Tag Archives: chinese

Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin. Translated from the Chinese by Bonnie Huie

Notes of a Crocodile Title: Notes of a Crocodile
Author: Qiu Miaojin
Translated from the Chinese by Bonnie Huie
Publisher: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 978-1681370767
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Notes of a Crocodile” according to me is a lovely title for a book. I say this to establish it right at the beginning and get it out of the way. This was the third book I read in the women in translation month project and I think by far this has been one of the best (I’ve read six in all so far). There is something very reassuring and yet heartbreaking about this book that makes you fall in love with the prose. You realize it is a translation but it doesn’t matter. The effect is as much. It moved me in just the right places.

“Notes of a Crocodile” is about teenagers who are queer misfits and only discovering love, friendship and artistic affiliations in post-martial-law era of Taiwan. They study at one of Taiwan’s prestigious university and come to realize what happens when you love too hard and too strong. The narrator is an anonymous lesbian, nicknamed Lazi who falls in love way too strong with an older woman named Shui Ling and how she turns to her friends for support as she doesn’t see this happening. Her friends are another kettle of fish: a rich kid who has turned criminal, his self-destructive gay lover (is there any other way to be or to love?), an overachiever who is just bored and her girlfriend who is an artist. See what I mean, when I say the book covers the entire spectrum of LGBTQ?

I was fascinated by this read. “Notes of a Crocodile” at one point in the book (major breakthrough by the way) moves from sexual identity to self-realization about love, loss and how the heart breaks. The translation is just right. I think all the nuances of Chinese expressions and words are in place. Bonnie Huie does a wonderful job on this cult classic. What I loved the most while reading this book is the pop culture references thrown in by Qiu. I wish she were around to write some more books. I also remember reading Last Words from Montmartre with such fervor as well. I couldn’t stop reading it and the same happened with “Notes of a Crocodile”. Also, should you want to know more about title, then I am not giving that away. Read the book for that.

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang Title: Boxers and Saints
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Publisher: First Second
ISBN: 9781596439245
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 512
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I had heard a lot about this graphic novel. Almost every book haul had it; almost everyone was talking about it online and offline (to some extent). I knew I had to pick this one up and I did and let me tell you that this one just did not disappoint at all. I had read, “American Born Chinese” as well, so I sort of knew what I was expecting from this one.

“Boxers & Saints” are two individual graphic novels, but can only be read as one, for them to make sense to the reader. The book is set in the late 1800s and at the beginning of 1900. The year is 1898. The place: China. The foreign missionaries are here to stay and not only that; they are going from village to village and town to town, converting the Chinese to Catholics. They mock their Gods and do not let them follow their faith. Amidst this, stands up Little Bao, wanting to fight the foreigners. He has learned to harness the power of the ancient Chinese Gods and begins to recruit an army of Boxers – common folks trained in Kung Fu, to fight the devils (the foreigners). Their power works and to a very large extent they are successful as well. Their trials and tribulations are recorded in Boxers.

On the other hand, there is Saints, lending perspective to the Chinese that turned Catholics, through the eyes of one girl – an unwanted daughter known as Four-Girl. She has never been given a real name by her family. She has always tried to be loved, to be equal to her male cousins. But when she decides to convert, she gets a name, Vibiana and also an identity of sorts, a motive so to speak.

Bao’s and Vibiana’s paths cross very briefly and that you can only know, once you read the novel. Gene Luen builds a powerful construct in the form of a graphic novel. He brings out the themes of religion, alienation, faith, and old versus the new brilliantly through this storytelling form.

What is most interesting is that no one or rather very few people know of this time in Chinese history. Luen Yang brings that to fore, which is done subtly with Chinese Gods on one hand and Joan of Arc (yes you read that right) on the other, for inspiration and a struggle – both individually and for a nation.

“Boxers & Saints” is a graphic novel well thought of – from every single perspective. If you want to read something unique and different, when it comes to the graphic novel, then this is the perfect read for you. Highly recommended!

Here is a brilliant book trailer:

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The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff

The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff Title: The Undertaking of Lily Chen
Author: Danica Novgorodoff
Publisher: First Second Books
ISBN: 978-1596435865
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There could not be a better time to read Graphic Novels than summer. Why do I feel that? Well, not really for any other reason, but somehow summers as a child and while growing up, always remind me of comics and graphic novels by that are an extension of comics. So there.

“The Undertaking of Lily Chen” by Danica Novgorodoff is a heart-warming and at the same time, quite a ride of a graphic novel to read as the heat swelters away and there is only respite in more glasses of chilled water, with the air-conditioner braying along.

“The Undertaking of Lily Chen” is about Deshi, a hapless and very lost young man, living in China who has constantly been in his brother’s shadow and now his life takes a tumultuous turn when his brother dies. According to ancient Chinese custom, there needs to be a corpse bride to accompany his brother into the afterlife. There is a dearth of corpse brides and Deshi has been given the task to find a bride for his brother. Then he meets Lily Chen and his life takes a complete spin.

The illustrations are beyond gorgeous. The writing is funny, eccentric and empathetic. There is not so much drama, but at the same time the feelings and emotions are conveyed. I loved the book because of several reasons – one of course the illustrations, second because of the originality of the story, and third because it moved me. That I think are reasons enough and more to love a book.

“The Undertaking of Lily Chen” is a beautifully thought of and executed book. It breathes life and hope into the reader on so many levels. An absolute must read for all the graphic novel fans out there.

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Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

I bought this book on a lark. Under normal circumstances, I would have probably not read this type of a book. Parenting and I do not come close – sometimes I feel like being a parent and then there are times I think that I may not make a good parent. There is always this doubt that creeps in and stays there. It is not easy being a parent. The balance between authority and leniency is needed and only a parent would know how to work around it or so it seems.

The book is more of a memoir than a handbook on Chinese vs. American Parenting styles, though that was the intent of the author. It is about the author’s way of parenting – The Chinese Style and how it impacts her two daughters – Sophia and Lulu. Amy Chua is a Chinese American, born in the USA to middle-class Chinese parents who had immigrated to the US from China via the Philippines.  A very attractive, intellectually bright, hard working young woman she studied at Harvard Law School. She broke with her family’s expectations when she married a Jewish American who was also a lawyer (Jed Rubenfield, author of the run-away best seller ‘The Interpretation of Murder).  Both she and her husband are Professors of Law at Yale.  They have two daughters, Sophia and Lulu (Louisa), and this book is about her views on parenting and how she has brought them up.

She opens by declaring herself a ‘Chinese’ mother, and by that she means someone who is extremely strict with her children, who demands academic success from them and will make them work for hours on end to achieve it. Second place is never an option, getting an A- is not good enough, straight As are the only thing that counts.  Western parents, she says, even when they think they are strict, never come close and as a result their children never achieve their full potential and become super-successful.

From the moment her daughters were born, she had mapped out a parenting style from which she did not waiver until the girls had reached the targets she had set for them.  She had determined that both girls would play musical instruments, Sophia the piano and Lulu the violin, and what is more, they would be the best at it, and would win awards and accolades.  Simultaneously they had to be top in all academic subjects, no excuses would be tolerated.  This meant a punishingly hard schedule, not just for Sophia and Lulu, but for Amy herself, as she juggled her career as a full time lawyer holding seminars, flying all over the USA, writing legal books, then as an academic, whilst driving the girls for hours from teacher to teacher and then standing over them as they practiced late into the night. Any of the normal aspects of modern childhood in an affluent western society were ruthlessly jettisoned. No sleepovers, no play dates, no TV, no video-games, no joining after-school clubs, Girl Scouts, ballet or drama classes. No participation in the school play or in sports of any kind – all these were considered rubbish by Amy.

Chua doesn’t mince words as a mother. Reading her honest confession, it sometimes comes across as harsh in the ways she addresses her kids. She justifies some of the more painful interactions with proof of the success of her children. Both musiclally gifted, they achieve high honors early in their careers. Chua wouldn’t accept anything less.

It was also clear to Chua to distinguish between “Western” style parenting and Chinese parenting. Here is probably the harshest part of the book, and ultimately why I reduced my rating down a star. Clearly, Chua’s disdain over Western style parenting techniques shows up on many of the pages. She needed to do so to justify her choices as a Chinese parent. However, it runs the risk of alienating some of the audience that would have reacted more kindly to the book. However, Chua is merely being honest. Still, it doesn’t always make for a comfortable read.

One other thing that many “reviewers” miss is the parts of the book outside the realm of parenting. Chua writes lovingly of her decision to allows dogs in the family, which is funny and surprising. Also, the painful recounting of her sister’s fight with leukemia is harrowing and real. I appreciated her putting some of these elements in her story to round it out.

Chua’s voice is hilarious, intelligent, human, aggressive, and insanely blunt. This combination makes her offensive to many people but the way she mocks herself endears her to me. She’s self aware enough to know that she can be wrong and that she can be overly obsessive. I liked the book mainly because it was an entertaining, touching, well written memoir. It also contains insights into Asian culture and values, and into human nature in general. I don’t think it’s intended to be instructional or preachy- she’s not trying to use her memoir as an “Autobiography of Malcolm X”-like call to action. Although I do think Chua thinks she’s right about almost everything and her daughters are amazing, I don’t think she thinks everyone else should strive to be like her, nor do I think her “we must be the best / we are the best” attitude is the message of the book- it’s just her personality. The sheer amount of time and energy she put into the upbringing of her kids and into every project she approaches is staggering (even for an Asian person!), and I think she acknowledges that she’s atypically obsessive and anal, for example when she relates funny anecdotes about how she tried applying her Chinese parenting methods to her fluffy, clueless dog.

As a memoir, Chua’s book is great. Because of her writing, she makes me interested in her life even though she’s not an important historical figure or anything. Her use of language really pushes the humor into the laugh out loud zone for me (for instance she describes the discovery that her dog ranks low in intelligence as “nauseating”). In addition, I relate to a lot of what she’s saying as a Chinese person. For example she proudly asserts for the record that she is the only Asian her husband has ever dated, and she has funny anecdotes about how first generation asians are so frugal they worry about using too much dish detergent. I think her bluntness will offend a lot of people because they take it to mean she is cruel or rude- she’ll use words like “fatty,” “lazy,” and “loser,” words that white people do not use casually in the presence of their children. In contrast many Asians are very ready to use those words and it isn’t meant to just insult for the sake of hurting someone’s feelings. It’s a cultural difference that Chinese people are less tactful and more blunt in their language, particularly when they are talking to family.

One of the best passages in the book is when the author describes her view of where TRUE confidence comes from. She believes that TRUE confidence cannot just be externally given(through repeated praise etc) instead it comes from working hard and persevering at something until you not only pass it, but MASTER it. This is exemplefied in the most controversial part of the book where she forces her daughter to practise the piano for hours without a break until she masters a musical piece. She did go too far here; however the point was that her daughter truly believed she was INCAPABLE of playing the piece. So her confidence grew mountains when she not only made a breakthrough and played it correctly, she mastered it and played it with ease and came to love it. She learned through experience as opposed to the ‘mantra method’ of you can do/be anything you want to be with perseverance and hard effort.

I finished the book in a day and loved the insights. I for once wished that my mother had raised me that way – to be an over-achiever. I somehow and totally agree to Ms. Chua’s style of parenting. It is much needed in the times we live in. Parenting is not easy. The choices we think we make sometimes may or may not always be right, however one has to make them, even if they change or tilt the balance. But then again it is each one to his own. All in all this is a book you should not be missing out on.