Sacred Choices

by Christel Nani

The basic idea of this book is that we grow up with a lot of tribal beliefs: instilled by your family, your teachers, your religion and other groups you belong to.  While these beliefs are intended to protect you, they may not be appropriate for our time, and they may keep you from doing what your soul desires, causing a conflcit that can manifest as unhappiness, tension and even physical illness.  Some examples of such beliefs: “Marriage is forever and till death do us part,” “You should never leave a good job,” “You have to work long hours to succeed,” “Life is full of difficulties,” “Easy money is evil.”

The author sets out to help us identify our hidden tribal beliefs and rewrite it.  For unless you change these deeply rooted beliefs, all your positive affirmations and mantras on the mind level would not help. 

An example: a mother, stressed financially and psychologically by her son who stays dependent on her and unwilling to find a job, holds the belief: “A good mother always care for her children.”  Now she rewrites her belief as: “It is reasonable to believe that a good mother cares for her children by setting up boundaries and teaching them to be responsible and independent.”  She no longer feels guilty and shamed if she doesn’t provide for his unceased demands.

The message and the methodology is simple enough.  The bulk of this book is made up of examples, of before-and-after pictures of people with dysfunctioning beliefs about love, family, work, life, religion and money.  The examples are somewhat excessive, but increases the chance that you will find one close enough to your situation.  Each session has some examples of erroneous tribal beliefs and questions to help you undig any you may have. 

One of the exercises is word association.  It was quite an interesting exercise and useful as a basis to find out what area you need to work on.  I tried it out with friends and families, and indeed some will associated “work” with “hard” or “family” with “burden”.  It does get you thinking.

The list of words for association is:
Love, Friendship, Work, Money, Prosperity, Families, Grieving, Being a Good Mother, Being a Good Father, Marriage, Divorce, God and Spirituality, Religion,  Feeling Safe, Suffering, Worrying, Selfishness, Asking for Help, Forgiveness, Mistakes, Life, Happiness, Hopes, Dreams, The nature of Women, The Nature of Men, Sexuality, Childhood, and Childhood Wounding.

The author has a website with her name.  She has workshops and does readings for people.  I would be interested in the three day retreat workshop, though price-wise it seems a bit expensive, though I am sure it would be well worth the cost. 

Published in: on August 30, 2007 at 2:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

When My Name was Keoko

by Linda Sue Park

I ocassionally read children’s book to take a break from more serious reading, but this book is much more than a diversion.  It is likely among my top ten of the year.

The story, partly based on the experience of the author’s grandparents and with historically accurate facts woven in, centers on a Korean girl, Sun-hee and her old brother, Tae-yul, who grew up in a Japanese-occupied Korea.  Like many war stories viewed through the eyes of children, the simple and sometimes innocent episodes they described is all the more powerful in suggesting a cruelty and hardship that goes beyond their understanding.

I knew very little about the lives of Korean under Japanese occupation, and this little book is an excellent introduction to that slice of history, and to Korean culture in general.  It was intriguing how Sun-hee learned to write kanji, got popcorn from the popcorn man,  and was taunted at school as a Japanese Lover for excelling in class.  As Sun-hee grew up learning only Japanese, she did not have a “before” picture to compare against.  It took her a while to “notice” the fact that her best friends were Japanese and daughter of a “traitor”.  The  increasing hardship of the war did not escape her though, from the food her mother served to the change in the color of the mountains as they were stripped of their resources. 

On the other hand, her older brother started with a better understanding of the reality.  Thus he could not play with the rubber ball the school distributed in celebration of Japanese occupation of Malaya, he cared not to stay in the classes to be brain-washed, and he wanted to help destroy the enemy.   Inside Tae-yul, there was the conflict of a teenaged boy fascinated with airplanes, yet keenly influenced by his uncle to resist the enemy; burdened by the tradition to respect his parents, yet despising his father for allowing the soldiers to take his bicycle without a fight.

This is one excellent fiction of WW2.


Published in: on August 27, 2007 at 2:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Year of Wonders

by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders is a fictional work based on the real events of the 17th-century plague that was carried from London to a small Derbyshire village by a tainted piece of clothe.  As villagers begin, one by one, to die, the rest face a choice: do they flee the village in hope of outrunning the plague or do they stay?

I read this for The Reading Lounge’s  August bookclub.  In retrospect, my taste is rather morbid to have picked this book up in the library sale in the first place.  Who else would see “A Novel of the Plague” and say “interesting”?

Naturally, the book contains gruesome scenes of plague infection, render more gory by the author’s skill to create vivid imagery.   Some of the best scenes, however, are in the emotional landscapes of the various characters.   

The plague breaks out in the village, leaving 18 year old Anna not only a widow, but childless as well.  She works with Mr. Mompellion, the rector, and his wife Elinor, almost around the clock to tend to the sick , to comfort the dying, to help those living as sole survivor of a big family.   After the deaths of several families, I began to wonder where would the tale lead us, to carry the story on for many pages to come.  Several events transpire, showing us the best and worst of human nature.  The bacteria is not the only killer, as hatred, fear, greed and superstition kicks in.   After the death of Elinor (not a spoiler as this fact was made clear on page 2, the first part of the book written to date after the plague), events unfold that make me think, aha, I know that this is what will happen, I can smell that coming all along the way… when the crafty story takes a turn.  What would be the ending of a conventional historical novel spins off in a surprising new direction, making for an unexpected finale.   I am glad Brooks didn’t stop where most would have stopped, although the ending feels rather improbable.  An unreal conclusion to a hitherto very realistic historical tale.  

The decision for the village to remain quarantined is heroic; though on the other hand, as one of the characters points out, they really don’t an alternative to up and move.  The rich are the only one who can, and are they really evil for wanting to escape when they can?  It is ironic how the author wrote that, as they leave town, the villagers, instead of pelting them with rotten eggs and hissing, curtsy and take off their caps as signs of respect, just because they have been trained, since birth, to do so. 

Published in: on August 21, 2007 at 1:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Genius Factory

by David Plotz

A very entertaining story about the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank.  It is well researched with interviews with ex-employees, donors, the sperm babies and their mothers, in addition to the rich background information on eugenics and the sperm bank’s founders. 

It is chilling to read that the eugenics science in America has inspired Hitler’s genocide.  It is also sad and ironic how some sperm babies and their mothers may long to know and meet the donor as part of the family, while the donor could have no more thoughts than a porn star and a few hundred bucks pocket money when he produces that precious semen.

David Plotz is a witty and compassionate writer. 

Published in: on August 17, 2007 at 4:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Coffee Trader

by David Liss

I read this for my bookclub.  I would admit that if this were just a contemprary “financial fiction” I would have aborted the reading long time ago. However, with the historical background of Portuguese Jews in the 17th century, this becomes a much more interesting read; and while some of us felt that the business maneuvour is above our heads, the historical backdrop keeps us going.  The plot itself is quite brilliant, one layer of deception upon another, and until the last page, you don’t quite know who has the upper hand.

According to the author notes, this book was originally about chocolate.  While I can image Miguel’s sister-in-law becomes more lustful after munching some cacao beans, I don’t suppose Miguel can claim his energy and clear-mindedness from something other than a cup of joe.

A big part of our discussion centers on whether Miguel is a good or bad guy.  In that aspect, the author excels in portraying all characters in a very three dimensional manner.  Each is full of life and stands out with his/her own personality.  The book is rich in all the senses: the smell of the city, the colorful clothes of the merchants, the buzzing of the exchange, and together with the characters, recreates a very solid world of 17th century Amsterdam.

Published in: on August 17, 2007 at 4:08 pm  Comments (1)  

BookCrossing on NPR

Scott was the guest on Winsoncin Public Radio. An whole hour of
(or, date aug 15)

ResQGeek and Bookczuk called in, it was fun to be exclaiming excitedly to the speaker, oh, that’s someone I know, someone I met a few months back in Charleston!  As I told Scott, they even arranged a bookseller to call, and a teacher/member, how perfect!! 

Published in: on August 16, 2007 at 1:28 pm  Comments (1)  

The Rice Mother

by Rani Manicka

(This review contains spoilers)

Manicka’s first novel is a big, sprawling, absorbing multigenerational saga set in Malaysia. At the age of 14, Lakshmi is married off to Ayah, a man more than twice her age.  After they crossed the sea from Ceylon to Malaysia, Lakshmi is excited to see a big limo with driver waiting for them.  But the excitement soon turns to confusion as they drive pass a big house without stopping.  Finally, when the limo drops them off at a small house and Ayah takes off his gold watch and gives it to the driver, Lakshmi realizes that her mother has been mislead into thinking that her beloved daughter is married to someone rich. However, Lakshmi is strong and resourceful, trying to keep her six children safe, through the years of Japanese occupation and more.

When I started reading the book, I was curious how the author choose to tell the tale through so many protagonists, though it becomes clear towards the end of the story.  You feel like you are sitting with the different members of the big family under a tree in the courtyard, as each regales his or her own story, and each providing a different interpretation of the same event.  You can’t quite point the finger to say who’s wrong and who’s right.  In the end, you realize that most of them are just basically good but imperfect people who do not want to hurt others, who want to love the ones they care about, but somehow, somewhere, things gone wrong and there is no turning back.  And that’s the saddest of things.  Looking back, they could have made it better, but it’s too late.  Small hatres, small misunderstanding just take hold like a seed in the heart, and grow, and in the end snuff out the life and joy in the heart.   


I think the last words of Lakshmi to Ayah sums it up the best.   At his funeral, “she touched her lips to my father’s cold ears, but still I heard her whisper, ‘I ask the boon that in my next life, I am again given the same husband, for it seems I loved him all along.'”  I cried when I read that, and do so again when I type it now.

Published in: on August 6, 2007 at 3:54 pm  Leave a Comment