August 31, 2013 § 3 Comments
This debut novel tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. who becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy. With her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel moves to a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring mixed attention her way. Growing up in the 1980s, she learns to swallow her overwhelming grief and confronts her identity as a biracial young woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white.
I think I had a bit of a book hangover after I initially finished reading this book because it managed to be so captivating and just beautifully written. There were a lot of things that I absolutely loved about the book.
Let’s start with the unusual narrative structure. The story is told from the POV of three different characters: Rachel (our protagonist), Jamie (who later becomes Brick) and Laronne. Jamie and Laronne for the most part tell the story of everything that takes place surrounding the initial accident whilst Rachel’s narrative is her life and struggles after the accident. It deals with the regular struggle of a young girl, but also dwells on the added difficult of being a bi-racial child in the US in the 1980s. She has to frequently struggle with her identity, often not being “black” enough or “white” enough. Durrow manages to mix all of these narratives together in a way that complements one another and tells the overarching story of Rachel, from beginning to end. You get many varying versions of Rachel, from how Jamie and Laronne (who have never met the girl) envision “the girl who fell from the sky” to how Rachel sees herself to how Rachel views herself through her grandmother’s eyes, etc. It’s a difficult narrative structure to tackle but Durrow does it very well, without it becoming jarring or confusing.
The writing itself was rather poignant, often touching on the poetic. I especially enjoyed the passages that described Rachel’s struggle with her sexuality but the entire book, really, was a captivating read.
The only real problem I had with it was the abruptness and lack of closure in the ending. There seemed to be a sudden shift in Jesse’s character all of a sudden, which I could understand but it wasn’t fully explored and the fact that after everything that happened, Rachel would be willing to live with Jesse’s newly rising characteristics was a little disheartening. Maybe I just wanted a more self-assured Rachel at the end, but the entire lack of closure just left me unhappy.
Nevertheless, it’s a book I would definitely recommend reading. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would re-read simply for the great writing.
August 28, 2013 § Leave a Comment
They say rivers do not drown
but I have watched the ocean engulf
rivers whole, consume riverbeds,
banks, houses, people,
I have heard the thrashing waters
against my windows, walls -
watched an entire city die,
swallowed whole – people with
water for tongues; if only
they had gills for lungs.
August 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
“Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .
For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.”
This was honestly such an interesting read. Often, with intriguing concepts like this you find poor execution accompanied by even poorer writing. This wasn’t the case with ‘What’s Left of Me.’ The story was much more captivating than I first anticipated and although the structure was a little unconventional, it only made the novel more enjoyable. I liked that the pacing shifted thoroughly throughout the book because the transition of the shifts were quite well done.
I also loved the character development. Addie and Eva, although working through the same body, were their own people; as were the other hybrids and Zhang did a really good job at developing individual voices, character traits, etc. that made them well-rounded characters despite physically being the same person.
The setting of this was perhaps what interested me the most. It was more fleshed out than I could have hoped for it to be. I liked the conflicted feelings in Addie herself about hybridity; denying herself of being one of those hybrids. I liked the initial set up of attempting to disassociate from the dark, foreign Devon and Hally and I enjoyed that the idea of foreign otherness was explored, but very subtly, with a lot left to be explored in the other books of the series.
The writing was also quite good, although it could become a little jarring at some parts and seem a little amateur. But overall, Zhang seemed like an apt writer, especially with the way she developed the plot and characters. I’m quite excited to read the next book of the series and find out more about the world of Addie and Eva. This is a book that I’d definitely recommend that people read because, if nothing else, it is an extremely interesting concept and Zhang executes it quite expertly.
August 10, 2013 § 4 Comments
You are all caramel bones
liquor on your breath,
in the morning,
glitter-eyes on sleepless nights and
under cloudy Dublin nights;
drown it down
more coffee, more you.
Love love love is all we need,
Darling, don’t mind my tears
in the night; the bloodshot eyes
“without you, I am empty” I said,
whispered into a silent night.
I hit the ground running, flying.
We are like night and day and
love always ends in tragedies.
August 8, 2013 § Leave a Comment
“The thing about mountains is that you have to keep on climbing them, and that it’s always hard, but there’s a view from top every time when you finally get there.”
Annie on My Mind is the story of two young teenage girls who have a chance meeting in a museum before developing a friendship that quickly turns into something more.
I have to say, I quite liked reading this book. The prose, especially, felt genuine with a touch of the poetic mixed in. The narrative style was also rather wonderful. I liked the switch from third to first person narrative. I loved the random transitions to writing letters to Annie that will probably never be sent.
As a YA coming of age novel, it was thoroughly enjoyable. I liked both the characters of Annie and Liza. I feel that a lot of novels that deal with homosexuality have a problem where they define their characters through their sexuality but this wasn’t the case for Annie on My Mind. Although, a criticism I would have is that minor characters were rather two-dimensional, which made the climax of the novel a little less enjoyable than it could have been.
Have any of you read Annie on My Mind? If so, what were your thoughts?
August 5, 2013 § Leave a Comment
“I finally understand what the poets have written. In spring, moved to passion; in autumn only regret.”
Young Peony was brought up to be a good daughter and wife. At her sixteenth birthday, she knows that her future is set but when she chances a meeting with a handsome man at a theater performance, she begins to feel a longing and desire that sets the course for this novel.
Originally, when I read the blurb of this book, I thought it had an incredibly interesting concept and was rather excited to read a novel that was so rich in Chinese culture and tradition, since I would be rather ignorant in these matters. So naturally, I really wanted to like this book. It’s quite unfortunate that the book had very few redeeming qualities.
The character of Peony, I felt, was one that was very difficult to sympathise with. Her naivety, innocence and idealism can be dismissed as a result of her young age for a certain part of the novel but since it persists for the whole duration of it, it’s easy to conclude that these things are deeply entrenched character traits rather than anything else. There is growth in Peony’s character during the novel, noticeable growth but none of that makes me like her more as a character.
The writing itself is simplistic, which works for the book for the most part. However, a lot of the descriptions felt jarring and contrived, as if the author was purposely trying to be too poetic – to the point where the prose was actually slightly amusing as opposed to solemn or sincere.
However, the plot itself was probably the biggest problem of the novel for me. Reading the Afterword of the book, Lisa See seems to believe that she has managed to capture some form of female historical resistance or empowerment through this piece of literature and whilst there are certain aspects of that, they are quickly overridden by a largely misogynistic narrative. I understand that See was attempting to tell the true story of these women but she admits to the lack of knowledge about the three wives of the Wu family. It seems that See invented much of what happened in the latter half of the book – the supernatural elements of it. So it is disappointing and slightly sickening actually, the sheer amount of disrespect given to women in the plot during this latter half. I felt this especially through the portrayal of Ze’s character. She’s made out to be a villain for the majority of the book, whilst we’re supposed to be sympathise with the main character of Peony, despite the fact that Peony robbed Ze of her agency and her body. Whilst there were certain narratives within the overarching story that I enjoyed; such as the excursions of Peony’s mother and grandmother (overridden by the Manchus invasion – I felt it eventually told a story about a woman’s place being at home and punished the two characters for their attempt to traverse outside of their gender roles) and the Banana Garden Five, the overall story, although boasted of female empowerment and feminist ideologies, entirely failed in its promises.
July 29, 2013 § 4 Comments
Wake up to a city tinted sunset red,
where chaos and calm collide, co-exist –
streets of blood
and the city of love.
Outside your train window
are daffodil petals floating in the wind
and lovers with coy eyes and bouquets,
guns hidden in their pockets,
blood-red hands behind their backs –
the colour of the sunset
from your train window.