Tag: immigration

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

April 28th, 2020 — 10:05pm

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

This is clearly a page turner (a swiper for laptop and Kindle users) and a definite fascinating read. It will provide a sensitive in depth insight into the plight of immigrants striving to make it from Mexico as well as from Central and South America to the United States. The book depicts the deadly role of the cartel (gangs) and their cruel leaders along with their ruthless followers. You come to understand that if you resist the will of the leader, let alone publicly speak out against them, the result can be death to you and your family including children and relatives.

The main characters of the book are Lydia and her 8-year-old son Luca who experienced such a punishment to their entire family because of an anonymous newspaper article written by Lydia’s husband who was a journalist and wrote about a cartel leader. This sets off a journey to the north by the surviving mother and son to escape to the United States.

The reader feels the constant fears and dangers of the fleeing duo and the people who they meet along the way. Whether it is jumping on moving trains, unbearable thirst, fear of drug dealers, fear of the immigration police, or fears of being attacked by the people they meet along the way, it all comes across as a real and quite frightening.

The author has done her homework and appears to have recreated a slice of contemporary history that is not well known. I was not surprised to see that this book has been a great seller and received many positive reviews including one by the author Stephen King and in fact the book was one of Oprah’s book picks. Anticipating e success, from the very beginning was the fact that the author received a seven-figure advance for her manuscript. However, I was very surprised and interested to see that the book also received many negative reviews including disparaging attacks on the author by people who felt that as a white non-Hispanic she had no right to pen this book. Several Latino writers wrote that the novel was stereotyping and exploiting the suffering Mexican immigrants. Apparently, some book stores decided to cancel the author’s book tour because of fear of disruption.

I personally believe that the book can stand on its own. It seemed to me, that the main protagonists were good people whom I respected and would be very proud if they were my ancestors. I believe that even most of those who did not like the fact that the author wrote the book agreed that it was fascinating, suspenseful and a great read.

Comment » | FH - Fiction Historical

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

March 3rd, 2020 — 4:44pm


The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

An old man who happens to be a Moroccan immigrant and the owner of a small restaurant is killed by a hit-and-run driver in a small California town. The impact on his friends, neighbors, police, a reluctant witness, and a few others is examined. Each person gets to speak multiple times as a chapter is devoted to the thinking of that subject at various times. Since many are immigrants, we get a sense of where they are coming from geographically and psychologically. We see familiar scenarios of parents’ expectations of children and young people trying to find their personal identities as well as exploring relationships. The reader is confronted with prejudice, pride, jealously, love, sexuality and a lot more human experiences.

The story is also a classic “whodunit” mystery. It reminded me of the many episodes I have seen of the popular TV program Dateline where a real mystery is detected and there is an attempt to show how the cast of characters is related and explained in some depth. Here is where the book failed for me. I got caught in wanting to figure out who the killer was, especially since there was an early suggestion that there was a motive and not an accident. Therefore, I became less interested in the in-depth analysis of each character and wanted to see the police solve the mystery. So in retrospect, I did not appreciate the potential value of this book, although it did hold my interest.(2020)


Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FM - Fiction Mystery

On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

February 10th, 2019 — 4:23pm

On Gold Mountain: A Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family by Lisa See.

If you do not know it, “Gold Mountain” is California and the story begins as the author’s great-great-grandfather Fong See arrives on the West Coast of the United States where he works making herbal remedies for other Chinese men working to build the railroad.. The book traces his intermarriage to Ticie and how he becomes involved in Chinese antiques and furniture. The arc of the story includes three generations, many of whom stayed in the family business, mostly in the Los Angeles area. We followed the progenitor and other family members as they often visit China and give money to family back home, and bring old Chinese antiques and furniture back to the United States. We come to appreciate the outrageous discrimination against the Chinese including American laws that directly targeted this group. We also learn about Chinese customs including the practice where men often had multiple wives which might include concubines and prostitutes.

This is an important book about the history and roots of Chinese-Americans. It serves a purpose of also being a family record of the ancestors of the author as well as many Americans who have roots in the immigration from China. I feel educated and more enlightened having read this book. I can understand why the author, who has written many best-selling novels, would have chosen to share her family history in this book.

Having said all of the above, I found the book quite tedious to read. The author should have provided a clear usable family tree diagram to follow the different characters and the various relationships.( There was a small family tree at the beginning of the book , which was very difficult to read on the I-Pad,) To the non-Chinese reader, the names were unfamiliar and frequently sounded the same. In addition, sometimes it appears that the author used two different names for the same character.

The author’s previous success as a novelist, I am sure led many people to explore this book. In my case, I only stayed with it because it was a selection of my book club. In the end, I am enlightened about Americans with Chinese heritage, but this is not a book that I would recommend for enjoyable reading.

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Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, HI - History, P - Political

Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

September 19th, 2017 — 5:11pm

Behold the Dreamers

By: Imbolo Mbue


There could not be a more pertinent book to read during the time period that I read this book. The immigration issue, DACA and related subjects are front and center in the current political discussions.

Imbolo Mbue has obviously had some very personal experiences depicted in this book about immigrants struggling to be able to stay in the United States and not be deported. This is the plight of the two main characters, Jende and Neni, a married couple from Cameroon in Africa now living in New York City and having two children. He works as a chauffeur for a wealthy businessman and Neni, his wife, takes care of the children and works, and is studying to be a pharmacist. They have a flimsy story as to why they should be allowed to stay in the United States and they are living from court date to court date with tremendous anxiety whether or not they will be deported.

There is a very engrossing storyline that makes a great drama as well as informing us of the nature of the relationship between these struggling immigrants. We come to understand the legal intrigues as well as the most personal feelings that may be experienced by people going through this situation.

The writing is excellent, although I had one complaint with the author’s style and format. During several points in the story, I was totally engrossed and on the edge of my seat swiping page after page on my iPad when the author adds a chapter that goes back in time in order to help develop the character or provide background information. I personally found that a distraction and wish she could have found another method to achieve her goal of enlightening the reader with more background.

I came away from this book with a new and deeper appreciation of the current immigration crisis. But really, as moving as this story, it is obviously a tale of only one couple and their individual story struggling for the right to stay in the United States. There must be thousands of other scenarios and I feel we have only scratched the surface but nevertheless it was a worthwhile experience.

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Comment » | FG - Fiction General, P - Political

Thank You for Being Late; An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration by Thomas L. Friedman

April 5th, 2017 — 10:23pm

Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration by Thomas L. Friedman

This by far is one of the most interesting, enlightening, and engrossing books that I have read in a long time and I have been reading some pretty good books.

Thomas Friedman has been a reporter, New York Times columnist and author who has been awarded Pulitzer Prize three times for his work. He has the uncanny ability to describe and provide insight into our modern society and where we are going from a historical, political, scientific, and humanistic viewpoint. He draws his experience and insight from his decades of reporting in the Middle East, Washington, DC, growing up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, having met world renowned people in all walks of life including a parking lot attendant who he met who also writes a blog read in 30 different countries.

I know that the world in which my grandchildren are growing up is vastly different than my childhood experiences but Friedman with a simple explanation demonstrates how different it really is especially driven by technology. He cites “Moore’s Law” which is “the observation at the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years” (which reflects the accelerating scientific advancements in the world). Friedman then asks the reader to imagine the magnitude of change by visualizing a chessboard and putting the grain of sand on the one square and then doubling the amount of sand on each of the successive squares (64 in total on a chessboard). I googled the amount of sand that would be on the last box. It would be 18,446,744,073,709,551,600 grains of sand. It is this projection which illustrates how much scientific advancement is available to neutralize the statistics that show potential climate change, famine, unemployment, population growth, etc. etc.

Friedman wades into so many problems that our changing world is facing but emerges with an optimistic view that we can adapt as Mother Nature has been adapting since the birth of our planet (with the help of Moore’s Law). He concludes his book by turning inward and trying to understand himself and the community from where he came. He reviews his years growing up and reviews some recent visits to time visiting St. Louis Park, Minnesota which is a small suburban town where he attended public school and Hebrew school. He examines the values he extracted from his childhood experiences and also optimistically observes how this town is changing today with the new generation of immigrants but yet adapting and solving problems the way he hopes the rest of the country and the world will adapt. While he briefly mentioned his own parents and how they influenced him, I believe he underestimates the impact of the nuclear family and early childhood experiences.

Despite the above, this is not a simple homey book. Friedman deals with most subjects in great depth. He not only shares his own opinion but he cites statistics and conversations with wide variety of experts in every aspect of the subject matter. He reviews statistical trends, history, and in-depth discussions with many people. The hard copy version of this book is a solid 496 pages. You will come away from reading this book invigorated, knowledgeable and perhaps some of Friedman’s optimism will rub off on you.

To obtain a copy of this book, please click here

1 comment » | E- Economic, HI - History, P - Political

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

August 20th, 2010 — 7:47pm

Hotel on the CornerPrior to reading this book, I had recently read Shanghai Girls  by Lisa See which is about two Chinese sisters and chronicles their lives from the horror of the Japanese invasion in China to the painful unfair  discrimination which they encountered  in this country during and after World War II. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet  which is debut novel by Jamie Ford in a sense compliments the other book as it provides insight  into the fate of the Japanese living in the United States approximately during this time period. Most Americans, of course  know very little about this page of our history. This novel  provides a window into what happened when the Japanese families were ripped from their homes and jobs  and put in what were called internment camps by the government but prison camps by the  people who were involuntarily taken there. While the story was quite poignant and sweet, it did not have the complexity of story and the depth of characters, which I thought was present in Lisa See’s book.

The story is mostly told through, through the eyes of Henry, a Chinese American who was born in the United States to immigrant parents who expected him to speak English although they could not and maintain their Chinese heritage which  included a hatred of the  Japanese who had attacked their native country. As a youngster he was sent to an upper class white school in Seattle on a scholarship, which meant that he had to help out in the kitchen at lunchtime and clean the erasers after school. While doing this job he meets Keiko, a Japanese girl, also born in the US and sent to this school by her proud parents. They work together, become good friend and even develop an emotional bond which becomes disrupted when she, her family and her entire Japanese community is whisked away almost overnight. The attempt of these barely teenagers to hold on to each other in these impossible circumstances is quite touching. The Hotel Panama is one of the last remnants of the Japanese community and had bordered on the still thriving Chinese community. It is the place where so many of the artifacts of the now transported Japanese Americans have become eternally stored symbolizing their buried memories.

We don’t really get to know these characters of this book  as fully formed multi-determined individuals. We are actually introduced to Henry at a point in life where his wife has died and his son is ready to get married. We know very little about him other than that he has this burning memory of his early love at age 12-13 which is locked in his soul. We learn about this phase of his life as chapters flashback to this time .

The mood of the book is unfulfilled forbidden love which perhaps symbolizes the unfavorable lives of the community of people where their most prized possessions reside in this Hotel of Bitter and Sweet also known as the Hotel Panama.  The sadness of loss is also played out in the somewhat lengthy discussion of the Nursing Home death of  Henry’s s childhood close friend Sheldon. When the movie of this book comes out , the musical score  will be the soulful  sound  of legendary Seattle jazz musician Oscar Holden which was an important part of this story and  played in the background for most of the telling of this tale.

Comment » | FH - Fiction Historical

Shanghai Girls By Lisa See

July 1st, 2010 — 2:28am

Reluctantly, I began this novel, believing I wouldn’t particularly be interested in these women’s lives or the historical time in which it was set. I was immediately sucked into the story line and the lives of these two        “beautiful” girls living in what they thought was an upper-class life style. The place was Shanghai, China and the time was 1937. Knowing that the world was about to change and that the characters would probably be impacted and swept up by these impending changes, riveted my attention to these people, their life style and culture. Just as we begin to know them and feel comfortable with the characters there is a crescendo of events, which we come to appreciative through the eyes of these girls. Arranged marriages, invasion by the Japanese, dissolution of family, fleeing home and country, rape, murder and the desire to survive captivates the reader as a great movie might also do (and this is sure to be made into one).

As engrossing and enlightening that the first half of the book may have been, it is the second half, which I found the most stimulating and thought provoking. The Shanghai girls come to the United States through Angel Island (the Ellis Island of the West) and struggle with their new family to survive in the ghettoized Chinatown in Los Angeles. The discrimination, which they and their family experience, and the treatment as second-class citizens is eye opening. The history books, which I studied, somehow never quite conveyed this story. I knew the U.S. interred Japanese after Pearl Harbor but I never appreciated how harshly we treated the Chinese who hated the Japanese as much as Americans did. Similarly, whatever you have understood about how badly McCarthyism  may have unfairly treated suspected “Communist sympathizers”, it was nothing compared to how Chinese in America were treated during the time that the Communists had just taken over China and were perceived as our enemy.

As I got into this book it was clear to me that the story could have been “ripped from today’s headlines”. You easily could substitute “ Latino” for “Chinese” and be describing the plight of “undocumented” Latinos who are being discriminated in our country today  and even persecuted under the new Arizona legislation. The family members in the book who were trying to eek out a living could be my gardener, the car washer and so many Latinos that we encounter everyday in Los Angeles.

In between periods of reading the book, I found myself thinking about what I knew about the refugees from Poland, Germany and Russia who were my family. I know best the story of my wife’s mother and grandparents who after being bourgeoisie in Russia were confronted and severely maltreated by the Cossacks and then by the Communists causing them to flee their homeland. By hook or by crook they made it to the United States. Initially they lived together in less than ideal accommodations and faced discrimination and hardships. It is easy to forget how so many of us are living the dreams of our ancestor immigrants. We may never fully know the hardships which they faced but are reminded of what they may have been when we read a book such as this one.

Lisa See, the author of Shanghai Girls has indicated in some notes at the conclusion of the book that she has researched the history and based much of the characters and plots on interviews and oral histories, which clearly gives this book an authentic ring. I thank her for work and also our book club for choosing his book for me to experience.

Comment » | FH - Fiction Historical

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