Category Archives: Fiction

Book #3: The Time Traveler’s Wife

Remember how I said I was going to read a series of books based on characters in their twenties and find lessons that can be drawn from them? I didn’t tell you about it? My bad. I could have sworn…

Anyway, that’s what my focus on books has been lately. I know it’s going to be a stretch since characters in novel are only constructed as diferent parts of a writer’s point of view, but it’s a challenge I’m willing to take on anyway. The first book I tackled is The Time Traveler’s Wife. 

Have you ever been hanging out with friends and started playing 20 questions because you ran out of conversation topics and everyone was bored? Prior to this book, my answer to the question, “If you could have any superpower, what would be?”, was always Time Travel or rather, Teleportation. However, after this book, I’m rethinking my desire for a power that would allow me to bend Time at will.

Audrey Niffenegger’s book is a story about a boy and a girl who fall in love. We first meet them in the library, where the boy works and the girl came to check out a book. They meet for the first time. Only it’s not really the first time. At least for Clare (that’s the girl). She’s known Henry since she was a little girl. Don’t be mistaken, this is not a story about childhood friends meeting each other for the first time after many years. You only have to read the title of the book to figure it out.

Henry is a time traveler, or if you want to get technical, a Chrono-Displaced person. He time travels to different stages in his life, which sounds really awesome…only it’s not. He comes and goes against his will and has no control over where he goes…or anything for that matter. He shows up on the other side, naked, often cold, bumping into (sometimes literally) quite uncomfortable situations. That’s how a 30-something Henry meets a 6-year old Clare.

Their love story develops throughout the book, as things get more and more challenging. Certain technical parts were confusing to me, like , the way he could time-travel to meet himself and how sometimes, he could be time-traveling to a place where another version of himself was also time-traveling.

It did prompt a question in my mind that I could use for this little experiment of mine. The book plays a lot with Time, Memory and Knowledge and how they shape a person’s life. Because of Henry’s time-traveling and his relationship with Clare, there were things that Clare knew way before they happened, which greatly affected the way she grew up and how she came to view the world. The 20-something period is so full of uncertainty and fear of the unknown. However, we must continue to take action, preparing for the future even if we don’t know all the details.

Here’s my question: What’s one thing that Christmas You (4 months from now) would be grateful to Present You for having done today? A little wordy, but you get the point.

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A little lunchtime reading

Book #3: The Grapes of Wrath

I walked to the back, like a woman on a mission. It was 15 minutes before library closing. I know this because the lady on the intercom told me…and every teen trying to squeeze in one more video game before the computers automatically shut down.

I wanted something new, something completely different from Life of Pi. There would be no graphic descriptions of a tiger tearing apart a zebra like a piece of paper, no flesh-eating trees and certainly no awkward mentions of cannibalism. I reached the end shelves and toyed with the idea of picking a large-print book. It is summer after all.

Nothing. Nothing stood out. Nothing sounded “classic” enough or interesting enough or “serendipitous” enough…until the very last shelf. I pulled the book and looked at the cover. Old timey cars packed to the very top…hmm…interesting. One word came to mind: Americana.

“This book is huge though”, I argued with myself while the lady on the intercom reminded us that we had 5 minutes to make a decision and stick with it. I tried putting it back. “This could be very dense and completely un-relatable, plus the author kinda looks like Dr. House.” The word Americana came to mind again. I’m intrigued. I’m curious. Maybe, I’ll have a definition for it by the time I reach the end of the book.

Steinbeck, here we go!

Life of Pi: A will to Live

Life of Pi, Done. Read. Processed.

First Line: My suffering left me sad and gloomy. 

First Impression: I actually didn’t have an accurate first impression of the book because I hadn’t read it. I remember some girls reading it for their AP Literature, the summer before our Senior Year.

Synopsis: A young Indian boy is trapped on the Pacific ocean…with an adult-sized Bengal tiger. For 7 months!

Connection: I think I’ve only been to the zoo twice in my entire life. However, having read this book, I want to go. I guess my connection to Life of Pi has to do with the Spiritual component of the book. Pi is a character who gets attracted to God at a very young age. In fact, without his parents’ knowledge, he embraces Hinduism, Christianity AND Islam. Confronted by all the spiritual leaders one day and forced to choose, he utters the most innocent reply: “I just want to love God”. Even when the chances of his survival dwindled down during those 7 months, he continued to pray. As someone who was curious and attracted to God at a very young age, I related to his desire to know God.

Lasting memory: “I had to stop hoping so much that a ship would rescue me. I should not count on outside help. Survival had to start with me. In my experience, a castaway’s worst mistake is to hope too much and do too little. Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at hand and immediate. To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one’s life away. There was much I had to do.” (Life of Pi, pg. 169)

We have to talk about: Yann Martel

Let’s talk about Yann Martel…or rather things we know about Yann Martel. Mr. Martel does not have a personal website, personal Facebook  or Twitter page.  The first time doing research about him, that’s the thing that surprised me most. In the age of Information where we can be in touch 24/7 with people, related to us (and not), it was quite an oddity.  What are his favorite foods? What are the names of his children? Does he have children? Where was the last place that he has traveled to? What were his last thoughts before dinner last night? Nothing. Gasp!

After I got over my initial shock, I found it quite fun to dive into my research, finding tidbits about him here and there online, like:

  •  the fact that he’s born in Spain to French-Canadian parents who were a diplomat and a translator. Because of his parents’ careers, in addition to Canada, he grew up in places like Costa Rica, France and Mexico.
  • that over the course of a few years, he sent a book and a letter every week to the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper to advocate for the importance of the Arts and funding for the Arts.
  • His words about the purpose of his project were simply beautiful:  ‘He says that, in Harper, he sensed “a man who was a narrow ideologue, in part because he hasn’t read. He lacks empathy because he hasn’t read literature. If literature does one thing, it makes you more empathetic by making you live other lives and feel the pain of others. Ideologues don’t feel the pain of others because they haven’t imaginatively got under their skins.” (The Guardian)

During my research the second time around, Yann Martel’s lack of (direct) online presence reminded me of authors of my childhood before Social Media. You had to look up their address at the end of the book, if you wanted to contact them. They might include a P.O Box or an e-mail address; they might not. You’d have to write a physical letter, mail it and hope that they get it and that they read it. If they did and replied, the letter was framed and kept as a memento. It reminded me of the fact that most writers are introverted beings who are adamant about keeping their private life separate from their public persona.

In other words, Yann Martel is a writer.

Photo  courtesy of guardian.co.uk

Stuff Pi Says

I’m finally halfway through Life of Pi. I had no idea it would take so long. I feel like I’m just slogging through. There’s so much good stuff in here though. Case in point, the following quotes:

“To lose a brother is to lose someone with whom you can share the experience of growing old, who is supposed to bring you a sister-in-law and nieces and nephews, creatures to people the tree of your life and give it new branches. To lose your father is to lose the one whose guidance and help you seek, who supports you like a tree trunk supports its branches. To lose your mother, well, that is like losing hte sun above you. It is like losing —- I’m sorry, I would rather not go on.”

“I speak in all modesty as I say this, but I discovered at that moment that I have a fierce will to live. It’s not something evident, in my experience. Some of us give up on life with only a resigned sigh. Others fight a little, then lose hope. Still ohters — and I am one of those—never give up. We fight and fight and fight. We fight no matter the cost of battle, the losses we take, the improbability of success. We fight to the every end. It’s not a question of courage. It’s something constitutional, an inability to let go. It may be nothing more than life-hungry stupidity”.

“For fear, real fear, such as shakes you to your foundation, such as you feel when you are brought face to face with your mortal end, nestles in your memory like a gangrene: it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to speak of it. So you mst fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it . because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage ot forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”

BOOM! *drop mic, walk off stage*

Is it Bombay or Mumbai?

I’ve got itchy feet…I mean, wanderlust. The kind of fever that seizes a frequent traveler, or one bitten by the travel bug. I’ve been talking about wanting to go to India for a while. Fine, since Slumdog Millionaire came out. Cliché, I know. All I know is that I’ve got India Fever, a yearning for a land I know almost nothing about it. Knowing nothing in the age of Information is no excuse, really.


 
“I wanna go to India!”.
“Oh, what part of India?”
Shrug. “I don’t know. I just wanna go to Indiaaa!!!”
 
It’s at this point that my Indian friends stop talking to me. It’s the same as someone wanting to go to Italy or Bali after having read “Eat, Pray, Love”. Or wanting to go to Africa after having read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart…which seems to be the only book by an African author read in American classrooms. “Which country in Africa do you want to visit?” “Wait…Africa’s not a country?” Thankfully, I almost never hear this question anymore, unless it’s friends who are more than willing to push my buttons, once in a while. So, I understand why they roll their eyes when I start talking about India.
 
I’m in the first few pages of Life of Pi and so far, I’m intrigued. Who is this young man who decided to study sloths at university? Why does a remark like “fresh off the boat” cut him so deep that he loses his appetite? What happened to him that was so tragic that cancer patients felt sorry for him? The narrative is light so far, but I can’t help but feel that something dark is around the corner. It’s the same feeling you get, standing in front of a murky body of water, while someone waves at you to dive in. “Come in, the water’s great”. Yet, you don’t dare jump in. What lies under the murkiness?
 
I sense some murkiness under the surface. So far, so good. I’m intrigued enough to post on my Indian friends’ Facebook wall: “Is it Bombay or Mumbai?”

Book Number 2 – Something to do with a tiger

It seems like forever ago, since I’ve blogged about books…or reading…or music. Well, let’s remedy that with the announcement of the second book: Life of Pi

The first time I heard about Yann Martel’s book, I was at a pre-college summer camp. A couple of girls were reading it for their Senior year AP English Lit class. I remember having a brief conversation with them about it. A conversation that I remember nothing from. Needless to say, I know very little about this book.

This should be interesting.

Let’s read, shall we?

The Joy Luck Club: Do we fight Passivity or let History run its course?

I finally finished TJLC and spent the weekend thinking about what to write. Definitely a good first pick.

First Line: The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum. 

First Impression: I remember being assigned the book in high school, but not fully grasping it. It was during my family’s first years in the U.S. I was quickly absorbing American English and the culture that went with it, but struggled many times to understand various concepts we were taught in school. I did remember it as a book written by a first-generation American and being thoroughly impressed by someone who could take pages out of their own experience to write a compelling, multi-layered story. One question stuck with me throughout the years: What would this story look like from my own vantage point?

Synopsis: 4 mothers, 4 daughters. 3 mothers’ voices, 4 daughters’. The mothers as Chinese immigrants to the United States and their first-generation Chinese-American daughters. Various stories woven together, internal dialogues mostly. TJLC struggles with the concept of Destiny. If it is our destiny, then is it worth fighting, fighting for our voices to be heard, fighting to change what we see as inevitable? Do we fight Passivity or let History run its course? Is Truth truth because we believe that it is? Could it be possible for us to hold a perception of the truth for years, till we find out one day that we were wrong? So many questions.

Connection: Reading TJLC in May truly made for an emotional Mothers’ Day. There’s nothing that makes you more appreciative of your life and people in it than thinking that it is possible for a blood vessel to rupture in your brain anytime. Dramatics aside, it did make me wonder about the stories my parents hold within them, along with the stories of all the adults I know that immigrated to the United States. They go quietly, smile politely and speak very little in English, not having all the words to explain all that they wish to share..or not share. One of the characters mentioning the “double face” they must maintain, the “Chinese face” and the “American face”, made me think of this.

Lasting memory: 4-year old Bing Hsu jumping and forever disappearing into the ocean. I did not remember  reading this part!

To the finish line, we go!

 

Who’s ready to finish some Joy Luck Club?