I know him. He doesn't know me. He's Guam famous and now he's world-famous. I had heard of him over the years as an advocate who fought for the environment, the ocean, indigenous rights - Justice. I heard him speak at a conference and was blown away. He's a gifted speaker, and now I know he's a gifted writer. This is a small book, a collection of poems,. essays. and speeches. These different ways of communicating touch different parts of your psyche. Poems seem to touch your heart in a way that makes you pause and take it in. His personal narratives feel like conversation, as if he's telling you stories about his life, and you feel like a better person for having listened. His speeches do the work of inspiration, especially because they were meant for young people. It is a powerful book, if you really take it in, and don't know anything about Guam, you will learn. Because I know Guam, it feels so familiar to me. I know that beach, I know that mountain, I know that school, I know that situation. I can't say enough good about this book. I love it.
I went into my local bookstore looking for another book, which they didn't have but didn't want to leave empty-handed, so I picked this one up. If I read her most famous book, House of Spirits, it was long ago and I don't remember it. But a friend had recommended Paula, and it was one of those books that draws you in, so I knew she was a god writer, This book is brand new, even written during isolation in the current pandemic. I hadn't heard anything about it. As I started to read it, I didn't get the same sense of emotion and desperation as in Paula. Of course, she was writing about her dying daughter in Paula. That must be the worst experience for a parent. This book is more like a need to communicate in this time of isolation. Mainly, it is about being unashamedly and powerfully a feminist, and being an elder feminist at that. Reading this book was like listening to a friend go on and on about what she feels strongly about and why. To tell you the truth, the part of the book that lingered the longest is in her relationship with her third husband. Though I go back and forth with needing, wanting, and then not, a companion, reading her story planted yet another seed that it was not a bad idea, and possible to find someone to share life with at an advanced age.
The thing is, I did not write a review for every book I have read in the last few years since I began this website. I just realized I hadn't done this one that I read - maybe two years ago - although I really was moved by it. This was recommended by my book guru friend, Polli, a retired English teacher in Guam. It was written as the author, Isabel Allende, was living through her daughter's illness. It started out as a letter to her, to Paula, as she lay in a coma, "so that when you wake up, you will not be so lost." Allende seems to write stream of consciousness, weaving together all the pieces of history that made up their lives to that point. Her life story is pretty incredible, but combine that with the desperation a mother must feel as her child is stricken with a hopeless disease, a powerful memory, and great writing, and you have this compelling book.
My local book store has a display in front of their stores of recommendations. Currently, they have various top ten lists, including Barack Obama's top reads of 2020. This one was on it. I love books set in my home that are getting attention. The jacket blurb was intriguing, loosely describing the narrative, which starts with a boy, who fell into shark-infested waters, and was delivered to his mother, in the mouth of a shark. Something about this scene caught my attention - I know that sharks are revered, rather than feared in Hawaii. I know this culture, history, way of speaking, and was impressed with the author's skill in portraying the characters and their struggles in a way that rang true. Of course, he grew up here, he would know. He presents the characters so compellingly - they are complex, and you want to know what happens to them. You become attached to them, you feel their pain. Even the structure of the book makes you think. Throughout the book he tells the story through changing points of view, from one family member to the other. But the father doesn't tell his story until the LAST chapter.Oh my God, how brilliant. I'll leave that for you to appreciate. Let me just say, without giving anything away, that expands your perception of "reality" is valuable, like when you see "night marchers" or talk to someone who knows they did. There's something to that.
This is a must read! You think you know about racism, you think yourself intelligent, you think yourself on the "correct" side of social justice issues. But there is so much to untangle. I first heard of this book when the murder of George Floyd started the 2020 version of Black Lives Matter protests. Kendi was inerviewed on Brene' Brown's podcast. When they talked about either being a racist or antiracist, I was provoked. I am not a racist, but am I an antiracist? No, not at the time. If you don't do anything to fight racism, you are perpetuating racism. So if you really want to end racism, you have to actively take on the cause of antiracism. I appreciate what Kendi did because this book is not Just explanatory, it is a memoir, taking us through his journey, and how he dealt with racist beliefs that he held. For example, he writes about how he won a speech contest perpetuating racist ideas about the problems with Black youth. This is just one of many self-realizations he made. He weaves in personal stories with history and clear direction for policy. He makes you uncomfortable as he forced himself to face uncomfortable things about himself. One of the ideas that really struck me was in the chapter titled Failure, he writes about different tactics for change. "Suasion" purports to change minds as a presursor to changing policy, whereas changing policy puts all the effort into actual, tangible change. "An activist produces power and policy change, not mental change." This made me pause because I think of myself as doing my part, as a writer, and calling myself an activist. I will keep trying to do my part. I want to be an antiracist. This will be by my bedside for a long time, until I "get it" and breathe it in and out.
This book was a challenge - but in a good way. Novels can exercise your brain in ways that non-fiction books can't. They can take you unapologetically to realms away from reality, but then again make you wonder, could it be possible? In this case, you are taken on this journey with the main character, Hiram, through his story of how he became part of the Underground. Through his story, you see the cruelty of those who deemed it was okay to own other humans, but you also see how those who were owned (Tasked) can become superhuman in their resilience. Coates did so much in the telling of the story to make you go "huh?" (me anyways) so the reading becomes mental exercise. Why did he use terms like Tasked for slaves and Quality for the slaveowners.? It is so ironic that it's uncomfortable. There's still things I didn't get, like why was Hiram's heroic feat of "conduction" at the end, an act of resistance to the Underground station he was associated with? But, I appreciate the overall effect this book had on me - an experience of otherworldliness. I loved how, through his relationships with several strong women characters, (including Harriet Tubman), he became wiser and stronger.
Note: The author of this book is a long-time friend from college. I reviewed this book on Amazon.
Because this around-the-world bicycle odyssey was done 3 decades ago, this book is more of an adventure story, than a travel guide. It's like time travel back to when there were no cell phones, internet, or ATMS. International calls were made when you were desperate. You scheduled mail for when you would be in a city where there was an American Express office.
I am amazed that the writer could do this, traveling on bikes for a year, from Europe to Africa to India, then Asia. with only 4 changes of clothes! Even when I was younger, I would never have taken a trip like this, so I enjoyed reading about it. I loved how they found off-the-beaten path places, and I am curious what these places are like now, like Kodaikanal in India and the art festival in Hue, Vietnam.I have traveled to Vietnam, Thailand, and Bali in recent years, so I was able to compare the then as she experienced it, and the now, as I experienced it. Vietnam is drastically different, but we both found the people, especially the women, extremely warm and sincere.
The best thing about travel is learning about other cultures and seeing life through others' eyes. There is much of that in the different places they went to. There are stories here of the "kindness of strangers." She even mentioned books she was reading in each country, which I will look into. Another story line I thought was interesting was the writer's thinking through, and feeling through, her relationship with her then-husband, her travel partner. I found this book easy to read, inspiring and uplifting. But it was honest as well, she didn't leave out parts that were challenging, like needing to prepare for the various health threats, and having to endure recovery when you did catch something. There is much to like about this book. You will feel like a good friend of yours is telling you about the year she spent bicycling around the world.
It is amazing to know that in one's lifetime, you have lived through what seems like extreme historical eras, as if one person lived through the Dark Ages, then the Middle Ages, then the Renaissance. In this book, a memoir, Meh, writes about Chinese history but from the point of view of her place in it, as a daughter. She places her life in context. By telling us about her family's history, we learn what life was like before Communism, and then how it changes for an aristocratic family. Her mother died when she was only two weeks old, and when her father remarried, she had to endure the evil stepmother. Thankfully, she had an Aunt who helped her to realize that she had worth. I don't usually like memoirs, but this was different, as it gives context, and so you learn history and culture by reading about her life
When I was teaching, we had an assistant who was reading this thick book every free moment she had. I asked her about it and she spoke of it rapturously. It was Pillars of the Earth, the first of writer of thriller author Ken Follett's pivot into historical fiction. In this first one, Follett tells an epic story of the building of a Gothic Cathedral in the Middle Ages. Oh, you may not be enticed by that summary, but Follett draws these full characters so that y9u understand their motivations, how they fit into history, and why you should care. It was the first of a trilogy, and after the first one, I always looked forward to the next. His newest book, is a prequel to Pillars, set in the Dark Ages. Chapter 1 in Pillars starts at 1123, Chapter 1 in Evening, starts at 997, 200 years before. It follows the main character, Edgar, a ship builder in the beginning, whose town in Britain is destroyed by Vikings, and his life changes. Because he is resourceful, he overcomes one obstacle after another. There are so many interesting characters - the strong-willed, Norman woman who marries the head of the town; you come to despise the villain, who is the town's Bishop; the Monk who eventually starts to build the Cathedral, but who started out as a scribe with a mission to build up a library, This is Follett's style -lots of characters whose lives intersect in one way or another. Sometimes I would lose track as the "episodes" would focus on different characters. But it builds, as if simmering, and eventually it all comes together.
I heard about this author listening to one of my favorite podcasts, It's Been a Minute, He had come out with a new book, Deacon King Kong, and so the interview was about that. When I get exposed to an author I am not familiar with, I would first go to my local used book store and look for them there. (Lately, I've actually been buying newly published books, I used to consider that a splurge but now I see it as supporting my local book store.) I do intend to read his other books, as this one I got at the used book store was spell-binding. The kind where you're talking to yourself, going - NOOOO! In this time of Black Lives Matter, I'm reading a lot more Black authors. It amazes me that there could still be so many racists in 0ur country when there is so much GOOD literature and films about being Black in this country. They say: Oh, but slavery is over, And I'm not responsible. There's something about literature, especially a book like this, that has SUCH a mix a tragedy, dehumanization, and redemption, that builds your empathy muscle. So this is about slavery. One of the main characters, Liz, an escaped slave is a seer, who has dreams of the future. She has a high price and the hunt for her brings together other characters: her rescuer who is planning his own escape through the underground railroad; a slave catcher with demons of his own; and others. The desperation for freedom, both from slavery, and from one's own inhumane demons, is a compelling story. Characters like in this novel, make you want to know how they escape their desperation.