Sunday, August 31, 2008

One of my favorite things...

...from our trip to the UP were the wonderful wild blueberries we found almost everywhere:
though the waves and beach
and cabin in the woods were wonderful too!
While Ian was reading a stack of old Mad Magazines and Brian and Fiona were searching through the mucky bits for frogs (and found a spectacular mutant frog with 5 legs pictured below):
Count them legs, people.

I was sprawled out in the sun, or curled up in front of the fireplace with an excellent book: A Free Life by Ha Jin. Through a man and his family's immigrant experience, the book addresses how freedom sounds great as an abstract concept, but how freedom also means uncertainty and how it is often very scary. (The political wonk in me thought that universal health care would have relieved a great deal of Nan's employment concerns). Nan's struggles and conflicts with the Chinese immigrant community also show how manipulative nationalism and patriotism, whether of the Chinese or American variety, can be. Reading it after a couple of weeks of Beijing Olympics coverage was particularly timely.

The book starts off slow, and truth be told, it took me a long time to get into it. I started the book last January, but didn't get sucked in, so I put it back on the shelf to try again later. I'm glad I came back, because it isn't a showy book: it contains lots of the small events of everyday American life and you come to understand the main character, Nan, by how he responds to the stresses and pressures. At the beginning of the book, I was a little annoyed with how moody and grouchy Nan was, but by the end, I liked and admired the guy because he didn't settle for easy answers or do what other people thought he should be doing. He ended up embodying freedom in his impractical desire to become a poet and the compromises he had to make to achieve this goal. The book ends with "The Poems of Nan Wu" which are lovely and feel sort of like an intimate peek into a guarded character who you have slowly come to know over the course of the book. You can reference the subjects of the poems back to the novel and they show how Nan used his poetry to find meaning in events that were confusing and chaotic when they happened. It was an excellent book to read in a peaceful place where there was time for contemplation and an ample supply of wild blueberries.


Jen said...

It sounds like it was a lovely time.

I'm teaching a short story by Ha Jin next term. I'd like to read more by him.

Edward Vielmetti said...

wild blueberries, sigh.

we were up there too early this year to get them, though there was a whole mess of wintergreen at bug camp, and smelling that just makes me happy inside.

as to the frog, yow. that can't be good.

Maggie said...

The frog is pretty impressive and I'm so jealous of the blueberries. It was great to meet you on Saturday!