Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan

This audiobook kept my interest well enough, but it's nothing I would sit through again. The main character, Ruth, is a self-doubting, self-obsessed, self-bemoaning little wretch who isn’t happy with anything in her life or the forces beyond her control that are affecting it until she reads a forgotten manuscript written by her mother about her own life growing up in China. Then, everything connects and Ruth is happy and confident, writing her own stories instead of ghostwriting books for others.

Ruth isn’t the titular bonesetter’s daughter. Neither is Liu Ling, Ruth’s mother. The bonesetter’s daughter is Ruth’s grandmother, whose life is filled with tragedy and heartbreak, and who kills herself rather than see her daughter married off to her enemies. Hers is a woeful tale, so different than the luxury and comfort that Ruth lives in and complains about, depressing and unbelievable all at the same time. Looking back on it, I realize there were several times I nearly gave up on the book. If it wasn’t Ruth’s unquenchable angst (Let’s go out for pizza? I wonder what he meant by that? Doesn’t he like my cooking? Is he having an affair?) it was her mother’s tale of poverty and betrayal in backwater China. If it wasn’t for my pledge to finish whatever I start, I probably would have moved on after the third tape.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Shades of Blue and Gray: An Introductory Military History of the Civil War by Herman Hattaway

The entire war in 281 pages makes for a quick and sometimes enjoyable read, but I sometimes felt at a loss to explain why this was a military history. Some stuff at the beginning about the advancing weaponry and the tactics that lagged behind, and some stuff at the end about the establishment of a professional military class, but in between it seemed more like a quick tour of all the battlefields. One point that sticks with me is how early in the war it was considered cowardly to entrench, and how by late in the war the contest had become one of who could out-entrench the other. There were no trenches at Shiloh, for example, but the men who held and those who tried to take the sunken road began to see how important entrenchments could be. Maybe the best part of the book is the extensive list of suggested reading, with brief comments offered on each title. Maybe someday I’ll go back and try to read every one.