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Book Review: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigerian Independence Day Reading/Reviewing Project)

September 30, 2011 12 comments

Cover of the book Purple HibiscusSummary:
Kambili’s father, Eugene, is a wealthy businessman and newspaperman focused on telling the truth of the upheaval in Nigeria, but even more focused on his fanatical version of Catholicism.  Kambili, her brother Jaja, and their mother all live on edge, walking on eggshells, never knowing when he might snap.  In contrast, Eugene’s sister, Kambili’s Aunty Ifeoma, is a university professor and a widow, cheerfully raising her children to be independent.  One winter vacation Aunty Ifeoma convinces Eugene to allow Kambili and Jaja to visit.  A visit that will change their worlds forever.

Review:
You all know by now that I’m good friends with Amy, so when she asked me to participate in her one-shot project, I couldn’t say no.  Although, I was completely at a loss as to what to read.  I’ve never read a Nigerian book before.  So I asked Amy to help me figure out a book to get my hands on, and she recommended this title to me.

Adichie instantly swept me into a world that is starkly different from, yet surprisingly similar to, my own.  The excessive religion and fear of god was something I was raised with myself, so I found myself instantly connecting to Kambili.  Indeed, it’s nearly impossible not to connect to her.  She is intelligent yet vulnerable.  Strong yet terrified.  Wise yet naive.  She is an ideal main character, because she is so essentially human yet impossible not to root for.

Kambili’s father is an abuser; there is zero doubt about that, yet the perspective of the abused is so eloquently depicted by Adichie.  Kambili truly loves her father.  She is afraid of him and hurt by him, yet she knows there are good things too.  She wants nothing more than to please him.  She lives for his kind words.  Indeed, even the reader sees that there are good aspects to Eugene in spite of the fact that he’s a horrible abuser.  He routinely donates money to the needy in Nigeria, for instance.  This is what makes it so powerful and realistic.  Abusers aren’t monsters from a fairy tale.  They are deeply flawed people who hurt those closest to them.

In contrast to Eugene is Aunty Ifeoma.  Aunty Ifeoma is the kind of woman that I believe most modern, strong, educated women want to be.  She tries so damn hard to help her kids be strong, to be a good mom, to help save her sister-in-law and niece and nephew from an abusive situation.  She tries hard at everything, yet sometimes the civil unrest at the university and the constant struggle to feed her family gets to her, and she snaps a bit.  Aunty Ifeoma is the perfect comparison to Eugene.  She sometimes snaps at her kids a bit when she’s tired or frustrated from the extreme situations going on around her Nigeria, but she never harms them.  Since stress is one of the excuses many abusers use, it is excellent to see this comparison within the story.

Adichie eloquently describes Nigeria as well.  I’ve never been to any part of Africa, but I felt myself swept into the hot, dry air.  I could almost smell the food they ate and the cashews and oranges on the ground outside.  Although Adichie shows the political unrest and civil strife, she also clearly displays the beauty of Nigeria, which is something I’ve never encountered before.

With all this beauty and realism, then, I must say I was a bit thrown by the ending.  It almost felt as if it was from a different story.  Whereas most of the book was reserved and eloquent in its simple depictions, the ending felt larger than life.  I think I was hoping for something more from the ending.  Some type of realistic understanding of a tough situation instead of a….deus ex machina style ending.

That said, I am incredibly glad I read this book.  I’m glad Amy helped me broaden my horizons to reading from a style of lit outside of my normal comfort zone.  This book is incredibly accessible, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of contemporary, literary stories.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Friday Fun! (Things I Did This Week)

September 30, 2011 4 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  I’ve been up to quite a lot this week:

Like, I read a book for Amy’s Nigerian Independence Day reading project (post will be up later today).

I decided that I desperately need more money flowing into my bank account, so I found a part-time job at a local restaurant.  I already had my first shift and really enjoyed myself.

I went out for beers to watch the Sox with my downstairs neighbor. We will not discuss the outcome of the game. *coughs*

I discovered that there are free games on Google+!! And I found this amazeballs game called City of Wonder, which is kind of like SimCity, only you’re building a civilization, and you get to attack other civs.  It’s seriously good times.

I bought two pairs of jeans for the first time in like five years. I am now fit enough that they’re semi-comfortable and look cute!

I’ve been working my patootie off on Tova 2.  Hopefully the draft should be done by the end of this weekend.

Oh, and I co-wrote a guest post with my friend on her blog.  If you have any curiosity about the snarky librarian side of my life, feel free to check it out.

This weekend I’m going to Salem with my friend Sara, working a shift at the restaurant, hopefully bathing the cat (and not dying), doing some yoga, and just generally being my busy, awesome self. Happy weekends!

Book Review: The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

September 26, 2011 7 comments

Book cover featuring a tumbler of whiskey.Summary:
Everyone’s favorite hard-boiled private eye Marlowe is back, and this time he’s been hired to track down a respectable entrepreneur’s wild wife.  She sent a telegram weeks ago stating she was going to marry her boy toy, Lavery, but Lavery was spotted in Hollywood and claims to have no idea where Mrs. Kingsley is.  The last place she was known to be was at the Kingsleys’ lake-side country cottage, so that small town is where Marlowe starts his investigation.

Review:
I first encountered Chandler in a film noir class I took in undergrad at Brandeis.  Ok, so that class was my first encounter with noir too, but it introduced a whole new genre to me to fall in love with.  The cores of the genre just scream my name from the hard-boiled, alcoholic detective with a “work bottle” of whiskey in his office drawer to the ever-present femme fatale.  *sighs*  Can I live in that world?  Can I?  Anyway, so whenever I stumble upon a Chandler book in a used bookstore, I absolutely must buy it.  There’s simply no question.  This will probably continue until I have collected them all.

The entries are always narrated by Marlowe, and The Lady in the Lake does not fail to smoothly represent everything there is to love about him.  He’s darkly cynical yet possesses a striking wit even in the face of getting a beat-down from the cops (which happens in pretty much every book.  Lots of dirty cops in Marlowe’s world).  Without Marlowe’s voice and ever-present intelligence, the books would not be what they are.  Thankfully, his presence is just as perfect here as in the other Chandler books.

So what about the story?  Well, this time the story is not set entirely in LA.  A solid half of it is in the countryside.  While I enjoyed those scenes, I must admit I did miss the LA grittiness a bit.  Although the scene where the grieving husband drags his wife’s corpse out of the lake on his back was every bit as gritty as any city scene.

The mystery made so much sense in the end that I was kicking myself for not figuring it out.  I still can’t believe I didn’t figure it out!  How Chandler came up with these twists and turns and managed to write them without giving it away is beyond me.  I doubt anyone will be disappointed with the mystery.  I literally had no idea what was going on into Marlowe explained everything in the classic film noir wrap-up scene.

The femme fatale was a weak point in this entry, however.  I think this is why I really liked it but didn’t love it.  She just didn’t seem sexy enough.  Violent, yes.  Brutal, yes.  But sexy? Ehhhh.  Personally I always perceive the femme fatale as a gorgeous black widow spider, and well this one just failed a bit on the gorgeous glamor aspect.  She was still a femme fatale, but perhaps a bit disappointing.

Overall, I truly enjoyed my time in Marlowe’s world with this entry.  Marlowe is someone whose presence it is always worth being in, regardless of whether his surroundings are perfect or not.  I recommend this to noir fans, highly.  Those new to the genre, I recommend start with The Big Sleep.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Harvard Books used book cellar

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Book Review: Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow by Jacqueline Jones (The Real Help Reading Project)

September 24, 2011 11 comments

Black woman working in the fields.Summary:
Professor Jacqueline Jones presents the extensively researched history of the dual working worlds of black American women–at home and in the workforce–from slavery to present.  She highlights the ways in which the unique cultural history of slavery as well as being subject to both sexism and racism have impacted black American women’s lives.

Discussion:
This is the second book for the Real Help reading project I’m co-hosting with Amy.  I specifically requested that she host the discussion for this book for a special reason.  Jacqueline Jones was my professor for one of my classes required for my history major at Brandeis University (she now teaches at University of Texas), and suffice to say, she and I did not get along very well.  I was concerned that this history might make it difficult for me to discuss this book, so I asked Amy to host.  She obliged.  I am going to do my best to discuss this book without bias, but my personal experiences with Jackie Jones (as the Brandeisians called her) definitely gave me my own perspective in reading the book.

I was completely engrossed in the slavery and Jim Crow sections of the book.  They taught me a lot I was previously unaware of, as I always kind of avoided the Civil War in my American history classes.  (I focused on colonization, Revolutionary War, westward expansion, and WWII).  For instance, it was interesting to see how the matriarchy slave owners forced upon slaves affected and impacted black culture even to this day.  It was also the first time I saw sharecropping explained and spelled out.  It is easy to see how black women, particularly ones widowed or single mothers, would choose to move to a city and become domestic help to escape the back-breaking work of share-cropping.

The book also demonstrates how black American culture has come to depend upon the iconic image of the strong black woman to help them through horrible racism and working conditions.  Yet, by the end of the book, we can see that this means a lack of support for black women that is reflected in long-term illnesses and mental illness.  Although black women are to be respected and lauded for their role in helping their communities, it is time that less is laid upon them.  One obvious thing?  Less time spent serving whites.

Since this was read largely to combat The Help, which takes place specifically in a domestic environment during the Civil Rights movement, I want to take a moment to discuss what I learned about that specific era in this book, because the book as a whole obviously covers a very large period of time.  The book clearly demonstrates that the Civil Rights movement was BLACK women fighting for BLACK people and sympathetic whites came down from the north to help with things like voter registration, and they were then housed by BLACK women who would literally sit on their porch with a gun to protect the workers.  This is in stark contrast to the image laid out in The Help where a WHITE woman comes and convinces the black workers to talk to her for their rights.

Additionally, the book repeatedly demonstrates how black women constantly throughout American history have sought to get out of white homes for any other kind of labor (except in the case of sharecropping).  The role of domestic simply rings too close to slavery, and can you blame them?  It certainly is apparent that many, if not the majority, of white employers sought to use black domestics as as close an approximation to slave labor as possible.  One issue I don’t think the book addressed well enough is that any situation where one is working as a servant in another person’s home serves to antagonize relationships between the two groups.  There is no friendliness there.  One person is doing a menial chore in the home of another that the other is wealthy enough to not have to do.  How could that possibly bring about anything but negative feelings?

Now, ok, here’s my criticism of the book.  I feel that in Prof Jones’ passion for the plight of minorities in the US, she can sometimes over-compensate the opposite direction.  By that I mean, she sometimes presents minorities as super-human or at no fault for their own actions or she’ll ignore negatives entirely.  For instance, we only got two paragraphs out of 480 pages on black women working in prostitution.  Personally, I wanted to know more about this, as it is a type of work black women have engaged in (as have every color/race of women ever), and I wanted to know the specific roles sexism, racism, and a hostile culture played in that for them.  Specifically, I was interested about how the idea of lighter colored black women being more desirable to white men that we saw in the first book of our challenge might have carried over to prostitution in the 1920s and 1930s.  But Jones doesn’t talk about this, and from my own personal experience with her, I speculate this is partly a blinders on her eyes issue.

Similarly, one thing that really irritated me was every time Jones tells a story of a woman working herself to the bone trying to provide for her children only to have her husband abandon her, Jones excuses the man by saying….”Well…..racism,” and moves on.  Certainly, I am sure that some of these men were simply stressed out and thus abandoned their families, but I’m also certain that some of them were just assholes and would have done so in a completely non-racist society.  To wit, I believe Jones falls too hardly on the nurture side of nature/nurture, when psychiatry has repeatedly demonstrated that it actually is a combination of the two that determines an individual’s behavior.  By this I mean, I am certain that a non-racist society would lead to a larger percentage of happy, healthy families, but it by no means would wipe out all questionable behavior by all members of that race.  To suggest that all members of a race would be “good” minus racism is just as racist as to suggest that all members of a race are “bad.”

That said, while I enjoyed the earlier portions of the book, as well as the sections on domestic labor in the 1950s and 1960s, I do think the book tries to tackle a bit too much in one entry.  The sweep is almost overwhelming at times when reading it.  I’d recommend getting a print copy so you can skim for the chapters of most interest to you or so that you can read various sections as questions arise.

Source: Amazon

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Please head over to Amy’s post to discuss this book!

Friday Fun! (Real Search Terms People Have Used To Find My Blog)

September 23, 2011 8 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  I hope you all had good weeks.  Mine was rather long as I a) found out I didn’t get a job I really wanted and b) had dental surgery that seems to *still* have not fixed the problem.  But!  Life goes on, and I have good friends, a fun city, a snuggly kitty, and an adorable apartment to live in.  So all will be well.

Today I thought I’d give you a little insight into the behind-the-scenes here at Opinions of a Wolf, not to mention the psyche of our fellow Earthlings, and show you some actual search terms people have used to find my blog.  Offered with commentary, naturally.

  • seitan fondue (4 hits)
    Wow, this is…..rather brilliant, actually.  I suddenly have this urge to make seitan and fondue and EAT ALL THE THINGS.
  • marge piercy woman on the edge of time chapter summaries (4 hits)
    Hello, students. Sorry, I’m afraid you four are going to actually have to read the book if you want such detailed summary. It’s a good one! You’ll enjoy it!  I’ll even give you a metaphorical cookie for reading it.
  • jondalar cheats (5 hits)
    Oh, fellow fans of the Earth’s Children series. I regret to inform you that yes, it is true. Jondalar does cheat on Ayla.  I hope my review saved you from having to read the god-awful last book in the series.
  • to say nothing of the dog movie (5 hits)
    Wait! Is this happening?!?! *googles* No. No, it is not happening. Brilliant idea though, fellow Connie Willis fans.
  • urbmon 116 (5 hits)
    To clarify, this is a key building in a tiny, not super-well known scifi book that I’m always trying to get people to read entitled The World Inside by Robert Silverburg, so I’m rather baffled as to why people are googling the urbmon?  Where are they hearing about this?  Why are they googling it as opposed to the name of the book?  Inquiring minds want to know.
  • become a wolf leave comment (5 hits)
    ….what? No, really, what?  Let me clarify things for you, googlers who I really hope are delusional teenagers who need more to do.  You cannot become a wolf.  That is not possible.  That is a thing we call fantasy.
  • gilf (6 hits)
    *sighs* For those of you who may not know what this acronym is, it stands for “Grandma I’d Like to Fuck.”  Yeah. GRANDMA.  Hey, I mean, whatever moves you, but as a librarian I can tell you there are better search terms for you to find this sort of p*rn on the internet, folks.
  • metropolis drinking game (6 hits)
    BLESS YOU PEOPLE.  I made that for the heck of it, because it amused me, and somewhere out there are other black and white film nerds who had similar thoughts.  I have some modicum of hope for humanity.
  • image of female great plains wolf howling (2 hits)
    So…..two people needed an image of a great plains wolf howling, but it *had* to be female? Why does the gender matter?
  • “circumcising her clitoris” (2 hits)
    GAH! NOT OK. NOT OK.
  • saraha desert (2 hits)
    You might have better luck if you listen to google and change your spelling to sahara, since there is no saraha desert. You’re welcome.
  • gross factors about the centipede (3 hits)
    *head hits desk giggling* Oh, something tells me my post about The Human Centipede was not the gross thing they were looking for.
  • siluet wolf (1 hit)
    *face-palm*
  • i’m poor and boring (1 hit)
    Boohoo. Get off the internet and go read something or go for a run or something.
  • sparknotes for revolution is not a dinner party (1 hit)
    Apparently this is being assigned in classes now. It is not a long book, kids, just read it.
  • 1973 boobs (1 hit)
    Ok, why specifically boobs from 1973?  I’m pretty sure boobs from every decade are relatively similar.
  • cute werepanther pictures (1 hit)
    *raises eyebrows*
  • i want to fuck michelle beavan (1 hit)
    I don’t know why you think googling this will get you what you want, but then again, men think catcalling women will make us get in their cars with them, so *shrug*

And there you have it.  We have students trying to avoid reading (JUST READ IT), some fellow nerds who enjoy alcohol (*waves*), a few health nuts, people obsessed with wolves and werewolves, and a lot of horny people. A lot of them.  I don’t blame you at all. That’s what the internet is for after all.  You just….probably will only find erotica recommendations here as opposed to visual p*rn.

In all seriousness, though, these hits just show part of the fun of having a blog.  You get a bit of insight into other folks, not to mention get to feel you might not be so weird after all.  I mean, six other people wanted a drinking game for Metropolis after all……

Happy weekends all!

Categories: Friday Fun! Tags: ,

Book Review: Hunt Beyond the Frozen Fire by Gabriel Hunt (series, #4)

September 21, 2011 3 comments

Terrified woman in front of knife-thrower.Summary:
Gabriel Hunt is independently wealthy and runs around the world saving artifacts, people, etc…  Think Indiana Jones in book form.  In this entry, a hot lady named Velda shows up at his office asking him to help look for her father who’s gone missing in Antarctica.  His last transmission mentions trees, and his colleagues believe he was hallucinating, but Velda wants to save what could be her father’s greatest discovery.  Hunt decides to take the case and assembles a team including his best friend, southern charmer Maximilian, and his ex-girlfriend, a mechanic, which is a bit awkward since he’s now banging Velda.  When the team gets out to the portion of ice Velda’s father was lost around, they fall into a fission in the ice and discover red ice and a tunnel that just may prove Velda’s father wasn’t hallucinating after all.

Review:
This is what pulp fiction should be all about.  This is the kind of book that I finished and immediately contacted multiple friends to tell them the full plot, and then they all wanted to read it for themselves in spite of knowing how it ends.  In fact, knowing the ending made them want to read it more.  This is the kind of book where I hit one particular scene, and my jaw dropped open and I started laughing hysterically and everyone in my work cafeteria turned to look at me.  Basically: this kind of book is why I love pulp fiction and thumb my nose at literary fiction snobs.

Basically, ridiculous things build up and keep happening until suddenly you’re just accepting something in the plot that is INSANELY out there, but in the world the author has created it works.  We go from a murderous knife-throwing gypsy who also sells munitions to a mysterious message from a father who survived the Holocaust to falling into a fission in the ice and not dying to leap-frogging across deadly cold water on ice islands to finding an Amazon style jungle under the ice to being attacked by a giant chicken to being taken hostage by a tribe of Amazon Nazi women.

Yes, you read that right.  Amazon Nazi women.  Most of whom are naturally late teens to early 20s, blond haired, blue eyed, and completely gorgeous. NATURALLY.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “What, Amanda? You’re doing The Real Help project. You host the MIA Reading Challenge. What the what?” But the thing is, this sort of fiction is just about FUN, and the plot is so ridiculous it’s not like I’m going to go out there and say obviously there are murderous Amazon Nazis in the ice under Antarctica.  Just….no.  It’s overly ridiculous on purpose.  Kind of like old school MTV shows like Room Raiders and Next.  It’s escapist literature.  It knows it’s ridiculous, and that’s ok.  Most of it is not offensive if you have a modicum of a sense of humor.

Of course, just because it’s hilarious and ridiculous doesn’t mean it’ll be everyone’s cup of tea.  It is quite violent.  It probably presses the boundaries of what some people would be ok with reading about sex and violence.  You guys know me and know I don’t really have boundaries for those things though.  To me this would be the perfect read to give a reluctant male reader.  It’s action-packed, fast-paced, and basically a male wet dream.  Obviously that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

Essentially if you think that a book version of 007 complete with a village of Amazon Nazis under the ice sounds like one of the best things ever, you’re going to love this book.  If you read that sentence and rolled your eyes or cringed, then yeah, avoid it.  It’s not meant for you.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: I think this was Paperbackswap, but I’m not positive.

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Friday Fun! (Raw Vegan “Cheese”)

September 16, 2011 5 comments

Hello my lovely readers and a special welcome to the new ones who’ve found me through The Real Help Reading Project!!  Be sure to follow my tumblr for quotes from the books as I read them (plus fitspo, veg stuff, items on the obesity epidemic, social justice, and cute kitties).

Earlier this week I tweeted about a raw vegan “cheese” recipe I made that tasted amazeballs, and a whole slew of you who follow me over there asked for the recipe. I am ever so happy to oblige, because a) it’s yummy and b) it’s healthy.  Win/win

Sour Cream Cheese
Season with garlic, chives, your fave spices and herbs. Experiment!

1 cup cashews
1/2 cup water
1.5 Tablespoons lemon juice
Sea salt, to taste
2 inches of a leek or 4 inches of green onion
1 Tablespoon fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried dill
1 Tablespoon fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil

Ready for what you do? It is literally this easy.

1.  Put all ingredients in blender or food processor.

2.  Blend.

3.  Refrigerate until chilled.

4.  Lasts up to 5 days in the fridge.

And you’re done.  Isn’t raw vegan food fun?

This recipe is from Raw Food: A Complete Guide for Every Meal of the Day by Erica Palmcrantz and Irmela Lilja.  I’d tell you the page number, but my kindle edition does not have page numbers, so….

Also, for the record, this is amazing on tacos. Amazing. Who needs shredded cheddar when you’ve got this?

Happy weekends all!!

Book Review: The Meowmorphosis by Franz Kafka and Coleridge Cook

September 13, 2011 5 comments

Cat head in suit.Summary:
Gregor Samsa goes to bed and wakes up as an adorable snuggly kitten!  He has trouble making up his mind about anything, though, and is easily distracted by things like dust and canned fish.  Plus, his family clearly are not cat people.

Review:
This is the first Quirk Classic that I’ve read, mainly because all the others were based on classics I don’t like to start with (Jane Austen and Anna Karenina).  However, “The Metamorphosis” is one of my faaaavorite short stories.  Although, I will always insist that Gregor woke up as a grasshopper, not a cockroach.  (I was the only one in my AP English class who thought this.  Whatever).  In spite of its (epically awesome win) name, this actually also incorporates another Kafka story “The Trial,” which I have not read.  Anyway, when this came up as an EarlyReviewer I obviously needed to have a copy.

The main problem with reworking “The Metamorphosis” to be a cat is that, well, cats are adorable and playful and perfectly normal household cats whereas a giant insect is not.  A lot of the depression, ennui, and conflict in the original story comes from Gregor being an insect.  While Cook does a good job showing the internal workings of a cat brain to go with their adorably quirky behavior, the actions of the family are less understandable.  What is up with this family hating on their adorable son?  Why do they lock him away in a room?  What is up with that?  Of course this gets addressed later when Gregor grows to a disturbingly large size and can barely move around.  I couldn’t help but think of that obese cat that was on the news last year.  However, at that point he was sort of just becoming the monster they were treating him as.  Ok, I just read what I wrote, and quite possibly that is the point of the story.  However, while reading it, it certainly bogged me down.

I also have to say that I didn’t like the illustrations that went with the story.  Somehow, the illustrator actually managed to make pictures of cats that I didn’t squee over.  There’s something wrong with that picture.

Overall I’d say that I don’t feel like I wasted my time reading this, per se, but I also sort of wish I’d just re-read “The Metamorphosis” and hunted down a copy of “The Trial.”  As someone who can be a bit of an emo reader at times, nothing beats Kafka’s brand of ennui and depression.  Why brighten it up with a kitty?  Just…..why?

I’d recommend this book to that odd juxtaposition of reader who loves depressing European lit and doesn’t mind it being brightened up by an adorable kitty.  I think only you will know if that describes you.

3 out of 5 stars

Source:  Free copy from the publisher via LibraryThing’s EarlyReviewers in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: A Million Nightingales by Susan Straight (The Real Help Reading Project)

September 10, 2011 16 comments

Girl with head leaning on hand.Summary:
Moinette is born south of New Orleans to a slave mother as a mulatresse–she is half white and half black.  Since her mother’s slave labor consists largely of laundry and also due to her looks, Moinette spends her life serving predominantly within the white homes instead of the fields, which is a dangerous location.  She also spends her life striving to be free and to save her family.

Discussion:
This is the first book for the The Real Help reading project I’m co-hosting with Amy (intro post).  I do apologize for the late time in the day that my hosting post is arriving.  It was raining this week, so I was afraid to bring my kindle with me most places.  Anyway.  On to discussing Moinette’s life as The Real Help.

The two things that stuck out the most to me were how desperate Moinette was to love no one but her mother (not even her son at first) and also the mental impact being treated as less than human had on her.  Moinette repeatedly degrades herself in her mind because of how others treat her.  This is what I want to discuss first.

There’s the fact that Moinette is half-white and half-black.  She is evidence of the fact that the white males find the black slaves desirable, and that is offensive to everyone involved.  For this reason, Moinette faces racism from both black and white people.  Early on she is informed that she is different, but not in a human way.

He said he was a horse, at least pure in blood and a useful animal.  He said I was a mule, half-breed, and even a mule worked hard.  He said I was nothing more than a foolish peacock.  (page 5)

Moinette’s identity is always in peril throughout her whole life, because no one wants to admit that sex between the races really happens, even though Moinette’s own existence is evidence of that fact.  Additionally, she constantly struggles to feel that she is worth more than an animal.  She sees that elderly slaves are literally valued as less than a dish.  Imagine what that would do to the self-esteem?  We talk a lot in classes in the US about how bad it would be to be owned by someone, but we never talk about the reality of being treated as an animal, as an object.  It feels abstract to say, “Oh, imagine what it would feel to be owned by someone.”  It is far less abstract to see the mental and emotional strife Moinette goes through in attempting to hold on to her sense of humanity.

Moinette also constantly struggles with the concept of love and who to love and when to love.  Something that stuck out to me was how at first she did not love her son.  She did not even want her son.  This is understandable given that he was the result of rape.  Later, though, much of her life focus comes to be on freeing him and saving him.  She loves him, yes, but personally I can’t help but notice that her focus on him only comes when she discovers that her mother is missing/gone.  It is almost as if she transfers her love for her mother to Jean-Paul and then to the little girls she buys in order to free them at 21.  Moinette’s experience with this demonstrates how slavery and inequality is so dehumanizing because it rips apart one of the key aspects that makes for humanity–the ability to make families, whether by blood or by choice.  Moinette knows the danger of loving someone.  She quite simply states:

I knew my heart was only meat for another animal.  (page 107)

Moinette spends the first half of her life striving to be back with her mother where she feels safe and loved.  She spends the second half of her life striving to save younger slaves and give them a place where they feel save and loved.  In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (link) safety is almost at the very bottom.  Only the very luckiest slaves even had the first level of physiological needs met.  Most never truly felt safe as there was no security of family, which is key to psychiatric stability and sense of self.  Even if we ignore the tragedy of Moinette being born a slave, her life is still tragic because she was never given the chance to self-actualize and become the truly amazing person that is clearly inside her throughout the novel because she must spend all her time struggling for the basic needs.

Obviously we also should discuss Moinette’s relationships with white women as we are reading this project to answer to The Help.  Moinette has an interesting relationship with white women.  She does not love the ones she serves, but she also does not hate them.  Moinette is clearly confused as to how to react to these women.  The first white woman she served was Cephaline, who was nearly her age and died young.  After she dies, Moinette says:

I missed her voice.  Her words like embroidery in the air.  She didn’t love me.  But I had heard her voice all my life.  (page 98)

How odd to spend so much of your time near someone, in often intimate situations, to know them truly thoroughly, but to feel no sense of love or camaraderie.  Moinette can see some similarities between herself and the white women she serves.  Their bodies are somewhat different, yet they both have two breasts and a vagina.  Although Moinette recognizes that white women have a bit more freedom, she still sees them as essentially used and hunted by men.

The Men hunted money and sex.  The women were hunted and captured, even the white women.  (page 230)

Truly with the marriage contracts of the time, a married white woman was not exactly free.  Moinette recognizes this, and I believe it adds to her despair.  What chance is there for women of any color in this society?

Another theme in the book is how dangerous working in the house is.  Working in the cane, no one notices the slave women, but working in the house, suddenly the women get noticed by the men and get used for their bodies sexually.  Even if a woman managed to escape being raped, she still felt inferior since she was living in the house and working in the house as a wife, but was not a wife.

Sophia said, “Safer in the cane.  Do your work, nobody look.  Dangerous in the house.”  (page 235)

In close quarters, such as serving in a white household, another whole level of fear and intimidation comes in to play.  Although the work is technically easier, the women actually had less control over what happened to their bodies.

Overall I think this book gives an excellent look into the sheer despair of being born a slave in the American south, particularly as a female.  Although Moinette strives constantly throughout her life, the things about herself she cannot change–that she was born a slave and biracial–truly largely determine her life path.  Although she helps improve the lives of some of those around her, she never truly finds happiness for herself, even when freed.  This is something that revisionist narratives of the time often overlook.  Simply because someone was freed did not mean that the prejudices and injustices of the society they lived within ceased to exist.  Moinette did her best within her world, but even her best and most determined acts were not enough to save her from a life of pain.

Buy It

Discussion Questions:

  • Compare Moinette’s relationship with Cephaline to her relationship with Pelagie.  What were the similarities and differences?
  • How do you perceive Cephaline and Pelagie?  Although they were technically free, do you think they were truly free?
  • Why do you believe Moinette had such a close bond with her mother but her son, Jean-Paul, seems to have only had a close bond with Francine?
  • How much different do you think Moinette’s life would have been if she’d been born 100% black instead of biracial?
  • Do you think Moinette’s life would have been better if she’d managed to stay in the fields instead of working within the house?
  • Why do you think the Native Americans were willing to participate in the return of fellow minorities to the ownership of white men?
  • Why do you think Moinette never pursued a real relationship with a man?
  • How do you see the slave/master relationship within the household reflected in modern households that pay for a live-in maid?
  • What do you think the title of the book means/alludes to?

Friday Fun! (I’ve Been Really Busy So Let’s Talk About Fondue)

September 9, 2011 7 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  Like whoa, have I been busy this week!  I actually finished reading The Meowmorphosis and have literally not had a spare moment to write up the review.  My bad!  It’ll be up next week.  I’d tell you what I’ve been busy doing, but I can’t (well, except that part of it has been very long skype convos and sharing wine virtually with Amy).

So instead, let’s talk about how freaking excited I am for my friend Sara‘s birthday dinner tonight!  She, bless her, wanted to get fondue.  Fondue.  Aka melted cheese and melted chocolate and dipping things and sharing your germs.  If it is not abundantly clear why we’re friends, then I just don’t know what to say to you people anymore.  This is pretty much what I have been thinking about off and on all day.

In other news, I haven’t quite finished the first book for The Real Help project but I am totally going to and get the post up tomorrow morning at some point.  I might not be able to write it right when I get home tonight due to pure food coma.

Happy weekends!

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