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Oreo leads me to Roots by Alex Haley. After I finished the book, I read the introduction:

While Oreo may have been one of the least-known novels of the decade, Roots went on to become the single most popular novel of the decade [1970s], black or white. It occupied the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list for twenty-two weeks. It was adapted into one of the most-watched television miniseries of all time. –Danzy Senna

Now I’m very curious about Roots and it’s on my reading list. Have you read?

Reading “Empire of the Sun”


A movie on TV familiarizes me with the book from which it was adopted, Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard. I hunted down an used copy at the indie and started reading. The book was actually published in 1984, forty years after the author’s own experiences in a Japanese internment camp during World War Two in China. For the most part the novel is an eyewitness account of events Ballard observed during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai and within that camp at Lunghua.

In an interview with the UK Guardian, Ballard was frank about the difficulty in conveying the surrealism of war.

I waited 40 years before giving it a go, one of the longest periods a professional writer has put off describing the most formative events in his life. Twenty years to forget, and then 20 years to remember. There was always the possibility that my memories of the war concealed a deeper stratum of unease that I preferred not to face. But at least my three children had grown up, and as I wrote the book I would never have to think of them sharing the war with my younger self.

Knowing the movie would ruin my reading pleasure, I immediately switched off the TV. My principal is to always read the book first. I crave to hear the story from Ballard’s perspective. Even after 40 years, Ballard found it difficult to begin the novel, until it occurred to him to drop his parents from the story. They had lived together in a small room for nearly three years, eating boiled rice and sweet potatoes from the same card table, sleeping within an arm’s reach of each other, an exhilarating experience for him after the formality of their prewar home, where his parents were busy with their expat social life and he was brought up by Chinese servants who never looked at him and never spoke to him.

The interview foreshadows a poignant story. It’s more than physical survival—a mental one that mandates him to find a strength greater than all the events that surrounded him.

[755-2] Atlas Shrugged (Part II) – Ayn Rand


***Read in conjunction with Tina at Book Chatter***

“…if you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders—what would you tell him to do? . . . To shrug. ” (Part II, Ch.III, White Blackmail)

Part II, titled “Either-Or,” focuses on Dagny Taggart’s struggle to resolve a dilemma: either to continue her battle to save the crumbling railway network, an artery of the country’s economy, or to give it up and grant the “looters” sanction. The middle section of the novel sheds light on the new directives that, what were meant to boost economy by encouraging competition and eliminating monopoly, actually leads to the collapse of the nation’s oil industry. Following the disappearance of Wyatt who imploded his oil fields, Rearden, refusing to cede the rights to Rearden Metal to the State, is indicted for secret sales to a coal magnate, a transaction made illegal by the equal opportunity directives.

It seemed to her that some destroyer was moving soundlessly through the country and the lights were dying at his touch—someone, she thought bitterly, who have reversed the principle of the Twentieth Century motor and was now turning kinetic energy into static. (Part II, Ch.II)

Equally perplexing Dagny is the continuous disappearance of industrialists for no conceivable reason. Francisco d’Anconia, heir of the largest copper core who has turned a playboy, reveals that he has deliberately destroyed his company to harm the looters who are profiteering on his abilities. He coaxes Rearden to renounce the State by quitting. By continuing to work under such dictatorial circumstances, Rearden is granting a moral sanction to the looters, a sanction they need from him in order to compromise his rights and his mind. At his trial, Rearden is unapologetic for his success and defensive of his right to produce for his own stake. His sound reason only leaves the court speechless and panicked. But it’s Rearden’s wife Lillian, upset at his affair with Dagny, uses this as a weapon to deliver him to the State.

There had been a time he had been required to do his best and rewarded accoringly. Now he could expect nothing but punishment, if he tried to follow his conscience. There had been a time when he had been expected to think. Now they did not want him to think, only to obey. (Part II, Ch.VII, The Moratorium of Brains)

Part II sees further deterioration of the railway, punishment of Rearden’s success, and a rapid, chilling assimilation of a society in which all talents and ambition are curbed and the citizens become indistinguishable. Bussinessmen use government power to loot competitors, they gain in the short run while greater losses are spread throughout the society. The “aristocracy of pull” in the book rules through access to Washington, trading favors and back-stabbing in a destructive political competition that eventually leads to economic collapse. But the most porous damage is the death of brain—gone are reason and individual thinking. The virtues that made life possible and the values that give life meaning become agents of its destruction.

[758] Love Medicine – Louise Erdrich


” Society is like this card game here, cousin. We got dealt our hand before we were born, and as we grow we have to play as best as we can. ” (357)

This is Louise Erdrich’s first book. Love Medicine opens in 1981 when June Kashpaw, an attractive Chippewa prostitute who has idled her days on the main streets of an oil boomstown in North Dakota, decides to return to the reservation on which she was raised. But en route she dies in the freezing Dakota countryside. Twice married, she is the direct link of two native Indian families—the Kashpaws and the Nanapushes. Her memory and legacy she passes on to her family provoke various relatives and acquaintances to recall their relationships with her and to reminisce their own lives.

Her clothes were filled with safety pins and hidden tears. (12)

Albertine, June’s niece and a nursing student at university (the only one who goes to college), introduces all the family members, all entangled by bloodlines and marriage, who gather at the reservation after June’s death. At the center of this novel is Grandma Kashpaw, known as Marie Lazarre before her marriage to Nector Kashpaw, who has assimilated to white culture by attending white school. In his youthful days he posted naked for painting. But he resents the the notion that whites are interested in the doom of the Indians. Marie escaped the horror of the Catholic church, where a nun attempted to oust Satan from her brain by pouring boiling water into her ear. Although Marie married Nector the tribal chairman, Nector loves another woman, Lulu, who is a flirt and is shameless about her affairs. Marie copes by raising strong, educated children and ceaselessly “peeling potatoes.”

Right and wrong were shades of meaning, not sides of a coin.

The novel trickles back and fro in time, revolving the love triangle between Marie, Nector, and Lulu. All his life Nector never makes a decision of his own, he does what comes along. In a sense, Nector is like the Indian tribe that is at the mercy and whim of the U.S. government. The love medicine in question represents an attempt by a Kashpaw grandson to assure once and for all that his grandfather will love and be true to his wife. The plan ends in disaster when corners are cut and the authentic old Indian customs for preparing the potion are circumvented.

They gave you worthless land to start with and then they chopped it out from under your feet. They took your kids away and stuffed the English language in their mouth . . . They sold you booze for furs and then told you not to drink. (326)

In poetic language Erdrich portrays the culture and traditions of Native Indians that are under attack of mainstream assimilation. The bloodlines might be confusing by Erdrich stresses that people all stem from one giant tree. The book is a folklore, through the collected first-person narratives, that depicts the fundamental human capacities for love, jealousy, devotion, greed, generosity, and endurance.

367 pp. Harper Perennial. Trade Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

Reading Louise Erdrich


Love Medicine is like One Hundred Years of Solitude all over. A multi-generational story spun around two Native Indian families. Family chart should be kept at arm’s legth the whole time the novel is being read. Once reader gets over the complicated relationships, the reading is a magical realism of the native land and traditions.

Love Medicine opens in 1981 with the death of beautiful but broken June Kashpaw. June stumbles from a truck cab and runs from a stranger who calls her by another woman’s name as he makes love to her. She sets out for her home on a North Dakota Chippewa reservation, following her instincts through a later winter storm. But her sharp survival skills, honed in a lifetime of living out-of-doors, cannot overpower the snowstorm or keep her warm in a pair of jeans and a thin jacket.

It is challenging to keep straight the shared bloodlines and histories. I believe later editions contain a family tree of sorts. But Erdrich explains these connected lives in a way that you realize they are like the root system of an aspen tree—one tree, standing alone, is really part of a vast forest.

[757] All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque


” We are little flames sheltered by frail walls against the storm of dissolution and madness, in which we flicker and sometimes almost go out. Then the muffled roar of the battle becomes a ring that encircles us, we creep in upon ourselves, and with big eyes stare into the night. ” (Ch.11, p.275)

This book is narrated by Paul Bäumer, a young man of nineteen who fights in the German army on the French front in World War I. Paul and several of his friends from school joined the army out of their own volition after listening to the stirring, provoking, patriotic speeches of the school master, Kantorek. Bust after experiencing first-hand the atrocity and brutality, they realize that the empty talk of nationalism and patriotism made by these so-called intellectuals, who know nothing about the constant physical terror and encroaching fear, has consumed a whole generation of young men who are disconnected from their normal lives.

I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow . . . Through the years our business has been killing;—it was our first calling in life. (Ch.10, p.263-4)

The young men belong to Second Company, which is soon dispatched to the front line. After the first combat with heavy shelling, only 80 of the 150 men survive. They also endure the strictest disciplinary actions meted out by the reckless Himmelstoss, a postman in civilian life who has taken up bullying, Soon Paul witnesses the slow death of his friend Kemmerich, who is eaten up by gangrene after having one leg amputated. What eagerness and enthusiasm in soldiering at the first place have turned into inconsolable misery. This is exactly the aim of the novel—sets out to portray war as it was actually experienced, replacing the romantic picture of glory, honor, and heroism with a decidedly unromantic vision of fear, meaninglessness, and butchery.

We have become wild beasts. We do not fight, we defend ourselves against annihilation. It is not against men that we fling our booms, what do we know of men in this moment when Death is hunting us down . . . (Ch.6, p.113)

All Quiet on the Western Front depicts soldier as an everyman in any given war. Despite the physical horror and carnage, the book focuses on the ruinous effect that war has on the soldiers. The intense physical threat serves as an ceaseless attack on the nerves. That constant fear of death has deprived them of reasonable thought process. Along with the meager provisions, the appalling living situation, the poor sanitation, the book gives an overall effect of these conditions as a crippling overload of panic and despair. The only way for soldiers to survive is to disconnect themselves from their feelings, suppressing their emotions, and accepting conditions of their lives. That is the reason Paul feels there exists a thickness, a veil in place between him and his family when he goes home during leave. What makes this book so powerful is Paul the universal soldier—his voice speaks for all the soldiers, for all of humanity. Despite the military differences, regardless of the sides, soldiers are just ordinary men who have rights to live a normal life.

296 pp. Ballantine Books. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

Reading “All Quiet on the Western Front”


I have never been a fan of war stories. All the description of artillery, shelling, grenade, shrapnel, munition and trench confuse me. I have evaded reading All Quiet on the Western Front in high school because honors English didn’t have it on the reading list.

The book is intriguing for once, it’s written in the perspective of a young German soldier, who, out of patriotism and honor, gets drafted. But after experiencing the uncompromising brutality, Paul and his classmates realize that the ideals of nationalism, so professed by these men of authority who “continued to write and talk” away from the front line.

Clothes do not make the man. Most of the authority figures in the novel are painted as one form or another of idiots, sycophants, toadies, and other lower order life forms. Kantorek (the boys’ teacher back home) and Himmelstoss (postman-cum- reckless disciplinarian in army) are core figureheads in this arena. But they represent the many others who assume their form. This type of representation is one of the things that makes All Quiet on the Western Front such a great book—it is clearly everyman’s story of the war.


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