Archive for May, 2011

Cannonball 23: First Meetings: In the Enderverse by Orson Scott Card

First Meetings: In the EnderverseFirst Meetings: In the Enderverse by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Back when I was working my first real job as a receptionist for a small local homebuilder, one of my coworkers gave me a book that she said I just had to read. It was science fiction, and despite never having read any sci-fi, I chalked it up to books for geeks who were so engrossed in their own arrogance that they didn’t have time to develop any literary taste. But she was a nice lady, and so enthusiastic, so I read it just to humor her.

The book was Ender’s Game, and I’ve since devoured all of Orson Scott Card’s books about the Enderverse, as it’s so geekily called.

A friend of mine lent me First Meetings: In the Enderverse, and it was a nice look into how the character of Ender came into being, but it didn’t have the same weight as Card’s books about Ender.

The book is a compilation of four short stories arranged in chronological order. The first, “The Polish Boy,” is about Ender’s father, John Paul, and his Roman Catholic Polish family. There are parts that foreshadow his eventual openness to having a Third child (Ender, of course) in a day and age when most families were limited to two children.

“Teacher’s Pest” describes how John Paul meets and woos Theresa, who will eventually become Ender’s mother, and how the Intergalactic Fleet (IF) had a hand in arranging their meeting.

“Ender’s Game” takes us through the tail end of the novel by the same name, and how Ender ends the Bugger War.

“Investment Counselor” tells of how Ender first meets Jane, his artificial intelligence investment counselor, and how he becomes a speaker for the dead.

Perhaps because they’re short stories, you don’t really get too deep into the new characters introduced in these books. But they make for an entertaining read, even if they’re not as gripping as Ender’s Game.

If you simply can’t get enough of Ender, then reading First Meetings might be just the thing to take the edge off.

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Cannonball 22: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah's KeySarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A friend of mine recently observed: “You’re so funny when you don’t like stuff!” She’d just listened to me lambast the Lakers as they lost Game Two to the Mavs, and I was merciless in my assessment of their lazy passing and sloppy ball-handling (IMO, the Mavs didn’t win the series as much as the Lakers lost it). But the first thing she ever heard me lay into was this book.

We read Sarah’s Key for our book club. I was excited to read it; a Holocaust story? That’s like a free throw. If you miss that shot while standing still with no one defending you, then you have no one to blame with yourself.

Well, Tatiana de Rosnay’s shooting percentage must be awful because Sarah’s Key, a book that should’ve been an emotional slam dunk with de Rosnay hanging off the rim, mad-dogging the shattered reader she just posterized, was instead an airball that sailed into the crowd and beaned the reader right in the face.

kobe poster

Kobe Bryant posterizing Dwight Howard back in 2009. Those were happier times.

There are two main storylines in the plot. The first one is about Sarah, a young Jewish girl living in Paris during the German occupation. The second concerns Julia, an American expat journalist who discovers Sarah’s story. I like to call them “Vaguely Interesting” and “Rage-Inducingly Idiotic,” respectively.

Each chapter alternates between telling Sarah’s and Julia’s stories. Once again, the Sarah part of the book was tolerable; if the book had been entirely about Sarah, it might have merited as high as three stars out of five. But, no: about a third of the way into the book, the author inexplicably decides that Sarah’s story is finished, and the latter part of the book is all about Julia.

Just so you can get a flavor of Sarah’s story, let me sum it up for you. She and her family are rounded up by French police in the infamous Vel d’Hiv Roundup, in which thousands of Parisian Jews were held in the Vélodrome d’Hiver, an indoor bicycling track, and detained for several days without food or water. Before Sarah and her parents are hustled out the door, her brother Michel refuses to leave, so Sarah locks him into a hidden cabinet behind a wall panel. Because she doesn’t believe they’ll be there for long, she promises him that she’ll come back and let him out when it’s all over.

hiding

Of course, it’s not over for a long time. Sarah is separated from her parents, but she is able to sneak out of the Vel d’Hiv with another little girl. They wander around for a while until they’re taken in by an elderly French couple living outside Paris. But, all the while, Sarah remains determined to keep her promise to her brother. I’ll give you three guesses how that turns out, since it’s a Holocaust book and Sarah’s story ends in the first third of the book.

SPOILER ALERT!!!

Ehay iesday inyay ethay abinetcay ecausebay eshay ouldn’tcay etlay imhay outyay inyay imetay.

That part of the book was decent.

It was the Julia part of the story that I really couldn’t stand. Julia’s been living in Paris for many years, and she’s married to a Frenchman and they have an eleven-year-old daughter. Their marriage is rather rocky, and the most emotionally mature person in the family is, of course, the eleven-year-old daughter. I mean, come on.

But what’s really infuriating about Julia is that she is one of the stupidest characters ever committed to the printed page. She supposedly speaks perfect, accentless French, and complains that her in-laws still refer to her as “l’Americaine.” What do you expect them to call you? The Native Frenchwoman? Because you’re not, you know.

marie catoinette

When she finds out about the Vel d’Hiv Roundup, she excitedly chatters to her husband (with whom she already has a rather strained relationship) about how she can’t believe how the French covered this up and how she can’t understand why no one wants to talk about it with her. Um, maybe it’s because you’re an American writing a a news story about this shameful event in French history and it’s going to make them look bad. And, also, maybe it’s because your husband wasn’t even born when it happened and he really doesn’t know much about it.

Julia is the stereotype of the obnoxious American, always asking inappropriately probing questions and kicking in figurative doors without knocking first and then demanding that the occupants explain why they’re so upset with her as she tap-dances on their battered door.

And, somehow, she manages to make Sarah’s story all about her. Sarah’s story deeply moves her, and she demands that everyone else care about it just as much as she does just because she does. Look, I love the Lakers, but if you don’t, then we can talk about something else. I’m not going to force you to love what I love and then judge you for not loving it as much as I do (especially considering what a crapper their postseason was). But Julia insists that everyone around her obsess about what she’s obsessed with and then complains when people find that off-putting.

Tatiana de Rosnay is French, and she says that she has a lot of expat friends. Well, her friends must be serious bores if this is de Rosnay’s depiction of American women. Don’t do us any favors, Mme. de Rosnay. I may find the need to write a book about snooty French authors who think they can understand what it’s like to be an American expat in France who thinks that she knows what it’s like to be French. If I were friends with Mme. de Rosnay and I read this book, we would have a serious falling out in full “Jersey Shore” fashion with fingers in faces and shoving in high heels after I read this book.

lolcat jersey shore

Hint: I'm the dog.

Only slightly less annoying is de Rosnay’s portrayal of Julia’s eleven-year-old daughter, Zoë. Zoë is always there to comfort her mother and to reason with her and encourage her. She’s always calm. When she finds out that her parents are (SPOILER!!) ettinggay ivorcedday, she responds with understanding and reassures her mother that it’s the right thing to do. No eleven-year-old I know, no matter how precocious, would respond this calmly to this kind of news. Sounds to me like she’s a sociopath. I’m guessing that, when she’s not comforting her mother, she’s burning holes into her dolls’ eyes and torturing kittens.

Ultimately, I disliked the book because it was supposed to be a Holocaust story, and it wound up being about a whiny, self-absorbed American instead. It’s been a long time since I was this angry at a main character.

By the way, de Rosnay seems especially fond of a very thin trope in which she doesn’t tells us the names of people until it’s “naturally” revealed by others. We don’t even see Sarah called “Sarah” directly until the third or fourth chapter about her. “The girl” does this and “the girl” does that, and her identity is supposed to be a mystery, but it’s like, come on, the book is called Sarah’s Key. Obviously, her name is Sarah, so can we stop pretending we don’t know who she is and move on, already? I don’t know if de Rosnay was trying to make the book more mysterious or what, but, either way: FAIL.

fail

Writing a compelling Holocaust story: FAIL.
Moving the plot along effortlessly: FAIL.
Subtly revealing various facts about the characters: FAIL.
Writing a sympathetic main character: EPIC FAIL.
Book as a whole: You tell me what you think I’m going to say. If you’re a fan of de Rosnay’s you’re probably going to string me along without telling me what you really think before answering a completely different question that I didn’t even ask.

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My Funny Family: My Father, the Artist. Or Should I Say, “Artiste?”

I don’t generally make personal anecdotes the focus of my blog posts. After all, this is “Book Bloggy Blogg,” not “The Real Lim Shady.”

But after having told these stories time and time again, I have decided that they must be immortalized on the internet for future generations to see and ponder.

A short intro to my family: we are crazy. Not, like, ghetto crazy with beatings and guns and drug use (except for certain members of our extended family. On my dad’s side. Of course). More like quirky, head-scratcher crazy. People who know me and my two sibs (sister ,Henee, and brother, Jeeho, whom I call “Hen” and “Hoj,” respectiviely) always say that we’re weird. But then they hear stories about my parents, and they go, “Ohhhh.

Well, my dad’s been retired for almost ten years, now, and he’s been making good use of this time. When he’s not planning vacations with friends or cooking up business ideas, he’s painting.

Artist

Chang Kyun Lim, Artist. Oil on canvas. 24" x 30". 2010. Also, this isn't a portrait of my dad. It's a portrait of his friend, who looks a little like him and is also an artist.

My dad’s actually very good, technically speaking. His paintings are quite realistic, and his technique is excellent. It’s just that… well… his concepts aren’t exactly what most people would call art.

For years, he just did random landscapes and random still lifes — but of weird items, like a banana and an old, hollowed-out ostrich egg with a Bible stuck in a garish bowl that he picked up at some garage sale. Then, he started painting recreations of photographs from National Geographic. I don’t think he realized that that’s kind of like artistic plagiarism. He’s basically stealing the photographer’s artwork, right? I don’t think he acknowledges photography as an art form.

Well, just when I thought his concepts couldn’t get any weirder, he started taking art classes at the local community college. As it is, every wall in our house was plastered with his paintings. Now, they’re leaning up against all of our furniture, and they’re slowly filling up the room my sister just vacated.

And his take on his assignments was… well, interesting, to say the least. His first assignment was to create a work depicting all of the evil in the world. He got right to work, making me print out photographs of all kinds of random things. He also began clipping photographs from his old issues of National Geographic (his go-to for inspiration).

One day, he burst into my room excitedly. “Look at this!” he cried, shoving a page from his favorite magazine in my face.

I looked up from my work at the photograph he was waving. “What’s that? A frog?”

tree frog

“Yeh, but look what he doing,” insisted my father, with barely-suppressed glee.

I peered closely at the picture. “What? He looks like he’s just sitting on a stick.”

“No, he pray! He pray!” shouted my father impatiently.

I looked again. Yes, his sticky, little fingers almost looked as though they were clasped… and his eyes were just about closed…. “I guess,” I shrugged.

Disgusted by my lack of enthusiasm, my father left my room as abruptly as he entered it.

A few days later, he returned to my room. “How you spell, ‘Frog Prayer?'” he inquired.

“Huh? You mean ‘A Frog’s Prayer,’ or just “Frog Prayer?'” I asked.

“Which one you think better? For my painting.”

“Um… I don’t know. ‘A Frog’s Prayer,’ I guess.”

He made me write it down on a piece of paper. I obliged him, and then forgot all about it.

Before I knew it, he had finished his work. He had connections with a Korean artists’ organization, and they arranged a gallery show in Whittier. He insisted that we all go. So, one day, my sister and I, with our friend Melanie in tow, went obediently to ooh and ahh over my father’s artwork.

When we arrived, I was astounded by the completed piece. In order to truly appreciate this significant work, I have to show it to you piece by piece. Remember, the assignment was to depict evil in the world today.

First, he starts off by depicting the world as the face of a watch. We are all living on borrowed time, people. Isn’t the detail incredible? Like I told you, his technique really is good. But as for concept… you’ll see in a minute.

afp1

We're all living on borrowed time.

And why are we all living on borrowed time? Because of all the evil in the world around us. Evil like:

afp2

Nuclear power.

afp3

War. War is bad, mmkay?

afp4

Evil like oil rigging.

afp5

Evil like Islam. Because Islam is totally evil, right?

afp6

Evil like Che Guevara. Apparently, Che Guevara was evil.

afp7

And sharks.

And who is this hurting? Who suffers because of all these terrible evils surrounding us?

afp8

Tree frogs.

As you can see, this tree frog is praying, pleading with God to rid the world of these evils so that he and his fellow frogs can live in peace. Isn’t this an exquisite moment to capture? Never mind that, in a painting, you could dress him as Martin Luther King, Jr., and make him recreate the “I Have a Dream Speech.”

Here’s the entire work for your perusal. Take a moment to drink it all in and bask in its profundity.

afp

Behold!

And the name of this deeply moving work of art? Surely, it must have a name as profound and mysterious as the work itself.

Are you ready for it?

Are you ready?

You’re sure you’re ready?

The work is entitled:

a froye praye?????

My dad must’ve lost the piece of paper that I wrote the title on. Oh, wells. When your art is this great, it speaks for itself.

And that’s not all, folks. This semester, he’s been taking a class on the human figure. That means that my house has been filled with sketches of naked people since January.

naked!!

I totally edited clothes onto these paintings. This is a PG blog. It bothers me that this girl can find time to do her hair, but not to find a shirt.

also naked!!

My dad did eventually paint clothes onto this one, but, at first, I was like, "Who gardens naked?? You're wearing a hat for sun protection WHY??"

Well, about two months ago, my dad asked to borrow my camera. He gave it back to me with the brusque command to burn these pix to CD.

?

?

??

??

???

???

And a few months later, I began to see sketches of this morbidly obese woman lounging about.

huh?

I did you a huge favor by MS Painting some clothes on her. TRUST me.

I saw her in a few different incarnations and sizes. While it certainly wasn’t my favorite thing to see every time I got back from taking my dog for a walk, I didn’t think it was all that weird, except for the fact that she was huge and naked.

Then, my dad started painting her onto a big canvas.

For weeks, she sat there, gradually being painted in. But there was no background behind her.

I stopped wondering what the finished product would look like.

I eventually got used to the sight of her.

I never put two and two together. But there’s really no way I could have put two and two together in the particular way that it actually came together.

Then, one day, Kahlua and I returned from a walk to see this:

OMG

Did she just… eat a corpse?

God only knows what he’s going to call this one.