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 )
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
[personal profile] zeborah
(A lightly-edited dump of my Goodreads reviews.)

Suckerpunch by Hernandez, David
Hooked me in at the start but the way events followed each other more realistically than determined by a story shape didn't quite work for me. (There was a story shape, it was just more in the gaps between the events.

Dawn (Xenogenesis, #1) by Butler, Octavia E.
So many consent issues... Very good: it's got the claustrophobia, the every-exit-is-a-deadend feel, that I'd normally associate with horror, but manages to retain an optimism about it. The aliens are convincinly alien, and the frustration of their refusal to listen is steadfast without becoming unbelievable.

Straight - A novel in the Irish-Maori tradition by O'Leary, Michael
Straight is the second book in the trilogy; I came to it without having read the first, but felt it stood alone well enough that I had no trouble following the plot. Unfortunately that plot -- the protagonist discovering his father may have been a Nazi, then getting blackmailed and kidnapped by Nazis -- was way too melodramatic for me to take seriously. The prose (especially the dialogue) clunked badly for me, too. I did like the motif of dreamland vs reality vs realism though: that played out well.

My Name Is Number 4 by Ye, Ting-xing
Most disasters bring people and communities together; it seems as if the Cultural Revolution was designed to tear them apart. But this book shows that the struggle to survive and to keep relationships alive is always worth making. --Excuse shallow triteness; reading this book in the aftermath of earthquake I have deeper thoughts on disasters and communities but verbalising is harder especially for fear of simplifying. It was a good book anyway.

People-faces, The by Cherrington, Lisa
This is mostly Nikki's story, of how she's affected by her brother's mental illness and her journey in understanding it - caught between Māori and Pākehā models of understanding - and her journey alongside that of getting to know herself and her strengths. Her grandmother tells her that the dolphin Tepuhi is her guardian, but her grandmother is demonstrably not infallible and with the repeated point that Joshua is of the sea while Nikki is of the land, I think the book bears out that the real/more effective guardian for her is the pīwaiwaka.

Her brother's story is told in the gaps between, and completes the book.

Despite the focus on Nikki and Joshua, we get to see various other points of view, showing the further impact on the rest of their family and their motivations. Some of the point of view shifts are a bit clunky, for example when we get a single scene from the Pākehā doctor's point of view, or just a couple from Nikki's boyfriend.

But this is well-told; the author (of Ngāti Hine) is a clinical psychologist and has worked in Māori mental health services, and the emotions of the story ring very true to me.

Cereus Blooms at Night: A Novel by Mootoo, Shani
This was a fantastic read but at times a very hard one; serious trigger warnings for child abuse (verbal, physical, sexual).

It begins as a beautifully sweet story about racial and sexual and gender identity; about family separations made by force or by choice, and about forbidden liaisons both healthy and unhealthy. Set in the country of Lantanacamara, colonised by the Shivering Northern Wetlands -- more an open code than fantasy countries -- the story focuses on three generations of locals, straight and gay, cis and trans, more and less inculturated by Wetlandish education. The narrator begins by disclaiming any significant role in the story; instantly I want to know more about him, and (though he was right that this is more Mala's story) I was not disappointed.

The main story, switching among its several timelines, grows darker and winds tighter with perfect pacing. Revelations are neither too delayed nor too forced. And as it heads towards the catastrophe we've foreseen, through horror worse than we could have imagined at the start, so it brings us towards its equally inevitable -- and no less satisfying -- eucatastrophe.
gingicat: (geeky - library)
[personal profile] gingicat
I bought this book because I heard Ms. Min speaking about it on NPR:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125682489

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.
[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 :))

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