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A Wild Sheep Chase
by Haruki Murakami
353 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Fantasy

On first glance, this novel just seemed dang weird. Then I met a dear friend who adores Murakami and assured me that he was indeed dang weird, in a good way. Then I read A Wild Sheep Chase and personally confirmed that Murakami writes dang weird stuff--in a very good way.

The nameless narrator works in a small advertising agency, has a normal ex-wife and a strange girlfriend, and is one day sent upon a quest: to find the sheep with the black star on its back, as depicted upon a postcard from an old friend. What happens after that doesn't make much sense, but it's so glorious that I don't care. I mean, there's a picture of a sheep man. Murakami is at the epitome of both Japanese mainstream popularity and Japanese magic realism; I, of course, loved his existentialist themes.

That said, many of my friends are just bewildered by this book. Read it with an open mind; being familiar with magic realism conventions helps a lot. I am reminded of A Hundred Years of Solitude without the emphasis on folklore or family, or for that matter the sheer density.
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Bless Me, Ultima
by Rudolpho Anaya
290 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Fantasy

More required reading, my least favorite of the five I had to read. Anaya is a wonderful writer with a talent for landscapes and symbols; I just wish he was less brusque with Meaning and Theme and This Is an Important Bildungsroman. The sub-subgenre, Chicano (as differentiated from Latino) magic realism, does not interest me much more than Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, a brilliantly written masterpiece that I can't bring myself to like very much.

Plot, you ask? Well, Antonio Márez is a young boy (age 6, I believe?) born to a happy but divided family--his father is a Márez wanderer of the llano, his mother is a Luna farmer who wants him to become a priest. Ultima, a wise old curandera or healer (Anaya mostly avoids the inherent pitfalls in this characterization), comes to live with them, bringing mystic if not magical events with her. Antonio's religious struggle throughout the novel was the most/only interesting part to me. For example, he secretly admires Florence, a schoolfriend and declared atheist who later meets a significant end. His devout Catholic mother is almost a cariacture of blind faith, while his father's subverted agnosticism feels natural. It's certainly a novel worth exploring further on issues of faith and belief, in the supernatural or otherwise; but I can't say I liked the book much. [/Keix's never-ending search for entertaining works of literary merit, Module 496]
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The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro
245 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary

Stevens is an English butler of highest repute and ability now serving a modern American employer, Mr. Farraday, who inherited Darlington Hall after Lord Darlington's (untimely?) death. The tale is structured, like Ishiguro prefers, as a rambling first-person narrative. Stevens reminisces at length, through convoluted verbal hedges and self-denials, about his long time in Lord Darlington's service and his complicated relationship with Miss Kenton, the housekeeper.

This was mandatory reading for me, and I had high expectations of Ishiguro. It's important to note that narrative structure is about the only similarity between Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go (his wonderful dystopic SF novel); still, I did enjoy Steven's distinct voice.
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How to Read Literature Like a Professor
by Thomas C. Foster
314 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/Literary

Light-hearted and interesting. Topic: exactly what the title implies. Not as insightful as I'd hoped--the analysis bounces between obvious and really obscure--but definitely "lively and entertaining." Do the case-study analysis at the end; I didn't due to time constraints, but I wish I had.

Also includes a useful list of Christ-figure signifiers, for those of us who didn't grow up in the Western tradition. I will quote a paraphrased version here:

1. crucified, wounds in the hands, feet, side, and head
2. in agony
3. self-sacrificing
4. good with children
5. loaves, fishes, water, wine
6. 33 years old
7. employed as carpenter
8. humble modes of transportation, feet or donkeys preferred
9. walked on water
10. portrayed with arms outstretched
11. spent time alone in wilderness
12. confrontation w/ the devil, possibly tempted
13. last seen in the company of thieves
14. aphorisms/parables
15. buried, but arose on the 3rd day
16. disciples, 12 at first, though not all equally devoted
17. very forgiving
18. redeem an unworthy world
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One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez
448 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Historical/Fantasy

Nobel laureate Márquez founded magic realism with the publication of this novel, considered his masterpiece. It is at once Latin American social commentary, a fictional biography of the region and its culture, an epic chronicle of a South American village's rise and fall, and the family history of the Buendias. Plot: there really isn't one, aside from the conglomeration of the previously mentioned topics. This is such a wacky novel! My head hurts from trying to distinguish all of the Aurelianos (and José Arcadios, and Amarantas/Úrsulas/Remedioses). And can there be much more incest? Unfortunately, for me the book has one fatal flaw: I didn't once care about any of the characters. They were born and they died, but I only kept reading because I wanted to finish reading.

Nonetheless, if you are interested in magic realism, lit theory, or Latin America, I highly recommend One Hundred Years of Solitude. Character development is not a strong point, but in many ways, that is the point.
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My Sister's Keeper
by Jodi Picoult
423 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Literary

Yes, [ profile] beteio, I finally read it. 'Twas not better nor worse than I expected; the premise was intriguing and my attention consistently captured, but I have no urge to ever reread this. Anna, the book's protagonist--though not the sole narrator--was conceived thirteen years ago to provide a genetic match for her sister Kate, who suffers from repeated relapses of a rare leukemia. When Anna is called upon to donate a kidney to her sister, she walks into the office of a lawyer and sues for medical emancipation. At times, I was more interested in the side romance between the lawyer and his ex-lover from high school than in the main plot, which moves very slowly as Anna frustratingly changes her mind / chickens out innumerable times. But the ending, a bittersweet twist, is worth waiting for, especially since the actual reading moves quickly.

No further commentary, alas, because I misplaced my notes from when I read this in April.
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Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing
by Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss (eds.)
291 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Fantasy/SF

After only managing to skim a few stories back in 2007 when I borrowed it from a friend, I finally bought this "alternative" and obscurely-acclaimed anthology and read it for my monthly Book Club. I only found 3 favorite and 4 hated tales out of 19 total, but--surprisingly--my overall impression is quite positive. Interfictions has earned a place on my long-term bookshelf.

If you aren't familiar with the concept of interstitiality, I would recommend reading Heinz Insu Fenkl's laborious introduction; otherwise, it is probably best left to the academically inclined. In contrast, definitely read Sherman and Goss's conversational "Afterword: The Spaces between" (although you still should read the stories themselves first, for necessary context).

So let me begin with the favorites, first. Jon Singer's "Willow Pattern" is probably the shortest story in the collection, and to me also one of the most interstitial. As Goss says, there isn't another story out there that combines science fiction and china patterns. After my first read-through, my only thoughts were, "Oh, that was pretty." Two years later, I began to "get" the SF aspects; I still don't entirely grasp the point simmering deep beneath the surface, but this flash piece epitomizes what I love best about genre--the extra layer of depth waiting to be plumbed, a depth unique to alienation and surreality.

For pure story pleasure, the title goes to Csilla Kleinheincz's lyrical and poignant tale about a man and a lake: "A Drop of Raspberry." Translated from the Hungarian by Noémi Szelényi, it is interstitial in its superrealistic treatment of surreal/fantastical events (yet tonally different from magic realism). Kleinheincz also happens to hail from the same country as Goss, and she is Hungarian-Vietnamese--too cool!

Finally, "Queen of the Butterfly Kingdom" by Holly Phillips (also coincidentally a Canadian author) is a cross between mainstream and fantasy that seduced me into caring despite a seeming lack of originality. The protagonist is a writer, even, which typically repulses me. But I suffered along with her as she waited for news of her beloved, and the last scene made me stop for a moment to smile.

Then we have the have-nots, those stories that flatly did not work for me. However, of the four I would only label one terrible per se; the rest are a matter of conflicting tastes. For instance, I found Karen Jordan Allen's "Alternate Anxieties" a pretentious deconstruction of Story using the trite writer's-notes conceit; but another reader might think it a brilliant piece of experimental fiction (the experimental classification does tend to draw such extreme opinions). Similarly, I was confused by the mythological underpinnings of Joy Marchard's "Pallas at Noon"--another "writer" story--and I thought that Chloe's (Allen's) poem, once revealed to the reader, was frankly incomprehensible.

In my review of Loghorrea, I have previously blasted Leslie What for her unthinking vilification of a chronic illness; her story here, "Post Hoc," thankfully commits no such sins, but I thought the story unoriginal, uninterstitial (save for the "liminal" post office conceit), and largely unengaging (the main character, anyway--I did like Joe the postman). It's not a bad story, though, just not a very good one. I would rank it above Rachel Pollack's "Burning Beard," an explicitly hip yet faithful retelling of the Biblical life of Joseph. Personally, I'm not a fan of Biblical allusions (even when written by a literary master like Milton); Pollack is considerably less skilled than Milton, and her retelling comes off as trite and silly rather than uniquely interstitial.

Some stories just did nothing for me. I don't understand Anna Tambour's story "The Shoes in SHOES' Window" at all--only that the world appears to be Communist-esque?--and unlike Singer's tale, it gave me no superficial pleasure. After praise heard through the grapevine about K. Tempest Bradford's "Black Feather," I was disappointed to read an unremarkable fairy-tale variant that didn't seem particularly interstitial. Veronica Schanoes's "Rats," a fictionalized biography -slash- Cinderella story about two depressed drug addicts destined for love, was too consciously grungy for me. Similarly, "Timothy" by Colin Greenland could be read as an eroticization of bestality if one were so inclined. And I was unconvinced by the m/m relationship in "A Map of the Everywhere" by Matthew Cheney, which is interstitial by virtue of sheer weirdness but failed as a tale first and foremost.

Some others, I enjoyed but did not love: I liked the collective narrator of "What We Know of the Lost Families of --- House" by Christopher Barzak, a horror tale that doesn't aim to scare. Mikal Trimm's "Climbing Redemption Mountain" wasn't as good as Kleinheincz's version of superrealistic surrealism, but it did emotionally satisfy. I likewise enjoyed reading Vandana Singh's "Hunger," especially the POC focus and all the foodie details, but found her sole fantastical element extraneous--the story is much better read as straight realism, which would not be interstitial. Two other translations also fail to live up to Kleinheincz: Léa Sihol's "Emblemata" from the French by Sarah Smith was interesting for its Buddhist philosophy but just missed the cut for favorites; Adrián Ferrero's "When It Rains, You'd Better Get out of Ulga" from the Spanish by Edo Mor had no plot and not enough theme or insight to make up for said lack. The anthology's closing piece, "A Dirge for Prester John," was typical of Catherynne M. Valente's style in its outlandish, monstrous imagery.

I applaud Sherman and Goss for their conscious shaping of geographic and cultural diversity, as well as their willingness to publish utterly unknown authors. I understand interstitiality a little more now, at least; I just wish that experimental fiction would constitute a smaller part of the (ironic) genre.
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by Joseph Heller
463 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Historical

Um, WTF?

This was funny--not as funny as Pratchett, not even close, but still good for a few chortles. Still, I didn't get it. I kept waiting for the book to have a point, until I reached the last page and still didn't get it. I thought it was funny, even laugh-out-loud funny at times; but not hilarious or even uniformly entertaining. A novel can't sustain itself on humor alone, and the only other impetus driving me to turn the pages was an objective curiosity in what-happens-next. Now that I know what happens next, and am not impressed, I've lost all impetus. The ending left me confused and dissatisfied.

That said, for experimental fiction Catch-22 is immensely approachable. And several of my friends adore this book. The plot: Yossarian, a bombadier in presumably alter-world WWII, has lost his nerve. And he's even flown the required 45 missions--if he were in any other squadron but Colonel Cathcart's, he would have long been safely home. (SPOILER) So, after 450+ pages of random (often funny, but still bizarrely random) storyline, Yossarian decides to follow his good buddy Orr to Sweden. --That, seriously, is the entire plot of the novel. The events in between are largely irrelevant and never stuck in my mind, save for the unimportant details like Milo's complicated egg-market scheme in Malta (which I still don't quite understand).

And that's all I got, folks. Maybe you'll make more sense out of the catch.
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Worlds Apart?: Dualism and Transgression in Contemporary Female Dystopias
by Dunja M. Mohr
312 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Nonfiction/Literary/SF

Since I selectively read this for a research paper, I can't say I really finished it; and it wouldn't do me much good to finish reading it on my own because I'm not familiar with the works discussed other than Atwood's Handmaid's Tale. Kohr does extensive and interesting close readings of Suzette Hagen Elgin's Native Tongue trilogy, Suzy McKee Charnas's Holdfast tetrology, and of course Atwood's best-known novel. The dualism argument is fascinating but I'm not sure I understand the transgression aspect. In any case, I've added the Native Tongue books to my list because they deal with linguistics!--anyone with more knowledge of the series or Charnas's care to chime in?
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The Enchantress of Florence
by Salman Rushdie
355 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Historical/Fantasy

An experimental-ish magic realism novel, with interesting new perspective on historical figures--Amerigo Vespucci, Niccolò Machiavelli, Akbar the Great (the one who tried to invent one faith that encompassed all, I believe). The setting is European but with a global feel and non-Western reach. What plot exists revolves around a travelling storyteller who calls himself Mogor dell'Amore (the Mughal of Love in butchered French), who seeks and entrances Akbar the Great with his tale. Storytelling is definitely vital here, although I'd need to reread the book to understand fully. The frame tale is intricate and confusing but a beautiful reading experience with equally resonant prose--a good thing, because I wasn't kidding about the lack of driving plot motivation. Rather, it is a novel that wanders leisurely around time and space and grabs the reader's curiosity just enough to sustain itself, like Jodha is sustained by Akbar's passion/love/imagination. And if I hadn't read it too late, I might have chosen this novel instead of The Handmaid's Tale (similar drifting style, but totally different in genre) for my research paper.

I believe Rushdie is either atheist or agnostic, which may account for the appealing philosophical bits. I loved Akbar's musings on I/we pronouns, on the divine right of kings, on morality, on creation (where the magic realism part comes in). "Wherever goodness lay, it did not lie in ritual, unthinking obeisance before a deity but rather, perhaps, in the slow, clumsy, error-strewn working out of an individual or collective path" (310). I will be reading Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude in May, so I look forward to mentally comparing the two.
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The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
311 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/SF

In the Republic of Gilead, a religious fundamentalist government ruling the former United States of America, there awaits a woman called Offred. Offred is a Handmaid, a fertile woman given six years--three chances--to produce a child for one of the elite Commanders as a surrogate for his childless Wife. She lives every day and every night, waiting for a spiritual surrender she is too cowardly to accept. Once, Offred had her own non-patronymic name, and she was married to a man named Luke with a young daughter. But her daughter has been adopted by some nameless Commander's household; what else does she live for? Her fundamental uncertainty lies at the heart of The Handmaid's Tale.

I first read this novel, one of Atwood's most renowned, about two years ago. I picked it up on a whim at the library, attracted by the cover; it introduced me to the subgenre of literary dystopic fiction, after which I read its original inspiration 1984. As a simple story--that is, setting aside literary merit--the novel just works. I sympathized immediately with the narrator (whom I shall call June, although her name is only deducible after reading most of the book) and her world's tragedies, particularly the political demise of democracy and feminism. Atwood also sets her tale in the remnants of Harvard Yard, which I'm sure will be amusing to those of you more familiar than I am with the area.

Atwood's prose shines like a full moon through sheer white curtains: subtle, elegant, and veiled. She writes with sparse beauty, interleaving strange yet familiar images of flowers, eggs, night, and silence in a purposeful vignette structure framed by the epilogue (pseudo-commentary titled "Historical Notes"). And her world-building grows outward from June's narrative, pervading the reader's sense of setting without needless exposition. The setting qualifies this Atwood novel as firmly science fiction, even if the author would not categorize it as such, and its literary qualities recommend comparison to Kazuo Ichiguro's Never Let Me Go or Maureen McHugh's Nekropolis.

I am intrigued by the themes of isolation, waiting, and illusion, three different but not dissimilar concepts that Atwood intertwines. The story remains inherently untrustworthy and unverified, unverifiable; June even states more than once that "I don't want to be telling this story," or that she is not reconstructing her memories in truth. And then I am struck by passages like this one, a snippet of narration that occurs while June prepares for the monthly Ceremony:

I wait, for the household to assemble. Household; that is what we are. The Commander is the head of the household. The house is what he holds. To have and to hold, till death do us part. The hold of a ship. Hollow.

Hollow feels like an apt description of Gileadean society, ironic given its emphasis on fertility; hollow is also an apt description of June until her illicit affair with Nick. This tale is obviously a story warning against the dangers of fundamentalism, but what does Gilead do right (if anything)? Like any totalitarian government, it wrought terrible cruelties. And like any structure of power, it left an indelible impact. Maryann Crescent Moon, Professor of Caucasian Anthropology, claimed that Gilead redrew the map of the world. In the end, this is perhaps what I love most about The Handmaid's Tale--the clichéd but oh-so-possible sense of DOOM.
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The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
341 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Historical

A mandatory read, and given its exalted position in the Western literary canon, I don't regret having read this; but that doesn't mean I have to like it. Hawthorne's style is way too ostentatious. I appreciate the literary depth but the actual story could have been much better told in a different (concise) style. Even if one refuses to sacrifice imagery, certain word choices are just ridiculous.

What, you don't know already know the plot of The Scarlet Letter? Hester Prynne, a young Puritan wife sent to the New World whose husband is presumed lost at sea, commits adultery and gives birth to a daughter she names Pearl. The main action takes place when Hester's husband (going under the name Roger Chillingworth) arrives in the colony on the same day she is enduring her decreed punishment--to stand upon the village scaffold for three hours at noon, and to wear a scarlet letter A upon her breast for the rest of her life. The town's favorite young minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, is also involved...

Is this good literature? Sure. Is this a good novel? I would argue no. For one, the plot is suspiciously coincidental and sometimes frustratingly implausible. How does Hester just happen to be walking in the town at midnight when Dimmesdale decides to go stand on the scaffold? Having decided to give in to temptation and leave the colony, why does Dimmesdale still not have the courage to tell Chillingworth to bugger off? As a reader, the plot left me unsatisfied.

Of course, on a literary level there is much to contemplate. I am in turns appreciative of and disturbed at Hawthorne's underlying message, whatever it may be. He obviously championed truth and justice, as idealized/idolized/symbolized in Pearl; but did he truly condemn Hester and Dimmesdale's relationship, to the point that they would never meet in Heaven? The couple is buried apart in the end, their ashes unmixed, but in a Puritan cemetery--and Hawthorne shows little support for the Puritan definition of morality. And if both Hester and Dimmesdale go to Heaven, where each will be eternally happy, then shouldn't they have to be together, in order to fulfill said requirement of eternal happiness? A part of me wishes that Hawthorne were secretly a progressive who wanted to show that adultery in certain circumstances isn't always EVIL and SINFUL; but the conventional lit mind points out all of Pearl's "punishments" aimed at Hester and Dimmesdale.

In the end, I remain ambivalent save for one point: Hawthorne needed to study the perils of purple prose. Enough said.
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The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini
371 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary

"Amir and Hassan, the sultans of Kabul," reads the knife-carved inscription on the pomegranate tree atop a hill in an old cemetery. The Kite Runner is a fictional memoir narrated by Amir, a boy born into privilege but desperate for paternal affection; it is a novel about Hassan, the simultaneously brave and weak "kite runner" of the title; it is a story chronicling Afghanistan's effect on one fragile family unit fraught with secrets and tragedy. It is at first a bildungsroman, a beautiful portrayal of Amir's growth through the years from his friendship with Hassan, the son of a devoted servant and a Hazara (a racial minority), to his marriage to a girl with similar past regrets in her life and to acceptance of Hassan's legacy. It is a tremendous novel--a work of literature--with all the perfectly-pitched prose, symbolic imagery, elegant motifs, mirroring and framing that "literary" implies.

Of course, I still prefer Hosseini's second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, for perhaps selfish gender reasons. And it's interesting to read my thoughts on that book at the time, a bit over a year and a month ago; I still remember its emotional impact, but I also appreciated Hosseini's prose in Kite Runner where I apparently didn't in Suns. I'm richer for reading both and I'll keep this on my bookshelf for its skill with language; I will also be interested in any of Hosseini's future works, although I hope he'll consider a setting other than war-torn Afghanistan. There are some plot holes in the debut novel--What are the chances of Hassan's mother randomly returning? Why did Rahim Khan keep the secret for so long, and then trick Amir even as he revealed the secret, so manipulatively?--that he mostly hid through prose and characterization. Moreover, I did not sympathize with Sohrab as much as I wanted to, as much as I expected to based on my emotional connection to the other characters. The Kite Runner reads very much like memoir, so stark and poignant in places that I wonder how much of it was inspired by reality--I am reminded of Tim O'Brien's The Things We Carried, which is also memoir-like but incorporates a meta aspect.

Overall not a disappointment in the least, and it bore great fruits for book club discussion.
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The Mango Season
by Amulya Malladi
229 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Romance

Like My Name Is Sei Shōnagon, Malladi's novel tells a story that I identify with personally. Priya Rao left India at age 20 to study in the U.S., and now she's returning after seven years--to announce her engagement to Nick Collins, an American man. India, her homeland, is overwhelmingly foreign, even the mangoes that she loved so much as a child. And as Priya's parents plot an arranged marriage to a "nice Indian boy" (preferably rich and Telugu Brahmin), Priya's fear of her family's reaction leads inevitably to disaster.

Malladi isn't afraid to deal with conflict--with interracial romance, racism, culture clash, duty, and tradition. Priya is shocked by her family's blatant racism and expectation that despite her rebellious attitude, she will ultimately conform. And she loves them, all of them--her inability to truly stand up to her mother drove me nuts, in fact--but she also loves Nick. The plot revolves fundamentally around Priya's reconciliation of her roles as lover and family, West and East.

In reading, I was constantly struck by the parallels that I drew between traditional Indian and Chinese cultures. Although China has much less emphasis on religion and is, in the modern day, more free regarding arranged marriages, there is definitely pressure to marry a nice Chinese boy and stay home to raise children. The extended family is very important in both cultures--at one point, Priya asks her mother to treat her with respect and receives this answer: "You are too young to gain my respect and you have done nothing so far to gain it....Children respect their parents [and] that is all there is to it" (89). And the scary part is that my parents have told me essentially the same thing. Another moment that echoed strongly:

"Most first-generation Indians in the United States only had friends who were Indians. I had never thought I would be any different. I had started out with only Indian friends but my circle grew as I grew. Now I was in a place where I didn't think in terms of Indian friends and American friends, just friends. I had somewhere down the line stopped looking at skin color. (213)

Ironically, for me it was almost the opposite experience. I grew up in a sheltered and overwhelmingly white environment, so I had no choice but to befriend white kids. And when I moved to a place that did have a critical mass of Asians, I still distinguish mentally between "Chinese friends" and "school friends" (some of the latter are fully assimilated Asian-American, which makes a difference). While Priya and I are different, she is of any novel I have ever read the character most similar to me. I empathize easily with protagonists no matter their heritage, but I was engrossed in Priya's internal conflict with almost painful understanding.

And the end of The Mango Season, which I accidentally spoiled myself for, also lobs a last surprise revelation at the reader that forces a reconsideration of everything preceding. I do so love twist endings. Mulladi has a knack for realism, too--this novel sounds and feels like a memoir, the characters' voices are so real.
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My Name Is Sei Shōnagon
by Jan Blensdorf
152 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Literary

This book makes me so happy. Deliriously happy.

Look, ma--people of color! Mixed colors, even! "Sei," the unnamed protagonist, was born to a Japanese mother and American father. She lives in the United States at first, but when her father dies, she and her mother move back to Japan to live in the household of her dominating uncle. Her inability to assimilate into either culture is something with which I identify very, very much. I don't think the narrator/protagonist is ever named except for her pseudonym--Sei Shōnagon, tenth-century author of The Pillow Book--she is lying in a coma in the hospital, and the novel consists of her reminisces; it is slowly evocative of real life, like the best of literary fiction. Mainly set in Japan, the story stays true to that culture (at least as I understand it). Japan is still a patriarchal society, though constantly and gradually progressing. Blensdorf doesn't shied away from racism and abuse both physical and emotional.

Regarding technique, it's written in gorgeous prose, comparable to GGK but in a totally different style. Also nominally second-person narration that works, oh so well, with a wonderful twist of perspective at the end. The length fits the tale, for I don't think the structure could be maintained over a longer novel.

Everyone should read this. Really. It's not something that I would necessarily reread, but rather something that I can't imagine not having the pleasure to experience.
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The Things They Carried
by Tim O'Brien
246 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary

After skimming the Amazon PW reviews, I decided to read this book last out of the three assigned for the summer; and I guess I'm glad I did, because it was a pleasure and my favorite of the three. O'Brien tackles a serious topic--war, specifically the Vietnam war--with innovative technique and realism. As a fictional memoir, it succeeds admirably; I flipped back to the title page more than once, rereading the "work of fiction" subtitle with disbelief. I admit that I wasn't drawn deeply into the characters, because I had nothing to connect to. But I could spend ages analyzing the style and structure manages to carry ("hump") such a weighty load all the way from America to Vietnam and back again. The first chapter, from which the novel's title is drawn, wowed me enough to grab my interest. I continued reading to see what else the author could pull off, and I wasn't disappointed. And I don't think I understand his meaning completely, which is the best way to finish a first reading.
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Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
219 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Historical/Literary

Like Into Thin Air, this was assigned reading. I had heard horror stories about the dialect, but I found the novel surprisingly readable and reasonably interesting. (By the way, the cover of my edition, with a foreword by Mary Helen Washington and an afterword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is just gorgeous.) This is a great book to analyze, perhaps not as great a book to read for pleasure, at least for this reader. There are definitely feminist undertones--Janie accepts and endures abuse by the men in her life, and even Tea Cake, who gives her the most self-agency, is controlling and jealous. Race, of course, also plays an important role.

I appreciate Hurston's work on a literary level, but I find the plot lacking--it serves only to drive the development of Janie as the all-important main character, which is a noble purpose and sufficient for mainstream fiction. I'm used to reading genre, I guess.
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I'm putting this review, perhaps the longest book review I've ever written, under a cut for both length and content. A warning: I now hold a decidedly low opinion of Leslie What.

In which I exemplify logorrhea in written form )

While I was initially attracted to the concept of Logorrhea--I love spelling bees and vocabulary words--I chose to read it for Theodora Goss's Kubla Khan story. That, and other surprises such as Daniel Abraham (whose novels have now moved up my TBR list significantly) and Duncan's unexpected success in short form made this collection satisfying. Other stories fell in the mediocre hit-or-miss range, with the notable exceptions of Michael Moorcock's trite "A Portrait in Ivory" and certainly Leslie What's tale "Tsuris." Overall, an average book for me as far as anthologies go, with stories at both extremes. I tentatively issue a broad recommendation because the range of genre and style here is so wide; you will probably find at least one story to like.

ETA: Minor edits to correct grammar.


keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)

January 2011



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