Reads from the first half of 2009

Some reads from the first half of this year, in no particular order…

American Karma (Sunil Bhatia) — A qualitative study of a professional South Asian community in New England. Bhatia explores issues like how home/work are separated, how South Asian identity is maintained, and the stresses faced by these corporate employees. Of particular interest was how many would take accent reduction classes to move up the corporate ladder and the ways in which they would justify or apologize for their co-workers’ tokenization of them. There was also a lot about how the families interacted via their children with the school district. I thought it was a worthwhile read for people who are interested in South Asian American studies, but it might be a bit jargon-laden for some.

Funny You Don’t Look Like One (Drew Hayden Taylor) — This was a collection of essays by Ojibway writer Drew Hayden Taylor, collated from several different publications. I lacked context for a lot of what he talked about, such as Oka (warning, Wikipedia article is highly contested) and the Akwesasne cigarette “smuggling” debate. He is an engaging writer, and I enjoyed reading this book — it spurred me to read a bit more about the context, and that’s always a good thing.

The Karma of Brown Folk (Vijay Prashad) — Unlike Amardeep, I still think this book has a lot to offer South Asian Americans in terms of contextualizing the ties between India and the US diaspora and the ties that should exists between South Asians and other people of color in the US. Prashad paints a rather dire picture of things, but I think what is most lacking in South Asian youth is critical thinking, and this book does a good job of questioning the sociopolitical underpinnings of South Asian American culture, especially among the professional diaspora. Maybe it’s not a great book to teach from, and for sure it it biased, but it’s a groundbreaking work, I think. It has aged a bit (I last read it around when it came out), but I think it’s still valuable.

Making Money (Terry Pratchett) — This was a Discworld novel, this time sending up the banking industry. It was topical given the current crisis, and I found it entertaining in its formulaic way…

Steppin’ on a Rainbow (Kinky Friedman) — A sort of gonzo mystery novel set in Hawaii and full of schlock pulpy native stereotypes. Avoid.

Love Medicine (Louise Erdrich) — I really enjoyed this multi-generational novel about an extended Ojibwe family. It was a bit difficult to get into at first, but it definitely hooked me. What got me was how Erdrich gets under the complicated ways in which people show their love for each other and how inexplicable actions can make sense with the proper context…

Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) — This novel came highly recommended but I have to say that I wasn’t as enthralled with it. Ishiguro wrote an engrossing pseudo-dystopian narrative but the complacency of the narrator, rather than being harrowing, was simply disappointing. It did remind me a bit of some of the chapters in Cloud Atlas, but in the end I felt like the novel failed to make me care, somehow. Which is sad, because I really should care about these people. Maybe it’s more of a judgement on me…

Fifth Business (Roberton Davies) — This was also a recommendation, and I liked it, although not as much as R. Fifth Business is a memoir of a school teacher who grew up in a small town in Canada, fought through WWI and has the scars to show it. Although I did find the narrator a bit tiresome at times, I did like the form of a life-long bildungsroman.

The Ghost Brigades (John Scalzi) — This is a sequel to Old Man’s War and I didn’t like it as much as the original. Scalzi is often called the modern Heinlein, and like Heinlein, I found it a bit repetitive and was not too keen on its politics, such as they were.

Unruly Immigrants (Monisha Das Gupta) — This is a study of alternative social/political/economic movements within the South Asian American community. In particular, she looks at feminist, queer, and labor groups. She uses the phrases “place makers” to describe their activities versus the “place taker” actions that often characterize the majority South Asian community. I liked that turn of phrase. The book relies a lot on her own experiences with some of the groups as well as extensive interviews. One thing that pops out is the complexity of relations between South Asians from Asia and from the Caribbean and Africa, between different economic class groups when trying to organize domestic workers, and gender differences in labor and queer groups. It’s definitely worth reading for those who are interested in activism in the South Asian American community.

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2 thoughts on “Reads from the first half of 2009

  1. If you liked Fifth Business, maybe give The Manticore a read. I thought the third book in the trilogy — World of Wonders — sucked, but lots of other people like it.

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