Bone by Fae Myenne Ng
Genre: 21st century fiction
Whoa…has it really been 3 months since my last post? My apologies, but, you see, I kinda got sucked into this thing called corporate America, and so my blogging has suffered. Alas, without further adieu:
Some friends recently moved into my neighborhood and gave me a ton of books to help clear out their space. I grabbed Bone based on the author’s name alone—as you know by now, Asian authors are unofficial research topics for my own writing.
Bone was overall quite fascinating because the subject matter was very emotional and taboo—suicide. I found the narrator to be captivating and the other characters to be just as dynamic in their personalities and abilities to grab me as the reader. The reason this novel only received a neutral score was because my only qualm—though it was rather large—with the read was that movement in time was very, very confusing. Ng shifts through phases of the narrator’s life without any indications of chronology, and I was left wondering where Lei was in her life and what she was currently dealing with in relation to the other characters.
It is a short read, so I do recommend this book if you’re looking for a story containing well written prose; however, it is not a light-hearted or straight-forward book, so avoid this is that’s what you’re looking for.
A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
Genre: 21st century fantasy
So…it happened. I somehow got hooked. I blame it on the show.
If you’re a fan of the HBO series, I highly recommend reading the books. The series does a great job, but you’re definitely missing out on the fine details, which are all explained in the novels. Whereas I found the first season to almost completely align with the book, season two definitely had to make a few jumps to save on time and to keep viewer attention (Robb’s love interest is the first thing coming to mind—not in A Clash of Kings). If anything, the novel helps to keep all the characters straight.
Expect more lulls in reviews as I trudge through this series. Revisit my post on A Game of Thrones for my overall opinion on the books.
The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto
Genre: 21st century literary fiction
This should come as no surprise by now—my favorite author is this kinda famous guy by the name of Haruki Murakami. In my early obsession with Japanese writers, I sought to read authors like Yukio Mishima and Kenzaburo Oe, desperate for more novels like Norwegian Wood or Sputnik Sweetheart. Banana Yoshimoto also made it onto that list of authors, and in the summer before I started graduate school, I rented Kitchen from my local library. But I wasn’t impressed.
The Lake was a birthday gift from a dear friend in Florida. She decided to get me this book after doing some research. I was surprised and appreciative—it was a perfect gift!
When I finally got around to reading The Lake, my memories of Kitchen started to come back to me. I remembered that the reason I wasn’t really impressed with that novel was because the characters were flat and the storyline wavered erratically. I love to blame bad translations when I feel this way about novels written in another language. Banana Yoshimoto is a best selling author in Japan, after all. The Lake in English was too sparse and meandering for me to call it a decent read. So in this case, devote some time to Murakami’s heftier novels if you have a desire to read some Japanese literature.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Genre: 21st century literary fiction
Rating: Highly recommended
Totes dropped the ball for, like, a few months. My sincerest apologies. But, you see, I decided to buy a subscription of The New Yorker and I just couldn’t seem to find extra reading time for novels when the magazine showed up in my mailbox once a week. So, I haven’t totally dropped off…
Oh, and by the way, Ms. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fiction was published in the March 11, 2013 issue, which prompted me to put the magazines aside for long enough to finish her novel, Half of a Yellow Sun.
In short, this novel is about the Nigerian civil war that took place between 1967 and 1970. On a larger scale, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is writing about Nigerian and Igbo culture. The various insights into a culture that is completely new to me fascinated me more than any brilliant author could do with a setting that is familiar, and so I was engulfed.
“Olanna gently placed a pillow beneath her head and sat thinking about how a single act could reverberate over time and space and leave stains that could never be washed off. She thought about how ephemeral life was, about not choosing misery.”
“Molière’s words came to him, strangely comforting: Unbroken happiness is a bore; it should have ups and downs.”
“Perhaps he was not a true writer after all. He had read somewhere that, for true writers, nothing was more important than their art, not even love.”
Read my review>read the book>see the movie.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Genre: Literary 21st century
There are three main reasons why I loved this read: the sentimentality of Erica and Chris’s relationship, the unique writing format, and how hot I imagined Changez’s beard to be.
…So the last point was a bit silly, I realize. But beards. Yes. I like them.
Changez is a Pakistani who moves to New Jersey to attend Princeton, then moves to New York City after graduation to work at a highly reputable company. He is living—ironically, as you’ll find out—the American dream. At the height of his success, America experiences the attack on 9/11 and suddenly everything changes for Changez. The change, however, is not solely based on the attacks on the World Trade Centers. It also has to do with Changez’s internal conflicts regarding Erica, a woman of whom he has fallen deeply in love with.
Erica is not in love with Changez, however. She is still lost in her relationship with Chris, who recently died from lung cancer. I’m pretty sappy when it comes to this stuff, and I often find myself wrapped up in my own nostalgia, which is why their relationship touched me. I hate to admit it, but I found myself tearing up more than once and (inadvisably) reaching out to old loves.
Finally, I enjoyed reading this novel and Moth Smoke because Hamid employs unique writing techniques. In this novel, the narrative is interrupted with a dialogue between Changez and an unnamed and unvoiced guest. At times, I found the interruptions cumbersome, but I appreciated the effect it had on the narrative; that is, enabling readers to form their own opinions regarding America with the Middle East. It is this kind of purposeful writing that I have great appreciation for because it forces the reader to become active in the story.
My favorite passages:
“I felt a peculiar feeling; I felt at home. Perhaps it was because I had recently lived such a transitory existence—moving from one dorm room to the next—and longed for the settled nature of my past; perhaps it was because I missed my family and the comfort of a family residence…”
“Suffice it to say that theirs had been an unusual love, with such a degree of commingling of identities that when Chris died, Erica felt she had lost herself; even now, she said, she did not know if she could be found.”
“It did not matter that the person Erica was in love with was what the nurse or I might call deceased; for Erica he was alive enough, and that was the problem: it was difficult for Erica to be out in the world, living the way the nurse or I might, when in her mind she was experiencing things that were stronger and more meaningful than the things she could experience with the rest of us.”
Moth Smoke by Moshin Hamid
Genre: 21st century literary fiction
Rating: Highly recommended
I’ve kinda ruined my plan to review classic and modern novels in alternating order, but oh well. This was an exceptional read and I’m glad I jumped it to the top of my queue.
I first read Hamid’s work in 2009 with The Reluctant Fundamentalist and it remains one of my favorite novels (I am actually currently rereading the novel, so be prepared for a back-to-back review of Hamid’s work). I love novels that deal with love triangles. I don’t really understand the entire reason why, but I feel like this might have something to do with my feelings regarding fickle human nature. The Reluctant Fundamentalist dealt with this kind of love relationship, the extreme complexity of it, and did so in a way that captured me.
I had zero expectations for Moth Smoke, except perhaps a bit of doubt considering it was Hamid’s first novel (and his MFA thesis to boot). For the first hundred pages or so, I had no idea what the novel was going to be about—the narrator had lost his job and smoked a lot of hash, but that was it. I didn’t know what direction it was going to turn toward, or how it was going to morph into a story that was about more than just a bum doing drugs.
But, oh, was I pleasantly surprised. I loved this novel for so many of the same reasons I fell in love with The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Hamid understands human vulnerability, and more importantly, can capture it in his writing without being prosaic. There were many times I had to put the book down to take a breath and pause. It was beautiful. It was beyond beautiful. It was as if all my thoughts had become manifest.
Back to love triangles. One appears in this story, and I was, of course, drawn to it. But more than my inherent liking for fallibility laid bare, Hamid was able to capture the intensity of yearning, which I admired both on a technical level (how can I write like him?) and on a personal level (how is it that his words slice right through me?). Here are some of my favorite passages:
“When I get home I find Manucci staring at a candle on the mantelpiece for no apparent reason.
I walk over to him, my shadow dancing on a different wall from his.
‘What is it?’ I ask him.
‘A moth in love, saab,’ Manucci says.
Sometimes I don’t understand what he’s talking about. But I do see a moth circling above our heads.
‘Bring me the fly swatter,’ I tell him.
I hit him across the top of his head, not too hard and with an open hand, but forcefully enough to let him know that I won’t put up with any impertinence. ‘What do you mean, No, saab?’
‘Please, saab,’ he says, cringing. ‘Watch.’
The moth circles lower, bouncing like a drunk pilot in turbulence. I could clap him out of existence but I don’t, because I’m getting a little curious myself.
The moth starts to make diving passes at the candle.
‘He’s an aggressive fellow, this moth,’ I say to Manucci.
‘Love, saab,’ he replies.”
“But the best part of it was the talking. I was completely open with him….Ozi made me feel so known. He made love to my insides, filling desperate gaps and calming unbearably sensitive places….
We were growing together, and I was happy.”
“‘What would you wish for?’ I ask.
She thinks. ‘Perfect foresight, a little courage, and a time machine.’”
Which book would you like to see on this blog?
Here is my current “to read” list. Which book would you like to see on this blog?
Also, I realize there are a lot of classics going on here. If anyone has more modern recommendations, I’d be happy to take them.
White Teeth – Zadie Smith
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
Genre: 21st century short story collection
Okay, so, I just now realized I never posted up my review of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao so I’m going to retroactively post it and provide a link to it here.
Back to This Is How You Lose Her. I can’t help it. This review is going to get a little personal. But I like to think that makes these things all the more interesting (Right? RIGHT?).
On my flight from Florida back to Brooklyn, I randomly grabbed one of the books I got for Christmas and it happened to be This Is How You Lose Her. Not a big deal, unless you consider the fact that I was emotionally spent due to the fact that I was leaving my family behind, wouldn’t see them for another six months, and knew an isolated Brooklyn was the only thing awaiting me at the end of my flight. So go ahead and picture a girl in her mid-twenties all red-eyed and teary in the airport. Not a pretty picture.
So when I settled down at the gate and grabbed this book out of my bag, I was less than thrilled. I wasn’t really in the mood to read stories about infidelities and the aggrandizing of selfish jerks, but I had six hours of travel in front of me, so I cracked the book open and started reading. I read one story. Two. Three. And when I was finally interrupted by the flight attendant asking my drink order, I realized these stories were comforting me.
This Is How You Lose Her brings back the familiar Yunior who appears in Drown and Wao. He narrates most of the stories in various aspects of his life, but one theme pulls all nine of the stories together: cheating. Don’t get me wrong. Yunior, his brother Rafa, and the various other men who appear in each story are all pretty loathsome. They’re self-serving and inconsiderate and go through women like dirty gym socks. If I take the time to step back, it’s all a little disgusting that humans can get reduced to something so egomaniacal.
Nonetheless, the reason I found comfort in these stories is because of that very disgust: this is real human nature. We’re weak, all of us, and we’re all swayed by things like dirtbag fathers and dying brothers and machismo idealism. Sure these characters did some regrettable things, but the desperation of each character was sobering and relatable.
My favorite short story from the collection was “The Cheater’s Guide For Love.” In this story, Yunior contemplates his life after the breakup of someone he cannot get over. I loved the genuineness displayed, and I probably could have written a similar guide following my biggest breakup. Sounds cheesy, but I liked reading this and realizing heartbreak is not an isolated thing.
This review may sound like a bit of a feminist rant, but I really did enjoy this read despite the subject matter. Diaz is just so skilled at depicting relevant characters and settings and is careful never to cross the line of defining moral standards, which makes his stories applicable to a wide audience.
“My heart is beating and I think, We could do anything. We could marry. We could drive off to the West Coast. We could start over. It’s all possible but neither of us speaks for a long time and the moment closes and we’re back in the world we’ve always known.”
From “The Cheater’s Guide to Love”
“You ask everybody you know: How long does it usually take to get over it?
There are many formulas. One year for every year you dated. Two years for every year you dated. It’s just a matter of will-power: The day you decide it’s over, it’s over. You never get over it.”
“And then one June night you scribble the ex’s name and: The half-life of love is forever.”
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Genre: 21st century fantasy
The reason I was so eager to read this novel was because I read this letter from President Obama to Yann Martel. The promise of an “elegant proof of God” intrigued me. Couple that with the fact that a movie adaptation was just released and I needed no more persuasion to buy this book.
Piscine Patel—known as Pi—is a spiritual man. However, unlike many religious people, he has fallen in love equally with God, Allah, and the deities of Hinduism. The first 100 pages of this novel describe the life of Pi growing up in India as the son of a zookeeper. Though the material was interesting—especially the insight into animal behavior—I was getting antsy for the juicy stuff. You know, the tiger and the boat and stuff.
Once that part of the novel came around, I was completely enthralled. I truly believed Pi was a real person (ie, I thought this was a nonfiction story). I couldn’t believe someone had survived living on a life boat for so long with a tiger. So naturally I typed Pi Patel into Wikipedia to read up more about him, and to my dissatisfaction I realized the novel was all fiction. Pi was not a real person.
After this realization, I quickly became disinterested in the novel. It wasn’t so magical as before knowing this was fiction and just the imagination of a talented author. The ending was strange and began to lose all believability. Pi was starting to become unreliable. The conclusion sent me into near shock.
The good news is that watching the movie shortly after reading the book gave some clarity to the rising questions that were still floating unanswered when I finished the read. This was a confusing novel to me, and I’m still unsure of my opinion regarding my reaction, but the book captivated me for a long time and so I’m still giving it a recommended.
“It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards, even unto our names.”
“Words of divine consciousness: moral exaltation; lasting feelings of elevation, elation, joy; a quickening of the moral sense, which strikes one as more important than an intellectual understanding of things; an alignment of the universe along moral lines, not intellectual ones; a realization that the founding principe of existence is what we call love, which works itself out sometimes not clearly, not cleanly, not immediately, nonetheless ineluctably.”
“If you stumble at mere believability, what are you living for? Isn’t love hard to believe?”