16 March 2012

House On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet by Jamie Ford

House on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet-- 4 Stars

I picked this book up a few years ago and read so far into it then became distracted and left the book on the shelf for some time. I'm glad that it was recommended that I pick it up again. Such a lovely story, so many emotions in one book! Love, joy, anger, confusion, pain and back to joy again.

We meet Henry, a Chinese boy in Seattle. He falls in love with a girl, Keiko. This is out of the question for several reasons not the least of which her being Japanese and Pearl Harbour is not a distant memory. Henry and Keiko are friends, no matter what his family and the government say. So when the government takes the Japanese people and ships them inland to "interment camps", they continue their friendship, for a time anyway.

Fast forward forty years, Henry is now a widower and his son is at university. Life has been kind to him for the most part, but its also given him pain. His wife has died of cancer and the past has come back to haunt him. An old hotel is being refurbished, the contractors have found a stash of items dating back to those terrible days of 1944 when America was at war with Japan, a time when innocent families put their precious belongings in the basement to save them from looters. Henry recognizes a parasol from his long lost Keiko.

And thus the story begins. Mr Ford writes a wonderful story in which he goes between Henry's past in 1944 and his present in 1986. A part of American history that most people either don't know or don't mention, the interment camps. People, second generation American citizens, were packed up and shipped off to camps around the country, treated as little more then cattle. There were some at the time that viewed them as mistreated human beings, convicted without a court hearing, without justice. Some went home again, most relocated to other areas, never returning to their homes again and starting over.

I couldn't put my book down and had to finish last night, in spite of the raging head ache. I was left with a feeling of having completed a wonderful tale of more then joy and pain, bit one of hope... always hope.

11 March 2012

Snow Flower And The Secret Fan By Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan -- 3 Stars

This novel is one of pain and love, two things most common to all women. We follow Lily and her laotong, old same, Snow Flower. The two girls are matched much like a marriage and will be friends for their lives with a deeper love then a man and a woman. They endure foot binding, a custom to make a girl's feet very small and thus shows her strength and obedience. A woman's worth is only secure when she produces a son, but with a laotong you are worth much more.

We follow these two women through their lives, through their joys and pains, triumphs and sorrows. We listen to Lily as she tells their story and it is full of so much, yet not enough.

Lisa See has trouble making me care about the characters. I almost tossed the book aside but pushed myself to the end. I was afraid to miss something, the way other people have raved about the title. I was glad that I did. Without giving anything up, the final chapters were perfect. All the turmoil finally comes to a head and we see true redemption and true friendship. More then that, we are shown how strong women truly can be, and are.

While there are several things in this novel that I disagree with, I understand that they are all parts of ancient Chinese culture. Arranged marriages are never a guarantee of a happy lifetime. Foot binding is simply barbaric and telling your daughter she is worthless is horrifying. While I realize these are all parts of a culture, it doesn't mean that I agree with it.

Honestly, my biggest problem with this book is the characters! Lily is pathetically selfish and is given much, so much that she becomes a "holier then thou" type. Her redemption at the end is a case of too little too late. And yet... the memories of my own past came flooding back. All the times I should have done something, could have done something and didn't. I cried at the end though I'm not sure if I was weeping over the book or myself. 
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