Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

20 Nov 2002, 19:44 p.m.

So I've been reading and watching a lot. I…

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2002 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

So I've been reading and watching a lot. I recently bought several CDs, and I'll have to talk about those after listening to them each several times. But the books and movies I can review. In progress: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, which gets going after the first few chapters, so stick with it.


The Interpreter by Suki Kim. The worst possible combination: bad, yet not so bad that I could excuse myself for quitting halfway through. Barely engaging plot and wholly unengaging main character. If I want to experience mopiness, indecision, past-stuckness, and first-generation immigrant rootlessness, I'll just think, thank you. But the mystery plot did interest me, and Kim made a few immigrant insights. Here are the best bits:

But a dream remains a dream always. Nothing alters the fact that she never got to see them again. She never held Mom's hands and asked why irises brought a smile to her face. She never let Dad explain what made him leave Korea, why he was so tortured by his old country. She never begged them for time, just a little more time to understand. She never told them that she had to run because she could not see ahead as long as they were there. She could not embrace this place called American while they never forgot to remind her what was not Korea. She could not make sense of her American college, American friends, American lovers, while her parents toiled away twelve hours a day, seven days a week at their Bronx store. She could not become American as long as she remained their daughter. She betrayed them, so she might live.


"...I can heat up some water, or maybe boricha?" he says, putting a kettle on the stove.

..."Boricha," she answers. My favorite, she is about to add, and then realizes that it's been years since she had it last. Mom had used to keep it refrigerated and serve it instead of water....She seems to have forgotten about it one day. Odd how that happens. You swear by certain things -- that particular sundress he first saw you in, or that rose lipstick you wore every day, or that barley tea you once declared you couldn't live without. But then, one day, someone, perhaps a stranger, in a bare, bleak apartment far from home, asks, without a hint of history, "Water or boricha?" and you suddenly remember that it's been years since you've even thought of it. But how is that possible? How is it that you could go on fine without what had once been so essential, that you haven't even been aware of its absence? How is it then you could declare, without hesitation, that it is your favorite? Shouldn't love require more? Isn't love a responsibility?

There. Now you don't have to read The Interpreter, Suki Kim's first novel, tentatively scheduled for publication in January of 2002 from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. But if you like you can have my advance copy.

Son of the Mob, by Gordon Korman. Actually good, and different from much of his past fare. Very different from Son of Interflux, thank goodness! More booze, sex, and death. Also, our emphasis is on one main character, and not his relationship with a best male buddy, and it's told in the first person. Korman, if I guess correctly, tried his hand here in using skills and addressing more mature content that he cut his teeth on with throwaway series stuff; he recently wrote some teen paperbacks with the title "Escape" or "Everest" or "Survivor" or "Island" or something. I look forward to more explorations of these themes by Korman.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy. Ripped through its hundred pages in an hour or so. I wonder how fast I could read it in Russian? If you liked the psychological insights of Anna Karenina but hated spending the whole summer keeping a chart of the characters' names and relationships, this is the book for you. I find the ending patched-on and inauthentic, but maybe Tolstoy always did that to try and convince himself to be upbeat, and besides, I've never died. The whole thing is good. One of several funny bits:

The syllogism he [Ivan Ilyich] had learned from Kiesewsetter's logic -- "Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal" -- had always seemed to him correct as applied to Caius, but by no means to himself.

Hey, if I were quoting modern Russian poets, would I use "Blokquote"? [groan]

Off to see Enterprise and West Wing alone, sob. Next time: Punch-Drunk Love (IMDB entry) and Bowling for Columbine (IMDB entry).