Category Archives: Historical

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

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

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

45th Discussion: Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain

Aaron was back in the moderator’s seat for this discussion. Huge thanks to Isaac once again for the venue. A warm welcome goes out to new attendee Andrew for joining us. Javin, Luke, and Timmy rounded up the discussion group. Raj was on a roll tonight! (Apparently he had sex the night before our discussion.)

We decided to switch things up for this discussion and started off asking what do each of us like about the book. Raj found it relatable as the story was set in Penang, which was similar to Singapore. He felt that the book “hits a personal chord”. Isaac felt the book was an easy read – which Javin agreed – and was at its strongest when it was retelling history. Aaron found the sex scenes super hot, and the portrayal of student-teacher relationships.

Gift_of_rain_cover_cmykAs to what we don’t like about the book, everyone agreed that the book was too descriptive: Raj thought some parts were too draggy, while Javin commented that reading it was a chore at times as it got too “lor sor”. Aaron said that perhaps Tan had written this book for the Western audience, hence the overwrought proses. He thought that the author didn’t trust the readers, thus having to elucidate every single description. Isaac felt that the book was only ordinary in terms of literary value.

The first thing we (obviously) discussed was the sex scene(s). There were five in total, and Raj was gracious enough to read them all out loud (he had them bookmarked). We deduced that:

  1. The first sex scene was akin to the loss of one’s virginity.
  2. The second one alluded to penetrative/anal sex.
  3. The third sex act depicted a handjob.
  4. The fourth sex scene was all about role reversals.
  5. The fifth sex scene was equivalent to angry sex.

We questioned the overabundance of homoeroticism featured in the book. Raj noted that the allusions could be equated to sexual tension/attraction.

There was also the distinct lack of women being descriptively written in Tan’s book. Apart from Auntie Mei and Isabel Hutton, the only two strong female characters, the other ladies in the book were generic and dismissively written. This was a big disparity compared to the males: most, if not all of the men, were handsome, rich, had rippling muscles, and knew some form of martial arts (kung fu) or self-defence (protagonist’s father was a boxing champion). Both Aaron and Raj highlighted how Tan even went so far as to describe what the male characters were wearing, down to the designs on the cuffs of their shirts.

The negative portrayal of the eunuch (Aaron) was briefly touched on. Raj joked that because “he doesn’t have a sword, so he cannot fight”. This book showcased that there was the fear of people who were different.

Another point that was brought up was the lack of other races. Despite the book being set in Malaysia, there were predominantly more Japanese, Caucasians, and the mixed heritage. Indians were only featured as “gurkhas, the lighthouse guard, Raju’s Mee Rebus, and the bomb traitor,” according to Raj. The Malays were unfortunately almost non-existent, with the only representation being the “lesser” Sultans.

The class system was also another topic that we discussed – the rich versus the slaves. Aaron observed that the rich people controlled the poor people. Uncle Lim, however, was cited as an exception in that despite working as the Hutton’s chauffeur, he was still rich. Aaron deduced this to the fact that he was paid by either the father or the grandfather, and thus represented the lower class. However, the revelation of him being a traitor was viewed as a negative representation.

With regards to love in reference to the context of the book, Aaron noted that “to be in love, (someone) must be twice in age.” This has nothing to do with paedophilia, but perhaps more closer to the May-December romance. Raj believed that Philip and Hayato Endo shared an unconditional love bond.

We also talked about pre-war Malayan and its pro-British stance. Raj countered that “during the British ruling back then, (the country) was (experiencing) glorious times.”

Aaron thought the book was poorly structured, as there were stories within stories. Timmy joked that it was Tan’s version of Inception, albeit in book form. Isaac said it was like a Chinese puzzle.

We didn’t get to discuss why death was so excessive throughout the book, despite Raj reiterating that almost everyone died in the end.

“Why was the book named The Gift of Rain?” Aaron asked. “There were a lot of rain scenes,” Raj quipped. Ultimately, the book was about survival (Raj). Isaac, however, had a more beautiful thing to say about the title: “Life is one of hardship, and rain is a respite from the hardness of life.”

In terms of characters, Raj liked Auntie Mei as he felt that she was “real and stuck to her principles.” Philip, however, earned Aaron’s disdain as he didn’t understand why he became a traitor, and felt that Philip was just stupid. A special mention goes out to Adele, Philip’s secretary, who didn’t die. We joked that she ended up fat (Javin) and became the best-selling artist that she is today (Timmy).

By the end of the discussion, the book did nothing to change everyone’s opinions. Raj stood by with his love/hate relationship towards the book, while Isaac said that what he didn’t like about the book far outweighed what he did like about it. He found the book an exotic, historical piece of fiction. Aaron glorified the book as another MediaCorp Channel 8 production like The Price of Peace. We could not comprehend why the book was even longlisted for the Man Booker Prize when it was not that particularly good.

Throughout the discussion, we also asked whether Tan Twan Eng was gay, and finally deduced that he is, based on his vivid depictions of the male characters in the book, the starring roles conferred to the Japanese, as well as the fact that he is now living in Africa, probably to get all the black men there.

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Filed under Class, Family, Historical, Malaysia, Queer, Race, Tan Twan Eng, War