Tuesday, July 3, 2012
52 Books in 52 Weeks - June
Veronika Decides to Die - Paulo Coelho
Cinderella (As if you didn't already know the story) - Barbara Ensor
Catfish and Mandala - Andrew X. Pham
Codependent No More - Melody Beattie
With a notable exception, June's titles followed a consistent theme: a journey of exploration; of digging back into the past; into one's roots in order to make sense of the future. Let me deal with the exception first and get it out of the way.
Cinderella. Another Cinderella. What is it with our need to reimagine fairy tales? On the big screen yes - I watched Mirror Mirror the other day and confess to be looking forward to Snow White and the Huntsman - however, I really believe that if you're going to rewrite a fairy tale you need to bring something special to the rendering. James Finn Garner's Politically Correct Bedtime Stories are a good example of a well-worked twist. This version of Cinderella throws in a feminist bent which is hardly a unique premise, and some clever illustrations. Beyond that it was little more than a curiosity read. I'm glad I didn't pay full price for it.
The other three books had far more of an impact. Despite its rather bleak title, Veronika Decides to Die, is actually an exploration of what it means to be alive and to live an honest life. It explores the experience of a young woman, who, having survived a suicide attempt, finds herself in a mental asylum. Freed from the pressures of being sane, she is able to explore who she is and how she longs to live her life. I've avoided this book for a long time, largely because of the title, but it's actually a beautiful book, and one of Coelho's best. There's a messy bit at the beginning where Coelho awkwardly inserts himself in the story, tying his own much publicised time in mental institutions to the story, but once you get beyond that it's an inspiring read about leading an authentic life.
Catfish and Mandala is soul searching of a different sort. Author Andrew Pham, has lived in the United States since escaping from Vietnam as a child in the 1970s. In the US he experiences the isolation of being a refugee from a country with which the US has such a complicated and painful relationship. Returning to Vietnam he is isolated once more, labelled a Viet-Kieu, a foreign Vietnamese. This is a very honest exploration of what it means to return to a country of your roots but where you no longer fit in. Pham struggles to reconcile his perceptions of present day Vietnam, his guilt at what he has and doesn't have, and where his own family fits both in Vietnam and in the US. While the book covers the beginning to end of his cycling journey, there are no simple solutions presented. This is an excellent read.
I debated whether or not to include Melody Beattie's book in my monthly roundup. While it's an interesting experience to voyeuristically dig into other people's roots, or to follow the fictional musings of a literary character, it's another thing entirely to be challenged to question your own identity. This book has been a painful, liberating and life changing read. I will say only that I am incredibly grateful to have found this book and for the friends who helped me onto the path to find it.
photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net