Book Review | The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

refugeesAuthour:
Viet Thanh Nguyen
Format:
ARC, 440 pages
Publication date:
February 7th 2017
Publisher:
Grove Press
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
You may have heard of the writer, Viet Thanh Nguyen from his Pulitzer (and other prizes/awards) winning debut novel The Sympathizer. And while the synopsis of The Sympathizer didn’t truly appeal to me, I was looking forward to The Refugees as my introduction to his writing.

The Refugees is a collection of eight short stories that have previously been published before in some form. While all the stories are stand-alones they share the common themes of family, identity, love and often how the characters’ lives were either directly or indirectly affected by the Vietnam War (known as the “American” War by numerous Vietnamese people).

Though I am of Vietnamese descent, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been born into a somewhat privilege background, however reading stories concerning those who fled South Vietnam made me re-examine my parents struggles.  While I could not relate to some of their experiences there were several other elements of the stories that I could relate to. For instance, my family knew people who owned convenience stores and tailor shops and the story, The Transplant gave me chills as my father was a recipient of an anonymous organ donation. Lastly the sisters’ relationship in Fatherland is vaguely reminiscent of the relationship that I have with my sister albeit we were both born in Canada.

Of all the stories, Someone Else Besides You and Fatherland both of which are stories where the fathers play a major role are the ones that stood out to me as the most memorable ones. Though, regardless of my personal preference each of the eight stories in The Refugees are thought provoking and emotionally powerful contributions to this collection of stories that excels in its observation of human experiences.

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

Midweek Mini Reviews #2

Native: Dispatches from an Israeli-Palestinian Life by Sayed Kashua

nativeAs, Native: Dispatches from an Israeli-Palestinian Life was my introduction to the writings of Sayed Kashua I was struck by how dry, dark, and self-deprecating the humour was at times. Just by reading the columns, I felt as if I got to look beneath the surface at what life is truly like in Israel particularly if you’re an Arab. Of course it was fun being reminded of some of the quirks of living in Israel as I too can recall having a shower in my apartment that a n incredibly strong water pressure, which was amazing when you’re living in the middle of a desert town. Additionally, I also enjoyed reading about Kashua experiences going through book festivals and travelling as it appealed to the book nerd in me. All in all, this was a somewhat dark, satirical, albeit a heartwarming collection of stories about the Israeli-Palestinian Life.

But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens, Judith Perrignon

didnt

While short in length, But You Did Not Come Back manages to summarize the important details of Marceline’s life, including the horrors of the concentration camp and her struggle to adapt to the world once she returns “home”. The events she relates back in the book are especially horrifying if you let it sit in your head for a while until you realize the book is not a work of fiction but rather a memoir of the authour’s life experiences. People were actually treated in the concentration camps in the despicable manner that Marceline describes and it’s unfortunate that even today some people still hold the same beliefs as the tormentors back at the concentration camps.

Written as a letter to her deceased father, But You Did Not Come Back also comes across as a heartbreaking story of true survival and resilience. Like the author, I too am slightly pessimistic about our world today given all that’s happened in the world and politics in 2016 and the aftermath of such events. And it’s why books like this one are so important in that they remind us to not forget that what happened in the past can happen again if we are not careful.

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 | I’ll Tell You in Person by Chloe Caldwell

tellyouAuthour:
Chloe Caldwell
Format:
Trade Paperback, 170 pages
Publication date:
October 4th 2016
Publisher:
Coffee House Press
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
I found out about Chloe Caldwell’s second collection of essays, “I’ll Tell You in Person” through an article that was shared on Twitter. It spoke of the collection of essays telling the experiences of a young woman caught between the ages of 20 and 30 which made me feel that perhaps I could relate to what she had to say. Additionally, as I was in the midst of trying to write my own personal essays I felt that it would be helpful to read what others have written. Apparently I’m not alone in doing this, as Chloe also notes in an interview included in the book that she read a bunch of personal essay collections while in the process of writing this book.

Initially when I started reading the first few lines of the book, I found that I’ll Tell You in Person did indeed speak to me. However, my initial infatuation with the book didn’t subside as in the end like any collection, some of the essays were strong while others were not as well written. Furthermore, some of the essays were about topics that I knew little of and/or could not relate though majority of the essays were interesting to read. In the end, my two favourites that stood out in the book, would have to be “Failing Singing” about giving up a talent that you have and “Sister Less‘, a heartwarming essay on the bond that Chloe forms with Bobbi, who the daughter of writer, Cheryl Strayed.

I’ll Tell You in Person, is a short read that makes it the perfect companion for a commuter. However, be forewarned that it does pack a powerful emotional punch, especially for those who find themselves in a similar stage of their life. Meaning one that’s prone to a great deal of imperfection and disillusionment as well as a bit of disorientation. But, hey we all need to go through it at some point, no?

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 | Christmas on Primrose Hill by Karen Swan

christmasprimroseAuthour:
Karen Swan
Format:
Advance Reader Copy, 463 pages
Publication date:
November 13th 2015
Publisher:
Atria Books
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
The holidays remain one of my favourite times of the year, thus it’s only fitting that I’m always in search of an excellent holiday themed read. Karen Swan’s Christmas on Primrose Hill was one of those books that I truly wanted to fall in love with however it wasn’t meant to be I guess.

Christmas on Primrose Hill introduces us to Nettie Watson who by becomes an online sensation after her unexpected and humiliating fall is caught on air. As a result, she also catches the interest and ­­­­attention of Jamie Westlake, an extremely musician. The premise makes for a book that has several amusing hijinks as Nettie tries to hide her identity as the “Blue Bunny Girl” from the public. Additionally, I appreciated the community feel of the book especially the moment where the residents of Primrose Hill gather to show Nettie and her father their support and that they are thinking of them and their family. It was an incredibly heartwarming moment that captures the true spirit of the holidays.

Unfortunately, that remained one of the only elements that I enjoyed about this book. Other aspects of the book that I didn’t appreciate was how particularly near the beginning it felt that Nettie was constantly being forced to act in a manner that she wasn’t comfortable in public and by the people who were supposed to be her friends. In fact for the majority of the book it appeared that only Dan and her father were truly on her side and cared about what was best for her. (Although her best friend, “Jill” also come through in the end) And while the end result was a mostly happy conclusion for all, considering the situations that Nettie found herself in it could’ve gone extremely wrong at any point in time and she could have been in serious trouble. Another thing I wasn’t fond of was the relationship between Nettie and Jamie. It had extremely superficial roots and while there were a couple of sweet moments between the two of them, I find it difficult to believe that they could last. Although I’ll admit that I’m probably biased as in the finale I don’t think Jamie fully redeemed himself after the way he treated Nettie over a misunderstanding. He went a bit too far and hurt an already emotionally wounded Nettie. And even though he did provide an explanation for his actions, I felt that his reaction was disproportionate retribution to the situation.

Overall I felt Christmas on Primrose Hill attempted to tell several stories at once in one book which resulted in a novel that felt too long and often dragged at times. Furthermore I thought the book concluded in a manner that was a bit abrupt and unsatisfactory however the conclusion made sense for the type of story it was. Therefore while I’m unsure as to whether I’d recommend this particular book to others, the author herself has written numerous other books and perhaps it stands that this one title that wasn’t to my preference.

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