Tag Archives: immigration

Student Review: Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt (reviewed by Zoe F.)

Angela's Ashes (Frank McCourt, #1)Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Angela’s Ashes is the incredible memoir of Frank McCourt, born during the depression in Brooklyn, and raised in Limerick, Ireland. His family has no money to eat because of his rarely working father, Malachy, who quickly uses the occasional money he makes to drink. Despite Malachy’s failure to provide for Angela, Frank’s mother, and his family, Frank looks up to him for his stories of Cuchulain. Malachy tells the story of how Cuchulain saved Ireland, along with the story of his mother’s name, the Angel on the Seventh Step and Frank lives for it. As he grows up, Frank faces responsibility at a far too young age, taking care of his siblings, nearly starving, and dealing with poverty. It also illuminates the hardships and conditions that millions dealt with, from alcoholism of his father to poverty to the submissiveness of his mother because of societal norms. His story is heartbreaking, but he tells it with energy, understanding, beautiful and unique diction, and a small amount of strangely placed love. In his writing, McCourt uses historical references of the time period and direct memories to convey his ideas and help the reader stay with the story. I recommend this book for anyone looking for an amazing book that mixes humorous anecdotes with a longer, deeper plot that is heartbreaking and beautifully honest. ~ Student: Zoe F.

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Student Review: How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, by Julia Alvarez (reviewed by Samuel K.)

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their AccentsHow the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novel is a stunning, adventurous story about the path of immigration by the Garcia family and the obstacles they had to avoid in the mid- 1900’s. This book is told in reverse chronological order, from when the four main characters, the Garcia sisters, are already residing in their new country and have already matured. In the early stages of their life, the Garcia sisters enjoyed a decently sheltered and luxurious life living in the Dominican Republic. The mother of the family, Laura, came from a wealthy and influential family in the Dominican, and their father Carlos was a political figure. From having their name widely known in their home country to becoming a middle class nobody in America was a very difficult transition for the Garcia family. At points in this novel, you may consider it to be tragic, according to the events that transpire for each individual sister. A non-significant one, for example, the second oldest sister, Sandra, is completely driven by her artistic ability and vision, until one day when she is thrown out of art class and subsequently falls down and breaks her arm. After this, Sandra lost all of her artistic vision and was simply not driven by art any longer. In this book I appreciated that there were high points and low points for the Garcia family, that the reader could easily reflect on. It explained how immigration is a rough process and that a family can go from riches to rags just by immigrating to a new country. I would specifically recommend this book to anyone interested in learning in diversity and globalization, who also appreciates an interesting family story. Last term I read “When I Was Puerto Rican” by Esmeralda Santiago, and although the stories are similar in terms of plot, I believe this book to be more interesting and gripping. ~ Student: Samuel K.

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Student Review:Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, by Marjane Satrapi (reviewed by Khashayar D.)

Persepolis 2: The Story of a ReturnPersepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book 2 of Persepolis picks up exactly where book 1 ends. Satrapi is a teenager who goes to Vienna to continue her education away from the oppressive Islamic Regime that is ruling Iran. Book 2’s Marjane Satrapi is older and much more impulsive than the Satrapi in Book 1. I did not like this sequel to Persepolis 1 because the main character, Marjane, is much less relatable and un-engaging than the girl in Persepolis 1. As an Iranian who, like Satrapi, also left Iran at the age of fourteen, I have to say that this book is from the stand-point of a completely westernized individual. As Marjane grows up she becomes progressively stupider and more impulsive and gets herself into situations that usually take years to overcome. However Marjane, the will-guided protagonist of this graphic novel, overcomes drug abuse, depression, and a life that has been created by countless bad decisions by only a prevailing strength of will. Aside from miraculously mending her life, throughout the book, Satrapi makes decisions that make it hard for the reader to sympathize with her such as framing an innocent civilian to evade the police. Lastly I would like to point out that the “Graphic” element of this novel was completely ineffectual. Book 1 in this series succeeded because its childlike graphics and storytelling matched perfectly with this subject matter. We could imagine the child author telling her story in these terms. This sequel fails because the issues of growing up and dealing with the disillusionment of one’s own culture are much more subtle. The story and the graphics reminded me constantly of the nuances that are left out, like the issues of women’s rights and humanity that are sentimentalized and the real conflicts that this child/woman is undergoing remain untapped. I would not recommend this book to a friend.

Recommendations: Palestine by Joe Sacco, The complete Maus: A survivor’s tale by Art Spiegelman, 1984 by George Orwell, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak. ~Student: Khashayar D.

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Student Review:‘Tis: A Memoir, by Frank McCourt (reviewed by Isabel C-S.)

'Tis‘Tis by Frank McCourt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fantastic addition to the already fabulous book Angela’s Ashes. The Pulitzer Prize winning author, Frank McCourt comes back to give us a phenomenal piece of literature that will have you screaming and crying at the same time. The memoir starts off where he left off last, crossing the ocean on a boat to come back to America. The rest of the story depicts and examines the life he leads there. All along the way he is met with stereotypes and people judging him because of his accent and his race. They say, ”Goddamn Irish always drinking,” and he is always told, “stick to your own kind”. The book embodies what it meant or might still mean today to be an immigrant of any kind with stereotypes following you around everywhere you go. As his life, and the story with it, progresses the reader finally gets an appreciation for how hard it really is to work your way up in the world. It might come as a bit of a shock for some readers, but overall it is well worth it to gain some overall knowledge about what our grandparents or great-grandparents faced during their first years in America. Before reading this book I highly recommend reading the prequel, Angela’s Ashes. While it is by no means necessary for understanding, it gives one a greater appreciation of Frank McCourt the character and the writer. This is an overall great book for anyone interested in immigration life. ~ Student: Isabel C-S.

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Student Review: When I Was Puerto Rican, by Esmeralda Santiago (reviewed by Shayla F.)

When I Was Puerto RicanWhen I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago, is about Esmeralda becoming an American. She was born in Puerto Rico and lived there for a while, but then her family moved to America. The book is about her transition from Puerto Rico to America and what she does in both places. She started off in the barrio (not so wealthy neighborhood) then to Brooklyn, NY, and then becoming a student at Harvard. I liked this book because it was entertaining, I didn’t get bored while reading it. I also liked it because it showed that you don’t have to be a rich white male to be successful. The booked showed how Esmeralda got to where she is and it wasn’t because everything was handed to her it was because she worked hard and she believed that she can do it. This book showed me that despite what other people say or think about you it doesn’t have to affect your life, the only thing that matters is how you see yourself and if you want something so bad and you work hard enough to get it then you will have it. The only reason why I didn’t like the book was because there were parts to the book where I couldn’t relate because Esmeralda talked about being hispanic and what it is like to be hispanic, but other than that the book was a good read and I advise anybody to check the book out. ~ Student: Shayla F.

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Student Review: The Kitchen God’s Wife, by Amy Tan

The Kitchen God's WifeThe Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Despite some abusive stories, The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan is a warm-hearted book that depicts a mother-daughter relationship. Winnie is a Chinese-born woman who is a mother of an American-born daughter, Pearl, and a fugitive from her aggressive ex-husband. Hoping to improve her relationship with Pearl that was exacerbated when she slapped Pearl for not crying at her beloved second husband, Jimmy’s, funeral, Winnie shares her deeply hidden secrets with Pearl. While Winnie narrates her stories, there exist many ironies. First, the stories consist of her bitter relationship with her father who is one of the richest people but is not caring enough for his daughter to force a marriage with a pretentious Chinese man, Wen Fu, who later reveals himself as sexually abusive and egocentric. Also, Wen Fu appears as a pilot who fights for China from Japan when he cannot even protect his family well. As I read more and more stories, it really depressed me to see Winnie heartbroken by her father and frequently abused by her ex-husband. At the same time, it made me wonder why almost every Asia-related book portraits women as weak characters. Even though Winnie once attempts to kill Wen Fu and later escapes from him, it still doesn’t make her a strong woman. I would recommend this book for those of you who want to experience probable lives of people during a war between China and Japan but not for those who are advocates of feminism or domestic tranquility. ~ Student: Jenny K.

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Student Review: ‘Tis: A Memoir, by Frank McCourt (reviewed by Vanessa C.)

'Tis‘Tis by Frank McCourt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The second book to Pulitzer Prize-winning McCourt’s childhood memoir Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis chronicles 36 years where Frank escapes Ireland and returns to America in hopes of making a new life for himself in a supposedly “classless” society where anyone with determination and hard work can achieve the American Dream. However, Frank soon discovers that America is not as accepting or “classless” as Frank once believed. He notes, “I’m in New York, land of the free and home of the brave. But I’m supposed to behave as if I were in Limerick at all times.” Along with all the other immigrants, Frank finds difficulty in fitting in with different people, along with everyone else. “It’s not enough to be American. You always have to be something else, Irish-American, German-American, and you’d wonder how they’d get along if someone hadn’t invented the hyphen.” Due to his immigrant status, Frank encounters frustration when he starts his new life in America. He makes a barely sufficient sum of money, which he sends to support his mother and brothers after their father left them with nothing. Eventually, Frank is able to talk his way into NYU and goes on to becoming a teacher. This book brings the reader along McCourt’s American journey from a struggling immigrant to a successful teacher. McCourt’s brilliant tale, filled with spirit and humor, delivers a poignantly truthful novel that readers will not want to miss. If you liked ‘Tis: A Memoir, then you may also like A Monk Swimming by Malachy McCourt, who is Frank’s older brother. This novel is Malachy’s American journey, told with heartfelt wit. ~ Student: Vanessa C.

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Student Review: Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, by Bich Minh Nguyen (reviewed by Rachel J.)

Stealing Buddha's DinnerStealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bich Minh Nguyen was born in Vietnam, but at an early age, her family (excluding her mother) immigrated to the United States during the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Nguyen’s family in America consists of her sister, father, grandmother, uncles, and her Latina stepmother Rosa. The novel mainly focuses on Nguyen’s childhood in Rapid Falls, Michigan as an immigrant during a time “before ethnic was cool”. It includes stories about her white neighbors, Vietnamese dinner parties, and her mother. The author’s voice was authentic and honest throughout her stories, and she chose to include the ones that were not flattering. What’s unique about the book is that Nguyen often tells her stories through food. She highlights the difference between herself and her childhood white friend by comparing their refrigerators. Another important role of food throughout her life was setting up the altar of food for Buddha and her ancestors. I enjoyed its book because it was easy to relate to the author’s struggles with assimilation and identity. But I also think that this memoir was somewhat too simple. The stories stop just a short period after the author finally met her birth mother, and she still has unresolved feelings towards her mother and Asian identity. It was missing a sense of closure with the mother-daughter relationship, and I felt it ended too abruptly. The book also failed to develop the “American” characters, and they were too generic for my taste. If you are interested in reading about Asian American identity or immigration, try “The Bonesetter’s Daughter” by Amy Tan. ~Student: Rachel J.

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Student Review: The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan (reviewed by Minh-An Q.)

The Joy Luck ClubThe Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Joy Luck Club explores the meaning of one’s identity and the way it can be shaped by one’s surroundings by narrating the stories of four mother-daughter pairs. These four Chinese-American families live in San Francisco, and are connected through the “Joy Luck Club,” a weekly gathering formed by the four moms after their immigration to the United States to celebrate their Chinese culture. The book is divided into sixteen interesting and heartwarming short stories, two for each of the mothers and their daughters, which recount stories of their lives, in each character’s point of view. Through these stories, the reader gains insight on the characters’ childhoods, and the turning points in their lives. The differing perspectives show the dynamic between the moms, who grew up in China and later immigrated to the United States, and their daughters, who were born in the United States. All of the mothers had wanted their children to grow up knowledgable about their Chinese heritage; however, the girls are influenced by the American culture around them, causing them to stray from their traditional Chinese culture. Due to their different experiences growing up, the mother-daughter relationships often suffer from misunderstandings, because of the cultural divide between them. Through their trials and personal discoveries, the girls and their mothers learn what the true meaning of being “Chinese-American” really is.

The style of this book made it fun to read because every story revealed a new side to each character, making the character seem realistic. The more I read about the characters, the more I could understand each person’s motives and point of view. Though I was disappointed that the book did not end up cohesively weaving together all the stories, The Joy Luck Club posed interesting questions for me to think about, because my mother grew up in Vietnam. Like many of the girls in the story, I think I know a lot about her culture and childhood; however, the book causes me to question how much I actually do understand, because I too have grown up in a completely different environment than she did. ~ Student: Minh-An Q.

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Student Review: When I Was Puerto Rican, by Esmeralda Santiago (reviewed by Lauren L)

When I Was Puerto RicanWhen I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Initially when I started this book I was looking forward to experiencing what all the raving reviews reported. Much to my dismay, I found that the Los Angeles Times Book Review and Miami Herald had misled me. Esmeralda Santiago’s memoir; When I Was a Puerto Rican tells the story of when she was a young girl, born and raised in an impoverished village in Puerto Rico. She experienced the beauty of the paradise she was born into as well as the inescapable domestic struggles that surrounded her daily. Esmeralda, who goes by the name of Negi, grows up learning how to adapt to the island life and embrace her Puerto Rican heritage. Her world is then flipped upside down when her Mother decides to relocate the entire family to New York City. Esmeralda, who is the oldest of eleven children, is forced to conform to her new life, set an example for her siblings, familiarize herself with a culture completely anomalous to that of Puerto Rico’s, and ultimately assume a new identity.

Although this book was an easy read and contained some valuable lessons on knowing how to take whatever curve balls life throws at you, I did not find it particularly gripping. The story lacked a clear climax, and was more informational than entertaining. If someone wanted to learn about Puerto Rican culture and the struggles that some people face while coming to America, then I would say this is the book for them. However if one is seeking an enthralling tale complete with an exposition, conflict, climax, falling action, followed by final resolution then I would not recommend this memoir. ~ Student: Lauren Levey

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