Catfish and Mandala

9780312267179-usTitle: Catfish and Mandala
Author: Andrew Pham
Genre: Nonfiction, Narrative Nonfiction, Memoir
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0

I seem to be short on words of late.

After quitting his cushy engineering job, Andrew Pham decides to bike through California, Mexico, Japan, and Vietnam, the country he and his family fled as refugees nearly twenty years prior. To be honest, I don’t really have much to say about this memoir––it’s beautifully written, I recommend everyone read it, I was discomforted by some of the claims he makes about Vietnam, I didn’t particularly like the way he writes about women. It’s painful at times, but also funny. Overall, a compelling read.

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Comfort Woman

10596Title: Comfort Woman
Author: Nora Okja Keller
Genre: realistic fiction, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, women’s fiction, literary fiction
Rating: ★★★★★

content warning: rape, sexual violence, sexual slavery, child neglect

This was a surprisingly easy novel to read despite its incredibly weighty topic. I’m taking an Asian American lit class this semester, and I was assigned this to read immediately following a really frustrating documentary about comfort woman, and to be quite frank, I expected to have to force myself through this, crying and moaning the whole time. And I did cry––of course I cried, I’m the girl who cried during Madagascar––but there was a sense of effervescence throughout the narrative that made it bearable. The writing was, of course, beautiful, but it wasn’t just that. There was a life to the story, a spirit.

Comfort Woman tells the parallel stories of Akiko, a Korean comfort woman, and Beccah, the daughter she eventually comes to have with the American missionary she chooses to marry in order to leave Korea. After Akiko’s death, Beccah is forced to confront the mother she thought she knew––and the woman who, she comes to realise, she didn’t know at all.

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Forbidden

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Title: Forbidden
Author: Beverly Jenkins
Genre: Historical Romance
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0 out of 5.0

Surely my not having read any Beverly Jenkins before this constitutes as some kind of crime simply because I enjoyed Forbidden so much. Eddy and Rhine actually managed to steal my heart with their sweetness. And I also appreciated the fact that Jenkins doesn’t shy away from dealing with issues of racism during the time period. The story is set in the 1870s American West. Eddy, who lives in Denver, decides to move West to realise her dream of one day owning a restaurant. However, one her way there she is robbed and left for dead in the desert. She ends up in Virginia City in the bedroom of one Rhine Fontaine who rescues her from the desert. Their romance goes from there.

The romance was definitely wonderful and one of the major reasons I enjoyed this book so much. Eddy and Rhine are definitely attracted to one another from soon after the see one another, however due to all the obstacles in their way it does take some time for their romance to amount to anything. Tragically, Jenkins decides to gloss over the wedding night as all moonlight and flowers which was a bit disappointing as it was in my view an important part of their relationship.

The key issue between Eddy and Rhine is that Eddy is black while legally Rhine is white. Early on we find out Rhine’s history and parentage as well as the fact that he chooses to pass as white. This decision is also a significant part of Rhine’s character. Jenkins never shies away from the reality of the life Rhine lived before he decided to pass as white. Nor does she shy away from the internal conflicts that Rhine continues to experience because of his decision.

Jenkins’ characterisation was my favourite part of the novel. The novel has a fairly large secondary character cast and Jenkins manages to make each of these characters individualised. Each character had their own personalities, dreams, and families. They went beyond their occupations and their relationships to either Eddy or Rhine. I finished the novel wanting to read books about the secondary characters.

However, Forbidden is not without its faults, hence the rating of four stars. Jenkins plays to the ‘psycho ex girlfriend’ trope to an extreme level. In my view it ruined what would have otherwise been a great ending. Rhine’s ex Natalie, a young rich white woman, cannot handle Rhine leaving her and so resorts to extreme measures. It is something that is played out too often across our tv screens and personally a trope that I despise. So, to see this trope in historical romance which is very much escapist literature for me was not something that I wanted.

Overall, since reading this I’ve already personally recommended Beverly Jenkins to three friends and read two more of her books so I think that should say enough about how much I enjoyed this book.

The Obelisk Gate

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Title: The Obelisk Gate
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: ★★★★★ | 5.0 out of 5.0

Note: This is the sequel to The Fifth Season.

I pre-ordered this book and started reading at 12:30am after I received an email from Amazon saying it had been delivered to my kindle. I got as far as the dedication before I started crying so much that I needed to take a break.

To those who have no choice but to prepare their children for the battlefield

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