Miss India America

95 min.

Sometimes the best love stories are the ones involving friendship and self esteem. Although you could just call this a cute coming-of-age story as well and don’t worry about in your face Life Lessons and soppy scenes.
miss india americaMain character Lily always wins, no matter what the battle is. She has her entire life planned out, but of course life – being what it is – doesn’t go with that. Her boyfriend breaks off with her, because of a pageant miss! One of those dumb, shallow creatures (it takes her some time to realise her misogynistic ideas)!
Of course this means that Lily is going to have to win a pageant to win her boyfriend back. Even though she knows it’s a superficial mess, pulls her best friend away from what she wants (to participate), and just doesn’t know yet that you can’t ‘win’ people.
Boyfriend is just the katalysator for things here anyway, and nary a man is found after the first few scenes. They’re all weaker than Lily and her friends and competition, whom are learning about their culture, their place in it and that there are lines you don’t cross to win.
That’s how we get Lily recognising that you can’t keep an iron clad grip on everything-/one, and that life is nicer with people around than medals.

Miss India America, Simhan and Kapoor 2015

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

In a single year, my father left us twice.

This was work. I don’t know how I managed to read two similarly build up novels (the other one being Disappearing Moon Cafe), but this one was the tougher of the two. Maybe because the comparison material was so recent. Both left me wondering how I’d like something contemporary written by an Asian actor.

Anyway, time moves every way but chronologically in Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Keep your head with you, because there’s a lot of characters going through a lot of things. The most brutal one, probably Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ and the horrors of Tiananmen Square.

These aren’t light, bright stories. There seems to be no end to what a family can be put through, and the small, mythology-like side steps only make the difference starker. How did anyone come out alive?

It’s a novel to take in in small doses, to learn and see through another set of goggles.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien, Granta 2016

Disappearing Moon Cafe

He remembered that by then he was worn out from fighting the wind.

Sometimes you are simply (already) invested in a novel because you struggled to get it. Or like ‘struggle’; it’s not like I had to climb trees and survive the Sahara to get to it. It was just a tough-to-acquire eBook with a picky view of in which app to work. Anyway.

This was an experience, opposed to just another novel. Maybe I’m simply not used to Asian actors and their certain style yet, maybe it was simply because the jumps through time got me bewildered a few times.

There’s over a century of stories within the family, from second(/third/fourth?) cousins to daughters-in-law, first sons and grumpy (great-)grandmothers. A Chinese family in Canada, Chinese-Canadians and the Chinese family members left behind in the other country.

It’s a family tree book with immigration, racism and sexism mixed in. The not-western point of view doesn’t alienate, because everything that happens is simply too familiar. Everyone’s got a family, some roots just grow further and wither slower.

Disappearing Moon Cafe, Sky Lee, Douglas & McIntyre Ltd. 1990

In Order to Live

On the cold, black night of March 31, 2007, my mother and I scrambled down the steep, rocky back of the frozen Yalu River that divides North Korea and China.

Autobiografieën boeten vaak in op stijl over waarheid. Het voelt dan oppervlakkig om commentaar te leveren op de warboel van het geschreven materiaal, wanneer het geschreven materiaal zo extreem, eng, bizar, enzovoorts is. Maakt het echt uit hoe mooi/lelijk het verhaal is opgeschreven, als het verhaal aantoont hoe gruwelijk het leven in Noord-Korea is?

Auteur Yeonmi Park is er opgegroeid, ontsnapt het voor andere horror in China en Mongolië, om vervolgens in Zuid-Korea aan te komen en beschouwd te worden als tweederangs burger. Noord-Koreanen zijn tenslotte achterlijke, gehersenspoelde arbeiders. Hoe dat komt, laat Yeonmi ook niet achterwege. Als het idee dat Noord-Korea een achterlijk doch aandoenlijk land is nog bestond, kan dat nu definitief vernietigd worden. Het is een kamp waarin de overgrote meerderheid langzaam afsterft om er voor te zorgen dat de rijke, machtige meerderheid een bordkartonnen idee van succes en geluk overeind kan houden. Men is gehersenspoeld, maar hoe kom je daar achter tot je omgeving verandert?

Het maakt het geen makkelijk, opbeurend, leesbaar verhaal, maar om je wereldbeeld te verbreden, wel essentieel. De vermakelijke, spetterend geschreven roman kan een andere keer wel weer.

In Order to Live:  A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, Yeonmi Park, Penguin Press 2015

Habibi

Wow.

I wanted to read this for a very long time and I’m so pleased that it was completely to my satisfaction. It was beautiful, exciting, educational. And with about 700 pages, really not ‘just a quick comic’.

But what is it about? Where to start. It’s about two people that society has rejected, about the creation of the Quran and the science that came with it, about being on the fray while living in dreams and myths.

From time to time, especially during the darker, more confusing moments, it reminded me of the Sandman Chronicles. In those, there’s beauty in darkness as well, situations that leave you feeling a little bit unhinged.

If you are looking for a beautifully drawn book that will affect you and tickle your mind, this is for you.

Habibi, Craig Thompson, Pantheon 2011

Under Heaven

Amid the ten thousand noises and the jade-and-gold and the whirling dust of Xinan, he had often stayed awake all night among friends, drinking spiced wine in the North District with the courtesans.

By now I should add another category of books I put back several times before trying them. This was one of them. It was a bit of a mistake to give it a try. This wasn’t really a novel with a plot, it was like a panorama: a beautiful world created, but that’s it. If you want a story, scrap some characters together and bring them from A to B.

What I think was going on is that main character Shen Tai gets a large gift from the emperor which puts a prize on his head. A trip to the royal city follows, with assassinations and politics. There’s a smaller, more interesting plot line around his sister whom has (falsely) been married off as a princess. It gives a better look of the mythology used in this created world with Asian influences, without going for the Mystic Asian trope.

I know I show plenty of appreciation of world building, but I also need a story line in that world, else I’m looking at a painting. With over 500 pages, I’m sure this isn’t a painting. Maybe next ‘okay let’s try this one’ will be more fulfilling.

Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay, HarperVoyager 2010

Crazy Rich Asians

Nicholas Young slumped into the nearest seat in the hotel lobby, drained from the sixteen-hour flight from Singapore, the train ride from Heathrow Airport, and trudging through the rain-soaked streets.

Everything is completely and utterly superficial and it is delicious. Sometimes you just need such a story, or at least, I do.

Yes, there are a few stories about love, loss and family in this novel, but they are covered by details about clothing, apartments, furniture, buildings, ways of travel (so many private yet), surroundings and people. And the clothes they wear. It’s like a fancy advertisement guide where all the pictures are replaced by descriptions. The huge family tree on the first pages of the book isn’t really necessary, the characters are all show models anyway.

Kwan still manages to keep up a great speed and enough soap-dramatic turns to keep the reader busy and eager. As one of the blurbs on the cover already put it “Dallas in extrema”. If you want that AND crazy detailed descriptions about rooms plastered with gold, this is your book.

Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan, Corvus 2013