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Women of the Silk – Gail Tsukiyama

September 21, 2007

The many praises and reviews got me to read this book. Gail Tsukiyama’s first novel, Women of the Silk deserves all those praises. It is a moving, quiet and yet intense coming-of-age novel of a young Chinese woman, who is sold to a house of silk by her poor parents.

Pei is born as one of the many daughters, into a patriarchal family, dominated by her father. She tries to have as much fun as she can in the constrained household. Pei is the most talkative, curious and opinionated girl among her sisters and according to a fortune teller, the “non-marrying” one. Another girl child is born into the family and Pei’s mother is sorry and father, displeased. Soon, she sees the death of the little baby. Her father determines Pei’s fate and leaves her at a silk house run by a warm, motherly woman, Auntie Yee. The arrangement is that, she would work at a silk factory, stay at the silk house and her family would get most of Pei’s salary.

She meets many girls of similar fate at the silk house. In fact, many poor families keep a girl child aside for silk work so that, she could provide for the family in difficult times. Failed marriages and aversion to arranged marriage also lead some girls to this place. These girls live together, work hard, earn good money, make strong bonds with one another and look forward to retiring as spinsters at an early age.

The effect of war with Japan begins to touch the village and the silk house. It results in the death of some girls and Auntie Yee at the silk house. Pei visits her parent’s house for the first time after she was left at the silk house. She forgives them and re-bonds with her mother. After many tragedies, Pei takes the brave step of escaping to Hong Kong in search of a new life.

The characters in the book have gentle, quiet charm. The author takes you through the personal losses Pei faces and you begin empathizing with her and her friends at the silk house. As the pages go by, the story picks up pace and Pei’s drama and her universe engulf you. Even after having read a bunch of books set in China, this one strikes me as exotic.


Three daughters of Madame Liang – Pearl S Buck

August 13, 2007

Three daughters of Madame Liang, published first in 1969 is one of the last pieces of Pearl S Buck’s work. I’ve read more than half a dozen of her pieces of work and, this one is as lucid, as deceptively simple and yet deep as others.

Through the book, Three daughters of Madame Liang, Pearl S Buck takes you into the story of a family, the family of Madame Liang. After her husband takes a concubine, because she could produce no son, Madame Liang leaves him. She sets out on her own and opens a gourmet restaurant in Shanghai. In the times of great turmoil, when good food is scarce, her restaurant survives by providing the best food to the Who’s who of People’s Republic. She, prudently keeps her opinions of the Republic to herself and lives in constant fear. She sends her three daughters – Grace, Mercy and Joy to a much safer world – America.

Grace, the eldest of them is summoned by the government to serve the nation. She returns to immerse herself into her service as a doctor and studying ancient Chinese medicine to compare it with the modern medicine in which she was trained. Grace falls in love with Liu Pang, a young physician despite knowing, he is narrow minded and has been brainwashed into communism. She adapts herself to new China.

Mercy, the younger daughter, a musician convinces her husband John Sung, a rocket scientist to return to China for self-fulfillment. They flee from America. Though, a communist China does not have any use of a musician, she could make use of the services of Mercy’s husband. But John sung refuses to create weapons and gets himself into trouble. Mercy’s experience with new China, forces her to escape.

The bitter sweet chemistry between Grace and Mercy, motivated by their changing loyalties to China is interesting. Madame Liang is deeply saddened by the two sisters growing apart but resigns since she could not live their lives for them.

Joy, the youngest daughter stays in America, never to return. She finds love in a fellow Chinese artist and settles down.

Pearl Buck paints a picture of Cultural Revolution through the very personal accounts and view points of people in Madame Liang’s family. The story is fast paced and the book, un-put-downable.


July 31, 2007

Found this site called, Library Thing using which, you can create an online Catalog of your library. It has a user base of about a quarter million and a book base of around 17 million.

It has reviews, forums, ratings, tags and loads of statistics. It also shows the % affinity with other users based on the common books we own and it is so user friendly and so fast. I am immensely pleased. Today is my second day on LT and I cant seem to be able to log off it.

I’ve started to Catalog my books. The link to my catalog is : (also in the pane on the right)

Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech 2005

July 16, 2007

Perhaps I’m the last person in the world who saw this video. Posting this just in case, I’m not.

Thanks to the friend who passed on the link.

Imperial Woman – Pearl S. Buck

June 29, 2007

Imperial Woman book coverImperial Woman is a biographical story of Tzu Hsi (or Cixi), the last empress of China, written by Pearl S Buck. Tzu Hsi’s claim to fame is that, she was a fierce, efficient, intelligent and a very controversial empress.

The story starts when Tzu Hsi is a child. Orchid is her childhood name. She is the daughter of a low-ranking Manchu official of Yehonala clan. As was the practice then, a set of young girls are chosen out of who, a wife and some cocubines are picked for the Emporer. Orchid and her cousin, Sakota are both picked as expected and go to stay in the Forbidden City – never to return. While Sakota is given a the rank of the Emporer’s primary wife because, her elder sister was at a high rank, Orchid (now known as Yehonala) earns a high rank. To be noticed, she makes an effort to stand out. She bribes the enuches and is good to the Dowager Empress (Emporer’s mother).

While Sakota gives birth to a girl, Yehonala gives birth to a boy and rises to the position of the “Fortunate Mother”, the mother of the heir. Thru sheer guile and ambition, she continues to be the favorite of the Emporer. Pity is the only emotion she has for the sickly and weak Emporer. Her love is always for her kinsman – Jung Lu, to who she was betrothed. Jung Lu is a guard at the gates of Forbidden City.

Tzu Hsi - A file photoYehenola reads history, learns affairs of the state, painting and poetry. She takes interest in matters of state and the Emporer is soon dependent on her for most decisions. She learns to trust no one but only those closest to her. After the death of the Emporer, though She and Sakota together rise to the position of Regents, Yehenola is the de facto ruler. Yehenola gets the Title of Tzu Hsi (or Cixi, The empress of the eastern palaces) and Sakota gets the title of Tzu An ( or Cian,The empress of the western palaces)

There are rumors that her son is born thru Jung Lu. Her life and her son’s life are in danger. The nation is under attack. She has to protect herself, her son and the Empire. With the demands of countries like France, England and Russia increasing, with the missionaries converting Chinese into Christians, with the number of rebels from within the nation increasing, there is unrest all around.

Tzu Hsi

Tzu Hsi learns and grows as a ruler gaining the trust of her subjects. People call her “The old Budhha” – thus rising her to the position of God. In a time of great change and cultural upheaval in China, she is a relic of the past – always resisting change. The Boxer Rebellion marks the beginning of the end of Tzu Hsi.

The story is written in lucid prose – it flows thru the story of Tzu Hsi, thru the death of her son, her crowning a nephew to be the next Emporer and when he fails, taking the throne back for herself. She grows old and begins to accept change as she realizes, she has no other way to retain her empire.

This book provides a good insight into a critical phase of Chinese History. After having read it, I’m tempted to visit the Forbidden city. The book is worth hunting for.

Women React – Project Blank Noise

March 9, 2007
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Project Blank Noise

Here is a link to stories of action heros:

May you be the mother of a hundred sons – Elisabeth Bumiller

February 12, 2007

motherofhundredsons.jpgI’m new to reading non-fiction. Perhaps, this is why it took me longer than usual to read this book.

The book is about Indian Women – by Elisabeth Bumiller, published in 1990. Being an Indian and a Woman, the book is of interest to me. Moreover, reading the state of Indian Women as perceived by a third party – an American Woman, is interesting.

A glance at the book’s cover, and I thought, this would be another book by a Foreign Woman writer where she would portray a blown up picture of how bad the condition of Indian women is, how they are tortured and ill-treated, how mindless the traditions are, how poor the poor women are, etc. But then, I was pleasantly surprised. Elisabeth Bumiller did try, not to be judgmental and succeeded thru most of the book. The picture she portrays about Indian Women is close to accurate. No doubt, the information provided is somewhat dated but, the problems she speaks about pretty much exist even today – only different in extent. Some things are better now and some things are worse.

Elisabeth speaks of sati and progressive women in India in the same breath. She does not just say – female feoticide (Sex selective abortion) happens in such and such village in Tamilnadu and goes on to crib how cruel it is, etc. She goes and finds out the root cause of this and gets pretty much convinced of the reasons. It is this element in the author, that makes the book flow from one problem to the other – dowry deaths, sati, female feoticide, problems of working women, women artists, urban women, etc. In the end, you see how they are all inter-related.

Despite its paradoxes, the lives of Indian Women are constantly troubled by one common problem – that looks not so important initially. The problem is, An average Indian man is far from beginning to respect an average Indian Woman. Centuries and centuries of such culture have given birth to, many other problems and nourished them.

Having been brought up mostly in urban India, I did not know quite a few things mentioned in this book. Still, when reading the book, I could relate to it most times.

It all starts at birth – those who know a girl is to be born kill it in the womb. Those that do not have access to such technology – kill the girl after it is born. They would not let a girl be born. This is because, a girl child brings along a bundle of problems both to her parents and to herself.

Though illegal, Dowry (wealth given to the groom’s family) is a very prevalent phenomenon. The groom’s side of the family consider it their right and bride’s side spend all their lives saving for the dowry. Some brides that do not bring enough dowry to satisfy the whims of their in-laws are burnt to death.

The classification is made at the time of birth of a Child. A Girl is a liability. A Boy is an asset. Since, a girl is to be given away in a wedding along with a lot of dowry, it is considered unnecessary to spend too much on her education/ food and she is never treated as apart of the family into which she is born. While boys her age, go to school and are preparing to face the life ahead, she is at home preparing for marriage. Thus handicapped from being able to do anything other than being married.

Thankfully, the inhuman practice of sati (the practice burning the widow of a man on his funeral pyre) is almost dead. But the condition of Widows in certain parts of India is still, pathetic.

Elisabeth’s interviews with working women – actresses, artists and others bring out a very interesting fact. Almost none of them think they never ever faced a problem because of being women. Could it be that, our expectations are low in the first place?

Aparna Sen, a renowned film director’s answer to one of Elisabeth’s question was very amusing and deep at the same time

Interviewers from other Indian magazines were always asking her how she managed to cope as a wife, mother and a filmmaker, and her answer was that she did not cope very well. “If you asked what is the most important thing about me, the answer is guilt,” she told me. “Every time I am knitting I feel I should be writing a script, and when I’m writing a script I feel guilty because I have not finished the cardigan for my father. When I am at work I feel, ‘Oh, my poor daughters, they are always deprived,’ and when I am looking after my daughters I think, ‘All these other people are working on their careers and what am I doing?'”

Elisabeth explores the life of a Woman police officer, Kiran Bedi who later would win the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1994. She compares it with the life of a particular average Delhi housewife. While Kiran Bedi is living away from her husband, doing exceptionally well at her profession and the housewife, living with her husband and children, occupied with the daily duties – both are content in their own ways.

This was a decent read.