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review 2017-07-24 22:43
The Warrior Woman
The Woman Warrior - Maxine Hong Kingston

In the world of memoirs, this one was a little difficult for me to rate. I was confused for a decent portion of it, not sure whether this was fiction or nonfiction at times. I had chosen it as part of the Read Harder Challenge for this year, task 17: read a classic by a woman of color. I suppose I could have counted Kindred but I didn't realize that it was written in 1979 until I was actually reading it and had already listed this memoir as my option for the challenge. Besides, I prefer using nonfiction for challenges anyway.

That said, I did eventually wander back over to the Goodreads and Amazon pages for this book and get it figured out.

As a whole, the book really was an amazing look into being the first US-born children of Chinese immigrants. There are flavors to the story that are familiar with my own experience of being the first US-born generation in my family too. The stories from where the family is from that don't make quite make sense in the US and the feeling of having lost so much in the migration are things that I grew up with too. I could relate to it without feeling like I already knew what was going to happen.

Here is a little bit about each story:

No Name Woman - this is the story of an aunt of Kingston's who had died back in China. She had been scorned for becoming pregnant while her husband was away and the entire family was forced to deal with the aftermath. Her mother told her of the story as a morality tale but Kingston also offers quite a bit of introspection about what it must have been like to be her aunt and what it must have been like to be a woman in China under those circumstances. She decomposes the story a bit too, rooting through for wholes in her mother's account. Set in China, it is one of the stories that showcase her heritage and the way that heritage can continue to effect even those of us not born in those countries.

White Tigers - this is the one that totally threw me for a loop. It's also written in the introspective memoir style but is actually one of the "talk stories" her mother told her and is delivered in the first person. I was so confused and kept looking at the info to make sure that this was definitely listed as non-fiction. I don't know, maybe I was just not paying an adequate amount of attention to catch it at the time because I hadn't realized from the last story that she wasn't even born in China and the entire story also takes place there. It's a great story and one that I understand her being captivated by, but it isn't her story nor does it appear to be based on one of her ancestors.

Shaman - I think this was my favorite. I love the idea of women making a great situation out of something that begins less than favorable. This takes place before Kingston is born and is about her mother deciding to be a doctor in China while her father is in the US making money. He makes more than enough to send home and for the mom to be comfortable at home, but she wants to do more with the money. Not only can I appreciate that sentiment but the very idea of going back to school after so long and how she becomes a great doctor are intriguing and uplifting.

At the Western Palace - I just love her mother so much. I get how it may have been a little hard to live her sometimes, but I love her attitude about things. My mother was much the same way. Go get what's yours. Don't take an unnecessary amount of crap from people. If life disappoints you, figure it out and move on. This story isn't actually about her mother, it's about an aunt but her mother is the larger image in it. She brings the aunt to the US after her husband never asks her to and then there's a some drama about the husband and the story is told from the point of view of Kingston herself who is just a little too young to really understand what's happening.

She understands, but doesn't grasp the gravity of the situation. She doesn't understand why it's such a big deal for the aunt and why she is so timid and so broken. Still, she gives the reader enough to see it and to feel for her aunt while also giving us a feeling of how alone she must have been with the rest of the family not understanding her. It says a lot about how culture does or does not migrate with the people who come from it.

A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe - finally we get to Kingston's own story. I did appreciate her story being the last once I understood the format because I can also understand the people around her. It would have been like reading the New Testament of the Bible without reading the Old Testament first, or even know what the Ten Commandments were. Her family and the other Chinese around her would have made less sense. I was a little horrified in the scene with the silent girl but kids can be cruel. On the other hand, I loved everything that came after her yelling at her parents to not marry her off. I cracked up at her mother's response to that.

I had looked over some other reviews when I was trying to figure out what was going on and it seems like this is generally a love it or hate it kind of book. I loved each story and would have loved for it to be advertised more as a collection of personal stories or life stories from a single person. It does paint a good overall picture of what the experience can be like to migrate to the US from China in that timeframe. It can be hard to remember what the threat of communism was like then and how countries that were engrossed with it treated their people. I am just old enough to remember seeing coverage of the Berlin Wall going down. I am also the first US born of people who came here to escape the devastating effects of communism. It's hard to explain to the younger generation now just what it meant. For that, I will endlessly appreciate this book and that it appears to have been brought into American literature classes.

Not only is the book about figuring out culture and heritage and what it means to live somewhere that you don't share the heritage, but it's also entirely about relationships among women. It's about her unnamed aunt and society and the ways that she is allowed to be remembered or not. It's about her relationship with her mother, her relationship to other Chinese children, her mother's relationship with both her own sister and her niece, her relationship to the legends of past Chinese women and the hopes of Chinese women contemporary to her.

There is one tiny problem though, and it's pointed out by almost every single person who I saw that didn't like this book. She does have a way of generalizing the Chinese. I get it, though, because I have generalized Cubans. I actually had to be taught to not do it by people like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the danger of a single story. I had lumped all Cubans into a single version of the refugee story and that's just grossly untrue. Likewise, Kingston makes it sound like all Chinese do this or that or don't do this or that.

But then again, this was written well before my time. I also recognize that there have been times in the US when it was hard to set a people behind unifying themes and ideas. I recognize that there have been times when it has been necessary to make distinctions that WE are like this and not that. Perhaps that was a part of the intended purposes of all those generalizations. Perhaps, it was important to Kingston to make a claim on what is or can be Chinese vice what is or can be Asian as a whole or vice what is or can be any other group. I don't know.

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review 2017-07-08 01:04
An Indigenous People's History of the United States
An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (ReVisioning American History) - Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

It's amazing how hearing the same story from a different perspective makes you see it all a little differently. While there are some bits that I'm not familiar with from American history classes throughout the years, most of the information isn't entirely new. This book just does something with the information that no American history class I've ever taken has done. It added in the impact those actions had on the Native Americans.

It reminded me that carrying out an action against a people and then going home, doesn't make that the end of what happens there. Many war stories also include this, but again, we forget in the US because we go in, fight it out, destroy everything, call the people liberated, and then go home. At least, that's been our way for a long time. Even countries that we occupied for a time weren't in the main consciousness of the rest of the country and the troops that have occupied those countries weren't there for so long that they joined in or cared about the community in a general way. Yes, some troops will do that but its not the mission and most just get homesick the longer they are anywhere. We don't have to pick up the pieces. I remember also reading a beautiful poem by Wislawa Szymborska called The End and the Beginning, it can be found at the Poetry Foundation here. There is always work to be done to recover from the all the "growing" out west that the US did.

While there's no argument that what the US did to the Native Americans as a whole is tragic, I can't help but notice the irony in having called them the "uncivilized" as our civilization continues to kill all things natural around us, especially when they always strove to protect it all. I also read this book far too close to my reading of Looking for Palestine to not notice the parallel situation we would find ourselves in as a country were the UN to look at us and say that we have to abide by the treaties that we signed with the many indigenous peoples' of the US. The people currently living in those areas would revolt as if the land hadn't been misappropriated in the first place. It's not as if the account here of how it was taken is strikingly different from what I remember of high school history. Again, the difference mainly surrounds that this book includes the effect on the Native Americans.

It did make me cringe a little to hear her call us "colonialists". It's not that the moniker is really wrong, especially once you've heard her case for it, but that it's so right it hurts a little. We, as a country, did all this while denouncing the form of colonialism that we had been under. We still managed to feel absolutely nothing about putting ourselves upon those who we could after having been so put upon by the English. It barely makes sense except for the tendency for people to take out their inability to control their own destinies on those who they can control. Like an abused child abusing their smaller sibling. It was also disappointingly true to hear her talk about our actions towards people of other countries with less military might than ours. I've read a few other books that would completely agree with this assessment of what we do when we aim to "liberate" other peoples*. It's more of a mess than anything else, but it's a mess of a way to handle things that we inherited and maybe one day we'll come up with the right way or at least a better way to handle it all but I won't hold my breath.

The book does note some promising changes to the way Native Americans are viewed and treated in the US but which can be easily seen in the divided responses people had to the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Stand with Standing Rock protests and campaign. The controversy received a lot of media attention and was a hot topic for part of the election but the direction of the election and that the pipeline stands and has already leaked oil show just how much further we have to go. Still, it gives me hope for the future.

My only problem with the book, though I completely understand it in the perspective, is the general way she talks about the troops. I get that it was exponentially easier in worse times to get the troops feeling hateful and then drunk and then just let them loose on society. I also get that incidents like Abu Ghraib doesn't inspire confidence in our present situation. The difference is that the Armed Forces themselves take great pains these days to prevent rather than inspire such behavior. I get that it doesn't make a whole lot of difference to the people that are on the other end of our weapons and I get that the present change in administration is troubling to many world-wide. Still, I felt I would be remiss in my review to not mention this attitude toward US troops for the benefit of future readers who may or may not have affiliation with the present Armed Forces. It makes the information here, though not generally untrue, a little harder to swallow at times.

Above all, I hope this book finds it's way into classrooms and churches and hearts. I hope we act on the actual virtues of Christianity and go back and decide without being further told to abide by those treaties, that we treat our neighbor better than we would treat ourselves, and find a way to coexist that's good for all of us. We can't fix the past but we can make a future that embodies what our ancestors should have done to begin with. Maybe we will one day. It's one of the things I'll be working toward in whatever ways I find.

I listened to the audiobook on Scribd, read by Laural Merlington.

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review 2017-06-27 01:28
Looking for Palestine
Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family - Najla Said

I was not aware of Edward Said before reading this book, so I went into it without any expectation on the part of his daughter. I had originally found the book when searching for memoirs about non-celebrities, for books about the human experience and was drawn to the way that the description of this book included her cultural confusion.

I have experienced cultural confusion and appreciate reading about how others have dealt with it and what they have gone through. Being cultural confused here in the States isn't necessarily a bad thing, and strangely a topic that was also deeply covered in the book I read directly before this (Black White and Jewish). For me, it was being both white and Hispanic. As if being mixed wasn't confusing enough, there are the great many countries that Hispanics can be from, though we are often confused for each other, and the in-fighting that happens among us. I totally identified with this part of the book since the Middle East can apparently cause the same identity issues. Everyone that you meet can't wait to tell you what your culture is like but you, who are supposedly living it, can't quite figure it out. Yep, that was my childhood too.

That said, I loved reading about every moment of Said's confusion over why she couldn't just be like other girls and why she couldn't quite understand who she was supposed to be. I loved that there were so many elements of a typical American childhood mixed in with those differences. I loved the way she talks about feeling like the other mothers loved their daughters more by demanding special dietary concessions while her mother didn't do that. I loved the way she dealt with having to revise her place in the world as the conflicts in the Middle East made different parts of her heritage hard to explain to the New Yorkers around her. More than anything, I loved the way she changed paths and forged a new place for her in her chosen career path. She wasn't going to let people tell her where she belonged, she told them. Okay, she was a part of a group that started in on it and I appreciate that they wouldn't let someone else distort their narrative after 9/11.

My only problem is that I didn't totally understand the title. The subtitle makes total sense as you read the book but I kept expecting her to be doing something closer to Palestine or maybe for Palestine. The best I can guess is that she was looking for Palestine within herself because Said is both Palestinian and Lebanese. The Lebanese side she understood earlier.

I had seen some discontent with her disconnect with her father's work as a child but kids are not their parents and I would hope that anyone reading the book would see that. Maybe it's again coming off of reading Rebecca Walker's book because it can be so obvious to some and yet other expect some children to relive their parents lives. I found it endearing to hear about how she later figured out that all these people who had been guests in her childhood home turned out to be big movers and shakers in the political world.

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review 2017-06-18 21:57
A Small Revolution
A Small Revolution - Jimin Han A Small Revolution - Jimin Han

This is a pleasant surprise. It's a Kindle First book I got a few months ago, along with the audio upgrade, that had so much more to it than I expected. At it's core the story is about four college girls who are held captive by a guy with a gun for reasons that blur between the personal and the political. But this isn't about some rejected college student who wants to take out his anger by showing power, it's more of a hostages make people listen situation.

Yoona is the protagonist and I loved the way she tells the story to Jaesung. It's not done in a way that makes it sound like she is relaying it to him later and that everything is fine. She talks to him as if he is her conscience. Jaesung is another character who is not in the room with them but he is still a part of it. You know from the beginning that Jaesung has something to do with why Lloyd, the gunman, has these girls in this room at gunpoint.

I appreciated Yoona, Jaesung, and Lloyd as characters, as would-be or possible revolutionaries. I loved the niavete they possess and the way each works through that in their own way and the way the interference, or not, of parents rang true to life for me. Some are very involved, others not so much or not at all. I couldn't help but feel for Yoona, not just in that room but as other events became known. Then there's Lloyd's unraveling, what brought him to the place, what motivates his conversations with the negotiator and I loved the negotiator. Much of the book isn't even about the room they are in but the way they all came to be there and these are the scenes that surprised me most.

I enjoyed the story embodied a part of American life by being about people who were the first or second generation to be born in the US, by being about people who still have ties to the land of their parents. I appreciated it as a story about Korean-Americans, which I feel is a group we don't hear much about, but also about Korea and a dorm room in the US. The story elements fit together beautifully and the only thing I would wish to change about it was a little more denouement.

Also, I really love this cover. Its perfectly captures the feel and tone of the story without giving anything away. Every time I see the cover since finishing the book, I get a little wistful about the story and all the characters and everything they wanted to do and everything they wanted to fix about the world.

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review 2017-06-15 20:38
Black White Jewish
Black White & Jewish - Rebecca Walker

Never before has a book so completely spoken to my heart. I originally found this last year when I was looking around for around for women's memoirs to be put into my Diverse Books Tag focused on that genre (a book with a biracial protagonist). I recommended it to my library but got quickly absorbed in a number of other books while I waited for it to be available or for the right time to pop up. At last, my library purchased it and I was the first one to get it when it came out.

I have to say that waiting for the right time worked out fantastically. Some books just seem to know when you need them. As I said, this one just spoke right to my heart. That's not to suggest that I "know" what it was like for Rebecca Walker to navigate her life or what it's like to be black and white and Jewish all at the same time. What I do know is that I am quite familiar with that sense of not quite belonging to anyone, but maybe belonging enough to be claimed here and there for this or that trait. I have drifted from one home to another within my family or neighborhood or group of friends and felt that change that Walker describes as "switching radio stations". I've felt the sting of being in one group while people denigrate the other part of you, the part that they don't claim, while they insist that it's not you but you know that it is, even if only in part. I've felt it on both sides of me.

We've lived vastly different lives in different times within this country and I couldn't possibly relate to all of Walker's experiences, but I had never known anyone to describe this being and not being so well, so beautifully. The idea of being a "movement baby" sounds terrifying, like for too much to live up to. Later, I found it far easier to relate to what happened when the ideas of the movement were gone and she was treated like her existence was half-oppressor and half-oppressed, when people asked her navigate those waters and explain what it felt like. I was never able to explain what it was like to be fragmented this way and now I have someone to turn to for that.

I loved Walker's style of writing and relating everything back to memory and the way that memory shifts, that way that it can be wrong and right at the same time and the way it shapes us and perceptions of us without ever asking for permission. I loved the poetic feel that accompanies most of the book. I peaked at some other reviews and it's not the kind of book that everyone loves, but I still find it an important book to read and discuss. Perhaps it would make a great book club memoir because it does bring in questions of race on several fronts and it could open conversations about sex in adolescence, the effect of divorce and/or neglect on a child's upbringing and other important issues that Walker goes through that still plague us.

The downside to that, of course, is that using the book that way invites criticism of Walker and her parents as people who were theoretically doing the best they could. I don't mean to sound like I doubt that anyone was doing their best but I also don't want to make it sound like I'm making assumptions about what could/should have been done. The point is simply that getting judgey about someone's life and story like this would miss the point of reading the book.

Despite what others might think, I found this book engaging, even at it's lowest moments. I appreciated the way it was a little episodic, moving through periods in her life and only stopping to fit in the moments that best sums up the time-frame for her rather than dwelling on incidentals. As mentioned above, what I loved the most was the way she relates what it is like to not fit succinctly into any single category of race, to be a part of something and not a part of it at the same time, close and yet removed from it. I have felt these things so many times in life when I am in Hispanic or not Hispanic depending on the way whoever I'm talking to feels about it and it rarely seems up to me to let them know who I am and how I fit into these categories and whether or not I even want to.

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