Madame Butterfly/John Luther Long & A Japanese Nightingale/Onoto Watanna: Two Orientalist Texts
edited by Maureen Honey and Jean Lee Cole
(Rutgers University Press, 2002, 184 pages)
This book looks critically at two texts that emerged during a time when the United States was fascinated with Japanese culture (late 19th and early 20th centuries). Most people have, at the very least, heard of Madame Butterfly. Few are as familiar with A Japanese Nightingale, though it has a number of similarities to John Luther Long’s novella and Onoto Watanna emerged as a somewhat prolific writer of Japanese-centric texts. This collection has a very detailed introduction that provides a great overview of the novellas themselves, their authors, and the environment they emerged in. I really enjoyed having that background as I read both stories.
Both of these texts focus on American men who came to Japan and took beautiful, young Japanese women for their wives. There is a sense of tragedy in both novellas but the differences primarily lie in the character development and portrayal. Watanna’s characters are much more sympathetic, and prejudices (which were prevalent at the time of publication) were less blatantly portrayed. I enjoyed A Japanese Nightingale more than Madame Butterfly – most likely because of the character portrayal.
I’d definitely recommend reading Madame Butterfly because there are a number of cultural references to it. I’m glad that I now have an actual understanding of the story. I’d also recommend this particular “compilation” because the introduction is so thorough and I think it’s nice having a companion text to read along with it. The only thing to keep in mind while reading is that both texts were written with a “Japanese dialect” so the speech is written in an exaggerated and distorted way. This particular book has a glossary in the back for clarification of some of the exaggerated words as well as Japanese terms.
My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares
(Riverhead, 2010, 324 pages)
My Name is Memory is definitely reminiscent of the Twilight series and The Time Traveler’s Wife, incorporating elements from both. The premise of this story is that Daniel has spent multiple lifetimes (spanning centuries) falling in love, chasing after, and losing the same girl. The problem is that while he remembers everything from his past lives, she enters each life with no knowledge of her past, therefore Daniel and her history with him are always new to her (if she becomes aware of him at all).
The main story is set in more-or-less present day Virginia (with alternating chapters of flashbacks to Daniel’s past lives). Daniel and Lucy (the girl he loves) are in high school together. One night, Daniel works up the nerve to talk to Lucy about their [never-ending] past, hoping to spark some memory. Unfortunately, all this does is scare her off and the two spend years apart from one another. Thanks to an impromptu visit to a psychic while in college, Lucy suddenly finds herself questioning the validity of Daniel’s seemingly crazy revelation from high school. As she attempts to seek Daniel out someone interferes in an effort to keep them apart – someone who has been doing so for many lifetimes.
The concept of the book was interesting and I wanted to believe that it would be good, but overall I wasn’t impressed. There were moments when I found myself kind of rooting for Daniel and Lucy, but I really just didn’t like them – I wasn’t compelled to care about them. The dialogue, especially towards the end, could be cheesy and didn’t always match the situations they found themselves in. If given the option between reading Twilight, The Time Traveler’s Wife and My Name Is Memory, I’d vote for the first two.
Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
(Westside Books, 2010, 250 pages)
Fifteen-year old Kendra is haunted daily by the sexual abuse she endured as a child. She is consumed by memories of her abuser’s hands, his voice, his breath, but she can’t remember his face. Worse, he continues to watch and threaten her from afar. Her parents try to be supportive, but they don’t seem to know how to help. She finds solace in those close to her, including a counselor, a family friend, an art teacher, and a new girlfriend at school, but in their absence she secretly numbs her emotional pain by cutting—cutting her own arm with a small blade she carries at all times.
This young adult book kept me intrigued from the very beginning. As each new male character was introduced, along with Kendra I wondered, “Was he the one?” I kept turning the pages as memories brought her closer to the truth of his identity. It was also fascinating, yet disturbing, to experience Kendra’s thoughts and feelings as she was about to cut, and how this dangerous act brought relief to her anxiety and emotional pain. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in a fictional account of the traumatic impact of sexual abuse on an adolescent.
Toys by James Patterson
(Little, Brown and Co., 2011, 364 pages)
First of all, let me say that I’m a big fan of James Patterson and will probably read anything that he writes! Unfortunately, his latest, Toys, was not among one of my favorites. Set way in the future, it’s about humans who have created super humans. Now the super humans, which are called Elites, want to destroy the humans, who are called skunks, and take over the world. One of the top Elites, who thought the humans were the scum of the earth, finds out that his parents were human. They were doctors and they operated on him to make him one of the Elite. So he finds out that he’s human himself and sides with the humans, using his super powers to help take out the Elites! I know, it gets to be a little confusing.
The book was somewhat action-packed, though. It kept my interest to see what was going to happen to the humans and because I’m a James Patterson fan and I was determined to finish the book. I actually ended up enjoying it somewhat. Just not as well as I enjoyed his other books. If you pick this up, just expect something a little different from the James Patterson you’re used to. This is not one of his typical crime thrillers that I’m used to reading from him. I guess it’s okay to step out of your comfort zone once in a while, but I want to see more of the old James come back. Out of four stars I would give Toys two.
Still Missing by Chevy Stevens
(St. Martin’s Press, 2010, 352 pages)
Still Missing is one of those books you just can’t put down. It is the first novel by Chevy Stephens. Set in Vancouver, the story is told by the heroine in a series of sessions with a psychiatrist, but I don’t want to give anything away so that is all I am going to say about the plot. It is a thriller in every sense of the word and would make a great beach/summer read. Again, I literally couldn’t put it down.
Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
(Scribner, 2010, 268 pages)
I like Stephen King novels but I love his short stories. His new book is a collection of four stories that were deliciously scary, I almost screamed at a couple of parts. The title for the collection is very apt, dark tales with very little light to cut through the darkness. The first story, “1922,” is a sort of a ghost story set on a farm. A farmer kills his wife to keep some land she wants to sell but of course it doesn’t work out like he thought it would. The second story, “Big Driver,” is about a woman who writes a sort of Miss Marple/Murder She Wrote type of mystery series called “Willow Grove Knitting Society.” She encounters trouble on the way back from a book signing and is thrust into a mystery that is much more violent than the ones she writes. The third (and shortest) story is “Fair Extension.” It is a surprising twist on the old tale of making a deal with the devil. The fourth story, “A Good Marriage,” is the creepiest tale and tackles what happens when a wife finds out something devastating about her husband of over 20 years. If you like a good scary story, this book gives you four that will make you sleep with the lights on.
White Oleander by Janet Finch
(Little, Brown & Co., 1999, 390 pages)
This book was one of Oprah’s picks in 1999. I found it browsing the shelves looking for something to read on my road trip to Florida. I loved it and read it in a day and a half. This was Janet Fitch’s first novel and it reads like a dream. It is the story of Astrid, a 12 year old girl thrust into the foster care system in Los Angeles after her mother, Ingrid, is jailed for murdering her ex-lover. Ingrid is a larger than life character – a beautiful, captivating, but tough as nails poet. Most of the novel is about Astrid’s journey from foster house to foster house, all the time trying to come to terms with her mother’s crime and how she can separate herself from the pull of Ingrid and not turn into all of that hardness.
Astrid tells her story and her voice is hypnotizing, describing each new situation and looking for beauty in the ordinary things, trying to escape the hardships she has to endure as a foster child. Los Angeles comes to life in this book and each passing year is marked by the season of the Santa Ana winds. A very good read.