Around the World in 12 Books, #5 Cuba

TitleFinding Manana: A Memoir of a Cuban Exodus
Author: Mirta Ojito
Length: 278 pages
ISBN: 9781594200410
Published in: 2005
Genre: non-fiction (memoir)
Rating: 3/5
Challenges/ResolutionsAround the World in 12 Books; Personal Collection Resolution

Summary: Mirta Ojito grew up in Castro’s Cuba, taught by her parents that this wasn’t the best life for her. Ever since she could remember, it had been the plan to get out of Cuba. But as the time to leave for the United States draws near, the country is in even more turmoil than ever, and Mirta is torn between what she’s always been told by the government and what she’s always been told by her parents.

My Thoughts: I did enjoy how this story was told. As non-fiction, there was a lot of information presented in the book. Hardly a third of the book could have been devoted to Ojito’s own experiences–she supplemented her story with various other accounts of experiences during 1960s-1970s Cuba. While I do write in a diary daily, I highly doubt it would ever make a good memoir because it typically includes nothing about anything outside my immediate small world. So I’m glad that Ojito took more into account when writing her memoir.

What did you learn about the country’s culture, history etc. from reading this book? Any new insights, any shifts in your perception, or did it align with what you knew/understood already?

I learned a lot about Castro’s Cuba. I haven’t ever studied Cuba, and I have to admit that I didn’t even know that Cuba is still a communist country. I knew Fidel Castro was no longer the leader of the country. But I hadn’t realized that, despite the end of the Cold War and the fall of many former communist governments, there was still communism. Especially so close to the US. Not that it’s any of our business to butt in to other country’s politics, but it surprised me that the US hasn’t butted-in where it wasn’t welcome and reestablished a free republic, as it likes to do 😕

There was one thing in particular about which I had no clue:

In January 1966, he [Ojito’s uncle] and Tere married and moved to a neighborhood to the east of Havana. Two months later they applied for visas to the United States. When my uncle told his supervisors at work of his intention to leave the country, he was fired…Two years later…my uncle received a telegram from the local police precinct ordering him to show up at the station with his bags packed. He was sent to a camp, one of dozens that dotted the island, to work on a collective farm as punishment for wanting to leave Cuba. (p166)

I guess I should have realized that camps like that existed–I knew that the Soviet Union had collective farms for similar punishments. But that’s just like me, I just didn’t think twice about other communist countries being similar to the Soviet Union in that respect.

How did land, geography, flora and fauna feature in the book? Did it have a distinct feel that helped you visualise and made you feel like you were there, or was the story more focused on plot?

I honestly don’t think that a great picture was painted of the story. There wasn’t a whole lot of description about the land, nor of the people. Many people were talked about, but not much was said of how they looked. The story wasn’t focused so much on plot, because it wasn’t that sort of story–but it definitely was focused on peoples’ anecdotes. Facts and figures weren’t included much, which I am very grateful for.

One description I did like, though, was this:

…after two decades most Cubans had become adept at hiding their true feelings and motivations. We lived submerged in a world of shadows. Everyone wore a mask in public, sometimes even at home, and you never really knew who your friends were. You had to listen and say little, go with the flow, lest the friend turn out to be the enemy who could ruin your life. The smallest of disagreements, the most trivial of conversations, the slightest wavering of thought could be fodder for anyone intent on advancing his career by destroying someone else’s. (p124)

I think that is an excellent summary of how Ojito described life in Cuba.

Did the story make you want to visit/revisit the country, or explore it in a new way if you live there already; did it make you want to read more stories set in the country?

There is no reason in the past that I had thought against visiting Cuba. I hadn’t ever been too drawn to it, unless I could time travel as well and go there before all the political turmoil in the mid-1900s. I think Cuba somewhat freshly free of Spain would be really interesting. If anything, this book made me less inclined to visit Cuba–that’s not to say I wouldn’t ever go, but it doesn’t seem like, from the book, there’s much reason to go.

On another note, I loved the way Ojito ended the book. I have a feeling that I will never be an exile, so it was really interesting to get that sort of perspective.

Exile, like longing, is a way of life, much like a chronic, by not terminal, disease with capricious symptoms: an avowed preference for a certain shade of blue–the color of my old house, I realized once I stood in front of it again–and a formerly inexplicable, almost childish delight at the way the light filters through the fiery blossoms of some South Florida poinciana trees–just as it does in the trees that still shade my old neighborhood, even if I’m no longer there to see them.(p278)

Advertisements

Around the World in 12 Books {#2 Bangladesh}

Of Blood and Fire by Jahanara Imam

TitleOf Blood and Fire–The Untold Story of Bangladesh’s War of Independence
Author: Jahanara Imam
Genre: non-fiction; memoir
ISBN: none
Length:  107 pages (of 246–unfinished)
Published: 1989
Source: public library
Rating: 1/5
Challenges/Resolutions: Around the World in 12 Books Challenge (2012)

Summary:

Of Blood and Fire is the diary of Jahanara Imam, who chronicles life in Bangladesh just before, during, and after Bangladesh declared its independence from Pakistan in March 1971.

To be honest, I didn’t care much for this memoir. I tried, really I did. But I didn’t even manage to get halfway through it. It was certainly eye-opening to how bloody a revolution can be in a more modern world. While that bloodiness wasn’t described in gory detail, I’m sure seeing hundreds of dead bodies and people carted off to who knows where was quite traumatic. I was very glad, for that reason, to read this from the perspective of a Bengalee–the story would be WAY different from the perspective of an American (for instance) who just happened to be there while all this happened. It amazes me that there are still countries in the world that aren’t very old, independence-wise. True, the US is pretty young at its 236 years compared to much of Europe. But there have been a lot of re-boundaried countries and new countries in the 20th century, especially after WWII.

But I digress, the reason for which I disliked this book were basically that the diary focused on too much personal stuff. I know, that’s silly. I keep a diary, too–I know that hardly anyone else would ever be interested in what I write about. But I suppose I was expecting a little more than a running list of what acquaintances are accounted for and alive or dead and what parts of the city (Dhaka) are safe and who is moving their family from and to where.

I read this book to complete the second month of Shannon at Giraffe Days’ Around the World in 12 Books Challenge for 2012 which was Bangladesh. To discuss the book a little more, here are some questions Shannon came up with for the challenge:

1) What did you learn about the country’s culture, history etc. from reading this book? Any new insights, any shifts in your perception, or did it align with what you knew/understood already?

2) How did land, geography, flora and fauna feature in the book? Did it have a distinct feel that helped you visualise and made you feel like you were there, or was the story more focused on plot?

3) Did the story make you want to visit/revisit the country, or explore it in a new way if you live there already; did it make you want to read more stories set in the country?

1) I did learn about Bangladesh’s revolution from Pakistan. Until 1971 (and I’m not sure from what time), Bangladesh was “East Pakistan”, separated from Pakistan proper by the whole of India! It’s strange that I don’t even know how Pakistan came to be in possession of what is now Bangladesh. I can understand Hawaii and the US because there isn’t anything between them. But why didn’t India get Bangladesh? Anyways, I wasn’t aware that Bangladesh was such a new country–hardly 40 years old–and I definitely didn’t know how bloody the revolution was. Not that I expected it to be all che

ery or anything. But ever since television, I think it’s harder to get away with such brutality. I realize television now and television 40 years ago is very different. But in the 1970s, the US was really liking its whole “let’s get involved in everything” policy. Maybe I just didn’t go far enough–I only got to June 1971 and the revolution began in late March.

2) It was pretty hard for me t

o visualize the story. Imam spoke a lot about Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. But, as most diaries go, Dhaka wasn’t described–it was assumed the reader knew what the writer was speaking about. And, as the book was a memoir, not a novel, there wasn’t really a plot to it.

3) There isn’t really anything in the book that makes me want to visit nor stay away from Bangladesh. I would be interested in some more modern fiction set in Bangladesh, definitely.

 

 

 

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke

“…something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”

TitleMy Lucky Life In and out of Show Business
Author: Dick Van Dyke
Genre: autobiography/memoir
ISBN: 9780307592231
Length: 273 pages
Published: 2011
Source: public library
Rating: 4/5
Resolutions/Challenges: Memoir/Biography Resolution 2011

Reason for Reading: I had one more spot open for my Memoir/Biography resolution, so I picked this one for a couple reasons. 1) I recently saw it on a New Release shelf and 2) when I saw it there, I thought maybe I’d like to read his memoir because I enjoyed Julie Andrews (Edwards)–and they were Mary and Bert haha

Summary (from book jacket):

Dick Van Dyke, indisputably one of the greats of the golden age of television, is admired and beloved by audiences the world over for his beaming smile, his physical dexterity, his impeccable comic timing, his ridiculous stunts, and his unforgettable screen roles.

His trailblazing television program, The Dick Van DykeShow (produced by Carl Reiner, who has written the foreword to this memoir), was one of the most popular sitcoms of the 1960s and introduced another major television star, Mary Tyler Moore. But Dick Van Dyke was also an enormously engaging movie star whose films, including Mary Poppinsand Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, have been discovered by a new generation of fans and are as beloved today as they were when they first appeared. Who doesn’t know the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?

A colorful, loving, richly detailed look at the decades of a multilayered life, My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business, will enthrall every generation of reader, from baby-boomers who recall when Rob Petrie became a household name, to all those still enchanted by Bert’s “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” This is a lively, heartwarming memoir of a performer who still thinks of himself as a “simple song-and-dance man,” but who is, in every sense of the word, a classic entertainer.

My Thoughts: I didn’t particularly enjoy the style of writing Van Dyke used. I can’t put my fingers on the problem, but I think it probably had something to do with cramming 85 years of a busy life into 270 pages. I felt rushed much of the time. Then again, at the same time, I would not have liked a 500-page memoir either. I think if I hadn’t read Andrews’ memoir and enjoyed the way it read like a work of fiction I might have liked this one more–Andrews, as an author of fiction, wrote hers so well.

And oh, boy did I find out some interesting stuff. Firstly, and I believe I mentioned this before in my previous TSS post, that Van Dyke did his pilot’s training for the Air Force in Toledo, which is the closest “big city” to where I live and grew up. I LOVED that! But there were other, bigger issues, which I was shocked at, to say the least. (I don’t think you can really spoil memoirs so I’ll talk about them with no reservations.) For the majority of Van Dyke’s adult life, he was an alcoholic–something he didn’t really realize until he was about 50. (He also smoked like a chimney, but that didn’t exactly surprise me–so many of that generation, famous or otherwise, were hooked on cigarettes.) Lastly, Van Dyke even had a mistress! It may have been his spin on the truth, but he almost made me feel like it was okay. His “other” relationship only went intimate after he had told his wife and she, in whatever terms, was “okay” with it–meaning, they didn’t divorce (right away), she just let him live his second life.

I think this will have an impact on me the next time I watch Mary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Well, I would have felt differently watching CCBB anyway because he revealed that he didn’t like shooting that movie–he didn’t like the story or the direction he worked with. That makes me sad.

I just have to copy this because I really liked the ending to the memoir. I think it’d be hard to end a memoir, because the author is obviously not yet done with his life. It’s just so “normal life”-ish

As you may have guessed, there is no end to this story–not yet, anyway. So instead of a tidy conclusion, I will let you in on my plans. Right now I am going to take my wirehaired terrier, Rocky (he wanted to see his name in the book), for a walk. Later I have rehearsals at an LA-area high school where I perform with the kids each year at a find-raiser. They seem to like it, but not half as much as I do. Coming up are meetings for my one-man show. And then, who knows.

As always, I will see where the wind takes me.

Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman

TitleMaus II: And Here My Troubles Began
Author: Art Spiegelman
Genre: biographical/autobiographical graphic novel
ISBN: 9780679729778
Length: 126 pages
Published: 1986
Source: personal collection
Rating: 4.5/5
Resolutions/Challenges: Personal Collection ResolutionMemoir/Biography Resolution
Awards: 1992 Pulitzer Prize

Reason for Reading: Well, I read Maus I yesterday, so it just made sense to continue 🙂

Summary:

This second volume…moves us from the barracks of Auschwitz to the bungalows of the Catskills…it attains a complexity of theme and a precision of thought…Maus ties together two powerful stories: Vladek’s harrowing tale of survival against all odds, delineating the paradox of daily life in the death camps, and the author’s account of his relationship with his aging father.

My Thoughts: I liked this one slightly less than Maus I. I’m pretty sure this is due to the fact that there is more in this one set in the present and those parts didn’t interest me as the war years and Vladek’s story.

However, there were a couple of “passages” that I really liked.

I know this is insane, but I somehow wish I had been in Auschwitz with my parents so I could really know what they lived through!
I guess it’s some kind of guilt about having had an easier life than they did. (p16)

|

No matter what I accomplish, it doesn’t seem like much compared to surviving Auschwitz. (p44)

Both of those passages, I think, convey why children of Holocaust survivors might feel guilt. I always sort of wondered why the children would feel particularly guilty. I knew that I would feel guilty because I had it easier, but I didn’t realize that it would be so magnified by just being a child of a survivor. Maybe I sort of thought the children would feel victimized because their parents were. I’m not exactly sure. And the second quote, of basically an inferiority complex, I don’t think I ever would have thought of myself.

Maus I: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman

TitleMaus I: My Father Bleeds History
Author: Art Spiegelman
Genre: biographical/autobiographical graphic novel
ISBN: 9780394747231
Length: 155 pages
Published: 1973
Source: personal collection
Rating: 5/5
Resolutions/Challenges: Personal Collection Resolution; Memoir Resolution

Reason for Reading: I’ve been meaning to read this and Maus II ever since I was in high school, which was at least 5 years ago. I finally actually bought them so I could own them myself because I just knew they would be amazing and I could probably use them in social studies when I teach in the future 🙂

Summary: 

Maus is the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist who tries to come to terms with his father, his father’s terrifying story, and History itself…

Moving back and forth from Poland to Rego Park, New York, Maus tells two powerful stories: The first is Spiegelman’s father’s account of how he and his wife survived Hitler’s Europe…The second is the author’s tortured relationship with his aging father as they try to lead a normal life of minor arguments and passing visits against a backdrop of history too large to pacify…

Part I of Maus takes Spiegelman’s parents to the gates of Auschwitz and him to the edge of despair…

My Thoughts: I really REALLY liked this graphic novel. I have always liked reading graphic novels, but I don’t seem to be able to find many that aren’t biographical in nature and anime at the same time. I would love for some more adult fiction in graphic form.

But I digress. This novel is really moving. Spiegelman represents the Jews as mice and the Germans as cats–the obvious relationship between cat and mouse being relevant in this case. Interestingly enough, the others–such as the other Christian Poles–are represented as pigs. I’m not sure how that fit into the cat-mouse dynamic. Maybe it’s not supposed to or maybe I’m missing cultural symbolism or something.

Regardless, I love the representation as animals. It really displays the innocence of the Jews, as far as why they were treated the way they were by the Germans. And, also, I have seen cats play around with mice before finally killing them. So maybe this is another reason Spiegelman used that depiction.

I also liked seeing how Vladek was portrayed in the past and in the “present”. He seems very much like a different person. But, he has not been to Auschwitz in this novel and perhaps (I’m pretty certain, actually) that place has some impact on how he is in his aging years.

One thing that this book really pointed out to me was that it was possible for Jews to live under German rule before going to work/concentration camps. For instance, Vladek and Anja live for 5-6 years under German rule, in and out of ghettos and hiding places before they are finally discovered and sent to Auschwitz (the very end of the novel). I guess I just tend to think that German invasion and sending off all the Jews to work/concentration camps was simultaneous, even if I know it’s not true. I have a sneaking suspicion that I will be using excerpts from this and Maus II in my social studies-teaching future 🙂