Category Archives: Contreversial Topic

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

penguin books. 326 pages. copyright 2005

this book is one of the first novels dealing with the 9/11 attacks. oskar schell is a precocious 9 year old boy whose father died when the second tower fell. since then, he’s been ‘wearing heavy boots’ because of many factors: the messages his father left in the voicemail that only he has retrieved, his mother dating another guy, oskar’s naturally curious and inventive nature, and just a son’s loss basically.

he finds a key inside an envelope with his father’s handwritting on it. from then on, his main goal is to find what the small key opens. his father has written “Black” on the envelope, and he begins paying a visit to ALL the Black-surnamed people in New York.

along his quest, he makes new friendships, and gets to know his grandmother and grandfather more.

extremely loud and incredibly close is a one-of-a kind novel. it is almost multi-media as it has accompanying photographs, scribbles, scratches, and even a flip book type animation of a man falling from one of the towers. it brings forth an intro to modern storytelling, not just in prose but delivery and presentation.

oskar is your typical school genius who gets picked on and his narration of his grief and hatred with the events that happened on the 11th of september is creative, innocent, admirable, charming, and sad.

i’ve totally fallen in love with this book–it is a story of a boy’s quest, and a story of sons and fathers.

how very apt for me to have read it on fathers’ day.

i’ll be looking forward to getting my hands on Foer’s other novel, ‘Everything is Illuminated’. need to read it before the movie comes out.

author jonathan safran foer, born 1977 is married to novelist nicole krauss.

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The Pact by Jodi Picoult

Allen & Unwin. 451 pages.

+++WARNING: BIG FAT SPOILER AHEAD+++

This is only my second Jodi Picoult read (First being the famous My Sister’s Keeper). And already, I can see a structured pattern. She takes controversial family, domestic and society issues and somehow turns them ‘relatable’ by writing how ordinary (though fictiona)l families deal with it–in the form of her novels.

The main difference is, “My Sister’s Keeper” is at least very debatable, the opposing sides of which are both equally justifiable. “The Pact”, whose title by the way goes by a second line: “A love story”, has a plot and storyline that I can only sum up in one word: Stupid.  I don’t have any other euphemism for it, nor could I think of any other synonym or a more intelligent description.

The theme is very engaging–childhood sweethearts Emily Gold. 17 and Chris Harte,18 have been soulmates since they were born. Then one night, Emily was found dead with a single bullet shot to her head.

The book’s chapters alternate between the now–Court trials , Chris’ time in prison, and the famillies’ grieving, and then–memories of Chris and Emily from the moment they were born, and how they grew up together, how the relationship escalated.

Chris tells everybody that it was a botched up double suicide. (He was found unconcious and bleeding next to Emily’s body) but no one believes him.  The rest of the story unfolds showing Emily’s issues and unstableness (yet for me it wasnt in depth enough to understand why she became suicidal).

The story builds up in a way that you think there’d be a nice twist in the end (consolation to the depressing theme at least) but noooo..
At the very end of the book, after Picoult has taken you over repetitive lines, emotions and scenes, she presents a ‘revelation’ from Chris. I could have guessed that revelation myself (not even my best guess at that).

So he helped Emily kill herself because…. (now this reason I wouldn’t have guessed at all because it’s out of this world dumb)….he loves her so much, he would do anything for her.

When he could have had the BIGGEST chance to save her life–he helps her end it. Is that love?? That’s downright stupidity.

Just as she did in “My Sister’s Keeper”, Picoult again uses a character for ‘grief relief’. Unnecessarily  opening up minor characters’ personal lives ( Chris’ defense lawyer Jordan McAfee). There are some authors and books that use this kind of ‘relief’ very well. But with Picoult, it somehow comes out unessential and time-wasting.

“The Pact” is in Angus and Robertson’s Best 100 novels list.

And basing on reviews, this book is so well-loved.

Help me understand why.

MY SISTER’S KEEPER BY JODI PICOULT

my-sisters-keeper-9781741145052.jpg Allen and Unwin (Australia), 423 pages

“When I was little, the great mystery to me wasn’t how babies were made, but WHY.”

13-year old Anna Fitzgerald questions her existence because she was brought to the world (concieved through IVF) for only one purpose: to keep her older sister, Kate, alive.

When she was 2 years old, Kate was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia and could only be kept alive through a blood/bone marrow/organ donor whose genetic makeup is exactly as hers. Unfortunately at that time, not her mother, father, or older brother fit in the profile. So her parents, Brian and Sara Fitzgerald desperately had another genetically engineered baby in order to keep their eldest daughter.

And that’s how Anna’s life has come to be–the moment she was born, blood was extracted from her umbilical cord and given to her sister. Although perfectly normal, she’s been going in and out of the hospital for invasive surgeries that will help sustain her sister.

Although she loves her sister dearly, Anna also wants complete independence and ownership of her body. The book begins when she makes a decision that rattles her already quite dysfunctional family: she hires a lawyer to get medical emancipation from her family.

I like how this book has a very morally controversial topic. On first overview, it seems completely wrong (i still believe it is) to have a child for the wrong reasons. Or have a child just to save another one. If it’s just a one-off thing, sure it is justifiable. But to bound a child throughout her life to just being another child’s sustainance is just unfair.

As Sara Fitzgerald explains:

“[if a] building was on fire, and one of my children was in it–and the only opportunity to save her was to send in my other child, because she was the only one who knew the way. Did I know I was taking a risk? Of course. Did I realize it meant maybe losing both of them? Yes. Did I understand that maybe it wasn’t fair to ask her to do it? Absolutely. But I also knew that it was the only chance I had to keep both of them. Was it legal? Was it moral? Was it crazy or foolish or cruel? I don’t know. But I do know it was right.”

A story such as this just has to dramatic–and it is indeed full of emotions, recollections and thoughts–told in all characters’ point of view. For a time I thought I was going to hit a dragging mode but it quickly picked up and had a momentous (climatic hollywood) ending.

I didn’t quite like: Campbell Alexander and Julia Romano’s subplot romance–which acts as a romantic/comedic relief to the novel. It’s just abit..out of place and ho-hum cliche.

The characters’ lines are all worth quoting. Each speaking part (especially Kate’s and Anna’s) has that ooomph-that’s-deep effect. Making Anna such a sarcastically witty character makes the dialogues very movie-ish. It was almost like reading an award winning screenplay unfold.

(AND LO AND BEHOLD) Fresh from Wikipedia:

There are plans by New Line Cinema to turn My Sister’s Keeper into a feature film, to be released sometime in 2008. Nick Cassavetes is attached to direct it.[1][2] It will star Cameron Diaz as Sara and Alec Baldwin as Campbell.[2] Dakota and Elle Fanning were originally set to play the sisters but Dakota changed her mind when she found out she would have to shave her head to play the leukemia-suffering character of Kate. Elle dropped out along with her sister, and they were replaced with Sofia Vassilieva and Abigail Breslin.[2]

Dakota and Elle Fanning would have been perfect for the roles. But Cameron Diaz?? Come on…the girl can’t do drama. I was thinking more of Toni Colette. SHE would be perfect. A torn, distraught mother but determined to keep her daughter alive.

jodi-793187.jpg

Jodi Picoult

A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka

n144996.jpg Penguin Books Ltd., 324 pages

Who wouldn’t be drawn by the first paragraph of this book?

“Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blonde Ukranian divorcee. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a pink grenade, churning up the murky water, bringing to the surface a sludge of sloughed-off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside.”

Middle aged sisters Nadezhda and Vera suddenly find themselves teaming up (after years of indifference) to get the gold-digging Valentina away from their lonely father.

Although the novel’s plot seems comical, the whole essence of it runs deep. It digs into the heart of being a Ukranian war and refugee camp survivor, and adapting into a new ‘big brother’ country.

After finishing the book, I realize that the controversial foreign-bride-zilla plot is just a superficial mask to a more interesting issue–communism, poverty, and family.

The pacing dragged on a little too much in the middle, but eventually picked up towards the end. Though Nadezhda’s (narrator) lines are funny and witty, I’m not too keen to say this book is one to remember and highly recommend.

marina_narrowweb__300x4360.jpg
the author was born of Ukranian parents in a refugee camp
in Germany at the end of WWII, and grew up in England.

For the Love of my Son by Margaret Davis

forthe.JPGHodder & Stoughton Ltd . 272 pages

I still have a lot of pending books to be read but the moment I picked this one from the bookshelf, I knew I had to get it.

You just HAVE to read this book. Margaret Davis narrates very painfully how her son, Steve Davis–a UK-born IT businessman based in Manila, married a Filipina prostitute, and four years later, was brutally murdered in his own bed.

Some factual details (like exchange rate, airport descriptions, etc) can be erroneous but they seem trivial compared to the issue at hand. Not only is it about cold blooded homicide and betrayal. Its also about the failure of the Philippine justice system, and the British Government as well.

A shocking, dissappointing and heart-breaking read. Read on:

***************************************************************************

 
Steven Davis in 2001
Steven Davis – fishing in 2001

For the love of my son

Margaret Davis’ son was murdered in the Philippines in 2003. She has written a book about her experience.

Margaret Davis, from Bingham, found out that her son had been killed when she received a phone call from her son’s business partner Martin.“He just said to me that Steven had had an accident. I asked him ‘how bad’ and he said he’s dead. And then the line went dead.

For the Love of My Son (book cover)
For the Love of My Son

“It was a couple of hours later that he actually phoned me back.”

When Martin called Margaret back and filled her in on the details – that Steven had been shot – she jumped into action and got on to a plane to the Philippines.

“I heard about his death on the Thursday and then by the Friday I was on a plane.”

For the first week Margaret spent time with Steven’s wife, Evelyn, and their two children but it wasn’t long before she started to get a bit suspicious.

“Steven’s wife was a little aloof with me and more interested in what I knew about what was happening, asking me about Steven’s business partner (and what he’d seen in relation to the shooting)… I just felt the reaction was a little strange.

Margaret and her family
Margaret and her family

“I knew this girl like a daughter. She knew me extremely well but she wasn’t treating me as if she knew me well.

“I had to give her the benefit of the doubt – we all react to grief in different ways.”

Things weren’t happening for several weeks. Then the police came up with some suspects for the murder having put surveillance on Steven’s house. One was Evelyn’s brother-in-law and one was her boyfriend.

Margaret went from a mourning mother to being, as Margaret describes herself ‘Jane Tennison from Prime Suspect’, fighting for justice for her son.

By writing a book about her experiences, For The Love Of My Son (now published by Hodder), Margaret has managed to put the story to rest.

The Day After Tomorrow by Allan Folsom

day-after.jpgWith its no-nonsense cover, I immediately thought this was the novel adaptation of the movie of the same title. Although the content is entirely different, both have the common denominator of having a plot beyond one’s imagination.
Paul Osborn was 8 years old when his father was killed by an unknown man on the streets of Boston. Almost 30 years later, now a successful Los Angeles surgeon, Osborn sees his father’s killer at a cafe in Paris.
The days to follow after that encounter change Osborn’s life drastically. He learns that his father has been a victim of an international conspiracy that involves a grotesque experiment of transplanting human heads to bodies. But it isn’t just as simple as Mission: Frankenstein.
The huge organization behind this bases its philosophy to that of Adolf Hitler’s Weltanschauung view of life (only the strongest survive and rule).
With close to 700 pages, this book is definitely a long but easy read. The concept is highly original and intriguing but the pacing can be quite dragging. Though it had the formatting of short chapters, the “action scenes” lack action and vivid description. The first few chapters will keep you up on your toes but hits a semi-slump towards the end.
10 for the highly original and imaginative concept and 6 for storytelling that takes way longer than the day after tomorrow.

Don’t Pee On My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining by Judge Judy Sheindlin (with Josh Getlin)

Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 19, 1997), 256 pages

So just as I was about to condemn all books that have catchy titles, I come across this one. We all know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and title. I learned that I also shouldn’t judge a book by its author’s TV show. A court session on TV? Just another reality tv show right? Ive seen only a few episodes of Judge Judy and I can’t help but think that the ‘cases’ were very trivial, and were just hyped by a super sharp tongued judge, and a super reactive audience. I was amazed by Judge Judy Sheindlin’s no hesitation, no holds barred approach to telling off those that have wrongfully crossed family laws.
The book offers the same approach. No beating around the bush, no lengthy introductions. She goes straight to the topic of the book: How American law is pretty much skewed and can be ‘criminal-friendly’ (and that is coming from a Judge).
If there is a simple term to describe Sheindlin, it is: Fed Up. She is fed up by a society that produces a more violent generation after another. And more fed up by laws that, because it was drafted to protect the people,  can be turned around and be moved in favor of the criminal. Such as investigations for a juvenile case not being carried out because of certain ‘juvenile criminal rights’–a lawyer refusing to have his client’s (defendant) fingerprints taken.
“Look at it this way: We fingerprint honest people at work for security reasons. Why all the reistance to identifying  people who break the law? “

She’s also noted that juvenile crimes from the 70’s until the present have progressed to a worse level. Back then, car vandalizing were one of the more serious crimes teens can commit. But now, children steal, rape and kill.
That is also one of the personal questions I myself have: Are crimes of all sorts becoming too rampant and common that we have actually become a very tolerant society? Are we becoming too open to changes of time that we view juvenile crimes as normal nowadays?
“Somehow. we have permitted irresponsible behavior to be socially acceptable and have set up an elaborate bureaucracy that encourages lack of individual repsonsibility, thereby ensuing the longevity of both.”

She believes that in America, the government takes care of its people too much (?)–(though this is, I think a very subjective point of view) hence the people do not help themselves and just solely rely on welfare:

“Part of the problem is that too many people have come to expect too much from the government. And the assorted social service systems, however well intentioned, are crumbling under the sheer numbers of people who look to government first, instead of relying on themselves and focusing on government as a last resort. By shifting the emphasis from individual responsibility to government responsibility, we have infantalized an entire populaiton.”

Undeniably, she has a point. But it seemed abit too elitist when she suggested that the government shouldn’t provide welfare for teenage mothers, because “that’s what the relatives/family are for”. If this is her ideal set-up then she should go to the Philippines where all illegitimate children are born and raised without any help from the government!
People will always find loopholes in policies. Like how, in the state of New York, there’s a preference over relatives/grandparents being eligible for adopting/being foster parents of an abandoned child. The relative will recieve full welfare for the child, as long as they can prove that the child really was abandoned by the parent. Naturally, this is what some famillies do: they declare child abandonment, welfare goes to the grandmother(or whoever relative), but the mother is also around, only becoming invisible when the social worker comes to check.
And as a chain reaction, that’s where the child learns how to decieve: at home, even in small ways. Telling the child to say that “Mom is not around” because the social worker is going to check in a few hours. She believes in teaching your child how to respect and be scared of the law is important in raising a law abiding citizen.
What she lacks in data and statistics in her book, she makes up for no-nonsense discussion on what goes on in the real world of family court justice.

Despite her almost too tyranical views on carrying harsher punishments for juvenile delinquents and abhoring the welfare system, this is I think the first time Ive ever felt positive about a book. (Not about the subject). This book is highly recommended for anyone who would like to understand how the law works and how further juvenile crimes can be prevented. More importantly, Im positive that this book may encourage responsibility and self-reliance.

“If you want to eat, you have to work.
If you have children, you’d better support them
If you break the law, you have to pay
If you tap the public purse, you’d better be accountable.”