Sunday, January 27, 2008

I Hate Mud

It rained here a few days ago. The whole base is one giant mud pit right now specked with huge water puddles. I really, really hate the weather in this place. It had snowed the previous week with similar results but the ground had dried back up after a few days. It doesn't seem to be doing that this time.

The only good thing is that no one else seems to want to go out unless necessary, so the gym has become less busy, and I've actually been able to get onto my choice of treadmills at lunch rather than coming in to find that the only available cardio equipment was one bike.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Women of Deh Koh

Originally published in 1989, Women of Deh Koh gives voice to some women in a mountain village in Iran. Friedl did her research over a twenty year span so she was there before and after the Revolution, and the women in the book comment occasionally on the different regimes. I especially enjoyed the chapter about Sarah in which her young granddaughter kept quoting her new religion teacher, sent by the new government, and the women just kept responding with normal day to day arguments that the child was not prepared for (I probably would have been that young child, though - I remember coming home from school in first or second grade and preaching about recycling after a class on it). For example, while the adults are discussing a man's desire for a second wife, the girl quotes part of the Koran, about how if a man can fulfill a certain amount of requirements (equal treatment and equality between the wives being the biggest concern), then it was perfectly acceptable. The women just made comments about how that was a lot of conditions, so in other words, there was no way it was possible. For the most part, Friedl tries to keep her voice out of the stories (although in one she appears as the "foreign lady"), but obviously she chose which stories to tell and how to tell them, so that's where her influence comes into the book. For the most part, the book is a series of anecdotes about women's lives in the village, most told from the third person, but a few of the chapters are narrated by the women themselves and not just observed. In one case, Friedl makes a point about changing truths and perspectives and uses four different women's versions of the same situation to portray this.

Unfortunately, the last book I read about women and Islam was also from the late 80's/early 90's so I really need to find a book that has a more recent analysis of Islamic culture and society. I read Reading Lolita in Tehran a while back, and it was interesting, but I think maybe I just need to read a basic history book before I keep reading these more specific books. Also, when I read Reading Lolita in Tehran, I was more inspired to read the novels they discussed in the book than more about Iran (though I do remember liking it). That inspiration didn't last very long, though, since I didn't like Lolita very much.

A Feather on the Breath of God

A Feather on the Breath of God was a short novel that was more character driven than plot based. It was basically a series of memories and impressions broken down into four parts. The first and shortest was about the narrator's father and what little she knew of him, the second was about her mother, the third section was about ballet and her teenage years, and the final part was about her affair with a Russian immigrant. I enjoyed the novel a lot and liked the way it was organized. In the part about her mother, for example, she tells her mother's life story and then has several small paragraphs (sometimes only sentences) that offer for more insights into her mother's life, character and their relationship, apparently just placed where they are as the thoughts and memories arise. She also reevaluates her relationships as she grows up, as for example in the ballet portion: as a teenager who wants to be a ballerina, she sees it as a woman's world, "a world where women not only outnumbered, but bested the men" (102). As an adult, looking back on her experience and watching ballet from the audience, she says "it is men who invented ballet - and the ballerina" (115).

The narrator's father was half-Chinese and half-Panamanian, and her mother was German, both first generation immigrants. The narrator at one point says that at points it seemed as if both her parents were living stereotypes of all the cliches about their backgrounds. Actually, some of her descriptions of her mother reminded me of my mom, so I also liked that aspect of the novel. For example, she talks about how she and her sisters never did chores around the house, and were told to "worry about [their] schoolwork" (60) which sounds similar to my mom. Apparently the narrator and I now have a "lack of domestic skills" in common (169). Another quote from the novel's mother is, "when you are young, you can get away with anything" (68). I remember one time when I went shopping with my mom, I was looking at skirts, most of which were slightly above knee-length, and my mom was getting frustrated because "you're only young once" and I should have been looking at mini-skirts.

The characters were well-developed. Even though the narrator does not reveal her whole life story, and leaves things untold and unsaid, the reader still gains an understanding of her. The other characters are as well developed as possible, but with them especially, there are chunks missing, showing that one person can never completely know another, and also portraying how distant or close her relationships were. If we, the readers, are left with questions, it is because the narrator has them, too, especially in regards to her father.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


So it's been a while - I wrote a blog entry back in December in response to a question I'd received a long time ago but when I asked one of my friends over here to review it, he advised me that it might not be the best idea to publish it. Basically, I'm still as negative and cynical as ever, but I'm trying not to publicize it as much since I'd rather stay out of trouble.

I got through Christmas and New Year's without feeling too homesick. New Year's was very boring but I've also realized, I've never actually had an eventful New Year's - somehow despite all my plans, I always ended up watching movies or something like that.

They changed one of the policies in General Order #1 so now women are allowed to visit men in their rooms and vice versa from 9 in the morning until 9 in the evening - considering that most of my peers are of the opposite gender, it makes my life more convenient and slightly adds to the amount of things I can do with people. Of course, I still can't compete with video games and have no desire to invest in an X-Box 360 (everybody is playing Call of Duty 4, and about half the company seems to be hooked up to each other), but some of us usually end up playing a board game about once a week (Balderdash, Cranium, and Risk when there are fewer people).

Work is work. Not really much to talk about there.

Books: His Dark Materials Trilogy

Since the film The Golden Compass was recently released, I figured it was time to give the books a shot. I finished His Dark Materials Trilogy last night, and I enjoyed it a lot. I'm curious to see how the movie compares, though I had heard they cut out most of the religious references - I think this will be rather hard to do with the second and third parts of the trilogy considering the outcome of the novels. I didn't like the film version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe very much and have no desire to see the follow up, though I had loved the novels as a child. Reading it as an adult, I realized that the religious references had gone straight over my head, and since my parents aren't that religious, they hadn't intended for me to read them as parables to the Bible but rather as adventurous and fantastical stories. His Dark Materials Trilogy is for older children than The Chronicles of Narnia, and isn't quite as stark in defining good and evil. Like Harry Potter, there is some moral ambiguity within the characters, and there are people such as the Master that face complicated decisions with no clear answers. Another character may do something that in any other children's book would make him the villain, but despite this action, his overall intent is still seen as the proper course. Also, another thing that Harry Potter has in common with these books is that not only do they portray the evil that an individual can cause (which of course happens in The Chronicles of Narnia), but they also show how bureocracy and systems can lead to evil. Pullman discusses and refers to the idea of the Fall, and Eve's disobedience, and I agree with the view that it was a good thing (/would've been a good thing if it had really happened and wasn't just a story). After all, I'd much rather have knowledge and consciousness than innocence and paradise. Besides, could we even recognize paradise and happiness as such if we didn't have knowledge? If all we had was blissful ignorance, how exactly would that separate us from the animals of the world? I remember some more conservative groups of Christianity had a problem with Harry Potter because they believed it endorsed witchcraft and satanism (and now of course homosexuality what with Dumbledore and all) but I don't remember if I heard about any backlash to this series. There must have been some, though, since it directly challenges the church as an organization and also questions basic beliefs. Of course, they were also released in the mid-90s, and it seems like the very conservative voices of Christianity didn't start becoming quite as heard until a few years later so that the focus has been more on Harry Potter and The DaVinci Code. I'm sure now that the movies are being made they will have more to say.

Books: The Warlord Chronicles

A friend of mine sent me The Winterking, the first of The Warlord Chronicles a few weeks ago. After finishing it, I promptly ordered the rest of the series. Actually, this is the second series I've gotten into because of this particular friend, the other being A Song of Ice and Fire (which I've been waiting for the fifth part to come out for a while now). The Warlord Chronicles, a series of three books, is yet another rewriting of the Arthur legend. I read The Mists of Avalon when I was younger so I've always been rather partial to that version, but I enjoyed The Warlord Chronicles quite a bit. While The Mists of Avalon focuses more on the mystical side of things and courtlife (obvious an oversimplification but it's been a while since I last read it), The Warlord Chronicles has quite a few more battle scenes and though Merlin, of course, is a character, the "magic" is mostly explained through tricks so Cornwell goes more for the historical fiction rather than fantasy route. I really liked some of the decisions Cornwell made with his version of the story - Lancelot was basically just a pretty boy who paid the bards well, Guinevere was a very clever woman whose sex prevented her from reaching her full potential (in The Mists of Avalon, she was pious, shy, scared and weak) and Arthur was a pagan rather than a great Christian king. Also, the Grail Quest was actually a search for a druidic cauldron. I also thought the portrayal of the conflict between the old and new religion was rather well done, and even though the Christians tend to be portrayed in a more negative light, both sides had their fanaticals. Cornwell explains some of his choices in his afterwords, and his arguments are sound. For example, when discussing the grail/cauldron quest, he references old Celtic stories about cauldrons, and it wouldn't be the first time that Christianity had taken old traditions and revamped/incorporated them while converting others. I also took a Celtic Myth class a long time ago, and something similar occured in some of those stories - at points, the stories are rather pagan with a variety of gods and at other points, Christ suddenly shows up.

Books: The Inheritance of Loss

I finally finished The Inheritance of Loss a while back. I'm not really sure why it took me so long to finish - it wasn't a bad novel but it just didn't hold my interest. Mainly, it took me a very long time to feel any type of interest for most of the characters, and many of them seemed shallow and superficial. In fact, I kept confusing which one was which and who did what but that may have more to do with the fact that I kept putting the book down and reading other novels before getting back to it. Still, it wasn't until the end of the novel that some of the characters really started developing, becoming deeper and more interesting. The author may have intended to show that hard times can affect everyone and therefore didn't want to make the higher class figures very likeable or three dimensional beforehand, but if that was the case, she did too good a job of making me not care in the beginning. Particularly, I'm referring to a pair of sisters who were obsessed with the West and Britain, and seemed to look down on their own country while also having several prejudices against every ethnic group in the area. This has come up in other post-colonial novels such as The God of Small Things (I loved that book) but in The Inheritance of Loss, I felt as if the characters weren't very conflicted or complicated until the end, while in The God of Small Things, for example, the people knew about their conflicted feelings, and just seemed to have more humanity to them. I am not sure how else to explain it. As far as the main characters are concerned, the author explains the conflict they feel and the internalized hatred well but I never cared about most of them - I didn't feel sympathetic to the judge, Sai's story about her first crush could have been more engaging, especially given the betrayal and class differences, but the two love interests were just too mushy and boring when they were together for me to care about their relationship (petnames? really?). The only character I was interested in was the cook's son, and his situation was rather hopeless although probably very accurate.

Basically, I thought the book had a promising premise, and I had looked forward to reading it, so I am a bit disappointed with it, but they can't all be great.