Sunday, January 20, 2019

Kyle Fiske's 5-star Review of The Green Phoenix

Reading this 5-star review of The Green Phoenix warmed my heart.

If you like the review, kindly click the "Like" button on the Goodreads review page.

Link to the Review

Full text of the Review:

"I went into Alice Poon's wonderful historical novel The Green Phoenix with a middling knowledge of Chinese history. I vaguely knew the years of the Qing (Manchu) dynasty, that the Qing had supplanted the Ming, and also that the Qing were not ethnically Han Chinese. But beyond that, I didn't really know much, and before I started this novel I wasn't clear on exactly the time frame that the story covered.

Early on we are introduced to the protagonist, Bumbutai, who is a young Mongol woman of respectable social rank. Although she is in love with another, she is betrothed to the powerful Jurchen nobleman and warlord Hong Taiji. As the story unfolds, we learn that Hong Taiji is in the process of consolidating power and has the aim of essentially conquering China. When the story revealed that Hong Taiji changed the name of his people from Jurchen to Manchu, it suddenly dawned on me that this was the story of the founding of the Qing dynasty, one of the most significant events in world history!

What Alice Poon has done is to take the broad historical sweep of these events and bring them down to the individual human scale, and let us view these dramatic and historically significant happenings through the eyes of one woman, over the course of her whole life. We first see Bumbutai as a wistful and dreamy teenager feeling the first pangs of love, then as a young bride suddenly thrust into the world of serious responsibility, then as a wife, mother, and finally grandmother. She seeks to balance the desires of her own heart, her official responsibility, and the pursuit of her own intellectual and ethical values, all through the various channels available to her.

The author doesn't shy away from the harsh historical reality of the events; we see palace intrigue in the fledgling Qing court, personal jealousies and ambition, betrayal and loyalty. We see the military and political machinations, cruel death sentences, assassination attempts, powerful generals changing sides during wartime, and vicious reprisals on civilian populations. And through it all, we're shown the ability of one individual—one woman—to influence all these events. Bumbutai is well-educated and a lover of traditional literature, poetry, philosophy, and ethics, and she seeks to impart these values onto the powerful men that she is so close to—and she is often successful. In a very positive form of multiculturalism, Bumbutai uses her keen judgment to emphasize the best elements of Chinese, Mongol, and even some Western ideas, values and outlooks.

One of the fun things about literature (and film) in general is when you're introduced to a world that you were previously completely ignorant of—and that was the case here with me. Alice Poon's writing is clear and concise, and it's emotive without being excessively flowery; I was able to follow the story and keep track of the characters without much difficulty. Very enjoyable."


Friday, January 18, 2019

Book Review - "If Beale Street Could Talk" by James Baldwin

This was a riveting read. Baldwin’s honest and emotion-laden writing grabs you from the start. He tells you a simple story of gross injustices inflicted on people of color in New York City in the 60s and 70s. Weaving into this narrative family love, passionate love between two young people, hope and despair, dogmatic prejudices and forgiveness, he transports you to a world that makes you throw your hands up in disbelief at the injustices and at the same time marvel at humanity.

Fonny and Tish from their respective black families fall in love and are about to get married. Fonny loves the art of sculpting, but for this passion he has to tolerate his mother’s and sisters’ scorn. Just as Tish discovers that she’s with child, Fonny is thrown into prison on a false charge of rape, because a white policeman is set on ruining him out of spite. Tish’s parents and elder sister rally to help Fonny get exonerated. Meanwhile, Tish and Fonny are sustained by their love for each other and the baby in Tish’s womb.

The beauty of the novel lies in the true-to-life characters that jump off the page. Each character is drawn vividly with his/her flaws and strengths and beliefs and idiosyncracies. Their dialogues and interaction makes it easy to believe they were the folks who walked the streets of New York in that time period.

I’m giving this novel 4.3 stars.