Happy Tuesday readers! I had a much better reading week than last week and I’m excited to share with you what I read:
I may have mentioned before that I try to read books written by people who are different from me, and have had different experiences than I have. I think reading is one of the best ways to improve our empathy towards and understanding of others. The main character in this story, whose name we never learn, is a first generation Chinese immigrant, a struggling doctoral student of chemistry. The book is written as a stream of consciousness as she thinks about her present troubles and the people and events in her life that have led her to her current circumstances.
The main character is not sure she wants to continue her phd, not sure she wants to marry her live in boyfriend, and not sure how to escape the mental hold of her parents, who have quite specific expectations of her. The descriptions of things her parents have said and done throughout her life are fascinating, and unbelievable to all of the Caucasians in her life. As she recounts these traumatizing events throughout the book, though, the reader does begin to see the motives behind the parents’ words and actions. In the end, the narrator has to decide whether she is going to live the life her parents want for her or find out what she wants.
I enjoys the author’s writing style and stayed up late finishing this one. Anyone who has ever faced the decision of doing what you love versus doing what is expected of you will relate to the main character’s indecision and, at times, despair. This is book about living your best life, because you only get one.
Love and Other Consolation Prizes
I recently read The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (I know, I’m a little late to the party), and I loved it. I was excited to get to read Ford’s new book, and I think I liked it even more than The Hotel.
It’s the story of Ernest, born Yung-Ku, who is born in China to a Chinese woman and a white missionary. At a very young age, he is sent alone on a ship to America, where a series of bizarre events lead him to a notorious brothel, working as a houseboy. The story is told in two alternating parts, Ernest’s memories of his early childhood, and his present day life. As the book goes on, we see Ernest dealing with incredibly difficult circumstances and finally finding a family and a place where he belongs.
I love Jamie Ford’s writing. I knew from the very first page that I was going to love this book. He is able to take the reader back to a place and time that is totally unfamiliar and make you understand how it felt to be living in those circumstances. Parts of this book broke my heart, particularly the early memories Ernest has of China and his voyage to America. But ultimately this is a love story, and one well worth reading.
The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy
For this book, I’m back in my wheelhouse, WWII historical fiction. However, this story is told from a perspective with which I’m not familiar, that of a young Dutchman, his family, and a small town in Holland devastated by the war. Jacob grows up with his parents and older brother in a small, close knit community. His father owns a local factory where many of the townspeople are employed. As WWII is starting, Holland has been promised neutrality, and people are sure that they will not be affected by the war. Jacob and his brother are even sent to a Hitler Youth Camp, in order to impress German businessmen who his father is dealing with. However, it soon becomes apparent that Hitler will not keep his promises and the town and factory, like the rest of Holland, are taken over by German soldiers. The novel follows Jacob over the course of four years, as he deals with devastating loss and has to decide which side of the war he will be on. When the war is over, Jacob feels that there will be nothing left of his home, his family, or himself.
This book got off to a slow start for me, but then I really got drawn into the story. Jacob is both a hero and an ordinary young boy, forced to make horrible decisions as his whole life is crumbling around him. I knew nothing about the boatrunners helping refugees escape war torn Europe, and found that really interesting to read about. The author makes reference to the fact that even today refugees are still trying to escape oppression, and the boat runners will never run out of “customers”. If you’re looking for a different perspective on WWII historical fiction, this is a good book to start with.
That’s all for this week – happy reading!