Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Joy Luck Club (1989) by Amy Tan is a novel divided into four sections, each containing four stories. The sixteen stories are about the relationships between four mothers and their four daughters. The mothers are all immigrants from China, and their daughters were all born in America. The aspects of the mother-daughter relationships were emotional, frustrating, and often very sweet. The novel also captures some of the aspects related to growing up as a second-generation child in an immigrant family.

I thought the book felt more like a series of short stories than a coherent novel. There was no main plot to hold the characters and stories together and draw the novel along. The voices of the “mother” characters were often indistinguishable, and there was even less to define the different voices of the “daughters,” who for the most part seemed to be identical characters. Overall, I thought the novel would have been stronger if it had depicted the relationship between a single mother and daughter.

Purchase and read books by Amy Tan:

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Don't Tell Me the Truth About Love by Dan Rhodes

Don't Tell Me the Truth About Love by Dan Rhodes Book Covers

Don't Tell Me the Truth About Love (2001) by Dan Rhodes is a collection of seven short stories. I found the book in my library and plucked the volume off the shelf. I read all the stories in a day, on my bus ride to and from work and during lunch. Thematically, they cover various aspects of love, often unrequited love, including passion, enchantment, rejection, and pain. Rhodes approaches these subjects in strange and fresh ways making this an truly enjoyable read.

Don't Tell Me the Truth About Love
includes the following stories:

“The Carolingian Period” – The story of an aging professor who missed out on love and marriage.

“Violoncello” – A boy becomes a violincello to be near the one he loves.

“Arc-en-Ciel” – Organized into sections by the colors of the rainbow, this is the story of two men and the lovely Mademoiselle Arc-en-Ciel.

“The Landfill” – A man meets a beautiful woman at a landfill and cannot forget her.

“Glass Eyes” – A man sacrifices an eye for a woman he thinks he is in love with.

“The Painting” – The story of an enchanting painting of a woman in a forest.

“Beautiful Consuela” – Consuela puts her husband through trials until she finally believes he loves her, and not for her beauty.

Visit Dan Rhodes’s website:

Purchase and read books by Dan Rhodes:

Don't Tell Me the Truth About Love by Dan Rhodes Anthropology: 101 True Love Stories by Dan Rhodes Little Hands Clapping by Dan Rhodes Marry Me by Dan Rhodes


Monday, October 17, 2005

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary is a novel by the French writer Gustave Flaubert. Published in 1856, it is acclaimed as one of the best books ever written. Some consider it to be the first modern novel.

When Flaubert was asked who Emma Bovary represented in real life, he replied with a puzzling response, “Madame Bovary, c'est moi” (“Madame Bovary, it’s me”). Following Madame Bovary’s serialized publication in Revue de Paris in 1856, the novel was attacked for being obscene and glorifying adultery. This led to a trial in 1857, which brought greater attention to the story. Flaubert was cleared of all charges against him, and Madame Bovary was published in two volumes.

I thought Madame Bovary was a stunning read, and it is lingering with me even now after I have put the book down. The story was so deliberately repulsive and grim. For me, the realism was hard to bear. There were no sympathetic characters, and while I could pity some characters and believe them to be true to life, I could not feel akin to any of them, at least not fully. When I finished the novel and went to bed last night, I felt ill about it.

While it is easy to understand and identify with dissatisfaction and boredom, Emma Bovary's behavior is so irrational and her feelings of guilt are so fleeting. It was hard for me as a reader to understand Emma. I wonder if anything could have satisfied Emma’s cravings in the end—clothing, riches, sex, words of love, lovers? It does not seem likely. Emma’s expectations are so different from reality. She craves lovers who bore her. She struggles with a banal existence. Emma believes fictional drama and romance are fact, making her appear unreasonable and ridiculous.

Flaubert did not want the reader to understand and sympathize with Emma Bovary. Despite this, I did pity her. Emma asked so many for help, and these people turned her away or didn't recognize what she needed. I wonder though if she really knew what she needed? Emma was incapable of finding a direction that pleased her.

Although Emma was in charge of the household finances, she fails to understand business. Here, Emma has the power of a man, but she squanders it. Emma is upset when she gives birth to a daughter, Berthe, and would rather have a son, who is free. But Emma underestimates her own freedoms. Her husband Charles puts little restraint on her and tries to please her with affection, gifts, and by relocating his practice. Emma fails to appreciate his sacrifices and devotion. While Emma searches for endless, dramatic love outside of her marriage, she misses the constant love Charles lavishes on her until it is too late.

The story begins and ends with Charles. The beginning of the story introduces Charles as weak, and contrasts him with his father. While his father would probably be attractive to Emma, the young Charles is too helpless to even correct his name when it is being mispronounced and mocked.

This set up foreshadows what Emma will do to Charles. At the end of the novel, Charles learns that he has gone through his entire married life deceived. There were ironic touches and symbolism throughout the story like the blind beggar, the tour guide in the church bringing up the fires of hell, and Homais winning the Legion of Honor. The end of the story is also anticipated by Emma’s multiplying problems and lies, but Emma is unaware as to where her choices are leading her.

Overall, though Madame Bovary was very sad, I found the book to be perfectly paced and lush. The story felt true to life even while the dialogue and events sometimes seemed ridiculous. The novel was unconventional in having an adulterer as a heroine. There is no truly good character in the novel to root for and sympathize with fully. As a reader, I simultaneously have both contempt and sympathy for the characters, which is a jarring feeling.

Purchase and read books by Gustave Flaubert:

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert Three Stories by Gustave Flaubert


Sunday, October 16, 2005

Going Solo by Roald Dahl

Going Solo by Roald Dahl

Following the release of Roald Dahl’s autobiographical book Boy about his childhood, he published a second autobiographical collection, titled Going Solo. The stories in Going Solo begin in 1934 when Dahl is 22 years old. Dahl has just taken his first job working for the Shell Oil Company in Dur es Salaam, Tanganyika, East Africa (now Tanzania). He drives about and delivers oil to British colonists, some of whom are very, very quirky. His memories of the time period involve the deadly black and green mambas and a lion who made off with the chef’s wife.

Dahl’s later stories chronicle his life as a Royal Air Force pilot during World War II. With very little training in aerial combat, he learned to fly with other volunteers in Nairobi. From there, Dahl went to Egypt, and then to Libya. On his final leg to Mersah Matruh, the coordinates for his landing strip were incorrect (in a no man’s land between the English and Italian forces), and he crashed in the desert. Dahl’s flight and survival later became the subject of his first published work. The accident fractured his skull, smashed his nose in, and temporarily blinded him.

After months in the hospital, Dahl was discharged and given the task of flying a Hurricane, but was given a day to learn to fly this new plane. He was to join the forces in Greece, where only 14 planes were assigned to defend the entire region. Dahl describes near-death encounters, accidents, combat, and death without fuss or worry, understating the dangers he and his fellow pilots faced. After the Battle of Athens, he flew in Palestine and Syria until he began having severe headaches from his earlier injury. Unable to continue to fly, Dahl headed home to England.

Throughout the book, Dahl includes his own photographs and excerpts from his letters home to his mother. These additions complement his words to bring his memories to life. Reading Going Solo gives the reader a sense of the sheer luck Dahl had in life and the inspirations behind many of his stories.

Purchase and read Roald Dahl's autobiographical books:

Going Solo by Roald Dahl Boy by Roald Dahl


Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Boy by Roald Dahl

Boy by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is a captivating writer, and one of my favorites. Though I have read much of his fiction, I had never read his nonfiction before. Boy, is an autobiographical book about Dahl’s childhood, which was published in 1984. Rather than writing an autobiography full of uninteresting details, Dahl chose to write a series of personal sketches about the moments that stood out most to him and sat on the surface of his memories.

Dahl writes about his mother and siblings, candy stores, visits to Norway, having his nose nearly sliced off, and other surgeries, all without anesthesia. He tells stories of his early schooling, and of violent headmasters and older students and their use of the cane. Dahl reveals real-life events, which shaped his later fiction. For instance, Dahl and his classmates were mailed new Cadbury chocolate samples to evaluate, which later provided inspiration for his story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You will recognize the models for the hateful adult figures who are out to harm children in Dahl's fiction.

Dahl's gift for storytelling extends to his autobiographical anecdotes. They are filled with childlike innocence, horror, humor, darkness, and joy, often all within a single story.

Purchase and read Roald Dahl's autobiographical books:

Boy by Roald Dahl Going Solo by Roald Dahl