PUSH by Sapphire

Push by SapphireTitle:  Push

Author:  Sapphire

Paperback:  192 pages

Published:  1996

Acquired:  bought new from Walmart

Challenges: New Author Challenge 2010, We Didn’t Start the Fire 2010 (AIDS), POC Reading Challenge

I don’t have nothing to write today – maybe never.  Hammer in my heart now, beating me, I feel like my blood a giant river swell up inside me and I’m drwoning.  My head all dark inside.  Feel like giant river I never cross in front me now.  Ms Rain say, You not writing Precious.  I say I drownin’ in river.  She don’t look me like I’m crazy but say, If you just sit there the river gonna rise up drown you!  Writing could be the boat carry you to the other side.  One time in your journal you told me you had never really told your story.  I think telling your story git you over that river Precious.

I still don’t move.  She say, “Write.”  I tell her, “I am tired.  Fuck you!”  I scream, “You don’t know nuffin’ what I been through!”  I scream at Ms Rain.  I never do that before.  Class look shock.  I feel embarrass, stupid; sit down, I’m made a fool of myself on top of everthing else.  “Open your notebook Precious.”  “I’m tired,” I says.  She says, “I know you are but you can’t stop now Preciuos, you gotta push.”  And I do.

Push by Sapphire, pages 96-97

wow.  I mean really, WOW.

Push by Sapphire is a book of truth.  It is raw, heart-breaking, and hard.  It is inspiring, hope-filled, naked and honest.  It is not the kind of book that will appeal to everyone, not that happy beach book many want, it is stark and dark and real and beautiful.  It could’ve been exploitative, could’ve been depressing and hopeless, could’ve so easily become an anti-white, anti-men rant, but Sapphire managed to weave the story together, as told by the main character, Precious Jones, into an emotional tale of how education can give hope for a chance at freedom and a better life.

I knew a bit about the story from the movie based on the book, Precious.  I haven’t yet seen the movie (are you kidding?  There’s no way the theater owner of our little 2-screener would’ve had THAT movie in HIS place!  Heck, he wouldn’t bring in a Tyler Perry movie, and they’re funny with a little “let’s get real” on the side), so I have to way until it comes out on DVD next month (already in my Netflix queue), but I have seen the trailers and watched the interviews and heard the awards buzz about it.  From the few scenes I’ve seen, and after reading the book, the movie should win every award it could qualify for, and if it doesn’t, I’ll be irate.  I also knew about this book from seeing it being checked out… always out and never in… at the library, and from reading Kathy at Bermudaonion’s review back in December.

So when I wandered (drifted mindlessly, to be more accurate) to the book section at Walmart the day before yesterday and saw it on the shelf, it was in my cart before Maggie could say, “No more books, MOM!”  Now, my policy for buying new books at full price is that it HAS to be a book I will read immediately.  Not next month or next year, but this week or sooner.  I was already several pages into Push before I left the store, and finished a little more than 24 hours after buying it.  Push is the kind of book that, as soon as you put it down, you pick it back up and start reading again, forgetting why you’d put it down in the first place.  The kind of book you forget to eat because it’s so engrossing.  I could barely go to the bathroom, and would worry and wonder what was going on with Precious while I was gone from her.  It will, without a doubt, be one of my top 10 books of 2010, and on my favorites list forever.

Okay, so enough gushing….  Let’s deal with the book itself.

One of the first things I got out of Push, was the realization of what it was, exactly, that I’d hated about The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine.  Both Precious and Batuk narrate their respective stories through writing in a journal.  Both books deal with the loss of innocence, sexual abuse, the sacrifice of the child by a parent, animosity between mother and daughter, and that education is the only hope and chance of escape.  But where they differ greatly is in the voice of the narrator.  Precious is pissed.  She’s upset, emotional, and expresses her sense of injustice at the terrible hand life has dealt her.  WHY? is her question over and over.  And understandably so; you expect these feelings.  Batuk, on the other hand, falls flat.  She’s accepting of her situation, barely registers emotion, occassionally expresses that she misses her father (the same man who sold her) and waxes nostalgic for the past.  Aarti of B O O K L U S T tweeted that she felt Batuk was a strong character, but I never saw any strength in her.  I do, however, agree that the overall voice of The Blue Notebook was despair and hoplessness, as Batuk knew she could never escape the situation.

Another thing I can tell you, with personal authority, is that the feelings and experiences Precious expresses from the standpoint of being an incest survivor is very real and very true.  There are things that Precious says about the sex with her father that are difficult for a child to wrap their own head around, let alone have the courage to say outloud, even in a journal.  Things like the shame you feel at feeling physical pleasure during this situation that you know in every fiber of your being is WRONG.  It’s one of the things that totally screws up the person’s ability to relate sexually for the rest of their life.  Also, Precious’s reference to genitals, hers as well as others, reflects how deeply incest survivors view their own objectification as a sex object.  “I am of no value nor worthy of love except through sex.”  is the personal worth statement of many, no matter how long it’s been since the last occurance (it’s been over 10 years for me, and he’s now dead, and yet it still that thought pervades), and the longer the abuse went on, the more pervasive and rooted that feeling becomes.

Besides the sensitive subject of molestation and the emotional affectation of the book, there is also the racial side of things.  This is where my brain spent more time, because it’s the only part I don’t share with Precious (well, that and I didn’t have children by my abuser).  I would say, “I hope I don’t offend anyone,” but then would holding back in an attempt to be non-offensive honor my Flavor of the Week, Amy, or create dialogue?  No, it would not.  So let the offense commence!

Push by Sapphire – on Race and racism

This review may become my longest ever (except The Book Thief, and may surpass that and the companion post), but I don’t care.  It deserves the length and the discussion.  Let’s get real, as Dr. Phil says.

Precious has a poster on her wall of the famous leader of The Nation of Islam, and often refers to him as the only real man she knows.  One of his sentiments that she echos more than once is, “problem is not crack but the cracker” (page 83).  I will heartily admit there are far more white people who have put their feet on the back of the neck of blacks throughout history than have helped, but maybe I’m naive in hoping things are better now than before.  I grew up in with a racist father who told offensive jokes and used the N word often, though he was not as bad as a lot of my friends parents.  It’s the way things were then.  It should NOT have been, and it was wrong, but it was what it was.  I’ve done my best to free myself from all that biggotry and to unlearn the prejudice, but it’s still something I’m aware of.  My hope is that my children will never think multiculturalism an oddity, but that it comes as natural to them as sunshine and breathing.

As the story progresses, Ms Rain, Precious’s teacher, shows her that not ALL Farrakhan’s ideas are right, like his anti-semitism and anti-homosexual beliefs, and Precious understands and sees her point.  She still hangs on to him as an inspiration and hero, citing him in her poem at the end of the book “Get up off your knees, Farrakhan say”, which I think is maturity in anyone.  As I’ve gotten older, read more, and learned more, there’s one thing I’ve come to understand about people.  We want a quick and easy, singular answer.  Life is anything but that, though, and no one person has the answers to everything, nor is he or she right all the time.  You have to sift and take away what’s worthy and leave the rest.  Most of the people you glean from aren’t good or bad, but a mixture of the two, and we must see their humanity and avoid the temptation to adulation or hate.

Other moments in the book that show the sense of distrust and dislike of whites are things like Precious’s feelings in the school counselor’s office, or the social worker’s office in the halfway house.  Precious, as well as the others in her class, express distrust, fear, and blame the white people in charge of her case.  This, I think, is the sentiment that sticks in my heart and throat as I try to wrap my head around it and put myself in her shoes.  Everywhere Precious would turn, there is a white wall blocking her escape.  No one stepped in to take her out of the situation after her first baby was born.  Who stood up to help her learn to read?  Where was the teacher when Precious was having such emotional problems (other kids in the class, her mother’s abuse at home, and the main start of the sexual abuse) in the second grade that she was wetting her pants?  Ugh!  I can understand the blame and anger she feels toward whites, and it breaks my heart to know I myself, my kids included, are judged the same, though we would NOT be like that.

And maybe it’s that that makes the racism in this book painful.  I’m being judged by the color of my skin, too, and it isn’t fair – it is never fair.  And with that thought, I have to bump Push by Sapphire up another notch, because reading it has given me a glimpse at what it feels like for African-Americans all the time, and they can’t close their book at “The End”.  They live it all the time, while I get to go back to being white in a white world.

I really love this book and, but for the explicit language and the mature subject matter, think it should be read by everyone.  Okay, so it’s not likely to be a classroom read for a high school, but definitely a college study.  I wish I’d known about it when I was in college, I could’ve had another 13 years of mulling it over and letting it work through me.  Of course, obviously, I give Push by Sapphire 5 out of 5 stars.

Here is the author Sapphire in an interview with Katie Couric discussing the journey of the book Push to the movie Precious

And, I couldn’t resist a trailer for the movie.. k, now I’m weepy.

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The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Title:  The Glass Castle

Author:  Jeannette Walls

Hardback:  288 pages

ISBN:  9780743247535

Dad came home in the middle of the night a few months later and roused all of us from bed.

“Time to pull up stakes and leave this shit-hole behind,” he hollered.

We had fifteen minutes to gather whatever we needed and pile into the car.

…An hour passed before we finally tied Mom’s paintings on the top of the car, shoved whatever would fit into the trunk, and piled the overflow on the backseat and the car floor.  Dad steered the Blue Goose through the dark, driving slowly so as not to alert anyone in the trailer park that we were, as Dad like to put it, doing the skedaddle.  He was grumbling that he couldn’t understand why the hell it took so long to grab what we needed and haul our asses into the car.

“Dad!” I said.  “I forgot Tinkerbell!”

“Tinkerbell can make it on her own,” Dad said.  “She’s like my brave little girl.  You are brave and ready for adventure, right?”

“I guess,” I said.  I hoped whoever found Tinkerbell would love her despite her melted face.  For comfort, I tried to cradle Quixote, our gray and white cat who was missing an ear, but he growled and scratched at my face.  “Quiet, Quixote!”  I said.

“Cats don’t like to travel,” Mom explained.

Anyone who didn’t like to travel wasn’t invited on our adventure, Dad said.  He stopped the car, grabbed Quixote by the scruff of the neck and tossed him out the window.  Quixote landed with a screeching meow and a thud, Dad accelerated up the road, and I burst into tears.

“Don’t be so sentimental,” Mom said.  She told me we could always get another cat, and now Quixote was going to be  a wild cat, which was much more fun than being a house cat.  Brian, afraid Dad might toss Juju out the window as well, held the dog tight.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, pages 17-18

This incident haunted my mind throughout the whole book.  I couldn’t help think, “If they could just toss the cat out without a thought, telling me we could just get another, who’s to say they wouldn’t do that to me, as well?”  Later in the book when Jeannette takes a tumble out of the moving car, the same thought occurred to her as she watches the family disappear down the road.  “What if they decide I’m too much trouble to come back for?”  It had to be a terribly difficult uncertainty to grow up with.

Not only is there the impermanence of home and things, there are virtually no rules nor supervision, as the Rex, Jeannette’s father, spends much of his time “researching” at the local tavern and her mom, a narcissistic enabler with some sort of mood disorder fritters her time and money away escaping reality in books and painting.  Too many times to count, the kids are forced to go hungry… or worse, dig through garbage to find food… while Dad drinks and smokes the money away and Mom sneaks nibbles of Hershey bars hidden under her covers. 

On the rare occasion the mother works, it’s the kids who have to force her out of bed and onto school where she’s a teacher, then clean her classroom after school, grade her papers and make out her lesson plans in the evenings.  After spending 8 weeks away from Rex and the kids, living in a dorm, eating regularly and taking classes to keep her teaching licence up to date, she comes home to report she’s had an epiphany.  She tells her teenage daughter who has been handling the bills, working and feeding her siblings, that she’s spent her whole life taking care of everyone else and now she’s gonna live life for herself… say WHAT?!

yeah….. m’kay.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a shocking and heartbreaking memoir of growing up with an alcoholic father and mentally ill mother.  Over and over, I was stunned and even angered by the so-called adults complete and total lack of parenting skills.  At one point, Jeannette, who was 7 or 8 at the time, wakes up to find a strange man touching her beneath her covers, and when she tells her parents maybe they should shut and locked the doors at night so as to keep the creeps out, they tell her some crap about fresh air and not letting fear get the better of you.  In her teens, when Jeannette tells her mom that her uncle has been inappropriate with her, her mother tells her he’s just lonely and that “sexual assault is a crime of perception.”  Time and again, these two genetic donors (calling them parents is going too far, to be honest), show a complete lack of common sense and sheer laziness to step up to the plate.  I am amazed that the kids lived to adulthood, let alone to be anything close as successful as they nationally syndicated columnist and regular contributor to MSNBC.  Brian and Lori also made good despite their upbringing.

One thing I can say about reading this book is that I can say with 100% certainty that I’m not that bad as a parent.  It’s done a lot to make me feel better as a parent… at least I shut the doors at night and feed my kids and make sure they bathe regularly.  I make sure they’re fed before I feed myself and I’d damn sure have food in the fridge AND pantry before gnawing on a Hershey bar.  I feel guilty if I decide not to share my candy bar.. or Lindt truffle balls, nom nom nom…  but that’s because they’ve ate plenty and had dessert, and By GOD, this is ONE thing I kept for myself.  And I feel guilty for THAT!  I can’t imagine the utter self-centeredness, truly clinical narcissism, the mother wallowed in.  Also, I can say with certainty to my kids that they’ve never gone hungry.  They may not like what’s in the cabinets, but there IS food… it’s just not ready-made junk for them to snack on. 

I read a few reviews of The Glass Castle, and one reader dinged the book because the author conveys such neglect and abuse in a very unemotional manner.  How could anyone suffer such a life without feeling a sense of indignity and injustice?  To this I must point out that Walls is a professional journalist, and relaying information in an objective, matter-of-fact way is part of the job, so I wasn’t surprised by that at all.  Also, I think it’s a normal part of the coping skills of an abuse survivor to learn to be able to talk about it with some distance and disconnection.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a great story of resilience and survival.  I don’t recommend it to be read in one sitting, as it can get emotionally overwhelming, but definitely a worthwhile read.   If I could ask Walls one question, I’d want to know how she thinks her life might have turned out without public libraries and books to turn to.  At times, it seems the only escape the kids had and a part of her best memories.  I give The Glass Castle 4 out of 5 stars.

The Stettheimer Dollhouse by Sheila W. Clark

Title: The Stettheimer Dollhouse

Author: Sheila W. Clark

Photography: Ali Elai of Camerarts, Inc.

Hardback: 64 pages

Publish Date: April 2009

Publisher: Pomegranate Communications, Inc.

ISBN: 9780764948022

One of the most celebrated and distinctive objects in the Museum of the City of New York’s Toy Collection is the Stettheimer Dollhouse, made between the world wars by Carrie Walter Stettheimer (1869 – 1944).  The dollhouse reflects a remarkable life lived during a remarkable time in the city’s history.  Along with her mother Rosetta and two of her sisters – Florine (1871 – 1944), an artist, and Ettie (1875 – 1955), a scholar and writer – Carrie hosted one of the most notable literary and artistic salons of early twentieth century New York society.  The Stettheimers’ sophisticated gatherings brought together a vibrant group of modernist intellectuals and artists of widely varying backgrounds, among whom were leading avant-garde painters, writers, and musicians, both Americans and European émigrés.

…Over the course of almost two decades, Carrie devoted what spare time she had to decorating the dollhouse’s interior, transforming it into a three-dimensional work of art.  Ettie later said she believed the dollhouse served as the outlet for Carrie’s artistic expression, a substitute of sorts for the career she aspired to in set design… Etti’s conjecture proves exceptionally revealing, and in this light the house may be seen as a series of fully conceived and executed stage sets, each awaiting the entrance of the players.

…Unlike most dollhouses, which are played with by children, this one was intended to be appreciated by adults, even by connoisseurs of art.  It’s decor reveals the sophisticated sensibility of its creator, combining different styles in the eclectic taste that was the epitome of New York fashion in the 1920s.

The Stettheimer Dollhouse by Sheila W. Clark, pages 7-8

The Stettheimer Dollhouse by Sheila W. Clark is a darling little informative book about one of miniaturists favorite buildings.  Complete with near-impossible photography, this book brings the dollhouse’s minute details into focus, from the weave of the needlepoint rugs to the optical illusions of the foyer wall decor.  I was continually delighted and impressed by the room by room descriptions and pictures.

My first reaction when I pulled this sealed book from the mailing envelope was childlike wonder.  I quickly tore the plastic wrap off of it and began to flip through, examining each beautiful image after the next.  Maggie peeked and peeped with excitement over my shoulder and is now intent on buying her own dollhouse from a soon-to-open pawn shop here in town.  The Rose Bedroom is one particularly adorable room we’ve both decided to live in.  If the impressive photos weren’t enough, the story behind the house is a rather interesting one, too.

The second thing I did after flipping through the book was to stick my nose into the middle of the book and breathe in deeply.  Silly as this may be, the scent of the book brought back memories of my mom’s craft room where she built several dollhouses, as well… two of which were my Christmas presents (she made a Barbie house for me out of a metal workshop shelf when I was 5 or 6, then a miniature dollhouse when I was 10 or 11).  The smells of wood glue and balsam, fabric, lacquer and turpentine, all brought back memories of shopping at hobby and craft stores, making trips to Indianapolis to buy special order dolls and hard to find pieces because I had to have a redheaded family or a bow window.  Not only was this book a treat intellectually, but it provided me that proverbial “walk down memory lane.”

The only complaint I could possibly have about it is that the writing is a bit dry. Honestly, though, I wouldn’t expect anything could change that.  I’d expect it’s rather difficult to describe chintz, chiffon and taffeta an keep your readers riveted, so I won’t hold that against the book.  Quite a joy of a book, and Maggie won’t let me mooch it away 😉 I give The Stettheimer Dollhouse by Sheila W. Clark 4 out of 5 stars.

The Stettheimer Dollhouse is on exhibit in the Museum of the City of New York.  The following is a promotional video for the museum:

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

Title: The World Without Us
Author: Alan Weisman
Paperback: 369 pages
Publisher: Picador (division of St. Martin’s Press)
Publish Date: August 2008
ISBN: 9780312427900

… picture a world from which we all suddenly vanished. Tomorrow.

Unlikely perhaps, but for the sake of argument, not impossible. Say a Homo sapiens-specific virus – natural or diabolically nano-engineered – picks us off but leaves everything else intact. Or some misanthropic evil wizard somehow targets that unique 3.9 percent of DNA that makes us human beings and not chimpanzees, or perfects a way to sterilize our sperm. Or say that Jesus… or space aliens rapture us away, either to our heavenly glory or to a zoo somewhere across the galaxy.

Look around you, at today’s world. Your house, your city. The surrounding land, the pavement underneath, and the soil hidden below that. Leave it all in place, but extract the human beings. Wipe us out, and see what’s left. How would the rest of nature respond if it were suddenly relieved of the relentless pressures we heap on it and our fellow organisms? How soon would, or could, the climate return to where it was before we fired up all our engines?

How long would it take to recover lost ground and restore Eden to the way it must have gleamed and smelled the day before Adam, or Homo habilis, appeared? Could nature ever obliterate all our traces? How would it undo our monumental cities and public works, and reduce our myriad plastics and toxic synthetics back to benign, basic elements? Or are some so unnatural that they’re indestructible?

…Since we’re imagining, why not also dream of a way for nature to prosper that doesn’t depend on our demise? We are, after all, mammals ourselves. Every life-form adds to this vast pageant. With our passing, might some lost contribution of ours leave the planet a bit more impoverished?Is it possible that, instead of heaving a huge biological sigh of relief, the world without us would miss us?

 

The World Without Usby Alan Weisman, pages 5-6

 

This is the premise for The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.  Weisman puts the question “What if ?” to the reader, then thoroughly, intelligently and scientifically systematically answers the question:  How long and by what process would it take for nature to reclaim the world if humans were to suddenly disappear?

In many ways, animals and plants would thrive and take off.  Several places in the world have been negatively impacted greatly because of what man has done, Chernobyl, Johnson Island, and a large number of coral reefs to name a few.  However, to say that the world would go back to pre-human conditions without us is naive and a romantic fantasy.

Without human mechanics and equipment operators, our 141 nuclear reactors would meltdown, spreading radioactive waste on clouds that would spread globally, as well as leech into the soil and ground water, eventually finding their way to lakes, rivers and oceans.  Also in need of these human beings care and service are the vast number of petroleum refineries, which would also suffer catastrophic failure in our absence and spread heavy metal and carcinogenic particle laden smoke along trade winds, reaching ground in other parts of the world in the rainfall.  No, the world without us would NOT be a better, cleaner Edenic place.

It is unmistakeable that mankind has forever irrevocably altered the Earth.  We have introduced gender-bending chemicals, which show no signs of EVER degrading,  into water sources.  The plastics that we produce for our disposable convenience only break down into smaller and smaller particles that are then eaten by birds and fish, many of which later suffer agonizing deaths from constipation as the pieces do not digest.  And in case there was a slight chance nothing of us would last, we’ll throw in the uranium and plutonium, both “depleted” and “weapons grade,” some of which have a half-life longer than the estimated time of the demise of our solar system!

The World Without Usby Alan Weisman is a sobering book.  I had to take a step or two back and look at what I, myself, do that contributes to the destruction of our ecosystem.  When Weisman talks about how some of those tiny pieces of plastic ending up in the oceans come from some of the body washes and other beauty care products, I ran to my shower to check the label of my shower gel (I was happy to find no plastic beads, only natural exfolients).   Second, I’ve always looked at “recycling” as some hippy-dippy commune-escaped concept and haven’t ever really done it (I looked at that toter as just an extra trash can).  After reading what the effects of my plastic water bottle and plastic bag usages does to the world, I know I have to change at least MY little contribution.

One poignant thought from this book is:  The Earth is like a super-organism, the soil, atmosphere and oceans its circulatory system regulated by its resident flora and fauna.  As such, this living planet may be suffering a high fever with humans the virus.  A sobering thought.

As a scientifically and intelligible answer to a simple question with an extremely complex answer, I give The World Without Us by Alan Weisman 5 out of 5 stars.  I recommend everyone with a stake in the Earth’s future to read it.

hated it!didn't like itit was okayliked itLoved it!

The Boat by Nam Le

The Boat by Nam Le

Title: The Boat
Author: Nam Le
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (a division of Random House, Inc. New York)
Publish Date: May 16, 2008
ISBN: 9780307268082

The thing is not to write what no one else could have written, but to write what only you could have written.

The Boat is a collection of seven short stories from author Nam Le.  Some are more vignettes than short stories, and all showcase Le’s incredible writing talent.  Nam has an amazing ability to get inside his character, be it a 60-year-old man just learning he has cancer or a 9-year-old girl in Hiroshima days before the atomic bomb.  The extensive detailing Le does gives the worlds he writes a certain reality, right down to speech patterns and slang.

Brief summary of the seven stories:
Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice: This first story is a view into the life a young Vietnamese writer in Iowa City, who is up against a deadline in his writers workshop. He scoffs at the idea of stooping to writing an “ethnic” story, but with his father’s visit, he decides to write the story of his father’s experiences in My Lai, South Vietnam army, and the tortures of a “reeducation” camp. Through the interviewing of his father, the relationship with whom has always been strained and somewhat distant, possibly even abusive, both come to understand one another better.

Cartagena: Nam’s writing style in this short story is reminiscent of Cormac McCarney’s. The lack of quotation marks and the quick changes of settings are disorienting, adding the sense of surrealism in the life of Ron, the 14 year old hit man in Medellin, Colombia.

Meeting Elise is the story of a man with cancer, still heartbroken over the loss of his lover 30 years his junior, who is about to meet his only child, whom he hasn’t seen since she was a baby when the witch, his ex-wife, “blew the county, dangling [their] daughter from her broom…”

InHalflead Bay, Jamie has a turn of luck and goes from a loser to school hero after scoring the winning goal.  Because of it he catches the eye of Alison, and because of that he’s in the cross-hairs of Alison’s psychotic boyfriend.  Jamie must decide whether he will remain the coward he had been or will he fight.

Hiroshima, written in the stream of consciousness of nine-year-old Mayako, is glimpse into the mindset and life of the Japanese pre-atom bomb.

Tehran Calling is the story of a Sarah Middleton, who goes to Iran to visit her best friend, who’s involved in a subversive group, and to escape the heartbreak of a love lost. 

The Boat is a heartbreaking story of the reality of the dangers many refugees face.  It is a story of survival, loss, and new connections.  This story is particularly close to my heart as it is about a 16-year-old Vietnamese girl named Mai, which is my youngest daughter’s Vietnamese name.

Nam Le’s writing is visceral and beautiful at the same time.  His style varies in each story appropriately as each story’s characters and subject matter wants it.  He is sensitive to the emotions and world of his characters and shows an amazingly real view into the lives of the mains.  The intricacies of a 14 year old assassin’s life in Colombia to a 60 year old man in New York City dealing with cancer and loss are so real that you forget it is written by a young Vietnamese man in Australia, as each story’s characters are as real as if you were watching them via spy-cam.  Le’s writing is hypnotic and compulsive; he is a literary pied-piper and I cannot help being carried along through the stories.

From a personal perspective, I love the first and last stories the most, as they deal with Vietnamese characters.  My youngest daughter’s father is from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), and he came to the US in 1996.  His father came to Los Angeles shortly after his release from a “re-education” camp, followed by his wife a few years later.  My ex, with whom I’m still very close, followed a route common to many Vietnamese who immigrated in the mid-90’s and later: first to LA, then Iowa City to work for the meat-packing company IBP (now under Tyson, inc) and finally here in Logansport.  Because of my daughter, I am especially interested in everything Vietnamese, buying her any book I find on the subject or checking it out from the library, buying her CDs, cooking dishes for her (and ignore her two older sisters complaints about it when I do), and looking up sites and videos on the Internet.  She is very proud of her culture, as I think she should be.

This is my Mai

My daughter Maggie (her Vietnamese name is Mai)