What I read in April

The River Where Blood is Born by Sandra Jackson-Opoku – this is a multi-generational book, complete with gods and tricksters looking on. Much like some of my favorite Alice Walker (yes, this one starts in Africa as well). This will get a full review soon.

Best European Ficition 2010, which I reviewed for BookBrowse.com (I did like it, despite my avoidance maneuvers).

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon– this book was recently returned to me from a friend who had borrowed it. A novella of Sherlock Holmes’s final investigation. Chabon never disappoints, and I don’t even like Sherlock Holmes.

Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean – the story of a woman who survived some of WWII by living (with the rest of the employees & their families) in a museum in the USSR. The story bounces back and forth between her current life in the U.S. Pacific NW – while she is suffering from Alzheimer’s – and her memories of that war-torn winter in… Leningrad, naturally. Lots of interesting questions about memory and what is real, and the power of the human spirit to survive just about anything, and the way myth and art assist in that survival.

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme– I read this because I loved the Julia Child portions of the Julie & Julia film, and this book did not disappoint. The film clearly captured her exuberance and passion for food, France and her husband that shines through this book. Takes us from their arrival in France through the second edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and the creation of her television show. Co-written by Child and her grand-nephew.

Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong– which I reviewed here.

A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman. This is the story of an Indian girl…. that I didn’t finish. I got through maybe two chapters, and it just wasn’t working for me. I don’t entirely blame the book – the character was mildly interesting up to the point where I stopped reading. But it was not capturing my interests enough to hang onto it (this was about the time I started reading Neil Gaiman’s blog, so I blame him at least partially for my distraction).  It was a library book, so I returned it without finishing it.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman.  This is the book I read instead of A Disobedient Girl. Neil was blogging about the audio book or something, so I had to go re-read my copy. Pratchett is a witty, fantastically funny author, and I’ve already told you how much I adore Gaiman. I remember finding this book and being thrilled – I’d only read Neverwhere by Gaiman at that point, but I’d read at least half dozen Pratchett Discworld books (Small Gods was my favorite at that point, and still in the top three) and was excited to see the two of them together. My only complaint in this otherwise hilarious comic romp through the apocalypse is the rather anticlimactic ending. Funny, funny, funny book. I can remember feeling compelled to read parts of it to friends because I needed them to know that I wasn’t imagining things, it really was that crazy.


Looks like I only finished seven books in April.  Seems like a slow month (especially since I’ve already read eight in May, and it’s only the 19th). What was I doing? Oh right, I was avoiding Best European Fiction 2010. Also, I read a year’s worth of Neil Gaiman’s blog. I’m not proud of it, but it does indicate how much free time I had on my hands.

a review and some ranting

Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong is a sad story. It is billed as the first novel from Viet Nam ever published in the U.S., as well as a book banned within Viet Nam. It shows the world what was going on in Northern Viet Nam right after the western empires pulled out in the mid-1970s.

The story focuses on Hang, a girl who lost her father and is being raised by her poor, single mother. Their struggle is mostly due to an uncle’s power-brokering for the brand-new Communist Party in recently segregated Viet Nam. This uncle chased off the father, only shows up when he needs something from his sister, and contributes absolutely nothing to their household, which is barely scraping by. When Hang’s aunt (on her father’s side) finally reconnects with them, she becomes a new protector – but only at the cost of her mother’s love. It seems that, since Hang has been claimed by her father’s family, her mother no longer feels important in Hang’s life. Like this little girl is responsible for the idiot behavior of her entire family! It is a powerful depiction of how pain and self-sabotaging behavior is passed on from one generation to the next.  BREAK THE CYCLE, PEOPLE!

Painful – but not surprising – to read of yet another culture where the women are expected to serve the men in their family, and sacrifice their health, their children, love, dignity, whatever it takes. And those men with power (though they had little else) are taking advantage and not living up to their responsibility to care for those supposedly in their keeping.

And in case anyone is wondering – the problem is not that it is men in charge and women not in charge. The same thing would happen if the women were all given unearned power w/no question.  The problem is placing an entire class of people in charge based on that class/gender/color/whatever and another in the submissive role for not being of the proper class. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, yes?  Unfortunately, on this particular planet, it is far and away the male gender that has been placed in the power role over entirely too much of the world, and therefore entirely too many women and girls suffering because of it.  I am NOT bashing men because they are men; I’m infuriated at a system that distributes power so arbitrarily.

I am no student of Viet Nam, so I learned a lot here – but always through the lives of these very well-written characters, otherwise I probably would have moved on to some other book (there a big stack over there, taunting me). When I get worked up and angry at characters in a novel, it’s a sign of great writing. In the end, this is the story of cultural upheaval through the lens of one family. The book is wonderful, and I’ll be looking for more books by Duong in the future.