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review 2018-03-14 19:18
The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang
The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir - Kao Kalia Yang

This is an interesting memoir by a Hmong-American writer, about the experiences of a community that is opaque to many Americans. The Hmong are an ethnic minority who moved from China to Laos centuries ago; the Chinese outlawing their written language is apparently the reason they lack one even today. Many Hmong assisted the Americans in the Vietnam War, in which about a third of their population died; another third was killed in the persecution after the American army’s departure. The author’s parents and extended family, like many others, fled into the jungles of Laos and later to a refugee camp in Thailand, where they lived for several years before relocating to Minnesota.

Though a memoir, this book is more about the author’s family than about Kao Kalia Yang herself. It begins by detailing her family’s travails in Laos and Thailand before her birth in the refugee camp, and the bulk of the book focuses on the camp and the family’s immigration to America when she was seven. It goes on to describe the difficulties of their adjustment, for her (being too shy to speak English in school even once she learned it), but mostly for the family: part of the extended family winds up in another state; money is tight, and her parents are forced to take exhausting night shifts at a factory to support the family, while Yang and her older sister are responsible for caring for their younger siblings and sometimes serving as interpreters for their parents. There is little sense of the author’s life after elementary school, though; while she is a student at Carlton College by the end (and later went on to Columbia University), the later chapters focus exclusively on the last years of her grandmother’s life and the grandmother’s death and elaborate funeral. I would have liked to see more of the author’s life and how she has related to Americans and American culture – her educational choices indicate that she has her own stories to tell – but the focus of the book does make clear how extremely family-oriented both she and her community are.

It is an incredible story, and especially given that the Yangs’ experiences were evidently common among the Hmong after the Vietnam War, it’s an important one to tell for the sake of awareness. The writing is fairly good, though it doesn’t always flow in the clearest way. Here’s a sample:

“My mother and father told us not to look at the Americans. If we saw them, they would see us. For the first year and a half, we wanted to be invisible. Everywhere we went beyond the McDonough Housing Project, we were looked at, and we felt exposed. We were dealing with a widespread realization that all Hmong people must do one of two things to survive in America: grow up or grow old. In the case of the noticeably young, the decision was made for us. For those who were older, the case was also easy to figure. Those marred by the war, impaired by the years of fighting, social security and disability were options. [sic] For my mother and father, already adults who had waited on life long before it was their time, the government stepped in and told them: the welfare clock was ticking. She was twenty-five. He was twenty-eight. They knew they wanted a chance to work, but they did not know how to keep that chance safe, so on the streets, before the slanted brows of mostly white men, they held us close for security.”

The gist of the passage makes sense: the family feels insecure, they don’t want to attract attention, and the parents are under pressure to find work. But the notion that there is pressure on “all Hmong people” to “grow up or grow old,” and how this is meant to apply to the author’s parents, is unclear to me even after taking the time to re-read it carefully. And perhaps because of the author’s cultural and linguistic background, she has a distinct way of expressing ideas that may not make a lot of sense to American readers if read quickly or with less than full attention.

Overall then, I found this memoir worthwhile, mostly for the opportunity to learn more about a community that was unfamiliar to me. However, it’s not the first one I would recommend for literary reading.

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review 2015-11-06 21:06
great behind-the-scenes take on the air war
The Bombing Officer - Jerome Doolittle

Glad to find this behind-the-scenes take on the air war in Laos via fiction. It's a page-turner and full of insights as well, as intelligent as it is engaging. I was reminded of Simon Toyne and hope to see more like this from Doolittle.

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text 2014-11-12 10:21
"W Azji" Terzaniego w dobrej cenie w Virtualo
W Azji - Tiziano Terzani

Niedawno recenzowałem książkę Tiziano Terzaniego "W Azji". W sumie to kawał bardzo dobrej pracy reporterskiej. A dziś e-book jest w Virtualo w dobrej cenie 12,70 PLN. Do nabycia tutaj.

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review 2014-10-29 12:47
Kronika XX wieku w Azji
W Azji - Tiziano Terzani

 

„W Azji” Tiziano Terzaniego jest niezwykłym reporterskim zapisem burzliwych dziejów Azji w drugiej połowie XX wieku. Autor, jako młody reporter, wyrusza do Japonii w latach '60 by rozpocząć nowy rozdział swojego życia, który został poświęcony opisywaniu tego, co wydarzyło się na kontynencie azjatyckim. Terzani zrazu zafascynowany jest siłą ruchów rewolucyjnych, które doprowadziły do upadku kolonializmu w Chinach, Wietnamie i innych krajach regionu. Pasjonuje się przemianami prowadzącymi do obalenia krwawych dyktatur ustanowionych w ramach walki Stanów Zjednoczonych z pochodem komunizmu na przykład na Filipinach. Jest tam, gdzie miały miejsce wydarzenia zapełniające nagłówki najważniejszych dzienników i tygodników prasowych.

 

Stopniowo jednak rodzaj fascynacji się zmienia, szczególnie po doświadczeniach z Czerwonymi Khmerami. Ludobójstwo w Kambodży stanowi punkt zwrotny w postrzeganiu ruchów maoistowskich i impuls do rozrachunku z własnym sumieniem. Tym bardziej bolesny, że jako reporter będący na miejscu wydarzeń, Terzani sam nie dostrzegał lub nie chciał do siebie dopuścić jaskółek zwiastujących przyszłe katastrofy humanitarne, choćby takie jak w Kambodży czy Sri Lance. Koniec końców coraz bardziej krytycznie ocenia więc zarówno zamordyzm junt wojskowych, nie liczące się z jednostką eksperymenty społeczne partii komunistycznych jak i rodzącą się w Japonii zdehumanizowaną i zrobotyzowaną przyszłość bogatych społeczeństw.

 

Autoriksza Piaggio (New Delhi, 2003 r.)

Rozumiem pańską troskę. Ja również nie sądzę, aby samochód był uniwersalnym środkiem transportu. Jest przydatny, ale wywołuje problemy z ruchem, z zanieczyszczeniem miejskim, które trzeba rozwiązywać na bieżąco. Dlatego Piaggio chce zaproponować zupełnie nowe pojazdy, przeznaczone do użytku miejskiego, ale niekoniecznie samochody; pojazdy, które nie muszą mieć dwóch metrów na cztery powierzchni, bo taka nie może być przyszłość. Samochód to fantastyczny produkt, ale odpowiedni do dużych przestrzeni, do dużych odległości, nadaje się do Stanów Zjednoczonych, do Ameryki Południowej, gdzie ludność jest bardzo rozproszona. Gdyby przemysł motoryzacyjny w Indiach miał osiągnąć europejski albo amerykański poziom wzrostu, doprowadziłoby to, moim zdaniem, do katastrofy. W tym kraju nie dałoby się mieszkać. Oczywiście – na średnich dystansach pociąg jest niezastąpiony.”

Tiziano Terzani „W Azji”

 

Jednak książka jest przede wszystkim podręcznikiem reportażu oraz niezwykłym, często pisanym z punktu widzenia bezpośredniego obserwatora, obrazem błyskawicznych i głębokich przemian społecznych i gospodarczych, których doświadczyła Azja w drugiej połowie XX wieku. To po prostu obowiązkowa lektura dla wszystkich ciekawych świata i lubiących solidną robotę reporterską. A szczególnie, pomimo upływu lat, jest to książka dla osób zainteresowanych Japonią, Chinami, Wietnamem, Kambodżą, Koreą Północną, Koreą Południową, Birmą, Indiami, Sri Lanką, Tybetem, Laosem oraz Filipinami.

 

P.S.

Książkę przeczytałem już chwilę temu jako e-book zakupiony w empiku. Sklep zachęcił mnie w automatycznie wysyłanym liście do recenzji. Jednak nie chciałem jej pisać od razu, ponieważ w tekście było kilka błędów formatowania (wielkości czcionek). Na szczęście odpowiedzialne za konwersję do wersji cyfrowej Virtualo zareagowało błyskawicznie na moje uwagi i e-book został poprawiony.

 

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review 2014-01-04 23:23
“The Coroner’s Lunch” by Colin Cotterill – audio book – original, exotic but convincing crime story
THE CORONER'S LUNCH (DR SIRI PAIBOUN MYSTERY 1) - COLIN COTTERILL

A friend recommended "The Coroner's Lunch" as the start of a series I might be interested in. I'm glad she did, otherwise the idea of a 72-year-old coroner in Laos in 1975, immediately after the communist revolution, would not have struck me as my sort of thing and I would have missed out on meeting Dr. Siri Paibo, one of the most interesting characters I've encountered in crime fiction.

 

Siri is a reluctant, and initially not very competent, coroner; appointed as a "reward" for services to his country but feeling as if he is somehow being punished instead.

He becomes the centre of political intrigues, murders, and hauntings, which he approaches with a unique mix of scientific method and irrational (but compelling) superstition,

 

Siri is a man who has lost most things except his,sometimes wildly inappropriate, sense of humour and his desire to find the truth. He is a brave man who does not believe himself a hero. He inspires strong emotions in others (they either want to kill him, marry him, worship him or learn from him) because he sees beyond the idea to the person and within the person to their spirit.

 

Parts of the book are gruesome, in a non-gratuitous way, and parts, like his conversation with some recently orphaned children are truly moving without being maudlin or melodramatic. What holds it together is Siri sense of honour and common humanity.

 

Of course, there are also some good puzzles. at least three of them in fact, that kept me wanting to know what was going to happen next but mostly I wanted to know more about Dr. Siri.

 

The denouement of one of the plots is explained in a slightly clumsy way by a conversation between two characters who have previously only appeared in conversation with Siri but that is a small fault.

 

Most of the time Gareth Armstrong did a superb job of creating Siri and the characters around him but there were occasional stumbles over stress and even meaning, which the producer should have caught and fixed.

 

I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. "Thirty-Three Teeth" is already on my iPod.

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