Happy Easter everyone! I’m currently in the midst of packing so I can go back to my apartment and start my last quarter at school..In other news, my heart goes out to those in Belgium and Iraq. I don’t know how I was going to transition into these set of reviews but I wanted to review a few nonfiction books that I’ve read recently. I hope you find something you enjoy! 🙂
Catfish and Mandala -“Some call you the lost brothers. Look at you. Living in America has lightened your skin, made you forget your language. You eat nutritious Western food and you are bigger and stronger than us. You know better than to smoke and drink like Vietnamese. Someday, your blood will mix so well with the Western blood that there will be no difference between you and them. You are already lost to us.”
Rating: 4 stars
Author: Andrew X. Pham
Older generation Vietnamese people are obsessed with the Vietnam War, obsessed. We have countless songs and stories about it and I find that a LOT of Vietnamese/Vietnamese American literature focuses solely on the war and not much else. Which is why I’m so glad I found Catfish and Mandala. It focuses not only on the immigration experience but also immerses us into the country of Vietnam, its beauty but also its dark underbelly. Pham alternates between the past in which he recounts how he escaped to America and the brutal reality of not knowing where you belong but also the present where he tries to come to terms with not only his ambivalence towards Vietnam but the circumstances surrounding the suicide of his transgender sister and the numerous generational conflicts of his parents. I thought it was written in a very honest way and I find that Pham writes with an extra touch of style that a lot of Vietnamese American authors I’ve read lack. It was interesting to see an almost immediate account of someone escaping on a boat when I’ve really only heard about it indirectly through family members.
Between the World and Me– “I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.”
Rating: 3 Stars
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
What it’s about-A father writing letters to his son about his experience as a black man in America, what it means to be black in America, and what he hopes for the future of race in America.
This book has gotten rave reviews from so many people and I had really high hopes but alas, it’s another one of those overhyped books that I did not seem to like as much. #hipster jk, kind of. DOn’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like about this book. Coates has some really interesting race theories that I’ve never encountered before. He boils down the conflict of the black people to violence of the black “body” and how there will always be this barrier to the American dream for the black people because the American dream was made possible because of the enslavement and degradation of black people. He asks us to reevaluate what the American dream even means. And he includes many contemporary examples of police brutality including Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown. Which is where I had problems. See, he simplifies the problem too much. It’s not about blacks vs. whites, it’s not about police vs. blacks, good vs. evil. He never gives me the other points of view. I want to know the full story and because he doesn’t give me those other POVs, it just ends up sounding like propaganda. And for all the philosophy that he gives, he’s actually kind of vague and abstract about all of them which just makes it feel like he spewed out anything on his mind and that was that. The structure of the book is also quite erratic. It just jumps from one thing to another almost like a stream of consciousness. So I think this book is worth reading but it does have his flaws.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers-“It seemed to him that in Annawadi, fortunes derived not just from what people did, or how well they did it, but from the accidents and catastrophes they dodged. A decent life was the train that hadn’t hit you, the slumlord you hadn’t offended, the malaria you hadn’t caught.”
Rating: 4 stars
Author: Katherine Boo
Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize
I was a little skeptical going into this book because it’s a book about a Mumbai slum written from a Western perspective. There’s always the fear of the viewing the West as the “savior”, things like that. But I’m very happy it didn’t dissolve into that. Instead, Boo paints these people with tenderness and detached sentimentality that makes it all the more powerful and heart-wrenching. There was a point in the book where a woman self-immolates herself so her family can get money from the another family that they have incriminated and all the boy from the other family can think about is that he is going to jail. I thought it was impressive that Boo writes about poverty as not about just being poor and not having enough food to eat. It is about the lengths that people will go to to survive and move up in the social hierarchy. It’s about the elevated power of money when everyone is poor and how that leads to a deeply ingrained game of corruption that everyone in this community has to play in or they will not survive. It’s a stunning piece of investigative journalism where you read about what Boo did to acquire this information. I believe that she lived in Mumbai for a time. She had eyewitness accounts and interviews to many of the people and events described in the book. She spent years trying to obtain certain records to use in the book. I think her dedication really shines.
Just a side note- This book is narrative nonfiction which means that it’s a real story but Boo writes the story in third person as if the people in it were fictional characters like
“James went to the store and bought tomatoes” like a book version of a documentary. It can be a bad thing to some readers as it makes it feel like a story instead of something that has actually happened to real people but it depends on the reader. I personally didn’t mind.