Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for February 25th, 2012

The Road

Posted by nliakos on February 25, 2012

by Cormac McCarthy (Vintage Books, 2006, originally published by Knopf, 2006)

This was a thoroughly depressing book. A father and son trudge through a destroyed America. It is not clear what has burned the country, killed all the plant life and wildlife and most of the humans, yet left a few humans alive; but they must keep going if they are to survive the winter and avoid the marauding gangs who will kill and consume them if they catch them. It’s a kind of survival story (like Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain), but much grimmer. There is no clean place to return to; everything that was before, is gone now. Corpses litter the landscape and they find little to eat, wear, or use because everything has been ransacked before by others. Apparently the destruction, whatever it was, happened years ago.

The redeeming part of the story is the love and trust between the father and son. They are everything to one another. I guessed the boy to be between seven and ten, but he has been aged by the horrors he has seen and experienced on the road. He remembers nothing else. I kept hoping for something good to come out of it, although I couldn’t see how that would be possible.

The grammar is very simple, and most of the sentences are short. Most of the vocabulary is common as well, but then there will be a sentence like “He rose and stood tottering in that cold autistic dark with his arms outheld for balance while the vestibular calculations in his skull cranked out their reckonings” (p 15).  There are a lot of sentence fragments, and for some reason contractions are written without apostrophes (e.g., didnt) and dialogue without quotation marks (that’s common these days). An English language learner who could ignore these things would understand the story at least as well as I did, but why you would want to read it is another question. It won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into a movie, and I kept reading until the end, but I guess I prefer my fiction to more more uplifting than this was.

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Shanghai Girls

Posted by nliakos on February 25, 2012

by Lisa See (Random House 2009, 2010)

Narrated by Pearl, Shanghai Girls tells the story of Pearl and her younger sister May, born to wealth and privilege in pre-war Shanghai. At 21 and 18, Pearl and May earn their own money by modeling for “Beautiful Girl calendars”, wearing mostly western clothes and showing rather more skin than is proper for young Chinese women. They speak fluent English and Pearl has just graduated from college. She is in love with the artist who frequently paints them. Pearl and May do not respect their parents as good Chinese daughters should, but life is good and full of promise. At the beginning of the book, I rather dislike the two sisters. They are empty-headed and spoiled.

Abruptly, their world collapses. Their father has gambled away the family’s wealth and has promised Pearl and May as brides for the sons of “Old Man Louie” in Los Angeles, as a repayment for his debts. Pearl and May are forced to go through with the weddings, and Pearl even sleeps with her husband, Sam, but neither girl intends to show up to take the boat for California. However, the “Green Gang” comes after them on behalf of Old Man Louie as the Japanese are attacking Shanghai.  They barely escape with their mother and then undergo horrors as they try to distance themselves from the besieged city. In the end, after many troubles, they do end up in Los Angeles, but the promised wealth and beautiful houses turn out to be a pack of lies. Old Man Louie is relatively poorer than their family was. But there is no going back, as the Communists follow the Japanese in Shanghai. Pearl and May must make their lives in Los Angeles as best they can.

This is a great story, well written and with a lot of historical detail. I learned a lot and enjoyed it.  Advanced English language learners, especially Chinese students, will probably find it enjoyable as well.

Posted in Fiction, Recommended for ESL or EFL Learners | 1 Comment »