Thursday, June 28, 2012

Kindred by Octavia Butler


Kindred by Octavia Butler is a cult classic. I've been meaning to read this for a while. It's classified as science fiction but it also has elements of historical fiction. It's 1976 and Dana, a black woman married to a white man finds herself suddenly pulled back in time to the early 1800s in Maryland. She has to save a white boy, Rufus, from drowning. Rufus turns out to be her slave-owning white ancestor and he is able to summon her subconsciously whenever his life is in danger. Dana, meanwhile, is able to return to 1976 only when her own life is in peril. She returns a few times, once even managing to drag her husband with her. While stuck in the past, Dana lives life as a slave but with the perspective of a modern American woman.

Dana experiences culture shock on several levels but surprisingly she finds herself adapting to her environment more and more. I thought this was an  interesting read because it explores how slavery was accepted at the time as the norm and how easy it was for both slaves and masters to accept the roles they were born into. Kindred is another book that would spark a lot of discussion at a book club. I'm surprised  that though it was published in 1979, it was never made into a movie.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dutch Lit Month - Tow Truck Pluck by Annie M.G. Schmidt


I didn't grow up with Pluck but I've heard about him for years from my husband. Pluck is a character in the beloved Dutch children's book Tow Truck Pluck (Pluck van de Petteflet) by Annie M.G. Schmidt. We had no idea it had been translated into English so when Mr.B saw it in a bookstore on a recent trip to the Netherlands, he didn't hesitate to buy it for our boys. Now he's having fun reading it out loud and I guess reliving the memories of reading Pluck as a youngster. Mr.B says it's an excellent translation so I'll take his word for it.

Pluk, a little boy, drives a small red crane truck through the city. He has no parents and is looking for a new place to live. On the way, he meets all sorts of interesting people and animals and one day he arrives at the 'Petteflet' a high rise that's soon to be his new home. Pluck's adventures are so much fun and it's no surprise that Annie M.G. Schmidt is considered to be the 'real queen of the Netherlands.' She is much loved in her home country. The fun and cute illustrations are by  Fiep Westendorp.


 Here's an excerpt from the first chapter:

Pluck had a little red tow truck. He drove it all over town looking for somewhere to live. Now and then he stopped. And when he stopped, he asked people, 'Do you know anywhere I can live?' The people thought for a moment and then said, 'No." Because all the houses were taken.
In the end Pluck drove into the park. He backed his truck in between two trees and sat down on a bench.
'Maybe I can sleep here in the park tonight,' he said out loud. 'I could sleep in my truck under that tree..' Then he heard a voice above him. 'I know where you can live,' the voice said.
Pluck looked up. There was a beautiful, fat pigeon sitting on one of the branches of the big oak tree.
'The tower of the Pill Building's free,' the pigeon said.
'Thanks,' Pluck said, taking off his cap. 'Where is the Pill Building? And what's your name?'
'I'm, Dolly,' the pigeon said. 'And the Pill Building's close by. That great big building over there...See? Right up on top, there's a little tower. And in that tower, there's a room. And  no one lives in it. If you're fast, you can move into that room. But don't waste any time, otherwise it might be taken.'

Dutch Lit Month is hosted by Iris at Iris on Books. Do check out her blog for more Dutch Lit reviews this month.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan


Loving Frank by Nancy Horan has been on my radar for a while but I never picked it up. Then a friend of mine highly recommended it last Saturday and I finished it in just three days. It was that riveting. I simply couldn't put it down. It wasn't just the fascinating story that gripped me but Horan's fluid and readable prose. Before this I confess that I only knew Frank Lloyd Wright as an architect. I never imagined that he had such a turbulent personal life which involved several children, three marriages and a mistress. 

Loving Frank is a fictionalized account of the affair between Wright and Mamah Cheney during the early 1900s. Before this there was surprisingly very little written about this period in Wright's life so Horan wrote using newspaper accounts and correspondences between Cheney and others to get a feel for her personality and thoughts. Mamah and her husband commissioned Wright to design and build their house in Oak Park, Chicago. Mamah fell in love with him during their  interactions discussing the house, design, nature and various other intellectual topics. A fierce feminist and thinker before her marriage, she was quite starved for these conversations because it was lacking in her relationship with her husband.

What Mamah does next would shock any devoted mother. It's not because she decides to leave her husband and two children but it's the manner in which she does it. Her decision is selfish and cruel and will affect a number of people and have severe repercussions for years to come. Although I started to dislike Frank and Mamah more and more, I couldn't stop reading. I followed Mamah and Frank to Europe where they escape from their spouses and children for almost two years. Mamah finds her own calling as a translator of the controversial Swedish feminist and writer Ellen Key. In short she finally finds herself and what she's meant to do with her life. I don't want to give too much away since it's actually best not to know a thing if you're reading this book. If you do read it then do not google any of the personalities involved until the end. This story would be so unbelievable if it wasn't actually true. Loving Frank was my book club's pick for June and it was an excellent choice since there's just so much to discuss. Highly recommended especially for a book group.

*Photograph from Andreanna Moya Photography

Friday, June 8, 2012

Adrian Tomine


I never heard of Adrian Tomine though I must have come across his work in The New Yorker several times. I saw the art work above, Missed Connections (2004) at The Sleepless Reader's  blog. She listed it as one of her favorite art works about women reading. I love that it speaks volumes. A missed connection indeed. So I looked up the cartoonist Adrian Tomine and he has several wonderful pieces of art that I decided to share in this post.

I also love this one of Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung in a still from the classic film In the Mood for Love directed by Wong Kar-Wei.



A very skinny Sylvia Plath.


Here are some other ones. Enjoy!







Monday, June 4, 2012

People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry


I don't usually read books that are reportages of true crime events. Of course, I've read the classic In Cold Blood by Truman Capote which was excellent. But generally this genre is usually melodramatic and badly written. Author Chris Cleave said that The People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry is the "In Cold Blood for our times." High praise indeed for the author and after reading the book, I couldn't agree with Cleave more. The People Who Eat Darkness: the True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo--and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up was a very well-written page-turner but a harrowing and chilling read as well. There were times while reading that I literally shivered and had to stop and take a break.

I had vaguely heard of Lucie Blackman, the 21-year-old former British Airways stewardess turned hostess, who disappeared in Tokyo in the year 2000. I had no idea of her fate or what transpired after. It was definitely a plus not knowing any of the details because I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. Parry's non-fiction narrative reads like the best fictionalized crime novels but this is all true. British journalist Richard Lloyd Parry, was living and working in Japan at the time and covered most of the investigation and the trial that followed.

In May 2000, the tall and blond Lucie suddenly decided to move to Japan with her friend Louise to be a hostess and thus pay off her mounting debts. A hostess shouldn't be confused with a prostitute. A hostess entertains mainly by conversing with clients and keeping them company in the club whilst making them spend more and more on drinks. The hostesses are also encouraged to go on dates or to have dinner with their clients and thus earn 'bonuses.' Lucy was on such a date with an unknown man when she disappeared. At first there were no leads except for a mysterious phone call to Louise the day after the disappearance.

What follows is everyone's worst nightmare. The parents are contacted and Lucie's father and sister make several trips to Japan, facing the media and working with the police to try to find any clues to her whereabouts. Parry does an excellent job of presenting the facts and the emotions of those involved working from extensive interviews with Lucie's family, friends, co-workers, clients and the police. There are also passages from emails from Lucie and excerpts from her diary. Parry also writes extensively about the Japanese nightlife, the history of Japanese and Korean relations and the police procedures and judicial system in Japan which is completely different from the west. I'm surprised to realize I actually learned a lot about the Japan today just by reading this book. Plus the book was completely engrossing. It was a fascinating  and intense read and even if you don't like this sort of thing I highly recommend it if you enjoy reading crime or mystery novels.

I didn't mean to read this for the Japanese Literature Challenge 6 hosted by Dolce Bellezza since this is non-fiction, however Bellezza approved it (see her comment below). Do check out the site for the Japanese Literature Challenge 6 for more reviews from other bloggers.

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