Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Autobiography of Us

Title:  The Autobiography of Us
Author:  Aria Beth Sloss
Publication Information:  Henry Holt and Company, LLC. 2013. 292 pages.

Book Source:  I saw this book while browsing on GoodReads.

Favorite Quote:  "I suppose that could be said of anyone we love, that their effects on our lives run so deeply, with such grave force, we hardly know what they mean until they are gone."

The "Us" are Alex and Rebecca. They meet in 1958 as girls, and instantly forge a friendship. The Autobiography of Us is the story of that relationship within the cultural context of the 1960s as Alex and Rebecca grow up and attempt to find their own way within the confines of family and cultural expectations.

The description had all the makings of a good story - young women at a fascinating point in history, friendships we can relate to, expectations we try to live up to and escape. Unfortunately, the reality of this book did not live up to its expectations.

The characters were not particularly likable. The book seemed a little disjointed. Throughout, the book was an undercurrent that made it feel like I, as a reader, was missing part of the story. I kept waiting for it to come together, but it never quite did.

It had the potential, but did not get there.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

When The Emperor Was Divine

Title:  When The Emperor Was Divine
Author:  Julie Otsuka
Publication Information:  Borzoi Book, Alfred A. Knopf, Random House Inc. 2002. 144 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book bases on how much I enjoyed Julie Otsuka's book The Buddha in the Attic.

Favorite Quote:  "He said he was fine. Everything was fine. He was sure they would see each other one day soon. Be good to your mother, he wrote. Be patient. And remember, it's better to bend than break."

When The Emperor Was Divine is the story of the Japanese in the United States during World War II.  It is the story of one family, but written with no names perhaps to imply a universality of experience. A more recent book from Julie Otsuka -  The Buddha in the Attic - tells the story of the Japanese picture brides up until World War II. This story, although written much earlier, picks up the story at that point.

It is the story of one family. The father has been arrested and detained as an "enemy." The family - mother, daughter, and son - are sent to an internment camp.

I have mixed feelings about this book. Some parts - especially as the father narrates - spoke to me and created an emotional connection. Other parts - mostly narrated by the little boy - I had a hard time finding a connection too. The entire book is written with no names, and that in and of itself creates a detachment. Yet, I found the emotion in certain sections, and not in others.

Perhaps, my reaction is also influenced by the fact that I very recently read The Buddha in the Attic, and absolutely loved it. That book is written entirely in third person plural. Yet, that consistency of tone achieves to create one character out of the entire group of women. This book does not successfully accomplish that.

One idea that really struck me is the quote above. This is a letter from the father to the little boy in which he advises that "it's better to bend than break." Bend not Break is the title of a memoir I read recently. I found it intriguing to find almost the exact words in this book.

Of course, the lingering question in my mind about this period in history is that this happened in the United States, and have we changed enough to ensure that such a violation of rights and liberties never happens here again?

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Walk Across the Sun

Title:  A Walk Across the Sun
Author:  Corban Addison
Publication Information:  Silverroak Books, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. 2012. 371 pages

Book Source:  I read this book based on the cover picture and the book description when I came across it while browsing our library.

Favorite Quote:  "Healing, she found, required motion, intention, purpose - the reassurance that life was still worth living."

A Walk Across the Sun is a story of the horrors of the world sex trade. It is the story of Ahlaya and Sita Ghai, whose world in India is destroyed by a tsunami. They lose their home and family in the storm. While attempting to get to a safe place, they are abducted and thrust into a world where men pay for sex and the younger and more innocent the victim, the higher the price.

A Walk Across the Sun is also the story of Thomas Clarke, who faces his own demons and yet sets out to make a difference - a small difference in the scope of this horrible trade yet a life saving difference for these two young women.

In a fast paced, engrossing story, this book tells of the immense scope and incredible impact of human trafficking. The story touches India, Europe, and the United States. Such atrocities exists all around us and nearer to us than we would like to believe possible. The story is fiction, yet the reality exists.

The book raises the questions of how to combat this horror - do you go after those who sell or do you go after the buyers? It speaks to the enormity of the battle - every girl rescued is a life saved; yet, for every one saved, so many more are not. Those in the trenches continue on, focusing on every life they are able to save.

The book horrifies, makes you care, and educates. My only concern with it is that sometimes the sequences of events seemed orchestrated and too conveniently worked out to the plot line, and the ending wraps up the story in a neat package. That to me loses some of the realism of the book. Still, a powerful read that highlights that it up to all of us to stop this. As the maxim goes, "Evil prevails where good people do nothing."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Dog Stars

Title:  The Dog Stars
Author:  Peter Heller
Publication Information: Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, Inc. 2012. 292 pages

Book Source:  I read this book because I found the cover and title intriguing.

Favorite Quote:  "Life is tenacious if you give it one little bit of encouragement."

The Dog Stars is the story of a post-apocalyptic world. Nine years have passed since a disease killed most of the population of the world and most of the natural life. A few survivors remain. Some are infected with contagious diseases and still attempt to live life. Some are infected and have gone feral. A very few are immune and the survivors.

Hig is one of the immune survivors. He has seen his life, his family, and his world destroyed. He lives with his dog at an airport. He flies an old 1950s Cessna and attempts to live some kind of a life. Most of his life is dedicated to simply surviving - food, provisions, and the fight again bands of invaders. Yet, he finds moments of hope and beauty even in this world - mountains and trees starting to come back to life, his attempts to help families living with the disease, his love for his dog, and his hope found in a random transmission caught on his radio. Hig shares his airport home with Bangley, an old soldier who loves guns and focuses on survival and protection.

One day, Hig decides to risk this life and pursue the hope that the radio transmission brought to him. The risk lies in the fact that the origination point of the transmission is beyond his point of no return with the fuel capacity of his plane. If he flies out, he will not have the fuel to return unless he finds a source out there. What he finds out here brings disillusionment, sorrow, and hope in different ways. But that would be giving too much away.

Post-apocalyptic novels are not my usual genre. Yet, I really enjoyed this one. The focus of the story is on hope, human relationships, and human emotions - all the makings of a good book. The writing style is succinct and sometimes fragmented. Yet, in this story,  it works. It seems to reinforce the fragmented nature of Hig's life and emotions as the constant struggle to survive and hold grief at bay continues.

I am not sure I will seek out more post-apocalyptic novels, but I am glad I read this one.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

Title:  Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
Author:  Matthew Dicks
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2012. 314 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on how interesting the premise of the book sounded.

Favorite Quote:  "I might need Max's imagination to exist, but I have my own thoughts, my own ideas, and my own life outside of him. I am tied to Max the same way an astronaut is tied to his spaceship by hoses and wires. If the spaceship blows up and the astronaut dies, that doesn't mean the astronaut was imaginary. It just means that his life support was cut off."

Max is a little boy that people say is a little different. Budo is Max's imaginary friend, and this is Budo's story. It is a story about unconditional love. Budo exists only because Max imagined him and continues to exist as long as Max believes in him. As such, Max is Budo's entire world, and Max's safety and happiness is Budo's primary concern.

One day, the unthinkable happens. Max is in trouble - real, life-altering trouble - and it is up to Budo to save him. The question is how far will Budo go and what will the consequences be for him.

I loved the perspective of this book, and the fact that an imaginary friend tells a story about real love. The book is written as a first person narrative in Budo's voice. This is the book's strength and its weakness.

Budo's voice brings a unique angle to this story. Through his voice, we feel the love and the conflict and the difficult choices. However, because Max is a child and Budo is the creation of a child's imagination, he has a child-like voice. This quality comes through clearly in the writing. It is entirely appropriate for the book, but sometimes difficult to read.

An intriguing premise. An interesting story. A somewhat challenging read. My overriding thought - I want a real friend like Budo!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds

Title:  Bend, Not Break:  A Life in Two Worlds
Author:  Ping Fu with MeiMei Fox
Publication Information:  Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2012. 276 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on how interesting the premise of the book sounded. The book came as a hardcover edition from the library.

Favorite Quote:  "There are three friends of winter:  the pine tree, the plum blossom, and bamboo .... Pine tress are strong .... The ability [of the plum blossom] to bloom in the midst of misfortune suggests dignity and forbearance under harsh circumstances .... Bamboo is flexible .... The Taoists understand that there can be no summer without winter, no ups without downs, no growth without decay. You ability to thrive depends, in the end, on your attitude to your life circumstances. When you are like the three friends of winter, you take everything in stride with grace, putting forth energy when it is need, yet always staying calm inwardly."

Ping Fu is a business leader of the US. She is the founder and CEO of Geomagic Inc., a high tech firm specializing in 3D software and technology. She serves on the President's National Advisory Council for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She is also a survivor of China's Cultural Revolution and the girl who was once told to leave China and never come back.

Ping Fu was born in China in 1958. Her birth parents gave her to be raised by her aunt. She was surrounded by love. At age 8, she was separated from all she knew because of the onset of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. For years, she survived - not just survived but cared for her younger sister. As the Cultural Revolution came to an end, she returned to her family and her education. However, unwittingly, her actions led to her deportation in 1985 at age 25.

She came to the US with $80 and knowing 3 words of English - hello, please, and thank you. From that beginning to now serving on a Presidential Advisory Council. What a story!

I feel that the book gives a bird's eye view of Ping Fu's life. It goes back and forth between her two worlds - growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution and creating a new life and a new business for herself in the United States. Each section presents a brief look into one segment of her life ranging from protecting her sister and herself from the Red Guard to her arrival in the US to being named Inc. magazine's Entrepreneur of the Year. The section about her life in the US deals a lot with her business dealings - interesting if you enjoy reading about start ups and business development.

It is also a bird's eye view because the story is narrated in a very matter of fact way. The emotional undercurrent is there but never fully revealed. As a reader, I found myself reading the emotions into the story - separation from family at age 8, survival through horrible situations, the relationship with her birth mother, her marriage, and her business dealings. However, I understand that detachment as well. Perhaps, to survive what she did and as she did, that detachment is necessary. However, it does make the story more challenging to relate to.

An inspiring story of resilience and survival!