Thursday, 23 July 2015

"Mambo in Chinatown" by Jean Kwok

   When I enjoy a novel, I often search out other books by that author.  And I think that I expect the experience to be repeated.  Alas, it is not!
   It seems to me that first novels are often the best.  Perhaps the ideas for the novel have been percolating for years when that book finally gets written.  But then does the publisher give advances and deadlines?  Maybe the author only has the 'makings' of one good book- like Harper Lee ( I am reading that new controversial book next!)
   Because I loved "Girl in Translation",  I wanted to read Jean Kwok's new book.  There were some themes that were  similar to the first book, but I did not enjoy this book as much.
   Once again, it was about a family that had immigrated to the U.S. from China.  This time, the mother had died and the father was raising two daughters. Charlie, 22, had a lucky break when she got a job in a dance studio.  It was discovered that she had talent for dancing and she became  a dancing teacher and also entered a competition.  Most of the book described in detail the techniques of ballroom dancing.  It became tedious and lacking in plot.
  I still appreciated the conflict that Chinese immigrants feel, when they are in a new culture.  The older generation wants to continue Eastern traditions, but their children want to adapt to the American ways.  Because the younger sister, Lisa, 11, had severe physical problems, this book also includes a lot of Eastern medicine that was quite unusual.   Western medicine was feared and impossibly expensive.
  In some ways it was a Cinderella story.
  Not great, but still enjoyable.

Monday, 13 July 2015

"Girl in Translation" by Jean Kwok

   Wow!  I loved this book!  A great summer read!
   Kimberley Chang and her mother immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn and lived in a very run-down building with no heat, but lots of bugs and rats.   Kim worked hard to learn the language but her mother was never able to conquer it.
   Kim tried to keep up her school work while helping her mother complete her quota of work in the garment factory.  What a struggle!
   Quote: "There's a Chinese saying that the fates are winds that blow through our lives from every angle, urging us along the paths of time.  Those who are strong-willed may fight the storm and possibly choose their own road, while the weak must go where they are blown."
   Well, Kim certainly was not going to be blown by the winds of fate.  She fought the storm, but found herself in a big dilemma as a teenager.  She was in love with a 'factory boy' whose ambition was to raise a family in Chinatown.  Kim had been accepted to Yale University and had a great vision for her life.  And, there was a socially- acceptable young man just waiting for Kim to marry him.  Who will she choose?
   Close to the end of the novel, you are left with her dilemma.  I actually was anxious about finishing the book.  I didn't know what she would choose.  The last 10 pages pick up her life 12 years later, and there is a surprise- and a lot of emotion!
   I had a little concern over the language.  The author interspersed bits of the Brooklyn accent, trying to show how difficult it was for Kim to not only learn English, but to also understand the Brooklyn accent. A little awkward.  But..
Great characters!  Great plot!  Great setting!  Great cover!  Loved it!
Jean Kwok is the author and I discovered that much of the story is autobiographical.  She immigrated at 5 and experienced the poor housing and the horrible conditions of the garment factory.
She became a teacher and an author, living now in the Netherlands.
She has written another book: "Mambo in Chinatown".

Friday, 10 July 2015

Family Camping

Nana and Papa with 10 grandchildren
   We have just returned from our annual family pow-wow.  It is the eighteenth year, and we are posed here with our grandchildren.  Some of them were not born when we began this yearly endeavour.
   Whenever I see the grandchildren, they want to tell me about what they are reading- or do I force that on them???

Matthew, 13, is the youngest and is always reading.  He has finished one of the two books that are required summer reading- "The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck.  This is one of my favourite books, and I was so excited to discuss it with him.  Alas, it was not to his taste.  Perhaps the age difference?  You think?  He loved "The Hunger Games".

David is 20, and has always been interested in philosophy.  Last year, he was reading Carl Sagan.  This year he is reading "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius (180 A.D.)  This quote is suitable for our family gathering: "Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart".

Keshia is reading "Revealed".  It is the 11th and final book in the House of Night series, written by a mother and daughter: P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast.
It is a very popular vampire series and Keshia has loved following the series.  She enjoys relaxing with these books when she comes home from her office job.

Ellen is 16 and always has her reading list available for the next school year.  Going into grade 12, the compulsory book is "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity" written by 2 journalists, with stories of the developing world and developing the potential of all women.  Well, Ellen has lots of potential and will find that book interesting.
She is considering Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" for the optional book.  
Hunter has just finished his first year of engineering at the University of British Columbia.  He belongs to an engineering design team working on electric cars.
He is fascinated with the biography of the founder of Tesla Motors- Elon Musk. Hunter is passionate about what he is reading, but, alas, I barely understood anything he said.  His interests in green technology and space travel surpass my understanding, but I love his passion.

Erika has also finished her first year of university, but has the travel bug.  She will be spending 3 weeks in Denmark this summer.  She has read about Hans Christian Andersen and brushed up on his fairy tales.  Now she is reading general information about the country. 

And then there is Alden.  He enjoys reading, but is constantly writing.  He has a great imagination and a passion for writing. He is presently working on a dystopian novel. He sends me installments and asks for my opinion.  He is going into grade twelve and has been writing for at least five years.  He wants to complete a novel this summer.

The other young 'uns were busy playing soccer- no time to talk about books.

Monday, 6 July 2015

author-Jeff Shaara

    My husband, John, has a great interest in the Civil War and he has discovered the world of "Jeff Shaara". 

    John had read all the books that he could find in the library.  Then, last week, he discovered that a new book had just been published.    So you can imagine his surprise when, early one morning, a parcel arrived for him from Jeff Shaara.  It contained the last four books about the Civil War- including the recently published copy!  And they were autographed and inscribed!
  If you believe in re-incarnation, you might believe that John was there and witnessed (or planned?) the whole war.  He knows each leader by name and has read many books on this subject.  We have also visited many of the sites.
   Although John had already read three of the four books in the package, he will no doubt be reading them many more times.  And that is why the large print will probably be needed.

These wonderful books are taking up residence right beside John's all-time favourite author, Tolkien.  You will notice that one of the Tolkien books is missing.  John has loaned it to a grandson.
The books were a 55th anniversary present.