A few years ago, I lived in Beijing for 4 months with my Chinese American husband. Having studied a little Chinese myself, and having experienced a bit of the life of an ex-pat woman in China, I was drawn to this book because I have rarely read about a similar topic.
I liked this book on a lot of levels, but there were also things that could have been better. First, the good: It is a simply marvelous depiction of modern China and the cultural clashes between old and new, East and West, that continue to play themselves out, even more than ten years since the book was written. The author obviously knows a LOT about China. In addition, the fact that the narrator had flawless Mandarin tones made the listening experience so very satisfying too, as I was able to pick up words here and there. I always like love stories, especially cross-cultural ones, and the love story here did not fail to please. It was satisfying, too, that the main characters were not perfect individuals but were both very damaged in their own ways. One of the final scenes, in which Lin confronts Alice about her many love affairs with Chinese men, is a searing indictment of the America sexual fetish for Asians, but with a gender bender: the person who chases after Chinese lovers is a woman, not a man.
I am only giving this book 4 stars because I felt that some parts of the plot were unrealistic or far-fetched and some of the characters (Spencer, especially), were underdeveloped. But as this is primarily a sketch of place, not of character, I'd still recommend the book for anyone who wants to learn more about modern China and the place of Wai Guo Ren (foreigners) in the Middle Kingdom.
Though I am, in my late-twenties, barely old enough to be nostalgic about my own youth, what this book did was make me nostalgic for a era in British history -- "Between the end of the Chatterley ban/ And the Beatles' first LP" -- that I did not and could never belong to. The narrator is an innocent describing the history of his own innocence, a youth that coincided with the arrival of the 1960s (which only arrived for some, as the narrator reminds us cheekily) and never, until the very end, loses his wide-eyed stance towards the world. The narrator is almost spared from knowing the kind of truth that makes adults out of others. Almost spared, but not quite, for as several other reviewers have noted, Barnes gives the tale an unpredictable ending, one that makes the reader, like the narrator, cast back in time and try to uncover the steps that lead to the novel's denouement.
An excellent narration, pitch-perfect, and comic to boot.
Well done and highly recommended!
One of the finest audiobooks I've listened to thus far. This book draws you in with the characters, sketched deliberately but not overwrought, and with the descriptions of the landscapes that the young heroes pass through in their journey. This is a beautifully written novel and here the narration was superb; the narrator not only has a command of different American accents, but he also spoke Spanish well enough to keep the flow going. Because much of the dialogue switches between English and Spanish, and because I speak both languages, I especially appreciated the narrator's foreign language skills.
In terms of the story, WOW -- what a gem. A journey, a love story, a coming-of-age tale, a tale of two cultures, a Western -- this book fits into so many different genres, and succeeds in all of them. There are references to both American (Hemingway) and Mexican (Juan Rulfo) literature; it is rare that I have read a book that draws upon two different cultural traditions. The author is obviously well versed in both. The way that he evokes the stark open land of the Mexican north reminds me of Rulfo's depictions of the town of Comala in "Pedro Paramo" -- in both books, there is the sense of Mexico as being a very, very old land, where time passes more slowly and doubles back on itself in a way that it has long ceased doing in the United States.
Although this book was slow to start, and depressing at times -- for who wants to read about the final days of a love affair? -- my appreciation for the book's structure only increased as the tale progressed. The characters that we meet in 1947 are revealed to us, bit by bit, as the author follows them backwards in time, to 1944, and then 1941. In retrospect, the reader is forced to re-examine her opinions about the characters. Though I never did understand what made Kay and Julia fall in love with Helen--she seemed like the least sophisticated of the three--the contours of their love triangle shifted and re-arranged themselves as the narrator followed them back in time. Similarly, offhand phrases uttered in 1947 are explained when the narration follows the characters backwards in time; we understand, for example, that the immense loss that one character suffered was due not to the war, but to betrayal. Objects that hold a mysterious significance in 1947 -- a worn gold ring, a luxurious pair of pajamas -- become linchpins of the story when they make later appearances in 1941 and 1944. These details kept me listening, and made this book an exploration of time and meaning, as well as wartime and forbidden love. The narrator had an excellent command of British regional accents, which made for a delightful listen.
This book is so rich in metaphor, permitting multiple interpretations. Many reviews that I have read of it focus on the author's masterful use of language, but I think it is equally important to consider the themes that she tackles: errancy, abandonment, and madness.
Although the narrator never says so outright, this is a book not only about family losses, but about how people respond to such losses -- either by clinging rigidly to some sort of external structure (Lucille and the grandmother) or by fleeing the scene, whether through physical or psychic abandonment of home (Sylvie, Helen, Ruth).
As a mental health professional, it was fascinating to me to read about characters whose contours would fit within the bounds of psychiatric diagnosis, and yet whose lives are richer, more forgivable, than such categories would suggest. In Ruthie's eccentric grandfather, a sort of outside painter, dreamer, and railroad man, we catch glimpses of manic-depressive illness. In Sylvie, we see a woman teetering on the edge of psychosis, caught up in the detritus of the past while denying the present. Ruthie, who follows Sylvie much like her Biblical namesake followed Naomi, gets caught up in a kind of folie-a-deux, a shared dream of lifting anchor and drifting through the world together. In this family, errancy is a pre-emptive strike against abandonment; before they are deserted, the characters choose to desert the world. Whether or not this is a heroic measure or a thoughtless, selfish choice is up to the reader/listener to decide.
A note about the narrator: I think I would have been able to relish the book more deeply if the narrator had not spoken so quickly. The lines were delivered rapid-fire pace at times, which detracted from the author's careful construction of language and character.
Imagino que la experiencia de leer este libro, y no escucharlo, sería bien diferente, pero como audiolibro, el lenguaje barroco de Ramirez es demasiado exigente para el oidor. Me perdí más de una vez en el laberinto de esta narrativa sin querer encontrar el camino, ya que al final abandoné el libro por lo aburrido que era tanto palabreo.
Lectura imprescindible para entender lo que sufren los inmigrantes que entran a EEUU por vías "llegales". Yo viajé por Chiapas, México, como turista unos años atrás, sin saber jamás que tras la trayectoria oficial del turismo pasaba otro oscuro camino, el de la "Bestia" (el tren que lleva a los inmigrantes desde el sur de México hasta la frontera con Estados Unidos). La escritora desvela las rutas oscuras y olvidadas (por la gente de EEUU) que siguen los viajeros en su doloroso camino (!que bien podría ser el del calvario!)
A pesar de las fuertes imágenes de violencia y dolor que describe la escritora, que recorrió el camino de los inmigrantes en función de periodista, me empeñé en terminar este libro porque a lo largo de la grabación me di cuenta que yo escuchaba uno de los cuentos más importantes del comienzo de este siglo globalizado: la historia de los inmigrantes que harán todo por encontrar mejores condiciones de vida.
Another excellent book from Audible, up there with "The Lotus Eaters" for my favorites of the year.
I listened to this book when I was in the hospital recovering from collarbone surgery, so the fact that the main character was a surgeon, as well as the frequent discussions about surgery and medical history, were at times difficult to listen to because of their realism. The author, a surgeon himself, depicts medicine and its practitioners in a glorious, almost idealized way -- if it weren't for the frequent deaths and sicknesses that befall the patients.
Although I was sad when the book left Ethiopia during the narrator's exile, I was pleasantly surprised to find how interesting the section about medical practice in the U.S. was. Like myself, the narrator works in an inner-city hospital that serves the poorest of the poor. In my own training (in clinical psychology) I have seen the preponderance of doctors with foreign degrees in these kinds of hospitals, but this novel gave me new insight into the division of labor in American hospitals (one kind of care for the wealthy, another for the poor). LIke the main character, I work with and for the poor, and I could appreciate his struggles understanding and being understood by the doctors from the "Mecca" hospital.
Well done, Verghese!
Wonderful, chill narration by Rupert Degas.
I liked this book but after reading several other of Murakami's books I am getting rather tired of the 30-something male narrators who are looking for direction in their lives. As a 20-something woman who has no trouble finding her direction, I have no patience for real-life peers who are listlessly wandering about, much less for characters like Haruki.
Yet the book had some redeeming qualities. Like Murakami's book "Kafka on the Shore", which I also listened to on Audible, "Dance Dance Dance" has many psychoanalytical elements to it, which kept me interested. While "Kafka" was a retelling of the Oedipal myth -- and thus the illusion to Freud -- "Dance, Dance, Dance" is more subtly analytic. Take the character of Gotanda, for instance, the actor who always plays nice guys, and yet is secretly a murderer -- or is he? It's not clear if he really murdered a prostitute or if he merely /desired/ to kill her, and is wracked by the guilt of his own aggressive impulses. Similarly, the narrator's relationship with Yuki has something of the paternal, something of the lover-ly about it -- is he her father or her lover? At one point he says "I don't want to be talked about at your wedding as the companion of the bride-to-be when she was 13. I want to be talked about as the /boyfriend/ of the bride when she was 13." A flattering comment or an allusion to something else? As with so much in Murakami, it isn't clear how to interpret this. Yet, it is this kind of ambiguity that leads to complexity in Murakaim's books, and is what keeps me reading.
After listening to several of Haruki Murakami's books on Audible (Kafka on the Shore; Dance Dance Dance; What I Write About When I Write about Running), I wanted to try some other Japanese authors. Kawabata is a more "traditional" 20th century Japanese writer, but I knew very little about his work before listening to this book.
What a beautiful, well-crafted story! The main character, Oki, is a novelist in his 50s who, in the first chapters of the book, visits his former lover, Otoko, on a business trip to Kyoto. Oki memorialized their love affair in his book, A Girl of Sixteen, but Otoko is now 40 and is a successful painter. She lives with her protegee and lover, Keiko, a young, beguiling woman who manages to seduce both Otoko and his son in her quest to gain "revenge" for Oki's leaving Otoko 20 years previously. The tale, as anticipated, ends tragically, but from beginning to end the author writes marvelously about love, hate, desire, jealousy-- and Japan. It made me want to be in Kyoto, just to hear the descriptions of the temples and bells and sanctuaries of Kyoto. I could just imagine Otoko and Keiko tying their hand-painted kimonos with colorful "obi".
I am glad that Audible added this author to its selection. I would have given this book 5 stars if it weren't for the sometimes clumsy characterizations of the reader. The female voices sounded falsetto and exaggerated, while Oki's son's voice was unnaturally deep.
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