Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska: A Book Review

6a00e5535ff83b88330148c8234d63970cEven up to this day, in the Philippines, fathers are still considered as the head of the family. No matter what happens, he is the one who decides against anything concerning familial problems. It is neither the mother nor the eldest child. It is just him none other than anyone else in the family. There are some cases that a father figure tends to be authoritarian and dictatorial. No matter what you opine of is not acceptable for him. Your opinions and suggestions will just go in the ear and out the other. He imposes draconian rules whether you like them or not. So all you have to do is shut your mouth and live with intestinal fortitude. Otherwise, he will hurl abuse at you, or if you are a son, he will make a man of you by punching you in the chest or stomach. The classic one? He will redden your ass with his flagellant belt. If you happen to be a girl, he will turn your face black and blue with his iron palm. Do I sound  exaggerated? Take it for granted if you are in the same boat. I guess you understand what I am talking about. If you remonstrate with me, well, luckily, you never have this kind of father. Neither do I.

As a social science student, I have learned that the common reasons why a man is  perceived to be the head of the house are based on distorted culture molded by ancient teachings particularly such as of Confucianism and Christianity. Men are superior to women. Men are biologically stronger than women. So with these patterns of learned ideas, we learn that we, I mean you , should pay homage to us men. Bravo! Thanks to those misleading bodies of teachings! We are always put on the pedestal. Consequently, we peoples in the world tend to be incorrigible. No wonder there is no world peace. (charot!)

The good thing is we are creatures of human expression. We can express our disappointment in human ignorance through literature. And this is what Anzia Yezierska must have intended; she wrote Bread Giver that deals with the clash between the Old World and the New World. The consequence? A masterpiece everyone deep-seated should read.

Anzia Yezierska was a Jew immigrant in New York in the 1900’s. She may have been one of those immigrants, along with her family, escaped the pogrom in Russia and was stopped at  Ellis island from entering the US  when the American President was still in the air whether it should adopt the immigrants or not. (I just read this information from Nicholson Baker’s book Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization.)One thing I am cocksure about Yezierska: As an immigrant, she went through the pressures of American dream in New York where she and her family ventured in to survive. In her novel, Bread Givers, although it was said to have been drawn deep inspiration from her immigrant experience, she wrote a story dealing with what kind of culture she may have grown up with- her father’s patriarchal authority, struggles with feminine independence, and grinding poverty. So this novel will make you tear your hair and your toes curl.

The only thing you might notice in the book is Yezierska’s writing styles. The sequence of the stories is not similar to other surreal books you love to bury yourself in. Every scene is so fast that you will end up in a hanging position as if you want to read more at full length. Probably, you are used to much description.  Nonetheless, for me, it is not that a big deal.

Yezierska’s setting begins with endless scenes crawling with miseries which are so annoying, frustrating, soporific, and heart-breaking that I carp at her intention. So, amidst of reading it, I predict that the ending of the story could be like a-happily-ever-after denouement. However, as the story goes deeper, the more foolishly miserable the story becomes until I come to the point that it might be a disappointing story after all. In the end, the story turns out to be more interesting because of the main character‘s determination to surpass all the struggles. On the other hand, I did not like the way Yezierska wrote the sequence of the events: fast and slapdash.

The hallmark of this book is its quotable and witty dialogues. You can be serious about the philosophical dialogues among the characters, but you will end up finding them funny. However, be ready for the character of Mr. Reb Smilonsky. You might go mad at him  that you might feel like  engaging him in a debate over  religion and life. As a Jew, he is always preaching to his children( Masha, Bessie, Fania, and Sarah, the narrator)  the teachings of the Old Torah especially the statement that , “ Women can’t go to heaven without men.” Or “ Only through a man can a woman an existence.” In other words, he teaches the traditional Jewish culture that men are superior to women. So there are times that I put  this book down for a moment gnashing my teeth as though I can no longer stand listening to a character, a byword for hypocrisy, megalomania, and grandeur delusion.

Another highlight of the book is the grammar structures of the sentences. Anzia Yezierska’s English must be old –fashioned since she was a Jew. I cringe at the sentences, but they convey substantial tones and emotions. I am predisposed to anger, annoyance, and empathy, so I am no bothered at them at all. Every scene  tends to carry  me away.

Most importantly, I really liked the book -despite that it may not be among the crème de la crème of critically acclaimed novels  – because  it is scattered with different themes: hypocrisy, wrong culture, feminism, Americanism, human Independence, and determination.

Bread Givers is not the only one I have read dealing with immigrant life in America. My heart broke when I first read The Jungle  by Upton Sinclair. I was also astounded at The Assistant by Bernard Malamud  which the TIME magazine included in its list for 100 Best Novels of All Time since 1924.Last year. I ranked My Ántonia by Willa Cather first in my top ten favorite books in 2015. For non-fiction, I read Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory which narrates his education life in the US as a gringo and the other one, ‘Tis by Frank McCourt  on his  life adventure  in America. For local books, I read Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart: A Personal History  and Bulosan: An Introduction With Selections .All  of these  books bear the same concept: American dream. No wonder reading just the likes of them have a significance impact   upon readers like me.

Next time , I will read The Big Sleep  by Raymond Chandler. Hooray!

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I really liked it.)

 

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Deep Blue Night by Choe In -Ho : A Book Review

IMG_20130104_111035“Los Angeles is a fictitious place; it does not exist in this world.”

-In-ho Choe, Deep Blue Night-

This line caught my imagination, reminding me  of Carlos Bulosan’s poem, “I Want the Wide American Earth,”  in which he expressed his  Marxist  desires that the world be  like American, that all  countries had no abject poverty, that all were socially and economically equal . He had the perception that America had this prosperous life since   it was the  richest country in the world during  his generation, so the American Dream  came into existence.

Lost Angeles is  a melting pot  in the  US where you can meet  different races of the world. If you plan to migrate  to America, there is the best place you should choose for a greener  pasture. You are for sure secure from some problems because  you can turn to your “ kababayan”  ( countryman ) for help ( if you have this  bayanihan ( cooperative endeavor )  and damayan  ( mutual sympathy ) culture, typical of Filipinos overseas )  just like what happened to the story  of this book.

Jun-ho and Hyeong are both Koreans who ventured  to the US  to escape their  shady pasts.  Jun-Ho  was  a tourist  who  had the opportunity to travel to the US  to take his mind off the bitter experiences he had left behind  in Korea. He used to be a popular and successful  musician but  past his prime eventually due to taking  marijuana.  However, he ended up flat broke   for he had squandered all his money. To make ends meet, he tried to do the same job  in some States in the US  but backslid to his bad shadows . In the end, he became an exile from one  State to another. To survive, he needed to get to Los Angeles by   stolen car, believing that someone  or something there could help him back to Korea. Accidentally, on his way, he met Hyeong who has little description in the story.

It is now my second book of The Portable Library of Korean Literature translation. Comparatively, its prose and tone are heavier and more   emotionally indifferent than of the A Dwarf Launches a Ball by Cho Se-hui. The latter one, on the other hand, is lighter and more gently heartbreaking. In addition, the narration of the story is somehow misleading. You could have the idea that the  narrator is Hyeong,  but  there seems to be another unknown narrator, telling the other part of the story.

In a simpler perspective, you might take it literally that   the story has something to do with what an exiled tourist experiences in a country that is alienated to him. I could buy that way though. However, I want to put it on the fact that I liked the way Cho In-Ho used the persona of   Jun-ho  in the story ; he  embodies people who,  like him , are  unable to move up on to the next step of their life where they got in a conundrum- people ,who have been torn , unknowing where and how they should turn over a new leaf  with the fact that they have been bothered by a pang of conscience for the things they have committed, but in the end, with their heuristic moments, would realize that they have been taken possession of their  “ seven deadly sins”,  innocence, or ignorance.  The story, in the other words,  is an epitome of  the existential point of view that “ Life is a matter of moral choice.”

All the rage in the story is the car they rode on a journey  . For me it represents the vehicle of their life. No matter what happens , you can pull up along the road and chill out, then keep on driving. Moreover, in order to add fuel to the energy, you should make a fortune regardless of how much it could be. Otherwise, you would remain stagnant unless you choose it to be that way.

 In fact, reading it reminded me of the drop-out students in our village or somewhere   else where I usually meet around. I have this imaginary judgment that they must be prejudiced as shiftless or the dregs of humanity. But, Mac, do not judge such people. Like what I have put above: “ They  do not know HOW  and WHERE to begin.” Just like what happened to Jun-ho in the story.

I really liked the story because I can relate to it. Like both the main characters above, there are times that  I am in the  bad habit  of running away from my  bitter experience or from whatever a fait accompli I leave behind  that  I regret I should not have done . Rather, I  leave it unresolved ,  trying to keep up appearances until  I come to a standstill. Nevertheless, upon reading it, I have learned more that  the life I may be choosing is not optimal at all. (sighs!)

As far as I learned, the story is the author’s autobiography. In other words, this must be the product of his feelings he  must have had suppressed for a long time. As a result, it is a beautifully written masterpiece. ^^

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I really liked it. )

America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan: A Book Review

america_prevIn the midst of reading or right after you  ( Filipinos) have read it, you may conclude that Carlos Bulosan ‘s personal accounts of his childhood experiences as well as his abject misery in America appear to be OVER EXAGERRATED , or far from the reality. I thought so, for I was not aware of the real situations among OFW’s. But you may come to the deeper realization that Carlos Bulosan must have had personal reasons: This book could serve as an eye-opener not only to the Filipino immigrants but also to the others elsewhere as well.

It almost pulled at my heartstrings. Poor Allos! If his autobiographies as well as his other works had been published while he was going through the grinding poverty, teeth-gnashing cruelty and stoical discrimination in America, I might have said, “ I didn’t know.” I wish the government of the Philippines had said it herself, or so did America. However, they turned their backs on or deaf to the reality, for I guess they must have been busy preparing for the WWII.

Carlos Bulosan bears a little resemblance to Richard Wright, one of my favorite authors. Like R. Wright, Carlos Bulosan also dreamed of freedom from the unjust socio-political system. H e also dreamed of being educated by reading omnivorously since his parents bent on sending him to school. He also went through difficulties in surviving the fittest. However, unlike R. Wright who had a chance to be known among the literati, Carlos Bulosan never did. Poor Carlos! If it had not been the poverty, he could have been educated as well as gained a name in the Philippine literature. He could have become a doctor as what he wanted to be when he was still young. He would not have held onto the edge of a knife by leaving the Philippines for the “American dream.” Alas, he ended up as poor and TB-stricken.

Honestly, after having read it, I became more nationalistic and chauvinistic; I love my native land more. When I got into the deeper part of the story, I can’t deny the fact that I was furious at Americans, felt like putting the blame on them why my countrymen as well as other Asians suffered a lot, not even before but until now. Well, I can’t blame them, for they may be the avatars and archetypes of stereotypes. Their history fashioned their hegemonic attitude. After all, I thought – since I am not much well-read about the world history- that Black Americans were not the only center of cruelty and discrimination. There are such things elsewhere after all.

I remembered two things while I was reading it:

(a) My childhood. I also lived in a province. I knew how it is like to live in a remote rural place. I have experienced what Carlos Bulosan did: toiling land with a carabao, selling vegetables and fish, walking to a far distance, bar exchange, and so on.
(b) My parents. My parents both lived in their own provinces; their attitudes are provincial. Although they are not educated, they use their common sense to live with dignity, to sacrifice for our sakes. ^^

I think this book should be highly recommended not only to OFW’s, but also to students.This book should never be forgotten, for it reflects in the dark society in the past.

Rating : 5/ 5 stars

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai: A Book Review

desaiI am very interested in reading books on India since I read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. This novel gave me an idea about life of Indians (although I already studied it in our high school History. ) I became more interested when I read A White Tiger by Aravind Adiga from which I learned the real face of social system in India, that people in the lower class get through miserable and sordid life. This fact opened my mind then. Probably, the novel that has had a significant impact upon me so far is Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, a wonderful book I will definitely recommend to someone asking for what book they should read. Thereby, I always look for the other novels which have something to do with India since there are some included on 1001 Best Novels of All Time.

All the  above-mentioned books have complete resemblance – their themes are all about poverty. So when I saw this novel in a book store, I grabbed it because I have now the conception that Indian novels have something to do with India . On the other hand, Kiran Desai’ s has the same hallmark but not as heart-breaking and compelling as Rohinton Mistry’s . The way she wrote it is completely different from the other contemporary writers’ .

This novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2006 and National Circle Award in the same year. As a reader, do not underestimate why this is deserving of the said awards. In fact , the novel is not much of a good read beyond my taste ; however, objectively speaking, I agree with another famous Indian writer, Salman Rusdie, that Keran Desia is a terrific writer.

First: Desai’s writing style reminds me of Black-American writers’ novels; for example, the Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. When you read the novel, you can assimilate the story into two interpretive ways either literally or figuratively. In other words, The Inheritance of Loss is steeped in latent implications, some kind of esoteric reading. Every sentence appears to be so deceiving that I don’t think you cannot get at what Desai wants to imply figuratively. As a cliché puts, “ Read between the lines.” So, could you have this knack of writing skill? Dear me! you might beat your head against the wall thinking about the best and most beautiful fragments you could fabricate as long as 7 years as  Desai took time to finish it.

Second: The novel is what the social world must know . Its themes deal with the social issues nowadays even since before, not only applicable to India and Nepal but also to every nation in the world which must have the same conditions specifically such as :

(a ) American dream also exists in India. The western culture influences the psyches of Indians . Consequently, due to the extreme poverty probably brought about by big population, corruption, and ridiculous so-called Caste System, most Indians are so hapless that they dream of venturing out to the USA. In reality, their life turns out to be more miserable than what they expect to be.

(b) The effects of Imperialism and colonial-mentality upon the social system raise awareness among chauvinists and jingoists. In fact, in the novel, Sai’s retired judge grandpa shows an air of aristocracy and I-am- better-than-you attitude upon his arrival in India after long studies and services under the British government. Such social situation also exists in the Philippines.

( c) Secessionism. A political situation that loses the real identity of a nation.

The novel also deals with feeling of emptiness, the atmospheric feeling I felt from the beginning to the end.

“Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself.”

All the rage in the story is the miscegenation between Sai Mistry and Gyan . I found their mutual understanding ridiculous, but their relationship could be symbolic , for Sai is Indian and Gyan; Nepalese.

On the other hand, the only thing that impedes my interest is the Indian words and dialogues with I am not familiar and beyond my understanding. But I believe this is the essence of writing such book; it only reflects the nationalistic observation of Kiran Desia.

Besides, I cannot brush the idea that this novel was as though each story in each chapter had just been patched together as Desai’s successful breakthrough after seven years of writing it. Still, it is a tour de force. Congratulations Ms. Kiran Desai! I envy your febrile imagination. ^^

Prior to this , Desai was already popular among literary critics for her Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard , which I will read as soon as I buy it. ^^

Rating : 5 / 5 stars