GIRL IN TRANSLATION by Jean Kwok (Riverhead Books, 2010)
As a compelling, at times shocking, account of a young immigrant’s life in America this book has many merits. As a convincing work of narrative fiction it leaves a lot to be desired.
The episodic nature of the novel is problematic in that the story has a disjointed quality. As the author jumps from one event to the next, the reader is left with more questions than answers.
In the opening chapter we learn that the mother of the first person narrator, Kimberley Chang, had suffered from tuberculosis in China but her state of health is something which is barely mentioned therafter.
Later on, at the age of 18, when it is clear that Kimberley (Kim) needs to obtain U.S. citizenship, she applies and studies hard for naturalization but we are never told how the actual test went. The cumulative effect of these gaps is disorientating and infuriating. Continue reading
BEFORE SUNRISE (1995), BEFORE SUNSET (2004)
+ BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013) directed by Richard Linklater
There’s a fundamental difference between being older and acting older. This came out strongly in Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ and is also a strong feature of the characters of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) in the director’s consistently marvelous ‘before’ trilogy.
What makes this such a mighty cinematic achievement is the absence of what I would call Hollywood moments. You know those scenes where couples break up and make up during a freak downpour or in a public place where the emotional (melo)drama is absurdly heightened.
Hawke and Delpy are so completely in their roles that there is never the sense that we are watching stars pretending to be ordinary. There is a genuine lack of artifice which makes their love story both romantic and moving without ever being cloying or sentimental. You don’t feel manipulated into taking sides. Continue reading
The sixth in a series of 13 book reviews from my pre-blogging years.
WORKING-CLASS CHILDHOOD. AN ORAL HISTORY by Jeremy Seabrook (1982)
When I was young, the children ran around barefoot. Now it’s their hearts that are bare”. This quote is that of an old man from Sheffield and establishes the main theme of this book.
Drawn from a wide variety of sources, Jeremy Seabrook explores the changes in society between the 1930s and 1970s mainly from the perspective of children, though mostly taken from the memories of older interviewees..
The hard, often cruel, upbringing in the pre war years prepared kids for the harsh world of adulthood. Discipline was strong and communities close-knit as people faced up to the common threat of poverty.
Seabrook highlights the way the increasing dependence on material wellbeing has brought many benefits but has fundamental drawbacks; he writes: “All the talk of change turns out to be changing people so that they fit the modified needs of cold economic processes; the only revolution turns out to be the revolution of the fixed wheel”. Continue reading
BOYHOOD directed by Richard Linklater (USA, 2014)
"Don't grow up - it's a trap" - T-shirt slogan.
"So be it when I shall grow old, / or let me die! / The child is father of the man" - William Wordsworth - My Heart Leaps When I Behold (1802).
What a marvel of a movie this is!
12 years in the making, shooting for a few weeks each year, it follows the growing pains of Mason Jr from the age of 6 to 18. Over the course of 166 minutes, the movie shows this boy becoming a man through selected episodes that function in much the same way as memory does, through a gapped linear narrative.
Some reviewers have criticised Ellar Coltrane’s acting prowess which seems to me to miss the point of the project by a merry mile. To realise his role as Mason Jr, Coltrane is not required to get into character; he just needs to be himself. This means we see him as an ungainly, mumbling teenager and empathize with his discomfort as he reaches puberty. Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei plays his older sister and steals the show in the early scenes but it’s this boy’s life that takes centre stage. Continue reading
SLACKER directed by Richard Linklater (USA, 1991)
Two definitions from Urban Dictionary :
SLACKER – Someone who puts off doing things to the last minute, and when the last minutes comes, decides it wasn’t all that important anyways and forgets about it.
SLACKERS – a group of guys who like to hang out and do nothing.
Two typical conversations from ‘Slacker’, the movie:
Q – What’s up man? A – Not much OR
Q – Hey, what’s going on? A – Nothing
‘Slacker’ follows the day in the life of a cast of youths in Austin, Texas who share the ability to turn idleness into an art form and who are content to spend their days “lolligagging around” or just vaguely hanging out.
One prefers to stay home rather than go out to the lake because he hates the idea of “premeditated fun”. Another can’t decide if he is remembering something that happened to him or whether he saw it on TV. Continue reading