Midweek Mini Reviews #17

This Midweek Mini Reviews post features two of the books I brought with me on my trip to Vietnam this summer.

Vi by Kim Thúy

What I loved most about Vi was how family was truly the focus of the story this time around. Readers learn about the title character’s family history (starting with her grandparents) well before we get to Vi’s story and even after she goes out on her own, her family continues to have an impact on her life. I also appreciated the fact that another one of the central aspects of this novel was the Vietnamese Canadian immigrant experience which does differ from the experiences of Vietnamese Americans. I also fell in love with Vi’s family, including her brothers who all looked out for her in their own way as well as her mother who “gave” Vi to her friend, Hà to raise so that she can have a better education and future. As a result of this upbringing, Vi is able to have many adventures across the globe which I loved reading about. All that being said, however, I felt that Vi was not as well written compared with Thúy’s earlier novels, Ru and Mãn and the ending left much to be desired. Furthermore, despite being the titular character readers barely get to know Vi before the book ends. In the end, Vi was a decent read as it has Thúy’s trademark stripped-down, exquisite prose, however the lack of lightness in Vi’s story a

Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road by Kate Harris

Lands of Lost Borders is a memoir that details the journey and life of the author Kate Harris. Harris has always dreamt of being an explorer and it was interesting to read about how she discovered and harnessed her writing talents to get funding for her adventures as a student. That being said, this was a slow and tough read for me because felt long-winded at times with all the history lessons and technical details of biking embedded in the book. I would’ve liked there to have been more on her adventure in present day, including greater details on the characters she came across and the cities and towns she and her friend travelled through. I did, however, appreciated the fact that Harris doesn’t gloss over the difficulties of her journey as they do face many challenges along the way. So as far as travel literature goes, Lands of Lost Borders isn’t high on my favourites or recommend reading list, however I did learn about Central and Western Asia from it. In the end, I think I probably would have been better off with an audiobook for this one given the type of story it was. 




Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | Gratitude by Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks
Hardcover, 45 pages
Publication date:
November 24th 2015
Knopf Canada
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.


“When people die, they cannot be replaced. They  leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate-the genetics and neural fate-of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.” (p. 19-20)

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that one of the reasons I picked up Gratitude by Oliver Sacks was the book’s brevity. After all a short book of personal essays from a well-known writer was an intriguing proposition and fortunately it turned out to be just what I needed.

While I haven’t read anything else by him, Oliver Sacks’ writing in Gratitude felt incredibly down to earth, authentic and relatable. It was akin to having a causal conversation with a dear friend. And despite the serious and thought provoking manner of the four essays reading them never felt painful although the writing was definitely poignant.

Of the four essays in Gratitude, “Sabbath” remained without a doubt the one that I connected with the most. In it, Sacks describes how religion has influenced his life from his orthodox upbringing to later appreciating elements of it such as how openly and warmly he and his partner are embraced by his more orthodox relatives when he visits them in Israel. This he mentions was something that was unexpected as growing up he faced rejection from his own mother when she found out he was gay. And he formerly attributed his mother’s extreme reaction as a result of her conservative religious beliefs and her loyalty to the teachings of her faith. Yet it is an essay that concludes on a hopeful manner despite reality.

Gratitude is a short read, however it is one that is filled with meaning that will stay with you after you’ve turned the last page. Personally, I will be passing my copy of this book on to my sister who’s currently in medical school as I think she’d appreciate all that it has to say about science, life and death.

The greatest takeaway for all who come across this book should be that too often, when things are going great for us we tend to take things for granted and occasionally it takes something life changing and perhaps terminal to force us stop to appreciate what we have and had. And Gratitude reminds its readers that shouldn’t be the case and we ought not wait for life to force us to pause for a second to be grateful for what we have and had and will have.

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Words of Asia | In the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar


For a listing of the links to all the other review posts for the Words of Asia blog event click here.

About the Authour:
Mia Alvar is a writer who currently lives in New York City. She was born in the Philippines and raised in Bahrain and the United States. In the Country is her first book.inthecountry

Where Does it Take Place?
Like the Filipino diaspora, these stories take place anywhere from the USA to the Middle East which gives readers a look at how different the immigrant experience is as well as the common thread between all their experiences despite ending up in different countries with different cultures.

What’s it About:
In the Country, is a collection of nine short stories about the Filipino diaspora. These are women and men who are starting their lives in countries all over the world.

My Thoughts:
Usually with short stories collection there are some stories I love and others I don’t love. However, with Mia Alvar’s In the Country I found that I love pretty much most of the stories in the collection. Each of the stories is more captivating than the previous one. The stories, themselves have a lot of substance, and are extremely thought provoking. The recurring theme in In the Country is that there’s so much more to people and situations then you may see at first glimpse.

With so many choices to choose from, I’d have to say my favourite of the collection would probably be, The Miracle Worker story which is an exceptionally well written story about a woman who is hired to teach severely handicapped girl. As a result of her encounter with the girl and the girl’s mother she starts to doubt her marriage and what she wants in life. I loved the story for the message it imparts on the reader at the end. Additionally, I enjoyed reading Legends of the White Lady because it mixes a traditional ghost story with the contemporary story of a foreign model in Philippines. What I loved most about this book was reading about all the Filipino people living all over the world and the lives they lead, as these stories are the ones that I don’t often hear about or come across as often in the books I tend to read.

You’ll like this book, if you love:
Stories about the immigrant experience, and not just of those who have immigrated to North America but those who have moved to countries that you may not expect them to.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Nevertheless, regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.