revolutionary allegories to wash out the aftertaste of misogyny – book reviews for the week

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen tells the story of a communist sleeper agent after the Vietnam War

Just finished

This is Where I Leave You, recently made into a film starring Jason Bateman, tells the story of a dysfunctional family sitting shiva following the death of the patriarch. Written by Jonathan TropperThis Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

I’m not sure how to talk objectively about this misogynistic piece of garbage without revealing my bias. Whoops. See? There I go already. It’s like a Mad Libs Frankenstein monster of every book you’ve ever read by a white guy before 2010. Dad didn’t say much growing up but now that he’s dead and I’m a father, I’ve discovered a whole new respect for him? Check. I’m divorcing my cheating bitch of a wife after walking in on her with my best bud, but first I have to decide if I’d rather fuck her or maim her? Check. This cool woman really has her shit together which you can tell because she can hang with the guys, totally cool, too bad she’s married to that deadbeat banker in a suit? Check. The baby of the family keeps making bad choices and profound philosophical statements because he’s deeply misunderstood and some kind of idiot-savant? Check. This in-all-other-ways-ordinary and fully matured woman has a psychotic toddler meltdown every time someone mentions the word “baby” because she’s just dying to finally put her uterus to use, fulfilling her true purpose in life? Check. Mom got a boob-job and speaks too frankly about sex, perfectly personifying the author’s sexy-mommy hangups and inability to characterize women beyond “have vaginas?” Check. Descriptions of barefoot women “padding” around dark apartments? Check. A vivid description of every female character’s boobs? OF COURSE. I can’t with this book.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen tells the story of a communist sleeper agent after the Vietnam WarThe Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

In a different world of books sits The Sympathizer, beautifully written and deeply complex. This book forced me to pay attention, a refreshing and welcome change of pace. The prose isn’t dense or difficult, but the nuanced portrayal of every character and theme drew me in and invited a closer look. It’s equal parts funny and disturbing, telling the story of an undercover communist spy from Vietnam. The story begins with the fall of Saigon, from which the protagonist is barely evacuated, and then settles into a portrayal of immigrant life in Los Angeles with threads of espionage, revolution, politics and philosophy woven in. I’m still not sure how to interpret the end of the book, which takes a dramatic and perspective-shifting turn, but it’s been a long time since a book knocked me back on my ass and made me think, and I really enjoyed it.

Currently reading

Het geluk komt as de donder (Polleke #3) by Guus Kuijer

There is a new girl in Polleke’s class, Consuelo, from Mexico, and reading about Polleke and her friend Caro trying to teach Consuelo Dutch (vriendin – amiga) almost brought me to tears. I’m still loving the hell out of this series. The themes are complex enough to hold my interest, and the language is simple enough for me to understand. Geweldig.

On the horizon

Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov

The book club pick for this month is an absurd and satirical parable about the Russian revolution via the story of a dog enhanced with the testicles and pituitary gland of a recently deceased man.  After a few pulpy thrillers in a row, our book club seems to have made a hard course correction towards more challenging fare.  It’s been translated from Russian and is a mercifully slim 128 pages; I haven’t even cracked it open yet but I’m already looking forward to the discussion.

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