The first part of February was for finishing books.
I finished Loung Ung’s First They Killed My Father. In her memoir, she not only talks about life under the Khmer Rouge, but also about life in the transitional period as the Khmer Rouge’s reign ended. That period of “what next?” uncertainty has interested me in other history books – Auschwitz after the Nazis have fled in Primo Levi’s first memoir, Rwanda after the genocide has ended in Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You, the shattered populations of post World War II Europe in Tony Judt’s Postwar. It interests me because popular conceptions of history’s narrative often brush past the aftermath period – simply say “the terrible thing was over” and move on.
I also finished Peter Ho Davies’ The Fortunes. The first story was a little too slow for my tastes – the other three stories were much more brisk, which I appreciated. The fourth story, about a Chinese-American man adopting a baby from China with his Irish-American wife was fascinating in its exploration of all the facets of identity in such a situation.
One of my favorite reads so far this year was Miguel A. de la Torre’s excellent book, The U.S. Immigration Crisis: Toward an Ethics of Place. I am still haunted by a story he tells about Sandra Lopez who was brought in to the U.S. as a baby by her mother and deported as a young adult to a border city where she knew no one and had very little money.
My mind is also still turning over what de la Torre calls “ethics para joder (“an ethics that screws with”) and defines as “when the oppressive structures cannot be overturned, the only ethical response is to screw with the structures to create disorder and chaos. This is an ethics that employs the trickster image to upset the normative law and order of those in power who require stability to maintain their privileged position.”
An example he gives is of eight clergy members who interrupted an Operation Streamline court hearing by standing up and reading from the Bible or praying. The clergy released a statement “We have disrupted the courts and we do not do so lightly, for the courtroom is in its own way a sacred place. But we disrupted the proceedings today because they have already been disrupted in a much more troubling way by Operation Streamline. It is clear to us that Operation Streamline is immoral, unjust, and a sin against the poor and their families, and as pastors in this community we have an obligation to speak.”
Wanting a quick read, I read Jill Sorenson’s Tempted by His Target. Not my favorite of hers, but I appreciated that her Mexican setting was clearly researched. I noticed that about her book Off the Rails as well.
As far as my March reading, I have already finished one excellent insightful book of essays: How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed by Slavenka Drakulić. I will write more about it in my March recap, but this quote gives an idea of her focus:
Growing up in Eastern Europe, you learn very young that politics is not an abstract concept, but a powerful force influencing people’s lives. It was this relationship between political authority and the trivia of daily living, this view from below, that interested me most. And who should I find down there, most removed from the seats of political power, but women. The biggest burden of everyday life was carried by them.
I am currently in the middle of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, which I am absolutely adoring. I mentioned on Twitter that Pachinko reminds me in some ways of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.
I also started Michael Waldman’s The Second Amendment: A Biography in February after the Parkland shooting, after seeing those teens use their voices to call for change. I feel very hopeful because of them.
I have a small stack of nonfiction books checked out from the library now that will likely comprise some of reading for the rest of March: The Making of a Racist: A Southerner Reflects on Family, History and the Slave Trade by Charles Dew, No Apparent Distress: A Doctor’s Coming of Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine by Rachel Pearson, and Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home by Nicole J. Georges.