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Wednesday, January 26, 2005
The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy 
This book was given to me by Chet. Thanks, Chet!

It is the 1940s. Four siblings in Vancouver, Canada live with their migrant family, not oblivious to the murmurs of war brewing in distant lands, but preoccupied with being children and facing the fears and worries of their age. The story is told from the point of views of three of the four children.

Liang is the third child and only girl. The story starts with her and her resentment of her youngest brother, Sekky, who is sickly and is the centre of attention for the Old One, the stern family matriach who has lived a hundred lifetimes and whose word is law in the household. She finds comfort in the Old One's friend, one whom she calls the Monkey Man; and takes refuge from a seemingly callous family in this strange and lonely old man, only to lose him before she is ready to let go.

Sum is the second son, adopted after having been put in foster homes throughout western Canada. He finds strength in the boxing ring, learning to be strong to mask the hurts of his past life, and trying to come to grips with his new family, and later coming into his own.

Sekky is the youngest. Sickly since birth, he is the Old One's pearl, her baby. Whilst the others feared and resented their grandmother, Sekky and the Old One are inseparable. He finds strength and warmth in his grandmother's steady hands. His story tells of his life with the Old One, her death, his pain in accepting her absence, and later on, meeting with his baby-sitter who becomes his new best friend.

This is an easy read, and particularly poignant to those who have any inkling of being overseas Chinese in a land where they are not fully accepted, yet must call home for they can never (will never) return to the China they knew. Choy also tells of the tension between the Chinese and Japanese communities of Vancouver as Japan was invading China during the time; and later on, when Pearl Harbour was bombed.

I enjoyed the book. It is particularly nice that Choy tells three different yet parallel stories from three different perspectives. He forces understanding onto the reader, and compassion.

Unknown  # 11:44 AM


Reefer Madness by Eric Schlosser 
Eric Schlosser pullls no punches in this thorough and detailed account of America's 'other' economy. Really, have we ever wondered what makes America so rich that it lords over the entire world? Schlosser's research points to porn, pot and exploitation.

Schlosser starts by introducing the reader to Marijuana, its history, its effects and the arguments for and against its use. He talks about the growers and the law with regards to pot, then and now; and how marijuana sales generated millions of dollars in the black market. In other words, Marijuana makes America go round.

He then goes on to look at the exploitation of migrant workers in the strawberry farms of southern California. It's Fast Food Nation all over again. Illegal immigrant workers are paid fools' salaries, set up to take the fall when they do make it to sharecropper status, and the rich owners get richer whilst the taxman comes a-calling at the migrant sharecropper's door. I had thought that Mexicans from across the border would get the short end of the stick on this one, but they are not the only ones. Japanese migrants from the early decades of the 20th century have been working strawberry fields as well, and getting the same bad deal as the rest.

Sex, America's favourite hidden pastime. The exploitation of sex and the idea of sex has penetrated the American culture since time immemorial. Schlosser reveals the history of the commercialization of sex in following the rise, rise and fall of the industry's pioneers and American laws on the playboy industry.

In a nutshell, Schlosser is suggesting that Wall Street is not the epicentre of the American economy. Instead, Big Brother gets his allowance from pot, sex and slavery. The whole idea is very bold, very revealing and very cool. I like the thoroughness with which he researches his subjects. There is a doggedness about his method that you just have to admire.

Unknown  # 11:27 AM