Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book Rant

I just read a novel in Chinese.

I thought that I would note this accomplishment in a somewhat official capacity.

It was lazy reading - I didn't look up every character I didn't know.  The advantage of this is that I was able to read without interrupting the flow of the story.  The disadvantages were such that I never actually knew anyone's names, and it took me a longer time than normal to figure out basic details in the story, such as the fact that you take a boat to the airport when you are in VENICE and that you spend significant time talking about clothes and making clothes because you are a CLOTHING DESIGNER.

I consider these disadvantages minor, but perhaps knowing more of the details of the story would have helped create better empathy with the story and its characters because, by the end of it, I was thoroughly frustrated with everyone.  Although I kind of doubt that.  Seriously!  I didn't understand all of the details of that rubbish story about how roses are red because nightingales bled on them but it certainly would not convince me that I wanted to date anyone, much less that itinerant clothing designer mentor that the main character dated twice, TWICE!

As you can tell, missing the details didn't prevent me from forming strong opinions about the story.

I can't comment on the literary merit of the book - I didn't get the details after all - nor can I even really place this book in any kind of context, it being the first book at the library that I pulled off that had traditional characters.  So, instead of a book review, I'm doing a book rant.  Here are some issues I have with the story:

(1) Fate - It's a popular topic in Chinese media.  I only own like two Chinese movies and one of them is so iconically about fate and two people living parallel lives and just missing each other that by the end of the movie, when the guy puts his head down and prays to the heavens to just give him a miracle, you're crying along with him.  "Put us out of this misery, PLEASE."  As fate would have it, they end up together through an earthquake.  This book doesn't beat you over the head in the same way as that movie but it lays it on pretty thick.  For instance, the guy the main character has liked for years but for whom the timing has never worked out, is looking through some of her stuff and finds a picture of her as a child in the park with her parents with him in the background!  The main character knows things will work out eventually - it's fated to be!  The thing I dislike about these scenarios is the lack of choice.  In both of these, love feels like something out of our hands.  In one case, it would send me into fits of despair - why can't we ever find each other?!  - and in the other case would make me brazenly hopeful - who cares that he has a girlfriend?  he was mine first!  Yes, I do realize that love doesn't always come when we choose and in the way we choose but we do choose to love and denying that, I think, is a mistake.  In the book, there were significant times that I felt characters didn't communicate or act because I felt that they decided to just let fate handle it.  In most of my experience, fate is quite ok just never handing you certain opportunities ever again.  In my life, "letting fate handle it" is just a way of saying, "I'm going to be ok if this is the end."

(3) Careers vs Relationships - In almost every circumstance in this book, the characters put their careers ahead of their relationships.  Move to Germany for three years without actually involving my husband in that decision?  Been there.  Move to New York for a year without actually communicating it with that guy I was about to start a relationship with?  Yep, done that.  Move away permanently from Hong Kong without considering with your boyfriend what that means for the future of 'us'?  Old hat.  The thing I don't get about it, is why on earth are we subscribing to this philosophy?  Careers are important, yes, and sometimes it does require being separated but should that be our go to?  And why can't we at least talk about it, make sacrifices and figure out something together?  Life is messy -  I get that.  We're all trying to achieve some balance and find happiness and fulfillment in many different aspects of our lives.  Maybe I'm too much of a romantic but am I the only one out there who thinks that, in the prioritization of life, people matter more than my job?  At least those people that I intend to have a lasting relationship with.  Then again, maybe those international moves are just a really passive way to giving someone the brush off.  Which, just, ugh!  There was just one, ONE!  time when the girl is in Paris and exploring her options for expanding her branch to Paris and everyone tells her that it will require her to live for an extended period of time in Paris and she realizes that it comes down to choosing to prioritize her career or her relationship and she chooses her relationship.  I actually cheered then.  But then her boyfriend got all self-conscious about her making a sacrifice for him and eventually they break up anyway, which leads me to my third (and take heart, final) rant.

(2) Men and women as equal contributing partners - This is less a commentary on the book and more a commentary on society in general but it made me very sad.  The main character is in her fated relationship with her guy and is also a successful clothing designer, even expanding her Hong Kong business overseas while her partner is a TV new reporter.  When they realize their apartment is just not big enough to hold their stuff, the girl offers to get a bigger apartment but the guy refuses because his salary can't afford a bigger apartment, even though hers clearly can.  She doesn't see why they can't use her income for housing but he refuses to touch her money.  Also, as outline above, when the girl turns down expansion to Paris, he tells her he's holding her back, eventually leading to their breakup.  You could argue this is just a personality thing but the guy makes several comments about flak he's getting from colleagues and friends about not being a good provider, and in some moments, he admits he is afraid she will leave him because (at least financially) she doesn't need him, which makes me think it's not just about him being stubbornly independent.  Which brings me to the question: why are men expected to be more successful than their female counterparts?   Why do we put that pressure on men?  And put that pressure on women?  That somehow achieving their potential in some way diminishes the potential of her partner?

Take heart, the rant is over.  Next time, I'm going to be more careful in choosing a book in  Chinese to read.  But at least I know now I can read a book in Chinese.  Success!

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