Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang: A Book Review

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Reading the book with turon, a famous Filipino delicacy

Thick. Voluminous. Its Flamingo edition has 696 pages. I laid it aside many times. I didn’t know how to finish it , but I wanted to  heap it soon onto the other books read and unread; I was obsessed with the other  new books I had splurged on. When I gave it a shot for the third time; I was so already excited  that  I was close to its real-life –saga ending. Then, I was stuck again, in some  harrowing  parts I had to understand by heart and turn over in my mind . There, I trudged along. I was almost cross-eyed at the figures and  facts I could grasp no more , tearing my hair  until I could  let out a deep breath. ( Heavy sigh) Finally, I was done . My verdict: I SHOULD HAVE READ IT ALL ALONG WHILE I WAS DEEPLY  ENGAGED IN POLITICAL DISCOURSE ON SOCIAL MEDIA DURING OUR NATIONAL PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. Its vivid details could have been mesmerizingly engaging, heart-breaking, and eye-opening. Besides, I came back to my senses  that communism turns out to be an ineffective form of government after all. Also, out of my ignorance, somehow, I brushed upon some   historical facts about Mao Zedong, the man I have been curious about, or I could have been looking up to because of his numinous image.

One of the big challenges for a writer, particularly an autobiographer, is to write all the blow-by-blow accounts to make the book appear accurate and credible. There are instances that some are laconic with their stories; they only choose the situations which could be appealing to their audience. ( It’s a matter of marketing strategy, I guess.) Who could dare write a book that is so full of dramatic but petty details? Of course, padding the book could be intended to impress its audience. And I don’t think it’s Jung Chang’s intention.   Never mind its mind-boggling  and undermining Chinese names of persons, places, and technical words buzzed if you   don’t have these ears for language . You will still be abandoned to the waves of negative emotions each daughter draws off- pain, endurance, hopelessness, despair, cruelty, savageness, you name it. Whoa, woe to you. Sit tight! Make sure that you have this empty chest.

After all, the book is not just about novelizing Jung Chang’s experiences but a way of letting go of the past. She used this as the instrument for cauterizing all the  feeling and thoughts she had pushed to  the  darkest corners of her mind for a long decade under Mao Zedong’s  said totalitarian government. Also, through this book, she had rectified all the injustice her entire ancestors, particularly her parents and grandma, had suffered for a long time. She had the chance to clear of all the  political mud  slung against her families that went down in Chinese history, which was eventually expurgated after Mao Zedong’s  political failure.  At the same time, she had the chance to reminisce about the good memories which shaped her up as a strong and intelligent woman.  However, as far as I know, the New China has not recognized the essence of her book  yet  out of jingoism. In fact, it was banned when it was published  in 1992.

This book   has been translated into 37 languages. No doubt. Quite apart from its heart-breaking themes, it is worth reading because it opens our mind. It will probably change our view points of the social issues in our contemporary era. You will understand that every country has different culture when it comes to family, society, and politics. So, you might come to realize that all the cultures could be immoral but stuck up in a time warp, especially when   human dignity is   already trodden. Everything is changing as is nature. Nonetheless, after all, I can’t cry bloody murder  if such backward culture existed before ; it even did in our country, elsewhere. (Heavy sighs) Dare I say that we humans are still underdeveloped   even up to this day, or it is just a matter of the philosophy of  relativism? Look what is China now. North Korea. Some Middle East countries. The armpits of  Africa. Even in state-of-the-art European nations. Now the issue is Brexit if you are aware of its referendum.

The book’s theme Cultural Revolution  disabused me of that communism is not politically, socially, and economically feasible at all in a country that needs big social changes wherein all people should be ideally equal.  I have been enlightened as an idealistic citizen  that humans are fallible, that there is no such Utopia in a modern world. Evils have been part of the  natural laws  since the world began. ( heavy sigh)

Ever since I took to history subject, I have never had the clear details on Mao Zedong’s life. I was just tipped off  that he was a cruel president of China , that he killed many babies, that he was revered as god. However, Jung Chang did not describe him much in the book. She was too euphemistic about him as though she still respected him despite all the pains China had suffered. In the end, I was not satisfied.  I am still more  curious about him . Who is Mao Zedong? Fiddlesticks! A red thick biography  about him that  I always see in a  premier book store is now sparking my curiosity. The good thing is Jung Chang and her husband Jon Halliday wrote a biography about him : Mao: The Unknown Story. Interesting! As a matter of fact, she wrote another biographies about  Empress Dowager Cixi and  Madame Sun Yat- Sen. I hope to luck out and find them!

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It’s undeniably amazing.)

Animal Farm by George Orwell: A Book Review

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The Seven Commandments:
Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
No animal shall wear clothes.
No animal shall sleep in a bed.
No animal shall drink alcohol.
No animal shall kill any other animal.
All animals are equal.”

-Animal Farm, George Orwell-

I was always intrigued by this book. It is on the list of the The Guardian’s 1001 Best Novels of All Time, TIME’s 100 Best Novels, The Modern Library’s Voting List. This is even part of my students’ literary studies. I could not even avert my gaze from its literary fame on bookshelves at bookstores. In the end, I tried to borrow it from my co-teacher-although it is my number one rule that I should never, never borrow from anyone’s, over my dead body. The book, after all, may be about Stalin-ism. Besides, it is easy to read, for George Orwell used simple standard form of language. However, if Orwell intended to write a satirical fable -although the preface insisted it is not- I did not feel the connection between the animals involved and the people.

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

-Animal Farm, George Orwell-

George Orwell’s intention to express his political viewpoints in writing a story involving animals- anthropomorphism in literature- is an astounding idea. I guess writing was his means of freedom of expression and speech. I guess his time , since he is a British writer , may have been restricted by the atmosphere of imperialism. In the light of writing this, isn’t it amazing to praise that it had a clashing impact upon his ( Orwell) targets? It was like as if I were the target being alluded to or insulted. No doubt this book is well received by readers and considered as a literary classic. Like reading Aesop’s fables or fantasies , his sentences are so light but very dashing though.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

-Animal Farm, George Orwell-

On the other hand, although I enjoyed the story , I cannot deny the fact that I had a hard time connecting the unimaginable with the imaginable- animals living apart from humans, granted that the Animal Farm may be a symbol of dystopiac Stalin era whereas humans are the universal standard of government (democracy ). Well, my reactions could be another puny, minor impact of this book.

“Let’s face it: our lives are miserable, laborious, and short.”

-Animal Farm, George Orwell-

Politically speaking, I believe there is no such a perfect form of government. But if a form of government just what the like of Communism manifested in the history , this is one of the revolutionary books which could open the eyes of the peoples.

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.)

Stupid is Forever by Miriam Defensor Santiago: A Book Review

This is my review of the best-selling  Stupid is Forever by  beloved Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago that I wrote on Goodreads  in 2014  prior to her sequel Stupid  is Forevermore.

miriamTo my GR friends,

The woman in the paperback pointing both her forefingers at each side of her forehead is the author herself, Miriam Defensor Santiago, our very own Filipino senator- politician, Ramon Magsaysay awardee- equivalent to Nobel Prize- for her moral leadership in cleaning the graft-ridden government agencies. She is not only well- known for her brave character but also for her sense of humor and witty remarks, which endeared the Filipino youth and is absolutely absent among politicians in the Philippines. To know her more, you can read all about her in the Wikipedia.

This book is a collection of the beloved senator’s jokes, one-liners, pick-up lines, comebacks, and speeches.

As an avid fan of the beloved senator, I always keep track of her personal and political life through magazines, newspapers, especially through her official website. Gee, I must be enchanted by her so-called “Miriam Magic”. Thus, for an arm chair reader , there is nothing new to this book. I am almost familiar with her epigrams and speeches. So , I was almost close to giving it 1 star forgetting my passionate support for her. hahaha

Another thing that adds to my disappointment is the latent intention of the book. ( It’s just as well that it did not let me down. ) If I were a political analyst, I would opine that this book must be intended for political reasons. There are some parts the beloved senator expressing her presidential aspirations in 2016. For instance, at the end of the ABOUT THE AUTHOR
“…Her complete resume can be found at the end of this book.”

Usually, the senator is in the habit of bragging about the records of her academic excellence and professional achievements when she attempted to run in 1992, or whenever she locks horns with her political enemies. No doubt the title of the book bespeaks the beloved senator’s intellectual hubris.

In her resume, an anonymous writer seems to be putting her name on the pedestal. He/she briefly states her brilliant life as a law student in the Philippines and abroad, as a competent government official in the Congress. I find this part “apparently defensive”.

Despite the mesmerizing hidden political propaganda, I teased out the good intentions of the beloved senator, which predisposed me to giving it 4 stars. The beloved senator wants to educate voters about the incoming presidential election in 2016: She wants us to vote wisely . Reading it is like as though we listen to her speeches on the stump. But before that, she has to regale us with her pick –up lines to catch our full attention. At that time, all the kidding aside, we have to take her at her word seriously.

The book is divided into three speeches with different pick-up lines. Her first speech is on social media encouraging the students or all Filipinos to use social media as a weapon against any means of electoral fraud in 2016. The second part is the real meaning of leadership ( which caused me have a rude awakening) , how the youth should apply it to choosing our next leaders. Finally, of dreams , how it is not a “ mission impossible” to gain our shared goals.
All the rage at the end of her speeches is her inspiring poems she must have selected herself.

The beloved senator is an accomplished writer. She has written 19 books in law and social sciences. As far as I know, she is still finishing the new edition of her law book. Also, she has written two of her autobiographies. Alas, I have not read them yet. In fact, this book is the sequel to her well-received The Miriam Dictionary.

My hat is off to you ma’am. I may not know the real political circus in the Philippines, but whatever decision you will have made by 2016, your fans and I will absolutely support you. Mabuhay! ^_^

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it. )

Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization by Nicholson Baker: A Book Review

humansmokeSome critics consider this book now as a classic. It is indeed. First, if you were not a History professor nor do you have enough knowledge of the beginnings of World War II; then, it is the key to your curiosity. The author Nicholson Baker himself, gleaned all the government transcripts, news articles, memoirs, and journals from various personalities to create such a masterpiece compendium. Unlike reading the blow-by-blow accounts of the world history from our school textbooks, this book will get you to the deeper soul . You can understand the real persona of the main creators of the unforgettable and heinous war. Second, it is a question for a new civilized man like you whether war is the best solution to attaining the world peace or not. If you are a pacifist, you may give your side to Mohandas Gandhi, or you may take back your cause. If you are pro-war under any circumstances, you may be obdurate or change your viewpoints, for you might feel the deep emotions conveyed in the diaries written by the victims of the Holocaust. It is like you are under the deep blue sea.

I liked this book because I was always excited to turn every page as though I was eager to know what was going to happen next, what the exact details before Japan surrendered to the USA, since I have the ideas of how Japan buckled under the atomic bomb, as though I was overcome with the horrible conditions of the Jews as the butt of prejudice. But I was disappointed when the exact details about how the war ended were not narrated as though I wanted to kick and scream because of my excitement at how Roosevelt and Churchill had came up with the idea of dropping the atomic bomb, at what course of action Japan took after the war. Nicholson Baker may have intended it. But if I were him, to satisfy the readers, I would have written the details. He must have collected the articles. It would be like as though I had enjoyed reading the beginning and end of the story. Then, I would love to recommend it to my friends, nephews or nieces if they want to understand more the beginning and the end of World War II. Or I would have rated this 4 stars.

This book, on the other hand, has taken the brunt of negative reviews. For some reviewers, it is a “strangely childish book”, “self-important or self-righteous”, “fraud” , blah blah blah. But in my humble opinion, Baker may have intended to write such style – since most of his works focus on stream of consciousness – to lead the readers to the debate about PACIFISM. He may have intended to leave the readers patch up all the grains so that they can conclude their own opinions. He may have known that readers would consider this as “ pablum”. Whatever it is, I would say that this is a good read although the ending is lamentable since the title emphasizes the beginnings of Word War II and the END of Civilization.

I have had some insights into this book. Churchill turned out to be more aggressive than Roosevelt. He could almost be in parallel with Hitler. Hitler, on the other hand, was an ambiguous man. You might have the impression that he was a hypocrite. I think he was.

Rating: 3/ 5 stars

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris: A Book Review

harrisWOW! It’s a tour de force- a perfect apologia. Sam Harris is so brilliant that he has an acute analysis of the issue. So , atheists, particularly agnostics, should read it to become more enlightened and completely free from fear of going to “hell” and religious intolerance.

The first book that gave me an idea about apologetics was WHAT IS SO GREAT ABOUT CHRISTIANITY ? by Dinesh D’Souza ( 5 stars ). In fact, the book introduced me to the said Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennet. Thereafter, I wanted to read their works on account of my agnostic itch of curiosity then. So, I have read Dawkins’ GOD DELUSION ( 5 stars ) twice, Hitchens’ s GOD IS NOT GREAT ( 3 stars ). Now it’s my first Sam Harris apologia.

Harris intended to write this book in response to the hate letters sent by religious and political  people  and out of his criticisms against major religions of the world in his book THE END OF FAITH. I enjoyed reading it because of his straight-to-the-point arguments- concise but clear and logically convincing.

Upon reading it, I had four intellectual epiphanies :

There is no such morality.
There are many truths.
The bible appears to be inconsistent.
Therefore, for an atheist, and in general, God does not exist.

On the other hand, the underlying cause on which I cast shed why deeply religious people tend to deny the fact that God does not exist is “IGNORANCE”. We are living in a civilization of ignorance as Harris put it. Or I would opine that we are all still ignorant although we are all civilized. We have been the archetypes of wrong education since time immemorial. So life has been complicated. See, pardon me if you may be feeling like blowing your top now, out of your devotion as if you want to engage in a heated debate with me. It is some kinda foolishness, isn’t it? But still I dare to uphold Sam Harris’s and other prominent atheists’ arguments. ^^

Rating: 5/5 stars

Cool War: The Future of Global Competition by Noah Feldman: A Book Review

cool warThis book is worth reading. It is what the doctor just ordered because nowadays, the relationship between China and my country has never been good for one reason: China has been laying claim to the Spratly Islands , apparently located in our territory based on the international law. However, nowadays, China has been obstinate and aggressive. They are now building a military base on one of the islets despite the fact that the Philippines has submitted its complaints to the international tribunals. Our government has even had diplomatic discourses with its government many times. Why China’s attitude toward us is like this? Upon reading this, my self-analyses have been proven right: China’s economy is rising and China wants to expand its geostrategy.

COOL WAR, for Noal Feldman, means two countries are economically interdependent, but tend to be at odd against each other when it comes to geostrategy. The words are far different from COLD WAR when two countries have aggressive competition for building nuclear plants.

N.Feldman emphasized the probable risks China could pose to the world, particularly to the USA when its economy has been symmetrical with the USA. In other words, China still does not have the ability to declare a war against the USA in the event of misunderstanding since surprisingly, the USA has a considerable amount of debt to China.By the same token, China still cannot brag its economy NOW because losing America could paralyze its economy. Therefore, both depend on each other. To put it mildly, Feldman emphasized that a big economy has been proven to be the best key to becoming a super power. However, no matter what underlying reasons that restraint both of them, paradoxically, each of them avoids waging a war.

Enough said! I am almost a spoiler now. You should read it. The book deals with Feldman’s analyses of the origin of cool war, especially his anatomical dissection of China’s economic values.

No matter how considerably detailed the book is , it is apparent in my humble opinion that China still has hidden DESIRE to be a super power. Gee, Feldman’s analyses could be the auguries. This is how complicated our world is. So, reading such genre is an eye-opener.

Rating: 5 / 5 stars