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text 2017-06-27 04:14
BL-opoly - #24 - Take the Jungle Cruise!
A Goddess in the Stones: Travels in Indi... A Goddess in the Stones: Travels in India - Norman Lewis

Several months ago, Open Road Media was offering hundreds of free Kindle books.  I went on a rampage, acquiring about 400 titles over a space of two or three days.

 

I've never heard of Norman Lewis, but I do like learning about new places, so I downloaded this title, amongst all those others.  Last week-end I selected  A Goddess in the Stones: Travels in India to fulfill the Take the Jungle Cruise. #24 space on Booklikes-opoly.

 

I'm about 15% into the book, which was written in the 1990s.  So far, it's making me a bit uncomfortable.  I get a distinct colonial feel about it, about Lewis's perspective, but we'll see how it goes.

 

 

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review 2017-05-22 03:37
The Sacred Willow by Duong Van Mai Elliott
The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family - Duong Van Mai Elliott

This book would make fantastic supplemental reading for a course on Vietnamese history. The author chronicles more than a hundred years of the country’s recent past, using her family’s experiences as a focal point. It begins in the mid 19th century, when several of her male ancestors served as mandarins in a society that revered educational attainments; moves on to French colonialism and Japanese occupation during WWII; then to the Viet Minh struggle for independence, which doesn’t seem to truly divide the family despite their winding up on all sides of the conflict – the author’s father serves as a high-ranking official under the French while her oldest sister and brother-in-law join the rebels in the mountains, and her uncle, a wealthy landowner, puts his resources at the Viet Minh’s disposal. Then it traces the American intervention and the dramatic days of the communists’ takeover of South Vietnam, before ending with Vietnam’s struggles as an independent country.

It’s a lot to pack into 475 pages, and the author balances the story of her family with a broader historical perspective. The history appears well-researched, and based on her bibliography, draws heavily on Vietnamese as well as English-language sources. It also seems balanced; at times, when family members’ paths during the war diverge sharply, we get separate chapters covering the same events from different perspectives, and the author doesn’t seem to be advocating for either one over the other. Though the author’s parents threw in their lot with the French and later South Vietnam, she – like many Vietnamese – seems to respect the communists’ commitment, and while the American intervention was a short-term boon for middle-class families like hers, she ultimately seems to conclude that the communist victory was both inevitable and not as awful as propaganda had led the South Vietnamese to expect.

The book’s biggest weakness is that it is rather dry, much more focused on facts than building a dramatic narrative. Though it is in part a memoir, we learn little about the author herself; she tends to relate the facts of a situation with perhaps a bald statement of her feelings, but without developing any of the emotional detail that might allow readers to experience the story along with her. There are exceptions, though; her account of the dramatic last days before the fall of Saigon (through the eyes of several family members) is downright gripping.

Overall, I’d recommend this book, but more for educational purposes than entertainment. It is a strong answer to the rest of English-language literature about Vietnam, which tends to be from an American perspective and focused exclusively on the war.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-05-20 18:15
A Harvest Of Thorns by Corban Addison
A Harvest of Thorns - Corban Addison

In Dhaka, Bangladesh, a garment factory burns to the ground, claiming the lives of hundreds of workers, mostly young women. Amid the rubble, a bystander captures a heart-stopping photograph—a teenage girl lying in the dirt, her body broken by a multi-story fall, and over her mouth a mask of fabric bearing the label of one of America’s largest retailers, Presto Omnishops Corporation. Eight thousand miles away at Presto’s headquarters in Virginia, Cameron Alexander, the company’s long-time general counsel, watches the media coverage in horror, wondering if the damage can be contained. When the photo goes viral, fanning the flames of a decades-old controversy about sweatshops, labor rights, and the ethics of globalization, he launches an investigation into the disaster that will reach further than he could ever imagine—and threaten everything he has left in the world. A year later in Washington DC, Joshua Griswold, a disgraced former journalist from the Washington Post, receives an anonymous summons from a corporate whistleblower who offers him confidential information about Presto and the fire. For Griswold, the challenge of exposing Presto’s culpability is irresistible, as is the chance, however slight, at redemption. Deploying his old journalistic skills, he builds a historic case against Presto, setting the stage for a war in the courtroom and in the media that Griswold is determined to win—both to salvage his reputation and to provoke a revolution in Presto’s boardroom that could transform the fashion industry across the globe.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

In the fall of November 2013, a garment factory in Dhaka, Banglaesh goes up in flames. The fire is so intense the entire building burns to the ground, killing hundreds of employees. One witness captures a photo of one of the victims, a young woman lying dead on the ground. Oddly, a piece of fabric bearing the logo of the company -- a major United States clothing retailer -- lays across her mouth. Once word of the fire hits worldwide media outlets, the news also finds its way back to the company's headquarters in Virginia. And boy is it news, because the company's CEO says he was under the impression that that particular factory had been officially closed for some time! Still, it's the company name on everyone's lips, thanks to the continuing media coverage, so a legal team is assembled to try to quickly, quietly, and hopefully successfully pull off a good bit of damage control. Head legal counsel, Cameron Alexander, soothes the concerns of CEO Vance Lawson, assuring him that people generally have short memories, so all they have to do is hire BP Oil's PR firm (you might remember that big ol spill of theirs?) and just wait for all this to blow over. 

 

Instead of the story quietly going away, news outlets continuing to air footage of the fire and all the sordid details of the company behind it only stirs up an even stronger hornet's nest of anger amongst those itching for a good reason to protest & picket. Soon, labor law wars ignite, inciting age-old arguments over work conditions & labor laws in general. 

 

Cameron took the pants in his hands and rubbed the spandex fabric between his thumb and forefinger, imagining mothers across America dressing their six-year-olds in them for Christmas. Of all the things to die for, he thought. 

 

The story then fast forwards years later, where the reader is introduced to Josh Griswold, a disgraced journalist who is given the opportunity to repair his professional reputation when he's offered up the chance to re-investigate the story around the fire and take down the corporate bigwigs behind it once and for all. 

 

So what new details does Griswold uncover after meeting up with labor activists in Bangladesh? A scandal of epic proportions! He's quickly schooled on the topic of "red listed" factories, locations officially closed down (usually over safety issues), which means they're obviously no longer backed by the corporations they previously produced inventory for... except .... well, it seems some locations are secretly kept open to cover the overflow of order requests when the "official" factory locations can't keep up with demand. The managers of the official factories quietly and very much under the table illegally subcontract the "closed" locations to help with those massive orders. The corporation itself (at least the big guys over at headquarters) are kept out of the loop. All they know is that their orders are getting filled. At least until PR disasters such as this hit. 

 

Griswold finds himself quite the human rights story to report. The company at fault were charged no fines and the survivors of the fire / surviving family members of the deceased victims were only provided a pittance of compensation money. Fire survivors couldn't even cover medical expenses with what they were given. Griswold digs even deeper and finds cases of outright exploitation, slave labor, even female employees being raped by site managers!

 

This novel will definitely raise the hackles of the socially minded reader. CEO Vance Lawson is a letdown. He outwardly presents himself as an innocent at first, almost likeable in the way he seems to honestly want to know how this tragedy happened and how future incidents can be prevented. He even relates to how the photographed victim appears to be the same age as his own daughter! But it's just sickening how stereotypically self-serving this guy turns out to be. The company's stance is to say that actions leading to the cause of the fire were "in violation of the code of conduct" but virtually no other action is taken beyond that. 

 

For history buffs out there, the prologue of this novel may bring to mind the similar (true life) story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. There are some commonalities as far as a sketchy, ultimately deadly work environment and CEOs that seriously dropped the ball when it came to protecting their hardworking employees. In fact, in both that real fire and this novel, we see examples of the senseless deaths of hundreds of people because financial greed was chosen over safety and respect for employees. A Harvest of Thorns itself is inspired by a factory fire that did indeed occur in Bangladesh in 2012. This novel is not an exact retelling of that tragedy, but the details of that day and the companies behind that real fire -- Sears, Walmart, Target, Gap... just to name a few -- certainly inspired the characters and settings of this novel, as author Corban Addison explains in his afterword. In 2015, Addison traveled to Bangladesh and interviewed survivors of that 2012 fire, which helped him craft the character and plot development you find in this novel. If you scan the acknowledgements, you might also spot that John Grisham served as a beta reader for A Harvest of Thorns. Though Addison himself is an attorney, it's likely that he also bounced ideas regarding the legal portions of the novel around with Grisham, a former attorney. 

 

Ugh. It's a tough read but a perfect one for getting meaty book club discussions going... just prepare yourself for the heat it might bring! While this reader didn't find the writing consistently riveting, it's a solidly important topic that needs to be looked at more often. This novel leaves one with an uncomfortable reminder of just how hard it is, as a consumer, to stay on the right & ethical side of things, no matter how much we may want to... even the seemingly trusty "Made In USA" tag can have its shady roots! 

 

Those interested in getting the conversation going will find helpful discussion questions provided within the hardcover edition (and possibly the paperback -- I say hardcover simply because that's the copy I was given). Additionally, you may want to check out the website truecostmovie.com

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

 

__________

 

Extras:

 

Corban Addison is also the author of The Tears Of Dark Water, another novel inspired by true events, which I reviewed last year (click to go to review).

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review 2017-04-15 15:01
Stories of Refugees is Insightful
The Refugees - Viet Thanh Nguyen

Wow this collection made me think and get even more fascinated about those who left Vietnam and came to the United States to resettle. Some stories didn't resonate with me as much as others did. The stories flowed together well though I thought.

 

"Black-Eyed Women" (5 stars)- a woman with a career as a ghostwriter finds herself laying some ghosts to rest. Her heartbreaking story of her and her family fleeing for a better life in America will gut you when you get to the end and read about how entwined she is with her mother. 

 

"The Other Man" (5 stars)- a man who resettles in the US in the 1970s finds himself on uncharted territory when he ends up being sponsored by two gay men in San Francisco. 

 

"War Years" (5 stars)- a young boy recounts a story about a widowed woman from Vietnam demanding money from his family in order to fight the Communists. The story helps him see his mother and father in a new light. I honestly thought the story was going in a different direction until I got to the end and you end up feeling pity.

 

"The Transplant" (4 stars)- A man named Arthur Arellano who has a liver transplant. This causes him to look for the man's family. This causes him to look at his family in a different way when he finally meets the son of his transplant donor. I was enjoying this until the end, when I think that Nguyen maybe wanted you to feel sorry for poor put upon Arthur. I was kind of over this guy though when you realize how self absorbed he is.

 

"I'd Love You to Want Me" (5 stars)- A woman who is struggling with her husband's onset of Alzheimer's. Mrs. Khanh's story was probably my next favorite after Black-Eyed Women. Her realizing that her husband had a life she didn't know and how she really doesn't care for her oldest son. You get to see Mrs. Khanh slowly giving up on her dreams when she starts to think about what does love really mean. In her mind, it's being devoted.

 

"The Americans" (5 stars)- James Carver, an African American former Air Force pilot (I think) goes back to Vietnam with his Japanese wife to visit their daughter who is there teaching. Lord, his daughter was exhausting. There's a scene when she yells at her father for what he did while running missions in the country. And sigh, nope, no sympathy for Claire. I did love though James going through his struggles in his career and life and him being pretty baffled by his daughter and what she wants from him. Loved the ending a lot though. 

 

"Someone Else Besides You" (3 stars)- My least favorite. A man going through his family's history and why he wasn't ready to have children with his ex wife. The father in this story was odd to me. I don't know what his purpose was besides to criticize the son. The story takes an odd turn after some vandalism.

 

"Fatherland" (5 stars)-Really enjoyed this one. A woman named Phuong is excited to meet her half sister who has lived in America, that comes back to Vietnam to visit her, and the rest of the family. The story set up (Phuong's sister Vivien) was raised with her two other siblings in America and her mother divorced their father. The father marries his mistress and has three other children he names after the first set (yeah that happened). What I loved was Phuong coming to realization about her father and her half sister. 

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text 2017-04-14 17:49
Reading progress update: I've read 41%.
The Refugees - Viet Thanh Nguyen

So far I have read five stories and have been moved to tears once. I love this collection of short stories.

 

Black-Eyed Women-the gut punch I got to a reveal about the narrator was heart-breaking. The strength of her and her mother. 

 

The Other Man-a refugee's sexual awakening in the 1970s in San Francisco.

 

War Years-One woman acknowledging the pain of another. Without a word being spoken about it.

 

The Transplant-Still not done with this, but liking the story so far. 

 

Hope it keeps it up.

 

 

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