Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What I read in April

Click on the titles to read my full reviews at Marie's Book Garden:

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A NovelThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell: 2 stars

This novel takes place in a reclusive Japan circa 1799. The Dutch are the only Europeans who trade with the Japanese, in the island port of Dejima (just outside of Nagasaki), imperial Japan's only entry and exit to the outside world. Jacob De Zoet is a Dutch clerk, who has five years to earn his fortune before returning to The Netherlands to marry his love, Anna. He forms a tenuous friendship with an interpreter, Uzaemon.

Then he meets Orito Aibagawa, a bright young midwife and daughter of a samurai, who has a disfiguring burn on her face. Jacob cannot get Orito out of his mind. Any hope of a relationship between them, though, is doomed. Soon Orito's fortunes change for the worse and she ends up being sold to a Buddhist convent with shocking secret habits. It turns out that Uzaemon was also in love with Orito, but he was forced to marry another woman. Soon Uzaemon plots a rescue attempt. Ultimately, I found this novel to be full review explains why.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherBattle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua
3 stars 

Amy Chua, who arrived in the U.S. as a very young child, was raised here by her immigrant parents, and she was convinced that her daughters would be far more successful (and happy) if she raised them in the strict Chinese tradition. For example, they were never allowed to do the following things:

Attend a sleepover
•Have a playdate
•Be in a school play
•Complain about not being in a school play
•Watch TV or play computer games
•Choose their own extracurricular activities
•Get any grade less than an A
•Not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
•Play any instrument other tan the piano or violin
•Not play the piano or violin

Chua intends to make herself a parody, but I'm not quite convinced she thinks what she was doing was wrong. Fascinating and compulsively readable--and unfailingly honest. Can't say I'll be adopting her parenting methods, especially calling my children "garbage"!
I also wrote a post about Chua's daughter's new blog, which is delightful!
Girl in TranslationGirl in Translation, by Jean Kwok
4 stars 

I moved from affluent Chinese mother writing a memoir about Chinese parenting to this wonderful novel, which is a more heartwarming story of Asian parental love. It was a terrifically quick read, too, and highly compelling.

Kimberly Chang leaves Hong Kong to move to Brooklyn, New York, with her mother, and neither of them speak a word of English. They, like so many other immigrants, expect to find a wonderful land of promise waiting for them. Instead they find themselves buried in debt (owed to Kimberly's aunt and uncle), living in a roach- and rat-filled hovel without any heat, and working night and day--for pennies--in a sweatshop.

In StitchesIn Stitches, by Anthony Youn
3 stars

Note: I'm giving this book away on my blog; go to the post to read how to enter. So far only one person has entered!

I continued on my Asian tour by reading this memoir by plastic surgeon Anthony Youn and Alan Eisenstock. Told with a huge dose of humor, Youn shares his experiences growing up Korean-American in the Midwest, with strict Korean parents who always expected him to get straight As and become a doctor. There was no other career path possible.

It turned out that Youn had an affinity for the medical field, and he got through college and medical school fairly easily. He must have had spectacular grades and MCAT scores to get the highly coveted residency he wanted. I enjoyed this book much more than I though I would...mostly because of the accessible, funny writing style...and I'm always a sucker for an Asian backdrop.

The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay: FictionThe Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay, by Beverly Jensen

4 stars
This book drew me in because of its story about sisters and setting in New Brunswick, Canada, where my mother's ancestors lived. Idella and Avis Hillock live on a hardscabble farm on the edge of a cliff that overlooks the ocean. The story begins with the young girls searching for mayflowers to give to their mother on Mother's day. Tragically, their mother never made it to Mother's Day, because she died soon after giving birth to their youngest sister, Emma. In addition to Idella and Avis, she left behind her husband, "Wild Bill" Hillock, a rough, hard-drinking farmer, and their son Dalton, who escapes their difficult home life by retreating to his lobster boat.

As soon as they are old enough, Idella and Avis leave Canada to move south to the U.S. The book follows their lives, loves, and losses over the next 60 to 70 years in a variety of locations, from Maine and Boston back to New Brunswick. The author, Beverly Jensen, wrote The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay while she was taking care of her children, and then she died from pancreatic cancer.

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