Category Archives: Colonialism

Movie Discussion: The Handmaiden (2016) by Park Chan-Wook


Juan, Anne, Yisheng, and Aaron showed up for the screening. We discussed the ambivalence towards lesbianism depicted in the film. It’s generally a positive portrayal although the sex scenes appear to be fetishized for a male heterosexual audience. While the film inherited this flaw from the book, we wondered why there is no positive portrayal of men. We also talked about the colonial period the film is set in and if the director is making a statement about Korea. Finally, we discussed the film technique, camera movements, and the prevalence of green color in the film. I guess green is the warmest color for Park.

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Filed under Colonialism, Lesbian, Love, Post-Colonialism, South Korea

Discussion: Fairytales for Lost Children by Diriye Osman

Attendees: Timmy, Raj, Peter, Pierre, Aaron, Abel, Farah, Kay
Moderator: Brian

Started the debauched evening with African wines and negativity for the book. K wished she understood the illustrations; F wanted more lesbian stories; Pe thought the sex should be less explicit, more symbolic; Pi had nothing to critique; Aa believed it to be egoistic and narcissistic, all stories told in the same voice, and hence unimaginative; T, R, and B agreed that the stories are Teflon and don’t stick to memory; and in addition, T thought the stories to be miserable with little triumph, all about oppression from racism, “refugee-ism,” Islamophobia, homophobia.

Themes

1. Corporeality: B quoted the last two sentences, “We own our bodies. We own our lives,” and informed us that criticism on the book revolves around the embodiment of sexuality. Sexuality is about bodies, graphic and corporeal, as evident in the story with two dancers. K wondered if a person doesn’t have sex, will they still be considered as homo/bi/trans? R and P claimed that thinking defines a person; R gave examples that nobody in the stories comes out because of the sex and most acts are not comfortable anyway whereas P evinced that the sex is just for release, people just “is”.

2. Religion: Ab, B, and F shared their religious experiences. Aa argued that the book presents a lose-lose situation: the book shows that you can either be glbtq or Muslim, but sexuality and Islam are mutually exclusive. P said that the book is based on the writer’s experience and doesn’t need to answer the sexuality/religion conundrum while B cautioned against universalizing the author’s experience.

3. Refugee: B asked what we made of the refugee theme in the book. Aa dismissed it as the author playing on liberal White guilt.

4. Sex: While Pe thought the sex is excessive, K liked the guiltless sex. R reminded us of the homophobic discourse that gay men are promiscuous, all about the bass. B explained that the sex challenges notions of stability.

5. Others: B pointed out the conundrum that silence about one’s sexuality leads to suffering, but if you’re honest, it leads to exile from the community. He also championed the book for its anti-heteronormativity, and anti-homonormativity.

Style

B informed us that critics say the book has an “abundance of style.”

T riposted, “Style what style?”

1. Pi, Pe, and Aa felt that the style is very Singaporean from a post-colonial tone, although K cautioned that post-colonial literatures are diverse.

B suggested that the Creole mixture of language might explain the similarity with Singapore literature.

2. Aa hated the voice because it’s jejune, narcissistic and egoistic—as if it is written by a very talented 18 year-old blogger—and as a result, it’s unimaginative. Although P agrees that all stories speak like they are one person, it’s imaginative in a schizophrenic manner.

Favorite stories:
Pe and Pi had none.
“Watering the Imagination” (T) because positive
“Pavilion” (T, R, Aa): empowering
“If I were a Dance”: empowering, rising out of the fire (F), comedic and sad (B)
“Earthling”: discusses schizophrenia/mental illness in GLBTQ community (K)
“Shoga”: because of the uninhibited sex (B)

Fav characters:
Pe, T, R had none.
Hot gardener in “Shoga” (Pi)
Dad in “Fairytales for Lost Children” (B)
Dancer in “If I were a dance” (S)
Nurse in “Pavilion” (K)
Curvy guy in “The Other (Wo)Man” (Aa)

Things we like about the book:
R had none.
Arabic title (T)
Culture mash-up (Pe)
Growing pains and angst, like an emo Singaporean kid (P)
MRT-friendly (Aa)
it’s fuck-up, so it makes our lives seem better. It’s a feel-bad, feel-good book (F)
Sex (K and B)

Ab, who didn’t read the book, said he would read it after listening to our discussion.

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Filed under Africa, Colonialism, Diriye Osman, Family, Love

62nd Discussion: Ellis Avery’s The Teahouse Fire (or Q&A with Raj)

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Poor Raj! He set such a beautiful table, and no one came for the book club. Aaron had emailed Raj a list of questions beforehand to moderate the discussion, but since no one came, Raj decided to answer them.

 

Questions for Teahouse Fire:

  1. On p. 284, there is a Japanese phrase “ichigo ichie” for the tea world. It means “one moment, one meeting,” or in the deepest sense, it means there are no mistakes in life. What does this phrase mean about life in general? Does the novel embody this phrase? Which character, do you think, apply this philosophy?

avery - The_teahouse_fireIchi-go ichi-e is linked with Zen Buddhism and concepts of transience, particularly depicted during the tea ceremony conducted in the style of famed tea master Sen no Rikyu where unique scrolls, tea bowls and flowers are set up in the tea room. In the context of tea ceremony, ichi-go ichi-e reminds participants that each tea meeting is unique. This is also true that there is has been no repetition of the set up for the varios tea ceremonies in the book. In each of the tea ceremony, the host and guest had one unique experience that lead to friendship or disaster

In a deeper sense, it is about Aurelia meeting Yukako in the teahouse that night of the fire – it is that one moment, one meeting that changed the courses of their lives. Towards the end, in the same tearoom, Aurelia kissed Yukako and again changed the course of their lives.

  1. What are the similarities and differences between Western and Japanese cultures in the book?

Similarities:

Mary vs Goddess of Mercy.

The status of fallen women is the same – Aurelia’s mom and Kenji’s girlfriend Aki – outcast.

Differences:

Bath rituals

Role of wife

Social order – Samurai, Traders and the untouchable working class

  1. Is Urako/Aurelia responsible for her uncle’s death? (Also note the molestation scene before the fire.)

She prayed for her life to change and she rather not have the uncle with her – shown by her praying to change her life before the goddess and also her uncle only showed up in nightmares later in her life as Urako. Also, she never bothered to find if her uncle survived the fire at all.

  1. Why does Urako/Aurelia have made up last names?

I believe that she doesn’t know her father’s name and that name “Bernard” was given by her uncle. Hints that her mom could have been raped by a priest was suggested by both Aurelia and her mom when she said, “Aurelia Bernard. Who is this Bernard, tell me? The Church hates truth, and the nuns hate it most of all.”

  1. Why does Urako have sex with Nao?

She wanted someone who desire Yukako to desire her as well. Also she believes Yukako desires Nao instead of her and she wants to punish her.

  1. Objects in the book often have significant meanings: the lightning cup, Yukako making a spoon out of Baishian’s wood for Urako, and Urako’s Catholic medal. What gives these things meaning? And what is the significance of these things? On a side note, does Yukako’s marketing on tea ware cheapen or ennoble the art?

Symbolism and subtle messages are very much a cultured Japanese behaviour – the book is full of hidden messages just like Urako’s closeted sexuality – classic example of her dress handing in the alcove.

Yukako’s marketing of the tea sets made them more of a commercial item rather than “ichigo ichie”- “one moment, one meeting”.

  1. Why does Yukako set Baishian on fire? What is the significance of fire and water in the book?

Yukako’s way of atoning for her mistake – she will never be able to host another tea ceremony in Baishian again – again on the theme of Ichigo Ichie.

You need fire and water to make tea – its sweet irony. Also Aurelia had a fire after a long journey over sea into Japan and after another fire she sails away from Japan.

  1. Yukaka appears to be half sister to Koito. Does it give her a right to teach Koito, a geisha, chado?

Yukako did it for other reasons rather than the fact that she is a half sister. Yukako , according to the book, has been key reason for women to learn tea. She also introduced this to the Geisha world through Koito. But whether she has a right – it all depends on who’s perspective you want to look from.

  1. During one teaching lesson with Koito, Yukako honors Urako’s Western dress. Why?

Yukako’s acceptance of the western influence into their lives. Also Urako is her first student.
teahousecover

  1. Why does Aurelia’s mother insist on calling her blond when she has black hair?

Maybe her real father had blond hair??

  1. Comment on the throwaway reference to Singapore as a name for a ship. Is it exoticizing Singapore?

Author wants to show the historic importance of Singapore as a port as well of the fact that Japan owned Singapore at one time.

  1. Incest: Comment on the rampant incest that occurs in the novel: Aurelia with her uncle, Yukako with her half brother, Nao; Kenji (Yukako’s son) with Akio (Nao’s daughter).

Its common in those days – people don’t get out of their circle and houses too much

  1. Why does Akio dress Koito in Yukako’s kimino?

Fantasy – Fetish – every man wants a virtuous wife who is a whore in bed!

  1. Discuss the male-female relationships in the book. Are there any positive ones? (Also look at mother-son relationships).

Yukako – Tai – positive

Tai – Tsuko – positive

  1. Discuss the male-male relationship in the book, especially the triangle between Nao, Hiro, and Akio.

There is a lot of brotherly love and jealousy by Nao to Hiro and Akio. Hierarchy in the teahouse is one the reason for this and class status.

  1. Nao’s class struggle.

Didn’t help when he married an untouchable gal !!

  1. Love: Does Urako love Yukako or Inko?

Different sort of love – Yukako is a sort of motherly-sisterly love – whereas Inko was more of her equal. Inko loves Urako more that Urako loves her while Urako love Yukako more than Yukako love her.

  1. Discuss the female characters (Pipe Lady, Yukako, Urako, Chio, Aki, Koito, Inko)

Really? Why??? There is too many female characters in this book!!!!

  1. Discuss the male characters. Are there any strong and positive male characters? Is this another male-bashing lesbian novel? (Mountain, Akio, Jiro, Kenji, Tai.)

There was no real great male characters , but at the same time there is no real male bashing. There are more mean gals depicted in this book than lame men. This book centres on women rather than men.

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Filed under Bisexuality, Class, Colonialism, Ellis Avery, Family, Food, France, Historical, Japan, Lesbian, Love, Race, Religion, USA, War

61st Discussion: Maureen F. McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang

Moderator: Aaron
Attendees: Dominic, Faizal, Hisham, Javin, Jiaqi, Timmy

mchugh, maureen - chinamountainzhangThis is one of the rare times that we decided to do a (gay) science fiction book. Everyone had something to pick on with the book – from its setting (Javin found it “unnecessary” and depressing, Dominic thought it was a dauntingly boring disturbia, Jiaqi didn’t think there was enough “sci-fi” and advanced technology to classify it as futuristic) to the writing style (Raj didn’t find it appealing, Timmy thought it was too static and sterile) and even to how prehistoric some concepts were (Aaron scoffed at the idea of cruising despite being set in the future).

THEMES
1. Structure: Jiaqi liked the diversity in showcasing the varied characters, which Javin disagreed with as he could not invest in them as much. Raj hated having to connect all the dots, which Aaron added made the book all the more messy and chaotic. Hisham felt that it could have been done better.

2. Homosexuality: Everyone agreed that homosexuals were stereotypically portrayed here, from the rich ang mohs to the Chinese gays with the inability to say no to everything. The happy ending that Zhang received drew ire from Aaron and Javin, who felt like it was forced, though Raj and Jiaqi thought otherwise, even if it was clichéd.

3. Women: Portrayed negatively except for the Korean woman (Jiaqi), and the doctor, who came across as domineering (Hisham).

4. Racism: Raj quipped that despite being set in the future, the only thing that was progressive was the food. Aaron pointed out that the Chinese characters suffered terrible fates, eliciting a rather long racism rant.

5. Relationships: The gay relationships featured came across as passive (Dominic) and devoid of love (Javin), to which Jiaqi vehemently opposed, commenting that it was filled with affection. Timmy noted that the heterosexual relationships showed the most growth throughout the book.

Dysfunctional, queer (Aaron) and atypical (Raj) were used to describe the familial relationships, though Jiaqi thought the families featured were portrayed normally.

CHARACTERS

1. Jiaqi didn’t think Angel was a fully developed character, and whose only sole purpose in the book was to be the information superhighway to Cinnabar, according to Dominic. Aaron saw her as a fag hag, to which Javin quipped that her being a fag hag gave her the opportunity to win races.

2. Everyone agreed that Peter was the most well-adjusted out of all: partly because he came off as relaxed and was able to come to terms with himself (Javin), and mainly because he was ang moh and didn’t worry about others’ opinions (Raj). Jiaqi deduced that Peter had it easier than Zhang. Peter is Javin’s favourite character.

3. Aaron thought that as a character, Cinnibar was not properly fleshed out.

4. Raj viewed Matador as another typical young gay boy who didn’t give a hoot about the world, to which Aaron concluded that he was another whiny bottom who just wanted to be taken care of.

5. Based on our observations, Hai Bao was set up as Zhang’s (life?) mentor. His suicide served as a milestone in Zhang’s life, causing him to “wake up” from his “catatonic” state.

6. We looked at Martine as a repressed being who had difficulty expressing her emotions. Timmy envisioned her to be like the ultimate on-screen ice queen, Tilda Swinton.

7. Aaron selected Zhang as his favourite character; citing his determination that gave everyone hope. Jiaqi liked that he was funny, relatable and sympathetic.

The question as to whether he was a depressed individual elicited two responses – Jiaqi, Dominic and Timmy didn’t think that he was ever in that state in the first place, while Raj and Aaron believed that he was.

We also questioned his decision/motive of revealing his sexual orientation to San Xiang at the end, and wrote it off as him finally accepting and being comfortable with himself.

In rounding up the discussion, everyone generally had nice things to say about the book – that it was interesting (Dominic), an “MRT-friendly” read (Raj), likeable and memorable characters (Jiaqi) and being enjoyable overall (Timmy). Aaron appreciated the literary values the book brought across, and being one of the only few books that saw the gay man eventually getting his happy ending (pun not intended). Hisham profoundly expressed that the book made our #firstworldproblems seem minute in comparison. Javin succinctly summed it up best: “It’s a gay book.”

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Filed under China, Class, Colonialism, Ecology, Family, Gay, Love, Maureen F. McHugh, Politics, Post-Colonialism, Race, S/F, Space, Technology, USA, War

55th Discussion: Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim, Two Boys

Moderator: Aaron
Attendees: Alexius, Amit, Har, Jiaqi, Luke, Raj, Timmy

OPENINGo'neil - at_swim_two_boys.large

The general consensus was that we did not like this book. Raj did not manage to finish the book (a first time for everything!) and felt that it was draggy, which Aaron and Alexius agreed. The latter also felt that the drama was outdated, with the scenes being too long and equated it as a “Hong Kong TVB drama.” Jiaqi felt that the book was a tough read, to which Har agreed, saying that it was not an immediate appreciation. Aaron further added that the storyline felt childish and amateurish.

THEMES AND CHARACTERS

Aaron brought up the quote by Aunt Nancy: “All Love Does Ever Rightly Show Humanity Our Tenderness.” Timmy philosophized that despite the war, humans are still capable to love, whereas Jiaqi thought the quote as just another quote. Aaron opined that it tied in with the theme of story – of love, humanity and tenderness. Raj equated Aldershot (taking the first letters) as a gay town.

We talked about Mr Mack, whom Raj thought of as an opportunist, leeching off the aunt. Both Har and Jiaqi shared a love-hate relationship with the character, not liking him because he was a control freak but subsequently liking him when he started showing sympathy and understanding towards Jim.  Alexius viewed him as “a big strategist,” while Aaron thought of Mr Mack as a comical character.

In comparing Jim & Doyler’s relationship and Mr Mack & Doyler’s relationship, Alexius commented that “Jim was not his father” and thus, their relationships were dissimilar. The biggest difference between the two was that Jim and Doyler had sex with each other, while Mr Mack and Doyler’s maintained only friendly decorum. Aaron then asked whether was it better to be in first generation (Mr Mack & D’s father = friends) or the second generation (J & D = fucking), to which Raj answered the second gen, while Har felt the first gen had the better ending.

MacMurrough the schizophrenic was then discussed. Alexius viewed him as a lonely person who created the imaginary friend as his companion. Jiaqi disagreed, as he felt that MacMurrough could differentiate and instead perceived him as a conflicted character who struggled with being gay. Aaron brought up about the voices that disappeared in the second half of the book, which he observed as MacMurrough’s transformation from self-hatred to love, thanks to Jim. Har thought that the voices were akin to his subconscious.

Everyone had differing views of MacMurrough’s relationships with Jim and Doyler. Jiaqi reckoned that MacMurrough loved J and wanted him to be happy, while being physically attracted to D. Aaron viewed M and J’s relationship as one of pure love, while D has a lot of sex with him. At the other end of the spectrum, Har felt that the relationship with J was purely platonic, while it was romantic when he was with D.

Jamie O'Neill's At Swim, Two BoysDoyler’s rape was brought up as well as what happened that made MacMurrough feel that he was not in control. Timmy quipped that it was because D was a power bottom, while Jiaqi opined that M needed D more than vice-versa.

We also discussed at length MacMurrough’s encounters with his 10-year-old self.

Everyone gushed about the washerwoman, and her initial introduction in the book. Unanimously, everyone agreed that she symbolized Ireland – the motherland that nurtures you (Jiaqi) and someone who is associated with patriotism, land and nature (Aaron). Raj saw her as a simple country folk who enjoy the simple things in life.

Aaron then brought specific examples (the 300 Spartans, the Irish Oscar Wilde exchange, Jim’s internalization of the soldier’s speech as his love for Doyler) and suggested that the author was trying to associate Ireland with homosexuality, which drew a negative reaction from Jiaqi, who felt that it was more about identity as opposed to homosexuality, and zero responses from the rest.

The women characters were then brought up. Har saw Eva as a revolutionist; an independent and modern character who embodied the fighting spirit, though ultimately she was forgettable. Aaron felt that she was the weakest character and was written as a fag hag, while Alexius imagined her as a “menopausal butch who transformed into Mother Theresa” towards the end of the book. Jiaqi was favourable towards her, who thought that she was well portrayed and had a few funny moments. Raj thought of her as elite

As for Nancy, Jiaqi felt that she was only a minor character in the book, while Aaron saw her as a motherly figure who was nurturing towards everyone.

And none for Sawney.

When asked whether the book was reductive towards the other gender, Har succinctly described that the book was not a feminist book.

We talked about the ending and questioned whether it was a happy or sad one. Both Har and Alexius viewed it as a happy ending, because “they finally met in the end” (Har) and “(the book) finally ended” (Alexius). Jiaqi, however, thought it was a sad ending as the main characters died. Amit thought it was a predictable end, as “everyone knows there won’t be a happy ending” whereas Aaron felt that the ending was “appropriate.”

FAVOURITES

Characters

Raj liked Sawney, the insightful butch with a beard.

Alex picked Gordie, whom he viewed as not a minor character.

Jiaqi and Aaron had their JLo references, with the former’s favourite character being Doyler as he “felt like a real person” while the latter selected MacMurrough due to his struggles in defining himself.

Scenes

Alexius thought there were no memorable scenes in the book, though he brought up the one of the priest molesting Jim.

Jiaqi, Raj and Aaron were unanimous in picking the realization that MacMurrough’s washerwoman was Doyler’s mother as their favourite scene(s), with Raj describing it as funny and one that is of “self-irony.”

LAST WORDS

Jamie O'Neill's At Swim, Two BoysIn rounding up the discussion, we went around asking for something positive of the book. Raj promised to finish reading it, even though the pdf version gave him headaches. Amit thought it was romantic of the author to continue working on the book to 600+ pages, as opposed to taking the quick way out and cut it short. Jiaqi thought it was a good book and themes were very well done. Har, probably the only fanboy of the book, said that it was touching and “made him cry a lot.” He also commented that the writing technique was “very Irish and filled with proses.”

Alex commented that given the size of the book, one can use it to train the bicep. He further added that the author’s sleeve photo portrayed him accurately (read: a psychopath). Timmy added on to Alex’s quip by joking that the book can also be used as paperweight and/or killer litter.

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Filed under Class, Classics, Colonialism, Disability, Family, Gay, Ireland, Love, Post-Colonialism, War

47th Discussion: Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt

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Raj, as our chef de cuisine whenever we hosted the discussions over at Tanjong Pagar, served up food inspired by the book – crepes with duck & fig and ham & cheese fillings, and duck and chicken & prawns spring rolls. Merci, Raj, comme toujours.

Aaron moderated the discussion; Amit and Luke were there to show their support.

What did we like about the book? Food and France, according to Raj, were the two factors that he approved of. Miss Toklas was also a contributing factor, whom Raj said reminded him of his lesbian friends. Overall, he thought the book felt “real” and was a nice read. Har enjoyed the way that the book was written; he appreciated its specificity and how accessible the text was. Aaron agreed, saying that the writing was beautiful and cited the first chapter as “amazing”. Timmy commended Truong for the thorough research she conducted for her first book.

Monique Truong's The Book of Salt

We questioned the meaning of the book’s title. Raj talked about the usage of salt in French cuisine, and briefly explained that for one to become the top chef in France, he has to master its cuisine. Timmy brought up the quote about salt existing in the kitchen, sweat, tears, and the sea, and viewed it as the ingredient that gives any dish its flavour. He alluded that life is not always sweet; there is always a little salt to give it more taste and flavour. Aaron opined that it is about ambition.

In Chapter 19, Miss Toklas instructed Binh not to use salt in his cooking. (“Salt is not essential here.”) What we have derived from that exchange was a showcase of who the superior in the house was (Raj); an indication of the characters, highlighting the charmed life Alice has been leading (Aaron); a no-salt diet requirement (Timmy).  “Because it may lead to high blood pressure,” Raj quipped with regards to Timmy’s observation.

We also talked about the significance of food in the book. Aaron thought the ways in which food was described was very sensuous, to which Raj explained that food was used as a form of seduction. “Trust me, I know it!” he boldly proclaimed. Har then brought up the plentiful mentions of rice within the book and what it meant. Raj quipped that it showcased how versatile Asians can be, i.e. being able to adapt to different kinds of situations as well as the varied tastes in men we have.

If food is the metaphor for sex, then what is love? Raj brought up the bit about quinces. (“To answer your question, Gertrude Stein, love is not a bowl of quinces yellowing in a blue and white china bowl, seen but untouched.”) According to him, humans and quinces are not dissimilar – “People have to be given the right amount of heat, to be cooked and simmered (like quinces) before they attain the ability to love.”

Binh, the protagonist of the book, was brought up, which led to a discussion on his name, and why there were instances of characters not using their real names when introducing themselves. Raj vehemently said Binh was not his real name. “We don’t even know his real name!” Aaron said, before proclaiming that names are important in that it gives one his identity. Timmy thought that Binh giving false names during encounters with other people was his way of creating a new identity for himself. Aaron added that Timmy’s explanation was akin to an outsider looking in, before further questioning Truong’s intention of creating him as a gay character on top of being a second-class citizen in a foreign country.

The pronunciation of Binh’s name was also briefly touched on, with Har asking whether this was racist as none of the Caucasian characters could even pronounce his name correctly. Aaron and Raj both agreed that “Ang Mohs don’t care”, further perpetuating the notion that they really are racist.

An example of Binh’s name being “mangled” is when Sweet Sunday Man started calling him Bee. Timmy felt that that was used as a term of endearment, while Aaron equated it to Binh being a “honey bee”. Raj then explained how Caucasians tend to call others by the first initial of their names, i.e. A for Aaron, T for Timmy, and so forth. Very Gossip Girl.

Despite his affections, Sweet Sunday Man still made Binh steal The Book of Salt. Gertrude Stein wrote about Binh in the book, which caused Aaron to question whether anyone – even the great Gertrude Stein – could describe him perfectly. The part in which Sweet Sunday Man said that Stein captured Binh’s essence perfectly only caused Raj to exclaim that “Americans tend to agree with their countrymen.” We all agreed that Binh did not particularly reveal his true self throughout the book.

Varying opinions were shared when we talked about Sweet Sunday Man. Was he in love with Binh? Was he purely using him for sex? Was Sweet Sunday Man vindictive, since he used Binh to steal the book? Aaron asked whether he was a bad guy through and through. Raj said the only reason why Sweet Sunday Man was called as such was because it came from Binh’s point of view.

Is this book homophobic? Aaron finally tossed out (one of) his favourite question(s). Raj said the book made it look like homosexuals cannot find love. Aaron also added that the book depicted homosexuals as evil; Binh was a stereotypical gay man; lesbians were painted as selfish bitches.

Aaron read out loud the last passage of the book, and asked everyone what it meant. Timmy correctly guessed that it was about suicide. We briefly discussed about the “you” mentioned in that bit, which could have been referring to his mother, or his grandmother. It could even be about love or just holistically used as a metaphor.

Speaking of suicide, we moved on to why Binh kept hearing the Old Man’s voice in his head. The best quote used to describe the father: “He is a bloody cibai!” (© Raj 2013). Har viewed it as Binh’s criticism of himself, while Raj felt that it was his way of fulfilling his father’s expectations of him. Timmy thought he was delusional, and then brought up the scene of him burying his father alive.

Binh’s paternity was also questioned, with Timmy believing that The Old Man was not his biological father due to his mother’s affair with the schoolteacher. Aaron, however, didn’t think it was plausible and instead, suggested that Binh may have made the story up.

Aaron noted that religion played a big theme within the book, though Raj was unsure whether the author was against it.

When it came to favourite characters, Har picked Minh (up until Chapter 8, anyway) as he found the sous chef cool and was often dishing out advice to his younger brother. Both Timmy and Raj selected the mother, who, according to T, was “the Destiny’s Child of Vietnam in the 1920s”, while Raj likened her to The Little Nyonya, who was always busy in the kitchen, has got the guts to go to a different church from her husband’s, and was accepting of Binh. In terms of least favourite characters, Timmy disliked the (ex-) Madame’s secretary, calling her a slut and a bitch. Raj chose Sweet Sunday Man, saying that he was manipulative and had the nerve to break it off with Binh on a Post-It note. He then cited Carrie Bradshaw’s cardinal rule on breaking up with anyone using a Post-It note. Aaron found the grandmother to be selfish as she sold her daughter off to be matchmade before killing herself, just so that she could join her deceased husband in the afterlife.

We rounded up the session by asking one another what we don’t like about the book. Raj thought that it was full of stereotypes, though overall, he does not and could not hate the book. Har found the food references too tough to follow, and after the discussion, thought the ending was horrible. Timmy, who by then could not hold back his vitriol, said he found the book boring and monotonous, joking that he would rather watch paint dry or grass grow than read it. He didn’t think there was any satisfaction from reading the book, and could not appreciate Truong’s writing style. Aaron thought the same. “The writing is so beautiful, yet it’s a beautiful nothing,” he poetically said.

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Filed under Class, Classics, Colonialism, Family, Food, France, Historical, Love, Monique Truong, Queer, Race, Religion, Time, Vietnam

46th Discussion: Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Dream of the Celt

First off: to the two guys who arrived at the destination, called Raj, and yet did not manage to join us for the book club – please do attend May’s discussion. How long does it take to park a car, anyway? 😉

Aaron gallivanted to Jakarta, leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves. Props to Raj for both the food and moderating! Thank you to Joshua, Glenn, Ernest, and Luke for being there and warm welcomes to Edwin and Edwina (no, they are not related neither are they together) for their first times to QBC. Raj quipped that he didn’t know what to serve in accordance to the book’s theme, so he prepared crab sandwiches, cheese and potato sandwiches, cocktail sausages, and baby carrots.

In keeping with last month’s resolution, we started off by asking what you liked about the book.The Dream of the Celt Edwina thought that the author covered various kinds of discriminations in the book and that everything was so factual that it made her read up on history and war, particularly the Irish independent movement. Joshua concurred, saying that the idea(s) for the book were well researched, particularly in geographical terms. He thought that the book developed at a good pace and not “fictionally chaotic.” Raj appreciated the extensive research done for the book too, as well as how Llosa didn’t portray the British and Irish as being the superior races.

The first point discussed was Roger’s portrayal as a hero. Edwina said that Roger was painted in a sympathetic light, though ultimately his “sexual deviance” became his downfall. Raj questioned whether the author was biased in doing (the heroic portrayal). Joshua disagreed, stating that it was a realistic portrayal, allowing Roger to develop empathy. He thought of Roger not as a singular character who saved the day; there were others and situations that helped him out along the way. Ernest saw a brittle hardness in Roger, who was initially naiveté and stuck to his principles.

Roger’s personality deficits were then talked about. Raj was astonished that he was not willing to be forward with/for his own pleasures. We concluded that Roger may have been politically introverted.

We moved on to colonialism, with Raj asking if Llosa and the book were for or against it. Edwina felt that they were against the notion, stating that the book’s themes were “more textured,” capitalism is mixed and colonialism is wide. Joshua shared with us the statistics that 75% was against colonialism and 20% was for it (what happened to the 5%?). “If Roger was so against it, why work in Africa?” Raj inquired. Joshua guessed that it could be due to his father. Edwina quipped that it may be his way of taming the savages.

In terms of racism, Edwina found it amusing that there was limited description of the natives, and then asked if it was because of Western perceptions.

Of course, as with every (gay?) book and/or discussion, religion was brought into the fold. We questioned whether Anglicans were seen as God, and Catholicism was anti-colonialism. Edwina thought that Llosa offered a charitable description of “the organization”, though she was unsure if that should be perceived as anti-colonialism. Ernest shared a dark observation with the rest of the group: “In Congo, everybody is evil. Who is left that is good? The religious people.” Edwina helpfully concluded that the religious people were the “souls” of the book. Raj thought the book was pro-Catholic…

…Which brought us to the next point: Catholicism being a gay man’s religion. Edwina thought the notion is bizarre, although perhaps it does make sense. She then shared about how priesthood is the only way to celibacy, and “is the easy route (German) gay men take to atone their sins.”

“If he had done something with the boys, would your opinions of Roger change?” asked Raj. Joshua said yes, and said that it would be a clichéd stereotype. Edwina thought the entire scene/exchange reminded her of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.

Among other things we briefly touched on were mothers and sons (Edwina equated mother to motherland, as in Ireland), the sheriff and the son, and of course the sex scenes, which everyone wholeheartedly agreed that they were disappointing, to say the least. Edwina found them tame, Joshua thought they were too short to be called “sex scenes”, and Raj just found them off-putting.

We concluded the book discussion by asking for everyone’s last words. Ernest, who only managed to read three chapters of the book, vehemently said he would not bother to finish the book as he found it too long drawn out and dry. Glenn (who only made it past the first chapter), however, would continue reading it as the references found in the book made it seem interesting. Edwin said he would read the book too. El sueño del celta, the original version of the book.Edwina felt that the portrayals of colonialism, religion, and race were interesting, but when it came to homosexuality, it was too one-sided. Joshua enjoyed the development of patriotism in the book and the flip-flopping of the narratives, although he felt that Llosa’s writing style was “not beautiful and historically accurate”. Language-wise, it was not captivating to him, which surprised him. We deduced that it could be due to the translation rather than Llosa himself. Raj slammed the book, saying that he hated it and found it a horrible crap. “Nothing in the book was portrayed nicely!” he bitched.

In the end, as opposed to the title, it was a nightmare to read the book.

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Filed under Africa, Class, Colonialism, Congo, Family, Gay, Historical, Ireland, Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru, Politics, Race, Religion, Spain, War