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Thursday, May 13, 2004
War is Hell 
The Light and Darkness War by Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy

This is a story that stuck in my mind. It's a graphic novel by Cam Kennedy and Tom Veitch, published by Marvel Comics Epic division in 1988 as a 6 issue limited series. The basic storyline is an allegory about the futility of war, the never ending battle between good and evil, and about the brotherhood and loyalty of soldiers.

Lazarus Jones is a Vietnam veteran who lost his legs in the conflict. Not only his legs, but the rest of his Huey gunship crew. During a visit to the Wall, he lapses into a coma, and finds himself transported to an alternate dimension. There he finds his crew and his gunship resurrected, and his mobility restored. The reason for this? The Light and Darkness War, a ten thousand year battle between the forces of good and evil. Soldiers that die are transported to this dimension, and given the chance to fight, either on the side of the light or the dark.

In this alternate dimension, magnetism is king, and Nikolai Tesla is alive and well, and proving that electricity is not the only way to go. The man who wishes to control this alternate dimension is Na. Lazarus thus finds himself flying and fighting against Na's forces, and examining his life in this world, from the viewpoint of an alternate reality.

A lot of the story draws upon the myths and legends of various cultures such as the Norse story of Valhalla and Ragnarok. The loyalty of soldiers to each other, and the fact that outsiders may never understand this, is also explored.

Copies of this graphic novel are very scarce, but may be found in various online specialist retailers.

xXx  # 8:56 AM
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Wednesday, May 12, 2004
The Bride Stripped Bare 

Title: The Bride Stripped Bare
Author: Anonymous
ISBN: 0007170866
Of course this is a review of the book, so I shan't go around singing praises of it, even though I'm very tempted to do so. Let's just say it's been a while since I read something as honest as this (and no, none of the blogs on line can surpass the level of emotional exposure the anonymous author has provided...)

Actually, there's the other thing about the anonymity of the author; but I'm not going to spoil that for you.

Anyway, the novel is written entirely in the third person point of view, which is one of the greatest beauties of the discourse. Fluent and smooth, you actually feel as if you're being accused line after line as you read on... Even more so if you're female, and have been in the push and pull of relationships.

The things the author has done have been tremendously daring, almost akin to screaming out the very deepest desires and fears of the universal woman: I'm a human being too, I've been sidelined, I've got feelings, and my best friend is leaving me, betraying me. My husband has a mistress, and I'm in love with a younger man. I have sexual desires, and some of them are very daring. All men want me to give oral sex, not all men are willing to give it to me, but I want it too... and I don't like this equality thing, nor do I like the patriachal society cultures.

Yeah, this is definitely a good buy.

minishorts  # 7:28 PM
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Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Wild Swans, by Jung Chang 
China, nicknamed "Sleeping Dragon", with its long history and rich culture, has always drawn the interest of many from around the world. Ancient China was a powerful nation and has provided us with much to be fascinated about.

Modern China, which came about at the end of the Chinese monarchy in the early 1900's, has much to look forward to and is predicted to be an economic powerhouse in the near future. However, the lifestyle in a Communist China is a restricted one and much is unknown to the outside world, despite the country’s significant influence in world affairs.

It is with this outlook that Wild Swans provides such an insightful view into the beginnings of Modern and Communist China. Wild Swans is a memoir by Jung Chang that charts the lives and experiences of three Chinese generations living in a time of change and uncertainty.

The book was written in a chronological order, where the tale begins with Jung's grandmother in Manchuria, followed by the experiences of Jung’s mother in the Communist Party and finally the writer's personal account of her life during the Cultural Revolution and her eventual departure from China.

Jung's grandmother lived her early life in typical Chinese tradition. Her feet were bound when she was only two years old – a process, which lasted for several years and she suffered excruciating pain as a result. Her father married her off when she was only fifteen years old and became a concubine to a warlord general.

After six years of the marriage, she gave birth to Jung's mother. But life was not easy, living with the general’s first wife and only received her freedom after the general passed away. Later, Jung's grandmother re-married to a respectable Manchu doctor, named only as Dr. Xia.

By the time De-hong, Jung's mother, was seven years old, Japan had already invaded Manchuria and the Manchu Emperor, Puyi, became a puppet of the Japanese empire. The author describes the life of her mother as a young student and how she grew up amidst Japanese harsh treatment and propaganda.

Japanese 'superiority' ended in May 1945, but China faced a new ordeal – a civil war between the Kuomintang and the Communist armies. The Communists had ceded control of the cities to the Kuomintang in favour of the countryside, a strategy formulated by the Communist leader Mao Zedong. The idea was "to surround the cities with our countryside and eventually take the cities".

Life under the Kuomintang was not much better. Corruption and discrimination was rampant, and many people were widely persecuted for being pro-Communists. It was also during this period that the author's mother became attracted to the ideals offered by the Communist party and made up her mind to join the Party at the age of fifteen.

Jung's mother, who was excited to begin working for the revolution, was soon assigned to a man named, Chang Yu – the man who was to become Jung's father. After falling in love and getting married, the author's parents settled down in Yibin and set about working hard for the Party.

Life was not easy, but the Party made all the provisions, including food and a place to stay. Jung’s father was always wrapped up in Party’s work and this placed a big strain on her parents' relationship. Her father was very strict in terms of upholding his principles as well as in defending Party rules and orders. He held an important position within the Party in Yibin, but never misused his power. Jung's father was incorruptible and was particularly against favouritism. His actions often infuriated his own family members, but were deeply appreciated by the local population, and as result his reputation has endured till today.

In Yibin, Jung’s mother was struggling to obtain Party membership and it was only through dedication and patience that finally got her not only the membership, but also became the head of the Youth League in 1951. It was also in that same year that Jung Chang was conceived. Historically, by this time, the Kuomintang has retreated to Taiwan and mainland China was in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.

Communist rule under Mao was full of propaganda and political campaigns imposed to weed out 'counterrevolutionaries'. Jung's mother came under suspicion for her alleged connections to Kuomintang officials during the pre-Communist era. She was required to go to rallies to 'receive lesson' and was kept away from her children for long periods. But she convinced herself not to blame the Party and kept repeating to herself the Party's words: "You are going through a test, and suffering will make you a better Communist". Although she was finally allowed to continue her work with the Party, Jung's mother never really cleared her name until after the Cultural Revolution.

Political campaigns such as the Anti-Rightist movement forced the population and officials to keep silence against discrimination and Communist policies. Officials were tricked into handing in criticism and opinions about government policies and as a result, many of them were expelled from the party and sacked from their jobs. Under Mao, liberalisation was stunted.

Jung and her family also lived through the famine during the Great Leap Forward in 1958-1962. Mao was obsessed with the idea of turning China into a first-class modern power and ordered the people to focus their energy into steel production. The whole population took part and nearly 100 million peasants were pulled out of agriculture work and into steel production. The project was a disaster and Mao's other economic venture caused only more suffering to the people. After millions of death and economic problems, even his own party members were against him, albeit not very openly.

Jung and her siblings have a very close relationship and she wrote about their early life with much affection and detail. But even at a young age, politics was never far and Mao’s policies often impinge on their daily lives. With the help of propaganda, many people in China, particularly young children, treated 'Chairman Mao' like a hero and gave him their complete devotion. Jung was not exempted from this influence.

Maoism reached its peak during the Cultural Revolution. There were widespread persecutions, many of which were personal vendettas and serve no purpose to the people or the nation. There were disagreements within the Party itself and fearing that his power would be usurped, Mao ruthlessly disposed of not only his rivals, but also those who merely expressed disagreement with him.

Most of the population was unaware of the disastrous effect that Mao’s policies had on the society, or even if they were aware of the situation, most were simply too devoted to Mao to offer any challenge. Others were too powerless to act.

It was interesting to read about Jung's time as a Red Guard, which consists mainly of teenagers in support of Mao. These Red Guards attacked so-called 'capitalist-roaders' and anyone who opposes Mao. Although the writer was a member of the group, she abhorred violence and often took up mundane jobs within the group.

Jung's parents held important positions during that period, especially her father, who was a high official. It wasn't long before they were accused of being capitalist-roaders. Jung's father was subjected to countless denunciation meetings, where he was criticised and beaten. Jung's mother had to kneel in the rain and sometimes also on broken glass. After each day's torment, Jung's parents would go home and be treated by her grandmother, but shielded Jung and her siblings from finding out the truth.

The last section of the book focused on Jung's life during this period and how she became more and more disenchanted with the Party, but surprisingly, never with Chairman Mao. Her family was separated and sent to work in the countryside – her parents to labour camps. The urban population was encouraged to 'learn from the farmers' and studying was never given much attention.

It was particularly sad to read about the hard life that Jung's father had to endure, especially when he had devoted his entire life to furthering the Communist Party. In the end, he lost faith with the Party, although he was still a Communist at the core.

The end of Maoism came only at the passing of Chairman Mao and a new era began.

According to Jung, "the greatest horror of the Cultural Revolution – the crushing repression which had driven hundreds of thousands of people to mental breakdown, suicide, and death – was carried out by the population collectively. Almost everyone, including young children, had participated in brutal denunciation meetings. What was more, victims had often become victimizers, and vice versa".

Much of the policies were reversed by Deng Xiaoping – there were economic reforms and universities were reopened. Jung studied hard and after graduating, she became an assistant lecturer in English at Sichuan University.

Jung dreamed of experiencing the life in other parts of the world and she received her chance when she managed to win a scholarship to study in the West. It wasn't an easy process and her mother had to lobby very hard to clear her father's name, who was accused of being anti-Mao. Even at that time, parents’ background had an influence on the outcome of Party decisions. Jung finally made it to Britain and fulfilled her ambition to travel overseas. She has since made London her home and three of her brothers are also in the West.

Jung Chang has brought her reader on an incredible journey of her life and those of her family members. It is a powerful story of their experiences and the author has managed to fuse them in a brilliant manner, which proved to be captivating from the beginning to the end.
--
Thanks, TheResident.
Also read similar reviews here.

graceshu  # 10:45 AM
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Monday, May 10, 2004
Hrrrmmm..... 
Sniff!

Sniff! Sniff!


xXx  # 9:11 AM
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Picking Scabs 
My day started with a nasty sms at 430am, ended with a neighbourhood blackout at abt 9pm, but yeah, it was a good day nonetheless. I have an entire bagfull of books to keep me company for the next two months, thanks to Ryuu, Ted, as well as aLiya. Whee - more excuses for idle hours of procrastination!! ;D

Book Swap Meets are always delightful events. Loads of nervous caffeinated chatter and gossip of books, papers, careers, movies, arts, the blogosphere, current events, trends, stories, experiences, and just about everything else ;)

My only regret was having to leave early, but, yeah. It's been a long day. Hope you'll have a great week ahead folks!

graceshu  # 12:49 AM
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