Saturday, May 31, 2014

A 4-Star Review by Lauren Kathryn for "Fated and Fateless"

I can't express how thrilled I was to read this perceptive review by Lauren Kathryn, who is a seasoned reviewer at Goodreads.

Here's the full review by Lauren Kathryn:-

Fated and Fateless is a classic example of why I love to read.

I love the fact that I can learn so much, especially concerning other cultures, through the thoughts of an author. We had politics, Chinese cultures and details on social classes in the late 1900's. Anyone who knows me, knows that I really do not read historical fiction unless something really intrigues me. It has to capture my attention and hit me with a really hard poignant story line.

Fates and Fateless, you have entered my exclusive club. Congratulations!

So, the story itself concerns an array of different experiences, set across a vast timeline. Our main character, Wendy, starts out life, around the 1950s mark, with an overall negative stance. She had a tough childhood; her family were relatively poor and, even though she somewhat excelled at school, she is not able to progress. Her family's need for money keeps her behind.

Wendy learns the harsh, abrupt bluntness of life very quickly. Her childhood love, Edward, is from a wealthy background. Their social status hinders them. Edward and his manipulative sister Diana, advance their life skills by studying at University; all the while Wendy is struggling with various jobs, trying to accrue money to support her family.

From the offset we realise that Diana is a very harsh individual. It was clear when Wendy was reminiscing about her childhood, and it is clear as day when they are adults. She involved herself, and the family company, in a very dangerous game - with Wendy stumbling upon shocking truths one after another.

On the other hand, you can tell that Diana is driven - a trait Wendy also possesses. I think a few people have compared this to "good vs evil", and I can agree. Both our female characters harness the same traits, but both have alternative motives in life. I would say that it is pretty clear as to who is good and who is evil!

The key part of this book, and the part that really stuck with me, was it's focus on social class. As I have mentioned, I do not tend to read historical fiction, so this was an interesting, unknown territory for me. I was intrigued to find out how Wendy would approach these constant pitfalls, especially considering her social class was outranked by Diana, among others. She wanted to "step outside the box" and challenge society, but in their eyes, had society already decided? Does it base it's values simply due to an individual's roots and heritage? Or are we automatically assigned as the Fated or the Fateless?

Overall, the writing and story were very engaging. I felt an array of emotions whilst reading this book! The story was remarkable really. It delves into Chinese culture, and mixes it with a political/business scandal. The two, in theory, wouldn't mesh, but they do; which I think is testament to the author's writing and imagination.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Review - Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

When I was about two-thirds through the book, I was getting so exasperated by Philip’s (the protagonist) foolish, maudlin, almost masochistic kind of blind passion for an undeserving woman named Mildred, that I was ready to give up reading there and then. But then I pressed on, and I’m glad that I did.

Overall, for a “bildungsroman” (coming-of-age story), I find “Of Human Bondage” tending a bit much on the grim and dark side of life throughout with almost no relief until the very end, when a silver lining finally appears. Also, I personally feel that the novel is too drawn out and a rather slow read. So, for those who are interested in reading the novel, I would advise them to exercise patience.

Now let’s turn to the positive aspect of the novel. I quite like the way the author inspires his readers to think deeply about the meaning of life, and I personally am inclined towards his philosophical thinking which is expressed through Philip’s inner thoughts as he progresses through life.

Philip’s young life (from the time he is nine to the time when he turns thirty) can be termed one big tragedy. Generally, it is filled with morose sadness (he is orphaned from the age of nine) and misfortune (he was born with a clubfoot). At various stages, he is plagued by morbid inhibition and failure (at socializing in school and at work), excruciating heartbreak (over his wretched love relationship with Mildred and betrayal by Griffiths), desolation (over the deaths of his close friends), despair and destitution at one point, and desperate loneliness due to his acute sensitivities and general distrust in people.

Yet, despite all his sufferings and pain, Philip seldom fails to try to do the right thing even if it means he would be all the worse for it, and would actually let others take advantage of his generosity, kindness and good-naturedness. He is even philosophical enough to urge himself to forgive Mildred and Griffiths, because they “could not help themselves”. In fact, the whole human race “were the helpless instruments of blind chance”.

His poet friend Cronshaw once tells him that he must find out the meaning of existence by himself and gives him a piece of old Persian rug as a present. This sentence perhaps sums up the epiphany that Philip comes to discover: “He told himself strenuously that he must accept with gaiety everything, dreariness and excitement, pleasure and pain, because it added to the richness of the design.”

In the end though, Philip also discovers that the simplest pattern is likewise the most perfect. He realizes this when he decides to marry Sally instead of sticking to his dream plan of travelling to all corners of the world in search of beauty. Simple happiness that a man finds in work, marriage, family and children is ultimately the perfect happiness. This is the silver lining!

Finally, I would have to say that I liked “The Painted Veil” much better. I’m giving this acclaimed masterpiece 3 out of 5 stars. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A 4-star Review by Sara Knight for "Fated and Fateless" on Amazon

Sara Knight, a Goodreads member, has just posted a 4-star customer review for "Fated and Fateless" on

Sara Knight's review:-

"Fated and Fateless" by Alice Poon is a story of love, loss and good versus evil. The cover of the book tends to be a bit misleading and make it seem like the book might be a bit lighter than it is. Set in Hong Kong, this is a thrilling tale of intrigue and suspense that will leave readers wanting more. An exciting tale that kept me engaged with its interesting and unexpected plot. The characters are well developed and believable, making you care about what happens to them. This story is fresh and exciting, while the writing is sharp and well paced. I look forward to reading more work from this author.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A 4-Star Review by Johanna Zanten of "Fated and Fateless" on Goodreads

Johanna Zanten, a Goodreads member and reviewer, has posted a 4-star text review of "Fated and Fateless" on Goodreads. Here's her full text review:-

“This book starts in Hong Kong where Wendy Kwan lives with her parents and her younger siblings, as well as her grandmother, all cramped together in a two bedroom flat. Her father works, but spends his salary on booze and gambling, and goes into serious debt that her mother then tries to pay off. Her mother glues paper bags for a living, at home. They are relatively poor.

Wendy starts at an all English school and goes on to high school. She cannot stay in school after her graduation even if she is the second best in academic achievement in secondary school, as she has to help earn money to feed the family.

She had met Diane and Diane's brother at school, but all contact is lost after leaving school. Might as well, as Diane and Edward are from the rich Lee family, living in wealth on the other side of the city in an affluent neighborhood. Wendy had a secret crush on Edward, but experienced Diane as a jealous and ungracious girlfriend. It would have been an impossible friendship anyway due to their difference in social standing. Although Hong Kong was a British protectorate for many years, the old feudal Chinese structures were still active.

This all takes place long after the opium wars between China and Britain, after Britain acquired most of Hong Kong Island in the 19th century, and before the 99 year lease of the territory to the British was to end in 1997. The story starts in the nineteen sixties. The mix of Chinese and English influences in this story is obvious and somewhat confusing, although interesting.

The author is telling the story of ethnic Chinese, from the POV of the protagonist, Wendy, and her nemesis, Diane, but they have English names. The rich are sent to universities in Britain, where they feel secondhand citizens, as the British traditionally look down on anybody from the "colonies", especially when they are not Caucasian and have skin that is not pale as their own. From that experience, Diane returned to Hong Kong to follow in her father's footsteps at the family's real estate company, after having obtained her degree that was facilitated by large donations from her father to her alma mater in Britain. To his father's disappointment, Edward, his only son, did not want to go into business and studied medicine, with ideals for a future of helping his people, not of making money off them.

In the meantime, Wendy struggled to obtain several jobs to keep the family going, with her mother dying along the way, and her abusive father finally leaving the family, to her relief. By design, Diane hired Wendy as her personal secretary with the purpose to demean and exploit her for the price of a salary. Wendy finds out what the company really is doing, it's gambling profits, and the ties to a triad gang and to the corrupt police chief.

The story starts in a rather formal language that feels a bit stilted. As the story unfolds, the language become more fluid and natural. The many adjectives in each sentence could be scaled down in my view, as it makes the novel a bit cumbersome to read at times.

The story gives a good insight into the culture of the real estate business of Hong Kong and the effects of the future transition of Hong Kong back to China's authority. The siblings of Wendy emigrate to Canada eventually. Diane and her mother emigrate as well by the end of the story.

What surprised me most was the brutal and overt exploitation of women: in the first seven chapters already two rapes by wealthy men on employees are happening, with impunity. As well, becoming a mistress, the concubine of the in olden days, is still present. Diane's father, the boss, has three at the time, as he is rich enough to afford them and set them up in their own apartments or mansion (in Hong Kong, where prices are higher than in Vancouver!). I am not sure if that would be indicative of the work atmosphere then, or still currently would be. The completely subservient and strict hierarchy from the top down in the office environment as described, seems alien to me, but likely might be real, then, or now. Diane is only her father's second choice as a female heir.

The politics of acquiring land for resale laid out in the novel is as familiar as the tactics currently employed in my area: buying unused, cheap farm land and once purchased, petition (and bribe) government to rezone it for residential use, develop it and resell it at many times its purchase price. Also money laundering and unholy deals between "business partners" and Mr. Lee are described, that gave me some insight in how that sort of thing would take place.

The cultural practice of Fung Sui (author's spelling) takes a large role in choosing the location of everything, as well as the use of palm readers and other paranormal practices for doing business successfully. These practices have now also become more prevalent in the cities in Canada with the influx of more ethnic Chinese immigrants.

The basic question posed in the novel is whether birth and heritage determine the fate of an individual. Wendy and Diana both are extremely ambitious and focused persons who are not content with the traditional role of the women in their society. Wendy's quest is to rise above her simple beginnings and reach the upper echelons in the business world, while Diana's is to become the head of her father's Sun Tai Land company at all costs.

The next question for Wendy is whether Edward loves her. He is her childhood crush that grew into a mature love, for Wendy, at least. Will they get together and find love?

The last question is whether the traditional rules of the wealthy Chinese to marry off their offspring in arranged marriage will survive the modern times. One needs to read the book to find out.

I found it a good read, and the turns and twists of the story kept the interest going. One needs to be interested in the real estate business, or want to know more about it, as it figures prominently in the story. Big money is the goal, and easy come, easy go, is the the impression I have of how the real estate business took place. The idea of ethical trade was not invented in this time and place; make your money fast and get out.

This world is as foreign to me as sky diving, something I am not thinking about and have no affinity with. It is useful to know more about that world and its specific background in political terms, to understand more of the background of the new Canadians in our country and I am glad I read it. A bit more of that background explained could have been helpful. I liked it overall and the ending was satisfying.

Disclosure: I was gifted the book by the author.
I would give it 4 out of 5 stars.”

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Book and Opera Review - "Salome" by Oscar Wilde

It has been said often enough that music has no nationality. Sometimes, a piece of art can transcend culture and language to reach an apex of perfection, in which music and story fuse to produce a stunning art form that grips the heart and mind of the audience. Richard Strauss’ operatic gem “Salome” in German, based on Oscar Wilde’s French play, perhaps deserves to be counted amongst such pieces.

Oscar Wilde, the Irish poet and playwright who was born in Dublin and educated at Oxford, England, notably a language prodigy, was conversant with German, French, Greek and Latin at an early age. The liberal hedonistic life that he led in his youth, whilst being frowned at by the society he lived in, might well have sharpened his senses to give him the needed zest to appreciate the beauty in art that may be hidden from the untrained eye. His most acclaimed works are his only novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and the play “The Importance of Being Earnest”.

Lesser known is the play “Salome” which was based on the well-known biblical story of the beheading of John the Baptist, and which Wilde wrote originally in French.

The story goes like this. At a birthday party thrown by Herod, the Tetrarch of Judea, Salome, his step-daughter, demanded to see John the Baptist who was being kept in an underground cistern for criticizing Salome’s mother Herodias on her incestuous marriage to Herod, brother of her husband. On seeing the saintly man, Salome fell in love with him and declared her passionate desire for his white skin, his black hair and his red lips. When she was rebuffed, she perversely asked Herod, who was hankering after her, to reward her with John’s head after dancing the Dance of the Seven Veils, with Herodias gleefully prodding her on. Herod tried to dissuade her from her demand by offering her emerald, then white peacocks, then the sacred veil of the temple, which she all refused. When she finally got what she wanted, she kissed the lips of the severed head that was handed to her on a silver platter. Terrified by the sight of this lunacy, the superstitious Herod ordered his soldiers to kill her.

There is an interesting story behind why Wilde wrote “Salome” in French, apart from the artistic reason that effects could be more grippingly sensual in French than in English.

It was said that he had been inspired by French artist Gustave Moreau’s famous painting of Salome captioned “L’Apparition”, which showed with rattling sensual power Salome’s hallucinated vision of the decapitated saint after she was handed her terrible reward. Another source of Wilde’s inspiration came from Gustave Flaubert’s short story “Herodias” (one of three short stories entitled “Three Tales”), which stuck to the original narrative that made Salome an innocent tool of her mother Herodias, and which provided details of Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils as Flaubert recalled an Arabian dance that he had watched during a visit to Egypt. Wilde artfully changed the focal point from Herodias to Salome and put Salome right in the foreground. He also made her out to be the sadistic lover of John the Baptist, picking up the hint of sadism and perversity from French novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans’ interpretation of Moreau’s painting in his novel “A Rebours” (“Against Nature” or “Against the Grain”).

Thus influenced by these important French creators of art, it was only natural that Wilde would want to re-create “Salome” in the French language so as to pay homage to them, if nothing else.

Then Richard Strauss, the masterly German composer, came along and turned Wilde’s French play into an electrifying operatic piece in German, writing the libretto himself. Debuting in 1905, Strauss’ production garnered an enthusiastic accolade and some of his peers described the opera as “stupendous” and “a live volcano, a subterranean fire”.

Having previously read Wilde’s play (an English translation), I am familiar with the story details. I don’t pretend to know anything about classical music, but when I watched a video of the Strauss opera (conducted by Bohm) on Youtube and listened to the music, it did give me a strange pulsating, eruptive sensation. The story of murderous sexual desire is expressed in a perfect orchestration of musical instruments and soprano singing to fluster the deepest recesses of the human heart. Teresa Stratas, a Greek artist from Ontario, Canada who played the leading role of Salome, indeed impressed me deeply with her haunting performance.

Luckily, one doesn’t have to speak German to be able to appreciate Strauss’ music. In fact one doesn’t have to be of any particular nationality to be able to appreciate good music by musicians of any nationality. As Strauss once said in a letter to a Jewish friend and librettist: “Do you believe I am ever, in any of my actions, guided by the thought that I am German? Do you suppose that Mozart was ever consciously Aryan when he composed? I only recognize two types of people: those who have talent and those who have none.”