Tag Archive | culture

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

13202496Overview: In Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa See takes us on a journey back to a captivating era of Chinese history and delves into one of the most mysterious of human relationships: female friendship.
 
In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, an “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she has written a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on the fan and compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together they endure the agony of footbinding and reflect upon their arranged marriages, their loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace in their friendship, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their relationship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

My thoughts: I had mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I couldn’t put it down and kept reading chapter after chapter, staying up until 4 A.M. to finish it. On the other hand, the main character’s actions were disappointing. Most of the younger characters start out as something different; they’re rambunctious, active, and playful, but later they just turn into stereotypical old people, especially Lily, the main character.

The hardships of the girls kept me turning the pages. Some of their problems, such as foot binding, are gruesome. Their flight to avoid war also adds to the tension and page turning aspect of the story. However, Lily can be a pain sometimes. She seems to close herself off from the world and become shallow, sticking to tradition although her laotong, Snow Flower, strives to create her own path within the traditional structure.

Part of me had to put away my 21st century view of women to deal with this story. The two girls couldn’t do much to control their own fates, and historically, that’s the way women were treated. I think Lisa See does a great job with the historical elements and not breaking her character’s point-of-view. However, that’s also the downside of the story. When the character does have a break through, it tends to be small, weak ones as if there’s nothing Lily can do to change the past or take hold of the future. She does do a few things to change and control her children’s future, but it’s as if she gives up on making her life better, just like her mother does when Lily is little. Some of the characters’ development tends to be superficial.

Snow Flower is probably my favorite character because she tends to be a bit more unconventional, and she stands up for herself by forming friendships with other women when her laotong doesn’t treat her kindly.

It’s a good quick light read, and I’d recommend it for people interested in historical Chinese stories.

I borrowed this book from my library.

Taureg by Alberto Vázquez-Figueroa

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One of Gazel’s guests is murdered, and so he must fight to fix the wrongs according to his ancestor’s ways. His journey takes him from the middle of the Sahara Desert to a wasteland from which no one returns to a foreign city beside the sea. In this story, tradition clashes with the modern life as good intentions clash with corruption. Upholding either law only seems to add to the chaos of Gazel’s solitary war.

Gazel is a hero with a flaw, which of course makes this story a tragedy. He has a lot of persistence and resourceful skills. His presence makes the book fun to read. The other characters definitely add to the color of the story. There are Gazel’s foil, the ultimate bad guy, the nice guy just following orders, the nurturing women, and then pawns of the military. Ultimately, independence and remaining faithful to your values permeates this story.

I don’t necessarily agree with the treatment of some of the characters, but that’s probably because I’m not used to the Tuaregs’ culture. The story was translated from Spanish, but it’s still well written. It flows very well, but unfortunately, it doesn’t have any chapter markers. Every now and then, there are breaks in between the storyline and perspective changes. Some of the perspective changes are confusing because the section starts with “he” rather than a name. Grammar mistakes can be found in the book; there are a few missing verbs and common problems.

I found this book on Goodreads and downloaded a PDF version for free.

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Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV by Jennifer L. Ponzer

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Reality Bites Back is a very thick book. There are millions and millions of hours of reality TV and different types of reality TV, and so this book needs to be thick to accomplish its goal. In part, I think it does, but in other aspects, it doesn’t.

If I had titled this book, it would’ve been Unscripted Women Bite Back: Age Old Views in Reality TV or something of the sort. Most of the book focuses on women, which is probably the author’s strong point, but I think that made this book weak. Gender does not exist in a vacuum, and we know that more than one gender exists. Degrading women doesn’t just hurt women. It also hurts men, and reality TV shows men in a negative light. The book only contains a few paragraphs about men, but I feel like it would’ve been a stronger argument if a whole chapter or more was dedicated to how men are falsely represented on TV.

The themes go in between women, minorities, and LGBTQ (I’m sorry if I missed a group). It’s great that the author has lots of material, but all of it gets mashed into a big jumble and it’s hard to dissect apart. I think the author had good intentions of separating topics by chapters, but then topics blended into each, and women issues ended up in chapters about LGBTQ. Those issues are probably connected, but it would’ve been nice if she created a few borders between them so that the topics were more understandable. I thought that maybe the author could’ve divided it by TV shows, but then lots of TV shows share similar themes, so that wouldn’t have worked either. Honestly, there are just too many themes and topics to discuss about reality TV, and not all of them can fit into a book. It might’ve been better if she wrote multiple books on reality TV, each focusing on a different theme or different type of reality TV.

The chapter at the end of the book is fun and thought provoking. She encourages you to keep watching your favorite reality TV shows, but to speak up, make fun of, or analyze what’s going on as you watch the show. I wanted to try her ideas and attempted to watch The Kardashian Show…but I failed miserable. That show really bored me, so maybe I’ll try another one later.

I feel like this book just scraps the top of reality TV, like taking the sugar off the top of homemade jelly. If you really want to experience the jelly, you have to take some of the sugar with the jelly underneath, bit by bit at a time. That’s not something this book does. The book’s argument just goes on and on, which can leave you mentally exhausted. While reading this, I wanted to take a step back and just think about a point Pozner made and digest it. I also wanted to find out more information and read more sources about the topic before moving on.

Basically, if you’re interested in TV and cultural views, then I’d recommend this book, but I’d also recommend you read something else. It’s a good book to have in your repertoire to get an idea of reality TV, but I don’t think it should be the one-all and be-all book that you read. Another way to put it is if you were writing an essay on Reality TV, I’d suggest you read this book to get an idea of what to write about and basic knowledge, but don’t quote it as a source when you get into the deeper details of your paper (unless you’re actually using it to make your point, of course).

As a side note, I don’t watch reality TV unless my mom is watching. Every time she watches it, I don’t see what’s so great or attractive about watching other people’s lives. That’s just weird to me and makes me feel like an awkward peeper…

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I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali and Delphine Minoui

6818019Overview: Forced by her father to marry a man three times her age, young Nujood Ali was sent away from her parents and beloved sisters and made to live with her husband and his family in an isolated village in rural Yemen. There she suffered daily from physical and emotional abuse by her mother-in-law and nightly at the rough hands of her spouse. Flouting his oath to wait to have sexual relations with Nujood until she was no longer a child, he took her virginity on their wedding night. She was only ten years old.

Unable to endure the pain and distress any longer, Nujood fled—not for home, but to the courthouse of the capital, paying for a taxi ride with a few precious coins of bread money. When a renowned Yemeni lawyer heard about the young victim, she took on Nujood’s case and fought the archaic system in a country where almost half the girls are married while still under the legal age. Since their unprecedented victory in April 2008, Nujood’s courageous defiance of both Yemeni customs and her own family has attracted a storm of international attention. Her story even incited change in Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries, where underage marriage laws are being increasingly enforced and other child brides have been granted divorces.

My thoughts: Nujood’s family is plagued by problems, and some of those problems are poverty and the fear of adultery. To counter these issues, Nujood’s Aba decides to marry her to a 30-year-old man, whom promises to wait until she hits puberty to consummate the union. That man doesn’t keep his promises, and Nujood is left with nightmares, bruises, and anguish.

This book delves further than just Nujood’s terrifying marriage, it also follows up with her siblings’ struggles. It’s interesting how the book gives you an idea of other problems Yemen has, like trafficking, poverty, lack of education, early marriages, and so on. I know now more about Yemen than I did before.

I think the book is very good at depicting some of the problems, like poverty, but it doesn’t fully explain village customs or why those themes matter. As a non-Muslim reading this book, I don’t understand how honor works in Islam, and this book fails to put Islamic practices into perspective for others.

The book does provide notes at the end of the story, and so some things are explained further. I think it’s cool how links are provided in the text to the notes at the back of the kindle edition, but then you can’t get back to the section you were reading in the story unless you scroll back or jump there by entering the page or location number.

The biggest problem I have with this story is that there seems to be two narrators, and their voices don’t converge even though Nujood is the only one telling the story. On one hand, there’s ten-year-old Nujood, and then there seems to be a more mature educated Nujood. Maybe it’s a translation issue, but for a 10-year-old girl who’s barely literate, there are too many larger words and too many complex sentences. Maybe Nujood really does speak that way, but it doesn’t logically make sense to me. I think the journalist had more to do with the writing than Nujood did. The journalist tries to see things from Nujood’s 10-year-old girls, but then switches back to her older eyes. It causes the writing to seem jagged in some areas.

I borrowed this book from the library and read it on my kindle.

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The Devil’s Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea

Overview:ThImagee author of “Across the Wire” offers brilliant investigative reporting of what went wrong when, in May 2001, a group of 26 men attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona. Only 12 men came back out. “Superb . . . Nothing less than a saga on the scale of the Exodus and an ordeal as heartbreaking as the Passion . . . The book comes vividly alive with a richness of language and a mastery of narrative detail that only the most gifted of writers are able to achieve.–“Los Angeles Times Book Review.”

My thoughts: LSU Honors College selected this book for Summer Reading in 2012, hence, I read the book. I would love to rate this book as a three or four due to its subject content, but I simply cannot.

My biggest problem is the way the book is structure. The author admits upfront that he could only collect so much data, and so his knowledge is based on the sources he could find. Basically, he retells the story of the Welton  26/Yuma 14 in many different perspectives to the point where the story becomes confusing.

His opening chapter drives me insane. Each section has a different part of the story, usually with a different perspective. I understand that opening with a sporadic chapter adds to the chaos of the story, but it jolts my brain so much and just leaves me confused. I think it would’ve been better if the first chapter was more coherent.

The sporadic changing point-of-view continues through the entire book although the rest of the book isn’t as bad as the first chapter. However, it’s a lot to keep up with. Again, I understand why he does it since he probably doesn’t have all of the story from one person’s perspective, but switching perspectives so many times doesn’t work for me.

From a literary stand point, Urrea does what my teachers have told me not to do. He writes in incomplete sentences, switches point-of-view often, and goes between past tense and present tense. Sometimes, the story flows so well that these “forbidden techniques” work. Other times, I seriously scoff at them. If you’re looking for a well written literary piece, this is not the one for you. If you just want a story about Mexican immigration, this’ll probably be a good one.

Besides structure, I also had a problem with some of the information. More towards the beginning of the book, I wasn’t sure of most of the things I read. It seems like Urrea writes about specific situations that laymen wouldn’t know about unless they had previous knowledge of illegal immigration. I had never read anything about that subject matter until this book, so it was hard to keep up with it sometimes. Urrea does use some Spanish, and I could read most of it due to studying the language for about four years, but if there is no explanation for the Spanish, I don’t see the point in including it.

Urrea also tries to include metaphors, but they seem overdramatic and out of place, especially towards the end. I know he’s trying to include Mexican beliefs with the metaphors and make the Yuma 14 event seem horrific at the same time. However, sometimes the metaphors seem like a good thing and at others, they seem like a bad thing, so I just feel conflicted and I have no idea what to think about the ending.

This book isn’t a bad one, but it doesn’t work for me. If I had read about illegal immigration before this book, then I think it would have been enjoyable. Also, I think it would have been much better if he had written it from one person’s perspective and then explained everything that happened after the desert episode in another section of the book.
I borrowed this book from my library through the interlibrary loans system.