Category Archives: Time

72nd Discussion: Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask

Moderator: Raj
Attendees: Alexius, Dominic, Ivan, Timmy

The biggest complain we had about the book was the way it was written: Dominic felt it was unlike the “Japanese style of writing”, comparing Mishima to Murakami. Raj thought the book was draggy, describing “mundane things in mundane ways.” Alexius did not like the ending and was left disappointed by the book. Timmy found it uninteresting as a whole.

For this discussion, we forewent our usual style and went through the book chapter by chapter.

Chapter One – which we deemed “Resurrection” because of an experience the narrator went through when he was four.

Believability
We started doubting the narrator’s credibility from the start of the book. Timmy thought it was all “fluff and bluff,” while Dominic opined that the book seemed like a semi-autobiography of the writer… a romanticized version of himself as the narrator.

Childhood
Timmy was amazed by how well-read the narrator was, even questioning his accessibility to such literature at that age. Raj added on his penchant for changing the (fairy) tales that he read, which added (and accentuated) his morbid nature from that age onwards.

Donning the mask      
According to Timmy, the turning point was when he started playing dress-up as Tenkatsu. This went on as he started being masculine in front of his cousins.

Obsession with death
“Maybe he finds life hopeless?” Alexius joked.

Joan of Arc
Raj noted the narrator’s disgust of Joan after finding out that the martyr was a she, declaring that incident as the “first disappointment of his life.” (Joan of Arc was Raj’s favourite of the book)

Chapter Two – “Boys with Toys,” because:

“The Toy”
The matter of the narrator referring his penis as “the toy” was brought up. Timmy quipped that the narrator thought his penis had a mind of its own; Raj observed that he was very detached to his member despite being an adolescent in this chapter. Alexius offered that perhaps he was ashamed of his homosexuality.

From St. Joan to St. Sebastian
Raj made mention of the narrator moving on from one historical figure to another, noting his preference for “virile, lean (guys) with muscles and wearing very little,” adding that St. Sebastian may have been the narrator’s role model at that point of time. According to Timmy, this may also be a continuation of the narrator’s sexual awakening. (St. Sebastian was Dominic’s pick as favourite.)

Omi
Was he gay? Raj and Timmy said no, while Alexius said yes. (Both Alexius and Timmy picked Omi as their favourites.)

Delusions of grandeur, S&M, and armpits were also discussed during this chapter. Overall, we felt that this chapter did not make a lot of sense – just like an adolescent’s mind, according to Timmy – and contained “too much fantasizing,” according to Raj.

Chapter Three – for which we termed “Regressed Suppression” as the narrator did not face any pressures from external forces, only internal conflicts.

Raj found this chapter “bizarre,” which probably had to do with the myriad sub-topics we touched on but barely managed to delve deeper into:

  • The narrator acting more of a teenager, which included mimicking his peers (Raj noted his obsession with kissing, which he found interesting) in his attempt to appear straight;
  • His body, which he seemed to be embarrassed about;
  • War and the military (according to Raj, women were front and centre in this chapter because “the men went to fight”);
  • Voyeurism;
  • Dying young.

Chapter Four – “The Beginning of the End”

A continuation from the previous chapter, where the narrator was labelled “the last virgin alive” by Raj and his desperation to have sex (“everybody’s doing [and done] it, so I should too.” – Timmy) despite ending up not doing it. We didn’t get the chance to discuss more about Sonoko and their relationship.

“So when did the mask come off?” asked Raj.
“It didn’t,” Timmy replied.

And that concluded our discussion, followed by an apology from Alexius who regretted recommending the book as well as did not find it as appealing upon second reading.

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Filed under Classics, Coming of Age, Disability, Family, Gay, Japan, Time, War, Yukio Mishima

59th Discussion: Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith

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Moderator: Aaron
Attendees: Alexius, Dominic, Javin, Jiaqi, Raj, Timmy

OPENINGwaters, sarah - fingersmith-bookcover

Raj and Alexius thought that the book was repetitive; the latter further added that the plot twist was predictable and expected, which Dominic concurred. The story did not interest Jiaqi as well, who felt that it was contrived. Timmy, who went the “alternative route” and watched the miniseries, felt that it was draggy at some parts of the show. Aaron declared it “the lesbian version of Fifty Shades of Gray.”

THEMES

Everyone had differing opinions on who should be deemed as a/the villain. Dominic picked John Vroom, who “doesn’t owe Dainty yet beats her up to assert control.” Uncle Christopher Lilly was also brought up, because he mindfucked – mentally and sexually abused – Maud (Aaron) and was just a perverted, demented being (Raj). Alexius, however, found him interesting and wanted to “shiver together” with him.

Ultimately, the award for “Greatest Villain” was tied between Richard – Aaron viewed him as unscrupulous, though Jiaqi begged to differ – and Mrs Sucksby, who was willing to give Sue up to a madhouse, according to Jiaqi.

We discussed on death and noted how women’s deaths were painted as some form of redemption for their errors, while men’s deaths were treated as punishment for their sins.

…Which led us to the question – why so much man hating in this book? The men were either portrayed negatively (orderlies in the madhouse were described as “manly”) or just nothing, while the women experienced a plethora of emotions, in particular sadness. Aaron also highlighted the very (obvious?) maternal instincts evident throughout the book, in the form of Mrs Sucksby and Mrs Stiles. “At least there is no gay bashing,” Javin quipped.

Speaking of gay bashing, we questioned Gentleman/Richard Rivers’ sexuality – is he a homosexual? Asexual? He had sex with neither Maud nor Sue, and his only noted “sexually charged” moment was when he touched Charles’ cheek. Timmy brought up an interview with the actor who played the Gentleman, who shared similar observations as us.

Dominic noted the lack of proper family unit as a running theme throughout the book, deeming it unconventional. Aaron viewed it – Mrs Sucksby and the gang, in particular – as a “queer kind of family.” Alexius brought up the cold weather as the reason why they randomly convened together.

Maud and Sue were seen as the victims throughout the ordeal (Jiaqi), despite the fact that Maud has been in the know the entirety of the ruse while Sue was the more innocent one of the two. Alexius asked whether Maud really loved Sue, to which Raj replied that her love stemmed from sympathy.

The similarities as well as differences of Maud and Sue were discussed. Dominic brought up the rationality of switching the two at birth when Mrs Sucksby has other babies that could have taken Maud’s place. We also entertained the idea of the two being possibly related, which means whatever they have for each other bordered on incestuous.

With such a title as Fingersmith, hands obviously featured prominently throughout the book, which disgusted Aaron. Dominic looked at it as a form of penis envy, with the finger(s) as a phallic symbol. Because of this, there was a lack of girl-on-girl sex, which bored Raj and Jiaqi.

The ending drew the biggest ire from everyone. Dominic saw it as a being purposely written as a transaction point for the characters. For Timmy, however, it was all just one big fuckery.

FAVOURITES

Raj picked Dainty for the fact that she “has heart”, was portrayed as a strong character and ultimately redeemed herself.

Jiaqi also liked Dainty because she is kind; he also selected John because of his loyalty towards Mrs Sucksby.

Dominic admired Sue for her tenacity.

Alexius chose Christopher Lilly because of his vast collection of porn books, which are “more interesting than (Waters’) Fingersmith.

Aaron didn’t have any favourite characters, though he cited the Rivers/Charles cheek scene as his favourite.

CONCLUSION

In capping the discussion, Raj thought the book was good and really liked the twist at the end of each act. Timmy appreciated the plot twist as well, which made the miniseries move at an exciting pace. Dominic enjoyed it because it was well written and researched. Alexius felt that reading the book allowed him to feel “cooler and refreshed”, thanks to its time period and weather setting. Jiaqi commented that the book was a good read as well as a page turner, comparing it to a magician performing his tricks. Aaron agreed with Jiaqi’s sentiments.

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Filed under Class, Family, Historical, Lesbian, Love, Sarah Waters, Time, UK

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

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

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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.

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

41st Discussion: Ali Smith’s There But For The

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Timmy wrote:

This week’s discussion was held at The Pigeon Hole as Raj was admitted into hospital with stomach ulcer (Get well soon!). Thank you to new attendees Andrew and Muslim for joining us this month.

Opening Words

We kicked off the discussion asking everyone’s thoughts on the book. Amit and Har are still reading the book. Amit found the book strange yet interesting, as well as very mysterious as it focuses more on the other characters. Har is appreciative of the novel’s suspense, and found the book anecdotal. Both Isaac and Andrew – the number 1 Ali Smith fanboys – liked the book too. Isaac enjoyed the witticisms and the puns. Both Timmy and Nicole thought the book is funny.

Alexius, however, didn’t particularly like it, feeling that the book was too tedious to be read and was not interesting.

Title

“What does it mean? Why did the author decided to name the book as such?” asked Aaron.

According to Andrew, Ali just decided to name it like that because she “quite liked the phrase.”  He went on: “It doesn’t mean much, but (it) can mean things for other people.” The rest of us just nodded our heads as we didn’t know what else to make of it.

Prologue

Isaac viewed the prologue as a modern fable, concerning youth and the passing of youth. He further elaborated that the man confronting his younger self might even be Miles himself. Alexius felt that this part caught his attention. He thought that the relationship between the boy and the man was never stated, and speculated that it could be alluding to paedophilia.

Short stories

“What’s the point of including them?” Aaron asked.

Alexius felt that the story itself did not hold much context, hence the short stories were add ons to beef up the book. Nicole, meanwhile, thought that the stories contributed to the characterizations. Aaron viewed them as reflections of art, and alluded to Miles’ quote to Brooke. Alexius referenced Jackson Pollock.

Dinner party

Har thought the entire scene was banal, though Timmy felt otherwise. He thought that the entire chapter perfectly captured the mood of the party very well, which Andrew agreed with.

Themes

During the discussion, we briefly touched on death and growing old (Aaron/Isaac); bullying, surveillance and the British system (Isaac); technology (Aaron); philosophy (Alexius); and modern life (Andrew).

We pondered on whether it is better to be cleverest, or cleverist. Aaron felt that the book did not achieve that.

Favourite characters

Amit liked Mark because we are able to glimpse into his thoughts. Aaron described him as hot, although Timmy begged to differ.

Miles was the hot favourite for this discussion, being liked by Isaac, Har, Nicole and Andrew. Brooke followed in second, with votes from Aaron, Andrew and Timmy. They found her precocious and lovable.

Alexius liked the boy in the prologue, describing him as “significant”.

Least favourite

Isaac found Genevieve pretentious and irritating.

Har started disliking Miles after he locks himself in the room.

Alexius cited the man in the prologue as his least favourite.

Last words

Isaac described the book as an anti-novel, almost like giving the middle finger as to how a novel should be written. Har intends to finish reading it, as he appreciates the writing style. Andrew remains as Ali Smith’s fanboy and described the book as a biting social critique of the harsh celebrity life. Nicole said she will have to read till the end; she does, however, like the characters and the tricks Smith employed throughout her novel.

At the other end of the spectrum… Amit remains indifferent to the book. Alexius, however, still finds it boring post-discussing the book, declaring it as too “textbook” and stylistic. He doesn’t plan on continuing reading it. Ernest too didn’t like the book, finding the wordplay too hard to comprehend, and the overall style as being too chunky and dry.

Aaron declared the interactions between Miles and Brooke to be magical, though in closing the discussion, he felt that overall it wasn’t a fruitful one. “The novel is indubitably technically brilliant but it either went over our heads and we couldn’t understand it, or it’s just meaningless that we cannot extract meaning out of it.” Oh dear.

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Filed under Ali Smith, Class, Ecology, Family, Lesbian, Love, Politics, Race, Technology, Time, UK

34th Discussion: Aska Mochizuki’s Spinning Tropics (17 May)

Terri came by to say hi while Henry was coerced into sitting in with us. We all wondered, how in the world did the book win an award? The complaints are: no depth in plot and character; simplistic language; fetishizes Vietnamese culture (Nick’s point).

Themes:

1. Love VS Lust: Nick believed that Hiro-Konno relationship is lustful while Hiro-Yun, love. Such a separation of love/lust is relatable to Nick. However, for Alex, love/lust come hand-in-hand: the fact that Hiro is troubled over breaking up with Konno means she loves him to a certain extent.

2. Time: Nick brought up the unspecific time period irked him.

3. Fluidity of sexuality in women.

4. Racism: Timmy talked about the contradiction of Hiro/Mochizuki’s confusion, how she escapes from Japan to other countries because she dislikes Japan, yet at the same time, her racial pride makes her put Vietnamese down as stupid, naive children.

5. Homophobia: p. 38 and p. 41 describe Vietnamese men as effeminate, which, to Hiro, means they seem gay. Hiro has a stereotype of connecting gay men with femininity. “Real” men, to Hiro, have to be super duper masculine.

Alex pointed that Hiro’s sex/gender notion is very wrapped and homophobic as Hiro needs a penis to remind her that she is a woman: another classic case of lesbianophobia, that women need to be fucked now and then and there cannot be a pure lesbian.

6. Mother-Daughter relationship/family: Nick suggested that Hiro’s relationship with her mother is reminiscent of many gay men’s relationships with their mother. “Is it because of a lack of father figure that Hiro gravitates towards masculine figures?” Nick pondered.

Alex cautioned that if we think that way, we are falling into the trap of Mochizuki’s sexist mind, of essentializing what is masculine and feminine.

Alex also pointed out how Hiro has slept with her mother’s ex-boyfriend as a form of juvenile rebellion.

Yamada and her husband’s dynamics are interesting but we were too lackluster to talk about them.

The only happy family seems to be the Vietnamese one but even Yun’s family isn’t very happy, with disputes over money. All Vietnamese are described as money-grubbing in the novel, obviously criticizing the country.

Characters

1.  Konno: We were all in love with the tall, broad-shouldered Konno except for Nick. Alex loves Konno for being able to “make a vagina quiver long after its absence” as described in the novel.

2. Yun: Another contradiction occurs here: sometimes Hiro claims that Yun and she are soulmates, yet at other times, Hiro thinks Yun is child-like and beyond comprehension, which goes back to the point on racism, of never knowing the racial Other.

Timmy hates Yun for being so needy.

Yun’s returning to men is reasoned that she thinks there is no future in a lesbian relationship. (homophobia)

3. Hiro: Alex hated her that she cannot reflect on her emotions and actions.

By the end of the discussion, we felt dirty and horrible. Timmy expressed our feelings best: “After reading the book, I feel hollow inside.” Alex said, “If I knew her email address, I’d write her a hate mail.” Writing this discussion notes incenses Aaron. What a horrible, homophobic, racist, sexist book. How did such a repulsive book ever go to print in the first place? Aaron feels like vomiting now.

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Filed under Aska Mochizuki, Family, Japan, Lesbian, Love, Politics, Post-Colonialism, Race, Religion, Time, Vietnam

21st Discussion: Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (18 Jun)

This was a short session, which didn’t do justice to such a complex book, because the festivity of Pink Dot made it difficult to discuss.

It’s a 2-2 vote for the book. Timmy disliked the book because it was overly scientific and ambitious although he is willing to give the book another go; Alex disliked the later part because of the tedious description of the journey. On the other hand, Raj and Aaron loved the book very much. Not his preferred genre, Raj was surprised at how he could relate the book to real life. Aaron liked the complexity, intricacies and the journey of a homophobic to a non-homophobic person.

1. Favorite character: Alex and Aaron both liked the handsomest “man/woman” in the book because he is evil.

2. Sex: Timmy felt that Le Guin seems to be playing god because she dictates the roles of sex in beings.

a. Incest: Both Timmy and Alex felt that the incest isn’t creepy.

b. Lesbianism.

c. Mother/Father figure: Timmy thought that a being which can be either a mother or a father questions religion.

d. Estraven-Genly Ai: Do they have sex? Alex didn’t think so; Aaron thought it was suggested, like the camera shifting from a kissing scene into the embers of dying fire. Aaron said that it is reasonable for them to have sex because then they would be connected by soul and body. Timmy said that’s cheesy.

e. Prostitution: Alex brought up that it is interesting that there are bordellos and that part should be explored and would potentially be interesting. Timmy related the bordello to a gay sauna.

f. Sexuality: The sexuality of the beings defies any forms of categorization. They are gay, straight, bisexual, and transgender, all roll into one.

3. War: Do wars exist only because of the aggression in the male sex? The novel is ambiguous.

4. Politics: Aaron thought the “shifgrethor” (saving face and avoiding confrontation) is reminiscent of Singapore’s politics; but Timmy suggested that it is applicable to Asian societies.

5. Style: Alex brought up the style of the novel, claiming that the novel is overly complicated with two narrators, legends, myths, etc. Aaron suggests that this would provide an holistic picture, demonstrating Genly’s flaws.

Other issues not discussed are technology, ecology, post-colonialism, religion, and race.

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Filed under Bisexuality, Classics, Family, Intersex, Politics, Post-Colonialism, Queer, Race, Religion, S/F, Space, Technology, Time, Transgender, Transsexualism, Ursula Le Guin, USA, War