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review 2018-03-23 21:15
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive -- from tragedy comes poetry
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive - Tom Malmquist,Henning Koch

The first page opens in an ER trauma room where Tom's pregnant partner Karin's clothes are being cut off and her vital stats are being called out. Anyone who's ever been in one of those rooms will instantly feel the claustrophobia, confusion and terror.

The crisis never ends. It gathers new crises to attach to itself, and in the midst of it all is a young man desperately trying to keep himself together and put one foot in front of the other. Karin had a rare and aggressive form of leukemia. Beneath a breathing mask, she tells Tom she wants to call the baby Livia, and her health (which was great days earlier) deteriorates rapidly. Very soon they induce a coma, transfer hospitals in order to get cutting-edge care, deliver her baby and perform multiple interventions to no avail. Soon she is gone and Tom is left alone with Livia. Tom, who has been living a rather charmed life becomes a widower and the single father of a premature infant in the span of days.

Tom Malmquist went through this exact same thing, and as such, it's very hard to read this as fiction and impossible to be dispassionate about the book. It's a fictionalized autobiography. I have no idea which parts are which beyond the broad strokes. There is nothing maudlin, some absurdity (ie, the baby has to bring a legal suit against Tom to become his daughter because Tom and Karin weren't married. They lived together for a decade. He'd had a DNA test, but the baby is not automatically his, despite the fact that he is the one caring for her. I would say "only in America" but apparently not.) We go from the main story to flashbacks of when Karin was alive. It feels real - that at these moments, Tom the character is remembering Karin, so the flashbacks of her work well. There are others of his father, who is also dying when the book opens, and the main timeline is straightforward but there are many branches on this tree, all culminating in the sketch of a life from childhood to present. 

The final chapter is gorgeous and brims with love. It's set apart from the acute stages of the rest of the book and moves quickly through Livia's early years to her first days of staying alone at school. Tom has learned how to parent and while he says he feels like a bad parent, it's clear he is not. It's a compelling and tear-inducing final chapter full of poetry and hope.

Malmquist is a poet for real. Prose is a newer endeavor., and this story had to be prose. The book is in translation, and the translation feels very clunky at times. I can feel the poetry trying to break free, but it fails to do so, especially in dialogue. The writing doesn't always employ typical dialogue signifiers like breaks or quotation marks. This works extremely well when Tom is stressed and too much information is coming at him. But in the midst of something that could've worked well comes what may be an overly-literal translation. So everything is conveyed, but not always in the best of ways. When dialogue isn't being overly literal, the translation doesn't get in the way, but this is yet another book I would love to read in its original language. 

No matter the translation, this is a universal story that works despite moments of clunky dialogue. Well worth keeping an eye out for anything else to come from Tom Malmquist.

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review 2018-03-22 01:19
Seriously... I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
Seriously... I'm Kidding - Ellen DeGeneres

Seriously… I’m Kidding has been on my to-read list for a while now. When it finally came available to borrow from my library I jumped at the chance to listen to the audio version.


Narrated by Ellen herself, this audio book was just like listening to the opening monologue on her talk show. I enjoyed her observations on the world around her and admire her for keeping her jokes clean. Unlike most comedians, Ellen’s humor is suitable for all ages.


Although an enjoyable listen, I did find some of the rambling to be a bit much and settled on a 3 star rating. I would recommend Seriously… I’m Kidding to fans of Ellen DeGeneres.

Source: mlsredhousereviews.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/seriously-im-kidding-by-ellen-degeneres
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review 2018-03-18 17:00
A Memoir of Family Ties and Loss
Missing Persons: A Memoir - Gayle Greene Ph.D

Missing Persons: A Memoir comes from one who becomes the last in her family after she loses her aunt and then her mother, facing the rigors of caring for a dying person at home and the ongoing feelings of loss that comes from their recent deaths and the prior demise of her younger brother and her father. 


Gayle Greene was forced to confront basic questions of her values and journey in life as she lived through her mother and aunt's final days and a year's aftermath of being without them and without family ties. 


The result is a hard-hitting account of one woman's adjustments and survival tactics that takes into account the broader issues of death, dying, and family heritage. Missing Persons is recommended for anyone who enjoys memoirs about family connections, loss, and disconnections. 


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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 2018-03-10 15:30
Love, Loss And What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi
Love, Loss, and What We Ate: A Memoir - Padma Lakshmi

What a story, and what a life!
I am a fan of Top Chef and have watched Padma on it since I first started watching. I always wondered what her claim to fame was, and her memoir definitely fills us in and more. I was blown away by some of the stuff I learned about her, and am even more in awe of her. She's not just beautiful, but she's smart, a good mother and human being in general.
Plus there is recipes in this book that she so graciously shares with us. One of them is her childhood favorite, Chili Cheese Toast.  I can't wait to try it!

Yeah, I'm a bigger fan now. I want to track down her cookbooks now too. Recipes that are indulgent without the fat, basically. I'm intrigued.
Fans of the show Top Chef, or not, you will like her life story. I'd bet on it. She is simply fascinating.
Source: www.fredasvoice.com/2018/03/love-loss-and-what-we-ate-memoir-by.html
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