3. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

As I was reading this novel I realized how little I had learned about Japanese Americans being confined in “internment” camps.  I do remember that it was mentioned but certainly not dwelled upon.

This is a love story between Henry Lee, Chinese American and Keiko Okabe, Japanese American set in 1942, with a shift between the past and the present 80s.  The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 and anti-Japanese sentiment was on the rise.  So much so that Henry was told to wear a button on his jacket “I am Chinese”.  The back drop of the story is Seattle with its Japanese (Nihonmachi) and Chinese neighborhoods.  All of this with a sprinkling of jazz music to tie it all together.

Reading along you will discover the hatred of Americans towards Asians in general, but specifically towards Japanese no matter how integrated they were in the community because of the Japanese’s participation in World War II.  The wounds of the war trickled down to the depths of the average American – refusing to serve them in shops, confining them to their neighborhood with strict curfews, firing them from their jobs,etc.  All this until they were finally rounded up and bused off to “relocation centers”.  Beyond these hostilities an unlikely friendship was made between young Henry and Sheldon, a black man who is twice Henry’s age and who plays the saxophone on street corners for pocket change.  This life long friendship was a constant for Henry and was a sort of second family for Henry. Sheldon was full of wise and helpful advice for Henry.

I won’t go into anymore details because it’s tempting and I feel as if I’ve told you too much already.  It’s just a beautifully written story that you must experience for yourself.  It encompasses many various themes of literature like immigrating, loyalty, honor, the roles of mothers and wives, but particularly the father-son relationship. Moreover, Jamie Ford’s remarkable debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, has had much recognition since it was published in 2009. It’s been on many selections:  IndieBound NEXT List,  Borders Original Voices, Barnes & Noble Book Club, Pennie’s Pick at Costco, a Target Bookmarked Club Pick, and a National Bestseller, and named the #1 Book Club Pick for Fall 2009/Winter 2010 by the American Booksellers Association.

“Sentimental, heartfelt….the exploration of Henry’s changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages…A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don’t repeat those injustices.”

— Kirkus Reviews

“Jamie Ford’s first novel explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut.”

Lisa See, bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

I didn’t see the fab critics when I decided to read this book, but hope the ones above and mine will win you over..  This was one of my book club’s picks for 2011-2012.  I’m very delighted that I had a chance to read this book.  It left me feeling like the title “bitter and sweet” and taught me some more about my American history.  My book club met up yesterday to discuss the book and for once we were a full house and all in agreement with a lot about the book.  That was an amazing first too. I can tell you with all the different ages, backgrounds, jobs, and likes in general in the room a big thumbs up from everyone tells you that you will love it too!  Look out for Jamie Ford’s second novel in 2013.

Check out the link below for some pictures about World War II on the internment of Japanese Americans.

World War II: internment of Japanese Americans

2. The Science of Black Hair

Two years today I did a leap and big chopped* after transitioning* for four months to become natural.  I hadn’t seen my natural hair for more than 30 years.  I didn’t even know what my natural hair texture would be like.  The only thing I had to go on were many pictures of me with my long plaits hanging down on both sides, with hair ribbons and bows.  I’d completely forgotten everything about its texture and its length, but I did remember the discomfort of having my hair done, tender headed.  At the end of the summer in August 2009,  I was desperate for my scalp to stop itching after the last relaxer* that I had gotten on holiday in the States.  So I decided to only shampoo, condition, moisturize and air dry my hair during the transition period since my hair was very short anyway.  That went well until January 7, 2010 when I got fed up with scraggly ends which I was afraid would break, not to mention I was starting to look like a wet cat, and cut off all the relaxed ends.  I was left with 3cm of hair all over my head.  Somehow, I felt liberated and a lot of cold air on my scalp when I went out in the cold Normandy winter.  I regretted nothing.

Recently, natural hair has become more popular as an alternative to relaxing, weaves, and wigs. Although, black women who decide to big chop without having done research find their hair journey to be a trying and daunting task.  So, if there are any wannabee naturals, natural newbies, transitioners, loc wearers, or even relaxed hair wearers reading this post, I suggest you save yourselves the grief, the product junkie-ism, and wondering how to care for your hair.  Go out and get The Science of Black Hair!

This book is what we’ve all been waiting for.  It details everything from explanations on how hair grows, the structure of black hair, product analysis, regimens, children’s hair care, caring for relaxed hair, etc.  Everything is touched on in this book.  I read it in one week but my copy is full of highlights and dog-eared pages.  It’s the book you will refer to throughout your hair journey, whether you’re at the beginning or reached your hair goal.  There has been no other book like this written.

Basically, the book is about 250 pages and is separated into five major units:  1. The Science of Black Hair, 2.Healthy Hair Management, 3.  Working with Chemicals in a Healthy Hair Care Regiment, 4 Children’s Hair Care, and 5. The Hair-Total Body Connection.”  Under each of these units, there are various chapters that deal with the specificities of the unit, containing micrographic pictures (really cool!), graphs and information boxes.  There is a full in-depth index, a glossary, and product ingredient glossary in the back.  If you’re interested in doing more research on hair you can refer to Davis-Sivasthy’s references.  There you will find the references she used to write this informative book.  I also recommend buying the hardcover because it’s the kind of book you will refer to throughout your hair journey.

Today is my 2 year “nappy” anniversary and I’m proud to have made it from 3cm of hair length to the 21cm I have today.  I didn’t read this book until last week but it has confirmed the things I had to find out the long, hard way and enlightened me with new information, like the importance of a good balance between moisture and protein.  This is essential to healthy afro hair growth.  It’s also the most difficult to pinpoint because all afro hair is very different.  I feel as though after reading The Science of Black Hair that I’m getting even closer to perfecting this important combination.  Davis-Sivasothy has also added some Q and A street interviews, which add a certain authenticity to the book.  All in all an excellent, easy read and all for only $32.95 in hardback and $24,95 in paperback on Amazon.com

Look how far I’ve come.  After reading The Science of Black Hair I know I can go even further…….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those of you looking for supplementary information about natural hair there  are many hair care forums and You Tube channels that can help you along your hair journey.  My favorite hair care forum is NaturalSunshine.com.  Some of my favorite You Tube hair channels are MsRosieVelt, tastiredbone, africanexport, louloumatou, Naptural85, ahsiek1118, TheNaprika, 160Days2Lose2, tonidaley80, whoissugar, beuniquehaircare, FusionofCultures, and BlackIzBeautyful to name a few, but there are so many more……Once you start watching you won’t want to stop!

*Big Chop – BC: to cut off all relaxed ends of the hair leaving a very short afro known as TWA(teeny weeny afro)

*transition – growing out a relaxer and just trimming the ends regularly until all the relaxer is gone.

*relaxer – chemical processing the hair using a lye product, sodium hydroxide, which is put on the roots of the hair about every 6-8 weeks to keep the appearance of straight hair.

1. Annie John

Yesterday I spent a pleasurable day reading Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid.  Wonderful quick read, only about 148 pages and beautifully written!  This book was recommended to me by a friend who told me to start with Annie John but that she prefered other titles by Kincaid instead.  I also have Lucy on the TBR shelf so it will most likely be one of my 50 books of 2012.

Annie John is a coming of age story which takes place in Antigua.  Annie is young when the story begins and it continues on through her adolescence.  Annie and her mother have a close loving relationship that  slowly but surely develops into hate and despise.  What I loved about this novel were all the little stories that are recounted by Annie that illustrate what life is like on an island at this time.  Colonialism and strict education are the background of this story.  You practically feel the breeze and sun on your face. I can’t say any more than that because I’ll give everything away.

Elaine Potter Richardson is the real name of Jamaica Kincaid.  She was born in 1949 and grew up on the island of Antigua. In 1973, her family’s disapproval of her writing led to her name change. Kincaid writes on recurring themes in her books such as Caribbean tradition, mother-daughter relationships, shaping female identity in a male dominant society, and the lack of Antiguans to fully achieve  independence because of colonialism to note a few.  If you’re interested here is a list of some other interesting novels by Kincaid At the Bottom of the River, My Brother, The Autobiography of My Mother, A Small Place….

The Help

   This past summer I spent a blissful, hot and humid  5 weeks in my hometown New Orleans.  I usually spend the first week marveling over the changes and things that I’ve missed while living in France.  This time there was one thing I couldn’t miss and that was all the media attention that was being given to Katheryn Stockett’s The Help.  I couldn’t go anywhere without hearing, “What you haven’t read it, you better read it.  It’s great!”  All bookstores had The Help placed in the front of the store and in some right next to the cash register.  Being that I read quite a bit I started to feel left out, but then while watching television I was bombarded with critics on daytime talk shows.   The  trailer was shown constantly on television with its catchy upbeat music.  To me,  it seemed like a comedy.  I refused to go to the movie before reading the book.  It was the first book we would be discussing this school year with the NRs.  Needless to say, I spent most of the time with my eyes blindfolded and my ears plugged.  I felt as if I was on jury duty.

Finally when I got back to France I sat down exhausted from my long trip back and did nothing more for 3 days but read, sleep and eat.  When I finished the book I could see why some people were annoyed with it, especially those that lived through this period.  I could also see what people loved about it.  I think this book could get people talking about this period but not for the right reason nor the right discussion.  It seems to make light of some serious issues that black people were going through at the time.

What I liked about this book is the idea of learning about black maids during Jim Crow years, although this book doesn’t get into too much detail about that, since the issue of sexual harassment was not mentioned.   The character analysis was clear, lively.  They were described in detail. You could imagine what they looked like.   I must admit I fell in love with Aibeleen and Minny immediately.  The usage of dialect was a good idea although it didn’t look much like the dialect I had read in other novels.  it seemed to be extremely baby like.  It just looked like English sentences with words missing.  I’m still not sure why she kept writing Lord as Law.  Nobody says that in the south.

Anyway, this book will definitely be labeled the mini controversy of 20111.  I haven’t seen the movie but people have told me that it’s a tear jerker.  They also said that certain things were different.  Who knows maybe I’ll go see the movie when I have time. Check out the trailer below.  What do you think?

The Help Trailer

Blue Angel Literally

Saturday’s book club meeting went very well.  We always seem to have thorough, interesting discussions when the book is bad.  Ok, maybe bad is a bit strong – uninteresting.  That sounds better.

This novel is set in a fictitious secondary ivy league school(nobody’s first choice).  It’s small,  extremely expensive and the main character is a professor of creative writing (with tenure).  Actually, we weren’t sure how this character could have tenure only teaching one course and not really respecting his office hours.  It’s basically a story about academic life, relationships between professors and students, and how some men could react in a midlife crisis.

The good thing about this book  is the writing style of Francine Prose.  It flows and she writes well as a man who thinks a little too much of himself; who at times seems to behave like a headless chicken.  That’s contrary to the highly intelligent person he thinks he is.  The worse thing was that the story was totally predictable once you’d begun the first 60 pages.  That was a first for me.  All in all, I say read it at your own risk of wasting your time.  My book club is reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  We’ll be meeting on March 27 to discuss it.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will be a better read than Blue Angel, especially since I hate circuses.