Tag Archives: immigrant experience

The Wordy Shipmates – Sarah Vowell

I think my exhaustion is not going to do honor to this last review – but in your mind, know that I loved it.

I don’t listen to NPR, so I did not know anything about Sarah Vowell, other than my boss thinks she has a very unique voice (that would apparently drive me nuts) and so many people recommended her, and this book to me – that I finally picked it up.

So glad I did. The short version is: It’s about the Puritans. The long version? The founding of a nation, religious doctrine, feminism, rifts in Protestantism, the separation of church and state, nationalism and patriotism. Her writing is funny, engaging and insightful. I really love her comparisons to modern politics, and it’s peppered with personal stories about the research itself.

I love when books do that awesome thing where afterwards, I feel like some sort of expert on something I didn’t even know I wanted to know anything about.

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The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri

This was suggested for our office Book Club, and came highly recommended by my friend Jill, but didn’t make the Book Club cut. That never stopped me from reading something!

Originally a novella published in The New Yorker and later expanded to a full length novel. The book explores many of the same emotional and cultural themes as Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection Interpreter of Maladies. Moving between events in Calcutta, Boston, and New York City, the novel examines the nuances involved with being caught between two conflicting cultures with their highly distinct religious, social, and ideological differences.

I know this is disappointing to poor Carolann who agrees that my reviews have been somewhat lackluster lately, but I don’t feel like I have a lot to say about this book. I thought it beautiful, and I felt a little like I was reading a classic. The language and imagery all pretty – but I don’t know if the story will stick with me, or if I have any burning desire to see the movie (apparently, that was just released?) I would like to learn more about some Indian or Bengali customs, but that’s really the only thing that I took from this.

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The Love Wife – Gish Jen

This is the one of the 5 books that I brought with me on my cruise. It ended up being the only book I managed to read. I wanted something that had some meat to it (as in, no “chick lit”) but that wouldn’t make me think too much. I am a simple girl. This book fit the bill. I read Jen’s first book “Mona in the Promised Land” years ago, and barely remember the plot, but remember liking it.

Carnegie Wong, only son of successful immigrant Mama Wong, much to his mother’s horror, marries big, blonde, Caucasian Jane, known ever after, pejoratively, as Blondie. Carnegie has already adopted an Asian child of unknown origin–a factor in the story–when he meets Blondie and they adopt a Chinese girl. Lizzy and Wendy are eventually joined by a bio-baby boy, Bailey, who is “half-half” and disconcertingly blonde. The family is complete, Mama Wong dies, and along with her go all her prescriptive, preemptive, insulting remarks. Not quite. Her domineering hand reaches from the grave back to China and then to Carnegie and Blondie’s home, delivering Lan, an erstwhile “cousin” Mama has bequeathed to her son and his family. She is supposed to be a nanny, but Blondie believes that she has been sent to be a “love-wife” or concubine.

The entire family dynamic is changed almost instantly. Lan, a model of passive-aggression, immediately ingratiates herself to the girls. Blondie, a model of forebearance as she is berated by her eldest daughter, misunderstood by her husband and detested by Lan, tries to befriend Lan; a lesser person would have driven her from the house. Lan is so obvious that she becomes a self-parody. Blondie quits her job to spend more time with her family; Carnegie loses his, and the family is headed for implosion.

I liked it, but of course – I had a few nitpicks. It was told in that multiple-narrator style, which I keep claiming I don’t like, but apparently I do, if done well. This was. What I didn’t like is that some of the characters felt very real, and others? Totally flat. Carnegie’s voice just didn’t ring true to me, and I didn’t understand why “Blondie” fell in love or stayed in love with him in the first place. Which is a problem, since it’s essentially a book about a marriage. And “Lan” who is a central character just remained unlikable to me.  And the ending, while intentionally ambiguous, was annoyingly so. And sudden.

While I certainly don’t think you need to be Asian, Chinese or even have the immigrant experience as part of your family, I wonder if I would have enjoyed the book more if I could personally relate a little better.

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