Monthly Archives: February 2013

44th Discussion: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home

fun-homeTimmy moderated the discussion at a place provided by Isaac’s company.

Our Initial Reactions to the Book

Aaron and Isaac liked the book for its literary value and complexity in negotiating binaries of fiction/autobiography, public/private and father/daughter; and Luke liked it for its MRT-friendliness; while Raj and Timmy found the book exhausting with no likable characters and its confusing  narrative technique, something that Javin brought up as an authorial intention; further negative criticism both Aaron and Timmy had was that the author-narrator was egoistic and self-centred.

Themes

1. Suicide?

Timmy asked if the father’s death was a suicide. Raj said Alison thought that the father died to steal her thunder for coming out four months before his death, showing how narcissistic she was. Everything had to go back to her: “He died to steal MY thunder.” Perhaps the fact that she tried so hard to convince the readers that it was a suicide shows the kind of person she was.

2. Effeminate Gay Men

The portrayal of the dad, Aaron felt, was effeminate and negative. Perhaps Alison’s hatred for effeminate gay men was as what Melissa said on facebook, that it was a form of victim-blaming.

3. House/Home

Aaron saw the tinseled house as Alison’s metaphor of her dad, living a lie, while both Raj and Timmy read it as the dad directing his sexual frustrations into useful work.

Timmy followed up with another question on the funeral home, linking the real home and funeral home together, signifying how two houses were funereal and showing a metaphoric death of the traditional family unit. Timmy also suggested that the term “fun home” is ironic because the real home was not fun and the term also breaks down the binary of “funeral/fun” or “death/fun.”

Timmy also brought up that house was a labyrinth, with people getting lost, and is a symbol of the characters losing their way.

4. Her Sexuality

Raj and Timmy brought up that while looking at a fashion mag, both her father and she admired the men for various reasons. Aaron questioned if she was blaming her father for her sexuality as in the comics, the author has suggested that she wanted to be a man so that the father could be interested in her. Aaron also questioned if she was a transgender, rather than a lesbian.

Literary Techniques

1. Doubling

Timmy and Raj noted how similar the father and daughter were and Javin conjectured perhaps it was the reason of her dislike for him.

2. Drawing

Raj didn’t think much of the drawing, saying the characters had little or no expressions, while Aaron thought the drawings depicted their emotions well by the body movements and eyes.

3. Symbol

Timmy said the symbol of “I think” from Alison’s epistemological crisis is obviously a symbol of a vagina.

4. Unreliable Narrator & Autobiography

Using the episode on Alison’s grandmother telling her the story of how her dad was lost in the fields, Aaron questioned the reliability of Alison. For instance, the postman was changed into a milkman, and the story was overdetermined that it became mythical and unrealistic. Aaron suggested that perhaps we should read the author as wanting us to have an epistemological crisis as she was having in the book, to question everything.

Luke said that the point of the lost father was to show Alison and the readers a different side of the father.

Can we trust the book as an autobiography? Isaac claimed that the author didn’t mention this was an autobiography and we can see this as a work of art to question the notion of what autobiography is.

5. Literary Allusions

Timmy thought the literary allusions were the author showing off while Isaac thought it was her way of making sense of the world.

6. Scene: Brother Lost at Christopher Street

What is the point of the scene? Raj said it was to show the father’s concern. Aaron thought throughout the memoir, she talked about her perspective and her dad, why shift the focus to her brother? Very strange.

7. Ending

We liked the ending of the book as Luke succinctly put it, it was very simple, she trusted him therefore she loved him. Isaac questioned, he was there to catch her fall but who was there to catch him?

Characters

1. Alison

We didn’t like her much except Isaac. We all thought she was full of herself, self-indulgent (Timmy), and smarmy (Timmy) but Isaac thought her brave to write an autobiography and she shows how fragile people can be, she was screwed-up because of her dad.

2. Dad

Luke found the dad ambiguously portrayed. Timmy said Dad was stoic  and demonized. Raj agreed with Timmy, saying that at least the father stuck around and his decoration of the house involving the children was his way of interaction and showing love for them.

3. Mother

Aaron saw the mother as the villain of this drama. The father was fighting his own demons and had an excuse but she had none. She could have stopped the beating of the children. She could have walked out of the marriage and supported herself, being the strong independent woman who flew to Paris to marry a man. She was nonchalant to the children’s well being.

Conclusion

Despite disliking the memoir, Raj, being masochistic, wanted to read her book on her mother Are You My Mother? before condemning Bechdel completely. Raj called this book a gay Persepolis. Isaac reiterated that the autobiography is self-reflexive and has universal themes of coming out that LGBT can identity with and the characters, neither fully good nor bad, perplex and frustrate the reader. Timmy was convinced by Isaac and appreciated the book more while Aaron stood by his love-hate relationship that it was a good literary book but detested the narcissistic narrator-author as he believes that values, even narcissism, are transmitted through books subliminally.

3 Comments

Filed under Alison Bechdel, Class, Ecology, Family, Gay, Graphic Novel, Lesbian, Love, USA

43rd Discussion: Alaa Al Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building

IMG_4122

QBC kicked off 2013 by doing something a little closer to Asia. Raj, our wonderful host, served up “Middle Eastern flair” – couscous, pandan chicken, shish kebab, and the obligatory red & white wines. In attendance were Raj, Aaron, Isaac, Alex, Javin, Luke, and Timmy. We also welcome Lydia, who had intended to do her own work while we dissected the book but ended up listening in the discussion as well.

Alaa Al Aswany's The Yacoubian BuildingFirst Impressions

Other than Lydia, Timmy, and Luke, who didn’t manage to read the book, and Ernest, who only read the first twenty pages, everyone else completed their readings. Three of them liked it: Javin found it funny; Alex said it was fast paced and had interesting characters; Isaac commented the book utilized the “melodrama device” very well and portrayed Egypt’s culture and politics. Raj was neutral towards the book, stating that it was nothing outrageous in spite of its appeal and how easy it was to read the book. “If someone who doesn’t know about Middle East read the book, they would find it interesting,” he quipped. Aaron agreed with Raj in that the book was easy reading (“MRT friendly” aka Alexius we missed you!) but it was not a “literary read”. He felt that the writing was not good.

Different Eras

Aaron asked about the “changing times” that were showcased in the book. He referred to the building as “Old Europe”. Raj brought up Christine, the matriarch of the building, the one who maintained the place. Javin saw Zaki Bey as someone who represented “the good old days”.

Ernest felt that Taha’s childhood sweetheart, Busayna, was of the old order as well. Raj, however, felt that she “didn’t keep the cherry like the other ladies”, and also brought up the fact that Busayna had aimed to get out of the country, which was unlike ladies of that era. Aaron backed up Raj’s comments by highlighting the fact that she made use of others to get what she wanted.

Raj noted that Hatim was akin to someone who was in transition, “stuck in between”.

Religion

Javin questioned about beliefs after reading the book; he felt that it was just using God’s name in vain. Aaron followed up with his observation of the politics described in the book, and whether both points were equivalent to the interpretation of Islam. “Isn’t that a form of hypocrisy?” he asked.

Ernest posed the question of using religion for personal beliefs, which led Aaron to ask if the book is against Islam/Islamism. (Islamism – the religious faith, principles, or cause of Islam) Raj and Timmy defended the book, explaining that Aaron’s claims did not make sense given the fact that the book is set in Egypt and it is a predominantly Muslim country.

The discussion then moved on to why certain characters turned to religion. “Was it a last resort tactic?” asked Aaron. Javin replied that it could be due to fear rather than as a last resort. We noted the difference between Azzam and Taha; the former used Islam as part of his political agenda whereas the latter turned to it because of his anger. Raj suggested that Taha did so because he had no friends to vent out to, and in religion, he found hope. “He found solace,” Timmy complemented Raj’s opinion.

Politics

Following up on Aaron’s point on politics, Ernest brought up the letter exchanges between Taha and the president, and questioned whether the entire thing was written to ridicule Taha. Javin talked about Sheikh Shakir and the extreme ways he executed in the book. “Was this because of a personal vendetta?” he asked. “When the devil in you overtakes God…” Raj joked.

Aaron rambled on about religion resulting in political, social, and gender corruption, which Isaac agreed. He noted of the social corruption displayed in the book, as well as the disparity between the rich and the poor, the oppressed and the oppressors.

Gender

The difference in the treatments of Busayna and Souad was brought up. Raj thought that Busayna was treated like shit, but Aaron disagreed, claiming that she got the better deal as compared to the latter. He explained that Azzam was just out to punish Souad, thus her keeping the child was her way of claiming something that is hers in their marriage. This, in comparison to despite Zaki paying for Busayna’s services, he treated her nicely and it felt like there was something more to their encounter.

Homosexuality

Two questions from Aaron:

  1. Is the book condemning homosexuals?
  2. Is it a homophobic book?

With regards to the first question, Javin thought it was the circumstances occurring in the book that might have led to it condemning homosexuals.

As for the second question, Alex agreed solely because of the way “someone kena hentam”. Ernest pithily said no, and then mentioned that Hatim gained prominence in society despite being gay. Hatim’s looks was then brought up. Javin said looking effeminate is the lesser of two evils. Bottoms and stereotyping were also briefly mentioned, and Madonna was quoted. (“The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Yeahhhhhh.”)

“Why did Hatim have to die?? Isn’t that homophobic??” Aaron asked. Most of us agreed that his death painted a sympathetic portrayal of homosexuals rather than homophobia.

Characters

Favourites

Raj, Javin, and Aaron did not have any characters that they like, although Aaron was happy for Busayna and Zaki. Ernest liked Taha as he resonated with his ideals and something about “trying to breathe onto a glass ceiling” (Don’t ask me). Raj commented that in spite of all that, he still had a lot to lose, i.e. his dreams. Isaac thought Abdul was hot. Aaron applauded the characterization of Abaskharon, calling him awesome and is an embodiment of the contemporary Egyptian (“He does anything to survive.”)

Hates

Raj, Javin, Alex, and Ernest did not have any characters they disliked. Aaron hated Azzam, calling him the most manipulative person and his tendency to utilize the Quran for his own advantages. Isaac brought up Abdul again, whom despite being hot, only seemed to enjoy anal sex like the gay for pay bitches in Sean Cody productions.

Wrapping Up

After the invigorating discussion, we all cooled down and shared our final words about the book. Javin felt that it was entertaining. Alex agreed with him, and (of course) stated that he liked the sex scenes, in particular the warehouse violation involving Busayna. Ernest also was kept entertained by the book, thought he complained: “I didn’t read enough to get to the sex scenes”. (Hopefully by the time this note is published, he would have finished it.) Raj succinctly said the book was okay. Isaac, ever the optimist, said the book was “pretty good” and summed up religion and society in Egypt nicely.

Peace be upon you.

2 Comments

Filed under Alaa Al Aswany, Class, Egypt, Gay, Love, Politics, Religion, Time