Enjoyed this graphic novel of a child of Vietnamese refugees eventually settling in California. As an adult, she finally begins to “connect” with her parents and their lives, as so many of us do. Lovely illustrations, important history, nice lessons for children and adults.
I want to write a lot more about this short novel, but for here I’ll just say I loved it, and appreciated all the word play. I mentioned in our book group discussion, that for me, one of the neat things about this book was to take a perspective: What if the author made everything up? Because the reader assumes throughout “Oh it must be kind of autobiographical.” But what if instead a really talented writer sat down to write a novel about “What would it be like to have been a teenager with a friend like Silsby?” Pure brilliance.
Our book club is reading these. The writing is fine. The ideas are less to my liking. Let me just say that reading them during a pandemic when your are socially distant, and where you and by nature quite introverted, it isn’t really… er… appreciated when some gregarious rich guy from the 19th century points out that your life is probably just a complete waste because you don’t have a lot of close intimate friends and that when you die people’s first thoughts might be, “Gee, I was looking forward to tennis guess though I really should go to the funeral. Probably everyone else will be there so at least I’ll chat with so-and-so.” And the other stories pretty darn depressing too.
War Year by Joe Haldeman, published in 1972, is a tremendous short little novel loosely based, apparently, on Haldeman’s year in Vietnam. I got it from the library, and oddly it seems to have been classified in the Juvenile Literature section. It is far from juvenile, except that the main character is about 20, as so many other draftees were. The reality (boredom punctuated by horrific violence) of war is presented in 120 pages of clear, direct prose, with the blinders of a 20 year old from Oklahoma unvarnished. The treatment of minor African’-American and Vietnamese characters is truly a window into what was “acceptable discourse” in 1972 by the white majority. It is a novel that has to be run through to the end, without peeking. The end is really gut-wrenching. One page is all Haldeman needs. Here is a nice interview with Haldeman.
What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?Can I tell you instead of the best book I ever gave? My mother used to talk about the first grown-up book she read, at the age of 7. She remembered where she was when she finished it (at the end of the dining room table), what day it was (a Tuesday), and where her own mother was as she finally closed the book (outside, in the kitchen). It was called “Hetty Gray,” by Rosa Mulholland, and, some years after the internet made such things possible, I took a notion and sourced a copy in a shop in New Zealand. So one morning, deep into her 80s, my mother received a small parcel from the other side of the world that contained a book she had read at the age of 7, with no note or indication of the source. After she read it again, she told me, she remembered all the first half, but not the second.
Enjoyed the very short “Night Swim” by Anne Enright in The New Yorker. I listened to her reading the story, so I may have missed something, but it seemed a nice illustration of Hemingway’s omission approach…. the story is so true, that she doesn’t need to say much about the story that explained the before, you “know” what happened… Here is the link to Mookse.
And here is Beth Jeans Houghton “Night Swimmer”
And a great The New Yorker story about another night swim Lionel Shrivers “Kilifi Creek”: http://mookseandgripes.com/reviews/2013/11/18/lionel-shriver-kilifi-creek/
Reading some earlier novellas from the mid-1990s. Joe Haldeman’s “For White Hill” was a nice piece of “end of life” melancholy… when you are practically immortal but space is really big, it means there are still chances it will all be over, and how do you come to terms with that. A gathering of artists is the setting, and the story focuses on two of them.