labingi: (ivan)
Review: Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel Never Let Me Go is a science fiction story about three young people, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, grappling with their emerging awareness of the disturbing social destiny they were born for. It may be one of the best written novels I have ever read, which makes it interesting that it's not better reviewed by readers: Goodreads gives it 3.8/5 stars, Amazon 4/5, not bad to be sure but not world class. I'd argue that this slight disconnect with many readers (evident in written reviews as well as ratings) reflects precisely why it is important that Ishiguro wrote this book. The novel challenges our blindness to how our own social indoctrination works. It asks us to face realities we not only don't wish to but have genuine conceptual difficulty with. This is not to say some criticisms are not valid, but they pale, in my view, next to the book's achievements.

Most of this review will talk about ideology and indoctrination, but that is not all the book is about, and I want to be sure to mention a couple of other ways in which it excels. It is one of the most realistic and subtle portrayals I have read of how deep friendships (often) operate: the good, the bad, the habituation, the ability to read each other, the passive-aggressive patterns, the maturing and evolving, the joy, the hurt, the power plays, the mutual support, the altruism, the mess of it all. Though the characters’ trio of best friends does not externally resemble my primary relationships at all, I saw my relationships everywhere, so much so that I fantasized about contacting the friend who’s severed ties with me and saying, “Read this book. This is about us.” The book is also about facing death, and apart from the story’s particulars, which I’ll come to, there’s an extent to which this is everyone’s story: we are all faced with our ending, with the years flying by and the likelihood of decrepitude and dependency and the loss of loved ones before a possibly physically painful ceasing to be. This is also very well captured.

As to the rest, spoilers follow… Read more... )
labingi: (Default)
Here was I feeling angry and self-righteous when Robbie Burns reminded me of this:

Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Tho' they may gang a kennin wrang,
To step aside is human;
One point must still be greatly dark,--
The moving Why they do it;
And just as lamely can ye mark,
How far perhaps they rue it.

Who made the heart, 'tis He alone
Decidedly can try us;
He knows each chord, its various tone,
Each spring, its various bias:
Then at the balance, let's be mute,
We never can adjust it;
What's done we party may compute,
But not know what's resisted.


And I am rightly schooled. Thank you, Rab.
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It's that time again, when I get really frustrated with my inability to find anything to fan over and ask for your help. It's worked in the past, bringing me such great recs as Banana Fish and Trigun in recent memory. So please, help me, please! Here's some info on my tastes:

* I'm looking for a story that has at least two very well-developed characters (ideally more or less equally well developed) who spark off each other in an interesting way that is a major part of the story. It needn't be romantic. It should involve some sort of interesting tension/contrast. Both characters should care about something besides just each other. (Mirage of Blaze note: yes, Naoe does care about things other than Kagetora; for example, he cares about his own ego.)

* Genre: sci fi, fantasy, historical, mythical are my favorites, followed by non-Anglophone/foreign cultures, with least interest in contemporary Anglophone texts (though I may go anywhere for a really great story). Basically, I like to get beyond the daily external world I run errands in.

* Medium: any really, though I'm rather in reading mood just now. Movies tend to be a bit short for the necessary character development, but you never know.

* Women: I truly love it when I find a story with a good female character I can invest in... but this is so rare that I tend to have a knee-jerk wariness about male/female pairings. (I don't know that I have a single female/female pairing high on my personal fannish list, but there's a first time for everything. I would have had one with The Innkeeper's Song, except...)

Random stuff I've liked in the past: I've been subsisting on renewed Les Mis love this past year (it's great but I need something new). Japanese stuff includes Mirage of Blaze, Trigun, Blade of the Immortal, Gungrave, Banana Fish. Space opera TV shows: Blake's 7, Babylon 5, Crusade. Other: The Lord of the Rings, The Brothers Karamazov, The Left Hand of Darkness, Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights, the Iliad, X-Men.

Help appreciated!
labingi: (ivan)
If any 19th-century woman can claim a place as quintessential geek girl, it is surely Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Not only is she the progenitor of one of the icons of geek culture and a founder of modern science fiction, she is also, I will argue, firmly situated in the grand tradition of women fan fiction writers. Born August 30, 1797, she would be 216 years old today.

Brief Biography
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley seemed marked for literary accomplishment. The daughter radical philosopher, William Godwin, and prototypic feminist and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley was a natural heir to literary talent. Despite this advantage, however, her life was fraught with sorrows. Her mother having died in childbirth, she grew up close to her father. This relationship, however, was shattered when at sixteen she eloped with scandalous Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley (of the “Satanic School”).

Though the Shelleys loved each other and were surrounded by a stimulating social circle of Romantic intelligentsia, their lives were troubled, not least by the loss of several children: Percy Florence was the only child to survive his parents. After Shelley’s untimely death in a boating accident, Mary found herself a widow at twenty-four with a son to support. Though Shelley’s father was a baronet, his disapproval of his son’s elopement meant that he provided little financial support. She ended up significantly augmenting her income by writing and editing.

She was a prolific writer. In addition to Frankenstein and her futuristic science fiction novel, The Last Man, she wrote lesser-known novels, short stories, children’s stories, travel literature, and essays (and, of course, voluminous letters).

Today, aside from some slight attention to The Last Man and her novella, “Mathilda, ” about an incestuous father-daughter relationship, she is only remembered for Frankenstein. But, really, isn’t that enough?

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
labingi: (ivan)
I've done a couple of reviews of French stuff:

Rousseau: A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality: Surprisingly outdated and yet still current.

Victor Hugo, The Man Who Laughs: Good story (about the guy whose look inspired the Joker in Batman) but disappointingly executed.
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In honor of Martin Luther King Day, this seems a good time to review James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time (1963). I recently read this book after having somehow missed Baldwin all my life and found his discussion of race relations in America brilliant. It should be standard reading in all American high schools. The book comprises two essays: a short letter to Baldwin's nephew giving advice on how to weather life as a young African American man and a long discourse on race relations with extensive personal examples. Along the way, he addresses his own conflicted youth, the Holocaust, the Cold War, school integration, and the Nation of Islam movement of Elijah Muhammad, among other social and historical moments.

I feel ill qualified to comment on the book but will venture a few observations. Baldwin was ahead of his time and--at least as far as mainstream discourse of the white hegemony goes--is still ahead of ours. His discussion of the blindness of white privilege (though he doesn't use this term) feels right out of contemporary racial discourse.

But Baldwin's challenge runs deeper than exposing power relations and demanding they be acknowledged. He is correct that the dominant discourse on race in the US (he is mainly concerned with African Americans and whites) frames the problem as the need to elevate black people to the status of white people. If black people become as socially mobile, wealthy, professionalized, well represented in various fields, etc. as white people, goes the argument, then the task of integration will have been accomplished. As far as I can tell, this is still the dominant discourse fifty years after Baldwin's book. Read more... )
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When I first went to see Les Mis in what must have been 1991, my program confidently assured me that “in 1992, she will going to the cinema” (image of little Cosette holding theater tickets). I was very excited, and I waited eagerly throughout 1992 and 1993 and 1994.... They are twenty years late, but they got there, and it was worth the wait.

[personal profile] louderandlouder has already evaluated the Les Misérables movie very comprehensively in terms I would mostly agree with here and here.

I will try not to retread too much, but here are some overall thoughts:

* I was surprised by how much I liked it. My reaction in scene 1 was to stare quizzically at fake-looking galley stuff set to what seemed a rather quiet musical track (vs. seeing the play live). But early on, it carried me away, and I cried a lot. In fact, I had an odd dual sensation of being emotionally engulfed while simultaneously running precise technical criticisms in my head. Portrait of a true Les Mis fan maybe.

* It’s a great story. Victor Hugo was an exceptional writer, and Schönberg and Boublil did a very solid adaptation--as one friend said, better than most of the movie adaptations in terms of capturing the novel.

* It’s a very 19th-century story, not just set in the 19th-century but very 19th-century novelesque: the unironic praise for noble, good people and religious faith; the obligatory boring romance; the “lets lie to the womens for their own good” thing; the coincidental meetings with long-lost acquaintances; the almost complete absence of women as power players--all very 19th century. And oddly, I found this refreshing. I would certainly not want to live in that world, not in 19th-century France and not in a 19th-century novel, but after a long, long stretch of wading through indifferently written contemporary novels, just the taste of a real, consummately written classic was like a glass of water in the desert. Indeed, the unironic 19th-century moralizing seems to fit very well with the over-the-top Broadway musical-style narrating. This might be a large part of why the whole thing works.

Read more... )
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Did you know that before E. M. Forster wrote Maurice, Mary Shelley wrote it? Not the same story, of course, but she did write a short story of the same name in 1820 as a gift for a friend’s daughter, Laurette.

The beginning of the story demands quoting, which I will do (with some ellipsis):

“One Sunday afternoon in the month of September, a traveller entered the town of Torquay.... The streets of the town were empty... so the traveller walked on through the meaner streets of the town... and then he paused at the door of a neat-looking inn....

“He entered the inn, and asking for dinner, unbuckled his wallet, and sat down to rest himself near the door.

“A tall man of glowering countenance approached and stood over him, addressing him in a surly manner: ‘Dinner? I’m sorry, did you say dinner?’

“ 'Yes,' replied the traveller, 'if you would be so good. I am weary from walking, and dinner just now would suit me admirably.'

"The innkeeper’s visage grew red with ire. 'It’s barely eleven o’clock!' cried he. 'Does that sound like dinner time to you? This is a hotel, not a full-service restaurant. I mean, do you have any idea how much work there is to do?' " (75-76).

Sorry, as a Fawlty Towers fan, I couldn’t resist.

Now, back to the story (spoilers follow):Read more... )
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The Jigsaw Woman by Kim Antieau has already been capably reviewed by The Geek Girl Project,--which highly praised it--so here I'll offer my purely personal response.

I am annoyed by straw men (no heavy-handed Wizard of Oz reference intended; the book does enough of that itself). The problem with a straw man fallacy is that, by setting up an oversimplified opposition, it tends to generate an oversimplified solution. In The Jigsaw Woman, the straw man is that patriarchy is the devil. And the solution is that Goddess-worshiping matriarchy was/will be "paradise" (226). This formulation is so simplistic and so sledged-hammered that it largely undermines meaningful feminist discourse in the text. Reading this novel to unpack the social structures that oppress women is a little like reading The Watchtower to unpack the Bible: it feels like kindergarten.

Now, The Jigsaw Woman also has its strengths and, as with most commercial fiction today, those strengths almost all appear early on. The premise is great: an explicit feminist takeoff on Frankenstein, where the monster cobbled together out of various parts is a "Barbie doll" fantasy girl designed for a man's pleasure. The Barbie doll, however, has a brain and revolts--this is all to the good. I especially like the running joke/theme early on that her vocal cords don't work and she is literally silenced. I like that she recognizes this silencing for what it is, and immediately fights it by writing up a storm on paper. Eventually, her voice heals, which is fine too--on with the story. Spoilers Follow )
labingi: (ivan)
The back cover of the Vintage edition of Kobo Abe's The Woman in the Dunes calls it "one of the premier Japanese novels of the twentieth century." This may well be true--if an exemplar of mid-20th century literature is, by definition, high postmodern. This is a high postmodern novel; it does that shtick well, and it is limited by that shtick's limitations.

The story concerns a man (whose name is Junpei, but that scarcely matters), who goes on vacation to the seaside and ends up imprisoned in a remote village half-buried by sand dunes, where the residents must spend every night shoveling sand to prevent the destruction of their houses.

There is also a woman (nameless), the owner of the house where he's imprisoned. However, be forewarned that the book's title smacks of marketing ploy. The book is not, in fact, about this "woman in the dunes," neither as subject nor as primary object. The book is about the relationship between the man and the sand (and the various existential questions the sand represents), and the woman is really just one aspect, albeit a significant one, of life amid the sand.

No particular spoilers )
labingi: (ivan)
Would that this book were not still so relevant. Sadly, Edith Wharton's 1905 novel of a woman brought low by her inability to win at the "social game" and unsuitability for anything else pretty much still describes modern society, albeit today the stakes are lower and rules liberalized. (For a modern, comic re-enactment in the same city, see Seinfeld: yes, it is because of society, George.)

This is the second Wharton novel I've read, the first being Ethan Frome, and I greatly admire both works. Wharton is a fantastic writer across the board: an excellent student of a human nature, a careful plotter and developer of character, a trenchant social critic, and a subtle artist with the English language. Her prose never calls attention to itself but always says exactly what it needs to with just the right touch of beautiful description and potent metaphor.

Light Spoilers )
labingi: (ivan)
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell -- Jesuits in Space!

Rarely have I encountered a book so schizophrenic in quality. Its highs are very high, and its lows border on sub-professional. The novel, published in 1996, concerns a mid-21st-century Jesuit space mission to make first contact with an intelligent alien species and how this goes horribly wrong: no spoiler--we know from the get-go that the ending is not rosy. The premise is outstanding and kept me reading for the whole book despite some considerable disappointments.

The Good Bits and the Not Really Good with Light Spoilers )

All in all, I do recommend the book to fans of sociological science fiction with a religious twist with some tolerance for ham-handed characterization.
labingi: (ivan)
I suspect that Wide Sargasso Sea has forever damaged my ability to enjoy Jane Eyre. Mind you, I have never unreservedly enjoyed it and there are still many aspects of it I love, but Rhys's novel has reweighted the scales. It elevates what I always saw as the comparatively poor writing to egregious moral failing. (Fair warning: if it's not already plain, this is a bit of rant.)

Read more... )
labingi: (ivan)
I have finally read Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, about twenty years after first reading Jane Eyre. It is a very good book (novella). I want to address it in three ways: as fan fic, as colonial literature, and in dialogue with Jane Eyre.

Fan Fic
Briefly--because this case is open-and-shut: yes, it is fan fic. This point is fuzzy to Francis Wyndham, who wrote the introduction to the Norton Critical Edition.* The book is not, he tells us, "literally" the story of Mrs. Rochester: "it is in no sense a pastiche of Charlotte Brontë and exists in its own right, quite independent of Jane Eyre" (6). He is correct that the story stands by itself. A reader with no prior knowledge of Jane Eyre could follow it perfectly readily, with perhaps slight confusion over the minor characters one gets glimpses of near the end.

However, it is literally the story of Mrs. Rochester. Of course, it is. It calls her, and many other characters, by name. It does make some changes to Jane Eyre, notably in setting the story a little later, but in fan fic terms, we would simply call this AU, and fairly light AU: it doesn't change any of the fundamental dynamics of the story; it simply adds to them. It need not be a mere "pastiche" of Brontë's work to qualify as a literal extension of Jane Eyre. It is fan fiction, and it is high literature. It is high fan fiction literature.

* I forgive Wyndham's fan fic blindness since his introduction is apparently quite old. I feel a little more dubious about the editing of the Norton edition per se, which includes few perspectives more recent than the 1970s.

Colonial Literature--with spoilers I guess )
labingi: (ivan)
Sorekara commonly gets described as one of Soseki's quite good but not masterpiece works. I think that's fair. It's about reasonably well-off young man, Daisuke, in Meiji Japan (living on a family stipend) who at thirty is under pressure to marry and/or get a career. He prefers to philosophize and not be tied down (in MBTI terms, he's about the highest "P" I've ever encountered; he's turned it into an entire philosophical system). And because this is Soseki, he also has deeper conflicts in his personal relationships that skewer him between family expectations and personal desires, traditional Japan and modern individualism, etc.

As usual with Soseki, all this is intricately expounded upon with loving detail and much social and psychological pondering, all from our hero's point of view. It's thoughtful and a good encapsulation in one man's life of convulsions in Japanese society more broadly. However, it fell emotionally flat for me for two main reasons.

1) Daisuke, by nature, is not a deep feeler. He has his feelings, of course, even love of a sort, but he is more a woolgatherer than anything, and even at his most tormented, he seems to speak across a veil of abstract pondering that distances me from emotional impact. (It also doesn't help that this is a strong one-protagonist, one-POV story and there is no character of particular depth--or at least who Daisuke understands to be of particular depth--to play off of him.)

2) It's got one of those up in the air endings that doesn't explain anything about what the whole story has been leading up to. It leaves one scratching one's head and thinking, "And then...?" (ha, ha). Yes, this is plainly intentional, as it is in so much Modern and postmodern literature, but I usually find that a lack of closure lacks closure. I'm not talking about wrapping things up in a Victorian bow, which I hate, but rather giving the reader some sense of why we've been bothering to read: some message, lesson, understanding, turning point, something it's been tending toward. At the end of Sorekara, I honestly had no clue what was going to happen next; it was like ending in the middle. And yes, I am aware that Daisuke underwent a climactic (no spoiler) transformation, but it just didn't amount to much I could get my hands on.

On the whole, I enjoyed the process of reading the novel relatively well, but at the end, I felt that it had all been a little bit for naught. I doubt it's a book I'll reread, though there are certainly bits of it that showcase Soseki's psychological genius ably.
labingi: (Default)
I like vampire lit for much the same reason I like science fiction: both change the premises of our life experience and, thus, challenge our usual cultural and psychological assumptions. Vampire lit, in particular, lends itself to upending commonplaces about gender and family structure. It's often been noted that vampire reproduction is inherently incestuous: vampires typically make new vampires through some sort of blood exchange that reads as both a parenting act and a sexual act, so parents and children are, almost by default, also lovers. By the same token, vampire lit can, in one fell swoop, eliminate all physically based power differential between the sexes: in many tales, males and females have identical reproductive biologies and no sex-linked difference in physical strength (or if they do, it is much overshadowed by other differences, like age or "strength" of their blood, etc.). Add in functional immortality and the politics of relating to humans as people and foodsource, and all this makes for fascinating reinventions of culture for those stories that choose to exploit this potential. Some examples...

The Vampire Chronicles )

Blood+ )

Buffy the Vampire Slayer )

Twilight )

I don't believe that vampire lit is an exhausted field by any means; it simply requires creativity to keep reinventing itself. And while I don't read vampire lit just for the sake of reading vampire lit, I am always open to being swept up in the next thought-provoking reinvention.

(Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] meganinhiding, whose vampire musings spurred me to stop putting off writing this post.)
labingi: (Default)
Anime
Un-Go: Detective solves cases involving science (fiction) and magic in a near future/AU post-war Japan. Generally, I recommend this intellectual 12 episode series, though I agree with those reviewers who've said it would be better if it were longer. As it is, too little of its intriguing potential is explored. Its standout characteristic is its setting. Based on novels written shortly after World War II and set in the post-war Meiji Era, this science fiction transposition captures with an eerie melancholy the daily reality of living in the very early years of reconstruction from a devastating war. From the quietly toppled buildings in the background to the war stories nobody talks about to the moments of overzealous happy-bustling-business-entertainment, the whole series conveys a sense of lacquering over an ugly painting in the hopes that the shine with transform it.

Very Few Spoilers )

Books
I dabbled significantly with By Way of Deception, which purports to be author Victor Ostrovsky's account of working as an intelligence agent in the Mossad. Apparently, Ostrovsky himself subsequently stated that he'd made up a lot. You can kind of guess. There are just things that don't track, like if the Mossad is so dangerous and globally powerful, how is it he managed to expose their entire institution with no reprisal?

That said, taken as a work of fiction, I found the book a fascinating example of how to conduct spycraft. I have never read/viewed a work of fiction in which the business of intelligence was conducted with such fearsome grace, though Le Carré probably comes closest.


And just about twenty years later than I should have, I finally read the first Discworld book. I think I missed my own best developmental window for this series (at least based on this first one: I know there a lot and they evolve). I probably would have loved it in high school. Nowadays, for one thing, I don't have time to read comedy. I need to read for catharsis, and with almost no reading time, that leaves little time for laughs without a cathartic payoff. I also found it impossible not to find the book almost 100% derivative of Hitchhiker's Guide or The Last Unicorn. But I did enjoy it; it's fun and light. Rincewind and Twoflower are both engaging characters, and the Discworld itself is interesting and probably the most memorable thing in the book. I also like the interdimensional bit on the airplane. I'll try the second one at least.
labingi: (Default)
I finally finished this book. Quick and dirty review. Overall, it was good; it was better in the beginning. It was somewhat too long. If you like Iain M. Banks, you'll probably like it. The star of the show is the setting.

Summary: On a distant planet in a rundown city, an unlikely group forms an alliance to destroy a threat to all life in the city.

The Good
* Excellent world-building: deep and grubby and convincingly real. Nice concept for deploying what we would usually call "magic" as a separate branch of physics and discussing how an impoverished, decaying civilization would employ it--just as such societies employ the other laws of physics--mainly (but not always) to degrade, punish, and make the rich richer. Good integration of several alien cultures together. Nice mix of super-advanced tech with old tech: it feels alien and also like a society that's been through many rounds of development and collapse.

* Fake science: especially near the beginning, the discussion of fake physics and scientists' attachment to their work was interesting and felt psychologically plausible. So, too, the discussion of art.

* The action story (no spoilers): he presents a convincingly tricky problem with various possible solutions, none easy. Nice sci fi realism and tension.

* The characters are not silly or stereotyped. They are diverse and plausible, if not deep. (This is the second of Miéville's books I've read, and this seems his standard approach to character.)

The Less Good

* The characters are not deep. The only potentially profoundly interesting one is Yagharek, and his particular story occupies about 1/30 of the book. Isaac (the best candidate for protagonist) is like intricate pastel painting: a lot of subtlety went into it, but it's all in bland colors.

* It's too long, i.e. too detail- and subplot-heavy to fully sustain interest over 600+ pages (for me).

* It's got some mild gender fail (on which more beneath the cut), which is not egregious by any means, but I'd like to be able to hold Miéville to a higher standard.

Gender, Character and Spoilers )
labingi: (Default)
My recent posts have pretty much been about RL, so I wanted to catch up with tiny thoughts on what I've been encountering in narrative.

Reading:

A Song of Ice and Fire (book 2): (It's hard to remember the name of the full series when the books don't actually put it on the cover.) I'm quite enjoying this series. I haven't read fantasy to speak of in many years and have grown to expect poor quality, but Martin is good. His prose is functional and uninspired--and occasionally incorrect, which is a bit embarrassing in text that purports to use a somewhat old fashioned English among educated characters. (It really shouldn't be too much to expect that he--or his editors--know the difference between "lay" and "lie" or what "lest" means.) That said, the story and characters are excellent. I like the dialogism inherent in the many sides of the conflict and moral ambiguity embodied in almost everyone. It gives a very real sense of quasi-medieval politics.

Watching:

Fate/Zero with a friend I'm not getting a chance to see very frequently, which is vexing because the series has grabbed me. I'm only a few episodes into this one, but if it keeps up this level of quality, it will be a winner. The series is advantaged by being a prequel about the parents of the characters in Fate/Stay Night. This means that the main characters are... parents (and uncles, etc.). This is amazingly rare in anime. Even those few series that are about adults tend to be about adults who don't have kids. Parents in anime almost always seen from their kids' perspective, i.e. semi-mystical beings who are there to be sweet or evil or make you do homework. It's intriguing to see a series that's actually from the perspective of people trying to manage their own lives/problems/feelings and be responsible for their young 'uns at the same time.

Behind the cut: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Akira, Grave of the Fireflies, Primer )
labingi: (ivan)
Brilliant. As one expects from Coetze. This 1999 novel is an exploration of race relations, gender relations, family relations, and the inner crisis of the protagonist: a "Communications" professor at a technical college (God, do I sympathize) and aging womanizer, who rightly loses his job due to a charge of sexual harassment (no spoiler; this is on the back cover). The rest of the story concerns his attempts to go forward by reconnecting with his grown daughter, who lives a rather tenuous life on a rural farm as single white woman in a predominantly black community.

As much as I can say so without having set foot in South Africa, the story is an excellent illustration of the tangled mess of sorting out race relations post-apartheid. The intractability of the problems, the unbridgeability of the experiential chasm between black and white, reminds me quite a lot of discussions of privilege, Fail, tone argument, etc. on Dreamwidth/LiveJournal. However, where DW/LJ conflicts take place in the realm of narrative stereotype, meta post, and flame war, the conflicts Coetze describes threaten livelihood, limb, and life. He paints a convincingly frightening picture of a set of social wounds that, at best, can only be healed by the slow crawl of multi-generational change.

On a more personal level, the book explores the notion--which I am increasingly afraid may be correct--that one can only truly grow, or at least make a leap in growth, by losing nearly everything.

It's a dark book (though not morbid) but highly recommended to those who don't require their reading light.

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