Friday, May 24, 2013

by Anchee Min

On August 31, 1984, Anchee Min landed in Chicago scared to death. She didn't speak English and only had five hundred dollars which was borrowed. Anchee had been accepted to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and had lied on her application. She had circled "Excellent" for English. (Someone else filled out the papers for her.)
Upon arrival in the United States, when the immigration officer welcomed her, Anchee didn't understand a word that he said. A translator told her that she was going to be deported immediately. After examining everything, a clause was discovered in the papers that the school was going to place her in an intensive language learning program. If after six months she still wasn't up to par, back to China she would go.
Anchee had to pay for the course and it was a total waste of time. She learned nothing and got out of it. Television became the means of learning English, primarily Sesame Street. In order to keep herself afloat, she worked five jobs and slept in desolate areas to save money.
Her struggle to survive both in Communist China and in America and her sheer determination, stamina, and strength made Anchee quite successful.
The Cooked Seed is an immigrant story that should be read universally. Those of us who were born and raised in the United States and take things for granted should learn what went on during the Cultural Revolution and Anchee explicitly describes the horrors and deprivation of living under Mao.
Anchee was extremely lucky to leave China.
This book is honest, revealing, eye-opening, and full of grit.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

by Qais Akbar Omar

Up until the age of seven, Qais Akbar Omar lived in Kabul (where he was born) with his father who taught high school physics (he was also a professional boxer), his mother who managed a bank, and several siblings in a large compound built by his grandfather. They shared the spacious abode with a multitude of cousins (twenty-five plus) and his father's brothers and their wives. It was a relatively peaceful time. The entire family would eat dinner together with a cloth spread out on the grass. Wondrous stories were told. Poetry was spoken. Soon enough, this idyllic atmosphere would be destroyed.
Different factions (Mujahedin, then Taliban) arrived and it became too dangerous to stay in their home. Omar's immediate family left and took shelter in the historic Fort of Nine Towers (an old palace with one tower left). Unfortunately, they had to flee again due to escalating violence. For a period of time, they lived in caves behind the huge Buddha statues in Bamyan. When that no longer was safe, they traveled with Kurchi herders (their nomadic cousins). Omar's father kept trying to hire smugglers to get his family our of Afghanistan. Money, of course, was needed and they didn't have much. Omar tried to help his father support their family. When he learned how to weave carpets, this would become the turning point for all of them.
A Fort of Nine Towers is quite a story. Apparently, it is one of the few books written by an Afghan who never left because he loved his country so much. The resilience, bravery, and stamina of the Afghan people is startling. The years of war and unrest would make most people crazy with no will to live yet Omar's family and others like them bore their tribulations steadfastly and, amazingly, could even joke about it. This is the book to read if you don't know anything at all about Afghanistan and what exactly happened there over the years. It is an eye-opener.