“No one in this world comes from nothing,” My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Lucy Barton says:
But there are times, too – unexpected – when walking down a sunny sidewalk, or watching the top of a tree bend in the wind, or seeing a November sky close down over the East River, I am suddenly filled with the knowledge of darkness so deep that a sound might escape from my mouth, and I will step into the nearest clothing store and talk with a stranger about the shape of sweaters newly arrived. This must be the way most of us maneuver through the world, half knowing, half not, visited by memories that can’t possibly be true. But when I see others walking with confidence down the sidewalk, as though they are free completely from terror, I realize I don’t know how others are. So much of life seems speculation (14).

I liked that Lucy said this. It feels like such an intimate confession. How many times have I walked down the sidewalk, believing that other people seemed to be very confident with themselves and their lives, while I was feeling like a lonely sinking ship out in the open sea? But the truth is, I think many people feel this sense of loneliness that Lucy describes. It’s just hard to tell because it’s not something that people advertise about themselves. When Lucy talked about being “filled with the knowledge of darkness so deep” that she feels the urge to strike up a conversation with a stranger just to tamper down that sense of loneliness, I felt multiple emotions. First, I immediately felt pity. Then, I realized that the person walking into a clothing store in November – escaping from the cold, and warming herself up with a light conversation with a stranger – could easily have been me. It’s possible to be surrounded by many people and still feel desperately lonely. From what Lucy said, I felt both pity and empathy.

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout is one of the strangest books I have read, mostly because the story doesn’t seem to flow from the beginning to the end of the book. The story is told in snippets that feel (to me, at least) as though they were arranged randomly. And honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it even by the end of the story. What I do know is that in the beginning of the novel, Lucy Barton is ill, and for most of the book, she is staying at the hospital to recover. Her mother comes to visit her, and while I know this now, when I was reading the book, I wondered if Lucy was imagining her mother. I had to pick up on textual cues, such as “the doctors looked at both my mother and me” (this is not an actual quote) to make sure that Lucy was speaking to her actual mother, and not the ghost of her mother. At times, I went back to these cues a few times, just to make sure.

While I understand that this book is about the complicated relationship between Lucy Barton and her mother, what I liked was when Lucy mentioned things about herself and her own life, especially things like this:

Looking back, I imagine that I was very odd, that I spoke too loudly, or that I said nothing when things of popular culture were mentioned; I think I responded strangely to ordinary types of humor that were unknown to me. I think I didn’t understand the concept of irony at all, and that confused people. (28)

From listening to the story of her life, I got to know the “internal” side of Lucy Barton. But for someone who doesn’t know this side of her, they may only see what is on the “outside,” which may be simple facts such as that Lucy Barton is a mother of two daughters. Oh, and that she has divorced her first husband (the father of her two daughters) and is now married to her second husband. Once, her mother-in-law (from her first husband) told someone that Lucy came from “nothing,” which could refer to the fact that when Lucy was growing up, her family didn’t own a house of their own. But this is no longer the case by the time Lucy tells her story. I think it’s even possible that if one were to pass Lucy Barton on the street, she may seem to be just another person walking down the sidewalk with confidence, even though this couldn’t be further from the truth.

This book reminded me that there are things we will never know about those around us unless they choose to share with us. I guess the same works for what we ourselves choose to disclose to others. In either case, Lucy Barton tells the reader:

“…this one is my story. This one. And my name is Lucy Barton.”


<Works Cited>
Strout, Elizabeth. My Name Is Lucy Barton: a Novel. Random House, 2016.



“We are not supposed to be friends…Did you know that?” The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

How different are we from one another?

Today, I was in line at the grocery store, and a lady was at the cash register, quietly beeping the products. I have seen this lady a number of times, and as I stacked my coffee, pasta, and yogurt on the register, I wondered if the lady could recognize customers by the products they bought. While my pile of groceries seemed mundane, I wondered, “What would be the craziest thing a person can buy at a grocery store?” Then I wondered about the lady, and I wondered what clothes she preferred to wear on her day off. My mother works as a cashier, and on her days off, she likes to enjoy her morning cup of coffee, and check on her kids who are living in different states, to see how they are doing. What about this lady? I wondered if she has kids? Grand-kids? Or, maybe, no kids? I wondered what kind of customers she saw everyday, what she thought of them, or whether she was curious about them at all. What does this all matter? It really doesn’t. I am just curious.

I first started thinking about this in high school. I was writing a story, and I found myself questioning why I was so shy in front of others. I tried to dissect all of the reasons for my shyness, and while I couldn’t find a suitable answer, I realized that, shy or not, people may not be all that different from each other. Behind the walls of our houses, we are all living similar lives. Or maybe not? Anyways, I was intrigued by this idea. It didn’t matter whether the person was my teacher, doctor, a librarian, or even my boss. I wondered what they were like – as a member of their family, and a member of their own circle of friends – once they took off their “uniforms” and felt free to show all of their quirks and idiosyncrasies. Why? I don’t really know.

Anyway, this came to my mind when I read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. There is a moment in the book when Bruno wonders why he and his new friend, Shmuel, are sitting on opposite sides of the fence. The only difference he can see is that Shmuel has on a pair of striped pajamas (and that Shmuel seems to be overly thin) while he himself has on ‘regular clothes.’ Bruno thinks to himself:

“What exactly was the difference?…And who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?”

I was stunned by this question. I found that this question resonates with so many moments in history, where people, who really aren’t that much different from each other, have acted cruelly and harshly toward one another because they were separated by different “uniforms.” In particular, I felt that Bruno’s question about who decided which people wore which uniforms was important. There are always people who are in power and people who are subjugated, but the why of the equation does not always seem to make sense. After all, Bruno and Shmuel are both boys. In an “ideal” world (if such a world exists), both should be able to imagine a bright future for themselves. Instead, one of these boys suddenly finds himself and his family living apart from others, separated by a fence, and living a life of uncertainty and fear. And here, I find myself echoing Bruno’s question.

Bruno — a boy who thinks “Heil Hitler” means “Well, goodbye for now, have a pleasant afternoon” — cannot possibly figure out on his own why Shmuel and his family have to wear striped pajamas and live on the opposite side of the fence, unless someone explains to him. But even if someone were to give him an explanation, I wonder if Bruno would understand? Would it make sense to him?

And one final thought came into [Bruno’s] head as he watched the hundreds of people in the distance going about their business, and that was the fact that all of them – the small boys, the big boys, the fathers, the grandfathers, the uncles, the people who lived on their own on everybody’s road but didn’t seem to have any relatives at all – were wearing the same clothes as each other: a pair of grey striped pajamas with a grey striped cap on their heads.

“How extraordinary,” he muttered, before turning away.


<Work Cited>
Boyne, John. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Random House Children’s Books. Kindle Edition.

“The Price of A Maid”: Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chavalier

“The Price of A Maid”: Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chavalier

“He saw things in a way that others did not, so that a city I had lived in all my life seemed a different place, so that a woman became beautiful with the light on her face” – Griet

I have read this book about three times now. I think it’s fascinating how Tracy Chavalier thought of Griet’s story by looking at Vermeer’s painting. Every time I read this book, I am amazed by how Chavalier herself seems to be the true artist in this book from the way she paints the scenes for readers. For example, the story begins at Griet’s house, when she is about to meet Johannes Vermeer and his wife for the first time. Griet is chopping vegetables in her kitchen when she hears voices outside her door, “…a woman’s, bright as polished brass, and a man’s, low and dark like the wood of the table [she] was working on” (3). In their voices, she hears “rich carpets…books and pearls and fur” (3), while in her mother’s voice, she hears “a cooking pot, a flagon” (3). It is the way Chavalier phrases things, like how Vermeer speaks his wife’s name “as if he held cinnamon in his mouth” (4) that draws me to this book.

What stands out to me the most is the story behind the earrings Griet wears in the painting. It didn’t occur to me in the past, but for some reason, I realized how unhappy I was for Griet and how her story turned out. When Catharina sees her husband’s painting of Griet, she raises hell, as everyone expected her to. She turns to her husband and asks, “Why have you never painted me?” and he says to her, “You and the children are not a part of this world. You are not meant to be” (215). Even though he loves her, and speaks her name as if he held cinnamon in his mouth, he seems to have a clear boundary between the world that belongs to his paintings, and the world that doesn’t. Therefore, despite the strong feelings Griet has for him, in Vermeer’s eyes, Griet may have just been a maid, albeit an interesting one. When Vermeer asked her to wear his wife’s earrings for the painting, Griet had refused, saying “Maids do not wear pearls” (194). To which Vermeer replied, “You know that the painting needs it, the light that the pearl reflects. It won’t be complete otherwise” (195). So in the painting, Griet is looking over her shoulder, her wild curly hair hidden, her mouth slightly open like Vermeer asked, with Vermeer’s wife’s earrings in her ears. For such a painting, she had to sacrifice her position as a maid. Although, the fact that she, the maid, had feelings for Vermeer, an artist with a family, was never a good idea to begin with.

Book: Chevalier, Tracy. Girl with a Pearl Earring. Plume, 1999.


“Remember, Coco, you’re only a woman”: Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner

“Remember, Coco, you’re only a woman”: Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner

From C.W. Gortner’s Mademoiselle Chanel, I learned the secret behind Chanel’s logo… 

“Boy” Capel, the man whom Gabrielle Chanel (her birthname) loved and would never forget even after his death, warned her once by saying, “Remember, Coco, you’re only a woman.” Boy was Coco’s most loyal friend and supporter, as well as lover, and even as he warned her, he did everything he could to help Gabrielle Chanel achieve her goals. He also told her, “What we do not earn ourselves…is never truly ours. It can always be taken away. But even if we lose everything we work for, the achievement is ours forever.” This helped Gabrielle as she made sure that what she achieved belonged to herself, including the shops she opened where her various clothing items would be sold. After Boy’s unexpected death, Gabrielle Chanel made him part of the logo that anyone would recognize even today:
“Capel and Coco, Coco and Capel, Capel and Coco . . . C and C. In time, I would revert the positions, interlocked but facing outward, independent yet together. Always. It would become my emblem. It was how I would honor him.”

Even though Gabrielle was fierce and passionate about her work, one thing that she dealt with throughout her life was the expectation that women needed to be married to rich men to be satisfied for the rest of their lives. Right now, I am at an age where women usually get married and have children. Actually, if I were still in Korea, it would have been considered a late marriage for someone at my age, and I’m still in my late twenties. I don’t have thoughts of marriage on my mind, but I am constantly wondering if I should. In C.W. Gortner’s Mademoiselle Chanel, Gabrielle Chanel wonders, “Did nothing else matter if I failed to accomplish the one feat that defined women? Was my lack of a husband and child to become the seed of my discontent…?” Even as she designed clothes for women that made them freer to enjoy everyday work, she still was faced with this barrier of society’s definition of “woman.” If someone were to ask me the question: “What is more important to you – marriage, or career?” I would not know what to say because I honestly do not know the answer. Therefore, I found it admirable that Gabrielle Chanel was aware that for her, work was more important than anything else.

I was also reminded of my sister while reading this novel. Similar to Gabrielle Chanel, my sister is passionate about fashion, always coming up with her own designs, and creating her own pieces. She is also unwavering in her belief that she will make something of herself, and as far as I am aware, marriage is not on her mind at the moment. Even as Gabrielle Chanel doubted herself at times, she was unwavering in her belief in her goals, and she pursued them with dogged determination. As for myself, I am still wavering in what exactly it is that I want for myself, even to this day. For this, I admire people like Gabrielle Chanel and my sister, for their strength, insight, and determination.

Coco Chanel left behind to the world a design of clothes that allow women to move more freely, to feel unique, and to feel beautiful. In his novel, C.W. Gortner quotes Coco Chanel who once said:
“Simplicity is true elegance. A woman is closest to being naked when she is well dressed. Her clothing should be seen only after she herself is.”


Work Cited:
Gortner, C.W.. Mademoiselle Chanel: A Novel. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

“I guess we can’t just pick the good things to remember, can we?”: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz

“I guess we can’t just pick the good things to remember, can we?”: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz

“The thing is, I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to know what it felt like to be drunk. You want me to explain this with logic? Well, where was the logic to loving? Where was the logic to dying in accidents? Where was the logic to cancer? Where was the logic to living? I was starting to believe that the human heart had an inexplicable logic. But I was also starting to get drunk, so I wasn’t trusting anything I was thinking.”
-Salvador from The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Do you know about the Sewol ferry disaster in South Korea? If you don’t, then check this link out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinking_of_MV_Sewol

Just when I was finishing this book, my co-workers and I were talking about this incident. Something about the idea of “inexplicableness” of life that Benjamin Alire Saenz portrays in his novel seemed to click with the “inexplicableness” of the incident of the Sewol ferry disaster. That day, as my co-workers and I remembered the tragedy, and I was finishing Saenz’ novel, rain poured down all day from the sky, and I thought that the sky, too, must have been crying over the loss of many innocent lives.

This is something that always puzzles me. There are people in the world who commit horrendous crimes who get to live luxurious lives, while there are people who spend their lives working hard and trying to do good who never get what they truly deserve. We grow up, learning from our teachers that we need to work hard and do what is right. Why bother teaching kids this when the world doesn’t work this way? And, really, what kind of world do we live in? How can our world be explained “logically” and “sensibly”?

Salvador’s father, Vicente, is a gay man. He and Salvador’s mother had both been students at Columbia, and when Salvador’s mother realized she was going to die without anyone to look after her baby, she asked Vicente to look after him, and he agreed. That was how Vicente and Salvador’s mother were married. Even though Vicente is not Salvador’s biological father, Vicente loves Salvador and cares for him as if he were the biological father, and Salvador also loves Vicente as if he were his biological son. “Logically,” this situation is a teensy bit complicated to make sense, but that’s how it works in Salvador’s world.

Salvador shares a memory:
The sky had cleared after a summer storm. I’d been crying, and he (Vicente) tried to get me to smile. “Your eyes are the color of sky. Did you know that?” I don’t know why I remembered this. Maybe it was because I knew he was telling me he loved me.

There are many things in Salvador’s life that don’t make sense – his grandmother’s cancer, his best friend Samantha’s mother’s death, and his warm-hearted friend Fito and his cold-hearted family – but with the guidance of his father, he is able to take things one step at a time. Saenz’s novel made me wonder about the illogical, unfair, and inexplicable things that happen to people, and how, most of the time, people miraculously make it through. Who can possibly provide a logical explanation as to why Salvador’s grandmother had to die from cancer, or why Samantha’s mother had to die from a car crash? That day, before Samantha’s mother had died, she had written on the bathroom mirror with lipstick, “Just because my love isn’t perfect doesn’t mean I don’t love you,” a memory Samantha will carry with her always. Where is the logic to these things? And, what does it matter that Salvador’s dad isn’t his biological father? Who decides these things anyway? The more I think about the logic of things, the “certain things have to be done in these particular – a, b, c – ways,” the more unsure I become. The most hardworking, honest person can get killed in an unexpected accident. At the same time, the person who causes that accident can live a long and prosperous life, maybe not even remembering that he/she had caused a person’s death. There is no logic to many things that happen in our world.

Vicente had been there when Salvador’s mother gave birth to him, and so, really, from the very beginning, Vicente had loved Salvador with all of his heart. Vicente had always been there for Salvador, and when Vicente’s mother suffered from cancer and eventually passed away, Salvador had the chance to be there for his father. In one scene, the narrator describes the conversation between father and son:
I (Salvador) sat on his bed. “Dad?”
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“It’s hard,” he said. “Grief is a terrible and beautiful thing.”
“I don’t think it’s so beautiful.”
“The hurt means you loved someone. That you really loved someone.”
“Dad.” I reached for his hand. “I’m here, Dad. I mean, I’m really here.”
My dad took my hand. “This is a good hand,” he said. “A very good hand.”

Work Cited: Sáenz Benjamin Alire. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

Even In This Ajumma’s Life: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Even In This Ajumma’s Life: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

“The big secret that he kept from his mother, aunt, and even his beloved uncle was that Noa did not believe in God anymore. God had allowed his gentle, kindhearted father to go to jail even though he had done nothing wrong. For two years, God had not answered Noa’s prayers, though his father had promised him that God listens very carefully to the prayers of children. Above all the other secrets that Noa could not speak of, the boy wanted to be Japanese; it was his dream to leave Ikaino and never to return.”
– Min Jin Lee

Korea and Japan have a complicated history. Growing up, I have heard many Korean people express their strong feelings against the Japanese, and I have also heard many Korean people say that history is history, and that there is no point in carrying the resentment for so long. For me, I do agree that what is past is past, but what angered me was hearing that the Japanese had changed history books so that the Japanese were learning false history rather than facing the truth of what actually happened. How interesting that, even though I have never known one single Japanese person in my life, I still am able to hold this sense of resentment.

My own complicated sentiments on this issue – which I haven’t thought of for such a long time – came up as I read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It was interesting to see the Korea-Japan relationship from multiple generations’ points of view. Just as an example, in the beginning, the narrator starts the story by saying, “History has failed us, but no matter” (63). What a powerful way to start a story. If your country is under the control of other, more powerful countries, and your identity becomes your own curse, then I think you have the right to believe that history has failed your people. To provide an example of the effect the Japanese control had on Koreans, Yoseb says:
…to every Korean he knew, Japan’s expanding war in Asia seemed senseless. China was not Korea; China was not Taiwan; China could lose a million people and still keep on. Pockets of it may fall, but it was an unfathomably vast nation; it would endure by sheer number and resolve. Did Koreans want Japan to win? Hell no, but what would happen to them if Japan’s enemies won? Could the Koreans save themselves? Apparently not. So save your own ass — this was what Koreans believed privately. Save your family. Feed your belly. Pay attention, and be skeptical of the people in charge. If the Korean nationalists couldn’t get their country back, then let your kids learn Japanese and try to get ahead. Adapt. Wasn’t it as simple as that? For every patriot fighting for a free Korea, or for any unlucky Korean bastard fighting on behalf of Japan, there were ten thousand compatriots on the ground and elsewhere who were just trying to eat. In the end, your belly was your emperor. (2609-2617)

For Noa, being Korean didn’t give him any advantages. None of these facts – that he was the top of his class, that he was a great athlete, and that he always kept himself clean – mattered much to others because he was a Korean living in Japan. When he finds out that his father, Isak Baek – whom he loved and admired, and who was a pastor – is not his real father, the truth makes him hate himself and his mother. He finds out that Isak Baek is not his real father when he realizes that Hansu Koh, the Korean yakuza, is his real father. That’s why Hansu had been paying for Noa’s tuition as well as room and board for Waseda University. When Noa confronts his mother, Sunja, about this, their relationship is destroyed. The fact is, Sunja had had to make tough choices, and she had done the best she could in an unfavorable situation. But in Noa’s point of view, his mother had made the worst choice possible. This is how their conversation goes:
“Noa,” Sunja said, “forgive me. Umma is sorry. I just wanted you to go to school. I know how much you wanted that. I know how hard you —” “You. You took my life away. I am no longer myself,” [Noa] said, pointing his finger at her. He turned around and walked back to the train. (4693-4695).

Sunja loses her son as a result of this discovery. Actually, she loses him twice. After he finds out the truth about his birth father, Noa quits university and manages to hide from his family, even though he sends them money regularly. He even becomes Japanese and raises a family, until the day his mother finds out where he works with the help of Hansu Koh. When he sees his mother, with Hansu Koh’s car nearby, he sends his mother away by making empty promises that he will call and visit. Then, he kills himself.

Amidst the Korean-Japanese tension that permeates the book, Lee brings into light the topic of what it means to be a woman dealing with these struggles. Through Sunja, a woman who is neither beautiful, nor particularly skilled, the narrator says:
All her life, Sunja had heard this sentiment from other women, that they must suffer — suffer as a girl, suffer as a wife, suffer as a mother — die suffering. Go-saeng (Korean word for “suffering”) — the word made her sick. What else was there besides this? (6167 – 6169).

When she had first started meeting Hansu, and they made love, Sunja had been too naive to suspect that Hansu was already married with a wife and three daughters in Japan. Instead, she waited for the next time Hansu would come. When she became pregnant and told Hansu, that was when he revealed to her that he already had a family. Sunja was lucky to have found Isak Baek, who, knowing her situation, was willing to marry her and to take care of the baby. In a complicated situation, Sunja did what she could, and she and Isak had Mozasu, Noa’s half-brother.

In the end, Lee closes this story of the generations of a family who miraculously survived through one of the toughest times in the history of their country by coming back to Sunja, the one who started this story as quietly as she ended it. After she buries the picture of her two sons next to the grave of Isak Baek, who had been more of a father-figure to them than Hansu Koh, she returns home, to where her sister-in-law, Kyunghee is waiting for her.  The narrator states:
“Beyond the dailiness, there had been moments of shimmering beauty and some glory, too, even in this ajumma’s life. Even if no one knew, it was true” (7092-7093).

Work Cited: Lee, Min Jin. Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

“I’m never going to fall in love with the idea of someone again”: P.S. From Paris by Marc Levy

“I’m never going to fall in love with the idea of someone again”:
P.S. From Paris by Marc Levy

“Let’s prove we’re braver than fictional characters. At least let’s have enough courage not to leave this table both feeling completely humiliated. Let’s erase everything that’s happened up until now, every word we’ve said. It’s easy — think of it like hitting a key on the computer and we go back and delete the text. Let’s rewrite the scene together, starting from the moment when you walked in” (Levy 86).

This is what Paul says to Mia the first time they meet at a restaurant. Because of the outrageous incidents that have brought Paul and Mia together at the restaurant, when Paul suggests that they “erase everything that’s happened” like “hitting a key on the computer” and deleting the text, Mia is able to smile at him, and Paul and Mia are able to give each other another chance. Even when taken out of context, I thought this idea that Paul suggested was very romantic. How wonderful would it be to be able to hit the delete button and start over a relationship from the start, like a fresh blank page? Obviously, no one can erase the past, and it takes a lot of effort from both Paul and Mia to make their relationship work. But I wonder if effort by itself would have been enough for Paul and Mia. Relationships are unpredictable, and I wonder if “fate” or “destiny” played a role in their relationship as well (I believe strongly in the idea of fate, not just when it comes to romantic relationships, but also when it comes to people we encounter in life, events that take place in our lives, places we go to, etc.).

On a different note, Mia asks Paul, “Do you think a man and a woman really can be just friends without any gray zones? No ambiguity?” (91). Mia and Paul come from completely different backgrounds, and their “friendship” start out on a strange note, thanks to Paul’s friends. Despite Paul’s friends’ intentions, Mia is only looking for friendship. Mia’s question here stood out to me because this question about Paul and herself is relatable for so many people. Many people, myself included, have been wondering the same thing for many years. Actually, I have asked this question to both my female and male friends in the past, and I have received a different answer each time. This question seems to be a tough one to answer because there is no set rule about “gray zones.” Everyone has different standards about relationships, and what one person defines as a “gray zone” may be very different from someone else’s definition. Personally, I hate the idea of being put in a “gray zone.” I’m impatient and I don’t like ambiguities. When it comes to relationships, I like to know exactly where I stand, and many times in the past, I have approached the guy first to express my feelings.

Another interesting question about relationships comes up when the caricaturist in Paris asks Mia, “Why do girls always fall madly in love with men who only make them suffer, while they barely bat an eye at the ones who would move mountains for them?” (67).This is another question I heard people ask millions of times. I myself have expressed similar sentiments, and I think this question is valid for both men and women. I wonder why this happens, why some men and women fall for someone who only makes them suffer. But it’s not like we can help who we like, even when we know that other person is painfully unaware of our feelings. The caricaturist had asked Mia this question because he had to wait two years for his wife to get over this man she was in love with, before she and he got married. He resents the two whole years that were wasted, especially because, one day after they were married, a motorcycle appeared out of nowhere and hit the motorcycle that he and his wife were on, and his wife didn’t survive. As Mia is about to leave him to his work, he calls out to her, “Miss!” When Mia turns around, answering “Yes?” he tells her, “Every day counts” (67).

I didn’t expect this book to be a quick-read, but that’s what it was, and it felt like watching a romantic comedy movie unfold in front of me. Paul and Mia showed that we really can’t anticipate how our stories will unfold, but we can still make an effort to turn our stories into something wonderful.

Work Cited:
Levy, Marc. P.S. from Paris (US edition). Amazon Crossing. Kindle Edition.

“Everything breaks if you hit it hard enough”: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

“Everything breaks if you hit it hard enough”:
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Do you believe in destiny, or fate that controls people’s lives? Why is it that some people can live “normal” “happy” lives, while others have to endure unfortunate circumstances and accidents that change their lives upside-down?

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti tells a story of Samuel Hawley, and his daughter, Loo. Their story does not start on a good note, and only gets worse as it goes on. Hawley and Loo have been constantly on the run, and Loo does not know why. There are many things Loo does not know about her past, including who her mother was, what she was like, and how she died. She does know that there are twelve scars on her father’s body from bullet wounds, and that he does not want to talk about them with her.

At one point, Hawley is by himself at a motel while his daughter is staying at her grandmother’s house. The narrator says:

The room was splattered with red. What a mess he’d made, Hawley thought. He wished he could erase his entire life, starting with his father’s death and then every step that had led him here to this crap motel room, every bullet, every twisted turn of the road he’d followed — even meeting Lily, even having Loo. Hawley wanted it all gone. (321)

It was painful to read this scene, including what followed before and after. As a reader, I completely understand why Hawley wishes he could erase his entire life. By erasing his life, Hawley wants to erase all of his faults. But I wonder how valid it would be to blame Hawley for everything that happened. For me, Hawley seems more of a victim of the events that happened, rather than the perpetrator. There must have been moments in the beginning when Hawley could have stopped, but who is to say that things would have been different for Hawley afterward? I wonder if things happened to Hawley because (maybe) that was his fate. While my life is so painfully normal, Hawley’s life has never been normal. By the time Loo grows up to be a young woman, the life that she and her father lead is filled with so many secrets and history that they seem to live in a world completely of their own.   

Later in the book, Loo says to Hawley, “This isn’t your fault, Dad” (338). To which Hawley responds, “It is…Everything that’s happened and is happening and is going to happen” (338).
Loo wants her father to know that she doesn’t blame him, but Hawley already blames himself for everything, as he has been doing so for many years. That is exactly why Hawley is now trying to fix things. I wonder who is more right in this conversation. I think Loo is right in that, sometimes, things just happen in life that we do not and cannot anticipate. But as Hawley says, we do hold responsibility over the choices we make in life, and these choices in turn cause consequences. But could Hawley’s life – and Loo’s life as a result – have been different?

Earlier in the book, when Loo realizes that she and her father have to move once again, she goes to pick up her last paycheck at the Sawtooth. There she meets Gunderson, who, back when he was young, had been in love with Loo’s mother. As the narrator describes:

The paper was heavy and thick beneath her fingers, like an announcement or an invitation.
(Loo) “I didn’t mean to screw everything up.”
(Gunderson) “Nobody ever does.” (337)

Gunderson also gives Loo an extra $100, almost as though he is giving her a blessing before she and her father set off once more on the road.

And Gunderson is right. Nobody ever means to screw up. Including Hawley, and including us.


Work Cited:
Tinti, Hannah. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley: A Novel. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”:
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

If we look at history, society has made many steps of progress (amongst its many step-backs). Women can, and are encouraged to work in many countries, and more people believe in equality among races. As an Asian-American female, I am very fortunate to be living in a society that allows me to have a career and a house of my own, and to live my life doing what I believe in doing. Although I’m always thinking about my future and the things I should be doing, I do not take the time to consider how fortunate I am to have a life like this. Then I read Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the story forced me to realize that I really should be grateful. In Atwood’s novel, any positive progress in society is stripped away, and women are ranked in the following order: the Wives, Aunts, Handmaids, Martha’s, and Econowives.

As Offred, the Handmaid whose story is told in the novel, says:
“We are for breeding purposes: we aren’t concubines, geisha girls, courtesans. On the contrary: everything possible has been done to remove us from that category. There is supposed to be nothing entertaining about us, no room is to be permitted for the flowering of secret lusts; no special favors are to be wheedled, by them or us, there are to be no toeholds for love. We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices” (136).

Offred works for the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy (which isn’t even her real name). Her job is to give birth to a child for the Commander and his family, and the way in which this is done, in the best way I can describe, is weird (I suggest reading the book for actual details).

In many ways, this book reminded me if 1984 by George Orwell, especially when Offred recited lines from the Bible that they were forced to recite, while knowing that some of the lines weren’t real:
Blessed be the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed be the meek. Blessed are the silent. I knew they made that up, I knew it was wrong, and they left things out, too, but there was no way of checking. Blessed be those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Nobody said when” (89).
These rules of this society, as well as the new definition of “relationship” between men and women, felt unbelievable for me. I simply could not imagine that these different sets of rules could replace the rules that exist today, and go on to govern and shape people’s lives. Can people really be brainwashed that easily? And how long would it take for people to be brainwashed into believing new thoughts, and living new lifestyles? The men, such as the Commander, hold so much power in the novel, and they can use women in any way they want, since in a way, women are pliable objects – they can serve as reminders of times in the past when women dressed up in workout clothes, in short dresses, costumes, etc., and they can also serve as creators of offspring. Either way, women are objects of men’s control.

As Offred lives her life in this society, her thoughts and memories are torn between what she knew before, and what she knows now. As she looks at buildings that used to be university buildings, public library, and hotels, she remembers having her own job, waiting for Luke to come to the hotel room, and even chatting with Moira in her college dorm room as Moira smoked her cigarettes. These things that Moira knew from her “past life” are the things that I am familiar with now, and that’s why I simply cannot imagine the new world she is living in. I simply cannot believe that that reality could become an actual reality.

In her new bedroom given at the house of the Commander, Offred finds the following line carved into the floor in the corner of her bedroom, left by the previous Handmaid:
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” (51).

Translated, this means, “Ðon’t let the bastards grind you down.”


<Works Cited>
Atwood, Margaret. The handmaid’s tale. Houghton Miflin Harcourt, 2017.

“Wishing You More Happiness Than Can Fit A Person”: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

“Wishing You More Happiness Than Can Fit A Person”: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

“I wonder if there’s a secret current that connects people who have lost something. Not in the way that everyone loses something, but in the way that undoes your life, undoes yourself, so that when you look at your face it isn’t yours anymore” – Marin

How wonderful would it be if everything in life worked out the way we wanted? If things happened the way we expected them to, the way we wanted them to, then there would be no unpleasant surprises. When Marin, the protagonist of We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, was staying in an empty dorm room, dreading the visit of her friend, Mabel, I assumed that the two girls had had a fight. What the fight was about, I couldn’t guess. Much later in the story, when Mabel confronts Marin about her disappearance, Marin can’t bring herself to talk about her experiences, not because she doesn’t want to talk to Mabel, but because talking about it is too much for her. When she is finally able to talk, she tells Mabel about being questioned by the police, about staying at the motel where a woman was constantly wailing, and the man next door kept staring out the window without moving for days, and where Marin felt scared that she would go just as crazy.

This scene struck a chord in my mind. Marin and Mabel had been best friends for years, and had shared so many memories, but at that moment, when Marin and Mabel are sitting across from each other, Mabel is looking at Marin with a look in her eyes that Marin doesn’t recognize. Perhaps this is because the lack of recognition is mutual – Mabel doesn’t recognize Marin either, the two friends have become strangers. What’s sad about this moment is that Mabel had assumed Marin had been okay, but Marin was far from it. What’s worse is that, if Marin had told Mabel, things could have been different for both of Mabel and herself (or am I wrong in assuming this?). Have you ever experienced that feeling? Of thinking that you knew your friend, but finding out that there were so many things you didn’t know about them? And feeling that you have failed them? In this particular scene, I found myself wondering what I would have felt in Mabel’s shoes, rather than relating to Marin, the protagonist, because I have been there. I had stood on the other side, trying to understand the person whom I thought I knew and understood.

In the end, nothing turns out the way Marin may have wanted, or expected, but Marin is going to be okay. I mean, what else is new? Does anything ever happen the way we want?

My favorite quote is when Marin and Mabel are at the store, shopping for Christmas presents, when Marin looks at Mabel, and thinks, “I wish her everything good. A friendly cab driver and short lines through security. A flight with no turbulence and an empty seat next to her. A beautiful Christmas. I wish her more happiness than can fit in a person. I wish her the kind of happiness that spills over.”


<Works Cited>
LaCour, Nina. We Are Okay. Dutton Childrens Books, 2017.