Archives for posts with tag: Chicago

Genre: YA Dystopia

Notes: 18/50 books. So much teenage angst.

Review: Sigh. Divergent, like you can tell from my review, started off so strong. I liked the characters, I liked Tris, and I liked her relationship with Four/Tobias.  She seemed strong, independent, and didn’t seem like a silly teenage girl for the most part.

Oh, how wrong I was.  Tris is a silly teenage girl with angst oozing out of her pores.  Before I rail on Tris and the problems I had with the book, let’s start with what I liked.

First of all, I really liked this book.  It’s not the best book ever written and it’s not fair to compare it to the Hunger Games, but I like it and will definitely be reading the third.  (I’m going to guess it’s going to be named Emergent – just going with the “-urgent” theme.  Roth, I expect royalties on the title. Thanks).  We get a much better look at the factionless.  We see what motivates them, how they organize themselves, and a better idea of what life is like for the people who don’t make initiation into their faction or were kicked out due to old age (Cough Dauntless Cough.  Heartless bastards).  Plus, Roth gives us a decent look at every faction in turn – she shows their idiosyncrasies and their strengths.  However, herein lies my biggest problem with the book:

HOW AND WHY DO PEOPLE ONLY HAVE ONE ATTRIBUTE THEY FOLLOW ABOVE ALL OTHERS? Like, does not being in Erudite make you a moron?  Some of the stuff that Tris points out to the Dauntless about their plans is ridiculous.  Is she the only one who can think logically because she’s Divergent?  Like, really?  Dauntless is just a bunch of brave, screaming idiots who will rush into danger without a plan?  And the Erudite can’t not think logically?  People don’t fit into boxes and asking me to accept that in this world, people do (mostly) fit neatly into boxes is beyond absurd.  Every person should have all five of the faction traits in them – that’s the only way to be a complete human being.

In this book, Tris seems to dissolve into a teen drama queen.  She has this massive guilt trip about shooting Will (which is fair, I would too) and she’s beyond convinced that Four will leave her because she’s just that unlovable.  Barf, please.  Having some insecurities is human, but harping on them all of the time and actually driving people away is pathetic.  She battles with depression, tells herself she doesn’t want to live, but when faced with death, actually finds she loves her life.  Please.  It was like she took every annoying characteristic Katniss had when she moped around about Peeta and magnified them.  Get a grip, girl.  Don’t you see there are more important things going on?!

Bottom Line: The series is addicting, but has annoying plot holes and mediocre world building. I would still recommend it because Dystopian Literature is fantastic, but I’m still saying Hunger Games  and Katniss > Divergent and Tris.


Genre: Fiction, Immigrant story

Notes: Critics have hailed Hemon as the second coming of Nabokov.  He has received a Genius grant for his work.  Personally, I think it is like giving Obama the Nobel Peace prize – premature.

Review: I’m not saying Hemon isn’t talented.  He is.  And this book is beautifully written.  However, for such an emotionally charged story and tragedy at every turn, it lacks emotion.  Completely.

Hemon tells the story of Lazarus, a Jewish Ukrainian immigrant who comes to the United States in the 1900s.  Lazarus escapes a life of terror, antisemitism, and want to join his sister in Chicago.  He survives a pogrom in his city only to realize the United States doesn’t offer Jews much of a chance, either.  In the opening chapter of the book, the Chicago chief of police shoots Lazarus seven times and blames it on Lazarus’s “anarchist” principles.

We learn about Lazarus through the eyes of Vladimir Brik – a Bosnian Jewish immigrant who lives in Chicago who emigrated after the Bosnian/Serb/Kosovo craziness in the early 90s.  I can’t pretend I’m a good citizen of the world and understand what went on in that civil war, but I know it had something to do with ethnic cleansing and the chaos surrounding the collapse of the USSR.  Bosnia became one of those bajillion Eastern European countries to spring into existence along Russia’s borders.  The Serbs, wanted to create a strictly serbian country (I think) and wanted to cleanse the area of Bosnian Muslims.  In doing so, the army surrounded the city of Sarajevo and held them under siege for like four years.  (all of these details from Wikipedia – don’t give me credit.  I’m not sure I could label Bosnia on a map)

The story of Lazarus and of Brik become inextricably entwined.  Their lives and disappointment mirror each other.  Each sought the United States as a land of refuge, peace, and a place to start over but neither one fully felt comfortable here.  Brik marries an American brain surgeon and assimilated more than Lazarus, but he feels that America will never be his home.

Brik and his friend Rora, a Sarajevan war photographer, embark on a journey to Ukraine to follow Lazarus’s path and  visit their homeland of Bosnia.

From the reviews I’ve read of Hemon’s other books, he is an excellent writer.  And I can tell from his prose and the way he handles the narrative that Hemon is exceptionally talented.  However, this novel feels like one big philosophical muse about the meaning of life, home, and the immigrant experience.  Hemon reminds me a little of Jhumpa Lahiri in that he writes about one thing:  immigrant experience in America.  But they’re both damn good at it.

In the end, I wasn’t attached to the main characters of Rora and Brik.  And this may have been a narrative strategy Hemon employed to show the irrationality and chaotic aspects of life.  Why should we care about one person above another?  A life is a life is a life, no matter who it is.  It felt like Brik and Rora were just two guys displaced by war, a statistic in a tragedy that affected a huge amount of people.  They weren’t special and the narrative didn’t make them special.

Bottom Line: It is a well written book and one on a topic I know next to nothing about.  The prose is excellent, but it lacks the emotional punch I thought it should carry.  I’m not going to give up on Hemon, though.  I want to see if he lives up to his Genius grant.