Thursday, March 16, 2017

Human Acts by Han Kang

Human acts by Han Kang



                This is the story of Dong-ho and the student uprising in South Korea. It's a story of death and longing. It's a story of a heartbreaking reality and the scars that lived forever. It's a story of spirits that can't move on and the living that cling to their presence. It's a story of memories and how they have the power to cripple and burden. It's a story of time and how some wounds never heal, psychological or physical. These stories don’t have a single narrative. Their narratives change with the passage of time within a community. This story of Dong-ho, is the story of the many who were affected the day the shots rang out and the uprising ended.
          I'm not sure if it was the changes in narrative, the use of the second person throughout, the vivid imagery, the despairing tone, the prose or the characters but I couldn't put this novel down. I wasn't expecting to be so captivated by this political fiction account of the 1980 student uprising in South Korea but without a doubt I was. The changes in the narrative and the characters used to deliver that narrative gave such an all encompassing view of the history of that uprising and the affect it had on the lives of everyone involved. Dong-ho was present in all these narratives and he was a somber but necessary presence. Some of it had to do with youth but most of it had to do with his conviction and untimely death. But every one of the narratives had such a unique vantage point especially with how Han Kang utilized the passage of time. This story just flowed through the years beautifully and showed how the events continued to affect people for decades. The images she created of South Korea before, during and after the events was so engrossing and well done. The details provided and the lingering somber tone made reading this book a visceral experience.
                I really enjoyed this novel. There were so many moments throughout this book that took my breath away. Han Kang's prose and delivery was perfectly timed to draw as much emotion as possible out of every moment. Stories like these about tragic events keep them alive. They need to be told and Han Kang was the person meant to tell this story. I give this 4.5 our of 5 stars.

Thank you Blogging for Books for this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer


                They were the twelfth expedition to make their way to Area X: the psychologist, the surveyor, the anthropologist and the biologist. There was a linguist but she had second thoughts before going through the barrier. When the four crossed through, with the help of some hypnosis by the psychologist, they all had their packs on their backs. It took them four days to reach the camp. Some remains from the previous expedition were left behind. Everything was as it seemed except for the tunnel, or the tower as our narrator the biologist called it. The tower had never been mentioned and it wasn’t on any of their maps and yet there it was descending into the depths, visible only slightly above the ground. In their canvassing of the area they knew they would eventually have to enter the tower but no one would understand the implications of the writing on the wall.
                Well, this is the kind of science fiction that I really love to read. The type that obviously has some supernatural existence but is shrouded in mystery and the moaning you hear in the night isn’t human, or is it. Told in first person by the Biologist the very palpable fear of the four women taking place in this expedition is constantly referenced. This book is a venture into the depths of the unknown and the world building of the mysterious Area X is extremely well done. Vandermeer’s attention to detail and his atmosphere of fear and of something gone terribly awry, almost becomes its own entitity in this novel.

                I don’t want to go into to many details because that would give too much away. This the kind of science fiction novel that is better savored. I didn’t want to put this down. I found the biologist’s observations to be extremely disturbing and I couldn’t turn away. This book is the first in the trilogy and it sets itself up perfectly for the sequel. I am very interested and intrigued by this story. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates



                There was something so incredibly engaging about this story of Paul Coates and his two sons. Now, Paul had many children but this memoir focuses on Bill and the author, Ta-Nehisi. Brothers by two different mothers, often in the same house and completely different. Their father was steadfast in their life but his history caused him to be strict and in many ways an isolationist. An ex-member of the Black Panther Party, “conscious” and not a believer in the holidays, his children were constantly aware of their world and their place in it. Ta-Nehisi and Bill were taking two separate paths. Bill was the one who was always quick to fight and determined to be something. Ta-Nehisi was a slacker, not at all prone to violence, simply trying to make it through his days. Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas were not holidays they celebrated. Baltimore was their home and the setting for this memoir about growing up the son of Paul Coates.
                Compelling writing and an intriguing story set the pace for this memoir. Ta-Nehisi’s description of life in Baltimore under the strict upbringing of his father was extremely interesting, complicated and a memoir like I hadn’t experienced. I loved that Coates took time to reflect on his father’s upbringing, his different stints with women and his involvement with the Black Panther Party. Taking the time to divulge that information really set the tone for the story he was telling. Moments of self-reflection were the ones I found most captivating. Coates is very well aware of his faults and those things that caused him to fair so poorly in certain situations like school and girls. The nature in which he reveals and discusses them shows an honesty that we can only reveal later in life, when time has passed and the memories of who we were seep out.

                I enjoyed this memoir. An easy read that dealt with father-son relationships in a very honest, though sometimes grim light. I had really been looking forward to reading this book and the focus wasn’t where I thought it was going to be, I still found it really enjoyable. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips

Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips



                In September of 1912 two white women were attacked in Forsyth County. Ellie Grice claimed to have been raped by a black man. Mae Crow was beaten and left for dead. The events that directly followed these two incidents were the lynchings of five black men accused of the crimes and the exodus of the almost 1100 black residents of the county. The white residents of the town threatened, attacked and stalked the black members of the community until they feared for the life and fled into neighboring counties. Those residents who sought to protect the black workers that worked for them would be threatened until they conceded. Forsyth County, Georgia would then be known as a “white county” something the residents relished with pride. For the next 75 years this county would hold its racial line, defending it with threats to any African American that dared to cross it. In 1987 the Civil Rights movement would finally break through the barriers and drag the county into the national spotlight where their views would finally be challenged and eventually overcome.
                Patrick Phillips and his family were residents of Forsyth County in the 1970s and 1980s. They would march in the Brotherhood Marches led by Civil Rights leaders. His writing and testimony lends such a terrifying credibility to this story that’s hard to deny and honestly extremely disturbing. This isn’t a story to be taken lightly and Phillips did an amazing job in his research and in the way he conveys the county’s history. Every rock has been overturned in an attempt to honestly convey the tone of those who prided themselves on living in a town which such a disgusting history.

                Why do we read books like this? Because it’s important to understand the history of racism, how it is conveyed, how it is inherited and how it is a result of an irrational fear. There was absolutely no evidence that the attacks that took place were at the hands of black men. But the fear that lived throughout the town was so prevalent and all-consuming that one man was lynched the day Mae Crow was found, without a trial or any evidence pointing to his involvement in the crime. It’s beyond disgusting but so very evident of the problem with racism in this country. This book is a glaring spotlight on the racism still prevalent in the U.S., and how it’s managed to rear its ugly head time and time again. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. I am shaken and angry after finishing but grateful that this story has been told. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince


                She was known as Mabinty Bangura in Sierra Leone. She wouldn’t become Michaela DePrince until she had lost both of her parents. Her father was shot in the diamond mines by the rebels. Her mother would die from sickness. Mabinty would become known simply as a number by the guardians at the orphanage. When the rebels removed the children from the orphanage everyone would escape to Ghana, where her new mother Elaine would take her and her best friend, also Mabinty, to the United States of America. Her first night with Elaine before they left Ghana she would show her a picture she had found while at the orphanage. It was a cover of Dance Magazine. On the cover was a ballerina elevated on pointe. She wanted to be that dancer.
                It is hard to imagine what life could possibly be like for an orphan child in Africa. Reading Michaela’s account of her young life is extremely emotional and hard to digest. Murder, fear, bodies lying in the street and the rebels’s forces always near. Michaela does a great job recounting her experiences and detailing how much her life changed after being adopted. It’s obvious that throughout each phase of her life in America that she was loved by her adoptive family. This was as much a coming of age story as it was a memoir.

                This was a very quick and lovely read. I loved learning about Michaela’s history and seeing the growth and maturity of such a young woman. She tackled issues of race as a ballerina and how she was perceived while having white parents. She talks about the stress and decisions she had made to become a ballerina. It’s an incredible story and journey. This was an easy one to enjoy. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides


                Cecilia went first. She failed on her first attempt even though she needed over 20 stitches on each wrist. But the second time, Cecilia succeeded in ending her life. Her four older sisters were watched with scrutiny around their neighborhood and their school. Were they mourning? Did they know why Cecilia wanted to kill herself? What could be going through their heads? Lux, Mary, Bonnie and Therese would go a year without their sister before joining her beyond the grave. The entire time they were being watched by the boys who loved them. They tried in vain to reach the Lisbon sisters, to understand them, to express to them the love that boiled over for them. That love would take the boys through to their adulthood, to this book that holds their recollections of the Lisbon sisters. They have been examining the evidence for years trying understand the sisters and their suicides.
                The Virgin Suicides is an intense story with a supremely unsettling tone. Our narrators were young men when the girls took their life. Their narration is filled with unrequited love for the girls and the pain of their losing the Lisbon sisters. There is also an overwhelming sense of mystery surrounding the girls. The reader learns nothing about the girls from the girls themselves. Everything is learned through the observation of other people, whether it be our narrators or the many people they interviewed, or conclusions based off the evidence our narrators have collected. The world is built around these girls but they remain an overwhelming mystery. The biggest question being why they killed themselves.

                I really enjoyed this novel. I loved the tone and the obvious despair. I wanted answers as much as our narrators did. No one could ever understand how five sisters managed to kill themselves. Eugenides did a great job with how he told the story with the constant reflections of the girls and the nonchalant descriptions of how much life has changed in the present. The story exist in the present but is looking back at the time when the girls lived because the narrators can’t move beyond it. I think this book is simply really well executed and unique. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander


                Let me start off by saying that this is one of those books that I believe could initiate a large amount of change if people would take the time to read it, understand it and pursue a change. With that in mind I am going to recommend this book to you before I even start to tell you about this book because I believe everyone should be aware of what is happening in the United States, why it is unprecedented and why mass incarceration affects us all. Michelle Alexander wanted to prove with this book how the War on Drugs began, how the language behind it insinuated the worst possible imagery of the black community, how the prison industry expanded to such a gargantuan size and how the main victims of the War of Drugs are African-American men.
                To see that written so bluntly can be slightly off putting, I understand that. Especially if you may not believe at face value how any of that is true. That’s why a book like this is so important. Alexander lays it all out on the table for you to examine. She isn’t simply throwing her opinion on the wall and hitting you over the head with some conspiracy theory she found on the internet. Alexander has researched the statistics, looked at the communities affected and provides readers with the conclusion. It’s unsettling and unnerving that something could happen to this extent but it has. This book focuses on the War on Drugs that began in the 1980s, at a time when drug use was not increasing but the country was suffering from deindustrialization and many people were unemployed, especially in rural and urban communities. Alexander looks at the racial discrepancies seen with this war and how some tactics employed are usually only seen in poor black neighborhood, even though drug use is as prevalent if not more so in white communities. She examines the difference in sentencing between crack and cocaine even though they are the same drug in different forms. Alexander also looks at what it means to be a felon and how that can affect someone for the rest of their lives and there isn’t an efficient system in place for felons to provide for themselves once out of jail.

                I won’t try and summarize anything else about this book or this situation because it is too complex. I’m saddened by the fact that I honestly believe that people will refuse to believe anything in this book simply because they benefit from the system. This is a book meant to make everyone uncomfortable. Alexander wants people to realize what is happening around them. This book made me very emotional. It’s upsetting to see the creation and effects of mass incarceration laid out so bare. I was disturbed and very angry while reading certain sections of this book. For that reason alone I recommend it to you. I want people to read this book with an open mind, willing to read what Alexander says and look for understanding. This book only focuses on the plight of African-American men. It does not go into the challenges that other races and woman face with the prison system but Alexander makes that clear early on that she hopes someone does, but this was the issue she wanted to focus on. I did think this book became a tad repetitive near the end. Overall though, this a comprehensive look at a corrupt prison system, established by a false war on drugs. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.