Mini-Reviews: Recently Read Nonfiction

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American RightStrangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild
Published by New Press

This was a difficult read for me because much of what is discussed in the book is so opposite my own beliefs and thoughts and political ideology that it was frustrating to read. In attempting to empathize with the American Right, especially those in the Deep South (specifically Louisiana), Hochschild illuminated so many of the core beliefs that this group has and exactly why a candidate like Donald Trump became so wildly successful at this time in our nation’s history. But it’s hard because I so fundamentally disagree with so much of what the people she interviewed believe that I found it excruciatingly difficult to empathize with them. One small example – there’s this whole concept in the book about how (some) poor white people feel that minorities should be at the “back of the line” because, you know, it’s “natural”, and programs/laws/etc. that give minorities more equality give them the opportunity to “cut in line” ahead of white people … like what? Hi, this is racism. How can I possibly empathize with that? On the one hand, I appreciate what Hochschild was trying to do here, and I also believe that we can’t possibly work together as a country if we don’t even attempt to empathize with each other, but on the other hand I just CANNOT with the racism, sexism, etc. that is so prevalent in the beliefs of the people she talks to in the book. So, overall, good read, but if you’re anything like me, you may find yourself frustrated and outraged by a lot of the book’s contents.

The Bible: A BiographyThe Bible: A Biography by Karen Armstrong
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press

I was inspired to read this book because I was having a discussion with my boyfriend about something in the Bible (he grew up Catholic, I grew up lightly Methodist but ventured into Bible-based Christianity when I was married, we are both agnostic at best now) and I remembered that I had this book on my shelves and perhaps I could read it and settle whatever discussion/argument we were having. Ha! Anyway, Karen Armstrong does this thing where she’s thorough but succinct at the same time and I am not sure how it’s possible but it makes a topic that might otherwise be dry and difficult to get through much, much easier to read about. I didn’t love this book, because I only half care about the subject matter (I am more interested in the history than the faith itself), but I did learn quite a bit and was overall really impressed with Armstrong’s research and writing style. I think I’ll read another one of her books – where should I start?

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining WomenThe Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
Published by Sourcebooks

Holy crap, this book is insane. If you haven’t heard about The Radium Girls, it is about women in two factories, one in New Jersey and one in Illinois, who painted radium on watches during and after World War One. Radium is basically the most toxic substance that exists and these girls were surrounded by it twelve hours a day, six days a week, for years. They were instructed by the owners of the companies they worked for to put the radium brushes IN THEIR MOUTHS to get a better look when painting the watches. So, you know, their teeth began to fall out, then their jaws and bones rotted from the inside out, they got all kinds of unheard of cancers, and most of them died by their twenties or early thirties. But before they all died, they sued the companies and set a major precedent for workers rights and all kinds of other important regulations we have today. Not to mention the fact that they proved that this radium shit is insanely poisonous and probably saved millions of lives. Anyway, this was a fantastic book. Moore did meticulous research, spent tons of time with the living relatives of these women, unearthed the actual journals of the women themselves, and just overall killed it with this book. It is so good and absolutely a must read.

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And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS EpidemicAnd the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts
Published by Stonewall Inn Editions

From the publisher:

By the time Rock Hudson’s death in 1985 alerted all America to the danger of the AIDS epidemic, the disease had spread across the nation, killing thousands of people and emerging as the greatest health crisis of the 20th century. America faced a troubling question: What happened? How was this epidemic allowed to spread so far before it was taken seriously? In answering these questions, Shilts weaves the disparate threads into a coherent story, pinning down every evasion and contradiction at the highest levels of the medical, political, and media establishments.

Shilts shows that the epidemic spread wildly because the federal government put budget ahead of the nation’s welfare; health authorities placed political expediency before the public health; and scientists were often more concerned with international prestige than saving lives. Against this backdrop, Shilts tells the heroic stories of individuals in science and politics, public health and the gay community, who struggled to alert the nation to the enormity of the danger it faced. And the Band Played On is both a tribute to these heroic people and a stinging indictment of the institutions that failed the nation so badly.

I don’t even know what to say about this incredible, devastating, marvel of a book. I feel like I have nothing whatsoever to add to what was I’m sure an intensely interesting conversation when the book was first published, nor do I have anything to add to these three words: incredibly important read.

I just can’t with this. The insanity of a government, of the very people elected to serve and protect the citizens of a country, making the conscious decision NOT to spread awareness and educate the very group of people most at-risk for a deadly disease is just unconscionable to me. And yet. This is what happened, not many years ago, in the United States, with the AIDS virus. There is so much more to this book than that, but much of the trajectory of the spread of AIDS resulted from that one simple fact. And it is just bananas to me.

This book is really, heartbreakingly sad. Shilts gives the reader an up close and personal look at the lives of many of the people who were some of the first to be diagnosed with AIDS, and of the people who were fighting for education and preventative measures, and you fall in love with these men and root for them, and then almost all of them die. And then if you’re like me, when you finish the book, you research the author to learn that he also died of AIDS. It’s sad in the saddest of sad ways. But it is also fascinating and SO well-written and unbelievably compelling and really, this book produced so many emotions in me I can’t even begin to explain it.

So here is what I will leave you with – yes, this book is long, and complicated, and really freaking sad, but how important it is outweighs all of that. To me, And the Band Played On falls in the must-read category, one hundred percent. As difficult and heartbreaking and infuriating as the book is, it is so incredibly great. And so, so important.

 

Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home by Laura Ling and Lisa Ling

Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her HomeSomewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home by Laura Ling and Lisa Ling
Published by William Morrow

From the publisher:

On March 17, 2009, Laura Ling and her colleague Euna Lee were working on a documentary about North Korean defectors who were fleeing the desperate conditions in their homeland. While filming on the Chinese–North Korean border, they were chased down by North Korean soldiers who violently apprehended them. Laura and Euna were charged with trespassing and “hostile acts,” and imprisoned by Kim Jong Il’s notoriously secretive Communist state. Kept totally apart, they endured months of interrogations and eventually a trial before North Korea’s highest court. They were the first Americans ever to be sentenced to twelve years of hard labor in a prison camp in North Korea.

When news of the arrest reached Laura’s sister, journalist Lisa Ling, she immediately began a campaign to get her sister released, one that led her from the State Department to the higher echelons of the media world and eventually to the White House.

Somewhere Inside reveals for the first time Laura’s gripping account of what really happened on the river, her treatment at the hands of North Korean guards, and the deprivations and rounds of harrowing interrogations she endured. She speaks movingly about the emotional toll inflicted on her by her incarceration, including the measures she took to protect her sources and her fears that she might never see her family again.

Lisa writes about her unrelenting efforts to secure Laura and Euna’s release. Offering insights into the vast media campaign spearheaded on the women’s behalf, Lisa also takes us deep into the drama involving people at the highest levels of government, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, Senator John Kerry, and Governor Bill Richardson—intense discussions that entailed strategically balancing the agendas and good intentions of the various players. She also describes her role in the back-and-forth between North Korea’s demands and the dramatic rescue by former President Bill Clinton.

Though they were thousands of miles apart while Laura was in captivity, the Ling sisters’ relationship became a way for the reclusive North Korean government to send messages to the United States government, which helped lead to Laura and Euna’s eventual release.

I’ve been on a bit of a North Korea kick lately – seriously guys, I am fascinated by this dark and terrifying place – and when a blogger reminded me about this book, I knew I had to read it. I am a huge fan of Lisa Ling – I think her journalism is smart and brave, and I truly admire her for the stories and truths she’s been able to bring to the public eye – and while I was less familiar with her sister Laura, I was still very interested in this harrowing story.

Somewhere Inside was everything I expected. What Laura Ling experienced was truly terrifying, and something that just shouldn’t happen in this world. She literally stepped a FOOT onto North Korean soil (which, she admits, was a huge mistake) and was immediately arrested and brought to a North Korean jail for months. What she experienced was atrocious and scary and almost unbelievable. But the most unbelievable part, to me, is that compared to actual prisoners in North Korea (non-famous ones), she was treated exceptionally well. She was fed regular meals, allowed to receive letters and a few packages from home, given an English translator so she could understand what was said to her, and guarded twenty-four hours a day by two women whose company she actually ended up enjoying. Her extraordinary ordeal was nothing close to paradise, but even she admits as she reflects upon her time there that it could have been much, much worse.

Lisa Ling’s story is almost as terrifying as her sister’s, just because there were so many unknowns in her situation. She is an incredibly famous person with a lot of political connections, but even she had extreme difficulty securing her sister’s safety – and came very close to not doing so at all. She had to walk on eggshells for this entire time in fear that she could do one wrong thing and they would execute her sister. She had to rally every single political figure she could think of (including President Barack Obama) on just the slightest chance that one of them would have enough pull with the North Korean government to get something accomplished. And she had to do all this while reassuring the rest of her family that somehow she would be able to get it done.

Like all of the other books I’ve read about North Korea, Somewhere Inside serves as a reminder of how horrific the regime in North Korea is. There are no words to describe how closed, strange, oppressive, terrifying this society truly is. If nothing else, this book will remind you of how lucky you are to live anywhere but there.

I would be remiss not to mention that, of course, this book is written exceptionally well. Two journalists coming together can obviously put together a coherent and well-written memoir, but these sisters really did an excellent job.

Highly recommended!

Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hard ChoicesHard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Published by Simon & Schuster
Review copy provided by the publicist

From the publisher:

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s inside account of the crises, choices, and challenges she faced during her four years as America’s 67th Secretary of State, and how those experiences drive her view of the future.

“All of us face hard choices in our lives,” Hillary Rodham Clinton writes at the start of this personal chronicle of years at the center of world events. “Life is about making such choices. Our choices and how we handle them shape the people we become.”

In the aftermath of her 2008 presidential run, she expected to return to representing New York in the United States Senate. To her surprise, her former rival for the Democratic Party nomination, newly elected President Barack Obama, asked her to serve in his administration as Secretary of State. This memoir is the story of the four extraordinary and historic years that followed, and the hard choices that she and her colleagues confronted.

Secretary Clinton and President Obama had to decide how to repair fractured alliances, wind down two wars, and address a global financial crisis. They faced a rising competitor in China, growing threats from Iran and North Korea, and revolutions across the Middle East. Along the way, they grappled with some of the toughest dilemmas of US foreign policy, especially the decision to send Americans into harm’s way, from Afghanistan to Libya to the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

By the end of her tenure, Secretary Clinton had visited 112 countries, traveled nearly one million miles, and gained a truly global perspective on many of the major trends reshaping the landscape of the twenty-first century, from economic inequality to climate change to revolutions in energy, communications, and health. Drawing on conversations with numerous leaders and experts, Secretary Clinton offers her views on what it will take for the United States to compete and thrive in an interdependent world. She makes a passionate case for human rights and the full participation in society of women, youth, and LGBT people. An astute eyewitness to decades of social change, she distinguishes the trendlines from the headlines and describes the progress occurring throughout the world, day after day.

Secretary Clinton’s descriptions of diplomatic conversations at the highest levels offer readers a master class in international relations, as does her analysis of how we can best use “smart power” to deliver security and prosperity in a rapidly changing world—one in which America remains the indispensable nation.

I don’t read a ton of political memoirs, but this one really appealed to me because I’ve always admired Hillary Clinton, for a variety of reasons. This isn’t a place where I discuss politics at all, so I’ll just say that in general, I get where she’s coming from and share many of her beliefs, so I was very interested to learn more about her politics, what she stands for, and the experiences she’d had over her four years as Secretary of State. The fact that she’s obviously considering a presidential run in 2016 certainly didn’t hurt either.

Hard Choices is not an easy read, not by a long shot. Clinton dives deep into her years as Secretary of State and really gets into the politics, risks, and consequences involved in many of the conflicts that arose and decisions that were made throughout those years. That being said, it’s not a difficult read either. Everything is put together in a really accessible way, helping even the most politically naive of us understand the who, what, where, when, and how of many international crises. I learned a TON from this book as a lot of what’s discussed are the things that go on behind the scenes – the situations that America (and the world) never get to hear about as these conflicts are taking place.

I listened to the audio of this book and it was very well done. Kathleen Chalfant was a new voice to me and she did a pretty good job. The only thing that I didn’t love was that Clinton herself narrates the first chapter – making the switch to Chalfant very awkward for my brain to comprehend. Once I got into the audio, though, I was good with Chalfant’s narration.

I found this book exceptionally interesting and got a lot out of it. I think even those who disagree with Clinton’s politics would find something to chew on in this book. So much of it is about international relations and very little of it has to do with her actual beliefs – it’s really just a peek into those four years she spent as Secretary of State, what that actually looked like and what happened in the world throughout that time. Really fascinating stuff.

Highly recommended! Even if you don’t like her. 😉

 

 

Drift by Rachel Maddow

Drift by Rachel MaddowDrift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow
Published by Crown, an imprint of Random House

From the publisher:

“One of my favorite ideas is, never to keep an unnecessary soldier,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1792. Neither Jefferson nor the other Found­ers could ever have envisioned the modern national security state, with its tens of thousands of “privateers”; its bloated Department of Homeland Security; its rust­ing nuclear weapons, ill-maintained and difficult to dismantle; and its strange fascination with an unproven counterinsurgency doctrine.

Written with bracing wit and intelligence, Rachel Maddow’s Drift argues that we’ve drifted away from America’s original ideals and become a nation weirdly at peace with perpetual war, with all the financial and human costs that entails. To understand how we’ve arrived at such a dangerous place, Maddow takes us from the Vietnam War to today’s war in Afghanistan, along the way exploring the disturbing rise of executive authority, the gradual outsourcing of our war-making capabilities to private companies, the plummeting percentage of American families whose children fight our constant wars for us, and even the changing fortunes of G.I. Joe. She offers up a fresh, unsparing appraisal of Reagan’s radical presidency. Ultimately, she shows us just how much we stand to lose by allowing the priorities of the national security state to overpower our political discourse.

Sensible yet provocative, dead serious yet seri­ously funny, Drift will reinvigorate a “loud and jangly” political debate about how, when, and where to apply America’s strength and power–and who gets to make those decisions.

I honestly haven’t the first clue why I chose this book. I am only vaguely familiar with Rachel Maddow – have seen her show a couple of times and find her witty and smart, but don’t always agree with everything she says/believes – and honestly I’m not really into politics these days. But for whatever reason, the audio called to me so I answered the call and listened to it over the course of a week or so in the car. I am glad I did try the book, as it definitely made me think, but I have to admit that I’m not sure how to review it. So here’s my attempt.

So I think this book is important because it’s a view not expressed by anyone in the public, ever. Maddow sheds light on how we became a society at peace with constantly being at war and how dangerous this can be. It’s very difficult in the time of “support our troops” for someone to come out and say that we are TOO militarized as a nation but Maddow has the guts to say exactly that. She makes her case with facts and traces the history in a very concise, easy-to-understand way. I think she simplifies it a bit, probably to make the book more accessible, but either way she clearly traces how we as a country got from point A to Point B and it’s sort of scary how easily and quickly it happened.

Most people will see Drift as partisan, because Maddow spends a lot of time criticizing Reagan’s presidency and war efforts, but she doesn’t shy away from similar criticisms of Clinton and Obama, which I would say makes it very fair. This book is incredibly well-researched and Maddow does a good job defending her arguments with truth. It definitely made me think.

I would very much recommend Drift to just about everyone. There was a lot of history in the book that I was previously unfamiliar with and that I think every American should know. Believe me, I know that not everyone will agree with Maddow and that’s okay, but it’s always good to open one’s mind to another perspective and point of view.

The audiobook was excellent and I highly recommend going that route if you do choose to read this book. Maddow narrates herself and she truly delivers. Definitely a worthwhile read and listen.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

 

In 2001, cartoonist Guy Delisle spent two months in North Korea to work on a children’s television show.  While in North Korea, Delisle had a rare opportunity to see what life is really like in this secluded, dark Communist society.  This graphic novel is Delisle’s account of what he experienced during those two months.

I’m feeling fairly lukewarm about Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea so this post will be on the shorter side.

I can’t put my finger on it, but something about this book just didn’t click for me.  I was intrigued by the fact that Delisle got into North Korea in the first place, I’m very interested in North Korea, and I love the graphic memoir concept which seems to be more and more popular these days.  And while the book was good, I just wasn’t wowed by it.

Delisle’s story was interesting, the art was well done, and I felt like I really got a feel for what he experienced while he was in North Korea.  So I think a lot of people will enjoy this one.  But for whatever reason, it fell flat for me.

Just don’t let my one little opinion stop you from picking up this book!  As so few people in the world have had the opportunity Delisle was given to get a look inside this country – the book is valuable for that alone.  While it wasn’t the right book for me, I can’t say others shouldn’t try it out.

Mini-Reviews (TSS edition)

Well another week has come and gone and not much happened for me blogging-wise.  There are a few reasons for this; primarily, my job is sucking the life out of me lately.  I have been working long hours and the days have been stressful.  I work in sales, and as anyone else who is in sales will tell you, when your team is behind on your goals it is just a nightmare.  At least the company I work for is pretty great about giving us overtime and things like that, but still – we feel the pressure, big time.  So I’ve been coming home from work exhausted every day, not feeling like doing much except read or watch TV.  The other thing going on in my life is that I’m trying to get in better shape, so I’ve been committed to hitting the gym 3-4 times a week.  I can’t say I’ve been too successful at this but I’m certainly trying.  So that takes up some of my extra time too.

Anyway, I figured a cure for getting so behind on reviewing is throwing a bunch of mini-reviews out there.  Besides knocking them off my list, I will feel better knowing that I got to tell you about all these great books I’ve been reading!  Because for the most part, they really have been great. 🙂

Bermudez First, I read The Bermudez Triangle for the GLBT challenge and also just because I’d been meaning to try Maureen Johnson for awhile now.  This young adult novel is about three best friends – Nina, Avery, and Mel – and when Nina goes away to college prep camp one summer, Mel and Avery fall in love.  That’s the premise, but it’s about so much more than that.  It’s about friendship, and crushes, and first love, and figuring out who you are, and navigating the treacherousness that is high school while being different, and so much more.  This novel was extremely refreshing.  The relationship between Avery and Mel was full of issues, just like any other relationship, and while some of the issues had to do with their being gay in a straight world, many of them did not.  Much of what happened was typical stuff that happens when teens find their first love.  The friendships between Mel, Avery, and Nina were about as authentic as possible, and it’s clear that Maureen Johnson really gets teens.  She so accurately portrayed real teens without being too angsty and/or annoying, and although this was my first Johnson it will definitely not be my last.  I really loved this one – YA fans, this is a must-read.

Next we have There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene.  This is a nonfiction read about the AIDS epidemic in Africa, specifically about one woman,Haregewoin Teferra, who in Ethiopia has taken in dozens of AIDS orphans and created a sort of orphanage for these children.  The book is part memoir, as Greene herself had adopted two AIDS orphans before meeting Teferra, part political and social history of AIDS in Africa, and part journalistic investigation of Haregewoin’s life and what she’s done for kids in Ethiopia.  For me, this format worked extremely well.  I learned a lot about the AIDS pandemic and for that reason alone, I highly recommend the book.  But also, Haregewoin’s story is remarkable – she is an amazing person with this incredible gift for selflessness, for taking in those who have no other opportunity or chance at life, and for turning their lives around, and it is inspiring to read her story.  I really can’t recommend this one more enthusiastically – it is a must-read for lovers of nonfiction, for lovers of learning, and for those of you who deeply care about some of the more important world issues.  Although I must warn you, it will make you want to adopt an AIDS orphan – I definitely had visions of adoption dancing in my head after finishing the book.

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell is a compilation of many of the pieces he wrote for the New Yorker and it is very typical Gladwell.  He writes about the obscure, mundane stuff that people normally don’t think twice about, yet he makes it interesting.  I listened to this one and as I’ve said before, Gladwell could read me the phone book and I’d be happy.  There’s just something about his narration that I adore.  Having said that, I found this to be the weakest of his four books simply because there wasn’t a core theme tying everything together.  I more enjoyed his other three books, where he was trying to make a larger point which ties everything together.  This one was just more random, and although I enjoyed many of the pieces, others bored me.  So, okay book, but as usual for Gladwell and me, great listening experience. 🙂

Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen was one I got on impulse, downloaded to my iPod, and began listening immediately.  This novel is about Van and Linny, Vietnamese-American sisters whose parents emigrated from Vietnam just before Van’s birth.  This is a character-driven novel at its best.  The book is not full of action, of plot twists, nothing like that.  Rather, it is about the relationships between the sisters, their parents, their significant others, and their heritage.  While both Linny and Van believe themselves to be regular American girls, free of their parents’ ties to Vietnam, over the course of the novel they realize their heritage is more important to them than they may have believed. Short Girls is an extremely accomplished novel, and I enjoyed every minute I spent with Van and Linny.  I absolutely recommend picking it up.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick was a recommendation from Eva, and what a fantastic recommendation she gave.  I’d never read a book about North Korea, and probably because the country is so closed, I knew little about it before reading this.  Of course I knew the basics, but Nothing to Envy really gets in there and exposes the hidden realities of what life is really like in this isolated place.  Demick actually spent time in North Korea, but the meat of the book is taken from conversations and interviews she had with several people who defected and now life in South Korea.  I don’t know what else to say about this one except that it is fascinating and eye-opening, tragic and heartbreaking, yet it is a must-read.  I feel like a more educated, knowledgeable person having read it.

Last, I picked up Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart because of the huge success it had around the blogs last year.  This novel is told from the point of view of high school student Katie D’Amore, who lives alone with her dad in their big house ever since her mother passed away last year.  The book is about Katie’s attempts to put her life back to normal since her mom’s passing, but also about a mystery she is trying to solve at her summer job working at a local estate.  The book is multi-layered and written beautifully.  Katie comes across as a completely authentic teen dealing with the loss of her mother, and yet there is so much more to Katie than grief.  She is a complex personality and much growth happens to her throughout the course of the novel.  I really enjoyed this one; it was a quick read but the writing was lush and beautiful and the characters were fully realized.  I now understand why people love Beth Kephart so much!

Well there you have it.  I’m caught up on much of my review backlog.  I still have three more to review, but those will all get their own posts, and I’m really hoping to finish another book today.  We might hit the beach later which is sure to give me some reading time in the hour’s drive there and back.

What are you up to today?  What are you reading this weekend?

Everything is Broken by Emma Larkin

Title:  Everything is Broken:  A Tale of Catastrophe in Burma
Author:  Emma Larkin
Release date:  April 29, 2010
Publisher:  The Penguin Press HC
Pages:  288
Genre:  Nonfiction, Current events
Source:  Publisher, TLC Book Tours

Cyclone Nygris made landfall in Burma on May 2, 2008, and the devastation that it caused cannot be put into words.  The official death toll was 138,300, yet experts believe that the number is actually much higher than was reported by the Burmese government.  Emma Larkin, a journalist who had spent time secretly reporting in Burma in the past, managed to secure a visa for herself shortly after the cyclone hit, and arrived ready to help those in need while chronicling the destruction the cyclone left behind. Everything is Broken is Larkin’s account of the events in Burma before and after the cyclone, and in it she reveals details about the complex military dictatorship that rules this country, and the bizarre, horrifying ways the regime in Burma responded to the cyclone and its effects on their country and its people.

Before reading Everything is Broken, I knew next to nothing about the country of Burma.  I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t even recall hearing about Cyclone Nygris when it happened.  Which is why it was a good thing for me to have the opportunity to read this book – I learned a lot, and it made me sad that I was not aware of any of this before.

Everything is Broken is not a book one can really enjoy reading.  In fact, I read it with a mixture of fascination, shock, and horror.  The complete havoc that the cyclone inflicted upon the people of Burma is something I cannot wrap my brain around.  And the fact that the Burmese regime refused to accept any outside help for its citizens quite frankly made me sick to my stomach.  Reading about how people had lost their entire families, homes, businesses, everything, and yet the government literally did nothing to help, well there are just no words to describe the feelings it brought forth in me.

But I do think the book was written very well – that is, Larkin took this country that most people know little about, and this event that was brushed over in the national media, and illuminated everything for the reader.  She brought it to life for me, she made me understand the hardships these people had faced and will continue to face in the coming years, and she made me understand what is so heartbreaking about it all.  It was clear that Larkin knew the country of Burma well, and that she has a deep love and admiration for its people.

In addition to her reporting about the cyclone, Larkin spends a portion in the middle of the book explaining the history of Burma’s government, telling the reader a bit about the regime and about the atrocities committed by it over the years.  She fully admits that it is difficult to gain access to any real information about the government, so what she reports is the truth as best as she was able to get it.  After reading Everything is Broken, I plan to read Larkin’s first book, Finding George Orwell in Burma, which is more about the history of the country than about one specific event.

When I closed Everything is Broken for the last time, I was left feeling unsettled.  Larkin is not able to provide any answers or solutions to the immense difficulties that Burmese citizens face on a daily basis.  It is difficult to read a nonfiction book and not feel some sense of hope at the end.  But my feelings upon completion of the book are nothing compared to the terrifying and heartbreaking lives the people of Burma are resigned to.  For that, I am grateful I read this book because I needed to know more about this country and what its people have been through.  Emma Larkin did an outstanding job illuminating this country for me, and I highly recommend reading Everything is Broken to learn about Burma for yourself.

Sisterhood, Interrupted by Deborah Siegel

Title:  Sisterhood, Interrupted:  From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild
Author:  Deborah Siegel
Release date:  June 12, 2007
Publisher:  Palgrave Macmillan
Pages:  240
Genre:  Nonfiction, feminism
Source:  Personal copy

With Sisterhood, Interrupted Deborah Siegel brings the reader through all three waves of the feminist movement, highlighting which issues were most focused on and what was important in each one.  Her focus is on the conflicts that sprung up throughout the movement, and how infighting has affected the movement.  She traces back to the early feminists to illustrate how today’s conflicts are not so different from the ones the very first feminists dealt with.  Last, she explains how contemporary feminists can and should learn from those who came before them, and helps young women come to a more clear understanding of what feminism means to them as individuals.

I found Sisterhood, Interrupted to be a pretty concise and easy to follow history of the feminist movement.  While the focus was on infighting, Siegel really gave a nice background on the major players in the movement and what their stances are/were on some of the most important issues to the movement.  I think Siegel was trying to give someone like me, a young feminist not super involved in the movement, a good idea of my predecessors and some knowledge on the movement in general – and she definitely did that.

I appreciated that the focus of the book was on conflicts within the movement because that’s an aspect of feminism that I don’t know too much about.  What was great about Siegel’s approach to this was that she gave a very clear picture of some of these problems while not blaming any one person or group and not taking sides.  It was really a historian’s approach to writing about this subject.  It helped me to get a firmer grasp on my own thoughts and feelings on some of these wedges within the movement, to figure out my place in everything.  And although I’m not involved in the feminist movement, per se, I do consider myself a feminist so it is definitely important for me to understand my core beliefs about the major issues within the feminist movement.

Sisterhood, Interrupted is a solid look at the history of feminism in the United States and a thoughtful examination of the issues within the movement.  I would say this book is a must-read for any young feminist.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

The Complete Persepolis

Marjane Satrapi
October 30, 2007
Pantheon
352 pages
Graphic Memoir
Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trails of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.

Edgy, searingly observant, and candid, often heartbreaking but threaded throughout with raw humor and hard-earned wisdom–Persepolis is a stunning work from one of the most highly regarded, singularly talented graphic artists at work today.

I had heard SO many good things about both Persepolis I and II, and for some reason I kept putting off reading them, so when I found this book at my library I finally just bit the bullet and took it home.  I was definitely nervous about reading it – first of all, I have very little experience with graphic novels, and secondly, I was very aware of my high expectations for the book based on all the positive reviews it’s garnered recently.  I shouldn’t have worried, though, because The Complete Persepolis was overall very enjoyable for me.

I say overall because I have to admit that there was one thing about the book that bugged me – the writing was SO tiny!  I’m glad that this wasn’t my first graphic novel, because I think I would have become frustrated with the genre if it was.  I had a difficult time sometimes reading everything that was written, and I think the black and white pictures also worked against my eyes – they were trying to take in so much, and some of it was really hard to see!

Besides that minor complaint, I thought the book was pretty awesome.  It was a highly educational experience for me – I really have no knowledge of this period of Iran’s history (well, I don’t have much knowledge of Iran, period), and to see these events through Marjane’s eyes (with her explaining the history all along) was captivating.  I also was interested in the history for a personal reason – one of my uncles (by marriage) was born in Iran and didn’t come to the U.S. until he was twenty-two.  In fact, I don’t know his exact age but I think he came here at about the same time The Complete Persepolis takes place (late 1970’s, early 1980’s).  My uncle has a lot to say about his dissatisfaction with his native country’s history, but I never truly knew the facts of that history.  Reading the book made me realize how ignorant I am about the history and culture of one person in my life who is very important to me.  It also made me want to learn even more about Iran’s history.

While I found Satrapi’s story to be a great learning experience, I also found the book highly entertaining and very accessible.  Satrapi writes so candidly, so casually and at times hysterically that the reader can’t help but understand her and sympathize with everything she’s been through.  Also, she wrote the book in such a way that really made me want to be friends with her – she was seriously hilarious at so many points throughout the book, yet still so dead serious about the events that took place.  Really, the way she crafted her story was just lovely, and I pretty much loved every minute of reading it.

I definitely recommend this one.  Even though I had a rough time with the physical act of reading the book, The Complete Persepolis was more than worth the strain it put on my eyes.  If you enjoy or want to try graphic novels, or like history, or like memoirs, read this book!

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