Thursday, August 20, 2009

Going back in time in China

Let's travel to 19th century China, where we'll read Lisa See's popular book "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan." We'll be meeting on Sunday September 13 at 2pm.

Here's a summary of Snow Flower and The Secret Fan:

See's engrossing novel set in remote 19th-century China details the deeply affecting story of lifelong, intimate friends Lily and Snow Flower, their imprisonment by rigid codes of conduct for women and their betrayal by pride and love.

While granting immediacy to Lily's voice, See adroitly transmits historical background in graceful prose. Her in-depth research into women's ceremonies and duties in China's rural interior brings fascinating revelations about arranged marriages, women's inferior status in both their natal and married homes, and the Confucian proverbs and myriad superstitions that informed daily life.

Beginning with a detailed and heartbreaking description of Lily and her sisters' foot binding, the story widens to a vivid portrait of family and village life. Most impressive is See's incorporation of nu shu, a secret written phonetic code among women that dates back 1,000 years in the southwestern Hunan province. As both a suspenseful and poignant story and an absorbing historical chronicle, this novel has bestseller potential and should become a reading group favorite as well.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A story of identity struggle

We had a lively discussion on the memoir of Ghada Karmi as well as insightful as none of us really knew much about the Israel/Palestine conflict. Reading it through the eyes of a young girl in Palestine who exiles to England facilitated a better understanding of how complex this conflict is.

Ghada starts the novel in her childhood with glimpses of the symbolic things she remembered the most such as Fatimah, her maid and Rex, her dog. Leaving them behind was easy when the thought was that her family would eventually come back to their house, but circumstances forced them to exile to England for their own safety and opportunity. This section was filled with details and historical facts that made it hard to get through, but once we got to the England section, we felt a more personal connection with Ghada.

We can feel Ghada's struggle to become very British, even though, ironically her family thinks the British as their enemy and how she grows up trying to define that identity and ultimately discovering that she cannot ignore her Arab heritage and how she became displaced from her own country. We also found it fascinating in her relationship with her family, especially her mother who refuses to speak English in the 40 years she lives in England.

It was a great story to find insight on a Palestinian perspective we rarely get to hear in the Western countries.