Yemen, The Kite Runner, Toni Morrison, and Can You Forgive Her?

The Woman Who Fell from the SkyThe Woman Who Fell from the Sky by Jennifer Steil

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven’t read a book that made me laugh so much in a long time. Jennifer Steil left behind her New York life to spend a year in Yemen, editing a Yemeni newspaper. I’ve never been to Yemen (and what we hear about it in the American press is generally not good), so I was interested to hear a firsthand account. Steil had her share of trials and tribulations in Yemen, as well as a lot of fascinating and wonderful experiences, and writes about it all hilariously.

For example:

Faris has promised me an Arabic tutor, who has yet to materialize. I’ve taught myself enough to get around on my own, but here are a few phrases I’m desperate to know:
“None of the power outlets in my office is working. Can someone fix them?”
“Can you tell me when the toilet will be functional?”
“There is no water in the entire building.”
“There will be no newspaper if something isn’t done about the Internet.”
“Am I ever going to get the key to open my desk drawers?”

I also really enjoyed her portrayals of the women of Yemen, especially the ones who worked with her as journalists.

I would have given this book five stars, but for the final chapter, which has very little to do with Yemen and very much to do with Steil’s infatuation with the (married) British ambassador. She apparently considers her conquest something to brag about, since she does, even in her one paragraph author bio at the back of the book. So, it’s not a a very classy ending, but the book itself (possibly sans last chapter) is not to be missed.

The Kite RunnerThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

For starters, I was a little shocked to find this in the Young Adult section at my library. I don’t consider it to be appropriate reading for a 12-year-old. But then, it was my first time in the YA section, so maybe these types of themes and plot events are par for the course these days for literature aimed at teenagers.

Just as I felt with A Thousand Splendid Suns, the literary coincidences in the plot stretched credulity. I also had trouble relating the main character, and felt that some of the other characters were drawn with a very broad brush.

That said, it was a reasonably good book, and Hosseini is important just for being a sympathetic and powerful voice out of Afghanistan. I’m glad that he has achieved widespread popularity, because his books humanize something that feels very distant to many Americans.

The Bluest EyeThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. Toni Morrison is amazing, and this is an incredible debut novel. I’ve been wanting to catch up on the African-American experience for a while, and especially now that I moved to Florida just as the Trayvon Martin case erupted.

This is the first of Morrison’s books that I’ve read, and I’ll definitely be reading more. At least once I’ve recovered sufficiently from this one. This is a book full of human suffering, and definitely not for the faint of heart.

The structure of The Bluest Eye is strange, but perfect. I think much of the genius of it is in how Morrison humanizes even the characters that seem most despicable. The elegant simplicity of her metaphors and prose is exquisite, and the cadence of the dialogue unerring. This is a compelling, devastating novel.

Can You Forgive Her?Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

UPDATE:
This is not the first time I have reviewed this book. For months, I was stuck in the middle of the interminable hunting scene, unsure of whether it was worth continuing. In the end, Trollope’s lengthy novel prevailed simply by virtue of the fact that it is on my Kindle, and my Kindle goes nearly everywhere with me, including to places that are more boring to me than a painstakingly portraited 19th century fox hunt. About halfway through, I became addicted, and finished the last half in about a week. Trollope paints his characters beautifully and sympathetically, allowing us to empathize with and understand each one. His portrayal of George Vavasor was particularly good; almost Dostoevskian.

In the end, though, I am unable to suspend my disbelief enough to even temporarily accept his profoundly chauvinist viewpoint, historically typical though it might be. The women in the story (and the reader) essentially learn that when they are fortunate enough to attract a worthy man, they are far better off trusting his (and society’s) judgement than their own. Alice’s desire for independence and confidence in her own decisions are ultimately shown to be foolish and unbecoming. It’s true that Mrs. Greenow of the comic subplot does manipulate her situation and that of the people around her exactly to her satisfaction. But the only characters considered to be of true nobility and competence are men.

When speaking in the narrative voice rather than through a character, Trollope is particularly insufferable. This is not a mediocre three-star book. I vacillated between giving it one star and giving it five. If these damaging beliefs about marriage and the necessity of men to “preside” didn’t persist today, I might feel differently. As things stand, however, Trollope’s wit and brilliance are undeniable, but his worldview regarding the proper relationship of husband to wife and men to women is so unacceptable to me that I cannot in good conscience recommend this book. It’s possible that I might continue reading the series though. At any rate, I’ll probably at least download it to my Kindle, and we all know where that leads.

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One thought on “Yemen, The Kite Runner, Toni Morrison, and Can You Forgive Her?

  • July 23, 2012 at 10:09 pm
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    Thanks for sharing these! I want to read the book on Yemen and Toni Morrison’s book now.

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