Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Long Stay in a Distant Land

A Long Stay in a Distant Land
by Chieh Chieng

A Long Stay in a Distant Land is written interestingly enough to be engaging and I'd categorize it as yet another airplane reading book. I think there are a couple of details that set this slightly apart from some other books, one of which is a personal reason and the other, I think is more generally applicable.

The personal detail that I found particularly interesting was that the main character is Cantonese-Chinese American, which I've never really encountered before. Now granted, I haven't been looking particularly for such an author, but I must say that it was refreshing to read phrases in Cantonese and realize, hey I get that, instead of having to do a cultural empathy translation so to speak.

The other more generally applicable, but still subtle pro about this book was how the generations of family were portrayed. A lot of books and movies, which involve multi-generation family subjects, tend to rely on the same tired stereotypes - the grandparent generation tend to be played really sappily, the youngest generation really cut-throat, and the parents generation caught somewhere in the middle. And while there were issues that I kind of rolled my eyes at, once in a while, certain scenes were be subtly well-done. For example, when one of the characters walks into the bathroom to catch his parents starting to make love in the bathtub, that was a nice detail.

Anyways, to sum it up, decently done, but nothing all that unique.

(PS. My step-grandmother's cooking is out of this world and my parent's cooking is pretty good. All in all, when I'm with my family or extended family, I tend to expect to eat well. To hear one of the characters talk about his grandmother's turnip cake being awful struck me as really really odd.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bless Me, Ultima

Bless Me, Ultima

by Rudolfo Anaya

A decently written novel. On the cover, it's described as a Chicano classic, a term which had I googled before reading probably would have given a little bit more context and appreciation of the novel, but alas I did not. (definition ).

Bless, Me Ultima is more geared towards the high school or younger crowd. It's really a coming of age story with religion, spirituality, and magic/witch-craft/mysticism playing a large role in the story. Apparently it got banned from some school reading list, I'm guessing because the child questions Christianity a lot and ends up focusing on other local powers, such as a God that lives as a golden carp in a local river or the powers of the benevolent witch (witch isn't quite the right term), Ultima.

Anyways, it's not exactly high-intellectual, but it's well-written, eye-opening and enjoyable, a good one for the summer.