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18 Jan, 2016

My Accidental Jihad

/ posted in: Reading My Accidental Jihad My Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer
on June 25th 2014
Pages: 361
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in North Carolina and Libya

Fifteen years ago, Krista Bremer would not have been able to imagine her life today: married to a Libyan-born Muslim, raising two children with Arabic names in the American South. Nor could she have imagined the prejudice she would encounter or the profound ways her marriage would change her perception of the world.But on a running trail in North Carolina, she met Ismail.

Goodreads

This book defines jihad as:

An individual’s striving for spiritual and intellectual growth

 

This is the story of the author’s personal growth during the last 15 years.  I’ve seen many reviews that complain that the story is all about her.  That’s sort of the point.  How has she adapted to a life that she never meant to have?

She was in journalism school when she met Ismail.  An unintentional pregnancy early in their relationship accelerated their plans.

Ismail was entirely different than Krista.  He was fifteen years older than her, an immigrant from a poor background in Libya, and a Muslim.  She was a California girl from a middle class background with vaguely Buddhist tendencies.    He gets crankier than she thinks he should during Ramadan and she can’t understand why he doesn’t understand Christmas.  She is horrified that Ismail insists on haggling in the mall, especially when it was for her wedding ring**.  Like all relationships, they need to find a way to blend together their differences to make their own unique life.

When their daughter is young and she is three months pregnant with their second child, they travel to Libya to meet his family.  She has visions of adventure but is faced instead of the realities of life for a poor family under Gaddafi.  She doesn’t speak Arabic so can’t understand the women who she with all day long.  She hates the oppressiveness that the political situation has over the whole country and it makes her bitter about being there.  She needs to work hard to find any beauty in the situation.

Back in North Carolina, the openness she thinks she has is challenged when her now preteen daughter decides to wear a hijab.  How should she react when a new neighbor says that they love the neighborhood because of the diversity?  All the neighbors are white so she doesn’t know what they mean until she realizes that they are referring to her family.

The writing in this book is lyric and vivid.  She is very open about her own faults in the way that she approaches her relationship.  This is a story that I think could be written about any marriage.  Some of the complaints and insights seem familiar even if you come from the same culture.

 

**I feel her pain.  The husband likes to negotiate.  It is so embarrassing.  I also was given an engagement ring with the following declaration of love – “I got you this.  I got a really good deal on it.”  This Christmas I got earrings with the price sticker peeled off but the 50% off sticker left on so I’d be proud.  My husband and Ismail together would be a force to be reckoned with.

23 Nov, 2015

I Am Malala

/ posted in: Reading I Am Malala I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb
on October 8th 2013
Pages: 327
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Pakistan

I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday.
When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.
On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.
Instead, Malala's miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls' education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

Goodreads

Nonfiction-November-2015

 

For the last week of Nonfiction November, there is a discussion of the group read, I Am Malala over at Doing Dewey.

1. What did you think of the tone and style in which I Am Malala was written?

While the story is interesting and important, I don’t think that this is a very good book.  It is very choppy.  That is probably because it is written in collaboration with a teenager and an adult coauthor.  While you can’t be sure who wrote what, there are definitely style changes in the book between when she is talking about things that happened directly to her and her family and when the background history is being laid out.

Another confusing point is that there is a young readers edition of this book that has the same name.  I originally got that one from the library by mistake.  I read a little bit of that one and it didn’t seem so disjointed.

2. What did you think of the political commentary in the book?

The commentary is what I would expect from someone who has gone through what this family has.  I hadn’t realized that her father had run a private school that allowed girls to study.  He used Malala as an example of what education could do for girls.  She spoke to the media and had an anonymous column on a website about education for girls.  That’s why she was considered a target.

I think that the background of the situation that is included in this book is very important.  It shows how little decisions in the lives of the people can add up to big changes over time.  The thing I found most scary is the story of how an uneducated guy in town got a radio show and started espousing ideas that a lot of the population adopted to the eventual detriment of the whole society.  That can so easily happen here too.

3. Did anything particularly surprise you about Malala’s daily life or culture?

The emphasis on honor and getting revenge for every slight made me sad.  That is such a horrible way to live.  There can’t be any peace if you can’t ever forgive.

I was struck by her assertion that Pakistanis love conspiracy theories.  She mentions that people don’t necessarily believe that she was shot.  Just reading the reviews on Goodreads supports this.  Some are really nasty about how it was all made up.

4. Do you think you would act similarly to Malala in her situation? If you were her parents, would you let her continue to be an activist despite possible danger?

I don’t think her parents let her be an activist.  Her father made her be an activist. He was using her as a face and a voice of his defiance of the Taliban.  I don’t think that he thought that they would do anything to a kid.  I think it was hardest for him when she was shot because he realized that he had focused the attention of the Taliban on her and hadn’t set up any of the security protocols that he had for himself.

I think it was good and brave to stand up the brutality and anti-intellectualism that was sweeping over their country.  I’m not sure that I would have been able to be so open in my defiance knowing what the regime was doing to dissidents.

5. What did you think of the book overall?

I think this book should have waited a few years.  It ends rather abruptly.  There have been other interesting things in her life that would have added to the story.  Publishing this book so quickly doesn’t allow enough time to pass to be able to discuss what happened in response to her shooting.  I would have preferred to read a book written about five to ten years after the shooting to see what impact it had.  Then the book wouldn’t have had to be padded so much when the shooting could be the beginning of the story instead of the end.

05 Nov, 2015

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome

/ posted in: Reading Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome by Reba Riley
on August 18th 2015
Pages: 368
Genres: Personal Memoirs
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Ohio

Reba Riley’s twenty-ninth year was a terrible time to undertake a spiritual quest. But when untreatable chronic illness forced her to her metaphorical (and physical) derriere on her birthday, Reba realized that even if she couldn’t fix her body, she might be able to heal her injured spirit. And so began a yearlong journey to recover from her whopping case of Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome by visiting thirty religions before her thirtieth birthday. During her spiritual sojourn, Reba:
-Was interrogated by Amish grandmothers about her sex life -Danced the disco in a Buddhist temple -Went to church in virtual reality, a movie theater, a drive-in bar, and a basement -Fasted for thirty days without food—or wine -Washed her lady parts in a mosque bathroom -Was audited by Scientologists -Learned to meditate with an urban monk, sucked mud in a sweat lodge with a suburban shaman, and snuck into Yom Kippur with a fake grandpa in tow -Discovered she didn’t have to choose religion to choose God.

Goodreads

Reba Riley was a good Evangelical Christian girl up until college.  The reasons for her break from Christianity are not explained but ten years later the effects are clear.  She isn’t able to even think about religion without getting angry and sometimes even physically ill if she goes into a church.

In the meantime she developed a chronic debilitating sickness that no doctor has been able to diagnose or fix.  On her 29th birthday she decides to do something about her spiritual state if she can’t fix her body.  She is going to attend the services of thirty different religious groups by the time she turns thirty.

I was interested in this book because it sounded similar to my journey. Our paths are different though because she still feels a need to have a belief in God.  I don’t.  I get angry when I think about people being scammed by religion of any kind.  She just thinks that the environment that she grew up in was toxic.

I didn’t blame my parents; any system of belief built like a Jenga tower is breakable.  If you much believe x to believe y, and y to believe z, and x, y, and z to believe in God, it only takes a crack in one area bring all your faith crashing down.  My parents didn’t break my faith; they had given me a faith that was inherently breakable.”

Yes! I agree with that statement wholeheartedly. I tell people that I studied my way out of Christianity. I mean that as I got deeper and deeper into the faith and the Bible, things started not to make sense or to mean something different than I was taught. It took a long time for the first bricks to fall but once they did, everything else happened quickly.

“…Christianese — the language of Evangelical Christians and therefore my native tongue.  Due to my background, I speak Christianese beautifully:  I can catch and throw idioms and deftly season whole conversations with Scripture.  It’s like a secret verbal handshake, so Evangelicals can instantly recognize one another regardless of the setting.”

Oh, yes. Just this summer I listened to a story my sister-in-law was telling about my brother’s boss’ wife (also their pastor’s wife) telling her off for letting people know on Facebook that the church staff was on a retreat. Obviously if your Facebook friends know that your menfolk are not home they will rush over to rape and kill you. I said, “Smile sweetly and say, ‘Oh! I thought we weren’t supposed to have a spirit of fear.'”

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. – 2 Timothy 1:7

I told her, “I may not go to church anymore but if you need a Christian smack down for someone just let me know.”  All the studying might as well come in handy for something.

A lot of the religious facilities she visits are Christian but she does spend some time out of the Christian fold.  She visits Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Pagans, Hare Krishnas, Scientologists, and Atheists.  I like what one atheist told her.

“You know, one thing people never consider about atheism is that it gives us even more of a reason to be good people.  This life is all we have.  No second chances.”

Thank you.  I’m so tired of Christians constantly spouting off about how only Christians can have a system of morality because their god is the basis for right and wrong.  That never made sense to me even as a Christian.


This book is fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously.  If you’ve ever walked away from religion, you’ll find something familiar here.

 

About Reba Riley

“I’m Reba Riley, the author of Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing in 30 Religions, Patheos.com blogger, speaker, former Evangelical Poster Child and lover of all things sparkly. I live with my husband, Trent, and Welsh terrier, Oxley, in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I plan to write more books…after I recover from Post-Traumatic Memoir Syndrome.
My hope is that PTCS will inspire you, give you hope, make you laugh out loud at least once (preferably while drinking coffee so you snort it up your nose), and spark an international conversation about the reality of spiritual injury and the many paths to healing.” from Goodreads

04 Nov, 2015

A Donkey’s Tale: Saving Simon

/ posted in: Reading A Donkey’s Tale:  Saving Simon Saving Simon by Jon Katz
on October 7th 2014
Pages: 224
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

In this heartfelt, thoughtful, and inspiring memoir, New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz tells the story of his beloved rescue donkey, Simon, and the wondrous ways that animals make us wiser and kinder people.   In the spring of 2011, Jon Katz received a phone call that would challenge every idea he ever had about mercy and compassion. An animal control officer had found a neglected donkey on a farm in upstate New York, and she hoped that Jon and his wife, Maria, would be willing to adopt him. Jon wasn’t planning to add another animal to his home on Bedlam Farm, certainly not a very sick donkey. But the moment he saw the wrenching sight of Simon, he felt a powerful connection.

Goodreads

 

I love donkeys.  I knew that reading a book about a neglected donkey would be tough.  The opening chapters tell the story of Simon being left for dead in a pen without after food or water except for what is smuggled to him by his owner’s son.  Eventually the son calls the authorities and Simon is taken away.

He ends up on the author’s farm.  He is nursed back to health over time. The author has learned slowly to love donkeys and understand their ways.

“They are agreeable creatures, but they do not like being told what to do, and if you show that you really want them to do something that doesn’t involve food, you may be standing out in the sun for a long time.”

The author uses the story of his recovery to contemplate the meaning of compassion.

“But it seemed to me, I thought, standing out in my pasture, that the love of animals has made many people less compassionate to humans.  The very idea of animal rights in our time is equated with hostility, rage, and self-righteousness.”

He is telling Simon’s story on his blog and his readers are outraged when he reaches out to the man who neglected Simon.  He doesn’t go to him in judgement but to hear his side of the story.

“And why, I kept asking, are people who love animals so angry at people?”

This is an interesting topic for me.  I’m definitely on the “love animals, don’t care about people” side of the divide but I’m not nearly as hostile as some people I see especially in the rescue community.

“The farmer was animal, a monster; he should be jailed, punished, tortured, even killed.  No one offered a single line of compassion or understanding or concern for him, or for his son, who had bravely helped Simon when he was starving.

The hatred and fury were shocking to me, disturbing; this idea of rescue was not compassionate for me.”

This reminded me of the outrage I saw on Twitter from civil rights activists around the time of the shooting of Cecil the Lion.  They didn’t understand why the world was upset over the shooting of one lion in Africa when people in Africa were dying all the time and when African-Americans were being shot by police.  I didn’t have a good answer for that.  I still don’t.


 

Spoilers

After reading this book I saw the author bio below.  See the issue?  No Simon.  I went to the author’s website to follow up.  It turns out that Simon died unexpectedly shortly after the publication of this book.  That was a downer but he had a few good years where he was loved and well cared for.  He turned into a bully towards the end of the book and I don’t know how I feel about the story of pony he terrorized.  It was disturbing all around.

About Jon Katz

Jon Katz is an author, photographer, and children’s book writer. He lives on Bedlam Farm with his wife, the artist Maria Wulf, his four dogs, Rose, Izzy, Lenore and Frieda, two donkeys, Lulu and Fanny, and two barn cats.

29 Oct, 2015

Where The Hell is Tuvalu?

/ posted in: Reading Where The Hell is Tuvalu? Where The Hell Is Tuvalu? by Philip Ells
on August 31st 2011
Pages: 288
Genres: Travel
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Tuvalu

How does a young City lawyer end up as the People's Lawyer of the fourth-smallest country in the world, 18,000 kilometres from home?
We've all thought about getting off the treadmill, turning life on its head and doing something worthwhile. Philip Ells dreamed of turquoise seas, sandy beaches and palm trees, and he found these in the tiny Pacific island state of Tuvalu. But neither his Voluntary Service Overseas briefing pack nor his legal training could prepare him for what happened there.
He learned to deal with rapes, murders, incest, the unforgivable crime of pig theft and to look a shark in the eye. But he never dared ask the octogenarian Tuvaluan chief why he sat immobilised by a massive rock permanently resting on his groin.Well, you wouldn't, would you?
This is the story of a UK lawyer colliding with a Pacific island culture. The fallout is moving, dramatic, bewildering and often hilarious.

Goodreads

Philip Ells was a lawyer in London and he was burnt out.  He decided to escape his high pressure job by volunteering with Voluntary Service Overseas.  He was sent to Tuvalu to be the People’s Lawyer.  That job is basically serving as a defense attorney for anyone who needs one.  There aren’t native lawyers available for people.  The prosecuting attorney was also an ex-pat.

This job came with some problems that he hadn’t expected.  In Tuvalu there just isn’t much crime.  It is also customary to go to the police and write out a full confession immediately if you commit a crime.  Everyone pleads guilty.  That makes life for your defense attorney much harder.  His main job was to try to get the sentences as short as possible for his clients by whatever means necessary.  This led to most of the island residents calling him “The People’s Liar.”  He filled out the rest of his time by writing threatening letters to government officials of behalf of citizens.  That can get awkward when you then meet the officials socially or over tennis.

He also inherited Laita, a secretary/translator/paralegal with his office.  She feels that the less he knows the better.  He can cause fewer problems that way.

This book is written about his two years of service in the 1990s.  That means that the community in Tuvalu had very limited access to the outside world.  There was no internet and mail may not come if there were extra passengers on the plane.

From Google Maps

This is the main island of Funafuti. The town is on the eastern side.

From Wikipedia

This is the whole island nation. The islands are spread far apart and there was a boat that tried to make a circuit of them about once a month.  Sometimes it brings back fruits and vegetables.  Most of the time it doesn’t which leads to ex pat fantasies of the joys of a potato.

The ex pats and the natives of Tuvalu never truly understand each other.  The author writes about this with self-deprecating wit.  He comes to appreciate the quietness of the island especially after being loaned out to Kiribati and working for seven weeks on many horrific crimes in that country in addition to a Constitutional crisis.

He may have even been able to do some good such as helping teach a three day seminar on the legal rights of women in an area where domestic violence is not taken seriously by the police.

This is an unusual memoir in that the epilogue tell what other people in the book are doing now but never updates what the author did after leaving Tuvalu.

16 Oct, 2015

Life From Scratch

/ posted in: Reading Life From Scratch Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin
on March 3rd 2015
Pages: 336
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Witty, warm, and poignant, food blogger Sasha Martin's memoir about cooking her way to happiness and self-acceptance is a culinary journey like no other.

Over the course of 195 weeks, food writer and blogger Sasha Martin set out to cook--and eat--a meal from every country in the world. As cooking unlocked the memories of her rough-and-tumble childhood and the loss and heartbreak that came with it, Martin became more determined than ever to find peace and elevate her life through the prism of food and world cultures. From the tiny, makeshift kitchen of her eccentric, creative mother, to a string of foster homes, to the house from which she launched her own cooking adventure, Martin's heartfelt, brutally honest memoir reveals the power of cooking to bond, to empower, and to heal--and celebrates the simple truth that happiness is created from within.

Goodreads

 

Sasha Martin’s life hasn’t been easy.  She grew up with her brother and mother in poverty in Boston.  Her mother had given custody of three older children to her ex-husband and would not tell her two youngest children who their father was.  Her mother was warm and creative and loved to cook meals with her kids, which instilled a love of cooking in Sasha.

After a few rounds of going into foster care and back out into their mother’s care, Sasha and her brother went to live with a family friend in entirely different circumstances.  Suddenly, she is traveling the world and living in Europe during high school.  That life ended when she went to college and had to find a way to make it on her own.

Years later, after marrying and having a child, she decides to start a blog and cook one meal a week from a different country of the world.  She starts with Afghanistan in week one and goes alphabetically through all 195 countries.


Although this is marketed as a food blogger memoir, most of the book is about her childhood and life before the blog.  The story is harrowing and sad and would be unbelievable if written in a fictional book.  Her mother is a larger than life character who is in turns inspiring and exasperating.

When the book turns to blogging there are interesting discussions about what went on behind the scenes and her decision making processes about what should go on the blog.  Should she admit that she poisoned herself with one meal?  How do you deal with furious commenters who are mad that her Indian meal was simple foods for a child’s birthday party?

There are several recipes in the book.  Some of them are incredibly intense and some are simple.  I’m not sure that I’m going to try any of them because a lot are meat based but there are some that could be adapted.  There is a chocolate rice pudding that sounds good.

This book would be good for people who like memoirs like Julie and Julia.

11 Oct, 2015

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me

/ posted in: Reading My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me on April 15th 2015
Pages: 240
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs, History

When Jennifer Teege, a German-Nigerian woman, happened to pluck a library book from the shelf, she had no idea that her life would be irrevocably altered. Recognizing photos of her mother and grandmother in the book, she discovers a horrifying fact: Her grandfather was Amon Goeth, the vicious Nazi commandant chillingly depicted by Ralph Fiennes inSchindler's List—a man known and reviled the world over.

Goodreads

Jennifer Teege was born to a German mother and a Nigerian father in 1970 in Germany. She was placed in a children’s home. She was placed with a family at the age of three. Until the finalization of her adoption at age 7, she had frequent contact with her birth mother and maternal grandmother. She was very close to her grandmother.

She lived in Israel for five years as an adult and speaks fluent Hebrew. She was married and had two children. When she was 38 years old she was in a library and pulled a book off the shelf because the title sounded interesting. The author’s name was the name of her birth mother. In the book she saw pictures of her beloved grandmother and read the truth about her background.

Her grandmother was the mistress of Amon Goethe, the commandant of a Nazi concentration camp in Poland. He was the main bad guy in the movie Schindler’s List. In fact, Oskar Schindler had introduced her grandparents. Her grandmother had lived in the commandant’s house just outside the camp.

This doesn’t fit at all with Jennifer’s memories of a kind and gentle woman. She buries herself in historical research.

In alternating chapters, the books tells Jennifer’s story and discusses research about the affect of the Holocaust on German families. Most people don’t know or try to whitewash their grandparents’ roles.

This book is chilling. There is a picture of her grandmother posing with a dog. That dog was one of the two dog Goethe trained to kill prisoners.

She watches interviews with her mother and grandmother. Her grandmother was absolutely devoted to Amon Goethe until she died. She kept a picture of him over her bed.

“In 1948, two years after Amon Goeth’s execution, Ruth Irene Kalder asked the American authorities in US-occupied Germany to allow her to take on Goeth’s name, claiming that it was only the confusion at the end of the war that had prevented them from getting married.”

Two years after he was executed as a war criminal, she asked to take his name? How messed up is that?

In another interview she said:

“‘It was a wonderful time’, his widow said. ‘We enjoyed each other’s company. My Amon was king, I was his queen. Who wouldn’t have relished that?’ She added that she was only sorry it was all over.” As to Amon Goeth’s victims, Ruth Irene Goeth adds: “They weren’t really people like us. They were so filthy.”

After finding out about her family history, Jennifer gets in contact with her birth mother. She realizes the mother didn’t know about this until she was older either and the revelation has ruined her life.


I do recommend reading this book. I’ve never considered the affect of an ancestor’s participation in World War II would have on German people. In the U.S. it is generally considered to be a good thing. In Germany it is mostly hidden.

I don’t think that finding out that your ancestors did horrible things should change your perceptions of yourself but other people may have a harder time with that.

What do you think?

10 Oct, 2015

Bento Box in the Heartland

/ posted in: Reading Bento Box in the Heartland Bento Box in the Heartland by Linda Furiya
on 2006
Pages: 307
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs, Cooking, Regional & Ethnic, Japanese
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

While growing up in Versailles, an Indiana farm community, Linda Furiya tried to balance the outside world of Midwestern America with the Japanese traditions of her home life. As the only Asian family in a tiny township, Furiya's life revolved around Japanese food and the extraordinary lengths her parents went to in order to gather the ingredients needed to prepare it. As immigrants, her parents approached the challenges of living in America, and maintaining their Japanese diets, with optimism and gusto. Furiva, meanwhile, was acutely aware of how food set her apart from her peers: She spent her first day of school hiding in the girls' restroom, examining her rice balls and chopsticks, and longing for a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich. Bento Box in the Heartland is an insightful and reflective coming-of-age tale. Beautifully written, each chapter is accompanied by a family recipe of mouth-watering Japanese comfort food.

Goodreads

Linda Furiya grew up in rural Indiana, far away from the traditional Japanese culture that her parents tried hard to emulate.  She didn’t understand why her lunches were different than other kids’.  She was embarrassed to hear her parents trying to talk to people in public, especially when other people didn’t make an effort to understand them.  She didn’t want to invite people over to her house because it was so different than other peoples’.

Her parents had amazing life stories that she didn’t appreciate until she was much older.  Her father was a U.S. citizen who went back to Japan as a child.  He was then sent away as an indentured servant.  He ended up as a Russian translator in the Japanese army during World War II.  He came back to the United States and worked in the poultry farming industry because it was the only work he could get.

Her mother was the daughter of rice merchants in Tokyo.  Her mother died and her father remarried and had other children.  This dropped her status in the family to that of a servant.  After the war, she lived on her own and had a job but gave it up to marry a stranger who lived the United States.

Her parents longed to have familiar Japanese food but couldn’t find it in Indiana.  They made monthly trips to stores in Cincinnati or Chicago to find the ingredients they needed or had things shipped from Japan.  Japanese comfort food became a common link between people who were very different but only had each other to rely on.

The author tells the story of growing up as the child of immigrants through the food that they loved.  Each chapter ends with a recipe.  Most of them are heavy on the meat so I won’t be trying them but there is one recipe for Rice Balls that sounds good.  There is also a dessert recipe using agar agar instead of gelatin to make a Jello-like dish that I’d like to try since gelatin is made from animals and agar agar is from algae.

The author doesn’t shy away from talking about how she treated her parents horribly for being Japanese.  It wasn’t until after college that she lived in a city with a large Asian population and understood that being Asian wasn’t automatically a bad thing.  This book is a great look into the immigrant experience through the eyes of a child.

About Linda Furiya

Furiya grew up in rural Indiana, where her Japanese family went to great lengths to acquire traditional Asian ingredients. She became a journalist and food writer; Bento Box In The Heartland, her memoir of growing up in the Midwest, is her first book. She lives in Vermont.

24 Sep, 2015

At Hell’s Gate and My Family

/ posted in: Reading At Hell’s Gate and My Family At Hell's Gate by Claude Anshin Thomas
on 2004
Pages: 168
Genres: Biography & Autobiography
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

In this raw and moving memoir, Claude Thomas tells the dramatic story of his service in Vietnam, his subsequent emotional collapse, and how he was ultimately able to find healing and peace. Thomas went to Vietnam at the age of eighteen, where he served as a crew chief on assault helicopters. By the end of his tour, he had been awarded numerous medals, including the Purple Heart. He had also killed many people, witnessed horrifying cruelty, and narrowly escaped death on a number of occasions.
When Thomas returned home he found that he continued to live in a state of war. He was overwhelmed by feelings of guilt, fear, anger, and despair, all of which were intensified by the rejection he experienced as a Vietnam veteran. For years, Thomas struggled with post-traumatic stress, drug and alcohol addiction, isolation, and even homelessness.
A turning point came when he attended a meditation retreat for Vietnam veterans led by the renowned Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Here he encountered the Buddhist teachings on meditation and mindfulness, which helped him to stop running from his past and instead confront the pain of his war experiences directly and compassionately. Thomas was eventually ordained as a Zen monk and teacher, and he began making pilgrimages to promote peace and nonviolence in war-scarred places around the world including Bosnia, Auschwitz, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and the Middle East.
At Hell's Gateis Thomas's dramatic coming-of-age story and a spiritual travelogue from the horrors of combat to discovering a spiritual approach to healing violence and ending war from the inside out. In simple and direct language, Thomas shares timeless teachings on healing emotional suffering and offers us practical guidance in using mindfulness and compassion to transform our lives.

Goodreads

Growing up I knew from old family photos that my father’s sister had been married and divorced before I was born.  As an adult this was cause for some annoyance for me because whenever I would drive separately from my husband to a family event my parents would pipe up with, “The last time people drove separately to a family event they ended up divorced.”  This referred to my aunt’s first marriage and was incredibly annoying.  It was also untrue because the “last time” was the last time they said it to me. Then I got divorced and reinforced their beliefs.

Anyway, a few years ago I saw a list on Wikipedia or something about famous people from my hometown.  It is a VERY short list.  One of the people was a famous monk or something and it said he graduated the same year as my parents.  I asked if they knew this person.

My mother:  Disapproving snort “Oh, yeah.  That’s Tommy.  You know, your aunt’s first husband.”

How does that never come up in conversation?  (I can’t believe I even had this thought now after finding out everything never discussed in my family like my grandmother living under a fake name since the age of five and the fact that she had a murdered brother that was never mentioned.)

A few weeks ago I saw another list of famous people from my hometown.  (There were five entries and the first one was a horse.)  It mentioned that Claude Thomas had written an autobiography.  I got it from interlibrary loan.

I didn’t know whether to mention this or not.  The night before I was going to start reading it I told my mother about it.  I wanted confirmation that this was the same guy.  I still wasn’t entirely convinced.

My mother: “Really?  You have to tell me what it says. He didn’t just marry into your father’s family.  He was close to mine too.”

Me:  “The back says that it is mostly about Vietnam and lists a lot of medals he won.  Then it is about peace marches.”

My mother responded with a story about how he took her brother’s car and rolled it and her brother took the blame for it.

Me:  “(the husband) and I were talking about this.  We decided that if (my ex) became President of the United States and single handedly ended fighting in the Middle East and brought about world peace, your first comment would be, ‘The bastard owes my daughter money.'”

My mother: Laughs and then immediately lists five other things she’s mad at my ex about.  “Let him try to run for President.  I have things to say.”

I think my family missed their calling.  They should have been in the Mafia.  They have the Don’t Cross Family thing down cold.


He doesn’t own up to rolling the car in the book.  He glosses over most of his upbringing.  He does mention joy riding in cars from the local dealership but says he never wrecked any of those.  He dismisses my aunt and their marriage in two sentences.

This is the story of a veteran with severe PTSD using Buddhism as a coping mechanism.  It sounds to me like it isn’t working too well.  He mentions still not being able to sleep more than two hours at a time, for example.  I live with a veteran with PTSD so I’m used to some of the behaviors that comes along with it.  I’d recommend medication and maybe counseling to learn coping mechanisms.  I was hoping to read how Buddhism and meditation helped him but he seems to be barely functional.

He lives as a mendicant monk which means that he has no possessions and is homeless.  He leads long walking pilgrimages like Poland to Vietnam or across the U.S.  The participants carry no money and make no plans for housing.  When they get to a town, they ask at local churches for a place to sleep and some food.  I found this part interesting and disturbing.

Most often they are turned away from churches even in blizzards.  So much for Matthew 25:35.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in


He tells stories of being allowed to stay in a church but being told that they have to hide so children don’t see them.  They often have the police called because of “suspicious looking people seen walking down the road”.

He doesn’t refer to any Americans except his son by name in this book.  It seems like most of his anger is still focused on the American people.  He seems capable of accepting Vietnamese people but not Americans.  That may be a new idea for some people but doesn’t seem to be uncommon.  A lot of veterans are incredibly angry at Americans who didn’t serve in wars and many hate nonveterans blithely telling them, “Thank you for your service.”

This is a good book to read to open your eyes to the psychic toll that war can take on soldiers.

16 Mar, 2015

Battle of the Books – Memoirs

/ posted in: Reading Battle of the Books – MemoirsPower Forward by Reggie Love
on February 3rd 2015
Pages: 224
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Published by Simon and Schuster
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Reggie Love is a unique witness to history, whose introduction to Washington was working in Junior Senator Barack Obama’s mailroom. As “body man” to Obama during his first presidential campaign, Love’s job was to stay one step behind the candidate, but think and act three steps ahead during a typical eighteen-hour workday. As President Obama’s personal aide during that momentous first term, Love sat yards from the Oval Office and often spent more time with the President than anyone else. While his experiences were unique, the lessons he learned during his tenure with the President are universal. Persistence. Responsibility. Passion for a cause greater than yourself. In short, maturity. Love has been singularly lucky in his mentors. At Duke University, where he was a walk-on and a captain of its fabled basketball team, Love learned from Coach Krzyzewski that sports builds character—from President Obama, Love learned that how you conduct your life defines your character. Accountability and serving with honor were learned during unsought moments: co-coaching with Malia Obama’s and Sasha Obama’s basketball team with the President; lending Obama his tie ahead of a presidential debate; managing a personal life when no hour is truly your own. From his first interview with Senator Obama, to his near-decision not to follow the President-elect to the White House, Love drew on Coach K’s teachings as he learned to navigate Washington. But it was while owning up to (temporarily) losing the President’s briefcase, playing pick-up games in New Hampshire to secure votes, babysitting the children of visiting heads of state, and keeping the President company at every major turning point of his historic first campaign and administration, that Love learned how persistence and passion can lead not only to success, but to a broader concept of adulthood. Power Foward is a professional coming of age story like no other.

Goodreads

It took me a few days after reading this book to figure out where it went wrong for me. At first I thought it was the overall “sports is a metaphor for everything” vibe but that wasn’t it. Then I thought that it was that he just tells anecdotes and not a chronological story that was bothering me.

I think the real problem is that he never tells the reader something real.

There are stories about campaign events and mistakes and visiting dignitaries but they are relayed in the matter of fact manner of well-rehearsed stories you pull out when you need to entertain. A memoir needs more. It needs to have heart, which is a term I totally hate but is applicable here. This book reads like, “I was in college and played sports and then I lucked into a job, and then I worked for the President and that was cool.” It stays on the surface so there is always nagging feeling that something is missing.

 


Yes, ChefYes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yes, Chef gets it right. Marcus Samuelsson was orphaned in Ethiopia at a young age. He and his older sister were adopted by a Swedish family. He went on to become an acclaimed chef.

The first chapter of the book is a discussion about how he has no memories of his mother but knows what she must have been like because her life would have been similar to women he’s met in rural Ethiopia now. It talks about the hardness of her life and then about her walking 70 miles to get him and sister to a hospital during a TB epidemic where she eventually died.

“My mother’s family never owned a photograph of her ,which tells you everything you need to know about where I’m from and what the world was like for the people who gave me life.  In 1972, in the United States, Polaroid introduced its most popular instant camera.  In 1972, the year my mother died, an Ethiopian woman could go her whole life without having her picture taken – especially if, as was the case with my mother, her life was not long.”  page 4

That chapter was compelling enough that I read it out loud to the husband and Z in the car.  Nothing in Power Forward made you feel the need to share it.

The rest of the books was also very good.  As a vegetarian, I’m always a little disturbed by food memoirs.  The food descriptions are just so disgusting.  He has to take the obligatory shot at vegetarians when he talks about being chosen to do the Obamas’ first State Dinner.  It was for the Prime Minister of Indian and his wife who are vegetarians.  Oh it is just so hard to make food that tastes decent without using meat!  How can it possibly be done?

(Power Forward talks about this dinner also from the security side and never once mentions the lack of meat. )


These books are both by black men who have nurtured their respective talents (sports and cooking) to rise to positions of prominence that they would never have imagined as children.  Yes, Chef‘s more powerful writing and willingness to look below the surface recounting of accomplishments gives it the edge here.

Photo Credit USDA Flickr
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