THE LONELY HEARTS HOTEL

 

HEATHER O’NEILL

Two abandoned babies are dropped off at the orphanage run by sadistic nuns. Rose develops a gift for humour and movement; Pierrot for music. When they were young adolescents they were sent to rich people’s homes to entertain for generous donations to the orphanage. Escape seems possible, happiness imminent. They dream of creating their own circus together for fame and fortune. As the mother superior knows, though, happiness always leads to tragedy. Rose and Pierrot are farmed out as teens to separate homes, with no idea where the other has gone. And the Sisters make sure they never find each other. A good portion of the book is the two yearning for each other and almost crossing paths, so it is a delight when they find each other as adults.

Hotel reminded me of The Night Circus which was full of magic realism. O’Neill is a wonderful writer so Hotel is a page turner.

“Women were still strange and inscrutable creatures. Men didn’t understand them. And women didn’t understand themselves either. It was always a performance of some sort. Everywhere you went, it was like there was a spotlight shining down on your head. You were on a stage when you were on the trolley. You were being judged and judged and judged. Every minute of your performance was supposed to be incredible and outstanding and sexy.
You were often only an ethical question away from being a prostitute.”

All children are really orphans. At heart, a child has nothing to do with its parents, its background, its last name, its gender, its family trade. It is a brand-new person, and it is born with the only legacy that all individuals inherit when they open their eyes in this world: the
inalienable right to be free.” 

COMPANY TOWN

MADELINE ASHBY

Go Jung-Hwa is unusual. She is completely organic. No augmentations, as most people have added to their physical selves. Hwa is a skilled fighter and bodyguard for the sex workers’ union but she hates her body because of a birthmark that stains her skin. Zachariah Lynch, one of the wealthiest people in the world, hires Hwa to protect his heir, his youngest son and genius, Joel.  Joel and Hwa are stalked by an invisible serial killer who targets both them and the sex workers Hwa used to guard. How do you defend yourself against an invisible agent?

If you enjoy dystopian fiction, this novel is for you.

THE PARCEL

ANOSH IRANI

“I am reviled and revered, deemed to have been blessed, and cursed, with sacred powers.” Madhu is a eunuch, a hijra, a third sex living in a community of hijras. Once she was the crown jewel of the brothel.  Her “arsehole,” she recalls, “was a cash crop.” Now at 40 she begs on the street. One day Madhu receives a call from Padma Madam, the most feared brothel owner in the district: a “parcel” has arrived – a young girl from Nepal, betrayed and trafficked by her aunt -“And the truth was a ten year old girl had been sold into slavery.” And Madhu must prepare her for her future of prostitution. Madhu took pride of opening the parcel gently much differently than the pimps would do, though the parcel was still kept in a cage.

“Born and bred to mortify,” Madhu is a breathtaking figure, admirable despite that fact that the “very things that made one human – love, hope, health – had been ripped from her calmly and precisely, the way a syringe extracted blood.”  The Parcel is not an easy read but it does grip you by the heart and squeeze.

 

THE ILLEGAL

arts_books1-1-72464fd7f6b3c94d                                                                                                         LAWRENCE HILL

THE ILLEGAL seems even more timely today, with the election of Trump and his executive order to start construction of the wall on the border of Mexico, than when it was first published. Illegal follows the story of Keita Ali and his family in the fictional country of Zantoroland. It’s populated by people whose ancestors, a century and a half ago, were the slaves whose labour built the third wealthiest economy on the planet, the nearby fictional country of Freedom State.  Keita Ali is running a marathon in Freedom State against a vicious opponent who is tormenting him with racial slurs. “Go Home N—–.” Keita is not just running a race, he’s on the run from the authorities who want to deport him. With his tormentor at his heels, the unflappable hero calmly ticks his pace up a notch and begins to sing as he surges up the hill: “Want to shatter your opponent’s confidence? Just when he starts to hurt, you sing.” Keita’s sister is captured by the Zantoroland’s military government and held for ransom so Keita must run and win every race so he can buy her freedom. Hill creates a trove of fascinating characters: a violent sports agent, a woman who runs a brothel and AfricTown (the black shantytown), a prime minister who is evil incarnate, and a schoolboy who films everything by hiding in various closets.

Hill is an excellent writer. The Illegal is not to be missed.

 

 

 

SUCH A LOVELY LITTLE WAR: Saigon 1961-63

MARCELINO TRUONG978-1-55152-647-8_suchalovelylittlewar-1

Both a memoir and a history, War is an informative window to what we call the Vietnam War; in Vietnam it is called the American War. Truong’s father was a Vietnamese diplomat in Washington, his mother a French woman with bipolar disease.During his early childhood in Washington, DC, the Truongs enjoyed a peaceful life in “a quiet middle-class suburb, something Norman Rockwell might imagine.” Truong describes this period as nothing short of idyllic: jazz on the car stereo, picnics by the water, white Christmases. When the father was called home, he became interpreter to Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem. His mother had not wanted to leave the US and was unsettled in her new home. In Saigon, the children live a sheltered existence, punctuated by the war. When the Americans escalate the conflict by sending more weapons and troops, the Truong boys become increasingly more enthralled by the grandiose machines of destruction. They are disturbed more by their mother’s emotional outbursts and irrationalities than the war in the background. We also have the unique perspective of his father who had extraordinary access to the inner workings of power thanks to his role as President Ngô Dinh Diêm’s interpreter.

THE DESERTER’S TALE: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq

JOSHUA KEY as told to LAWRENCE HILLdeserter's

Key thought joining the U.S. military was a way to escape the poverty of his youth and get a decent-paying, secure job, perhaps even an education, to support his growing family. In many ways, Key was an ideal recruit: he had a childhood fascination with guns, he was a bit of a fighter but still followed orders, and he was good with his hands. He even enjoyed boot camp where they were taught all Iraqis were terrorist, even the babies. In Iraq, Key took part in acts of cruel and vindictive violence. His squad’s nightly tasks become a routine of violence and the abuse of power: raiding civilian homes, brutalizing the inhabitants, destroying the contents, stealing the valuables and taking the men and boy five feet tall away, never to be seen again. Key does not know where these men, who were not arrested for any crime, were sent: perhaps to Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay. joshua keyThey never found any terrorists, caches of weapons or weapons of mass destruction. Yet they were ordered to do the same thing night after night. At first there was no resistance. Then gradually resistance began to build. Key commented that if a foreign power landed in the US and terrorized the citizens the same way there would be hell to pay.

“We claimed to be bringing democracy and good order to the people of Iraq, but all we brought were hate and destruction. The only thing gave to the people of Iraq was a reason to despise us–for generations to come.”

When home for a two week break Key realized he could not return. He was already suffering from PTSD. Eventually, he made it to Canada where he applied for asylum.

“I will never apologize for deserting the American army. I deserted an injustice and leaving was the only right thing to do. I owe one apology and one apology only and that is to the people of Iraq.”

lawrence-hill_584During the 60’s and 70’s Canada’s door were open to anti-war protestors. I hope that will happen again with our recent change of government. Canada benefited from the creative and entrepreneurial spirit those immigrants brought. One name that comes to mind is the Canadian author Robert Munsch.

CLEARING THE PLAINS:

JAMES DASCHUK

“Those Reserve Indians are in a deplorable state of destitution, they receive from the Indian Department just enough food to keep soul and body together, they are all but naked, many of them barefooted,” Lawrence Clarke wrote in 1880 of near-starvation Cree around Fort Carlton. “Should sickness break out among them in their present weakly state,” the long-time Hudson’s Bay Company employee concluded, “the fatality would be dreadful” (Daschuk, 114).

Sickness did break out, with tuberculosis and other infectious diseases decimating a reserve population made vulnerable to disease by years of famine and inadequate government rations. The loss of life was immense, James Daschuk recounts in Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Lifeand amounted to a “state-sponsored attack on indigenous communities” whose effects “haunt us as a nation still” (186).

ClearingthePlains

University of Regina Press, 318 pages
Casebound with dust jacket, $39.95.

Daschuk’s examination of the ecological, economic, and political factors shaping the history of the Canadian plains—and its Aboriginal inhabitants—from the early 1700s to the eve of the twentieth century is divided into two sections. The first, covering up to Canada’s acquisition ofRupert’s Land in 1870, outlines how the spread of smallpox and other diseases through fur trade networks was devastating for some but presented economic and territorial opportunities for others. The Anishinabe expanded their fur trade participation onto the plains, Daschuk illustrates, when the once-dominant Assiniboine were decimated by disease.

The lethality of infectious outbreaks for individual Aboriginal communities was shaped by the type and degree of its contact with traders and missionaries, its population density, and mobility among others. The spread of disease was largely an organic process, rather than the result of the willful malevolence of human actors.

In the book’s second half, Daschuk explores the Canadian state’s growing presence on the plains. First Nations leaders were willing to formalize their relationship to the crown through treaty, which they envisioned as a bridge to a bison-less future that required a difficult transition to farming. The Dominion, however, seemed only open to negotiations when settler development was imminent.

Widespread famine struck the plains with the disappearance of bison caused in part by the herds’ susceptibility to new pathogens—like bovine tuberculosis—carried by the domesticated cattle settlers introduced to the region. Although Cree leaders had succeeded in convincing the crown’s representative to include clauses covering medical aid and famine relief in Treaty 6, when they sought assistance the Dominion, with little infrastructure in the west initially, was ill-equipped to fulfill its treaty obligations.

At the depth of the famine, emaciated First Nations arrived at forts and settlements begging for food. Frequently, the official response was not to provide emergency food, but to construct stockades around ration houses. There were, however, relatively few incidents of law-breaking or poaching of cattle in response to the crisis. Many of those seeking relief were willing to work for rations, but the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) didn’t have enough work to go around.

Daschuk points to the election of the Conservatives in the fall of 1878 as a turning point when the “[m]anagement of the famine took on a more sinister character” (184). An ever-tightening budget at the DIA meant staff cuts, including medical staff who’d proven effective in vaccinating against smallpox, and orders that the file be managed “as economically as possible” (122). When the Opposition still complained about the budget, Macdonald promised that emergency rations would be refused “until the Indians were on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense” (134). Available food rotted in government storehouses as malnutrition, sickness, and death ravaged the reserve population.

With the government also neglecting the agricultural assistance promised by treaty, there was no alternative source of food on reserves. Furthermore, even if reserve residents managed to achieve a measure of success in farming, government regulations limited their ability to sell their crops or produce beyond the reserve—systematically marginalizing indigenous peoples from the West’s emerging economy. Adding insult to injury, many low-level, but powerful DIA officials and farm instructors abused their positions, exchanging food for sex, or colluding with government contractors for personal gain.

Prolonged malnutrition, the desperate scavenging of tuberculosis-infected animals, and the consumption of subpar or even tainted government rations, eventually made First Nations on reserves vulnerable to emerging epidemics. Staggering rates of tuberculosis mortality—rising from 40 deaths per 1,000 in 1881 to 127 per 1,000 in 1886—were significantly higher than in nearby settler communities. Misreading the evidence and denying a link with malnourishment, medical researchers confidently declared that Aboriginal peoples were simply more susceptible to disease.

This convenient narrative—soon accepted as orthodox in the medical and political establishment—made the incredible loss of life on the plains a question of biological predisposition rather than one of state policy. It’s proven to be a remarkably resilient idea, too, and one which lies at the root of our casual acceptance of deplorable health outcomes—higher rates of diabetes, AIDS, and suicide—among the reserve population today.

Perhaps the most damning evidence Daschuk presents are the few exceptions to this cycle of famine and disease. The Dakota who depended less upon the bison and had transitioned to farming at an earlier stage, and northern Cree communities in Saskatchewan who were able to maintain their traditional economies outside the harsh constraints of the reserve system did not suffer the same rates of tuberculosis seen on reserves. The determining factor in these divergent health outcomes, Daschuk argues, was the degree of Aboriginal peoples’ reliance on government assistance. He concludes that “those with the least contact with the Indian department were the healthiest” (166).

Clearing the Plains is heavy, sobering reading, laced with chilling snapshots of desperation, callousness, and catastrophe. In support of his provocative argument—that the Canadian government stage-managed famine in order to coerce and control the Aboriginal population—Daschuk’s tone is remarkably restrained, never veering into the polemical. He lets his evidence speak for itself, zooming out from explorations of single cultural communities or single infectious outbreaks in the existing historical literature to identify broader patterns. Into his synthesis, he patiently weaves in accounts from diaries, letters, and the records of the HBC and DIA.

As Daschuk moves epidemiological and environmental forces to the forefront—and detailed discussion of key events into the background—of his prairies history, some advance knowledge of the history of the fur trade and the numbered treaties is beneficial to the reader. Swiftly shifting the discussion between locales and First Nations affected—given the expanse of time and territory the book spans—can also be disorienting for the reader at times. But, Clearing The Plains rewards careful reading.

This is a book all Canadians should read.

I borrowed this review from ActiveHistory.ca

SAD PENINSULA

MARK SAMPSON

The sad peninsula is Korea. Invaded and colonized by Japan in 1910, Koreans were forced to become Japanese in language and custom. One of the worst atrocities was the imprisonment and rape of young girls as “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers. Eun-young was a Korean comfort woman sent to China. She was repeatedly raped and tortured as many as 35 times a day.The narrative relies less on sex and more on her emotions, what she thought about, day-to-day events, her relationship with her close friend and their struggle for survival.  Sad is a difficult read but it is important that these stories are told. Eun-young’s story is balanced by the story of Michael, a Canadian man teaching English in present day Korea. He meets and falls in love with the niece of Eun-young.

This was published the day I finished the novel. Check out some of the links. And read the book.

Reparations for the “comfort women”

Yong Soo Lee, a Korean woman forced into sexual slavery by Japanese forces, in Virginia to raise awareness on behalf of fellow survivorsSarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

  • Japan has reached an agreement with South Korea to apologize and provide restitution for the widespread, systematic kidnapping and rape of so-called “comfort women” by the Japanese Army during World War II. [The Diplomat / Yuki Tatsumi]
  • If you aren’t familiar with the stories of the “comfort women,” these testimonies from a UN report, compiled by NPR’s Elise Hu, are a horrifying, but necessary, place to start. [NPR via Tumblr / Elise Hu]
  • As Vox’s Max Fisher explains, the horrific treatment of the “comfort women” was easily swept under the rug after the war: by Japan, by the Allies, and by Korea itself (women were often blamed for their own rapes). [Vox / Max Fisher]
  • It took until 1993 for Japan to issue a formal apology to South Korea — and that apology ended up prolonging the controversy, as Japanese conservatives pushed back against it and claimed that South Korean women were volunteers. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan]
  • Japanese nationalism is, if anything, more prominent now than it was then. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been relatively unapologetic for Japan’s behavior during the war, and has rolled back many of the isolationist policies that were designed to protect Japan from returning to the imperialism of its past. [Washington Post / Max Fisher]

FISH: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison

parselltj-fishT J PARSELL

Within days of entering the prison system Tim was drugged and gang raped. He could not report the rape to authorities because prison code states that snitches will be killed. So at that time he accepted the protection of a man, a husband who would protect him from the advances of other prisoners in exchange for sexual services. If he had not been protected he would have been  fair game for any other prisoner or group of prisoners. He was lucky his man treated him gently and had money to buy him clothes and other things from the commissary. All of this at the tender age of seventeen and he was still trying to decipher his own sexual orientation. Relationships don’t last forever in prison; inmates get transferred from one institution to another for whatever reason. But a person’s story follows with him. When Tim realized that his first husband had orchestrated his gang raped to force him into seeking his protection, he was devastated.

When finally released Parsell has been working with Stop Prison Rape. This book should be read by all at risk teens.

My understanding is that Canadian prisons are not as severe as American prisons.

IN THE SANCTUARY OF OUTCASTS: A Memoir

outcastsNEIL WHITE

Daddy is going to camp. That’s what I told my children. But it wasn’t camp. . . .

Neil White wanted only the best for those he loved and was willing to go to any lengths to provide it—which is how he ended up in a federal prison in rural Louisiana, serving eighteen months for bank fraud. But it was no ordinary prison. The beautiful, isolated colony in Carville, Louisiana, was also home to the last people in the continental United States disfigured by leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease)—a small circle of outcasts who had forged a tenacious, clandestine community, a fortress to repel the cruelty of the outside world. White was able to relate to both inmates and patients alike. In this place rich with history, amid an unlikely mix of leprosy patients, nuns, and criminals, White’s strange and compelling new life journey began. He had an entire year to reset his his moral compass. Even though the memoir was not well written, I was sorry when it ended. I wanted to know more about the next stage of White’s journey.

THE GIRL WITH NO NAME

MARINA CHAPMANgirl

This autobiography tells the true story of a girl who was kidnapped from her village in South America only to be abandoned in the jungle. She lived for five years with a troop of capuchin monkeys who she considered her family. She walked on all fours, learned to climb to the canopy of the jungle and enjoyed grooming with the monkeys. There was a native tribe nearby that she hoped would accept her but they never did. One man even threatened to kill her. Eventually she was found by hunters who took her to a city and sold her to a brothel where she was a slave. At this time she would have been ten years old.

GIRL is not the best written book but the story is amazing. It is incredible what some people have to endure.

The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao

junot190JUNOT DIAZ

Oscar, who’s family is front and centre of the novel, is “not one of those Dominican cats everybody’s always going on about — he wasn’t no home-run hitter or a fly bachatero, not a playboy.” Oscar is a fat, self-loathing dweeb and aspiring science fiction writer, who dreams of becoming “the Dominican Tolkien.” He’s one of those kids who tremble with fear during gym class and use “a lot of huge-sounding nerd words like indefatigable and ubiquitous” when talking to kids who could barely finish high school. He moons after girls who won’t give him the time of day and enters and leaves college a sad virgin. He wears “his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his light saber”; he “couldn’t have passed for Normal if he’d wanted to.”

Oscar’s beautiful sister, Lola — a “Banshees-loving punk chick,” becomes “one of those tough Jersey dominicanas” who order men about. Yunior, Oscar’s college roommate and Lola’s onetime boyfriend, do their best to try to get him to shape up. They try to get him to eat less and exercise more, to leave his dorm room and venture out into the world. Oscar makes a halfhearted effort and then tells Yunior to leave him alone. He goes back to his writing, his day-dreams, his suicidal thoughts. Yunior begins to think that Oscar may be living under a family curse, “a high-level fukú”, which has doomed him, like his mother, to lasting unhappiness in love.

There is a lot of Dominican Republic history, especially the dictator Trujillo: “Homeboy dominated Santo Domingo like it was his very own private Mordor; not only did he lock the country away from the rest of the world, isolate it behind the Plátano Curtain, he acted like it was his very own plantation, acted like he owned everything and everyone, killed whomever he wanted to kill, sons, brothers, fathers, mothers, took women away from their husbands on their wedding nights and then would brag publicly about ‘the great honeymoon’ he’d had the night before. His Eye was everywhere; he had a Secret Police that out-Stasi’d the Stasi, that kept watch on everyone, even those everyones who lived in the States.”

This novel earned Diaz the Pulitzer Prize. An excellent read.

 

A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING

Ruth2

RUTH OZEKI

“Forget the clock. It has no power over time, but words do.”

This is a book everyone will love. Ozeki is am amazing writer, juggling themes of time, metaphysics, suicide, history, time travel, zen Buddhism,  Japanese history, computer science, 2011 earthquake and tsunami as well as others. TIME also has an interesting structure. The author is a character in the novel though she is always referred to as Ruth, never as I.

Ruth lives on an island on the west coast of British Columbia. Out for a walk on the beach she discovers a Miss Kitty lunch box. Inside wrapped up in plastic to keep it safe is the diary of a sixteen year old Japanese girl, Nao,  an antique wristwatch and what turns out to be the diary, written in French, of her uncle, who died as a kamikaze pilot in the Second World War. Ruth and her husband Oliver begin to read the girls diary. She Ruthhad been born in Japan but moved to Silicon Valley for many years as her dad was a computer programer. When the dot com bubble burst they went back to Japan in poverty and shame. When Nao starts school in Japan, she is regarded as a foreigner is and is mercilessly bullied. Her only solace is writing about her grandmother, Jiko, a 104-year-old “anarchist feminist Zen Buddhist novelist nun,” with a long history of lovers, both male and female. Jiko helps Nao understand that  “time beings” are beings who understand that “everything in the universe is forever changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives.”

“I have a pretty good memory, but memories are time beings too, like cherry blossoms or ginkgo leaves for a while they are beautiful, and they they fade and die.”

Run out right now and get this book!

MAYA’S NOTEBOOK

maya allende1ISABEL ALLENDE

As an infant Maya is abandoned by both her mother and father so her loving Chilean Nina (Grandma) and Popo (Grandfather). She had a very happy childhood with a strict Nina and an indulgent Popo. But when Popo dies her grief is so profound her life falls apart. She assumes a goth persona and starts skipping school and taking drugs. Eventually she runs away to Los Vegas where she is taken under wing of a drug dealer, so at least she isn’t living on the streets. But she has to deliver drugs and get the money. For this she gets shelter, food, nice clothes and drugs. She sleeps during the day and works at nigh, But eventually she does hit bottom. A friend rescues her and gets her into rehab; then Nina sends her to a small island in Chilli to avoid the mafia who may be looking for her.

Allende is a wonderful writer. This is definitely a must read.

Also two of my favourite nonfiction works are by Allende. PAULA is her memoir about her daughter’s death but of course it is so much more. APHRODITE is a natural history of the senses brilliantly written and funny too. I took Aphrodite to a literary potluck and choose a recipe from her book Nun’s Nipples, meringues dipped in chocolate. So much fun.

All three are must reads.

LONG LEGS BOY

boyBENJAMIN MADISON

When Modou’s parents are both dead from AIDS and his entire village is decimated he seeks help from an African  holy man, Alhaji, who takes care of boys who have no parents. Of course there are chores for all the orphans but there are also lessons to teach them the Koran. Reba Brecken, country director for Rights for Kids Coalition comes to their compound to check that the boys are being well taken care of. She believes the children should not have to work, and that they should be with their families. Unfortunately she is blind to the reality of life in Africa. News of another man who helps boys in need that his compound had been shut down and the boys sent off to various villages, Alhaji decides to move the boys to the capital. In the city the boys have no work so they must go beg to help support themselves. But the government doesn’t like street kids and rounds them up and dumps them at various villages after beating them. Most of them slowly and painfully make their way back to the capital. Modou has the gift of speed. He whizzes through the market earning money by quickly delivering messages and packages. He is also so fast that he can avoid the police who look foolish being unable to catch him. He earns the name Toofas (Toofast) and becomes a creature of myth and legend.

The part of the story where Modou becomes a rallying figure for rebel forces is overdone and unbelievable. But the rest of the novel is great. It highlights how the best meaning aid worker can create an even bigger problem by not comprehending the whole picture. A cautionary tale.

A must read.

SEX AND THE CITADEL: Intimate Life In a Changing Arab World

Feki

SHEREEN EL FEK

Dr Shereen El Feki is an award-winning journalist and expert on sexual health and policy. Her book on muslim sexuality is thorough as well as open and honest. Interestingly when the western world was sexually repressed, sexuality and pleasure were celebrated in the Muslim world. With the rise of stricter forms of Islam and a backlash against the perceived sexual impropriety of the west in the twenty century that sexual repression became the norm. At one time in the Ottoman Empire brothels were licensed and taxed. The book that covers subjects such as female circumcision (known in the west as female genital mutilation), hymen-restoral surgery, different types of Islamic marriages, abortion, sexual violence, homosexuality and the changing views of sex amongst different generations of Muslims. Even hand holding in public is frowned upon in Egypt and other countries. Fek is trying to start honest conversations about sexuality because it isn’t discussed in the areas she writes about.

 

THE HEADMASTER’S WAGER

 lam2 lam3VINCENT LAM

Percival Chen (Chen Pie Sou) is the headmaster of the  Chen Academy of English in Cholon, just outside of Saigon. It is a most successful business, especially after the school gets American accreditation.  A Chinese expatriate from Shantou, Percival has done well, first in his father’s rice trade, then in the business of English lessons. He is fiercely proud of his Chinese heritage. When his son, Dai Jai, becomes involved with one of the school’s female students, Percival warns Dai Jai of the deceitful nature of such Annamese women. He reminds Dai Jai that the two of them are wa kiu, overseas Chinese, who, no matter where they go in the world, must remain Chinese. He must marry a Chinese woman. Foolishly Dai Jai proclaims his Chinese patriotism in school refusing to take state mandated Vietnamese language lessons. Percival cannot both keep the boy in Vietnam and keep him safe. Believing it is for the best, Dai Jai is sent away to China at the height of the Cultural Revolution. Chen’s gambling addiction is revived with out his son. In a game of majong he wins the most beautiful prostitute Jacqueline. A mixed race Vietnamese her exotic beauty entrances Chen. He tries to stay on the political sidelines but inevitable is pulled into American War. When he finds out the truth about his young lover, his world falls apart.

An engaging look at the lives of Chinese people living in Vietnam and the culture of Vietnam in a time of devestating upheaval.

BANGKOK DAYS: A Sojourn in the Capital of Pleasure

bangkok daysLAWRENCE OSBORNE

AKA: Bar Bouncing in Bangkok

DAYS awoke in me my longing for the exotic East. In 1990 I spent a couple of weeks in Bangkok exploring the temples, the side streets, the canals and the erotic. DAYS makes me want to return. Osborne walks the streets of Bangkok, sometimes exploring the culture, but mostly going to bars. Which makes this book uneven at best. It is best when describing cultural Thailand. He has interesting insights into the Buddhist interpretation of transgender ‘kathoeys‘ or girly-boys. He muses on how easy it is for Westerners to remake themselves in the East, as did the 19th-century English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens did when she tutored the royal children of Siam and fashioned herself into a literary figure of the King and I. Bangkok serves as an existential crossroads for a cast of British, Australian and Spanish expatriates who are haphazardly searching for and running away from responsibilities trying to find themselves and have pleasure.

bangkok2

ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

esczpe

BLAINE HARDEN

The story of how Shin Dong-Hyuk, after crawling through a lethal electrified fence over the insulating dead body of a companion, made it out of a North Korean prison camp and eventually into the U.S., is a remarkable. But so is Shin’s early life.  He was born in the concentration camp to parents who were rewarded with a type of marriage. They didn’t live together but could have sporadic conjugal visits. He started working as a slave at 3 years old. His body carries the scares of the deprivation and torture that he survived in the camp. When his mother and older brother tried to escaped he was taken and tortured for a month even though he had turned them in the the authorities. Later he watched their executions. His growth was stunted by malnutrition. His right middle finger is missing, cut off with a kitchen knife as punishment for dropping a sewing machine. Still worse was the damage to his psyche. The incessant, driving need for food dominated Shin’s life. He stole his mother’s rations, and was brutally beaten by her for it; he scooped spilt soup off filthy floors and picked undigested corn out of cow excrement.

Escape is not a well written book but it is most interesting.

torture

GEEK LOVE

KATHERINE DUNN

Geek Love is a truly bizarre work of fiction. The Binewski clan is a carny family. The parents, Al and Lilly, set out to breed circus freaks. They use chemicals, poisons and radiation to create this oddities. “What a greater gift could you offer your children than an inherent ability to earn a living just by being themselves?” Arturo the Aquaboy has flippers for limbs. He does his part of the show in a glass tank so the crowd can see him swimming. Elly and Iphy are Siamese twins, two torsos but only two legs. An albino hunchback,Oly, tells his strange and wonderous tale. The youngest Chick was born with no obvious
impairments, a norm. The parents were so horrified they made plans to give away their normal child. But Chicks abnormality is discovered just before he was to be abandoned.

This is a must read.