Monthly Archives: August 2006

Women of the Silk

gail1.jpgRural China in the 1920’s. 8 year old Pei was brought to the local seer by her parents. There, they were told that while Pei’s older sister, Li, will be fortunate enough to get married, Pei may not marry, but she will be loved in a very complicated manner. In a place and time where unwed daughters are thought to bring bad luck to the family, Pei’s father decided to bring her to the nearby town’s silk factory. Girls of all ages work and live in that silk factory. Its like a sisterhood formed by girls who are either also deemed unlucky by families and girls who, while waiting for their match in marriage, make use of the time to work and send money to their families. At the silk factory, Pei finds herself a new family, and meets Lin, a girl from a wealthy family in Canton. She and Lin form a special kind of relationship—so loving and intimate but never sexual. When Lin’s mother hints that she would like her daughter to marry, Lin and Pei decide to go through a ‘hairdressing ceremony’. It is done when a girl decides to remain single for the rest of her life. Just like marriage, it is also done with ritual and celebration. The story then unfolds a series of events like the women workers holding a rally protesting for their rights as employees, and evacuating to Hongkong in order to flee the invading Japanese troops. For a historic China setting told by a Chinese/Japanese-American writer, this story is written in a very simple manner. Nothing prose and poetic about it, even the narration and description of characters and places are direct and straight. (Which is pretty rare for a Chinese-American novel) The very core and surrounding issue of the story is profound and informative (i.e, The way daughters are regarded in old China, arranged marriages, feminism and women’s rights, mild bisexuality, and Sino-Japanese war). Whereas other authors would take advantage of themes as thick as this, Tsukiyama preferred to keep it simple and light. This book can pass as a young adult material. This is storytelling as straight and simple as you can get. In a way it is a relief from all those drama-laden feminist Chinese novels. Not exactly a novel you would find hard to put down, but also not something that would put you to sleep. It just lies in between, nothing so great about it, nothing so terrible as well. One word: safe.


The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

prada.jpg2003, Broadway Books;360 pages

This book has been around for quite a while, that a movie’s been made out of it already. And that makes up the prime reason why I got curious enough to want to read this book. Though I wouldn’t say that this title is in the top 10 of my must read list, I was pretty much intrigued why this stood out among the waves of ‘chick-lit’ books. I was lucky that my sister had a brand new copy of this book, and wanted me to read it first so I could give a feedback.

Andrea “Andy” Sachs, is a 23-year old fresh graduate from Connecticut who spent her first post-university year backpacking around Europe and Thailand with her boyfriend, Alex.

When she got back to the US, she handed out a bunch of hastily made resumes all over NYC. The very first company to schedule and interview with her was the prestigious Runway Magazine (fictional Vogue) for the position of junior assistant to the most notorious but influential/powerful editor in chief in the world, Miranda Priestly.

Though Andy is no fashionista, she felt drawn to accept the job because she was almost guaranteed that If she survives working a year following impossibly demanding orders, she would be promoted to a level/position of her liking. In other words, what others will normally achieve in 5-10 years working for a not so bitchy employer, she will attain in just a year working for the most horrible boss. Her dream is to write for The New Yorker or any other material that tackles of things other than fashion, so she felt this will be a good jumpstart to her career.

Soon Andy is sucked into being close to a personal slave to Miranda, her orders ranging from booking to re-booking reservations for hotels, restaurants, to picking up basil in the middle of the night for her boss.

In the process of all this, Andy finds that she is losing herself to her job. Her family, boyfriend, and best friend soon become secondary because she is always at Miranda’s beck and call.

The story finally reaches its momentum when she is almost nearing her 1 year ‘deadline’, Andy flies to Europe to accompany Miranda for Fashion Week. Back in the US, her bestfriend gets into a car accident and falls into a coma.

Pressure from family and Miranda caused her to walk out on Miranda, flying back to the US and getting terminated from her first job.

She loses her boyfriend but gains back the nice warm relationship she had with her family and bestfriend, and soon, she finds herself applying for a more ‘normal’ job of being a writer for a more ‘normal’ employee.

This book’s first impression is obviously shallow but if you get to finish it, offers a lot more. I say if you get to finish it because it is just abit too dragging. The first and last parts are interesting and contains the essence of the story, but the ‘filling’ in between is way too long, and at times cyclical.

Though I have not seen the movie adaptation of this book, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to try to imagine the scenes in screen. The book looks like it was custom made for a Hollywood chick flick. (the type that you would watch with your best girlfriends)

The character of Andy is a perfect heroine, the one readers and viewers alike will really sympathize with—awkward, has her insecurities, has a good heart (she buys coffee for beggars), and has no idea about fashion.

Insert a bestfriend who is just the exact opposite—messy, sleeps around, but always there. Add a lovable extra such as a building security guard who has a penchant for 80’s music, a cute hot and famous writer who is crazy for Andy (and shows up just about everywhere) and of course—Miranda, the epitome of a grade A classy bitch of a boss.

I don’t know but to me it sounds like a modified, grown up and more chic version of The Princess Diaries. Not so much the storyline, but more on the character development and positioning.

Coincidentally, the same actress (Anne Hathaway) portrays Andy and Amelia (Diaries)

I like that the story doesn’t have a cliché ending. It could have easily ended with Andy surviving her 1 year stint, gets promoted, because after all, before she had the fateful row with Miranda in Europe, Miranda was showing signs of interest and admiration in Andy. And hence lesson being “you will succeed if you persevere through patience and humility”

But the story ended the other way around, she finally (though I wonder why it took her that long) had had enough of Miranda, and she doesn’t bag her dream job, although she is off to a better start.

The issue/question also of which would one rather have: a year working as a slave but at the end of that, you will reach your dream job or, working the normal way, with no guarantees of getting your dream job (or you could, except it may take 5 years or so).

Choices such as this are pretty tricky and one thing is sure though, there is no short cut to success.

Another issue is compromise. You may be working for the most powerful woman on earth, but when she crushes your pride and treats you less than a human being, at what point will you say enough?

I won’t say that I love this book but it sure is more than just designer chic lit.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

curious1.jpgRandom House, Children’s Books, 2003; 272 pages
I spent my last 10 Australian Dollars on this book, just before I took my flight back to Manila. I know its worth spending your last cent and dollar on this book because I have been reading and hearing about this book long before I finally got the chance to have it.

It is an easy read, as it is a book for young adults. Fast readers can consume this book in a matter of just a couple of hours, but I wanted to prolong it because I didn’t want the story to be finished so soon. (Rightly commented by The Observer, ‘Gave me that rare, greedy feeling of: this is so good I want to read it all at once but I mustn’t or it will be over too soon’.)

15 year old Christopher Boone lives in Swindon with his father. But he is no ordinary 15 year old. He is extremely intelligent, with a liking for prime numbers, and solving difficult mathematical equations. He also only recognizes 2 emotions: Happy and Sad. He cannot fathom how there can be emotions in between. He cannot tell any lies, and he does not understand metaphors. He does not like people or places that are unfamiliar to him. He wants everything planned and organized. He does not like to be touched, and does not like his food touching each other.

He does not consider himself ‘not normal’ though, and thinks that everyone is a ‘Special Needs’ person. One night, his life takes a turn as he discovers his neighbor’s dog murdered with a fork. Christopher decides to embark on an investigation to find out who murdered Wellington the dog.

As he sets forth on his search for the dog murderer, Christopher discovers a whole lot more than just who killed the dog. His adventure takes him as far as reaching London on his own, and in the end, he gets a renewed courage and confidence as he discovers that there are a lot more things that he is capable of.
Christopher manages to face both his inability to be ‘normal’ and the pressures of a broken family. When ‘normal’ people breakdown at the onset of a broken home, this book shows that Christopher, a ‘not so normal’ person considered by society, faces his dilemmas with a beautiful determined and non-fatalistic attitude.

I initially thought that this book would be a sort of “Forrest Gump Junior” story, but its far more than just a simple person/great success story. This book is really deserving of being a Whitbread Book of the Year. Young people and adults alike can learn a lot from this book—both about being a ‘special person’ and believing in yourself.