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review 2018-02-22 19:04
Pains Me to Do This: Memoir is Sprawling & Confusing Think Chronological Order Would Have Fixed
Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir - Amy Tan

I have been reading Amy Tan since I was a teenager. I still have hard copies of her books on my shelf. I was annoyed the other day when I realized that somehow my copy of "The Joy Luck Club" went missing and had to go out and purchase another copy. I have been waiting for weeks now to get this copy of her memoir from the library. I was initially pretty happy with the memoir, but it was a very hard read to get through.

 

"Where the Past Begins" I have to say does give you insight into some of Tan's most famous works such as "The Joy Luck Club," "The Bonesetter's Daughter", and "The Kitchen God's Wife." You find out that she used her mother and maternal grandmother for inspiration for some of her characters. For example, the story in "The Joy Luck Club" that follows An-mei Hsu that tells about how her mother was raped by a rich man and forced to become his concubine/fourth wife. We find out that a similar situation happened to Tan's grandmother.

 

When the memoir gives you glimpses into the events that have shaped her stories, the book really shines. I had more problems when the book took on things that I think would have better served being cut such as Part V Reading and Writing and a portion titled "I Am The Author of This Novel."

 

I am fascinated by Tan's family's history and the strongest portions of the book really are when she talks of her mother and even her father. It sounds like her parents had to struggle to be together and then when they came to America there were still issues that Tan's mother was trying to overcome. Some of the incidents sounded very shocking, and one wonders how she can keep going on as she had with seemingly no bitterness. 

 

I also didn't realize that Tan's father died when she was a teen as well as an older brother. I think if we got a straight forward memoir that I would have enjoyed this more. I think jumping back and forth chronologically made things confusing. We also had Tan including the same information about her mother and maternal grandmother in different sections which made the book feel a bit repetitive. I outright disliked one of the chapters, Chapter Ten Letters to the Editor. It is just emails back and forth between her and her editor. 

 

Tan includes some insight into the Shanghainese and what makes them so different. I really enjoyed that she included pictures of her family as well as drawings that she has done. That tipped things up enough for me to give this two stars. 

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text 2018-02-22 14:27
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir - Amy Tan

Wow. This was rough going. I could not get into this one at all. Probably because it read more like excerpts from Tan's life. The book jumps around a lot and that doesn't help either. There were some chapters I flat out skimmed and or skipped because I could not get into them.

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text 2018-02-18 14:45
Reading progress update: I've read 89 out of 224 pages.
Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir - Penelope Lively

I have lots of stuff to get on with this afternoon, but have spent the last 30 minutes glued to Lively's book - I won't call it "memoir". It's only partly a memoir. - in particular to her discussion of the Suez Crisis.

I couldn’t be at the meeting, not being a senior member of the university, but I remember vividly the heightened atmosphere of that time, the urgency of the newspapers, the climate of discussion, of argument, and eventually, for many of us, of outrage. For me, what was happening had a personal dimension – here was my own country dropping bombs on the country I still thought of as a kind of home. The Suez crisis was a baptism of fire, a political awakening, the recognition that you could and should quarrel with government, that you could disagree and disapprove.

I really want to re-read Moon Tiger after this book. Not because it also looks at Suez, but because it has a similar theme in that the MC looks at her own life and ties it to current event of the time.

 

Also, as some of you know, I have had some rough reading experiences with the RL book group I sort of joined last year. Dancing Fish and Ammonites is their choice for February and I cannot wait to see what they all thought about. It also is the first one I'm reading with that group that I really like. (In fairness, they had picked Rebecca a few months ago, but I was too busy with something else to re-read it.)

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text 2018-02-18 13:29
Necessities
Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir - Penelope Lively

"I am no longer acquisitive. I was never exactly voracious, but I could fall prey to sudden lust: one simply could not live a moment longer without that sampler spotted in an antique shop, or that picture or rug or chair. No longer. I can admire, but I no longer covet. Books of course are another matter; books are not acquisitions, they are necessities."

 

Penelope Lively - Ammonites and Leaping Fish: A Life in Time

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review 2018-02-18 02:35
A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape from North Korea
A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape from North Korea - David Tian,S├ębastien Falletti,Eunsun Kim

I learned a lot from this book. My cartoonish visions of North Korea become less of a caricature with every good new information source, but I'm seeking these things out. It's way too easy in the US to see the DPRK in a two-dimensional way -- much like we saw the USSR during the Cold War, but with even less information. So I'm glad for anything that can give me more information about the North Korean people and the country. For instance, the fish is apparently excellent!

 

This is an incredibly interesting memoir told in the most bland way possible. I really wanted to love it, and I'm quite impressed with this woman and her family. I don't know whether it was the translation or the writing itself, but the writing could not have been more dull. It's a real shame, since the story could have been thrilling. Perhaps with a helpful co-writer, this would have made a bigger impression.

 

It feels a bit like the author wanted to please everyone. She works hard not to offend, so every negative comment is offset by a positive partner. "America seems X, but I love Y about America." The only thing that doesn't get this overly level-headed treatment is Kim Jong-un and family. I wondered from time to time if even that was done to please her readers. (I doubt they're handing out copies in the DPRK.) It was clear she tried not to make this book political, but how can you write about an "escape" from your home country without it being somewhat political. 

 

One thing that caught my interest is how many successful escapes there are from North Korea. This isn't expanded on in any way, and it's hard to get an actual "count" since many people stay in China illegally (and dangerously, as Eunsun Kim's story portrays.) I did some interweb searching afterward and apparently the defectors who make it to South Korea (the most common place to head) are usually young women much like Eunsun Kim, so reading her story is a good example of the dangers and perils involved in getting out of the DPRK and eventually safety in another country.

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