. It's a beautiful graphic novel, and I really enjoyed it.

Yang has some commentary on different aspects of the book here.

Bonus, completely unrelated, recs: I read these last year or the year before, so too long ago to really review, by Dr. Atul Gawande's Complications and Better are both excellent written and fascinating insight into modern U.S. medicine as well as the science of failure and error reduction. Several of Dr. Gawande's essays have been featured in Year's Best Science Writing anthologies, with good reason, and he has a lot of interesting things to say about the U.S. health care system (if you do not care about the U.S. health care system, the medical stories are still interesting). He has a new book out, The Checklist Manifesto, which I will be reviewing after I read it. (Dr. Gawande is Indian American.)
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Additional tags: a: lo malinda

I don't really have a goal of 50 books this year (I read fewer than a hundred books total last year), but I'm trying to read more books by authors of color and queer authors this year, so I thought I'd start with this one as a step in both directions.

Short version: A bit too brief and simple for my preference and not the most exciting setting, but beautifully written and fun enough that I'll read Lo's next book.

Review is here! )
ext_12911: This is a picture of my great-grandmother and namesake, Margaret (Default)
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#47: Jen Lin-Liu, Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China: After graduating from journalism school in the U.S., Lin-Liu moved to China to freelance for American newspapers and magazines. She became obsessed (her word) with Chinese food and decided to sign up for Chinese cooking school...and that's only the beginning of her journey, which takes her through cooking school, one-on-one lessons, apprenticeships in noodle stalls and dumpling houses, and finally an internship in a gourmet Shanghai restaurant.

The book is mostly (and deliciously) about food, but Lin-Liu also talks about the people she meets along her journey, providing a fascinating slice of contemporary Chinese life and of China's recent history. She writes humorously and honestly, and oh, the food descriptions just made me drool! And she even includes recipes -- I may not try many (though I marked a few), but I loved reading them.

#48: Hannah Crafts, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Bondwoman's Narrative: In 2001, scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. bought a previously unpublished manuscript from the 1850s, which he believed and it appears now is the first novel written by a fugitive slave. Gates provides a long and detailed introduction explaining the research he did into the manuscript's history, trying to find its author, and the introduction and notes are every bit as interesting as the novel itself.

The novel is told, in the first person, by a young slave who flees with her mistress when her mistress's terrible secret is discovered and who experiences a whole host of terrors before reaching safety in the North. Considered purely as a novel, it does leave something to be desired; it's structurally disorganized, and the plot is contrived and, like many Gothic novels, overly dependent on coincidence. Crafts borrows freely from a wide variety of sources, most notably Dickens' Bleak House, and it's interesting to see (using the extensive and useful notes) how she changes her borrowings in order to fit them in to her narrative. The Gothic bits (especially the cursed tree) are often very effective, and more than that, the viewpoint and opinions are fascinating. I found the book as a whole reasonably enjoyable on a narrative level and very interesting indeed as a historical document.

#49 & 50: Attia Hosain, Sunlight on a Broken Column, Phoenix Fled: Sunlight on a Broken Column tells the story of Laila, an orphaned girl growing up first in the orthodox home of her grandfather and her aunts, who keep purdah, and then in the less traditional home of her uncle and aunt. As her friends and cousins fight for their country's independence, Laila struggles for her own, especially when she falls in love with a man not approved by her family. Phoenix Fled is a collection of stories, each a short but vivid and rich bit of writing, with striking images and characters.

These are beautifully written, sensitive looks at Muslim life in India before and just after the 1947 partition of the country into Pakistan and India. Both books are deeply understanding of the conflict between Muslims and Hindus and between the old and new ways of life in India, and they made me wish Hosain had written more: as far as I can discover, these were her only two books.


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Writers of Color 50 Books Challenge

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