Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mini Reviews: Sagas of the Handicapped, the Chinese, and the Apache

Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg was my Book Club selection for June. It was the Great Michigan Read selection in 2013-14. After his mother's funeral Luxenberg discovered a secret aunt and set on a quest to discover Annie and why she was kept secret.

The immigrant experience, the Holocaust, the Depression, and Detroit's Eloise Asylum are revealed in his search. Luxenberg discovers more than one family secret.

My book club enjoyed the book and identified with the concept of family secrets, but several found the book at time repetitive and lacking in focus.


Shanghi Girls by Lisa See

I borrowed this book from the library after seeing it was the 2016 Everyone's Reading pick for the Detroit Public Libraries.

Pearl was born in 1916, the fourth year of the Republic of China, in Shanghai. Women's lives had changed for the better; foot-binding was forbidden, arranged marriages were replaced by free love and marriages for love. Pearl attended the Methodist Mission, posed with her younger sister May as a Beautiful Girl immortalized on calendars and advertising, and stayed out late clubbing. When her father gambled away everything the price was selling his daughters in marriage to two brothers, one a fourteen-year-old with brain damaged, the other a 'paper son' adopted to inherit the business. The girls are to travel to the US with their husband's family but 'miss the boat'.

With the Japanese invasion the girls and their mother flee their home town. They meet with tragedy that alters Pearl's life forever. Finally managing to arrive in the US to go to their husbands they are delayed for months living in prison-like isolation until proving they are legit. Life in America turns out to be hard, jobs scare and Chinese forced to live in ghettos.

Shanghi Girls tells the saga of Chinese immigrants in America from the 1920s into the Communist regime and McCarthy era. Told in first person by Pearl the novel lacks emotional depth and deep characterization, although the experiences she undergoes are harrowing. We learn more about the girls clothing than what they are feeling. The book's appeal is learning about the broader history of the Chinese in the 20th c. and for those who are not familiar with how America treated these refugees the story will be a real eye-opener. See's research included taking oral histories, some of which appear nearly verbatim in the novel.

The follow up novel Dreams of Joy takes Peal and her daughter to Communist China. Readers will learn about life under Mao, with the characters secondary to the greater picture.

The Apache Wars by Paul Andrew Hutton was my Blogging for Books choice. It was a subject I knew almost nothing about.

At nearly 500 pages this book offers a complete and detailed history of the relationship between the Native Americans of Apacheria and Americans whose expansion encroached into their traditional homelands. This is not a book for the fainthearted, and I rued not making a list to keep track of the ever changing major players. The publisher description calls it a "sprawling, monumental work" about the "two decades of the last war for the West through the eyes of the men and women who lived it." Because the book is encyclopedic it can be overwhelming.

I moved by the stories and quite disgusted (once again) by the horrible choices American government has made concerning those we fear--or those just plain in the way of 'progress,' which mostly means making money. It was very interesting to learn details of the Apache culture.

When I was a kid in the 50s watching the TV and movie westerns there were several cliches, one being 'white man speak with forked tongue.' Well, that is about it in a nutshell. Treaties and promises were broken with impunity, and the Apache who sought peace were treated badly and barely trusted. And there were leaders who tired of war and just wanted peace with the White Eyes. Not giving them a fair deal lost their trust Even when President Grant endeavored to change how the Apache were treated by sending Dutch Reformed agents did not improve how the Apache fared.

Hutton's knowledge is incredible and his treatment of this war fair and unbiased.