You Are One of Them is a story about a little girl named Sarah Zuckerman, who lives in Washington, DC. Sarah lives with loss, caused by the early death of her sister, a death which in turn caused the divorce of her parents. Her life changes one day, however, when another little girl named Jenny Jones moves in across the street. They become best friends and schoolmates, sharing childhood years of love and happiness. At the height of the Cold War, Sarah decides one day to write a letter to Yuri Andropov, the Soviet premier, asking him to do what he can to avoid nuclear war. Jenny also decides to write a letter. A little while later, Andropov decides to respond, causing a big media storm. Jenny Jones becomes world famous, travelling to the USSR as a 12-year-old ambassador. The girls grow apart until Jenny and her family die in an airplane accident. Years later, Sarah travels to Russia to learn the truth of what happened to her friend.
Interesting story coming out of the NY Times: An Old Chinese Novel is Racy Reading Still. A young 16-year-old son of missionaries goes into a Nanjing bookstore in 1950 in order to look for porn, and he finds a copy of a 16th century pornographic tale written by an unknown author. Nearly 65 years later, David Tod Roy is a professor of Chinese literature at the University of Chicago and is on the verge of publishing the fifth and final volume of the books’ translation. According to the Times, the translation is an extraordinary feat:
All that work with the server, all that stress with losing a week and a half of work, all that talk with one dude’s dubious claims of being a “national level” fighter who participates in full-contact tournaments with no weight classes…and now I have nothing to blog about! Must be the fatigue. Or the other stuff going on in life.
Anyway, Tash Aw’s Five Star Billionaire was longlisted for the Man Booker last month. Has anyone here read it? I haven’t read FSB, but I may do so when life gets a little less busy.Tash Aw is a Malaysian of Chinese descent. You can read his interview in the NY Times here. It says of his book:
I’ve been trying hard to get my kids interested in Chinese immigration stories, so I was happy to have found this book. It’s a book about a fictional 12-year-old boy named Lee who immigrates from China to Angel Island in order to seek economic opportunity for his family. Lee is a paper son. His grandparents pay a paper father to falsify documents for his entry to the U.S., and the story is about how he misses his grandparents but has to study hard to pass the immigration test. The story is fictional, but the authors clearly did a lot of research on the living conditions of Chinese immigrants to Angel Island. The artwork by Wilson Ong is absolutely amazing.
As an Oregonian, one of my favorite activities is camping. I checked out Into the Wild because of my love for the outdoors.
The story is about a young man named Christopher Johnson McCandless, the son of a successful NASA engineer, who, after his graduation from Emory University, renounces his family and heads out into the wilderness. McCandless “tramps” through the Western states, including California, Oregon, and Idaho, living in the wilderness with his hunting and fishing skills, and doing odd jobs when necessary. He hitchhikes up and down the country from Mexico to Canada, meeting people and keeping notes in his journal while preparing for a big trip to Alaska, where he hopes to become one with the land. The story ends tragically, and he ends up dying of starvation.
Paul Tough writes an interesting book on teaching kids to succeed. How Children Succeed is based on the idea that character often determines how children cope with the world, and that there are ways adults can best teach children the character traits that will enable them to do well in the world. Tough focuses on the poorest and neediest children in his interviews, but he also talks about how wealthy kids face the same issues on a lesser scale. His thesis is that character traits are often more important than IQ, and that having the “character” to strive and work will often make a person successful
bigWOWO rating: Literary Fiction Gold
I don’t remember where I first heard of The Virgins by Pamela Erens, but I picked it up for the sole reason that it featured an Asian American male as a main character. The story is written from the perspective of a senior at a boarding school named Bruce Bennett-Jones, who develops an obsession with a Jewish American female student named Aviva Rossner, a junior with childhood issues. Bennett-Jones’s obsession develops to the point that he tries to rape her. Aviva instead becomes involved with a Korean American senior named Seung Jung. The story of their sensual relationship unfolds as they deal with issues of class, money, race, gender, and power. Erens adeptly uses language to paint an intense picture of life at their boarding school. This was an excellent novel. It would be no exaggeration to call it a masterpiece.
I brought up Bill Cheng in a previous post, and I just finished reading his novel Southern Cross the Dog. Cheng, despite growing up as an Asian American in Queens and never having visited the South, wrote a novel about an African American man living during the early twentieth century in the Deep South. As I mentioned earlier, Cheng has been praised for his mastery of the language, even while the book got a less than perfect review from the NY Times.
I sometimes read books and don’t have enough time to write a full review–or else it isn’t relevant enough to Asian American issues. But I like talking about books anyway, so here are two that I recently read:
1. Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee. This is a great book about finding purpose. Michael K is a young man with a harelip who takes care of his mother during a violent civil war. He cares for his mother until she dies, and he is then left to seek his own path. Coetzee is a two-time Booker Award winner from South Africa (who has since moved to Australia). He first won the award with this book. His other Booker winner was Disgrace, which was also very good and which (I thought) focuses more on South African society, rather than the individual. I especially respect Coetzee’s portrayal of masculinity.