Monday, May 28, 2007

The Good Earth

Perhaps it's a little backwards, but I'm doing a little research on Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth, having finished it early this morning, sitting on a sunny front porch, coffee mug resting on the bistro table beside me. What I did know: The Good Earth won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932, a year after it's publication (it's printed on the front and back cover of every copy of this book I've ever seen!) and that Buck won the Nobel Prize for literature. What I didn't know is that this novel is the first in a trilogy--although that makes sense, based on its ending. I was also amazed to read her biography; what a truly inspirational humanitarian! I also didn't know that it was an Oprah's Book Club pick in 2004. Well, Lyndsay's Book Club recommends it, too.

The Good Earth tells the story of the familial, moral and economic cycles of Wang Lung, a Chinese farmer, pre-revolution. The fact that it's written by a white woman (granted, a white woman who was raised in China by missionary parents) forces you to read the story with a certain amount of criticism, but Buck's storytelling skills are good enough--and her attention to cultural details is fine enough--that quite often, any problem of narration disappears.

A repeating theme in the book is what happens when "the poor get too poor and the rich get too rich." (General idea: there's a shift in who holds the power--the poor become ambitious and the rich become careless and lazy.) It's a really interesting way to look at the world, although slightly depressing, since Buck's message seems to be that material wealth and idleness leads to inevitable corruption.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood is considered a "parallel novel;" it retells The Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope, Odysseus' wife. I've been reading a lot of parallel pieces lately (Wide Sargasso Sea, Till We Have Faces, Not Wanted On The Voyage), and I think I'm about through with metafiction for a bit. I'd like to say that's why I didn't enjoy this book all that much, but really, I think this book is more of a gimmick than a carefully-wrought work of art.

The Odyssey is an epic poem attributed to Homer. It's the sequel to The Iliad, which tells about the final year of the Trojan War and the eventual fall of Troy. The Odyssey is the recount of Odysseus' journey home after the war, and his many "detours"--it takes him 9 years to return. During Odysseus' absence from Ithaca, his home becomes overrun with suitors who are after Penelope and trying to take his place. The Penelopiad imagines what happened while Odyesseus was away and gives creative consideration to the female perspectives that are overlooked in Homer's poems.

While the novel has a bit of imagination, it's not beautifully assembled. It hardly contains enough content to be considered a novel, although that's how it's been marketed. Like a last-minute university paper, the text is well-spaced and framed with fat, white margins in order to stretch it into a 200-page book. What's most interesting about it is the voice that Atwood gives to the 12 maids who Odysseus inexplicably killed upon his return. Mostly though, it seems that this book is just a chance to apply Atwood's celebrity to a string of books known as the "Myths Series." This is the kind of book that you can read a few pages of in the bookstore, appreciate the idea, and return to the shelf without any desire to finish it.

This would, however, be an interesting read to add to a course where Homer's works were being studied. ..

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

White Teeth

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Monday, May 07, 2007

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A Short History of Indians in Canada

Thomas King is, without a doubt, the most featured author in my list of books. There is, however, good reason for that! He writes satire unlike any other, and I just can't get enough salt-in-the-wound humour these days.

I've just finished, A Short History of Indians in Canada. The title alone was enough to stir up controversy among those who saw me reading it, the common response being a nervous, "Er...what is that book about?" (The best answer I've been able to come up with, for the record, is, "Well, the title says it all.")

In this collection of short stories, you will find:
-reverence and irreverance, sometimes at the same time.
-King writing in a woman's voice (only for 1/2 dozen pages or so, but I believe it's a first)
-(some) stories that have no obvious connection to aboriginals in Canada
-broken families; broken relationships; broken promises
-snappy jokes
-jarring juxtapositions (I'm still working on the incorporation of Star Trek into Canadian history...)

A Short History is a potentially quick read that should, in my opinion, be read slowly. I've been savouring it for about three weeks, and I think I'll go back and read some parts again.

Drawing on the high school history class theme of my Beauty Tips post, I think that some of these stories would fit much better in history class than English class...and I'm going to start sneaking copies into my would-be-history-teacher friends' bookshelves just to see what might happen.