#854 Dragon Seed by Pearl S. Buck

 Dragon Seed by Pearl S. Buck Dragon Seed by Pearl S. Buck

Ling Tan and his family live outside of Nanjing. They are all farmers. He has three sons with his wife. Two of the sons are married, but the youngest is as pretty as a girl. There is also a daughter, two daughters in fact, but one has married and moved into town with her husband, a shopkeeper. The family has their ordinary woes. They plant crops. They make meals. The mother-in-law complains about the daughter-in-laws. Life soon changes.

There are rumors that an enemy has come ashore. It’s a long way away, they say. It won’t come here, they say. Student protestors start the chaos that soon descends upon the city and countryside. The Japanese have invaded China. Shops are destroyed. Women are raped. People are murdered. Food and goods are appropriated. Ling Tan hides his family in the woods or at the home of a white woman. She tries to shelter all who come, but the Japanese soldiers still have demands of her.

Ling Tan’s family loses someone and they make plans to get past the invaders. They make a secret room. They illegally¬† catch and eat fish. The bolder of Ling Tan’s family take movements against the Japanese. There are plots and attacks. In the end, Ling Tan is still a farmer, but he’s seen some awful things.

What I liked

Out of the Pearl S. Buck books I’ve read, this one seems the grittiest. It’s about war. It’s violent. It was published in 1942 and some of the things in the book weren’t exactly talked of in polite society. This makes this book cutting edge, in a way, for its time.

Pearl was a bit outspoken about matters in China. She cared a lot about the people she met in China and I’m sure she wasn’t at all happy about the brutal invasion of China by Japan. This book is fiction, but Pearl was certainly able to capture what it would have been like. She didn’t leave a lot out either, so you have to hand it to Pearl for doing historical fiction so well.

What I didn’t like

I’ve known the Japanese invasion of China was brutal for a long time. I’ve read a whole lot of fiction books set during this time period. With that said, this book seems to take it to a new level of brutality. It was awful. It’s terrible that it happened. I’m glad they all seem to get along now.

This book also takes quite a while to read. It could be boiled down to be more essential, but if you like that whole saga feel of it, you wouldn’t want it to be pared down to anything other than it is.

Overall

Let us be glad this war is over.

Weigh In

If you know anything about the Japanese invasion of China, do you think you could have survived it?

Is war harder on people who have little or on people who have more?

#854 Dragon Seed by Pearl S. Buck was originally published on One-elevenbooks

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#811 The Sinners and the Sea by Rebecca Kanner

The Sinners and the Sea by Rebecca KannerThe Sinners and the Sea by Rebecca Kanner

God told Noah to build an ark because God was going to cleanse the world of all the evil that grew there. There would be a great flood. It would rain for forty days and forty nights. When the flood waters receded, God’s chosen people would go down from their mountain and start the world anew. This is the story we all know, but was about the other people involved? What about, say, Noah’s wife? We don’t know a whole lot about her. She isn’t named.

This book is a look at what Noah’s wife could have been like. It’s highly fictionalized, of course, but how can you not fictionalize something that happened, or didn’t happen, so long ago?

A young woman lives with her father. She has a birthmark upon her forehead, what we would call a port wine stain. People say she is marked by the devil. They call her a demon woman. Her father tries to protect her, but when a tradesman goes missing, because her father killed him for attempted rape, a mob forms outside the tent of the woman and her father. One man knows of a righteous man who has been waiting for a righteous wife for hundreds of years. This is hard to believe, but the woman’s father agrees to let the man take her for a wife.

The man, Noah comes to get his new wife. He is old. His donkey is old. He does not care about the spot on the woman’s forehead. He cares that she is righteous. He takes her away to his land. Noah lives among a very unruly group of sinners, banished from other lands, and constantly committing all sorts of crimes. Murder and sexual immorality are rampant. In time, Noah and his new wife have three children. Shem, Ham and, Japeth. They grow into men. God has finally had enough of the evil of the people of the Earth. They have not hearkened to the voice of God’s prophets, which say to repent. Noah is commanded to build an ark. It’s not an easy task.

The ark is finally built. Each of the sons must have wives, but this is not as easy as it sounds. There are not many virtuous women anywhere. Three women manage to make it on the ark and then the storm rages. Things rage in the family as well. There are hostilities. There is treachery. Surviving sinners float on rafts. Old enemies surface. Eventually, the waters do go down and the family sees what the world to come is like.

What I liked

I really like these fictional accounts of Biblical figures. We don’t know a whole lot about any of them, even though we may have heard their names a thousand times. What was Noah really like? What about his wife? Women lack names often in the scriptures. It’s not just the Bible, most books of scripture fail to name most women. I have read  The Red Tent, by Anita Diamont, multiple times and I have enjoyed it each time. The Red Tent is about Dinah from the Bible. I just think what these women’s lives could have been like is very interesting.

This book takes the idea of not being named to an extreme. The main character in the book, Noah’s wife, does not have a name. She was never named because she was a girl and because of the mark on her forehead. In my knowledge, women were named in the tradition of the Jews and other religious groups of the time, but I could be missing something. I never really thought about these women not being named because they didn’t actually have names. Of course, I tend to think that the writers of the books of the Bible, and other scriptures, did not think women important enough to name, in most instances. There is the consideration that because the Bible has been edited and translated so much that at one point it could have included a heck of a lot more about women. Heck, maybe women even wrote it for all we know, or at least a book or two.

The author did include a lot that was  scripturally accurate. Methuselah was still alive during the time of Noah, if you believe people living for hundreds of years. Angels having children with Earth women and those children being giants, the heroes of old, was actually something mentioned in the Bible. How this could be true, I have no idea, but men are not naturally over seven and a half feet tall, most men aren’t naturally over six feet tall. Once you get past 6’4″-6’5″, you have to start considering genetic abnormalities that made someone so tall. We as a species generally run in to five-foot-something range.

The author did miss the part about a couple of Noah’s sons uncovering his nakedness, but I forget exactly when that occurred in the timeline of Noah.

This book did humanize Noah for me. I never really thought about how Noah might feel. I guess I always considered him to be this figure that was stoic when the people of the Earth drowned. In reality, he probably did care for quite a few people who died. It probably made him really sad. Of course, you have to take all of this with a grain of salt, because maybe Noah never existed.

What I didn’t like

I think the author painted Noah in too humanly of a light, but then again, he was a human, albeit one that lived for a heck of a long time, supposedly. I feel like he was kind of a jerk in this book and I don’t imagine Noah as a jerk. Any guy who would patiently put up with that many animals, on a boat, for that long, has to be a good guy.

There are too many stories about a great flood for something to not have happened. At some point, there was  giant flood for a lot of the people on the Earth. Whether or not this flood occurred at the same time is another question. Big floods did happen in reality, whether or not they were Noah’s flood is a different thing.

Let’s say a big flood did flood the whole Earth at once. It’s absurd to believe that no one else survived except Noah’s family. In fact, even in the Bible, it’s mentioned that one of Noah’s grandsons or someone marries someone over from such-and-such place. How were there people at such-and-such place if no one else survived? The Ark supposedly landed on Mount Ararat in Turkey, which is a mountain, but there are plenty of other taller mountains. There are plenty of places that people could have survived. Maybe they built boats as well. God often had multiple prophets going at once. Maybe he told some other prophets to also build boats, or maybe some of the people Noah told about the flood built their own boats.

I cannot believe that someone would know someone for so many years without having a name to call them. That’s demeaning. That’s like saying this person isn’t human and doesn’t deserve to have a name, even slaves have historically had names. Someone who was not a slave should have certainly had a name. Any human should have a name, no matter what their status in life is.

Overall

Noah’s wife must have been a pretty great person to go through all that she went through.

Weigh In

If God told you to build a boat, would you?

Do you think Noah’s family must have been patient to put up with each other and all those animals on a boat?

#811 The Sinners and the Sea by Rebecca Kanner was originally published on One-elevenbooks

#726 The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane GilmanThe Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman

Malka and her family leave Russia in the early 1900s. They are fleeing poor conditions and pogroms. They are searching for a better life. The original plan is to go to South Africa, to be with an uncle. Malka’s father is one for gambling though and the family gets sick while waiting to emigrate. Malka’s father takes the money, or some of it, and the tickets, out of Malka’s special pocket, sewn into her jacket for safe keeping. He switches the tickets for America and off the family goes. Malka’s mother is not pleased with this at all.

They must scrape by in New York City. They sleep on a living room floor and work for a tailor. One day, Malka’s father disappears. Malka is constantly blamed for the family’s situation. She runs right in front of a horse one day and is injured. She’s in the hospital for quite some time. The man who ran her over, an Italian man who sells Italian ices, decides to take Malka in because he feels bad. Malka’s mother also doesn’t want her back. Malka’s mother actually ends up in a mental institution. Malka must work and work to be able to walk again. She will walk with a cane for the rest of her life, but that’s better than the alternative.

She is adopted by the Italian family, becoming Lilian Donello. Lillian, as she is now called, grows up and learns to appreciate her adoptive family, although they don’t always appreciate her. She marries a man she tutors, Albert Dunkle. When her adoptive family leaves her in poor circumstances, Lillian must fend for herself. She and Bert start making their own ice cream. They even trade their truck for a shack near a beach town. Bert invents an ice cream machine. As time goes by, Lillian’s company becomes extremely profitable and well-known. She even becomes a television personality, but things unravel after a time.

Bert dies and Lillian tries to cope with her new life, not always through honest means, but then again, that’s Lillian for you. An accident on her television show puts Lillian in the media spotlight with results that are not at all pleasant.

What I liked

This was definitely an interesting story. It reminds me of other stories I have read about food business moguls–Hershey or Mars, for a couple of examples. Dunkle’s ice cream is not real, but the story could be a real thing and Lillian could be a real person, but she’s not.

This book does have a lot of history in it and does tell a story with a typical immigrant experience. Nothing in this book rings fake. It’s all something that just might be true, if it weren’t fiction, and you would believe it.

What I didn’t like

While Lillian is funny sometimes in her irreverence, she’s not the kind of person you would be friends with.Wanting to be friends with a character in a book is not a requirement of good book character, it just helps when reading a story if you find the character likeable. I think she’s mean. I think she really doesn’t care that deeply about anybody but herself. She seems to regard even her child with apathy. She loves making money and she loves making ice cream. She does love her husband, even though you may not be able to tell it with the way she treats him.

Now, if Lillian were not depicted as a woman who wasn’t good-looking and was also disabled, would she be judged as harshly as a character? I think we tend to think that anybody with a disability, or considered less than by society for whatever reason, should have a better attitude about life and treat people better because they’ve been humbled by their situation. While that may be true in some circumstances, living that kind of life can also make a person bitter, which it seems to have done for Lillian. She has had to fight against society’s view of her since she had the accident in the first place and she’s bitter about it. She doesn’t think she should be demeaned because she has a disability or because she’s a woman, or because she’s not a good-looking woman. We should all think that way. No one should be demeaned for a disability, or their sex, or whether or not society deems them beautiful.

I tend to think that Lillian should be nicer about things in her life and a little more accepting of those around her, but I get it. I get that she’s had this hard life and she feels as if she has to be hard in return. If society pushes on her, she’s going to push back.

I think that the author, Susan, was able to depict a hard life, made more difficult because people can be jerks about disabilities or illnesses. I don’t have a disability, but I can tell you that I sure as heck have been looked over and ignored because of side effects from an autoimmune disease. I do think that Susan got into this whole scenario quite well, but I don’t like that we’re like that as a people.

 

Overall

You scream, I scream, Lillian Dunkle makes you eat ice cream.

Weigh In

Do you want some ice cream right now?

Don’t people with disabilities or illnesses have just as much right to be mad as everyone else, or more even?

#722 What is Visible by Kimberly Elkins

What is Visible by Kimberly ElkinsWhat is Visible by Kimberly Elkins

Helen Keller was not the first blind and deaf American woman to be taught to use sign language and converse with other people. The first woman was Laura Bridgman. In addition to being blind and deaf, Laura also lacked the senses of taste and smell. Her only usable sense was touch.

When she was seven years old she went to live in the Perkins Institute under the tutoring of Samuel Gridley Howe, who was a pioneer in education of the blind in America. For a while, Laura lived in Dr. Howe’s house with him. She wore a green cover over her eyes and learned to converse with people by writing in their hands and having her hands written in. Laura is considered a wonder. People from all over come to see her, including Charles Dickens.

When Dr. Howe gets married to Julia Ward, Laura is no longer welcome in Dr. Howe’s home. She must live in the school with the other blind girls. At first, this is a very difficult adjustment. Laura has considered herself Dr. Howe’s daughter up until this point.

Time goes on and Laura continues to age and have friends come into her life and go from it. Laura even finds love for a while, although it’s a kind of love that isn’t accepted. As time goes on, Laura takes on more responsibility around the school. She helps teach some of the blind girls how to make crafts. She also aids in speech practice with some of the younger women, including Annie Sullivan.

Annie Sullivan moves into Laura’s cottage and the two become friends. Annie later goes on to teach the famous Helen Keller. Laura actually gets to meet Helen. The two are far apart in age, but both have had to learn in very much the same manner.

Laura lived on as family and friends passed away, dying quietly, as the predecessor to Helen Keller.

What I liked

I had never heard of Laura Bridgman. She’s a really interesting historical figure. Yes, she was real. So was Dr. Howe. So was his wife. In fact, Dr. Howe’s wife, Julia, wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic and started Mother’s Day. This is all really interesting stuff.

It must have been so incredibly difficult for Laura to learn to converse with other people. The same goes of Helen Keller. I can’t imagine trying to learn all about the outside world without being able to see it or hear it. The fact that both Laura and Helen learned about the world is a testament to human resiliency, but it’s also a testament to those who taught them. New methods of teaching had to be devised for Laura, which paved the way for people like Helen. There have been plenty more people just like Helen over the years, but we’ve gotten a lot better at being able to at least partially restore sight and hearing in many cases.

What I didn’t like

I don’t particularly like Dr. Howe as depicted in the book. He thought his wife’s writing was silly. He didn’t want her making a living doing anything. He wanted her to have one kid after the other. He wanted to treat his wife as property, but that certainly didn’t turn out to be the case because we’re talking about a woman who published lots of writing, wrote the lyrics to a national song, and started Mother’s Day. She also became very instrumental in women’s rights and rights for African-Americans. It seems that Julie did not let Dr. Howe’s thoughts of her keep her down. I don’t know that I would have gotten along with Julia in real life, but she seems to be an admirable character.

The very idea that someone should suggest that all a woman should be doing is staying at home and having babies is an abhorrent thing. There are tons of incredibly smart and talented women who don’t need to simply be at home having babies. If that’s the life they choose, great, but if not, let them be rocket scientists, or whatever they choose to be. It just rubs me the wrong way. Anybody, and I mean anybody, who thinks like that is thinking so backwards.

Perhaps the idea of a husband trying to control his wife irritates me so much because I lived that kind of life to an extent in my former marriage. Maybe, Dr. Howe wasn’t such a bad guy, but if so, explain to me why he didn’t leave his wife a darn cent in his will when he died.

I feel bad for Laura because of her circumstances. I also feel bad for Julia.

I also feel bad for Sarah Wight, who was one of Laura’s teachers and companions for a while. Sarah was real, and so was her husband. Apparently, her husband had gotten himself all syphilis-ed up and probably passed it on to Sarah. Sexually transmitted diseases are one of these things that I have conflicting emotions about. Look, they’re gross. No one wants syphilis, but before modern medicine, there were just all kinds of people running around with syphilis. Even today, one in four people have some type of sexually transmitted disease, at least those are the people who report it or go to the doctor about it. It’s not uncommon. Something like Herpes Simplex 1, or 2, are so darn common we might as well just all share it and get it over with. Even as common as some sexually transmitted diseases are, it still kind of breaks my heart when I hear about someone who was given a sexually transmitted disease by someone else. Part of me wants to suggest that people with these disease remove themselves from the sexual pond, but part of me is being more logical in this whole thing and knows how unfortunate that would be. Maybe someone was raped and got an STD. Maybe their spouse cheated on them and they got an STD. Maybe they’ve even had it since a very young age from non-sexual contact. Is it fair for these people to not have an ordinary life because of a disease? No, it’s not really fair.

Getting back to Sarah–I don’t know, I couldn’t have taken it on. I couldn’t have, willingly, exposed myself to syphilis in order to get married. I also don’t think it was fair of her husband to pass something on that was so dangerous at the time. We have antibiotics for syphilis now, but it wasn’t anywhere nearly as easy to treat back then as it is now. People died from it. It’s a really conflicting situation for me and I just feel bad for everyone involved.

Overall

This book makes me glad that I have all of my senses and that I don’t have syphilis.

Weigh In

Which sense could you live without?

Do you think you could still live life if you suddenly became blind and deaf?

#711 The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian SelznikThe Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik

Hugo lives behinds the clocks in a train station. He takes care of them, ever since his uncle disappeared. Hugo used to have a father, but he died in an awful fire at the museum where he worked. From Hugo’s father and his uncle, Hugo has learned much about working on clocks and keeping them running.

When Hugo still lived with his father, his father founds a strange mechanical little man in the attic of the museum. He was trying to fix it when the fire broke out. He had given Hugo one of his notebooks detailing the insides of the mechanical man. It seemed that the mechanical man was supposed to write as there was a pen in its hand. Hugo takes the mechanical man from the ruins of the fire when he goes to live with his uncle, but it’s not long before Hugo is alone.

Hugo must keep the clocks in the station running so no one will come investigate to see if his uncle is still around. He resorts to stealing food from a nearby cafe and small parts from a nearby toy cart to repair his mechanical man. He thinks that his father might have configured the mechanical man to write Hugo one last message. Things are not going as Hugo has planned them. He gets caught by the toy seller and his notebook is taken.

Hugo soon makes friends with the god-daughter of the toy seller. The toy seller tells Hugo that he can work off his debt by helping at the toy cart. None of Hugo’s new friends know that he lives behind clocks in a train station by himself. Hugo eventually gets the mechanical man working and it produces something both strange and familiar to Hugo. He goes in search of what this may mean, not ever thinking that it would all lead back to the old toy seller.

What I liked

This was quite an enjoyable book. Hugo’s story is sweet It’s also sad that he was left alone, but it’s sweet that he does manage to find some solace and a place in the world from a mechanical man. There’s just enough fantasy in this book to make it that much more exciting.

The man mentioned in this book Georges Melies is was a real person, in fact, he’s kind of the father of the film industry. He was a magician, as stated in this book, and he did go on to basically be the first man to create special effects for films. What this book tells about Georges is fairly accurate. If you wanted an easy to read, historical fiction about the early era of film and Georges Melies, this is a great place to start.

What I didn’t like

I thought this was a pretty great book and there isn’t really anything I didn’t like, besides the sad parts of this story, of course.

Overall

What a neat little book.

Weigh In

What would you do if you found a strange mechanical man?

What would you want a mechanical man to do?