A Thousand Splendid Suns

Dear Crystal,

First of all THANKS FOR NOT RESPONDING IT’S BEEN FOREVER. Firstly, I’m soo sorry for being MIA for so long. School is hard. Mostly bio is hard. ūüė¶
This week I read¬†A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I’m going to try to make this week’s review short and sweet and mostly spoiler-free, but we’ll see how far I get with that LOL. The novel is an engaging and beautiful story about two Afghan women in different generations who struggle to find feminism, happiness, and love in the political turmoil from the 1970’s to the early 2000’s. The women, Laila and Mariam, face shocking horrors and hardships and spend their lives looking for a way to escape the oppression. Hosseini’s story is also very enlightening and educational regarding Afghanistan’s troubles during that time. Just an all-around great book.

Often times I’ll get bored by the plot of books like this. Not ONCE did I want to put the book down. A Thousand Splendid Suns is the perfect pace for someone who enjoys a surprising and fresh plot as well as phenomenal writing.¬†I love love love this book (I mean, let’s be real here–¬†any book that can make you sob nonstop for an hour is a good book). I finished the book ten minutes before I had to go to a class so I showed up looking something like this:

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Anyway,¬†A Thousand Splendid Suns¬†is a touching and devastating novel. It’s like Hosseini sat down intending¬†to create step-by-step the saddest story for¬†the main characters. I will grant it a 9.5 out of 10 because no one is perfect, and there’s always room for improvement. I look forward to reading¬†The Kite Runner¬†soon, a very very very popular book also written by Khaled Hosseini. I can’t wait!!

Love,

Jeannie

A Glass Castle

Hi Crystal,

OKAY I’M BACK!! I’M SO SORRY! I had midterms and then a bunch of other competitions and whatnot. UGH BUT I’M HERE. You can stop writing book review to yourself. :))
Over the holidays (I know, it was a while ago) I read¬†The Glass Castle, a memoir by Jeannette Walls. It had me SHOOK (and not in all the good ways). She writes about her upbringing by two unfit parents.¬†It’s a very depressing read, but it makes you reevaluate your life and count your blessings. HOWEVER, brace yourself; this is probably going to be a pretty harsh review.

THIS IS A MINI-RANT SO I’M LETTING Y’ALL KNOW BEFOREHAND¬†IF YOU GET TRIGGERED EASILY:

This book made me angry and annoyed for pretty much the entire duration. Basically her mother really doesn’t want to have children but ends up having FOUR and the actual WORST mother ever. She’s self-centered and just doesn’t care about them or make an effort to do anything to help her children. The father tried at least. Although he was a drunk. So that kinda sucked. ¬†In some chapters I’m like, how have they not been arrested yet for this??

At the same time: the story kind of came off as like a self-pat on the back from¬†Walls. She spends the first 80% of the book just stating strangely specific details from her rough childhood and just having a pity party. The last 20% is the not-so-humble brag part: I got into an Ivy-League college, I’m a successful newspaper writer, I have a rich boyfriend, yada, yada, yada. OKAY JEANNETTE GOOD FOR YOU.

I know, I know, most people think, “I was never in that situation,” “I wouldn’t know,” “it’s a beautiful story,” whatever. The book just doesn’t feel genuine. I want to feel happy and proud for Walls, but the way she wrote it just doesn’t let me.

The writing itself isn’t the best, but the story is decent¬†enough for it to barely pass by without a really good¬†writer behind it. I just think there would be a lot more¬†potential. I honestly don’t get why people are so into it. It’s an iffy 5/10‚ÄĒI guess I would recommend if you’re looking to be sad/mad/mostly irritated for a few hours.

From,

Jeannie

Night

Dear Crystal,

Sorry for the late post. I had been in the middle of a paper for Global History, and I didn’t think people wanted to read a review on books about Confucius’ life and teachings. But I’m here now, and that’s all that matters! I recently read¬†Night¬†by Elie Wiesel. Many of my favorite books are realistic fiction about WWII, like¬†The Book Thief, ¬†All the Light We Cannot See, Sarah’s Key, and etc., however,¬†Night¬†is a work of non-fiction that struck me just like these other books written by renowned writers.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

Night is written almost like a work of fiction; it has symbolism on every page. As the title suggests, the symbol of nighttime and darkness recurs.  It delves into the idea of horrifying and traumatic events such as the Holocaust forcing people to betray people that they love. We often times hear of heart-warming stories like a mother giving up her life to save her child, but the reality is that many people were turned into animals and dehumanized the Jews. It was each man to themselves in those concentration camps. The Nazis turned ordinary people into the barely living dead.

Nobody asked anyone for help. One died because one had to. No point in making trouble.

Wiesel displays the harsh reality of the emotional and physical torture people had to endure. People wished for death to save them. Sons were betraying fathers, letting them die and some hoping that it would to ease their burden. The strongest of the strong giving up at last. People being stripped of their faith. Here’s is one of the many passages that were extremely powerful:

[My father’s] last word had been my name. He called out to me and I had not answered. I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I was out of tears. And deep inside me, if I could have searched the recesses of my feeble conscience, I might have found something like: Free at last!…

Wiesel had been loyal to the end; he lived with his father in mind until even he, who was one of the emotionally strongest, could not bear it anymore. The Holocaust and the Germans killed him inwardly.

Occasionally, we would pass through German towns. Usually, very early in the moring. German laborers were going to work. They would stop and look at us without surprise. One day when we had come to a stop, a worker took a piece of bread out of his bag and threw it into a wagon. There was a stampede. Dozens of starving men fought desperately over a few crumbs. The worker wached the spectabcle with great interest.

Wiesel spent his life trying to make people aware of the dangers of indifference. A famous quote of his is, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

I’m gonna be honest, this book had me sitting in my room on a Saturday night next to an empty tissue box bawling my eyes out. 100% recommend if you like crying.

But all jokes aside,¬†Night’s lessons for humanity¬†is more valuable than gold. It is truly eye opening and devastating. I hope history doesn’t repeat itself. I beg you to pick this classic up if you haven’t already- I guarantee that it is 1000x better than my very limited description.

Love,

Jeannie

A Lesson Before Dying

Hi Crystal,

WOWOWOWOWOW this country is going crAZY right now. Election day was pretty rough ngl. Tbh it was an emotional roller-coaster for everyone, but I’m sure the panic will set in eventually.

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On top of the fact that our nation is falling apart, I have a biology test tomorrow that I’m pretty worried about. Wish me luck!!

Recently, I have been reading and annotating¬†A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. It is about a young black man named Jefferson who is falsely accused of murder and sentenced to death in the south during the 1940’s. During his trial, he is called a “hog” by the white lawyers. Hearing this, his aunt, Miss Emma, tries to convince Grant, an African American teacher in their quarter, to go and “make Jefferson a man again.”

One major theme in the book is the idea of staying to fight your fight. Grant, one of the few educated black people in the town, goes off to college basically in search of a way to escape the prejudice in the Cajun community he’s from. However, he winds up back there as a teacher, a job which he clearly isn’t too happy about. He lives a pretty depressing life, caring very little about his job, as he feels it is unnecessary and all in vain because the kids still end up in jail (like Jefferson). He always talks about running away and becoming more in life but never actually leaves. Throughout the novel, he learns to become a man while helping Jefferson become a “man” as well. He learns that as a truly educated person, he has to stay and fight the fight because that’s the only way things will get better for the African American community.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been making comments on every other line of the text or because I have to write an 800 word essay every week, but I thought this book was very slow-paced. Basically 300 pages long and with a pretty uneventful plot, the story line is a little boring sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, however, the writing is very good. It seems like every line the author writes has a purpose and a symbol. Gaines is an obviously a talented writer, clearly displayed when he can make me so frustrated when I read certain scenes that I want to bang my head against a wall.

Imma be real for a hot sec– I straight up didn’t enjoy reading the book. Something about literally NONE of the characters being likable just didn’t rest well with me. Yeah, yeah, I know all of them are supposed to be bitter about racial inequality and feeling trapped, but the whole “negativity is EVERYWHERE” mindset is just a struggle to read about. Even the main character, Grant, is a straight up self centered a**hole and doesn’t care about anyone else. Yes, the book is about growing up and becoming a “man” but it seems like 99.9999% of it is essentially just him going like “ugh i h8 this place sm!!1! i wanna run away w my still-married gf!!1! but she doesn’t want 2 leave?? WTF vivian!?!”

I dig a really good historical fiction book– it’s one of my favorite genres ever, but¬†I can see A Lesson Before Dying being a book I remember for being kinda a pain to read. 5/10.. (not my #1 choice for a book to read for pastime, but certainly a fine book for studies)

Love,

Jeannie

 

The House on Mango Street

Dear Crystal,

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading and analyzing Sandra Cisneros’¬†The House on Mango Street.¬†I read it a while back but didn’t fully interpret the book’s deeper meanings. I’m not going to completely spoil the book in this review, (so my plot part only goes half way into the novel) but I want to show some parts of Esperanza I didn’t notice the first time.

The House on Mango Street, a novel written with a series of vignettes,¬†is narrated by a girl named Esperanza who is trying to find her identity. She¬†lives in a home that she is ashamed off; it’s run down and cramped. She lives life with a pretty bleak outlook, if you ask me.

In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It mean s sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing.

She goes on to say that she feels trapped, citing a story of her great-grandmother. It’s pretty powerful:

I would’ve liked to have known her, a wild horse of a woman… Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off… She looked out the winder her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or she was sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.

Esperanza hopes that her name and other things she was born with doesn’t affect her future. She even describes herself as a “red balloon tied to an anchor.” She feels trapped and that she is destined to live a miserable life because of her family situation–she has no friends, no money, no real happiness, that is, until she befriends two girls named Rachel and Lucy, with whom she starts to open up with.

Esperanza starts to discover who she is through several “coming of age” experiences. She has more responsibilities, which include getting a job, breaking news to her younger siblings, etc.. She has few pretty creepy things happen to her. Old men kiss her and she gets sexually assaulted :/

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Esperanza learns what it means to develop an identity. It doesn’t come from your family’s past or your social class or your heritage. Esperanza was mistaken– you don’t have to reinvent yourself.¬†Your identity is what YOU make of it. ūüôā

That’s all for now,

Jeannie

The Stranger

To my darling sister, Crystal,

I am still stressed.

I hope you are having a decent week! I’m so sorry for the late post. Right now, I am sitting in a corner of the library surrounded by a mind-boggling amount of math and science homework and labs that are all due tomorrow. Wish me luck!

*MAJOR SPOILERS*

I recently read the book,¬†The Stranger¬†by Albert Camus. The story, originally written in French, follows a man named Meursault. The book opens with him finding out that his mother died. He then goes to her funeral and expresses little to no emotion. He has a girlfriend named Marie, who he doesn’t actually love, he just likes having sex with her. Already, I’m thinking, huh, this guy is a sociopath. BUT THEN HE GOES AND KILLS A MAN FOR NO REASON. Why?? Because it was “hot” outside and he wasn’t thinking straight. Meursault is arrested and goes to court. Even in court, he doesn’t regret anything. There, they condemn him to the guillotine, and the book ends with him accepting the idea of his execution.

Here’s a favorite meme of mine to describe my thoughts:

To be honest, when I finished the 100-something paged book, I was angry. I don’t know why, but I expected The Stranger¬†to be riveting, invigorating, and just a thrill in general to read. It was certainly not that. However, this novel is extremely deep on a philosophical standpoint. After some deep thought, I¬†think ¬†Meursault is the stranger after which the book is called. He feels little to no emotion about anything. Society doesn’t accept him as a functioning member of it because of his indifferent attitude about things “normal” people would usually react strongly to. Judged and misunderstood by different characters throughout the book, Mersault is perceived as a crazy freak. He is charged with murder with no mercy– he is headed straight to the guillotine¬†(no pun intended ;)). I honestly don’t know why he would be pardoned after what he’s done, but yet again, I am part of the “judgmental” society that rejects people like Meursault.

Overall, this book is too profound for me to appreciate it to its fullest extent. But, if you are really into analyzing deep philosophical ideas like those, try¬†The Stranger out. Otherwise, don’t step within a 5-foot radius of it.

Sincerely,

Jeannie

Waiting for Godot

Dear Jeannie,

Sorry to hear about the stress! …But also welcome to the rest of your life. A good way to manage your stress is¬†to prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Also don’t be afraid to let an activity go if it’s all really too much.

Back to the subject at hand, this week I read Samuel Beckett’s play, “Waiting for Godot.” The tagline reads “A tragicomedy in two acts” which I find a bit misleading. Though the “two acts” part is right on,¬†if it’s comedic at all, it’s the kind of absurd comedy that isn’t actually¬†funny. Tragic, I’ll agree with.

The premise is simple: two men are waiting for Godot. Like the two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, the reader too spends the entire play waiting for something. Things happen of course (“things happen” is almost an axiomatic definition of existence) but *mild spoiler* not the thing the characters nor the reader waits for. Godot never materializes and the emotional payoff‚ÄĒsome closure¬†to the story‚ÄĒnever materializes for the reader. In fact, what is said¬†isn’t the¬†important or interesting thing, it’s what isn’t said, what the shape of the silences create, the negative space, that gives this play depth and existential meaning.¬†After all, the dialogue is often terse, confounding, trivial, fragmented, absurd:
[Exhibit A]

ESTRAGON: Then adieu.
POZZO: Adieu.
VLADIMIR: Adieu.
POZZO: Adieu.
Silence. No one moves.
VLADIMIR: Adieu.
POZZO: Adieu.
ESTRAGON: Adieu.
Silence.
POZZO: And thank you.
VLADIMIR: Thank you

[Exhibit B]

LUCKY: Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly…

From the incomprehensibility of large swathes of the dialogue, it’s clear to the reader that Beckett¬†probably intended this work to have some allegorical meaning. Godot, must be in reality a symbol for something bigger.

ESTRAGON:¬†(having tried in vain to work it out). I’m tired! (Pause.) Let’s go.
VLADIMIR:¬†We can’t.
ESTRAGON: Why not?
VLADIMIR: 
We’re waiting for Godot.
ESTRAGON:¬†Ah! (Pause. Despairing.) What’ll we do, what’ll we do!

The line “We’re waiting for Godot”¬†is¬†repeated six times, always in the context of why they cannot leave the side of the road. We don’t know why¬†they’re waiting for Godot, just that they are.¬†In fact, the only alternate¬†solution to the¬†waiting that’s proposed with any possibility¬†is suicide by hanging. Their only problem? They don’t have a rope that’s long or strong enough.

I personally interpret¬†the act of waiting for Godot as a¬†symbol for life passing by (something reinforced by the fact that four out of the five characters in the play are¬†aged). The two men are essentially physically tied to that one spot by the roadside, merely whiling away the time until either Godot arrives or night falls‚ÄĒwhichever is first (and it’s always night).

Vladimir:¬†…What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come‚ÄĒ…Or for night to fall. (Pause.) We have kept our appointment and that’s an end to that. We are not saints, but we have kept our appointment. How many people can boast as much?

Each day, their waiting is merely another go around in futile circularity, the only breakpoint of which is death.

Love,

Crystal