Thursday, December 2, 2010

November Book Reviews: First They Killed My Father, Islands in the Stream, and A Moveable Feast

My Rating System: *OK, **Good, ***Great

by Loung Ung
Rating: **+

This book is about the Khmer Rouge invasion of Cambodia back in the early 80s. It is a true story of a girl named Loung Ung and what she and her family went through during the years of the Khmer Rouge's reign.

This was the first book I've ever read about true-life war. I am still completely astonished at the horrific things these people went through. It is unbelievable to me that human beings could treat each other this way. That they could torture and kill innocent people just for being there.

This book was just one heart wrenching scene after another. Loung was very young when the whole ordeal started... just 4 or so. She is very honest about what happened to her and her family and what reactions she had to different situations, good and bad. With all the horrible things that happened to her and her family, it is so sad to think that she was actually one of the lucky ones. One of the few people who didn't starve to death or die from disease or physical abuse. It is amazing to me that Loung could come out of that whole situation and still be a good person. She has every reason not to be.

"First They Killed My Father" was a huge eye opener for me. You hear about these things going on in other parts of the world and barely give them a second thought. People everywhere suffer so much every day and it makes me realize how lucky I am to not have to live my life in fear and to live in a country where I am largely protected from atrocities such as these.

by Ernest Hemingway
Rating: **

Although this wasn't my favorite Hemingway book, I still really liked it. It had a different feel to it than "The Sun Also Rises" or "A Farewell to Arms." "Islands in the Stream" is about a man named Thomas Hudson who in his civilian life is an artist and writer on an island in the Gulf Stream. He is also captain of a ship during World War II and directs a special mission to capture the Germans in the waters around Cuba. Part of the book is also spent talking about the man and his relationship with his sons and their mother.

It took me a little while to get into this book, but ultimately it sucked me in like the others. I can't help but love Hemingway's writing style. Hemingway isn't one to give you a warm and fuzzy happy ending though... so keep that in mind. I've come to prepare myself for the worst, although I'm not sure that helps much as I still get really attached to his characters.

by Ernest Hemingway
Rating: *+

"A Moveable Feast" is actually Hemingway's memoirs of life in Paris in the 1920s. Although he had tidbits of interesting things happen here and there, this just wasn't a really compelling read. Maybe I expected more talk about food and such, but I didn't like this near as much as his novels. There were a couple things that I took interest in, such as his quirky relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway was also very poor in the first years of his marriage, but didn't seem to mind it too much. He mentioned doing things such as wearing old sweaters as underwear. I'm not really sure how that works, but it was amusing nonetheless.

If you really want to learn more about Hemingway's life, this would be a good book to start with. However, If you just want to read a Hemingway book, I'd suggest one of his fictional novels.


Seth said...

It looks like I'm going to have to read 'First They Killed My Father'! I think it would be good to have a wake-up call about the atrocities that are going on around the world and also to experience that renewed sense of thankfulness for being an American citizen. On top of all that, I have worked with many Cambodians during my time as a production/test technician in Salt Lake City and I've occasionally heard bits and pieces about some of the awful things that happened to them - especially the older ones. Obviously, the Khmer Rouge invasion was a leading factor in motivating many of them to leave their homes and emigrate to the United State and I'd like to know more about it. All in all, I thought this was a really good review and I look forward to reading it for myself.

Paul said...

Ugh. To me, one of the saddest aspects of the Kmer Rouge was the U.S. reaction. We just pretended it wasn't happening. Right next door we had to stop the "red menace" in the form of Ho Chi Mihn. Because, you know, dominos and all. Which of course never happened. And yet, right next door was an actual human tragedy. But, I'd best stop thinking about it before I get too depressed.

Kudos on the Hemmingway though! I haven't read either of these, but my favorite of those that I've read is To Have and Have Not. They made it into a movie, which ain't bad either!

heidi said...

I just saw a documentary on PBS that you guys (Seth & K) might find interesting. It's about an American Cambodian woman, who grows up in this country, but whose family had all lived in Cambodia until right after she was born. She actually grows up knowing virtually nothing about their experiences, how they survived, even that her "brother" and "sisters" are, in truth, her half-brother and her cousins. At least, she grows up in comparative ignorance, until she embarks on her odyssey to Learn and Understand.

The documentary does contain some rather grim moments, but for the most part it's just... touching, engrossing, and, even, sweet. The daughter-documentarian's relationship with her father ends up being highlighted and I found some of their interactions so, so touching. (Definitely a good view for a daddy's girl like myself!)

But, damn. I can't remember what it's called. It was featured on either "Independent Lens" or "Global Voices", and it aired about a week ago.

I don't like dwelling on sad things, but I do recommend this documentary. I think it has the power to expand your capacity for compassion without being totally overwhelming and horrifying.

heidi said...

New Year Baby!

That's what it's called! I did a quick search and that's what it's called. :D

Karen said...

So many books to read! Paul, I'll definitely put To Have and Have Not on my list.

And Heidi, I'll stick that one on my list too so long as you promise it's not depressing. I just finished another book about child soldiers in Africa and I don't think I can take anymore sad stories!

Seth, you will be blown away at the horrible things these people went through. You can't even imagine.