Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Home by Toni Morrison

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
145 pages

Morrison's tenth novel tells the story of a young man named Frank Money who is struggling to reclaim his sense of self when he returns to his country after the Korean War. In the beginning of the book he escapes from a mental hospital where he doesn't recall how he got in there and flees South to rescue his dying sister Cee.

In the beginning of each chapter Frank reveals an event from his past that played a significant role in his development--specifically things that haunt him. He talks about witnessing a group of white men bury a black person's body with his sister and about a little Korean girl that was killed while he was on watch during the war. Each of these anecdotes connect to the larger narrative about him facing his past.

He chooses to go back to Georgia where he grew up to save his sister's life after receiving a letter about her health. He left behind living in the security of his hard-working, but fed up girlfriend's apartment in Chicago and travel alone despite his fears about his psychological stability.

Cee also fled from Lotus to escape from her past. She was jilted by a smooth talker who married her to take her grandmother's car. Cee was too embarrassed to go back home and stayed in the city. She found a job working for a doctor who performed experiments on her and was responsible for her near-death condition.

By the end of the novel Frank and Cee reunite and begin their path of healing mentally and physically. Frank begins to see that Lotus isn't as bad as he thought it was and Cee gains strength and newfound self-worth. They find the bones of the person the white men buried and give him a proper grave site. The last scene of the book where they walk back home is touching and poignant. I nearly cried.

Home is a simple, quick read. It isn't as heavy and complex as Toni's other works, but it has a strong message that doesn't need a momentous plot to get the point across.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Other Side of the Sky by Farah Ahmedi

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
249 pages
The Other Side of the Sky is 2006 memoir written by Farah Ahmedi with Tamim Ansary that takes readers on a young girl’s journey from the war struck cities of Afghanistan to the frantic refugee camps of Pakistan and finally to the United States. Over a ten year period Farah goes through some of the most painful experiences imaginable, including losing her left leg after stepping on a land mine when she was seven years old to losing her father and her siblings after a bombing on her place of residence. She endured so much horror and confusion that it takes a lot of strength and courage for her to share her life’s story at just nineteen years old to offer inspiration and guidance.

Farah is initially reluctant to talk about her life, but a close friend of hers named Alyce assures her that even though she is still young, her story of survival is amazing and worth telling. Farah agrees to write this memoir and the results show that Alyce was right for encouraging her because Farah has a remarkable and unforgettably uplifting story to tell.

Farah opens her memoir with a prologue where she explains who she is in the present day and how she wonders about her past, and its effect on her. She then tells the readers she wants her story to show that she hasn’t lost her ability to love and dream despite everything she went through. Farah does an excellent job setting up the tales from her childhood by first describing a recent incident that causes her to have a shocking flashback, then moving through her life in chronological order to get to her current life in America.

The technique of moving from a recent episode that connects to her past life works brilliantly because readers get a sense of who Farah is as a person now, and then get an immediate opportunity to learn how she gets to where she is today. This strategy works well because Farah tells each chapter of her life with such precision that you never feel like something in the plot is out of place or unnecessary. In fact, Farah tells us nearly everything we need to know: what she is thinking, her reason for thinking the way she does, how she is coping with her problems, and how she feels about the things she witnesses and suffers through. She also gives vivid descriptions of the setting and time period to the best of her ability and admits what she doesn’t know and why she doesn’t know it. There is such a raw authenticity to her voice that at times you feel like you are having an actual conversation with her.
Throughout all the tragic events, particularly the land mine accident and her family’s deaths, Farah manages to keep a certain calm in the writing that can be unnerving at times, as if she is trying to block out the pain of the memories, and that is understandable. However, there is a sense that she is holding back in the chapter “Losing My Family” when she sees her house in ruins and the bodies of her father and sisters covered by sheets in the street. The reader disconnect occurs because Farrah’s descriptions seem to be told from an apathetic bystander’s perspective. On the other hand, it can be said that she is still feeling numbness towards the event even as she was writing about it.

This apparent apathy is removed completely in the most touching chapter of the book “Talking to God”, where Farah finally allows herself to feel pain and breaks down by asking God to help her and her mother to move on from their intolerable living conditions as servants in Pakistan. There is a poignant scene where Farrah silently cries and submits herself to her faith and then sees a shooting star that she takes as a positive sign from God. From that point forward her life and her mother’s transforms for the better in a miraculous manner. Farrah’s recounting of her trip from Pakistan to America provides startling proof of how believing and having hope made a huge difference in her current situation and her future. By the end of the memoir it is clear from Farrah’s attitude and her progress that she has achieved her aim of providing a great example of how overcoming hardships can lead you to becoming a better person. The story of this brave, young Afghan woman is a testament of the strength of the human spirit and is highly recommended for readers looking for a role model and inspiration.