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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen

A Fine Balance, The Lover, Persuasion, The Rape of Nanking, and Three Act Tragedy

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Well, it seems that no matter what I do lately, I am unable to post consistently about what I’m reading. This is in part because I’m working a lot more this summer than I anticipated I would be–not a bad thing save for the effect it’s having on this blog. That said, I’m going to keep using the many-mini-review format of my catch-up posts for a while. So:

This multi-generational epic culminates in the meeting of four strangers during India’s Emergency years: a widow struggling to maintain independence from her abusive brother, a college student from a northern mountain village come to study in the city, and two tailors trying to work their way out of slum-life and caste oppression. Together, they form an unconventional family, trying to find (ahem) the balance between hope and despair in a frighteningly dangerous decade. This book is rich in detail. I was both fascinated and disgusted by Mistry’s exploration of the “begging industry” and the forced sterilizations carried out on the poor by the government, and deeply affected by the countless tragedies that befall each character. This tearjerker was a bit too long, I thought, and some parts of the end were unrealistically coincidental, but it was still well worth the read and I’m glad I gave it the time.

The Lover tells the autobiographical story of an affair that Duras had with a Chinese man as a teenage girl. She is from a poor family but is able to attend boarding school in French-occupied Vietnam because her mother is a teacher. Her lover is wealthy, and their relationship brings up a ton of issues about power along the intersecting lines of age, class, and race. Duras’s prose is light and sifting, and the memories she’s able to capture reveal important clues as to the complicated dynamics that existed not only between herself and her lover, but also herself and her family, and her country and its colonial subjects. I was interested in this book because I was absolutely blown away by Hiroshima Mon Amour, a remarkably beautiful film which she wrote the screenplay for. There are many overlapping elements between the film, which tells the story of an affair between a French woman and a Japanese man just after the second world war, and the book, which made the reading more interesting. For me, though, the film is just infinitely more compelling; the book is its shadow. Read it, but only after you’ve enjoyed Hiroshima Mon Amour.

I was badly craving a comfort-read at this point, and who better to provide that than Jane Austen? If you’re a fan, you know what I’m talking about 🙂 Having read three of her books so far (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma), it’s hard not to evaluate each new-to-me Austen novel through any method but comparison. Two things about Persuasion struck me as unique for Austen: first, this love story starts not at the stage of meeting and courting (or meeting and initially disliking and getting all muddled and confused before courting and marrying in the end, or whatever), but years after Anne Elliot has broken off her engagement to the sailor Frederick Wentworth only to find herself thrown into the same social circle as him more than seven years later. Originally convinced by her friends and family that Wentworth was not a proper match for her, she comes to realize her mistake in allowing them such influence over her love life. She spends almost three-fourths of the novel silently, painfully watching Wentworth flirt with another girl while trying to convince herself that they maintain some sort of friendly bond and that that’s all she wants, which is incredibly sad. This has got to be the saddest Austen novel, in fact. Really, I was surprised at how much sadness I felt. In a way, this leads me to another difference I noticed between this book and Austen’s others, and it lies with Anne: she is the least active of Austen’s protagonists in orchestrating the events around her, the least assertive and communicative. She comes off as very dignified, though, which made me wonder if these qualities were not meant to denote a particular kind of maturity (thinking specifically in contrast to Emma, here). I do wish that she was a little more outspoken, though, so that I could identify with her more and see a little more of her personality, and not just her circumstance. This one didn’t overtake Emma or Sense and Sensibility as my favorite Austen so far, but still delivered, as I knew it would.

First off, there should be a giant TRIGGER WARNING around this whole book, and maybe this post, for in-depth discussions of rape and other extreme forms of violence. Oh, my. Imagine all the most disturbing, inhumane things you can imagine one or a group of people doing to another person or group of people. Multiply that by at least ten. You have hardly begun to scratch the surface of what members of the Japanese army did to the people in and around Nanking when they occupied it in 1937. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians were systematically raped, tortured, and murdered during this massacre that lasted over six weeks. Almost as disturbing as the mass rapes and murders themselves (but really, I don’t think anything can be) is the way in which it was been glossed over afterward by both the US and Japanese governments and academics for reasons of political expediency–basically, the fact that the US needed Japan as an ally during the Cold War and Japan would rather claim historical amnesia (or worse, anti-Japanese propaganda) than acknowledge what happened and apologize for it. In most ways, I’d say, what happened in Nanking is the natural outcome of all warfare, and occurs everywhere that war does. But in this book, Chang tries to locate the specific factors which allowed Japanese soldiers in Nanking to act so far outside the bounds of “ordinary” warfare. I’m not entirely comfortable with this approach in general, but I was willing to let that slide for the sake of information about an event I knew nothing about. She also takes note the few European and American ex-pats who stayed in Nanking to enforce an International Safetly Zone (ironically, one of Nanking’s most revered allies during this time was the Nazi John Rabe), which helped to save thousands of refugees, which is nice, I guess, if not exactly uplifting. In any case, it feels wrong to say that this is a “good” book, or that I “liked” it or that I even want anyone else to read it ever (or to be exposed to the images inside, OMG), but I will say that the victims of the Nanking massacre and its aftermath deserve to have their memories honored and their stories told and I’m glad that this book makes that possible. This history must NOT be allowed to repeat itself. Ever.

This book was kindly sent to me from Nicole at Linus’s Blanket in a give-away so that I could participate in a bit of her Agatha Christie read-and-watch-a-long this summer. I’ve been thinking of trying Christie for a while now, or just mystery in general since I tend to avoid the genre, so this was the perfect opportunity! In Three Act Tragedy, a eldery clergyman falls dead at a dinner party and a few months later, at another party with the same guest list, the doctor dies in exactly the same way. The murders would all make sense, if only a motive could be found for the first killing. And it would be so much easier to find the motive, if only there weren’t so many playing the role of detective…! Sadly, my computer had trouble playing the Masterpiece Theater adaptation (which I’m sure I would have loved) so I only made it about twenty minutes through. I liked the book well enough, it was fun and I can see already why Christie is so highly regarded. It didn’t really blow my mind or anything though. I’m willing to try another, so if you’re a fan, tell me–what’s the best Christie mystery?

Emma, by Jane Austen

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Emma is the third Jane Austen book I’ve read this year, and I enjoyed it just as much, if not more, than both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. So far, I’d say Emma and Sense and Sensibility are vying for favorite status. Sorry, P&P backers, but I think my dislike of Darcy puts it just a bit behind the others in the fave race!

Anyway, maybe it was that I’ve become more accustomed to Austen’s style or maybe it was really something about the book, but I found this to be the quickest read of them all so far–and not because of length (it isn’t shorter). It just feels lighter, somehow. It’s not so heavily laden with lingering glances and quiet suffering, though surely those things exist in this story.

Emma is the most spontaneous and impulsive of Austen’s heroines I think, save Marianne Dashwood, in that she doesn’t really take the time to think through the likely repercussions of her actions. She gets a hunch and goes with it. And since match-making is her preferred hobby, when she makes mistakes they are rather large and painful to all those involved. She is vain and overly confident, and befriends Harriet, a girl much “below” her in class and elegance. She does her best to provide proper influence for Harriet, so that she’ll turn out more like herself, and find her a suitable match. Harriet is grateful for the attention of the widely admired Ms. Emma Woodhouse, so takes her advice and turns down her first suitor, with whom she is rather in love, in favor of pursuing  “better” prospects. But things become confusing and unpleasant for Emma when Harriet begins to resemble herself a little too much and encroaches on the male attention that Emma finds she wants for herself.

Emma is selfish and misguided, sure, but I still found her remarkably endearing. She is not as consistent or self-aware as Austen’s other protagonists seem to be, but she does come to realize the parts of her character that she needs to work on and begins to come to terms with them toward the end.

Given the fact that all of Austen’s novels end with marriages (or so I’ve heard, and found to be true so far), I find it really interesting that Emma initially, and throughout most of the book, is very vocal about her desire to remain unmarried. She would much rather see all her friends and acquaintances settled down than engage in courtship herself, is somewhat ambivalent about falling in love, and feels she has all the stability in life that she needs. Even more interesting is her father’s complete disregard for the institution of marriage altogether which, to him, is a malignant force that draws his daughters out of his house and away from him, who loves and needs them. Without giving away too much about the ending (stop here if you really don’t want to know and can’t guess), I was pleased that though Emma does end up married, their arrangement is a bit untraditional and healthy compromises are made that would have been unusual at the time, but benefits all parties equally.

So many more characters from this book stick out to me, too, in comparison to S&S and P&P. The snobby Mrs. Elton, the annoying Mrs. Bates–she can talk, that lady, can’t she!–the too-smooth Frank Churchill, and Mr. Knightly, perhaps the first of Austen’s male love interests I’ve found at all appealing.

Clearly, I enjoyed Emma quite a lot and would recommend it to anyone who has yet to try Jane Austen. Of course, if you have, you’re probably already hooked and don’t need the recommendation. Right? 🙂

Written by Emily Jane

November 18, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Posted in Novels

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Jane Austen’s Fight Club

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OMG. Full-length, please!

Via Boing Boing.

Written by Emily Jane

July 25, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

Pride and Prejudice, New Books, and a Cool New Way to Keep My Place

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I just finished my second Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice (I read Sense and Sensibility a few months ago), and can now safely declare myself a serious Austen fan. Contrary to what you may have heard about Jane Austen, she is surprisingly funny! And witty! And not at all boring! Really, it’s true. And her stories are not just about romance and balls and courtship, though those are important plot elements; they maintain serious and intelligent social commentary with a sharp tone.

I loved Pride and Prejudice particularly for it’s protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, who grew on me steadily throughout the novel. Constrained by a society and time in which women’s prospects are considered only in terms of their relationships to men, Elizabeth Bennet is uncommonly confident, assertive, and unwilling to settle for comfort and polite society. In turn, she is loved for her impertinence, her (by the end) well-deserved pride, and her mind. Which is more satisfying by the end of the book than it may sound right now. But yeah, Go Lizzy!


On a different note, my parents were here for a few days this week which was great, and as always we went to the Strand Bookstore together where I pressured them into buying me lots of new shiny books (even hardcovers!) and then my dad made his usual joke, something along the lines of “Busy social life you must have, eh em?”

Yeah, thanks dad! Anyway, here’s what I got:

The Vagrants, by Yiyun Li

The True Deceiver, by Tove Jansson

Saint Joan of Arc, by Vita Sackville-West

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

Stranger From Abroad, by Daniel Maier-Katkin

I’m agonizing over what order to read these in. So excited for each of them! Bah.

Also, I’ve decided it’s time to stop using miscellaneous receipts and ticket stubs and candy wrappers as bookmarks and to use actual, you know…bookmarks. My boyfriend gave me an old Star Trek one of his recently, and after visiting the gift shop in The American Folk Art Museum post-Strand, I found the second addition to my new collection. It has nothing to do with the exhibits I saw, but I still really like it:

Yes, that is a working magnifying lens.


Written by Emily Jane

April 22, 2010 at 8:23 pm