Showing posts with label Chinese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chinese. Show all posts

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sole December TBR (For Now)!

"With a beautiful, powerful, and sexy Madame Chiang Kai-Shek at the center of one of the great dramas of the twentieth century, this is the story of the founding of modern China.

With the beautiful, powerful, and sexy Madame Chiang Kai-Shek at the center of one of the great dramas of the twentieth century, this is the story of the founding of modern China, starting with a revolution that swept away more than 2,000 years of monarchy, followed by World War II, and ending in eventual loss to the Communists and exile in Taipei. Praised by China scholar Jonathan Spence for “an impressive amount of telling material, drawn from a wide array of sources,” Pakula presents an epic historical tapestry, a wonderfully wrought narrative that brings to life what Americans should know about China—the superpower we are inextricably linked with."

~ The Last Empress on Amazon
All right.  All right.  As much as I want to break open my copy of Toni Braxton’s memoir, Unbreak My Heart, I have to take a step back.  After two years, I finally cracked open my copy of The Last Empress by Hannah Pakula back in October.  I got a good 100 pages into the book before I began to feel the swell of tome-size intimidation.  Great story, nonetheless.  It kept me glued, but I just knew getting through the book was going to take some work.  So I put it down for smaller titles in November.  And now I’m back at this monster of a read!  I’m committed to closing out the year finishing at least another big book.  This will be it.

The author...

Friday, April 8, 2016

Kwan's Rich Girlfriend

"Kevin Kwan, bestselling author of Crazy Rich Asians, is back with a wickedly funny new novel of social climbing, secret e-mails, art-world scandal, lovesick billionaires, and the outrageous story of what happens when Rachel Chu, engaged to marry Asia’s most eligible bachelor, discovers her birthfather.

On the eve of her wedding to Nicholas Young, heir to one of the greatest fortunes in Asia, Rachel should be over the moon. She has a flawless Asscher-cut diamond from JAR, a wedding dress she loves more than anything found in the salons of Paris, and a fiancĂ© willing to sacrifice his entire inheritance in order to marry her. But Rachel still mourns the fact that her birthfather, a man she never knew, won’t be able to walk her down the aisle. Until: a shocking revelation draws Rachel into a world of Shanghai splendor beyond anything she has ever imagined. Here we meet Carlton, a Ferrari-crashing bad boy known for Prince Harry-like antics; Colette, a celebrity girlfriend chased by fevered paparazzi; and the man Rachel has spent her entire life waiting to meet: her father. Meanwhile, Singapore’s It Girl, Astrid Leong, is shocked to discover that there is a downside to having a newly minted tech billionaire husband. A romp through Asia’s most exclusive clubs, auction houses, and estates, China Rich Girlfriend brings us into the elite circles of Mainland China, introducing a captivating cast of characters, and offering an inside glimpse at what it’s like to be gloriously, crazily, China-rich."

~ China Rich Girlfriend from Goodreads

Hear me out, folks.  On everything I love, I wish I had more to say about Kevin Kwan’s China Rich Girlfriend.  I really, really do.  However, I don’t.  Or at least have much to expound on about my minuscule disappointment with the book.  A disappointment brewed by the contrived connectivity with each of his characters’ story threads.  Including threads developed completely from the core cast (Nick and Rachel).  So it's kind of strange when I think about how much I loved his previous book, Crazy Rich Asian.  I guess I assumed too much going into his second book.
Nevertheless, after reading China Rich Girlfriend in January, I couldn't find the right words on how I felt about the book.  Good or bad!  So months later, my resounding complaint is still that contrived connectivity issue.  It's like a wall I can't climb.  It's all I think when I recall my experience.  Which has lead me to this late post.

Monday, March 21, 2016

I'm So Excited | Ruth Pointer & Da Chen READS

"Still So Excited!: My Life in the Pointer Sisters offers an engaging, funny, heartbreaking, and poignant look at Ruth Pointer’s roller-coaster life in and out of the Pointer Sisters. When overnight success came to the Pointer Sisters in 1973, they all thought it was the answer to their long-held prayers. While it may have served as an introduction to the good life, it also was an introduction to the high life of limos, champagne, white glove treatment, and mountains of cocaine that were the norm in the high-flying '70s and '80s. Ruth Pointer’s devastating addictions took her to the brink of death in 1984. Ruth Pointer has bounced back to live a drug- and alcohol-free life for the past 30 years and she shares how in her first biography. Readers will learn about the Pointer Sisters’ humble beginnings, musical apprenticeship, stratospheric success, miraculous comeback, and the melodic sound that captured the hearts of millions of music fans. They will also come to understand the five most important elements in Ruth’s story: faith, family, fortitude, fame, and forgiveness."

I’m so excited.  And how appropriate for this book-receiving occasion.  First I want to bitch about how I missed singer, Ruth Pointer, releasing her autobiography in February.  Where was I!  Where!  As a strong supporter and fan of her band, The Pointer Sisters, I’m disappointed in myself.  Especially seeing how she was my favorite vocalist in the group.  She had (well, still has) that smoky, contralto voice that just throws me over.  Not familiar with it?  I’ll leave a Youtube video of the group’s song “Automatic”.  Ruth sings lead as she pulls you into the cosmic bliss of her voice.  Now let me disclaimer my enthusiasm by stating how all the sisters’ voices were different, and added something magical to their music.  Especially if you sit back and catch their three-part (at one point four) harmonies.  Which are absolutely amazing, especially for listeners like myself who love to active the conscious to pay attention to back vocals and such. Still, I suppose I’m just bias because I live for a female singer who can master the lower registers.  Maybe because it's so unique for female singers.  That dark, rich contralto tone is why Brandy (who actually shifts) is my favorite artist of my specific generation.  Ruth was definitely my favorite during her time.  Which of course the concept of "time" in music is moot.
Anyway, so yes.  Ruth was my favorite Pointer.  Going by the synopsis of her autobiography, I’m taken aback by what she’s willing to reveal.  Well, to be accurate, her story.  Now I'm familiar with her baby sister June’s drug addiction, as well as June's passing in 2006.  (From what I've read so far, Ruth's autobiography takes a brief moment to address the tragedy June faced which led to her later struggles.)  But I always saw Ruth, the eldest sister, as the responsible and forthright sister.  An illusion we tend to give any of our eldest siblings.  I myself being one.  Even so, she was in the same mess as June–using drugs and alcohol to cope with her own demons.  On the other hand, the use of drugs and alcohol were almost par for the course, given the 70's and 80's when the group took off.  Either way Ruth is revealing her struggle with addition and rise in the music industry, but with so much more in the vein of inspiration in Still So Excited!

FYI: Let me gush for a split-second and mention how my absolute favorite Pointer Sister song is "If You Wanna Get Back Your Lady."  Pure damn gold!  Do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the song.

"When Samuel Pickens’ great love tragically loses her life, Samuel travels the globe, Annabelle always on his mind. Eventually, he comes face to face with the mirror image of his obsession in the last place he would expect, and must discover her secrets and decide how far he will go for a woman he loves. 
Da Chen immerses the reader in the world of the Chinese imperial palace, filled with ghosts and grief, where bewitching concubines, treacherous eunuchs, and fierce warlords battle for supremacy. Da takes us deeply into an epic saga of 19th century China, where one man searches for his destiny and a forbidden love."
~ Synopsis taken from Goodreads
Let me tell you.  Anytime I go to the Dollar Tree/General/Store, I make a move for the book section.  It’s usually a mess in the area, but I enjoy hunting for something new to read for a single dollar.  And that’s just what I found with Da Chen’s My Last Empress
I read Da Chen’s book, Brothers, back in 2006.  Considering it’s been awhile, all I can say is I liked the book okay.  Hard for me to remember the exact details other than two brothers in China separated at birth.  One got the privileged life, the other got a bad deal.  The twist is they both fell in love with the same girl.  Then I forgot the rest.
But no, the author’s name still sticks with me.  Which is why I grabbed this copy of My Last Empress out of an avalanche of Sudoku puzzles and paperback Westerns.  Dish washer liquid in hand, I pumped on to the register in delight.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Currently-Reading Hustle (Video)

B O O K S M E N T I O N (All links are Amazon affiliate)

1. Buffy, The Vampire Slayer Tempted Champions by Yvonne Navarro ~
2. Young Miss Holmes by Kaoru Shintani ~
3. A Free Life by Ha Jin ~
4. A Mind to Murder by P. D. James ~
5. Perfect Peace by Daniel Black ~
6. God is Always Hiring by Regina Brett ~
7. Day Shift by Charlaine Harris ~



Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Balzac Said What?

"In this enchanting tale about the magic of reading and the wonder of romantic awakening, two hapless city boys are exiled to the remote mountain village for re-education during China's infamous Cultural Revolution.  There they meet the daughter of the local tailor and discover a hidden stash of Western classics in Chinese translation.  As they flirt with the seamstress and secretly devour these banned works, they find transit from their grim surroundings to worlds they never imagined."

~ Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

There’s a lot to say, and then there’s not too much I can say about Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.  I mostly found it an ethereal, magical, coming-of-age, young-romance Chinese not-so-love story.  It’s short and sweet.  Flavored and gripping in its telling.  

Balzac takes place during China’s Cultural Revolution, a time where all things Western or foreign was prohibited in place of all things Mao (like that handy The Little Red Book).  Subsequently, many young Chinese were relocated from the cities (populated and occupied with educational prospects) and forced into the mountainous areas/villages for re-indoctrination.  After all, what better way to uphold Mao's principles than to throw the intelligent Chinese youth into the countryside as coal-miners and farmhands?  Anyway, it’s here that we meet the two Chinese teens sharing their story of political migration, and their desperation for love and knowledge.

It gets a little confusing toward the end as the narrative abruptly shifts into the heads of the various other characters.  However, I didn't find it a total disruption, because by that point I was pretty much solid with the simplicity of the story.  So in saying all that, Balzac isn't Ha Jin, Jung Chang, or Yiyun Li.  It's a fascinating and spellbinding read, but it only went so far in depth and conflict.  I left away feeling it was a glimpse, a slice-of-life (but certainly more) moment of what it was like to be a Chinese teen during the Cultural Revolution.  And all the political maladjustment that went into living in that era.

Monday, February 2, 2015

January Wrap-Up Videos

In case you missed it, here's my reading wrap-up videos for January.  I titled this set "Killers and Eastern Sorrow" because, well, that's what the month came to reading-wise.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Definitely Worth Considering: A Map of Betrayal

A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin

Biracial quinquagenarian (test driving that word, but it basically means someone 50 and over), Lilian Shang, was born and brought up in America by an American mother and a Chinese father.  For most of her adult life she's had unanswered questions about her Chinese father and his past.  And it's this slew of leftover questions that wakes the need to unbury his life; from his roots in China, his immigration to America, and finally to his incarceration and death as a Chinese intelligence spy working as a mole within the CIA.  Gary Shang, Lilian's father, traded intel used by China to damage the U.S. national security, all the while raising her. So she needed to know his story. His life. From the beginning to the end. And she needed to understand his divided loyalty between China and America.

Long before her mother died of pancreatic cancer, she would complain to Lilian about the affair her husband had with a Chinese reporter named Suzie Chao. With those complaints came the warning: “…have nothing to do with that woman.” Until this moment, Lilian has complied with her mother’s wishes. But now, requiring answers regarding her father, she seeks out Suzie.  Here she finds that her father left six journals chronicling his life between 1949-1980. In these journals Lilian uncovers her father’s first marriage in China. The twin children birthed from this marriage. And the pain he faced working for Communist China who separated him from that family to secure his role as a spy. Unfortunately, his country turn its back on him when his position is uncovered, subsequently throwing him on trial and into prison.

With the story of her father’s life in hand, Liliam finds herself applying his hard lessons to save the life of her nephew and Gary Shang’s grandson here in the present.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


So, I can not finish writing about Ha Jin's The Crazed without sharing one of my favorite "ramblings" from Professor Yang.  I found the preceding passages too thought-provoking to ignore, as it asks a great question regarding Western and Eastern poetry voices and mechanics.  It also reflects one of the overall arguments of the novel.  

"He lifted his face and began lecturing in his normal way.  'Comrades, when we analyze a Western poem, we should bear in mind that the speaker and the poet are rarely identical.  The fundamental difference between Chinese poetry and Western poetry lies in the use of the persona.  In the Chinese poetic tradition the poet and the poetic speaker are not separate except in some minor genres, such as laments from the boudoir and folk ballads.  Ancient Chinese poets mostly speak as themselves in their poems; the sincerity and the trustworthiness of the poetic voice are the essential virtues of their poetry.  Chinese poets do not need a persona to alienate themselves from their poetic articulation.  By contrast, in Western literature poets often adopt a persona to make their poetry less autobiographical.  They believe in artifice more than in sincerity.  Therefore, when we read a Western poem, we must not assume that the poet speaks.  In general the speaker is fictional, not autobiographical.'"

"'The essence of Western culture is the self, whereas the essence of the Chinese culture is the community.  But poetry in both cultures has a similar function, that is, to express and preserve the self, though it attains this goal through different ways.  In Chinese culture, poetry liberates and sustains the self despite the fact that the self is constantly under the overwhelming pressure of the community.  Thus Chinese poets tend to speak as themselves, too earnest to worry about having a characterized voice to conceal their own–they desperately need the genuine self-expression in poetic articulation.  In other words, the self is liberated in poetic speech, which is essentially cathartic to the Chinese poet.  On the contrary, in Western culture poetry tends to shield and enrich the self, which on the one hand is threatened by other human beings and on the other hand has to communicate with others.  Therefore, the persona becomes indispensable if Western poets intend to communicate and commiserate with others without exposing themselves vulnerably.  In this sense, the persona as a poetic device functions to multiply the self.'"

Seeing that Ha Jin is a poet himself, he must've been channeling himself through Professor Yang intensely during this moment/scene from The Crazed.  Nonetheless, I have to say that I need to familiarize myself with more poetry by Chinese poets to even construct a decent response.  Nevertheless, it all bears a thought.  However, what I will say from a cultural and societal standpoint is that I can most certainly see how Eastern cultures focus on the community/country as a collective; whereas in the West we do lean toward many of our inner, personal philosophies and identities as individuals.  If this is reflected between–say an American poet over a Chinese poet–then I wouldn't be surprised should I come to that conclusion after exploring each.

So what do you think?  Is there some reality behind Professor Yang's thoughts in relation to poetry and cultural differences?

As a minor sidenote, this whole post/subject kind of makes me think of those moments where I'm screaming at whatever current Korean drama I'm watching.  Watching a character bow, move, get slapped, and honor abuse to save face for him or herself, as well as to not embarrass or make another character uncomfortable, often gets to me and my Western way of thinking.  But that's neither here nor there.  It just is what is is.  I understand it completely, while knowing that if I were in that situation it would take every bit of me to hold myself back.


Could you live the questionable life of a Chinese scholar?  If so, would you have protested in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, after years underneath the suppression of Maoism and the Cultural Revolution?  Would you have survived the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre?  Or would you have not bothered to attend, content with not mixing your passion with your country's political system?  Among all the questions that surfaced out of the 323 pages of Ha Jin’s 2002 The Crazed, these were a few that I walked away wondering.

China, 1989.  The Crazed follows the discordant (literary-not-technical) narrative contemplations of a young Chinese graduate student named Jian Wan.  When Jian Wan’s mentor, and esteemed university scholar, Professor Yang, suffers from a sudden stroke, Jian Wan takes up the mantel as his part-time caregiver.  Furthermore, Jian Wan is engaged to Professor Yang’s daughter, Meimei.  However, Meimei's currently studying for her Ph.D. entrance exams away at Beijing University.  As for Professor Yang’s wife, Mrs. Yang, she's in Tibet on a veterinary expectation.  Therefore, Jian Wan is Professor Yang’s proposed immediate family.  So Jian Wan fulfills his duty of treating his ailing future father-in-law, even though he's not too great at it (a visit from the scornful Meimei shows as much).  The task proves to be anything but easy as Jian Wan watches his mentor succumb to his stroke in the form of demented outbursts, and the unconscious liberation of long lost secrets.  Nonetheless, it's through the sparsely coherent moments that Professor Yang attempts to urge Jian Wan to abandon his future in Chinese academia, and to even flee China.  At one point Professor Yang expresses lucidly, outside of the aftermath of his stroke: “’The more you know, the crazier you’ll go, like me.  Intellect makes life insufferable.  It’s better to be an ordinary man working honestly with yours hands.’”

And when you consider the time, country, and culture, there may be a sense of truth to Professor Yang's concerns.  

Nevertheless, much to the disappointment of the ever emotionally vacant ice princess, Meimei, and Jian Wan’s friends and superiors, Jian Wan begins to acknowledge the words of his rambling mentor as a possible embodiment of rational and political truths.  He questions the direction he chose to take his life in.  But can he really walk away from his path and passion?  Or is Professor Yang just schitzy in his paranoia, and shouldn't be taken seriously?

Writing & Background

I have to start with how drawn and captivated I became with The Crazed, and not only through the noted ramblings of Professor Yang.  Though those ramblings were entertainingly strange, poetic at times, and genuinely worthy of attention.  Nonetheless, it was through Ha Jin’s writing and storytelling that hooked me–almost trance-like.  The minute I glided to my bookshelf to find something to read, I picked up The Crazed and did not want to let it go.  I was absorbed in Jian Wan's personal story and narrative flow.  

As always, there is something precise and vigilant about Ha Jin’s writing, and that may be because English is his adopted language; furthermore, he, himself, is an adopted scholar and English professor in America.  Ha Jin is from Liaoning, China.  He joined China’s People’s Liberation Army (which is very present in The Crazed) when he was fourteen.  While Ha Jin earned his Masters in China, he ultimately (in 1986) arrived in the US to further his education at Brandeis University.  Eventually, he studied in Boston University’s Creative Writing Program, which completed his educational pursuits.  I assume that somewhere between his educational journey that he established his citizenship within the US, making America his home.  While knowing this tidbit of background information kind of fueled my personal appreciation of Ha Jin’s prose, it also reveals how his background is demonstrable to the material in his writing.  Or more precise, the inspiration behind The Crazed.  He—probably in more ways than one—is his character, Jian Wan.

Politics & Academia

Now on to some of the political elements within The Crazed.  As mentioned, Professor Yang sometimes leaps out of the dementia given by his stroke to discourage Jian Wan from embracing the life of a Chinese scholar.  Professor Yang’s argument is that it’s a needless career path, as long as China remains a Communist and retrogressive country that is anti-Western.  The further China balks at foreign notoriety; the further Chinese scholars extend their philosophies, credo, tenets, etc. in small circles among one another.  So what use is it to carry their ideologies without others to contend them with?  It is better to put aside those thoughts and instead push China toward a democratic shape by playing an "active" role in China‘s change?  Or is it better to sit still and continue to honor conformed roles?  (Incidentally, with all the novels, poetry, and short stories Ha Jin has written, only one is currently available in China.)

Those political-based thoughts are probably the main argument of the overall book, and not just the keystone to Jian Wan's sway.  Jian Wan weights Professor Yang’s concerns, moved by both the professor’s words and the apparent "consequence" of forging a life of closed academia.  And with that weighting, Jian Wan finds himself heading toward Tiananmen Square to take part in the country’s historic pro-democracy demonstrations that led to The Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989.  However, even toward the end you'll wonder which direction Jian Wan will choose?  Or is he brave enough to choose one?  Or even if he'll make it out alive to celebrate his choice?  

From its opening to its end, The Crazed is an intimately eye-opening book.  It's one of those stories that really took me through the speculative mind and musings of an individual I would love to sit down and learn something about life and choices from.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Valley & Tan

I have said it once and I’ll say it again: I love Amy Tan.  I loved her since I was too young to grasp The Joy Luck Club as a novel, but was spellbound by the movie like it was nobody’s business.  See, the movie was the perfect introduction to a ten-year-old because it quickly filled my head with sad stories about brave Chinese women, lost babies, and that un-belongingness I identified with as a youth.  The spice to my transfixed state rested on the movie’s cultural surroundings.  It was here that I got a glance into stringent conventions and traditions that bound Chinese women in a culture so foreign to me.  So naturally, I grew to want more understanding of all that I‘d witnessed.  The movie sunk into me at ten and never resurfaced to drift way.

When I was finally old enough I managed to read the novel and became a fan of Tan’s literary works from then forward.  I ate her books and stories--if you will.  And while the general consensus is that The Joy Luck Club lay in the majority of favorites among her readers (and undoubtedly her most popular novel), my personal love goes out to The Kitchen God’s Wife.  Besides being a thicker novel, I believe I loved it just a little more because I spent more time with the mother and daughter pair, Pearl and Winnie, and their respective narratives.  I say this as opposed to the various working characters and narratives in The Joy Luck Club.  In essence, Pearl and Winnie hung around a little longer to tangle me--as the reader--in their mother/daughter strife.

Nevertheless, I am a slave to Tan’s ethnic settings and illuminating mother/daughter themes, as well as that often used expression of “rich prose” that she uses.  Tan can take me to places far away and can take me to places close to home all at once.  I’ve waited eight years for something new from her (besides her Rules for Virgins Kindle Single) and it has finally arrived in the form of her 2013 release of The Valley of Amazement.  Spending those eight years between authors like Pearl S. Buck and Ha Jin wasn’t so bad, but I was certainly awaiting Tan’s return.  Good or bad, I spent my time reading The Valley of Amazement cutting my fingers in an excited rush through some parts, while using the book as a pillow during others.  It seems that while the device of using Chinese courtesans to move the novel was enlightening in the beginning, it was also the one thing that eventually pulled me away from engaging with the story fully during the later half of the book.  In turn, maybe even the characters.

I’ll attempt to not spoil the novel by sharing an overview of the material.  The Valley of Amazement takes place in late 19th century to early 20th century between Shanghai and San Francisco.  Told through the eyes of the mother/daughter narrative-sharing duo, consisting of Violet and her mother, Lulu, the story starts with Violet sharing a rundown of her current status as a lonely American girl living in Shanghai.  However, Violet’s mother is white while her father is Chinese.  Violet is unaware of this, while comfortably raised within a high-class courtesan house owned by her mother.  So she is exposed to much, but ignores what her true heritage consist of considering the physical signatures that make up her face.

In other words, she is in denial of her Chinese make up.

According to Violet she is American and fair-skinned--nothing else.  And it’s this attitude that causes her torment as a child by her academic peers.  She eventually leaves school, but her arrogance increases as the story moves forward with her development and eventual change.  Nonetheless, to young Violet, being and thinking Chinese means kowtowing to statues and ghosts and following old traditions simply because that was how things were done thousands of years ago.  Violet saw herself as too fearless and modern to be Chinese.

Violet is somewhat of a princess inside her mother’s popular courtesan house, and with that status and position comes an unhinged feeling that she isn't completely loved by her busy and inattentive mother.  So when a Chinese stranger comes into the courtesan house to speak exclusively with Violet’s mother, a prying Violet catches wind of a lost little brother that she has.  Her feelings of being unloved only intensifies at her mother’s angered response toward the stranger, who dredged up old memories, mistakes, and love unknown to Violet.  Suddenly, San Francisco is where Violet's mother sets her destination in locating her lost son; it's home.  The problem is getting there aboard a month long voyage on a steamer.  Reservations are required.  Passports are needed.  And considering Violet's mother suddenly finds her daughter's birth certificate misplaced, a visit to the American Consulate becomes necessary before the actual voyage.  A time crunch is pressed upon her.

It's here where Violet's mother make another big (and totally avoidable) mistake that sends her newly teenage daughter into the hands of a second-class courtesan house with her virginity up for auction as a virgin courtesan.  Everything Violet believed about herself is stripped away while her mother sails to San Francisco.

Did I give away too much?  Nah!  Trust me when I say this book goes a long way from Violet's troubled beginning.  About a quarter toward the end of the book the narrative switches to Violet's mother's history and point-of-view of the events.  Unfortunately, by the time I got to Lulu's narrative I was nearly worn out on the whole subject of courtesans and women having their sex taken or auctioned off to men.  Particularly toward the very last bit of the first arc that housed Violet's narrative.  The book is littered with themes concerning trust, and these women never seen to make the right connection toward it until it hits them in the face.  Nevertheless, I'll keep that relative to the reader, so you have to read the book and their journey to really decide whether or not the women could do more with their decisions or lack thereof.  But the way Tan painted the characters in the beginning of the book left me feeling as if they only managed to do less than what I believed they were capable of.  An example would be how Violet's mother, Lulu, found herself in power and status as a high-class courtesan house owner, yet she suffered through her mistakes by not applying the resources she created for herself. 

I felt a lot of "do this; problem solved" in this book.
Credit: Rick Smolan/Against All Odds

This leads to another particular I had about the book.  There were moments of disconnect that I felt for the characters.  As the reader I seemed to see things the characters didn't see.  With all of the great descriptions and glimpses of history and of a courtesan's lifestyle, none covered the feeling I got that I was witnessing the events that took place as opposed to living them with the characters.  So when the plot devices set up, I just saw the characters walk into them.  

The book often took on a strong telling atmosphere in this case, as if Lulu and Violet were feeding me (as the reader) information more than living it on the page as they moved through the plot.  Now there were certainly some solid, emotional moments in the book that moved me into feeling the character's experience.  One was Violet's violent reaction when she found herself in the low-class house.  I cheered for her flash of anger.  Then a couple of pages in she was damn near complacent with her position as the virgin courtesans.  Many areas of the novel felt like this; set-up when pages later the experience passes and the character dwell on it lightly.  Or even loosely.    

I still thought it was a great novel.  It told an obvious but great story.  I think the key essence in the novel wasn't so much the story per say, but more of the communication between mothers and daughters and relationships.  As well as consequences for not communicating (which in some areas they did shamefully to fulfill a plot device).  All that is usual to Tan--which is why I love her.  I suppose it was told a little "lightly" in this book because there was a sort of testingness (I often make up words) to it.  Nonetheless, we get to explore themes on trust and abandonment and how loving the wrong person can lead us to the wrong (some may even say right) places only so many times.  Eventually the characters find or reclaim some value in themselves, so that's a solid ending.  The book didn't ground me in like Tan's older novels, but it was a force of its own and very much worth reading a second time.

The secret ingredient to this novel is Magic Gourd.  I'll leave it at that.

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