So what kind of reading material does a girl take to the beach in Asia? Whatever she has hoarded in her bookcase from summer Barnes and Noble raids. Shopping my own shelves revealed the following titles; each is accompanied with a mini review. You will notice an absence of fluff, alas. Just be thankful I left the (unread) Guns, Germs, and Steel home.
Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez: I actually did not read this on vacation, having finished it the week before. Due to its subsequent prophetic nature vis a vis my vacation, however, I felt it appropriate to include it here. “Crazy Deb” as her friends call her is, in fact, a NUT – I don’t want to give away the plot. But a courageous nut at that. I was once in a book club and a German friend once jumped on my case for even suggesting we read the book as a group, claiming she’d heard Ms. Rodriguez on NPR and that she was unworthy, had not given others’ their due acknowledgement in the book. That is not my point to argue. With Afghanistan in the news and poised to return to its paralytic morass, it is an eye-opening read and a surprisingly fun journey into a very scary land. My burqa is off to her and all the people who helped her start such an endeavor.
Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min: Having read Empress Orchid and The Last Empress, also by Anchee Min, I was eager to read about Mao’s third and last (?) wife, Jiang Ching. These three books are required China reading about two of its most recent historical and controversial figures: Empress Ci Xi and Jiang Ching. Anchee Min’s research is meticulous, her writing excellent, and the subject matter fascinating. All three books explore the minds of these two women throughout their lives, painting a different, more complex picture of them than the evil, Machiavellian ones in the history books. Of the three books, Empress Orchid was my favorite but all three are enlightening, interesting, and worthy of your time. [As a side note, history books do change: in the past few years the Japanese government removed any reference to the invasion of Nanking during WWII in their high school history books. What if the US removed references to the H bombs in ours? Think about the implications for a moment and be scandalized.] As with every quest for the truth, multiple sources need be consulted. Madame Mao was executed, at the age of seventy-seven, in 1991, fourteen years after her arrest for crimes committed as part of the “Gang of Four”. I got married in 1991. How is that for a historical time line?
When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka: An aunt gave this book to my daughter and since it was relatively slim, I thought it perfect for the airplane. Not much to lug around. Except for the story which is about the relocation of a family American-Japanese citizens during WWII from Berkeley to the middle-of-nowhere Utah. I think I will be lugging this story around for a long time. Ms. Otsuka’s first novel, it is a gem, not only for its story but the writing itself is outstanding. Make your children read this when they are old enough and file it on your “Two Sides to a Coin” shelf of your library, especially if you are old enough to remember the events described.
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney: also a first novel, about subjects you would think you did not need to read about: wolves, frigid Canadian wilderness in the 1860s, trappers, murder. Ah, but you do. I am not going to say more except that you should select this for your book club. Thanks to Klab for the excellent tout.
And finally, Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl by Susan McCorkindale: I was attracted to the title and the fact it was a memoir. The author was a former marketing executive for Family Circle, hence the cute title. My grandmother was fond of saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” So, I am not saying anything except to report that I stopped reading it and hence it would be unfair of me to properly review it. A girl only has so much time and that it not how I choose to spend it, even on vacation.