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review 2017-05-19 02:04
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Reading Lolita in Tehran - Azar Nafisi

This is one of those books that comes along and turns everything you thought you knew upside down. I loved every minute of it and can't wait to read more from Nafisi.

She manages to do so much in this book. It just amazes me. She makes me want to read everything over again (except Lolita which I read for the first time in tandem with this and am so grateful that I did. Here's the review for Lolita), and to teach literature, and to have my own group where we can dive into all these books together. Unfortunately, all these things are incredibly difficult to come by or create and I can't imagine how she managed to do it in Tehran, of all places.

Okay, to be fair, I don't have to imagine, she details it in the book. Other than Pride and Prejudice, I wasn't a fan of any of the books they so loved in their courses and most I had already read for my own English degree, again the exception is Lolita. That said, I really have to go back and reread them and appreciate all these things that I didn't see on the first pass. I absolutely loved the Gatsby trial because it also made clear for me the things that are amazing about the book and made sense of it all. A problem that I have had with classics like that one and Great Expectations was that the women were so unreal to me. I had never met nor knew of a woman in real life like any of them. It had not occurred to me that these are only the impressions of the male protagonist of what these women were like. Even when it was once pointed out to me, I was horrified and couldn't bring myself to really believe it. Surely, men don't actually view women the way that Pip viewed Estella, but I was assured that many do. This did not help me like that particular novel, but it helped me understand Daisy in The Great Gatsby when that same thought process was pointed out here.

I think the difference is the timing and the impression that was left. Like with Madame Bovary, I remembered the highlights of the The Great Gatsby and the feel of the book but not an excess of details. I could remember that Daisy was always seen as the embodiment of everything desirable and wonderful by Gatsby but not why. It helped my impression of her that she loved him, though it left me confused when she chose to leave him at the end. Nafisi does help clarify this when she supports the idea that Daisy in the book isn't always interpreted adequately by Nick, the narrator, which is why her actions can be confusing. The same would have been true for Lolita, who is seen entirely through the eyes of HH, had I not read the section about Lolita here prior to getting into the meat of the audiobook. I could see through HH's interpretation and make my own interpretations of the same actions, something I couldn't manage with Daisy or Estella. I mentioned in the Lolita review that it really makes me want to do a reread of both and I'd throw Daisy Miller into the mix now that I've read her section in this book as well.

Madame Bovary I had already learned to appreciate shortly after starting this blog because it prompted me to think a little more about the context than the story and that she is such an unlikeable character for me. Once I got over the idea of judging her for her actions, I remembered to appreciate that she is a fully developed character, written like a real woman with reasoning for her actions that I can understand and even empathize with while disagreeing with them and that she was written by a man over a hundred years ago. She was written in a way that see beyond all the delicacy that we are attributed into the people that women are and that we can have our own ambitions and desires. She's a precursor to all the amazing women in Game of Thrones who finally got me to like fantasy because there were real women going through stuff and messing everything up and making mistakes and getting it done. Because of this, I could just nod and agree on Madame Bovary though I didn't think she was discussed quite as much as some of the others.

I knew going in that this was a book about other books and that it took place in Iran, but I had managed to ignore when this class took place. Thus, I was not prepared for how much the book was going to be about the war between Iraq and Iran. The amazing interpretations that this time and place give to the interpretations of these books are reason alone to read this, and probably the primary reason to do so, but Nafisi also does the reverse and interprets the world through the books, adding a depth to her memoir that I hadn't expected. The timing of the class gives Nafisi and her students certain insights into these books but the books also give them other insights into their time and place.

Each book made them see something different in their world the same way their world made them see things in the book that I overlooked. Something as simple as Daisy Miller and her actions are taken entirely differently when one also lives the heavier restrictions that are placed upon women in some parts of the world. It's easy as a reader in the US now to just see Daisy as being a little slutty and forget that she is lashing out at society. I certainly missed it. I also missed how such simple actions work to begin the breakdown of societal restraints on our lives and free us just a little more. It's girls like Daisy that get us from where she was to where I am and I never paid enough attention to appreciate that about her.

So I've gone a really long way to say that this book revolutionized the way I think of the books mentioned and, in certain respects, the way to even read a book. That said, it is a wonderful memoir of a woman who lived through a historical period in Iran that absolutely needed documented from a woman's perspective. I am grateful to her for that as well. It is a look into the lives of women in a time and place that we often overlook women and their experiences. We fall into a mindset that women aren't doing anything because they aren't the people on the screens and given the higher priority bylines. The more I make an effort to read about women, the more I'm a believer in the hidden history of women getting it done and then having credit taken from them or their contributions covered up. We absolutely must make a better effort to know our own herstories and make them louder, make them as inescapable as the men in history are.

Women were there, women were contributing, women need to be remembered for it all.

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review 2017-03-25 22:10
Girl Rising
Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl... Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time - Tanya Lee Stone

This is an incredibly informative book on an important issue all over the world. It's a quick read for anyone interested in brushing up on the subject and getting involved.

Most of the information wasn't new for me as it was also mostly covered in Half the Sky, but it was sorted and presented differently. First of all, this is based on a documentary, so the author knew that much of the information had been presented before. She chose to focus on some of the finer details of the situation rather than the overarching themes of why girls aren't getting educated. She starts with the stories of the individual girls seen in the documentary and then widened the view to show that their situations are representative of the issue in their country or region.

The other benefit that this book has over Half the Sky is that it is predominantly uplifting. Each of the girls mentioned and who the reader gets to know has found a way to school and is flourishing. The author mentions that they are the lucky ones, and that more needs to be done, but she doesn't leave the reader with the feeling that it's too big to hope for there ever being a resolution. That may seem a little less realistic to some or like there is false hope, but it depends on the reader.

The book is clearly targeted at a younger reader and as a started into the issue, so she's probably banking on the reader not having read anything like Half the Sky  yet. As a starter into the issue and a book that focused on education alone (the other one has a whole host of women's issues that it discusses), it's fanstastic. It introduces the problem well, it gives the reader someone to relate to in order to inspire the reader to help with the problem and then it even gives possible ways for any reader to help with the problem. I wouldn't recommend it to someone already familiar with this issue only because it would be redundant. On the other hand, it'd be the first book I mentioned to someone asking about the importance of educating girls worldwide alonside their brothers, especially if that person has a tendency to want to help with things they are informed about.

The ways to help aren't perfect and are centered around the reader being a youth or student. They aren't necessarily fit for everyone, but they are options to get one thinking about what can be done. They are small steps to take in that direction.

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review 2017-01-11 15:43
Burger's Daughter
Burger's Daughter - Nadine Gordimer

My first book finished for the year is for my personal Reading Nobel Women challenge. This was my choice for Nadine Gordimer who is a recipient for Literature, so I read one of her novels.

It has taken me a while to attempt to process how I feel about this book. It was difficult to get through because of the nature of the book. For starters, I know relatively little of what was going on in South Africa during apartheid and the anti-apartheid movements. I got the glossed over and sugar-coated versions in school. I knew of Nelson Mandela, even back in school, and what he was known for, but I couldn't grasp it. It was real in that I knew it to be nonfiction but it didn't really exist in my mind. As an American, so far away from South African, I just didn't get it.

While I will never understand the full impact of everything involved with apartheid, getting rid of it and getting past it, reading this book began to paint a picture I wasn't familiar with. I was lost for most of the beginning because the topic was so for it's time and place and they were still in the thick of it that I don't think it occurred to the author that it might be necessary one day. Still, I wish there was some sort of forward that was added for modern readers who aren't as familiar with the time that the story begins.

Another confusing thing in the beginning was the way it switched from the third person to the first person in some chapters, with the first person being Rosa's internal monologue talking to different people. It was mostly an old lover in the beginning but some others are added at the end.

The story itself isn't about apartheid or ending it, so much as this girl trying to live in that time and with her own heritage. Rosa is the daughter of a prominent white Communist who actively advocated for apartheid to end and for the Africans to be complete citizens in their own country. He is believed to be based on Bram Fischer. What makes the book magical in its own way isn't so much the story itself but all the little observations of Rosa when she is in the first person. She occupies a strange place in the history of South Africa where she sees things about the status of the places that other's within the story don't see.

More importantly, it's the way Gordimer says things, whether it is the way Rosa sees things or the arguments of people around her. Here is a piece of a conversation that I just don't really know what to do with:

It’s not peace at any price, it’s peace for each at his price. White liberalism will sacrifice the long odds on attaining social justice and settle for letting blacks into the exploiting class. The ‘enlightened’ government crowd will sacrifice the long odds on maintaining complete white supremacy and settle for propping up a black middle class whose class interests run counter to a black revolution.

It's just one piece of a larger conversation about whether or not the black who were invited to box with the whites at the Olympics and what it means for everyone. Is it progress that they are being invited? Is it a stall tactic for the whites who are in power to not have a full on revolution? And then what does it all mean when you take a second and look back on your own country's history? It sent me in circles for days thinking about how things work in the US and whether or not this person was on to something and what it would mean for everyone if it really worked this way. Passages like this happened several times in the book.

Rosa was a great character, not necessarily because she is likable but because she isn't always likable. A character shouldn't always have to be likable. Sometimes they are going to do disagreeable things, just as people do, if they are to be true to life characters. Her world and her problems were interesting and foreign to me and it was completely understandable to me for her to feel every way she felt, even when it resulted in her doing things I didn't think were a good idea.

The most relatable thing about the book, especially right now with the way so many people are feeling in the wake of the US's own recent political upheaval, was the way Rosa doesn't like her lot in life as one the "named" from birth. She has no chance for a normal life because of who her parents were but she also doesn't appear to want what a normal white girl there were have because of how her parents raised her. She spends most of the book in a place of hopelessness about how apartheid will never end. I can imagine that given the time it took, many people felt that way.

Altogether, it was a great book to read, it just wasn't fun or enjoyable. It was thought-provoking, it was difficult, it was heart-breaking, it rocked my world every few chapters, and it was a touch inspirational here and there. That said, it's not for everyone but anyone interested in world history should give it a try. Or anyone else interested in Reading all the Nobel Women, which I totally recommend because they are incredible women.

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review 2017-01-04 14:10
The Moonlit Garden
The Moonlit Garden - Alison Layland,Corina Bomann

I listened to this one, narrated by  Justine Eyre. It was about 12 hours long, but it passed by quickly with this fun read. It's not particularly deep or magical and it doesn't call life as we know it into question.

It's a nice read/listen, light and intriguing for anyone in the mood for a little escape from the disappointments that have been abounding.

Funny enough, the only problems with the book are also reasons why I liked it. Lily Kaiser's journey is a little too convenient throughout the book but that can be just perfect sometimes. It can be exactly what I need to read or listen in order to balance out the pressure of the world.

So, yes, the book is a little too neat. The story a little too beautiful and coincidental and works a little too well, but I didn't mind it at all. Mostly because it was also written incredibly well. It moves between times, giving insight into Rose Gallway's life that Lily doesn't readily have and let's the reader piece some of it together on our own. I do enjoy that. And then the author lays it all out and it's just perfect. A little too perfect, like in one of those rom-coms that we watch to feel good but that we all know aren't the way the world works.

I really loved that about it. It's going to be one of my comfort books, to peruse when I'm down, maybe listen to when I wanna revel in new beginnings, like the mood I re-watch Stardust in. If you've read a few too many mysteries lately, or too many books that ripped your heart out (like I have recently), than this is the perfect book to recover with. It's comforting and sweet and romantic and doesn't take itself too seriously. But it's not the book for that serious deep read. Don't expect it to be.

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review 2016-12-21 19:35
Nirzona
Nirzona (A Love Story) - Bill Tucker And... Nirzona (A Love Story) - Bill Tucker And Annie Berry,Abidah El Khalieqy

I have to admit that it took a while for me to decide whether this book was worth finishing. I was captivated by the first few pages but unsure how it was going to be a love story. When the love story did start to pick up, I was unsure if I was going to like it and then I fell in love with our female lead. Firdaus is amazing. It's not that she's gorgeous, though it's obvious that all the men around her think so. It's definitely not the lovesick way that she's portrayed in Sidan's POV scenes. It's when the story shifted to focus on her that I started to really enjoy this book. Don't get me wrong, our male lead is a good guy too. They're in the situation that they're in because of his convictions about his home. Walking through the recovery of Aceh after the tsunami is heart-wrenching and sadly real. I've read more about how well-intended efforts and money donated to causes like relief and recovery get sidelined and the people in these places don't get much of it. Their leaders do, but not the people who were already poor or who lost everything unless they were well connected. I have to admire Sidan's ethics, even when given the capability to leave it all behind. I appreciate his dedication and sticking to what he feels is the right thing to do in his hometown while I understand that it is a problem for his personal life. Unfortunately, I also understand the dangers that keep a woman like Firdaus away from Aceh in that time of turmoil. It really does set up an interesting problem for our young couple. There were also several observations that Sidan makes along the way that were brilliant. He takes time to recognize what's happening to his people and just who is taking advantage of them. I highlighted several passages the reflect on his feelings toward colonialists and those volunteers who make a profit for being there. There are moments that were strange for me, like references to the A rchangel Michael and some of each character's strange dreams. I liked their inclusion because I think we all dream about the things that are on our minds as much as their troubles are, but they were strange dreams that also read strangely and not in that Wonderland or Neverland kind of way. Just strange in that way that stress dreams are just strange. Again, though, it's Firdaus. It's not just her but the way Sidan interacts with her. There's a scene, and it's a flashback so it doesn't spoil anything, where they were hanging out and it's time for her go home. Sidan offers to escort her home and she refuses that she needs to be escorted. After she beats him up about it a bit, he responds with this: Fine. Whatever you want, Lady Feminist. So that I’m not mistaken for a colonizer, so that I’m not thought to be exercising my power, so that I’m not accused of marginalizing anyone or subordinating anyone, I won’t interfere. I loved it. There are a few more scenes that I just loved her for and there's also these great references that he makes when admiring her and comparing her to the women of his home. I don't know anything about Indonesia, so it makes for quite the history lesson, especially for the feminist in me. I fell right down the rabbit hole on it with one thing leading me to another. Here they are: Admiral Keumalahayati - the first female admiral of the modern era in the world (modern because it excludes Artemisia, or so it says in the Wikipedia page. Inong Balee are mentioned but don't have a Wikipedia page or really anything that explains them in a similar way. They're explained throughout the book and mentioned in the Keumalahayati page as the group of women warriors, made mostly of war widows, who fought in the Aceh wars against the Portugese under the admiral. There was a mention of the 4 sultanas of Aceh and this is the article I found on them. Finding those led me to these: Cut Nyak Dhien - a leader of the Acehnese guerrilla forces. Semiramis - legendary female ruler of Assyria Artemisia I of Caria - Greek admiral who fought alongside Xerxes I This article about the 4 Muslim women who ruled the Maldives Getting back to the book at hand, I did appreciate the way it ended and the final chapter really made me love Firdaus all the more. I won't say more, lest I spoil it! Personally, this was a Kindle First for me for November.

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