AMERICAN BORN CHINESE

GENE LUEN YANG

American Born skillfully weaves the stories of Jin Wang who desperately wants to fit in with his peers at school and and the mythological story of the Monkey King. When his family moves from San Francisco’s Chinatown to an exclusively white suburb Jin finds ridicule and social isolation in the casual racism of teenagers. Danny is a popular blond, blue-eyed high school jock. His social status is jeopardized when his goofy, embarrassing Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee, enrolls at his high school. Chin-Kee is a combination of all Chinese stereotypes. Quite hilarious though painful. The Monkey King is unsatisfied with his current sovereign and desperately longs to be elevated to the status of a god but because of “racism” is not allowed to join the ranks of the gods.

This book was ordered for my son’s book club and I quite enjoyed it.

DISASTER WAS MY GOD: A Novel of the Outlaw Life of ARTHUR RIMBAUD

BRUCE DUFFY

Rimbaud was a name that I had often heard but never truly known. He was a the first of the modern French poets, a libertine and a home wrecker. All that before he turned 20. Arthur Rimbaud, abandoned his groundbreaking poetry after four spectacular years in his teens and died at 37 in 1891. He “still stands out, the angel and enigma of French literature.” Today he is revered by advent guard artists: Pablo Picasso, Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Vladimir Nabokov, Bob Dylan,Patti Smith, Giannina Braschi, Léo Ferré, Henry Miller, Van Morrison and Jim Morrison among others have been influenced by his poetry and life.

After he rejected his lover respected French poet Paul Verlaine, Verlaine shot Rimbaud and so was imprisoned for two years. Completely rejecting all literature Rimbaud ends up in Abyssinia (Somalia) a businessman and gun runner until cancer in his leg forces his return to France and there kills him.

Parts of the book need skimming. The way Duffy uses time forwards and backs are not smoothly done. But still worth a read especially if you have an interest in Rimbaud.

THE WILD LIFE OF OUR BODIES: Predators,Parasites and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today

ROB DUNN

Dunn writes that many human ills and behaviors reflect the evolutionary past where we put ourselves above nature and all other species. Our super sterile environment is hurting us all by unbalancing our immune systems, leading to attacks on our own tissues rather than invading organisms. His solution is to repopulate the gut with worms that the immune system tolerates or that may suppress the system’s hyperactivity. Dunn writes that Crohn’s and other such disorders are rare wherever gut parasites are common. There is actually a cottage industry selling worm eggs. Some people have even travelled to go barefoot in a primitive latrine in hopes that worms will infect them to cure their autoimmune disorders.  Other subjects he tackles is why some peoples can digest milk but the majority of the world cannot. What the appendix does and why is appendicitis rare in third world countries. How bugs lefts us hairless. Many interesting ideas are raised and discussed. Some parts of the book needs skimming but it’s still worth the read.

WRECKER

SUMMER WOOD

June, 65 San Francisco. Lisa Fay is evicted from the basement where she had been squatting. No money, no place to go and nine months pregnant she ended up birthing her baby boy in a park. Then walked to the hospital. With the help of a woman she met in the hospital she got a job and got by until she met a man who dealt drugs and got caught up in his business. When she went to jail for 15 years Wrecker at age three went to his Aunt, Lisa’s sister Meg, and Uncle Len. But Len was taking care of Meg like a child since an infection had damaged her brain. He couldn’t handle both Meg and Wrecker especially since  when he arrived he was scared and angry, exploding at the least thing, and quick to flee.

It’s true that his feats acquired the status of legends. The day Wrecker jumped from the barn roof  to bounce from the hay bales below. The day Wrecker was lost and they scoured the pond bottom for his body. The day Wrecker climbed into the pick up and released the brake, took it out of gear, and rode it all the way downslope into the field, where a big rock slowed it down by lodging itself in the oil pan. He seemed to need to feel his body collide with the physical world to know he existed.

He asked his communal living neighours, Melody, Willow, Ruth and Johnnie Appleseed for help and they raised Wrecker. He brought out the best in all the people and helped them become a true family.

A good read.

Habibi

Habibi (حَبيبي) is an Arabic word whose literal meaning is my beloved (for a male object of affection; the feminine form is habibti or habibati) and that originates from the adjective habib (beloved). In addition to its literal meaning, the term can denote any of several less formal relationships and can serve as a term of endearment at the corresponding level (e.g.friend or darling). From Wikipedia.

Dodola is sold into marriage at the age of 9 when her parents can no longer care for her because of drought. Her husband taught her to read and write and let her be a child, except at night. When her husband is killed she is taken to a slave market. From there she escapes with an infant who would have been killed if someone hadn’t claimed him. Dodola flees to the dessert where she finds a deserted boat where she lives with the boy she names Zam. She entertains him with stories she learned in her husband’s home. Most of these stories are from the Qur’an. Many stories are the Islam version of Old Testament stories. To get food in the middle of the dessert Dodola sells her body to men in passing caravans. Later the two become separated and Dodola becomes a favourite of the Sultan.

Wanatolia, where the story is set, is a strange, timeless place: both modern and ancient, as insatiable when it comes to water as any Gulf state, but presided over by a sultan who seems to belong to a more out of date time (his harem is guarded by eunuchs). There is a desert, on one of whose dunes is mysteriously stranded a boat, and there is a river, full to the brim with plastic bottles and old tyres.

There is a tremendous amount packed into this book. A must read.

 

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TANGO: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels

JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND

Bond knew that the box labelled boy did not fit him at a remarkably early age. One of his favourite people was his papa, grandpa, who totally accepted him for who he was. He even let Justin read his playboy magazines to see who he wanted to be. He wore lipstick to elementary school until his mother caught him one morning. “I was raised by girls and I loved it. I was like a pet monkey that they dressed up and tease and played with.” He always preferred playing with the girls at school. Bond talks about doing cool things with his father: working on school projects and later refinishing an antique bed frame. His neighbourhood friend Michael became first his lover and later his nemesis at high school calling him faggot and bullying him all the while making arrangement to meet for sex.

Justin Vivian Bond is a successful singer, songwriter, and Tony-nominated performance artist Mx. Justin Vivian Bond is an Obie, Bessie, and Ethyl Eichelberger Award winner. As one half of the performance duo Kiki and Herb, Bond has toured the world, headlining at Carnegie Hall, the Sydney Opera House, and London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, and starring in a Tony nominated run on Broadway, Kiki and Herb Alive on Broadway. His film credits include a role in John Cameron Mitchell’s feature Shortbus. Bond is currently releasing a record, Dendrophile, and is writing a play with Sandra Bernhard.

A very interesting look at a trans-life. I would say a must read.

IN THE GARDEN OF THE BEASTS: Love, Terror, and an American family in Hitler’s Germany

ERIK LARSON

William Dodd was an academic, a history professor busy writing a detailed history of the South when he was approached by Roosevelt to be the ambassador to Nazi Germany. He reluctantly took the position and moved his family including his adult children to Berlin. Beasts takes place largely in Berlin from 1933 to 1937, examining the path to World War II and the Holocaust through the experiences of the American Ambassador to Germany and his family, particularly his vivacious daughter, Martha. Initially the Ambassador, who had gotten his Ph.D. in Leipzig 40 years earlier, was very sympathetic to Germany’s new Nazi government, and believed reports of brutality and anti-semitism to be exaggerations. Martha loved the lean,tall, handsome men in SS uniforms and was very sympathetic to the Nazi’s for a long time. She had many suitors and took many lovers. She even had an affair with the then head of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels, and Soviet attache (and secret NKVD agent) Boris Vinogradov who recruited her to work for the Soviets against the Nazis later in her time in Germany.

Although Dodd was  brought back to the states early. History remembers him as a man who realized more throughly than others what was actually happening in Germany.

Quote: “By the time of the Dodd’s arrival violence against Jews had begun to wane. Incidents were sporadic, isolated. “It was easy to be reassured,” wrote Dipple of why many Jews decided to stay in Germany. “On the surface,much of daily life remained as it had been before Hitler came to power. Nazi attacks on the Jews were like summer thunderstorms that came and went quickly,leaving an eerie calm.”

On renting a house: “They found many properties to choose from, though at first they failed to ask themselves why so many grand old mansions were for lease so fully and luxuriously furnished, with ornate tabled and chairs, gleaming pianos, and rare vases, maps, and books still in place.”

HOW BAD ARE BANANAS: The Carbon Footprint of Everything

MIKE BERNERS-LEE

Is it more environmentally friendly to ride the bus or drive a hybrid car? In a public washroom, should you dry your hands with paper towel or use the air dryer? And how bad is it really to eat bananas shipped from South America? Bananas  actually aren’t that bad! Oranges are only slightly worse.

Climate change is upon us whether we like it or not. Managing our carbon usage has become a part of everyday life and we have no choice but to live in a carbon-careful world. The seriousness of the challenge is getting stronger, demanding that we have a proper understanding of the carbon implications of our everyday lifestyle decisions. However most of us don’t have sufficient understanding of carbon emissions to be able to engage in this intelligently.

Part green-lifestyle guide, part popular science, How Bad Are Bananas? is the first book to provide the information we need to make carbon-savvy purchases and informed lifestyle choices, and to build carbon considerations into our everyday thinking. It also helps put our decisions into perspective with entries for the big things (the World Cup, volcanic eruptions, and the Iraq war) as well as the small (email, ironing a shirt, a glass of beer). And it covers the range from birth (the carbon footprint of having a child) to death (the carbon impact of cremation). Packed full of surprises-a plastic bag has the smallest footprint of any item listed, while a block of cheese is bad news-the book continuously informs, delights, and engages the reader.

Highly accessible and entertaining, solidly researched and referenced, packed full of easily digestible figures, catchy statistics, and informative charts and graphs, How Bad Are Bananas? is doesn’t tell people what to do, but it will raise awareness, encourage discussion, and help people to make up their own minds based on their own priorities. And it is fun and entertaining.

This book is a great skim.

 

A WORLD ELSEWHERE

WAYNE JOHNSTON

If you enjoy witticisms and bon mots, this is a book for you. As one reviewer wrote, Johnston used “anagrams, portmanteaus, puns, malapropos and neologisms as keys to unlock secret lives, longings, betrayals and revenges.” Landish Druken and Padgett (Van) Vanderluyden were best friends. Both came from successful but troubled homes. Landish had rejected his inheritance because he refused to become a sealer like his father. Van was the runt of the litter of an extremely wealthy family. Not respected by neither his father nor his older brothers. Lacking self confidence Landish would feed Van his wittiest comments for conversation at college. Having been stabbed in the back by his friend, Landish was expelled from his college prior to graduation for disreputable conduct.

Back in St John, Newfoundland, Landish lives in an attic where he can only stand up straight when he walks down the middle of the room. He adopts a small boy at the request of his mother who he names Deacon. They survive on odd job that Landish finds like shovelling snow and on food vouchers. When circumstances have grown so dire that Deacon is about to be turned out by the authorities, Landish turns to Van for help and they’re invited to live at Vanderland in North Carolina. Landish will work as a tutor of  Van’s only child, Goddie, and Deacon will be her classmate and occasional friend.

In the reunion of the two friends we see their relationship was based on lies and deceits and power and control.

An excellent read.

THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL GIRL

RACHEL SIMON

Because her father didn’t know what else to do with her and society didn’t have support in place for families, a little girl was locked away at the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded in the 1960s. These institutions were horrible places. Staff routinely mistreated inmates: humiliation, punishment, slop for food, threats, solitary confinement and even sexual assault and rape.

The book opens with the escape of two inmates on a cold rainy night. The two take shelter at the farmhouse of a widow named Martha. Lynnie seems mute and Homan is deaf, but their desperation is clearly communicated. Soon institution staff apprehend Lynnie, however Homan escapes. But they’ve quickly earned Martha’s sympathy, and she takes up the charge Lynnie whispers as she is led away – to hide the newborn girl hidden in the attic. Martha takes her charge seriously and leaves the next morning with the day old baby she names Julia.

It is the story of love and loss. The love of Lynnie and Homan and the baby they never knew. The love of Martha and Julia. Great book.

 

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SOMETHING FIERCE: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter

CARMEN AGUIRRE

In June 1979, when Vancouver playwright and actor Carmen Aguirre was 11 years old, her world changed forever—for the second time in her young life. The first momentous event was in 1973, when General Augusto Pinochet’s coup forced her family to flee Chile for Canada. But then, six years later, her mother and stepfather decided to take and her younger sister away from their comfortable school life here, and move back to strife-ridden South America to join the underground resistance.

The ensuing seven years found Aguirre bouncing between Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina via arduous mountain passes, chicken buses, and overnight trains. She had to drop all contact with new friends every time her family moved on, living in a constant state of dread that her parents would be arrested. Eventually, at just 18, Aguirre put herself in further peril, joining the resistance against Pinochet’s right-wing regime herself.

The years of her tumultuous teens are evocatively detailed in, Something Fierce, that illuminates what it’s like to come of age amid terror. What it is most certainly not
is a political treatise or a book about heroism or martyrdom. What you get is a brutally honest and wryly funny story, told through the eyes of a girl young enough to yearn for cork-soled platforms and steal kisses with boys but old enough to know the people arriving at her parents’ safe house in La Paz, Bolivia, are limping and exhausted because they’ve been tortured. Horrible things happened in South America during the 70’s and 80’s and especially in Chile.

“A lot of books written about revolutionaries, for lack of a better word, portray people who do this kind of work as heroic, as superhuman somehow,” says Aguirre. “And I wanted to do the opposite—to portray myself and those around me as completely imperfect human beings who decided to give their lives to a cause, and the toll that that takes psychologically, emotionally, and physically.”

This is a book all should read. It reminds me of

OVERTHROW: America’s Century of Regime Change   by STEPHEN KINZER

which tells the story of the US involvement in overthrowing elected governments. The link will take you to my review.

FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT

DARYNDA JONES

Charlotte Jean “Charley” Davidson, is a PI and consultant for the Albuquerque, N.Mex., police department. She is helping her detective uncle, Bob Davidson, investigate the fatal shootings of three lawyers who were representing a client accused of murder. But that is her “day job”. She also lives on other planes.  As the grim reaper, she sees the spirits of people who have not yet crossed over and she escorts them”into the light.”  She helps souls complete what ever it is that is holding them back. Souls come to her because she is actually a porthole into the light. Charley finds herself oddly attracted to the hunky and handsome Reyes Farrow, a convicted criminal in a coma. She also has amazingly erotic dreams when he comes to her at night. Another of her special abilities is the ability to heal at fantastic speeds.

Charley sets the tone of the novel through her sass and wit.  She’s appealing, funny, and has a great attitude about life. All and all First Grave is a fun, good read.