(Featured Image from Marjane Satrapi’s book).
Three reviews: Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilyn Chin, and Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg.
These three books have few and vague similarities, but mostly I am writing about them because I read them recently-ish…well, and they all contain potentially “R-rated” subject material. Sensitive readers be warned.
Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi.
Marjane is the author of Persepolis and Persepolis 2 (autobiographical cartoons of a young girl growing up in Iran). Persepolis was also made into a quirky film, following closely to the book. Embroideries is a tiny book and a quick read (I’m talking 30-45 minutes), but take time to look at the illustrations. I highly recommend the Persepolis books as well.
The storyline is basically a discussion between a group of Iranian women. The women discuss everything: Their marriages and divorces, lying about virginity to a husband, and reconstructive surgery from nose to vagina. Women in the “west” may have preconceived notions about Iranian women. This tiny little book sheds light on relationships and solidarity between these women, and keeps a sense of humor in the process. You are the lucky fly on the wall during their conversation.
Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilyn Chin.
This book is about two Chinese-American girls named Moonie and Mei Ling Wong, and their ultra-strict grandmother. The twins deliver Americanized Chinese food in California (at least, this is one large portion of the book). Moonie and Mei Ling are quite different (hence “Double Happiness?”). Mei Ling is constantly hooking up with random boys (like “Hippie Jesus”). Moonie is asexual and slightly more deliberate, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t karate-chop Hippie Jesus.
“Call me Moonie Mooncake Vixen. I’ve come to seek revenge against the wrongs perpetuated against my peeps!” I say. “And I wreck phony baloney saviors with Messiah complex perverts like you!”
Sometimes Moonie and Mei Ling’s story may seem ridiculous or disjointed as you follow them in California and Oregon and Hong Kong. This is not a “random” book, rather one with (potentially overlooked) discourse on surviving and adapting as an immigrant in the United States. (“Overlooked” if you have not experienced such a life). Stereotypes of Chinese (or other Asian-American) women is also a theme, although one that Chin breaks through every page.
Perhaps the story is not always easy to follow because it is not written in a “usual”, chronological, A-Z fashion, and Chin makes references to “classical Chinese tales and ghost stories” (from the book cover). If you are not familiar with classical Chinese tales (unfortunately I am certainly not), those references will likely go missed. I highly recommend reading the Postscript/Some Notes by Chin starting on page 207. These are Chin’s cliff notes and reveal her intense process for writing this book. According to the “Discussion Page” (which I almost recommend reading before the book), Chin’s “tales are informed by Buddhist and Taoist parables as well as by feminist criticism, the world of manga, and comic book superheros.” Damn.
This is one of those books that I read, and I thought, “What the…what just happened?” If your book club doesn’t mind a lot of swearing and sex, this might be a
good weird choice? I don’t know. I really wanted to like this book. I think I would enjoy learning more about Marilyn Chin and her writings “about” this book, rather than the book itself. (Maybe it is just over my head?)
Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg (The O has one of those slashes through it. But my computer won’t do that).
This book is from 1993 and written by a dude that looks like he is scheduled to play Puck in a Midsummer Night’s Dream (Seriously. Check out his picture).
Smilla is a badass who grew up with her Inuit mother in Greenland. She has a tenuous relationship with her wealthy Danish father. She lives in Denmark as an immigrant and shares an apartment complex with a six-year-old boy named Isaiah. Isaiah is found dead due to falling from the roof, but Smilla senses his death was a murder. The first 200 some pages take place in “The City” (Cophenhagen), and the other 200 some pages take place in “The Sea” and “The Ice” (back to Greenland).
In standard spy novel fashion: Smilla is bound and determined to solve this murder for the sake of Isaiah. She befriends eccentric characters, drugs a dog to break into a building with super important files (and trashes the place), fist-fights bad guys, and generally gets in a whole lot of trouble. I’m not exactly sure how she survives all of her violent fights, but she survives and makes it on a ship to Greenland. Apparently she is really stellar at navigating ice and snow due to her upbringing?
“Maybe I should give up and go back the way I came. But I stay. I detest fear. I hate being scared. There is only one path to fearlessness. It’s the one that leads into the mysterious center of the terror.”
(This book sounds fucking ridiculous!) And like a good movie. Well…a quick google search shows someone did make a movie, and it is probably awful (although I will probably watch it). As usual, I recommend reading the book before you even think about the movie…
Although this book is 469 pages of translated Danish to English…it moves fast. You may need a sticky note or full notepad piece of paper to write down characters (I frequently flipped back because I kept confusing some of the weird Danish names). It is a kind of ridiculous book, but certainly engaging. This book will also make you really cold. Or, really happy that you do not live in Denmark or Greenland.
Happy Winter Reading!