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Monthly Archives: March 2011
The reason I chose this book, like with other books before, was the title. Just like with The Poisonwood Bible, it felt right, like the right choice at the right time. It was.
Hosseini has that amazing talent to make you believe what he writes about is nothing else than the truth, and even though this is a fictional story, it can very well be real.
The book follows the lives of two women coming from different backgrounds yet forced to accept being married off, even though for different reasons. The action takes places in Afghanistan, a country torn by war, first under the communist regime and later on under the Taliban’s rule.
The narrative is clear, precise, and yet full of emotion and what I love the most about it is that it made me care about what happened to the characters from the first page. The reader is introduced to the unusual circumstances of Mariam’s life, her upbringing, her parents’ relationship and her mother’s hard attitude towards men and life in general (Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.)
Mariam, the little harami (you will have to read the book to find out what that means) loves both her parents and yet she will come to a point later in life when she will see things from her mother’s perspective. The sheltered life she leads is shattered when she is given away in marriage to a much older man and goes to live with him in another city. Through her eyes we are introduced to a world dominated by men, where a man’s wife is his property, and she must abide by his wishes.
Laila, the other protagonist of the story, is a spirited young girl who dreams of marrying her childhood sweetheart and playing an active role in the future of her country. Many years will pass, measured in hardships and suffering, before she gets to see her dreams come to life.
There were passages in the book I found difficult to read. I had to put it down and then pick it up again because I wanted to see what happened next. I found myself cheering for the two women, admiring their strength and the sacrifices they had to make.
I cannot praise this book highly enough.
I’ve been away for a short holiday, on a beautiful island with elephants, coconut trees and roller-coaster roads. I’ll be back soon with a story and pics!
Brick walls are there for a reason; they let us prove how badly we want things.
(Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture)
Randy Pausch is what I’d like too call “one of the inspirational people”. I came upon the video below while trying to find out more about the author of the quote and this next video is worth sharing.
*Note: A friend asked me, not long ago, if I had read any Thai literature. I had to say no. Even though I’ve been living in The Land of Smiles for years, I had never actually read a book by a Thai author. Surely, I said to myself, there must be some translated books out there, but having found them, which should I choose? I picked Letters from Thailand mainly because I liked the title. There’s something very personal about a book based on letters. And so my journey began…
This is how Letters from Thailand begins, simple yet so powerful one cannot help but be instantly moved.
The book is written in the epistolary style, comprised of 96 letters, from 1945 to 1967, all dated according to the Chinese calendar. It tells the story of Tan Suang U, a Chinese immigrant, his journey to Thailand, his hope for a better life, his determination and courage and most of all, his unfailing love and devotion to the mother he left behind.
Luck and a lot of hard work are the keys to Suang U’s fortune. Adjusting to his new life proves to be a challenge he is perfectly capable of overcoming. He has friends who help him and before long he is married and running a profitable business.
His letters are an account of his life in Thailand, from bathing in the khlong at sunrise, to dealing with his Thai employees.
The main theme of the novel is that of the immigrant trying to build a better life for himself, while at the same time holding on to the traditions of his own people. That proves to be very difficult for Suang U, as the times change and he finds himself alone in a world of people who have adapted and try to live with the changes.
Suang U clings to the old ways, trying to instill in his own children the education he was given as a child in the Chinese village of Po Leng. He frequently remembers passages from childhood and thanks his mother for the way in which she has raised him and Younger Brother.
The narrative flows easily and the story is told from a single perspective, that of Suang U, keeping things simple and orderly. The book was translated from Thai and the translator did a very good job, as there are no disparaging paragraphs or ideas, and ties the whole story into a coherent and believable experience.
On a more personal note:
Having lived in Thailand for years, I could relate to a lot of the experiences the main character went through and I found myself laughing out loud in places and nodding my head quite a few times, for many of the stories he committed to paper all those years ago are still valid to this day.
Reading this book made me remember the day I arrived in Bangkok. The heat was the first thing I got to experience. That moment when I stepped out the airport was my first and one of the strongest memories about Thailand. Within minutes my shirt was sticking to my back and my skin felt clammy and hot and I found it difficult to breathe.
Many years have passed since then. I got used to the heat and humidity (not a fan of cold weather anyway) and many other things, like the spicy food, geckos running up the walls in the house, the snakes and monitor lizards in the yard, and the list goes on.
For someone who has never been to Thailand this book can be a good place to start finding out about the country. Even though no amount of reading can compare with the experience of living here, Letters from Thailand is a book I would recommend to anyone who wants to get an idea of what life can be like in The Land of Smiles.
I want to tell you how raw his voice sounds,
how sad the lyrics are,
how tired and soothing and wonderful this song is
but you’ll find out for yourself if you click play …
P.S. I heard this song for the first time while watching House.
If you like the song, click next to the little heart button at the bottom of the post.
There was something about the size of the book that kind of put me off buying it for a while. I would see it in the bookstores (usually on the first shelves by the entrance), I would even get close enough to read the blurb at the back, then go…nah, maybe later. Until one day I bought it. Sure, a comment from a friend might have actually helped me make up my mind. 🙂
Getting over the fact that it’s almost 1000 pages long (and I thought Stephen King’s ‘Under The Dome’ was BIG) and the slow start – yes, it did take me a while to start caring about the people in it, I can safely say it was an enjoyable read. Besides, I’ve always loved apocalyptic stories, even more so since I watched The Road.
The story had enough elements in it to engage my curiosity. An experiment that takes a wrong turn, a virus that’s supposed to create something The Army (US Army, that is) can use in future wars, but then the proverbial slap on the wrist arrives telling the people involved that no, it’s not ok to play God because it’s just not going to work. A bit too late, though. Hell breaks lose and then humanity has one last chance. Her name is Amy and she has lived for a long, long time. She was the last step in the experiment and she holds the key to the survival of humankind.
The narrative flows nicely, with a few hiccups here and there but given the magnitude of the story (how did he keep track of all those characters is beyond me, but then I’ve always found that pretty amazing in a book) I’d say it’s forgivable. It would be really interesting to see this one made into a movie, I’d watch it for the special effects alone!
As I neared the last pages and the story didn’t seem to get nowhere near the end, I had a flashback of seeing a #1 next to the title and I thought, no, this can’t be PART 1! Alas, it is. Will I read the next one(s)? It’s a very definite maybe. 🙂
– Part II –
Last night I felt as if a thousand nsongonyas were crawling over me, biting the flesh of my arms and torso and I woke up to find it was only partially untrue. The red marks on my skin itched and burned with an urgency that was impossible to ignore and I got up from the bed, completely awake in less time that it took to say “African ant”. Ah, the temptation to draw my nails on the skin, but instead I dug my fingers into my arms, kneading the muscles, trying very hard not to scratch. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. That was not a sight I was prepared for at 3:00 in the morning. I saw red, literally. While thoughts of doctors and medicine were beginning to flicker through my wide awake mind, I saw no other alternative but to go back to The Poisonwood Bible and try to see what happened next. Maybe I could get lost in the pages again, forget about the aching need to scratch my skin open. Sleep was as far from me as the invisible moon.
There is a chapter in the book that starts with the invasion of the nsongoyas, the African ants. The author filters this experience through the eyes of the four Price girls which gives a rather unique perspective on things.
While this can be seen as one of “the plagues” in the biblical sense, a more rational explanation is also given. And it makes perfect sense. “Africa has a thousand ways of cleansing itself.” In a land so luxuriant and wild, man seems almost out of place. You can’t tame the land, it is you who has to change in order to survive living there. That is one other lesson the Price family has to learn the hard way.
How can you teach something new without trying to link it with something old? How can you expect people to give up their ancestors’ beliefs in favor of new ones without first trying to understand those beliefs?
Nathan Price tried to have the children in the Kilanga village baptized in the river, not understanding why people were against it. Not understanding why until he found out about the crocodiles. What kind of religion did the white man preach if this new religion required the lives of the children? This is only one of the misunderstandings that are constantly brought to the surface in the novel, and sometimes told from a humorous point of view.
Without the humor this would have been a very hard book to digest. Half of the novel made me want to laugh and the other half, to cry. To write a short review seemed inappropriate and yet after all these words, I still feel I haven’t said enough. I could take each chapter and analyze it, and still feel coming up short. There is an almost palpable richness in the language and the sadness and the longing are weaved together with the different characters that are like threads in this vibrant piece of cloth that is Africa.
“Don’t bother trying to explain your emotions. Live everything as intensely as you can and keep whatever you felt as a gift from God. If you think that you won’t be able to understand a world in which living is more important than understanding, then give up magic now. The best way to destroy the bridge between the visible and invisible is by trying to explain your emotions.”
Paulo Coelho (Brida)