Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Who wants a chunky?

And so I'm at it again. I've just signed up for the Chunkster Challenge 2008! In this challenge, from now until December 20th, I need to read four chunky books (books over 450 pages long). Really there are no other requirements. AND I can cross over, so books that I'm reading for other challenges, I can read for this. Sounds good to me!

The List:

LA Confidential - James Ellroy
The Red and the Black - Stendhal
The Virgin's Lover - Phillippa Gregroy
Standing in the Rainbow - Fannie Flagg

Monday, January 21, 2008

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See

snow flower and the secret fan
lisa see
c. 2006
288 pages

*may contain spoilers*

Another book read for the Expanding Horizons Challenge (see sidebar), this time, Asia. This is a story about two girls in rural China who are matched together as laotong, meaning 'old same.' Your laotong is another girl who you are bound to for life, someone to love and share life with, like a best friend. The book often compared the bond of laotong's to marriage. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan follows these girls through their lives in China from the time they are matched until death.

I both enjoyed and was disappointed in this book. This was a very quiet and gentle book; there was not a lot of conflicted action. Instead it just gently plodded along telling the very usual story of two Chinese girls. When there was conflict or struggle, such as the deaths of Third Sister and Beautiful Moon, it came on very suddenly and was very suddenly over and life continued to plod along.

This was also true of the main conflict of the story. The three main conflicts (the epidemic, the uprisings, and then the misunderstanding between Lily and Snow Flower) were all lumped together, happened one after the other, and then were so quickly over. We had spent almost three fourths of the book so slow and gentle, and then all of a sudden tragedy strikes and is over.

I was disappointed between the misunderstanding between Lily and Snow Flower. I had read the back of the book and knew that some kind of misunderstanding took place, and that that was supposed to be a central theme of the story, but like I said before it happened and was over so quickly. I had waited all through the book for something to happen, but then we seemed to so quickly gloss over it. Snow Flower said something to hurt Lily's feelings, Lily embarrassed Snow Flower in front of all the women of the town, and then it's eight years later.

Besides those disappointments, I greatly enjoyed the amount of detail that went into describing the day to day lives of Chinese women, as well as their festivals and ceremonies. These descriptions were very beautifully and vividly written. I just wish the same amount of depth went into the story as well.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

half of a yellow sun
chimamanda ngozi adichie
560 pages
c. 2006

*contains possible spoilers*

I read this book as part of the 2008 Expanding Horizons Challenge (see sidebar). I was particularly interested in that challenge for, while I am an ardent lover of history and culture, I have so far mainly stayed in England, with jaunts into France and Spain, and the extremely occasional journeys to Asia. This challenge pushes me to taste so many different places and cultures.

Freak that I am, I like to do everything in some sort of order. And for this list I chose to read these books in alphabetical order according to ethnic category. As such, Africa comes first. Half of a Yellow Sun is set during the Nigerian/Biafron war of the late 60's, focusing on the intermingled lives of five characters: Odenigbo, a revolutionary academic; Olanna, his high class lover; Ugwu, his houseboy; Kainene, Olanna's willful twin sister; and Richard, Kainene's British lover. The narrative is told through the eyes of Ugwu, Olanna, and Richard, rotating between chapters.

I really enjoyed reading this book. As I alluded to before, this is an area I really have no knowledge about, which made the reading both interesting and frustrating. There was quite a bit about the Nigerian politics that I didn't understand, such as the causes of the two coups and the hatred between the different Nigerian peoples.

I specifically enjoyed that this book showed three extremely different points of view. All three of these people were going through the same sorts of circumstances (the challenges and hardships of the Nigerian/Biafran war), all three were on the same side (that of the Biafrans), yet all three, due to who they were, had to view the war in such different ways. Olanna chose to stay behind in Biafra when her parents were offering to take her away to London, to safety. She had options, she had people she could turn to for help in the worst of times. Ugwu's fate was continually chosen for him. Wherever "Master" and "Mah" took him, he would go. When his towns were forced to evacuate, it was not home to his family he went, it was on to Odenigbo's family. This same essence of non-control followed him in his conscription into the army. While his day to day life changed rapidly after that occurrence, the obedience to his outside forces did not. And last of all Richard, the outsider. Through the whole book, he tried so hard to be one of the Biafrans, but eventually he figured out, and summed up in his statement to Ugwu, "the war is not my story to tell." And it never was.

While I greatly appreciated the difference between life in the early '60's where we saw the characters unfold and life in the late '60's where we saw the characters change due to the war, I did not understand that author's decision to jump from early to late than back to early and then late again. Maybe these jumps were a way of compounding the importance of both Odenigbo's and then Olanna and Richard's betrayals. Maybe we wanted to see that Olanna had completely taken Baby into her home and her heart. However, I feel the story would have flowed a great deal more if things had just gone chronologically.

I feel the end of the story was incredibly beautifully and tragically told. I like that, just like Olanna and Richard, we are left not knowing what happened to Kainene. And I felt it was justified for Ugwu to come home and find himself on both sides of his dirty deed.

After reading this book, I wholeheartedly agree with one of Kainene's sentiments. This book really does depict some true horrors of war, some truly unspeakable and unforgivable events. War can make people do things they never would have done. But in the face of such heinous acts, past actions that should have been unforgivable are forgiven.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Books Read in 2007

1. The Courts of Love - Jean Plaidy (3/5)
2. The Giver - Lois Lowry (4/5)
3. Dead Man Walking - Sister Helen Prejean
4. A Million Little Pieces - James Fray (4/5)
5. Or Give Me Death - Ann Rinaldi (4/5)
6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - JK Rowling (5/5)
7. A Respectable Trade - Phillippa Gregory (3/5)
8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - JK Rowling (reread)
9. Sex With the Queen - Eleanor Herman (4/5)
10. The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell
11. Wicked - Gregory Maguire (2/5)
12. Wise Children - Angela Carter (5/5)
13. The Castle of Ortranto - Horace Walpole (2/5)
14. Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury (3/5)
15. The Boleyn Inheritance - Phillippa Gregory (4/5)
16. The Cement Garden - Ian McEwan (3/5)
17. A Morbid Taste for Bones - Ellis Peters (reread)
18. One Corps Too Many - Ellis Peters (reread)

Favorite Fiction: Wise Children Least
Favorite Fiction: The Castle of Otranto
Favorite NonFiction: Sex With the Queen
Favorite ReRead: One Corpse Too Many