Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Wasn't this also a movie? In my opinion, too many books are made into film. I prefer to use my imagination and get more in-depth descriptions through the pages of a book than getting the condensed version on screen. As I jump off my soapbox...

I came across Snow Flower and the Secret Fan on CD at my local library. It's tells of Chinese women in the 1800s and how their lives are so completely controlled and predestined for them by the elder men and women in their lives. Lily spends the majority of her day in the women's chamber; a one-window room within the house that isolates the females from the males in the home. Her feet were bound by the time she was seven; just after she was paired with an "old same" (an emotional match of friendship, in the same vein as arranged marriages). Lily's laotong was Snow Flower. The girls communicate with each other using nu shu, a form of secret writing, only taught to women. Lily tells of her life, friendship with Snow Flower, marriage, family, deaths, plagues and children.

Lisa See seamlessly intertwined a history lesson with beautiful prose. Her description of foot binding was very graphic, and while westerners may have a difficult time understanding this ancient tradition, the author put a light on the subject that helped me to understand the reason women underwent the painful and crippling process.

In the end, Snow Flower... is just a lovely story about women and friendship. It's quite unlike anything I have read before, but I truly enjoyed it.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Stolen Innocence

Wow. What can be said about growing up in such a cult-like religion as the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS)? I think unless you are a member, no one could possibly understand the reasoning to why people believe what they do in the FLDS. The difference between "regular" Mormons and the Fundamentalists is the belief in polygamous marriage. That in itself is enough to make my stomach turn. The FLDS believe that the more wives a man has, the better chance he has of reaching Zion (I prefer to call it Heaven).

Stolen Innocence is written by Elissa Wall, and it's her story of growing up among these lunatics and being forced to marry her first cousin when she was only fourteen. The majority of the book reads like a very long newspaper article in that it just states fact after fact. While I realize she is not an author by education, I think the assistance of Lisa Pulitzer could have helped make the autobiography read more like a story than a long statement of facts. It wasn't until the last 100 pages that I was really enthralled as the trial of Warren Jeffs, the FLDS prophet, took place.

Elissa's early childhood was happy enough. She had an extremely loving mother and father, and numerous (I think about 11) siblings. Her mother was her father's second wife. Once he took in a third wife, her life started to change. There were almost fifty people living in the house, as you can imagine would happen with three women constantly giving birth, and dissension among the wives began. In the church, this is looked upon as though the husband doesn't have control of his family and can be very dangerous. The husband can be taken away from his multiple wives and children and they are in turn "reassigned" to a new man. When this finally did happen to Elissa, her siblings and her mother, they were placed in a new home and were now to consider the new man their father and husband, respectively. Are you following? Yeah, it's that ridiculous.

Shortly before Elissa's fourteenth birthday, her new father told her she was to be married. Elissa immediately knew this was something she was in no way ready for, and especially because her chosen husband (FLDS marriages are all arranged by the prophet) was her first cousin, a man in which she despised. She fought until the day of the wedding, pleading with everyone that she was too young and that the match was not right. She was told to "keep sweet" and go with what was her destiny. To do otherwise is to go against God's will and will lead to damnation.

After three years of mental, physical and sexual abuse, Elissa was able to break free of her husband and the FLDS people. Unfortunately this meant that she would not be allowed to see her mother or her two youngest sisters again. While the decision for her was beyond difficult, it was necessary to save herself. The book ends with the verdict in the trial against Warren Jeffs, the leader of the FLDS, and the accusation that he conspired to rape of an underage girl.

This book is literally ripped form the current headlines, as this trial just ended in April 2008. A lot of the time while reading it's very evident the haste that went into getting this book on press quickly. I have never read a book with more typos. At one point I saw errors on three consecutive pages. I'm not sure why this book had to be released in the same year as the trial, but it clearly shows the urgency. The last few pages are even about the raid on the Texas ranch that happened just a few short months ago.

Although I can go on and on about how backwards these people seem to me, I at least now have a little better understanding of the way they live and why they believe what they do. While I will never come close to agreeing with any part of this religion, it was easy for me to see that when someone is born into it, they no nothing else, so have no reason to question its motives. This was a harsh dose of reality for me and I am more than ready to get back into my happy world of fiction!

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Meme : Pressure

My pal over at Dog Ear Diary had another great meme last week. And since I was just talking about this very topic last night, I had to comment. I also added another twist to the question. What are your thoughts?

Have you ever felt pressured to read something because ‘everyone else’ was reading it? Have you ever given in and read the book(s) in question or do you resist? And if you really don't like the book, do you force yourself to finish it?

I have a terrible, somewhat displaced loyalty to books. Especially when someone recommends one to me. And I actually love to get recommendations from friends. To me that's the best way to add books to my must-read list. If I struggle with one that was suggested for me, I usually force myself to finish just so that I can give an educated review of it to the recommender. I need to stop doing that! There are so, so many books on my list that I shouldn't waste time with one that isn't entertaining me. I need to acknowledge and move on. Period. But what of my loyalty?? I will try harder.

Perfect example: Last night my dear friend was telling me how she is now trying for the second time to get through Bel Canto. She is really struggling, but since it's on my top ten list of favorite books, she feels it necessary to reach the end. She even went as far as to say that she has to force herself to pick it up and read another chapter. I assured her that although I loved Bel Canto, I understand if it isn't her cup of tea. I know some people who also think it's one of the best and still more who can't get through it. Believe me, my feelings aren't hurt if you don't like it. That's what makes us all unique and wonderful : our different tastes in fiction!

And for the record, Bel Canto rates:

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