Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Good Earth, Pearl S Buck

I believe this was my first book by Pearl S. Buck that I've read, except for maybe a short story here or there in high school. Her writing style was nice and I could feel the cultural implications very well, although the narrator, Wang Lung is a Chinese male, neither of which describe the author. I guess this posed some controversy back in the day, but it didn't bother me.

This novel starts with Wang Lung as the young man son of a widowed farmer, the only surviving child of his father. They have a farm and he respects the land, loves the land and lives by the land. It follows this man, Wang Lung through trial and error, friendship and betrayal, feast and famine, rags and riches through his life until upon his death bed. I have very mixed feelings about aspects of the story, but it is only because I don't like the way women were once viewed and treated-and still are in some places today. That any female child born was automatically called a "slave" because all she would be good for is either being sold as a slave, sold to prostitution, or to become a wife and bear sons. Wang Lung has moments where he would defy the cultural expectations, for he does have a good heart, but he also falls victim to pride of how things "should be" and that angered me even though I fully understand it within the cultural and time period frame work. It outlines what my religion has dubbed the "pride cycle". Those who work hard to rise above their estate and have good fortune sometimes forget their times of hardship, and most importantly do not pass on this insight to their posterity. And so things come full circle. History when forgotten repeats itself. My favorite character of this book is Wang Lung's faithful wife, O-Lan. Many moments of incredulity were over the merits of her character, but she was far from perfect, but given her upbringing, she turned out remarkably well. Only one act of hers I find extremely hard to forgive, again, though, understandable in context, still broke my heart.

I couldn't put this book down. It wasn't a heart pounding page turning type pull, but a "what will he possibly do next?" pull. This is the first book in awhile that I've read within two weeks time.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

This is a French novel translated into English. With that being said, it is VERY French. And I liked that. I enjoyed this book far more than I expected. It is a split narrative between 12 year old Paloma and 54 year old Renee. The most refreshing thing I found technically was the different fonts used for each author. There was no mistaking who was talking and that made the mental adjustment between the two narrators completely seamless. Why has no one thought to do this before??

Anyhow, Renee is a concierge at a very expensive apartment complex in which each floor is its own 4000 square foot apartment, of which Paloma lives on one floor. Both are rather ignorant of each other for a majority of the story until a new tenant, Mr. Ozu makes his entrance.

Paloma you find out in the first chapter is suicidal, but not for the reasons one would expect. She is very intellectual and has many great insights, but being only 12, really does need some expansion of the knowledge she has to turn into wisdom, and so in that respect it is a coming of age story for her.

Renee is a complex character who is easy to love but sometimes hard to understand. She has inner fears that even she is not comfortable discussing with the reader for a long time.

Full of expected and unexpected exchanges, humor, pessimism, optimism, hope, joy and sadness, it is a great book full of things to think about. Oh, and just so you know, with two intellectuals narrating, the vocabulary used is tremendous. You can usually gain meaning through context, but I chose to use my dictionary app on my phone to make sure I had full understanding and I learned quite a few new terms....but don't let it deter you from reading this great story!

I found out that a movie was made in 2009 of this book, and it is available with English subtitles. I am anxious to see if my library can get a hold of it so I can watch it!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Girl Who Was On Fire, Edited by Leah Wilson

This was an AWESOME read! For many of the sections, it was affirmation that I wasn't the only one viewing the books in a certain light ("for me the romance was a subplot" and a consistent comparison to George Orwell's "1984") and others while I don't see it the same way, I can respect their perspective and take from it what I will (which also made me think of things in a different way). And some introduced ideas that I had never entertained (the idea of "community" being a vital part of freedom). Since writing much more would be spoiling your read, I'll just leave the titles of each chapter/section-maybe a tidbit-but not more. This is DEFINITELY worth your time! Especially for those who may have viewed the Hunger Games triology as being a bunch of violent killing, it will help shed light on the more important message-that we know it was wrong and the citizens of Panem knew it was wrong, but many just didn't know how to go about stopping it. So here's the table of contents:

Why So Hungry for the Hunger Games?
Team Katniss
Your Heart is a Weapon the Size of Your Fist (love conquers all, right? But love of WHAT exactly?)
Smoke and Mirrors
Someone to Watch Over Me (Some of our most popular TV shows are a bit like the Hunger Games. Sure, nobody dies on our reality TV shows. But we still watch people suffer. We watch them endure physical and mental challenges on Survivor, subject them to isolation on Big Brother, tell them their dreams will never come true on Idol, and break their hearts on The Bachelorette. Reality TV is all about putting people in difficult situations and watching how they react. Some people come out stronger, richer, and healthier, facing a lifetime of success. Others are voted off the island early on, their failure broadcast all over the world. How many steps are there, between our own TV shows and the Hunger Games?)
Reality Hunger
Panem et Circenses (how a society can, will, and does trade political responsibility and therefore power in return for food and entertainment)
Not So Weird Science (did you know that scientists created a sheep/human hybrid? Mostly sheep with only a few specks of human DNA, but STILL! Its name is Polly, created shortly after the first successfully cloned sheep, Dolly)
Crime of Fashion
Bent, Shattered, and Mended
The Politics of Mockingjay
The Inevitable Decline of Decadence
Community in the Face of Tyranny

Ok, if you're not hooked by those chapter/section headings or the tidbits by some of them, you never will be. I extremely enjoyed this perspective filled book.