Kao Kalia Yang – The Latehomecomer | Understanding My Roots

imageedit_17_3269069168

Title: The Latehomecomer

Author: Kao Kalia Yang

Author’s Country of Birth: Thailand

Ethnicity: Hmong

Genre: Historical Nonfiction/Memoir

Page Numbers: 277

Publish Year: 2008

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

Barnes & Noble | Amazon

What Is It About?

After the Vietnam War ended, the Laotian Communist party and their Northern Vietnamese allies made it a mission to exterminate all Hmong supporters of the Americans.  During the war, the United States had opposed the Communist party and sought military support from the Hmong.  As a result, most Hmong men and boys died for the war–and afterwards, when the Americans withdrew from Laos, the Hmong were left behind.  Thousands of Hmong were slaughtered by the Pathet Lao and Northern Vietnamese soldiers.  The remaining survivors fled for the jungles and attempted to cross the Mekong River to Thailand’s refugee camps.  There, they were safe–but their trials and hardships didn’t stop there.

“The Latehomecomer” is a Hmong family memoir, being told from Kao Kalia Yang’s perspective as she tells the story of her family’s journey from the jungles, to her birth in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, the family’s transition to America, and their new life as Americans.  She shares her personal experiences as a young Hmong girl, struggling to re-adjust to a new life in Minnesota, United States as the Yang family faces prejudice, language barriers, economic obstacles, and tears.  For Kalia, starting over from complete scratch was already frustrating.  But when her grandmother, Youa Lee, is relocated to California, Kalia suddenly feels the growing division between her past…and the possible future in America.

Initial Thoughts…

Here I was, diving into another book about the Vietnam War.

Though I am Hmong and I have spent years–reading about the Vietnam War–and realizing, with bitter acceptance, that the Hmong were almost always excluded from history textbooks–I was mentally preparing myself for the gruesome truths before I actually got my hands on this memoir.  Personally, the fact that it is a book written by a Hmong person about the Vietnam War and aftermaths was refreshing, because I felt that not enough Hmong stories were being published for the country to read.

As a first-generation Hmong-American, I feel that it is important of us Hmong to support one another and root for each other’s success than tearing them down.

How to Describe the Overall Book?

To be honest, I felt guilty while reading the book–not only because I felt bad for asking insensitive questions about life before the Vietnam War when I was growing up, I didn’t know about the miserable hardships of my parents and their families when they were fleeing from the Communist soldiers.  I was so angry–I felt ignorant–and I just…couldn’t help but think of my parents as I continued reading.  I also felt deceived by United States history books–because not only were the Hmong invisible from most of them, there was no mention of heart-breaking sacrifices that the Hmong had to make when supporting American soldiers–and I probably wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for Yang.

Overall, “The Latehomecomer” was well-written and easy to understand for those who are not familiar with Hmong culture.  Yang didn’t spend too much time lingering on background information and was able to build up a strong, personal voice through first-person narrative.  Her attention to the dates were crucial to one knowing when the given event took place in the book as well as informing the audience how old she was around that specific time.  Other details I’ve noted included how Yang was able to incorporate flawless time skips that correlated to significant life events and painting vivid imageries.

imageedit_20_5156351044.jpg

What’s My Favorite Part?

The emotional depths of the author’s personal experiences as a refugee and bilingual child was easily relatable and heart wrenching.  I loved how Yang described the difficulties of not only assimilating into American culture but also learning how to read, speak, and write in a different language while growing up–because there are still many people out there, who do not understand how hard this can be on a child alone.  There are still children, who are doing this all around the world–and speaking their native tongue, their first language, at home!  This takes hard work and dedication, extra hours of studying, and also, a major mental toll.

In addition, the way that Yang introduces the reader to how she had felt being divided between Hmong and an American is a common experience that most bilingual children go through, especially in traditional families of non-American origins.  I, for one, went through that several times throughout my life!  Traditional families may clash with American ideas from time to time, leading to large amounts of stress and conflicts between the child and parent(s).  Life events like Yang’s will usually cause the child to reflect heavily on their separate identities–much like staring into the faces of two mirror reflections.

What’s My Least Favorite Part?

There was little room to complain actually, because the book was straight to the point and consistent with its theme.  As a Hmong person, I recognized many of the cultural customs mentioned in “The Latehomecomer” and specific time periods related to the Vietnam War and after.  After finishing the book, one can tell that Yang had taken great care in creating a deep, heart-warming story of survival and family love because of her amazing story-telling skills.

imageedit_24_3712871961.jpg
A handmade pencil case made by my grandmother.  Embroideries were hand-sewn as well.

And So…

Though I have read books about the Vietnam War before, “The Latehomecomer” was certainly different and unique from all the others, because it is written by a Hmong refugee.  The history and background information about the Hmong and their culture proved to be certainly helpful and was written in a concise but easy to understand way for readers to grasp.  The importance of family is echoed throughout the novel and is of common but a most valuable thing in Hmong culture, because during war, one cannot help but hope to come out of it, alive with loved ones.

To be surrounded by those who loves you and who are still here with you is probably taken for granted by many of us.  Yang was able to shift my view in life back to my folks and made me remember how fortunate I was to have grown up in a family with two parents–and parents who survived an attempted genocide and war time.  Sometimes, we can get so caught up in life that we forget about those who had fought with blood and tears for our futures.  Sometimes, we get so lost in the small details that we overlook the bigger picture.

“The Latehomecomer” is definitely a must-read for people who are trying to expand their horizons about minority groups and forgotten histories.  It is created by the tears of a people who were forgotten and invisible to many throughout the world, the strength of survivors who banded together with their families–for life or for death, and written by a woman who wanted to share the story of her people, to make a mark on American literature.  It is a voice from the Secret War.

It is a voice that is no longer silent.

A voice that says, “We’re here.”

Advertisements

Anna-Marie McLemore – The Weight of Feathers | The Question of Free Will

imageedit_13_4891837812.jpg

Title: The Weight of Feathers

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Author’s Country of Birth: USA

Ethnicity: Hispanic

Genre: Drama/Romance

Page Numbers: 308

Publish Year: 2015

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Barnes & Noble | Amazon

What Is It About?

The Name is forbidden.  Being touched by Them can certainly mean death.  If you see a feather–any feather–you have to burn whatever it has touched for what it has touched becomes tainted.  This is what means…to be a Paloma for Lace.

For years, the feud between the two rival families, the Palomas and the Corbeaus, have escalated into violence and even deaths.  Both families are competing circus performers, with the Palomas specializing in river mermaid shows–and the Corbeaus being tight-rope walkers, with feathered wings.  But when Cluck Corbeau rescues Lace Paloma, Lace is thrown into unfamiliar territories of love, hate, and family secrets that will make her question just about everything that made her a Paloma.

Initial Thoughts…

POC protagonists? Check.  Strong heroine? Check.  Interracial relationships? Check.

Because it was inspired by William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”–I was feeling a bit uneasy when I stumbled upon this re-telling, because I wasn’t sure if I could handle any more unhappy and tragic endings to star-crossed lovers.  However, being in an interracial relationship myself, I wanted to read a book that I can relate to and feature two people of different races.  The fact that “The Weight of Feathers” revolve around two traditional families of French and Spanish heritages–AND still speak the two languages?  That was what helped sold me into getting my hands on the book.

Well, then, there’s also the fact that the whole story takes place in the Central Valley–Central California–close to where I currently live.  Instead of a typical setting in Los Angeles, New York City, or major city in the States, I found that pretty refreshing.  All the bits that made this book? They were all unique, and I knew this was a hard find for me.

How To Describe the Overall Book?

Personally, I felt that the book started out a bit slow in the beginning, but that was because McLemore had to fill the reader in about both family backgrounds and set the mood situation, regarding how they each feel about the other.  After that though, in between switching off from Lace’s to Cluck’s perspectives–both in third-person narrative–the story plot gradually progressed in an interesting way due to the constant build-up of details and chain of events that, of course, comes to play a huge role altogether later on.  “The Weight of Feathers” definitely surpassed my expectations by a MAJOR landslide–and I found that just because it was inspired by “Romeo and Juliet”, it was not cliche at all.  So, no sweet poetry or anything like that.

However, there was a love that felt so real and modern to me as a reader.  As a result, I was sucked furthermore into the story–and finished the entire book in 4 reading sessions.  Overall, the book itself was amazing!  It was original, the theme was consistent–all of my questions were answered–and honestly, I was pretty content.

imageedit_16_5335607845.jpg

What’s My Favorite Part?

One of the major factors that I look for when reading a story–is good and strong character development whether that means a protagonist becoming a villain…or the protagonist becoming a better version of themselves and has overcome their obstacles.  Thoughout the story, Lace always remained as a strong female protagonist but she had her own naive moments and close-mindedness.  Despite this, her courage and boldness shone through, and she was the perfect foil to Cluck’s personality just as he was to her.  Then, there was Cluck.  I loved him so much, because I had empathy for him–and eventually, I too saw his character flaws, flaws that made him just as Human as anyone else–and weaknesses also.  Both main characters share these Human traits–and it gave them both more dimension.  Eventually, they went on to challenge these flaws and weaknesses of theirs.  Another thing I love–is that they build each other up.

So, I kept reading!  McLemore then strategically set up and arranged each major dramatic event, using the family hierarchies to her advantage–to launch the chain of events that kept popping in, producing ripple effects that could be felt throughout the rest of the story.  Ripple effects that helped both Lace and Cluck grow as people.

Not only was there strong character development and a well thought-out chain reaction that contributed greatly to the overall climax–and to the ending–there was also another significant component that held the story altogether: consistency.  The theme could be felt again and again in each event, especially when it revolved around family.  In addition, the symbolism was seen various times during the most critical moments between characters–causing one to be always curious and at the edge of their seat.

What’s My Least Favorite Part?

To be honest, at first, the feelings of both Cluck and Lace felt awkward and forced at times–leaving me feeling a bit irritated.  I knew that McLemore wanted these early events between the main characters to happen because they are both romantic interests–but I couldn’t quite pin-point why they felt so unnatural to me.  After some time though, the romance started to feel less rigid, and everything began falling into place.  “The Weight of Feathers” was McLemore’s first book, and so, I could understand why there were a few problem areas.

And So…

Unlike most books that I have read in the past, I was left feeling quite impressed by how well McLemore tied up all the loose ends and answered all of my questions about both families.  What was thought as a simple plot–actually thickened and was more complicated than I took it for.  With shocking secrets being revealed from whichever end–and then, the reader realizing that “The Weight of Feathers” was more than just a romance novel–one’s interpretation of the book can change again and again.  I, for one, closed the book–knowing what struck me the most.

And that was the weight of every feather.

J.K. Rowling – The Tales of Beedle the Bard | Perfect for Harry Potter Fans!

imageedit_35_6631473187.jpg

 Title: The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Author: J.K. Rowling

Author’s Country of Birth: England

Genre: Fantasy

Page Numbers: 111 pages

Publish Year: 2008

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Barnes & Noble | Amazon

Initial Thoughts…

Honestly, I had no idea that “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” existed–though many people have told me in the past that J.K. Rowling did write a book that included “The Tale of The Three Brothers”(which was featured in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”)!  I was completely clueless, because I expected to pick up a huge storybook like the Grimm Brothers or Christian Anderson.  When I finally did, my heart fell flat–and picked itself up again.

That was when I had remembered I was in elementary school when the Harry Potter books were coming out–and my classmate, a bookworm named Ariel–was reading the “gigantic” book.  By herself.  I had never felt so out of place in my life–and I was left, reeling back from the fact that I am now in my twentiesand this book I was holding in my hands were made not just for my generation–but for little generations who are currently going to elementary school, carrying gigantic Harry Potter books.

More than an entire decade had flown by.

What Is It About?

Whether you have read the book or seen the movie, anyone who is familiar with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” would be aware that fairytales or bedtime stories play a significant role in the story plot as Harry and his friends discover that not all things and people are what they claim to be.  They soon find themselves questioning the tales being told to young wizards and witches as truth or simply make-believe.  This causes them to explore the source of one story, “The Tale of The Three Brothers.”

Written by J.K. Rowling, “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” is a collection of stories aimed at young wizards and witches, being passed down for generations among the Wizarding world just as the Muggle world has shared tales such as “Cinderella” to their children.  While in Muggle fairytales, magic is the root of problems for Muggle heroes or heroines, “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” feature heroes and heroines who perform the magic themselves.  Beedle’s stories, though, help Wizarding parents explain to children that magic can often have consequences if abused.

In addition, throughout the book, readers will come across Dumbledore’s commentary notes about each tale.  If one takes time to read them, the clues and backstories will contribute to a deeper understanding of the Wizarding world and about his relationships with other Harry Potter characters, such as Mr. Lucius Malfoy.  “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” may have been written for children, but it is also a book that can be enjoyed by Harry Potter fans of all ages–as it opens up a whole new world of controversy revolving around the tension between Muggles and Wizarding folks.

How to Describe the Overall Book?

As I read the book, I quickly took note of its unique approach from the Wizarding perspective as Muggles were often depicted as ignorant, naive, and foolish people or those in need and at the mercy of magic.  In a sense, I felt as though we were poking fun at ourselves, our own Humanity, as Man can be so cruel, jealous, and quick to betray his own kind.  Why, if I were to put a Muggle and a Wizard next to each other, the Muggle who possesses no magic of his own–would be so frail and vulnerable next to the Wizard.

If there’s anything else one should pay attention to–it should also be the language.  I just love how J.K. Rowling wrote the book, because it takes the similar tone that the Grimm Brothers and Christian Anderson took–and it transports you into another setting at a different time.  At the same time, it is easy to understand, easy to read, and because of this, you and all of the other age groups–all fans of Harry Potter–are able to be part of this additional Harry Potter world experience.

imageedit_38_8638881251.jpg

What’s My Favorite Part?

Personally, I enjoyed “The Fountain of the Fair Fortune” and “The Tale of The Three Brothers”!  I felt that these two were among the strongest of the collection, because both stories had a variety of characters with contrasting differences, such as age or personality, and they all faced fairly more complex obstacles than the rest of the other stories.  I also thought that the way the collection placed these two stories was strategically well-planned, because one helped set off a strong impression and another helped set a stronger end to the overall book.

What’s My Least Favorite Part?

However, there was one or two stories that didn’t quite fit well in “The Tales of Beedle the Bard”–because I felt that they didn’t quite hold up when compared to the rest of the collection.  To me, they were either weak in character personality or story plot, and because of that, I was either left confused–trying to figure out the lesson of the tale or wondering why…in general.  Though the book was probably meant to be small, I felt that everything was rushed a little.

And So…

In the end, “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” would make a great gift for any Harry Potter fan.  While it isn’t as great as J.K. Rowling’s other works, I was still glad that I took my time to read it, because it helped provide some deeper insight in the tensed relations between the Muggle world and the Wizarding world, along with controversial interpretations of the stories.  Though you don’t necessarily need the book for vital Harry Potter world information, it is still filled with entertaining bits of knowledge related to Dumbledore and the Wizarding folks.

If you’ve read “The Tales of Beedle the Bard”, feel free to comment below with your personal opinion of the book–or if you like the post, please “like” it!

Khaled Hosseini – A Thousand Splendid Suns | Be Ready To Cry!

imageedit_29_2283251740.jpg

Title: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Author: Khaled Hosseini

Author’s Country of Birth: Afghanistan

Genre: Historical Fiction

Page Numbers: 432 pages

Publish Year: 2007

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

Barnes & Noble | Amazon

Initial Thoughts…

Sand.  It’s the first image that comes to mind when I think of the Middle East.  I also see the large, beaming sun overhead–high in the sky–either shining down on you with its quiet blessing or glaring down upon your back, burning into your skin.  And then, there comes the short media clips of women either all covered from head to toe or wearing their hijab, walking alongside their husband or brother.  That, and war.

What is It About?

My heart ached, and my eyes were flooded with tears as I continue to read the book.  “A Thousand Splendid Suns” is a story revolving around two Afghan women from two different generations–the older one, Mariam, and the younger one, Laila.  The book starts off from Mariam’s point of view, switches over to Laila’s, and then so on forth, telling a tale of fates known to come to Afghan women of their time ranging from arranged marriages, abuse, and having opportunities such as education being taken or given to them again and again.  Starting from at around the 1960’s up to 2003, the chronicle of events follow politics, war, and the lives of both women as they overcome obstacles to find happiness.  Each challenge continues to test Marian and Laila’s courage, will, determination, patience, and love.  Through loss and hope, they have found a mother-daughter relationship with one another and are fighting for a future in a country with no war and filled with positive opportunities for Afghan women like them.

How to Describe the Overall Book?

Even before The Pearls of Reading was created, I often came across raving reviews of Hosseini’s work, and it was all over the internet.  Fortunately, I didn’t stumble across any spoilers and the positive opinions of readers persuaded me to check the book out myself!  At the same time, I wasn’t sure whether or not “A Thousand Splendid Suns” would surpass my expectations, and I was a little nervous because I have never read story taking place in the Middle East.

I started off with reading the first chapter…and before 6 pm, I came to realize that I had whizzed through six to eight chapters already by evening.  I was even crying, with hot tears rolling down my cheeks, sniffling, and rubbing my eyes!  My heart broke again and again!  I have never felt this sad before over a book!  I was hoping for Mariam’s happiness, and when Laila came into the picture, I was cheering for her!

Before, I knew very little of the hardships women like Laila faced in their Middle Eastern country, in their village, their home.  Whenever I saw the Middle East being covered by the news, there was always some kind of struggle whether it was about war, poverty, violent protests, or oppression.  But after reading “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, I was hit with an epiphany that we, Americans, should care about voices like Hosseini!  We should care more about women from all over the world, no matter what religion–what culture–what continent–what language they speak!  They love, they cry, they suffer, and they want the things that we want too.

imageedit_32_8547001011.jpg

What’s My Favorite Part?

Tariq.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but one would have to just read the book to find out about this character and his role in “A Thousand Splendid Suns”!  When I was first introduced to him, I simply brushed him aside as a side character–but no, he becomes more than just that throughout the story, and I’ll tell you this: Do NOT underestimate Tariq.  His relationship to one of the main characters make it even more precious–and has served to really push me into thinking further deeply about the women in the Middle East.

Hint: Tariq is a character with a physical disability.

What’s My Least Favorite Part?

Personally, I felt as though Hosseini’s story-telling skills could rival many of the greatest works I’ve ever read in my life–but at the same time, it couldn’t.  Unlike most voices, Hosseini’s was as real as it could get, and that is a special place in my bookshelf.  There was nothing in the book that I could simply shrug off, because deep in my heart, I knew that he was bringing up real-life issues such as forced arranged marriages between older men and teenage or child-brides–poverty–war–death–rape–oppression–and just many horrible events taking place right now in the world that many of us are just too scared to confront.  For most of us, it can make us squirm because we are either uncomfortable or in denial about these facts.

Though “A Thousand Splendid Suns” was based on fictional people, the events  were inspired by real life experiences whether it was from someone Hosseini knew or it was often heard about and spoken about by Afghan women.  Knowing this and sensing it from the overall book–that should be enough for readers to realize that even if we close our eyes, these events are still happening in other parts of the world.  For the first time ever, a book was able to make me think about my privilege as an American and for that, I have to thank Hosseini.

And So…

There were multiple times when I had to put down the book and take the rest of the day off.  This wasn’t because I was crying too much or it was just too painful for me to continue reading–this was because of how powerful the book was to me.  It didn’t only break my heart, it made me question how Afghan women like Laila and Mariam were able to be so strong in their time when they were going through so much pain and loss.

Overall, I would highly recommend the book to anyone who is willing to read “A Thousand Splendid Suns” with a blank canvas, opened mind and who is looking to expand their mental horizons.  This would also be a great suggestion to readers who are seeking strong female POC protagonists and curious minds who would like to read a book based on the Middle East.  It is an excellent book, and I will look forward to reading more of Hosseini’s work!

Have you read any of Hosseini’s work before?  Did you read “A Thousand Splendid Suns?” If so, comment below with your thoughts–or if you enjoyed reading this post, please “like” it!

Oscar Wilde – The Complete Short Stories | A Charming Classic!

imageedit_15_2613013893

Title: The Complete Short Stories

Series: Oxford World’s Classics Series

Author: Oscar Wilde

Author’s Country of Birth: Ireland

Genre: Drama/Fantasy

Page Numbers: 288 pages

Publish Year: 2010

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

Barnes & Noble | Amazon

How to Describe The Overall Book?

If there are just two words I would have to pick, describing Oscar Wilde’s work, it would be this: modern fairytales.  At every page I turned while reading his short stories, it seemed as if the man himself was weaving out tales to me by the fireplace from everyday life in the late 1880’s.  Ranging from 18th century English men and Spanish princesses to giants and talking statues, Wilde’s writings were beautifully and carefully phrased.

Just one sentence alone was enough to paint a night sky out while I continued reading, and in my mind, I saw Wilde’s vision when he was working on the drafts.  Not only was his use of language was important in setting the mood, it enabled the plot progression to flow smoothly from one point to another.  Every twist of events, every inch of tragedy, and every ounce of happiness was impeccable and flawless.

Even the introduction of his characters were spectacularly done as he was quick to set their personality or physical features in writing.  The way he was able to pin those significant physical traits down in such a short time was crucial in visualizing the given main character’s look.  Such words were carefully chosen to show the reader how special this protagonist is to the story’s plot, because unlike the supporting cast, Oscar Wilde placed an emphasis on describing the main character’s unique characteristics to make him stand out from the background and the rest of his peers.  It was simple but also very efficient and effective.

imageedit_17_5767901025.jpg

What Is It About?

Starting off with “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime”, the book introduces us to a party event of high social class status and a cheiromantist (palm reader).  We then meet the protagonist, Lord Arthur Savile, who gets his palm read by the cheiromantist, Mr. Podgers.  When Mr. Podgers tells Lord Arthur about his future, the young man then goes out to carry out his dark foretold prophecy.

Following up is “The Sphinx Without a Secret” where Lord Murchison is telling his friend, the narrator, about a mysterious woman he had fallen madly in love with over the past summer.  Then, there is “The Canterville Ghost”, which is about an American family moving into the haunted Canterville Chase home and dealing with a costume-donning ghost from the Canterville family line.  After that, it is “The Model Millionaire”, featuring a broke young man who decides to give a beggar his pocket change.  Other short stories in the book collection also include “The Happy Prince”, “The Nightingale and the Rose”, “The Selfish Giant”,”The Fisherman and His Soul”, “The Star-Child”, and various completed works such as poems in prose.

What’s My Favorite Part?

My favorite story from the overall collection has to be and will always be “The Fisherman and His Soul”, because not only did it feature mermaids, it also reminded me of Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid” but at the same time, remained original.  The story was beautiful in every way and so persuasive that I had to convince myself that the tale couldn’t possibly be based on real life events!  It made me feel the heart-wrenching pain and warm happiness that the fisherman faced, and I could not help but show sympathy for him again and again.

What’s My Least Favorite Part?

Other than that, while Wilde did entertain me greatly with his original stories, I could not bring myself to like “The Remarkable Rocket”, because the rocket character kept talking so much!  But I had to agree with what Wilde was doing with the character because the rocket was supposed to be extremely proud and self-centered, after all, who outright said he liked hearing himself talk.  It did drive me really mad though.

And So…

Despite that, it just demonstrated the fact that Oscar Wilde was able to persuade you to like or dislike a character based on how he wrote out their personality, such as conversational  dialogues or physical traits.  Through the use of language and storytelling techniques, the author was skilled and successful in delivering the desired result: making his tales believable.  Overall, I can see why Oscar Wilde’s works remain as a part of English classic literature and will always stay so for many more centuries.

If you are familiar with Oscar Wilde’s work, feel free to comment below with your favorite short story or novel written by him or if you enjoyed reading this post, like it!  Thank you for taking the time and consideration upon reading this book review.  Have a wonderful day, readers!