Daily Archives: March 27, 2011

Japan’s Best ‘Short Letters to My Home Town’

This book features 51 brief letters written for a contest in Japan. It’s bilingual so every letter is in both Japanese and English. Here’s a sample:

I asked my mother,
“When can we go back?”
Tears in her eyes,

Fumi Ozawa (f. 13)
The soccer ball that I used to think
I would use all my life–
where did it go, I wonder.

Yoshikinki Kanamori (m. 15)
Hometown, I don’t understand you,
but you seem to understand me.

Shinnosuke Michiya (m. 13)
I don’t want to know about your past,
but I would like to see the hometown
that brought you up.

Noriko Hamoyama (f. 51)
Tiny jewel by the joining of the rivers,
The whistle of the train;
How can I leave? How can I stay?

Tom Lombardo (m. 49)
The one place where I take the
loneliness off with my shoes.
with the realization that
this is where I was always going.

Cheshe M. Dow (f. 18)

Β© 1999, Maruoka-cho Cultural Foundation, Sumitomo Group Public Affairs Comm

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Posted by on March 27, 2011 in Uncategorized


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

I kept picking this book up but not buying it. I was definitely attracted to it but had heard little about it so kept putting it off.

Then, the other day, one co-worker was returning it to another co-worker and I mentioned my indecisiveness. The next thing I knew I was taking the book home.

After I read One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus, my copy was handed around to at least five other people. It traveled down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, to California and to New York. I thought that spoke volumes about the story, the word of mouth that enticed my friends and acquaintances to experience it.

This copy of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has a similar history which encouraged me to bump it up my reading list. I’m pleased that I did so. I started it on Christmas and finished it last night.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a story of the lot of women in rural China in the late 19th century and the story of an unlikely lifelong friendship between Lily and Snow Flower. I have not done much reading about this era or culture so found the book edifying as well as entertaining. Women were valued only as mothers of sons but as often happens with oppressed populations, they found subtle ways to circumvent the various authorities in their lives. As Lily’s mother-in-law taught, “Obey, obey, obey, then do what you want.”

The focal point of the story is nu shu,
the secret-code writing used by women in a remote area of southern Hunan Province [which is believed to have] developed a thousand years ago. [Nu shu] appears to be the only written language in the world to have been created by women exclusively for their own use.

I like this hook. It speaks to our contemporary mores and allows our 21st century sensibilities to connect with these women’s 19th century realities.

See does a good job of foreshadowing without hitting the reader over the head. The hints are woven into the story just as off the cuff observations might be. One reviewer describes the work as understated and absorbing which captures my reaction well. While avoiding being overwrought, See invokes various emotions, including anger, wonder, horror, sadness and, yes, tears.

Lisa See will be appearing here in Aspen on February 20 at Aspen Winter Words. I just might have to check it out.

By Bridget

First published on Xingu December 27, 2006

Now that I have lived in China, I’d really like to read this. Susan

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Posted by on March 27, 2011 in Uncategorized


Abraham’s Well

Here was Bridget’s review of Abraham’s Well:

I have mixed feelings about this book.

I liked the story presented by this book. I didn’t tire of it and was able to read it quickly.

I appreciated the window into events with which I was barely acquainted. I added to my understanding of the Trail of Tears which the book handled in depth and with believable detail. The descriptions reminded me of a similar forced march portrayed in One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus (a book I have repeatedly recommended and praised).

The language choices used to present the attempts to turn the protagonist into a “breed mother” worked well.

The characterization of Mama Emma’s guilt and denial over her role as a slave keeper rang true as did Armentia’s struggle with her feelings for and expectations of Mama Emma.

Yet, the book is not without its shortcomings.

I never connected on an emotional level with the protagonist.

The inclusion of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, Juneteenth and the Land Rush felt contrived. The last third of the book seemed rushed.

As I read, I occasionally had the feeling that the sentiments or, at least the vocabulary used to express the sentiments, were too contemporary.

The religious message was heavy handed. The multiple chapters dealing with the middle of the night preaching session were overlong.

The book succeeds in some measure on an educational level but, on a story telling level, it hits just shy of the mark.

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Posted by on March 27, 2011 in African American Lit, historical fiction


Give Me Liberty

While Wolf hooked me with The End of America, she loses me with Give Me Liberty.

She comes across as a left-wing conspiracy theory nut who, prior to the 2009 Inauguration, questions whether the Republican administration of George Bush will allow the newly elected president to be sworn in.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, there were so many legitimate accusations to level at the Bush administration that it really calls Wolf’s credibility into question for her to move so far into the realm of panic.

Wolf’s book does provide an interesting dissection of the obstacles to exercising one’s First Amendment rights of speech, assembly and petition erected by our various local, state and federal governments.

The book is not totally without merit as it marches us through Wolf’s often less than successful attempts to be politically active and then provides us with a roadmap for overcoming the difficulties she encountered but like most books of its genre, whether right or left, it must be taken with a grain of salt, culling out the reasonable from the inflammatory.

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Posted by on March 27, 2011 in non-fiction


Valuing Useless Knowledge

In Valuing Useless Knowledge, Robert Bates Graber makes the case for a liberal arts education in a most creative way. This short book, an essay really, is about 70 pages, small pages with illustrations. Graber starts by convincing readers that the gains liberal arts education is usually claimed to offer, can be got through other means. Then through an examination of evolution and culture including a surprising look at India’s sacred cows, he manages to state his case on why we should value liberal arts.

A fun read for a geek.

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Posted by on March 27, 2011 in non-fiction


Losing the Race

In Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America James McWhorter examines why African American students underachieve academically, not just those from low income homes, but those in all socio-economic strata. He presents a lot of data that I’d never seen and argues his points logically and persuasively. The book is trenchant and brave, in that he often says things that will get him in hot water, that other Black scholars don’t want to address. It’s a good book for anyone interested in addressing the achievement gap and for anyone who wants to learn how to argue well. How to present your side and refute critics.

As a language teacher, I enjoyed his explanations of linguistics and Black English. I admire him for standing alone in the Ebonics controversy. Others might find those passages off-topic.

I can see that some will use his thesis to bolster their prejudices and to say we can’t help “some people.”

When I get home, I plan to read his next book Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America.Evidently, he doesn’t merely criticize and diagnose, he presents a solution.

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Posted by on March 27, 2011 in non-fiction


The Defining Moment by Jonathan Alter



Eminently readable.

I read it because it’s one of the books our new president is reading because, you know, our new president reads.

From the start, I was learning. There were many details of the Depression of which I was unaware. It was troubling how many of them mirrored today’s headlines. But do the solutions attempted during the Depression have any applicability to today’s circumstances?

Alter makes the argument that the key to the New Deal was the persona of the newly elected president and his willingness to basically just keep throwing darts at the dart board. According to Alter, Roosevelt didn’t have so much a vision regarding what to do as a drive to simply do something. The appearance of activity went a long way in creating optimism.

Alter creates a revealing, well-balanced portrait of FDR. While his focus is the first 100 days of FDR’s presidency, he provides plenty of lead in and follow up which gives the reader a solid overview of the entire era and a great deal of detail about the defining moment.

by Bridget

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Posted by on March 27, 2011 in history