Review | China Men by Maxine Hong Kingston

CHINA MEN by Maxine Hong Kingston

Let me just begin with the following statement: I don’t like immigration stories. I really, really don’t. If it were not for a class, I wouldn’t really have cared enough to pick up this book for myself. No offense really, it’s just that…well, all immigration stories revolve around one thing and it’s rather boring to have to read about something you’re already aware of.

But I don’t think I was wholly lost once I actually begin reading China Men. While it by no means became a favorite book or any such thing, China Men ended up being a rather unique and adventurous experience. There is a lot of exploration of the Chinese immigration history to the United States in the novel and even though I realize it is fiction, some of it echoes reality closely. As a dual English and History student myself, I observed that China Men is an excellent blend of myth, fiction, and fact—often all emerging as one. After reading an interview MHK (the author) gave, I assume that she does this on purpose. It’s sort of similar to when one participates in one of those study abroad programs, the three basic classes they usually offer are: language, history, and literature—each representing the bases of all civilizations and that is precisely the elements that MHK is commingling together in China Men. While I did not care for the major stories that much, the sprinkles of short stories in between each of the major stories were quite haunting. Some were factual, some retellings of Chinese myths, and some were introductions into the other major stories. But there were usually my favorite parts, particularly “The Ghostmate”—absolutely stunning.

MHK’s writing is hard to enjoy and yet it’s easy to appreciate. Let me explain. While she writes stunning prose, drawing simplistic words into beautiful sentences, the topics which she tackles are very hard to deal with. Her words are enchanting but they can also be a bit difficult to handle at times. If I knew a bit more about Chinese culture then I would be better equipped to deal with the subject matter but even though I wanted to read more of her writing, the things which chooses to get descriptive with were thoroughly disturbing. Here’s an example, a passage that comes right after a man attempts to sell his son in exchange for a daughter and his wife berates him for it,

“Perhaps it was that very evening and not after the Japanese bayoneted him that he began taking his penis out at the dinner table, worrying it, wondering at it, asking why it had given him four sons and no daughter, chastising it, asking it whether it were yet capable of producing the daughter of his dreams. He shook his head and clucked his tongue at it. When he saw what a disturbance it caused, he laughed, laughed in Ah Po’s irritated face, whacked his naked penis on the table, and joked, ‘Take a look at this sausage’” (21).

And another, as a Chinese immigrant worker tries to gain a little bit of freedom in a labor camp,

“One beautiful day, dangling in the sun above a new valley,…sexual desire clutched him so far he been over in the basket…Suddenly he stood up tall and squirted out into space. ‘I am fucking the world,’ he said. The world’s vagina was big, big as the sky, big as a valley” (133).

As it shows, while I can appreciate the symbolism of these actions, the imagery is a bit disturbing.

But as I mentioned earlier, this is still overall an immigration narrative and because I have little taste for those, I cannot rate it any less than an “OK” book. Because at the end of it all, I expected to learn nothing except that white America is blatantly racist but immigrants often still prefer America to their own countries because at least there is some honesty left in this side of the world. [I second this as someone who was also born in the East, but raised in the West] It’s often awful, having to deal with racist white Americans who consider themselves above “immigrants” (even though they are, of course, themselves immigrants), I still prefer this country to many, many others—including the one I was born in.

So while I liked Maxine Hong Kinston’s writing style and liked learning a bit about Chinese and Chinese-American culture, I did not care so much for the major stories themselves. I would highly recommend it if you are interested in this topic but if not, I am not going to attempt to convince you otherwise.

Rating – ★★★☆☆

Review | The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot


THE MILL ON THE FLOSS by George Eliot

I always expected to enjoy Eliot as much as I’ve enjoyed her contemporaries but alas, that was not the case. While I don’t think The Mill on the Floss lacks depth by any means, it seems to try too hard. The omniscient narrator of the novel interrupts the true narrative far too many times. Not only does this extend the novel unnecessarily but also feels condescending in its attempt to “make sure” we are receiving the message we are. While Eliot does a good job of depicting the characters as they are, the narrator will often step in to point out the obvious. For example, here’s an interruption that is too obvious, “Maggie, with her girl’s face and unnoted sorrows, found an effort and a hope that helped her through years of loneliness, making out a faith for herself without the aid of established authors and appointed guides”. After actually illustrating the problems Maggie faces, it seems quite redundant for the narrator to come around and state the obvious. This was a case of “tell” more than “show”, except that Eliot is doing both and it’s not necessary.

Secondly, the length of the novel is in itself another issue. Here again, Eliot tries to hard too hard to write her message. There were some chapters in the novel that felt entirely unnecessary and could’ve been either reduced to a single page, a flashback, or taken out entirely. Some served no purpose except to reiterate an importance quality in a character (such as the family issues Maggie deals with). It was a bit reminiscent of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt—where the author writes about the same things over and over and my eyes felt the urge to glaze over the text rather than taking my time with it. Because ultimately, the message will remain the same and there needn’t be so many scenes depicting the same thing.

And lastly, while I am fine with how things ended with Stephen and Maggie, I am not too sure that the novel really needed to end the way it did in the last chapter (and epilogue). While I only liked Maggie and wasn’t entirely head-over-heels in love with her, it seemed unfair to let her story end this way—especially after 600 pages of her journey.

So while The Mill on the Floss is a remarkable piece of literature, it tries to hard to be epic. I still own Eliot’s Middlemarch so I look forward to giving her writing another go, but if she continues to write in a form that feels the need to rehash events and emotions repeatedly, then perhaps Eliot is simply not meant for a reader such as myself.

Rating – ★★★☆☆

Off Hiatus and a Review of Pnin

Hi folks,

So I’ve been missing from this blog for a while now (about a month I think?) and it’s mostly due to University problems but it’s also because I haven’t actually felt like doing long reviews for sometime now. But I didn’t want to give up on this blog completely, I just wanted to make it more assessable to me. So I briefly dabbled on with Tumblr (yes, I totally cheated on WordPress and for that I apologize) but realized if I was willing to open up a new blog to make my life easier, couldn’t I just revamp this one? And so here I am, back on WordPress, hoping things will work out this time.

Basically, what I intend to do is cut out a lot of the formatting that goes into my posts and reviews. No more fancy images, unnecessary external links (which may or may not be helpful to you), and all that. From now on, I want to be able to publish from my phone and iPad so I’m going to be omitting all the extra material and posting direct and straightforward reviews (no synopsis, Goodreads, Amazon, etc.). So let’s give this a shot with my first review back –

☁  ☁  ☁  ☁  ☁


PNIN by Vladimir Nabokov

Reading Nabokov at any point in time is always a delightful experience but reading Pnin was even more so. Perhaps because this one of his more assessable novels (and one without a taboo subject), but it’s truly just brilliant. While the unfortunate incidents that occur in Pnin’s life were funny, there is always an underlying sadness to them. It’s difficult to laugh at someone so miserable—and yet, somehow, Nabokov manages both emotions in an appropriate balance, putting me through quite the turmoil throughout the story. And the ending just left me with more questions—due to which I am barely able to resist the urge to go back and reread this again. I was glad that this book did not end on the note that I was thinking it might—with a truly tragic ending—and that it left it up to the reader to decide what he or she wanted to happen for our humble Pnin.

On a side note though, I’ve often heard that Nabokov has a habit of referencing himself into his novels but it wasn’t until Pnin that I noticed this and wondered about the reasoning behind this trick (if anyone has any ideas, clue me in please). I am interested to try his Speak, Memory this month and see if he answers this for me.

Rating – ★★★★☆

#4 Stack of Reviews

Hello readers!

A another stack to short reviews has stacked up so…time to publish them!

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
(★★☆☆☆)

Perhaps I am missing out on something big here but I really could not enjoy this play as much as I’d hoped. Majority of it was due to the ridiculousness of the characters. Willy, in particular, was absolutely infuriating. The ending and Linda’s mini-monologue almost makes me regret reading this play. Willy was nothing but an asshole and I care little for glorying the life of anyone like him. It felt pretentious, to be blunt, for Miller to take such an approach towards the end. Nothing about a character like Willy is really redeemable in my opinion; I found myself barely moved by his death and the only pity I felt was for Linda and the way Willy treated her. I also did not care much for their sons, Biff and Happy, although at some points in the story, I did feel myself shifting towards each of the perspectives and how they choose to approach their lives. In the end though, they did little to redeem the wretchedness of their father.

Maybe it would play out better in theatre then it did in print? I am not sure, but I will try to check out any adaptations available online and see if the viewing can redeem the reading experience.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
(★★★☆☆)

I can see why Atwood is considered one of the best living authors today. Her writing is flawless and incredibly easy to fall in love with; absolutely wonderful. I did not, however, enjoy this book as much as I was expecting to. I did not even have many expectations except that Atwood is excellent at everything she does (which I found to be true) so I had little idea of what this book was about. Atwood calls this “speculative fiction” (rather than science-fiction) and the title fits because it explores a lot of human experiences and ideas. It is often terrifying and sometimes even touching. But generally, there were a few too many parts in this book that deals with topics I usually prefer not to read about. Oryx and Crake is a lot darker than I expected it to be; it is gritty and unflinching. Brilliant in one way but hard for a reader like me to read so although I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others, I will not continue on with the series as it made me more uncomfortable than I was expecting. So I leave it as that. Good…but not for me.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones
(★★☆☆☆)

This novel deals with the idea of ex-slaves (more particularly, ex-black slaves) owning slaves and although this is not a new concept for me, this is the first novel I’ve read that deals with this topic. I liked the way this novel is written overall, but I had a lot of issues with the way the characters are written in this novel. The author has this habit of introducing a character, then giving us a glimpse into this character’s future (often he would tell us about a character’s death right after the introduction—both how and when he or she dies), and then coming back around to discuss what the character is doing in the moment. This was incredibly distracting and detached my attention from each of the characters before I could even get to know them. This became frustrating to no end. Another aspect which makes this book a major disappointment is the overwhelming amount of characters. The synopsis leads you to believe it is about less characters than there really are in the story. By the end, I was considering that this novel is more about an entire town rather one household or family. It was confusing, dissatisfying, and incredibly maddening to keep track of everyone—forget trying to actually connect with any of these characters! I see no reason why Jones won the Pulitzer for this novel, except that he wrote about a topic that many are unaware of (although I was aware of this prior to this novel so we can blame this one on American public school for keeping majority of the American population ignorant about this topic). Overall, it is an okay book but if you can find any other novel that discusses the same issues, I would consider choosing that over this book. I’ll be trying a non-fiction book myself next time.

Hope ya’ll have a good weekend. Let me know if you have read any of these. :)

Review | The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton [spoilers]

ABOUT THE BOOK

Published: 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Edition: eBook
Length: 392 pages

GoodReads | Amazon | BookDepository

THE BLURB

Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam—a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion—a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant.

“There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed…”

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office—leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist—an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways…

Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand—and fear—the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

☁  ☁  ☁  ☁  ☁

A REVIEW

Caution: This review is full of spoilers.

The Miniaturist was one of my most-anticipated releases of 2014 but I only just got around to reading it. Although I am glad I did, like a lot of books built on hype, it was a bit of a disappointment unfortunately. And because I have more negative things to say than positive this time, I have prepared my review in bullet-point form this time. So here are the major disappointments I had with The Miniaturist:

Rubbish characters – Nella often felt unbelievable to me. The expectations she has of her marriage felt off and when she figured out why her husband wasn’t interested in her, her reaction was a little scary. The brief moment where she considers getting vicious about the dirt she now has on Johannes and Marin irritated me. I realize for the time period, it’s probably a legitimate reaction to have but the way she considers (almost) plotting revenge was unnecessary. And even after the way Marin treats her, they way she still continues to help and try to be nice was not very believable of a character in her position either. I would expect another person in her place to give it to Marin like she deserved. Not that Marin was all bad, but the way she treated Nella was often unnecessary.

Johannes, similarly, also felt unreal. On one hand he is nice and just, on the other hand, he is often an idiot. The man knows not what the word “subtle” means. His lover kills his beloved dog, for whom Johannes cries, and then he still sleeps with him? What. The. Hell.

Forced ending – The way this book ends with Johannes’ capture and punishment forced. I don’t think this book needed to end that way and I was truly shocked when Johannes gets caught in the first place. It did not need to happen, nor did it feel believable to me. It felt as if the author did this just to make this book seem more emotional and create more hype.

Drawn out ending – It takes way too long for this book to end. A lot of the scenes where minuscule things occur could have been taken out. In fact, I would have ended this book right after Johannes is declared guilty and Marin gives birth. Otto’s return could have been an epilogue. Leave the readers wanting! The author just gives everything away and it takes the fun out of things to know every little detail.

Kind of predicable – And another star is being taken off is because I completely guessed two major things which happened in this book. First, why Johannes kept Nella at a distance and second, who Marin’s baby daddy was. If you ever read The Chaperone, then you know what I am talking about. The only interesting hook is the mystery behind the “miniaturist”—which was pretty good, I must admit.

Overall, I would recommend this book if you’re looking for an easy read but it doesn’t offer a lot more, to be honest. Try a Sarah Waters’ novel if you want to read a good, dark historical story.

This review is also available on BookLikes and GoodReads.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Review | The Shell Collector by Hugh Howey

ABOUT THE BOOK

Published: 2014
Genre: Romance
Edition: Audiobook
Length: 8 hrs. 5 mins.

GoodReads | Amazon | BookDepository | Audible

THE BLURB

The ocean is dying. The sea is growing warmer and is gradually rising. Seashells have become so rare that collecting them is now a national obsession. Flawless specimens sell like priceless works of art. Families hunt the tideline in the dark of night with flashlights. Crowds gather on beaches at the lowest of tides, hoping to get lucky.

Supreme among these collectors is Ness Wilde, CEO of Ocean Oil. Ness owns many of the best beaches, and he keeps them to himself. It’s his fault the world turned out this way. And I aim to destroy him.

My name is Maya Walsh. You might be familiar with my shelling column in the Times. I was working on a series of pieces about Mr. Wilde, when out of the blue, he called. He says he wants to talk. But I don’t think he’s going to like what I have to say.

☁  ☁  ☁  ☁  ☁

A REVIEW

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this audiobook from Audible in exchange for a review. The following opinions expressed are my own and have not been influenced by any external motives.

The Shell Collector wasn’t exactly the kind of book I was hoping to read when I began listening, but, to my surprise, it was exactly the kind of book I needed to read at this time. This book is categorized as “science fiction” on Goodreads (I am assuming this is because Howey mostly writes science-fiction) but that is not the case with this book. I would call The Shell Collector more of a romance with some bits of speculative fiction sprinkled in.

Once I dived into this book, I expected it to be a full-blown dystopian fiction and it wasn’t anywhere close to one. But very early on, I caught on to this and it was a good thing thing too, because it helped me finish this book faster. The Shell Collector is a quick, easy read but the time span within which this book progressed is incredibly slow…so when one chapter ends in the middle of the conversation, the next chapter, instead of switching scenes, picks up that same conversation. This was why it became easy to assume that there was going to be very little action happening in the novel. One might assume that this is disappointing, but it wasn’t…why? Because I needed a romance novel in my life right now. After having read The Known World by Edward P. Jones (not one of my best reading experiences nor an easy book to read), I needed something fluffy and The Shell Collector is basically just a fluffy, average romance story.

Although the setting takes place in a futuristic, not by much but still, world, the story mainly revolves around the relationship, and the conflicts, between Maya and Ness. Ness and his company are responsible for a lot of the world’s disasters and Maya, a reporter, is out to exhort revenge for being Ness’s part in this disaster. But when Ness invites Maya for a conversation, she is not expecting to begin understanding him at a level that makes it harder for her to do her job.

As a romance, this book duplicates a lot of the common tropes found within the romance genre. Which was unfortunate, but as I was looking for a comfort read more than anything, I enjoyed reading this book nevertheless. What I did love about this book though, was the pace of the novel and the romance itself. As mentioned before, the story progresses at a very slow pace but it actually makes the romance seem a lot more realistic than the way in which the usual contemporary romance novels are written. So although there were some cliched parts in this story, it was still refreshing to see a well-plotted and believable build-up to the romance.

Although limited in its use of characters, the ones we get to see never for a moment felt flat or unbelievable to me. I enjoyed reading about them and although I cannot say I absolutely loved and adored them, I enjoyed the journey they partook in this book. I also enjoyed the writing of Mr. Howey. Although not as excellent, it was good enough to hold my interest and help me enjoy the story without being distracted by petty errors with grammar (which, unfortunately, happens more often than one would think).

And lastly, because I listened to the audiobook and did not read the physical book, I must comment on the excellent performance given by the narrator. She hits all the right attitudes, tones, and emotions perfectly and I enjoyed listening to her read The Shell Collector quite a lot. I would highly recommend this as an audiobook because it makes for a very relaxing, soothing read.

This review is also available on BookLikes and GoodReads.

3star

Top Ten Tuesday – Ten Books For Readers Who Like Gothic/Horror

Top 10 Tuesdays is an original meme created by a multitude of bloggers over at the The Broke and the Bookish. Go over and join if you’d like to participate! For this week’s topic, I am taking away the numbers and simply throwing out 10 titles—no particular order necessary. They are all fantastic reads!

• Different Seasons by Stephen King

(classic choice but this collection of his novellas is, in particular, excellent)

• Lord of the Flies by William Golding

• Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

• The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham

• Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson

(some short stories from this collection are quite spooky)

 Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne

(particularly, “Minister’s Black Veil” and “Young Goodman Brown”)

• And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

• The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

• Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier


Please feel free to leave a link to your Top 10 Tuesday or simply tell me in the comments what your picks for this week would be! :)

≥Ö‿Ö≤

Happy Reading!