Recent Reads #9
In the last post I said my blogging schedule will be a little on and off because of my deadlines and an exam but of course, I found myself procrastinating a little and ended up writing a recent roundup of books I've read for you guys. Keep scrolling if you'd like to read about what I thought of the Sellout, the Underground Railroad, and Empress Orchid!
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
This book begins with the protagonist, a black man, at the Supreme Court because he's charged with having a slave and segregating his hometown, Dickens, California. He's guilty of both. The story then goes back to the past to outline how he got to that point. The book itself is a satire and it details the narrator's upbringing with his social scientist father who home-schooled the narrator and how that shapes his character. There's a lot the way he was brought up but I feel like I never really connected with him as a grown up in the present day. The story deviates a lot from what I thought was the main purpose of the novel, examining race, racism, blackness in America, and I feel like this might be the reason why I didn't really love this book. The jokes in this book made me laugh out loud at times like when one character kept trying to rewrite American classics into more black-friendly books and changed the title of the classics. But even so, I feel like the satire in this book is almost too clever that I had a hard time understanding it. A lot of the references in this book was hard for me to fully understand because a lot of them are focused on America and more specifically, the California area. Even though it was a pretty short book, it just took me a while to read because I never strongly connected with the characters and the storyline just deviated too much for me to follow.
Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
When I was in Australia, we spent a good few hours in a bookshop talking about our favourite books and recommending books to each other. This was recommended by my friend and I knew I would like it from the beginning. Growing up, Ashley and I had Chinese nannies who used to watch Chinese TV shows with us. I remember a particular one called My Fair Princess which was based during the Qing dynasty. I don't remember much but I remember watching the scenes at the imperial palace and being amazed by it. I think this is partly why I connected with this novel so much and loved it too. It's about the main character Orchid, whose life is completely turned around when she enters a competition to become one of the Emperor's wives. It's about love, betrayal, and survival. I don't have much background on Chinese history but this read felt like a fictional autobiography and like the Underground Railroad that's next, it's always hard to grasp the accuracy and what's real and what's not in these books. Reading this, I was constantly going back and forth between the widely accepted idea of the last empress of China being very ruthless because that's not how she is depicted in this book. I did like it though, and am trying to find more books that deal with Chinese history so if you have any recommendations, let me know!
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I read this book when it came out and re-read it recently as I'm taking some modules on the American South. The novel is told in the third person, mainly following the main character, Cora, and her journey across the American South after escaping from slavery. Colson Whitehead re-imagines the underground railroad and manifests it in a physical form with real conductors, which I think is brilliant. The way that Cora journeys through different states give us an idea of the distinctness of each state and so the novel does a really good job in shedding some light on what slavery was like for slaves, freed slaves, masters, and the South in general. I'm thinking about writing one of my essays on this book about how historical fiction plays a role in society today - about how memory shapes us and how what we want to remember or forget shape what we seek out in history. Whitehead did a lot of research when writing this book by looking into things like slave narratives and interviews and that really comes across when reading the Underground Railroad. However, saying that, there are also parts that, I think, are deliberately inaccurate so that it makes us question the idea that slavery was something of a distant past. I really liked this book but I would have loved it more if the book's theme of the underground railroad was expanded a little more and other characters, apart from Cora, were developed more too.
As always, let me know if you have any book recommendations as I'm always adding more things to my list! I'll be back on Wednesday with another post you guys x