Our House in the Last World Tuesday, Oct 26 2010 

Hello Readers!

Another entry for a book I read for my American Immigrant Experience class. I’ve been writing this particular review for a couple of days and just to be frank with you, Our House in the Last World by Oscar Hijuelos is a slow start, but it picks up quickly. This is Hijuelos’ first novel, published back in 1983. Apparently, this novel was semi-autobiographical which only makes me cringe. It was really hard to read this because  of the content handled–it was handled well all things considered–but if it was semi-autobiographical it makes me wonder how much was true and what he knew about his family that we don’t know for sure. In short and like I said, hard to read, but it made me think and that was enjoyable. So, to get started…

“English forced its way through him, splitting his skin” (95).

I will get to that particular quote in a moment–firstly, the title of the book. For me, the word ‘house’ is unfamiliar, cold, and empty. ‘Home is where the heart is…’ There is a sort of permanence and warmth there. In the Introduction, Hijuelos states, “Ultimately memories of Cuba always seem to loom over the Santinio household like an unattainable ‘last world,’ a fount of happiness to which one can never return” (8). Hijuelos goes on to say that he is “proud of the ambiguity of ‘last world.’ It could refer to Cuba or to our present, perhaps final reality…” (238). When my class discussed the novel, it seemed like many of them found there to be many worlds, while some believed Cuba to be more of  a vehicle to getting them to America. Maybe it is just me, but a house is just a house. Now a home, a home is the  environment within and around the house–it’s the memories and events that take place and the people who come into and go out of your life. That’s home to me. So I guess what I mean to say is that Cuba is home to Mercedes, one of the main characters, while America is just some place she is and despises.

Now–to get to the quote I have there. Language is such a huge part of this novel. While gravely ill, Hector Santinio is taken to a hospital and treated… horribly. His nurse is just nasty and I would love to give her a piece of my mind. How dare she lock a child in a closet! I was livid when I read that. She would keep him there until he learned english. Thus begins a conflict within Hector. If he speaks spanish then he is degraded until he speaks english. If he speaks english, his Cuban family becomes upset. He can’t win. Which doesn’t help because he has no identity. Having been told many times, he begins to believe he is not Cuban, he is not Spanish, and he is definitely not American. He might look one way, but to others he is just as much of an outcast as the rest. Both he and Mercedes dissociate and float away from their bodies on what seems to be a daily basis as to not have to confront the issues that terrorize them. That apart, it is absolutely horrible because he does not have a home–he has a house with a poor father, a mother that must have Munchausen syndrome and maybe even Munchausen by proxy (terrible), and a brother who knocks up a sweet girl and beats people within an inch of their lives before running away to the military. Ugh.

Speaking of violent behavior–there is an obvious and dramatic cycle of abuse in this novel. It is just disgusting. Alejo beats and rapes Mercedes–oh what fun that was to read. 😦 Then, because she claims she has nowhere to place her anger and frustration, she beats her children! Here’s a thought Mercedes–fight back, don’t lie down and take it. Alejo also just lays into his children. Lastly, her two sons: Horatio and Hector. Horatio goes and finds fights which continues the abuse while Hector does not even try to defend himself when his mother or brother go after him without provocation. If you haven’t already been able to figure this out–domestic violence is one of those topics that is touchy and leads to many a heated debate where I’m from.

Overall, this novel was amazing and despite the fact that I have issues with the content–it truly is a fantastic read. In short, I am giving Hijuelos’ Our House in the Last World a 4.5 out of 5.

“Virtuoso writing…. A loving and deeply felt tribute.”
–New York Times Book Review

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Bread Givers Thursday, Sep 23 2010 

“He was the Old World. I was the New” (207).

Hi Readers! I know this books isn’t on my list of books to read, but I can promise you that I am still trying to get around to those books! Hopefully this weekend will be filled with the promise of being able to read something that is not required. However, this novel was required and has now become one of those books that does not leave your memory easily. One of the professors who teaches the class said, “It might not be the best, well-written book, but it is still good.” I disagree. I believe it was well-written and offered an amazing glimpse into the life of people during the 1920’s–parts really upset me (as anyone who has been following my blog or maybe knows me can tell you, I become deeply attached to the characters) and I wanted to throw the book because certain things, that I will get into later, happened. Ambiguity just does not sound good on me sometimes, particularly now. In any case, may I present…

Bread Givers, by Anzia Yezierska, is ultimately a novel about the self-creation of a young Jewish woman named Sara Smolinkey.Yezierska wrote in a way that truly depicts the sad status of women during the time period–especially in regards to relationships between Sara and her family, the society that she lives in, and her conflict with religion. To be quite honest, there are only certain period authors and period films that I enjoy because (call me a feminist if you wish) it is always so dramatically male dominated, whether intentional or not–the male leads are typically screwing up in some magical way that only a man can. But apart of from that, I really, truly enjoyed reading Bread Givers and getting to know each character.

The novel focused on Sara, but it was from her point of view–which, in the beginning was hazy, and I could not really tell if I was ever going to hear about her and what she thought. She has three sisters: Bessie, Mashah, and Fania. In the beginning I was not sure what to think of Fania, I liked Bessie, and I could not stand Mashah because she did not do a thing for her family.  Sara’s mother is a woman who once stole hearts and now is, what I like to call, a domestic engineer (stay at home mom) and her father is a rabbi–one who stretches and skews the Torah (Jewish holy book)–that alone irritated me. For most, if not all of the novel, Sara and her father are at each other’s necks over what Sara should or should not be doing.

It is so frustrating because Sara’s father wants to be American and he encourages his family to drop everything that was familiar to them so they can go to a place that is never what anyone says it is: America, land of the free, to pursue that which makes you happy, blah blah blah. I am by no means saying that the freedoms I have are not appreciated, but we are a nation of hypocrites. We say we are welcoming, but that’s only if you’re visiting; even then we are not very nice. Maybe I am biased, but being helpful and welcoming must be a Northwest thing. Anyway, he says all these things about America, probably based on brochures or something to that effect, but his family arrives and they live in poverty for years. He marries three of his four daughters off to men they do not love, mind you, he dragged his three eldest daughters away from the men that they did love, so of course, Sara sees this and knows of their unhappiness–she fights away from it. She breaks away–goes to college and becomes a teacher–I am purposely leaving out all of the hardships she encounters along the way–most of it from her father. You will have to read to find our the other details and the ending–I encourage you to read it!

In a sense, I know what she is thinking about her father–in a way, I feel the same way about my own. He never did a thing to help my family and all he did was play a tyranic role in their lives, her father religion, mine, that’s another story. I don’t believe that anyone should be using their holy book as a means to boss, abuse, manipulate, whatever. For the time, I am sure that it was normal and acceptable for a woman to be treated like crap–but that is not okay anymore, just for the record. Now to get back on track… her father  studies all day, does not work to help his family, who thanks to him, are perpetually poor. His wife gives him the best of everything and still, nothing is good enough. He is so removed from responsibility that he uses religion and arrogance as a crutch; so removed, he has no idea how much work his daughters do so that he can have the tastier pieces of their meals while they starve. I guess I just find it horrible that religion is so male dominated–if a higher being loves everyone, then should we not all be treated as equals?

It is so obvious that the Smolinksy family is hierarchical and stereotypical towards how women should be and how they should act. Sara’s family is constantly clawing at her to get a husband. That she is nothing without a man. That she will have nothing without a man. My first thought is B.S. It may as well be a selfish comfort to know that Sara truly believes that if she is going to be someone’s somebody, she needs to make something of herself. She does not want the life her mother and sisters have lived, and to be quite honest, I would not want that either. I guess I can say that I can connect with Sara on this level–I want to make something of myself before I have a family of my own–I want to live and to be successful on my own terms and not need a man for me to get where I want to go. To know that I have done everything on my own, independent and free–being able to live for me would be the sweetest reward because nobody can take that away.

So, I am sure I might have missed something, however– in conclusion, I think this is one of the best books I have ever read. I am stoked for the next American Immigrant Experience novel. Apprehensive at first? Definitely. Will I be passing my book around to my friends so they can read it and add their own ideas and notes? Hell yes! Reading this novel was a great experience and I can’t wait to read it again–however, I have a reading list and other course required novels to get through before I can do that, haha! That being said, I give Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers a 4/4.5 out of 5. Happy reading!

Heads Carolina, Tails California Friday, Sep 17 2010 

What I would not give for this entry to be a book review. Do you realize how many books I have in my possession–not including the huge pile that is an avalanche all on its own? School has taken up so much of my time and to be honest–I long for summer once again when I can go to work and come home and read. I’ve taken up knitting–it is so calming. I’ve completed two hats and can’t wait to begin making scarves.

My reason for writing this entry which has nothing to do with what I would truly love to be doing right now? I could not leave this untouched for another day. I became so accustomed to reading non-stop, writing a blog, and then starting up again. So, to those who read and those who comment: I appreciate your comments and discussion… and your patience. I will one day soon get another book review up. However, this is not even half of what I am up against:

ENG 203–Introduction to Drama.
We aren’t reading books so much as we are reading plays like “Oedipus Rex”, “Everyman”, “Lysistrata”, etc. The Greeks really knew how to stress SEX without saying it. Okay, that’s a lie. At one point in “Lysistrata”, the women declare they will not be “lifting their slippers to the ceiling” or “go on all fours.” Oh joy. I am currently writing a paper about King Oedipus and Oedipus complex–riveting, wouldn’t you say?

ENG 312–Literary Criticism.
Mostly collected works by Elizabeth Bishop and a custom-made course reader thanks to the Professor. Apparently, my views are incredibly Marxist and reader based. I guess I can agree if it means that I firmly believe how you interpret literature is based on your social location and experiences. No matter, recently read a short story called “The Burning House” by Anne Beattie–amazing. Read it. I could pick apart that story all day.

ENG 326–American Immigrant Experience.
Yep, you guessed it. It is a co-taught class for History and English. The professors banter back and forth–funny as hell. We read historical accounts, participate in lectures, and discuss what we are reading. Six or seven novels and a zillion articles. To be quite honest, the topic of immigration tends to be a very touchy topic. I do not understand why. We are a nation of immigrants. On another note, you could say I am a bit of a feminist. So, despite the fact that I’ve learned to respect various cultures, I became very sad when we had to read a short story about a young Chinese couple who were to be driven apart thanks to being Americanized–which really is so true–we expect everyone to act “American.” Whatever that is–I do not really know anymore. And now that I have gone somewhere on a tangent, let us return.

HIS 211–History of Latin American Civilizations.
The professor, my roommate and I have decided, looks exceedingly like a young Michael Caine. We are reading two books in that class and the sections are so ungodly long. The class lectures are fascinating and it is quite obvious the professor is passionate about the subject: Maya, Aztecs, Incas, etc., but this English major and History minor loves to read–just not texts that are so dense that you could put a knife through it.

SPN 101–Introduction to Spanish.
Hola! Me gusta mucho! I had taken three years in middle school and high school. However, upon being called stupid and lazy, I backed away from the language that I was so close to being fluent in and slowly but surely, it became dormant. Until now. I am staying up late and having fantastic conversations with one of my roommates, Amanda, and the second best part about having these conversations: they are  completely in Spanish! Hell yes!

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As much as I love school, (if I could be paid to go to school for the rest of my life, I probably would because I love to learn) I would love to get in a car with my travel buddy, Amanda, take some good music, a couple dozen books, my laptop, and plenty of money for gas and food, and just drive without a damn map. Get lost and just be at peace with a good book in my hands. Flip a coin and go. Escape into the novels that have become (almost) like home. Call me crazy, but I love talking to the characters and sharing in their adventures–but I guess I have to come back to reality sometime. Quite honestly, I do not  enjoy reality right now and a great big bubble of positive something would do me some good. By next week, I fully intend on having SOMETHING up…this two-week business is not okay with me.

To end on a positive note–I am thoroughly excited for my Fall TV shows and supposedly, they are making a show or a movie out of the Vampire Academy series. They will not be able to do Dimitri Belikov justice. haha

Books in my possession that I have not started yet: Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs, Nefertiti by Michelle Moran, The Killing Game by Iris Johansen, and maybe three or four other books that are coming in. Oh to be able to write another entry. Until then…

Happy Reading!! 🙂