Monday, November 10, 2008

Siberia: A Novel by Ann Halam (2005)

I was looking for children's books that could help explain the whole Soviets sending people to Siberia process and came upon this interesting book, though not what I needed. This is a science fiction story set in a post ecological disaster world, where most of it is frozen and Siberia refers to a state of mind rather than an exact place. When Rosita and her mother end up in a shack in a dismal frozen village and her mother has to work all day, and she is taught little about truth in school, it sounds too much like the experiences of my people and many others the soviets tortured by sending them off to labor camps and dismal villages in the far reaches of Siberia.

The story itself reminds me more of the Golden Compass, where kids are traveling with a goal, get in all sorts of trouble and are befriended by animals. Rosita, who becomes Sloe in school, ends up being the caretaker of the seeds of all the animals of the planet that have been destroyed by the misuse of the planet. She is sent to an awful boarding school, lives with gypsy types for a while, lands in a fur farm, etc., etc.

Native Speaker by Chang-Rae Lee (1995)

I picked this book up randomly off the shelf at a friend's house and then asked to take it home to finish it. This is a great glimpse into the life of Korean immigrants in New York City. The narrator is Henry Park, the son of Korean immigrants, married to a white woman, though their marriage seems to breaking apart in the beginning of the story. He has a strange job of infiltrating certain influential people's lives and reporting on them, but not for the government. Henry's current assignment is a Korean politician - John Kwang. He starts working in his campaign office and slowly becomes a valuable aide. The setting is the complex Korean community among all the other ethnic groups that try to coexist in New York. Henry's father owns a few grocery stores, others own laundries, restaurants, etc. The author does a wonderful job of describing the family relations, the work ethic, the relations with various black groups, the differences between generations, etc.

I often don't pay attention to language unless it gets in the way of the story or is childihs, but I did notice author Lee's use of language. E.g. on p. 31 "...his mother and father were just like him, thick-fingered people of the earth, human weeds, hardened and sad and always ready to burst from the drab husk of their lives with great quaking fits of emotion."

Oh, and the title is from the fact that Park has always tried to speak English like a "native speaker."