Sunday, December 26

A good read

In the Pond

Ha Jin's relatively unknown novel "In the Pond" was published in 1998. The book set in Communist China around the time of cultural revolution, takes as its protagonist, a small town Harvest Fertilizer maintenance employee Shao Bin. Bin with his wife and a two year old daughter live in a 12 by 20 foot room. The story begins when Bin's application for a larger house in the employee quarters is rejected despite is seniority in the company. He is rejected because of the rampant corruption at the higher level. A really quick read, funny at times deals with some weighty issues- power, corruption, art and vanity. Shao Bin sets out to seek justice through art (he was a self taught artist), the constant struggle between him the two powerful figures at the company, his alienation among other workers, his wife and her struggles- all these give the story its poignance.
Personally, I did not like Shao Bin- I thought he was egotistical and used everyone to further his own agenda. Doing the things that he did during a revolution, I was surprised at the happy ending, at least for Shao Bin.  I did love the book. It gave me a glimpse into a society which I am so far removed from and have never been able to fathom. Can't wait to read Ha Jin's well acclaimed book "Waiting".

Sunday, December 12

James Baldwin

Giovanni's Room

If you are looking for something to cheer you up- this certainly then is NOT for you! A very simple, yet powerful book written about the isolation felt by homosexual men. This second novel by Baldwin was first published in 1956.
Almost every male character in the book is homosexual and the ways of rich men buying the services of and in fact having a sense of entitlement of the younger, vulnerable out-of-towners was disheartening. There is David, an American so ashamed and afraid of his sexuality- he flees to Paris to save himself from embarrassment.  In Paris, with no money in hand, he is forced to get help from Jacques. Jacques was the reason that David and Giovanni meet. Giovanni works at a bar owned by Guillame in Paris. Hella was one odd woman out- David's girl friend who is off in Spain as she takes a break from the relationship and my be even Paris. It was during this time that David and Giovanni's relationship and love for each other blossoms. The end is quite tragic (I will not tell you what happened) but I would just say that I went through myriad of emotions. I am still unsure if I hate David- I was definitely furious with his dishonesty- not just to himself, but he was dishonest with Hella, Giovanni and pretty much every one else! I am also not able to fathom why Giovanni would love David so much and would need him so much for his survival? The title itself has many interesting metaphorical connotations (you have to read it to understand it).

Baldwin himself, as an isolated gay black man in the 50's moved to Paris and when he finished this manuscript his publisher suggested that he might as well burn it. You can read all about it here, here or here.

I will leave you with David's words-

"What happened was that, all unconscious of what this ennui meant, I wearied of the motion, wearied of the joyless seas of alcohol, wearied of the blunt, bluff, hearty, and totally meaningless friendships, wearied of wandering through the forests of desperate women, wearied of the work which fed me only in the most brutally literal sense" 

Must Read!