My Thoughts on After You, The Sequel to Me Before You

So first before I write this review: if you haven’t read Me Before You (the book before After You), then make sure you read it before reading my take on it. Because like any review about a series book (like let’s say, Harry Potter) if you don’t know what’s going on with the characters’ backstories, then it’s going to be hard to catch up. Also, who likes spoilers? I don’t know many people who care for them, unless they just are absolutely certain they will not read the book or watch the movie. So I’ll leave some spaces here before you scroll any further…

Ready? Okay, let’s do this thing. So the book After You carries off after Will Traynor’s assisted suicide (Dignitas) and Louisa is trying her hardest to cope, but ends up falling from her apartment building. Her family tells her to come back home, so she does and gets a job at an airport working at a coffeeshop/bar. Her boss, Richard, is a pain to work with, constantly micromanaging her and forcing her to wear an outfit she doesn’t like. On top of that, she is trying to stay away from people who think of her as the girl who encouraged Will’s suicide. And big surprise: neither we the reader nor Louisa knows that Will had a daughter, but lo and behold Lily shows up at Louisa’s apartment one night because she found out Louisa knew Will. Louisa’s parents also send her to a grief support group, and while at first Louisa doesn’t want to be there, she meets Sam, who is a relative of one of the support group members. Louisa must make a lot of hard decisions in this book: should she accept her newfound relationship with Sam, or not go for it because Will wouldn’t have wanted it? Should she accept a new job offer in a different city or stay put at her day job? Should she let Lily stay at her apartment or risk hurting her feelings by kicking her out?

The book was great, although I am aware of the criticisms around it. There was a lot of backlash from disabled communities because Me Before You suggests that living as a disabled person is useless and disabled people should opt for ending their lives instead of living. I am honestly glad I read the criticisms because I was crying during Me Before You and After You, and I knew I was frustrated with the ending of Me Before You, but I simply couldn’t put my tongue on it. I thought at the end, Did Will just have to go through with suicide? Why couldn’t he and Louisa just grow old together? Why did the key to Louisa’s happiness have to be in another able-bodied person (Sam) in the sequel? Then I read reviews about the film by disability activists and was relieved to know my growing discomfort with the novel’s ending was valid.

Also, from a Nichiren Buddhist perspective, we believe everyone has a mission in life and that mission is give other people hope when we overcome our challenges. We also believe that there is a type of happiness called absolute happiness, where, even if you are going through the worst of times, when you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, you awaken to your own inner potential (which we all have inside of us) to overcome any obstacle and achieve your goals, so even going through challenges is itself a joy. By the end, I kind of wished Will and Louisa were real so that I could tell them about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo; I’m not saying it would have made Will’s problems go away, but it would have given him hope that he could keep going in life. I cannot speak for disabled people since I am able-bodied, but I know a lot of people who are physically disabled but they keep on living despite the challenges and discrimination they may face as disabled people. I am also aware that suicide is a touchy topic and that my views do not reflect other people’s perspectives. As much as I loved Me Before You and its sequel at first, I am trying to become more aware of the ways in which a lack of accurate representation of disabled people does more harm than good.

Book Review: The Power

It took me a while to finish this book because 1. I was reading five other books at the same time as reading this one and 2. the violence was pretty graphic. Not in a bad way, it was just hard to stomach for many of the scenes.

But just to give a brief summary of this novel. It is told in the third person narrative, but each chapter switches back and forth between different characters in the novel. It is about a power that all women and girls–not men and boys–possess, and Naomi Alderman, the author of the novel, illustrates the effects–whether good, bad, or in-between—of having this power on society and the girls and women themselves. A year ago I read a book called Vox by Christina Dalcher. That book takes place in a society where lab agents put trackers on all women and girls so that they don’t say more than 100 words per day. If they say any more than that, they get electric shocks. It gave me goosebumps because in reality, many girls and women have faced this silencing at work, in school, in the government, and elsewhere. The Power took that narrative and turned it on its head by having women and girls rule society and men as the oppressed group. The novel also shows how bad toxic masculinity can be because several men’s rights groups are trying to get back at the girls and women and kill them so they can take their power from them (I thought about meninism and how it wants to push back against feminism)

The power that the women and girls have in the book is a skein that each of them have on their hands. If they touch someone, even lightly, the other person will feel the power rise up from the girls’ palms. If the girl or woman presses their palm with great force, it can burn skin, send intense shock waves throughout the other person’s body, and cause other injuries Alderman shows that while on the surface having a society where women have this power sounds so empowering, this power must be used wisely and if it gets in the wrong hands it can wreak serious havoc (later in the book, one of the dudes tries to kill one of the girls and ends up getting the skein of power in his hand. He doesn’t stand a chance for the women who also have the power).

The end of the book gave me chills, but I think that was what the author intended because it shows you to never underestimate the strength of women and their power to unite. Overall, excellent read.

The Power. Naomi Alderman. 385 pp.

Movie Review: In a World

I have been wanting to see this movie for the longest time, but never knew when I would get a chance to see it. I am really glad I watched it though, because it taught me to not give up on my dreams. The film, which is based on the late Don LaFontaine’s famous voice over for trailers “In a world…”, is about a voice over coach named Carol (played by Lake Bell, who also wrote, directed and produced this film) who lives with her voice actor dad Sam, and she is struggling to find gigs. The worst part: her dad kicks her out so that his girlfriend can move in with him. He also tells her the same thing he has been telling her for years: that the industry won’t hire her because she’s a woman. So she goes to her sister Dani’s place to live and is still struggling to find work. She also has to compete with an egotistical jerk named Gustav Warner, who is competing for Carol’s work. While she is working in the studio, she is given a prompt to read for a new movie, and she soon finds out that she got a couple of gigs. What she doesn’t know is that her dad and Gustav are also competing for them. She goes to a party that Gustav is throwing and ends up sleeping with Gustav because he manipulates her into thinking he likes her for her when he is just using her to advance his own agenda. Carol ends up proving to these two dudes that women are just as valuable to the industry as any man (the fact that Lake Bell produced, wrote, directed, and starred in the film proves this even further).

This film reminded me a lot of this one episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, in which Midge meets her idol Sophie Lennon, who puts on a running caricature of an overweight poor woman from Queens named Sophie. Midge actually believes that Sophie from Queens is real and Sophie invites her over to her house, but when she gets there she finds that Sophie, in reality, lives a completely different life from her character. Sophie in real life sucks on lemons, is haughty, lives in a mansion, and looks down on Midge. When Midge asks her for advice and tells Sophie of her dreams of being a famous comedian, Sophie laughs at her and says in seriousness that comedy won’t take her seriously unless she is a man (she used a coarser phrase but it doesn’t need repeating). When Sam says this to Carol, I thought of this scene. Midge of course proves Sophie wrong (and even reveals to her audience at the Gaslight that Sophie isn’t who people think she is and is just an arrogant fraud who thinks her poo doesn’t stink).

This movie, In a World, was also inspiring to watch as a female in the music industry. Even though the film is about voice over acting, music still has a long way to go in how it treats women and a lot of women in the industry, like Bebe Rexha, are taking initiative to support other women in the field since many of them, like her, have had to break down some kind of barrier to their success. When women support other women, as I have found out in my own industry, great things happen and we defy the stereotypes that women are always backstabbing each other and can’t support one another.

I also thought about the story of the dragon king’s daughter while watching this film. In The Lotus Sutra, which expounds the philosophy of Buddhism (and which is the foundation of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism), there is a story about an eight-year-old girl who is the daughter of a dragon king and she goes before an assembly of people who doubt she can attain enlightenment. But without having to change her form, she basically tells the assembly, “Watch me attain Buddhahood” and does so before their very eyes. This story is for everyone, but especially for girls and women because it shows that you can be yourself and still kick butt at what you do. Like the dragon king’s daughter, everyone has that courage, compassion and wisdom inside of them but it’s just a matter of bringing it out. Even though her dad thought she wouldn’t make it in the industry, Carol proved that she has a purpose for being in the field that she is in, and later we see that it’s to encourage other young women to pursue voice acting because they finally see a woman doing it and feel encouraged to go for the field. And I like Carol because she’s awkward and introverted like me, which doesn’t seem to most people like an attractive personality in a competitive extroverted business where you’re constantly around people who don’t seem genuine (probably not true about Hollywood since I’ve never worked in it, so I’m probably making a generalization). But she uses her strength to her advantage and realizes that she doesn’t have to become her egotistical dad or Gustav. While leading up to the big day of the voice over gig they’re all competing for, Gustav trains rigorously with his housekeeper, Sam trains with his girlfriend, and Carol is sitting at home with her friend in the studio Louis (who, unlike Gustav, is a sweet guy who respects Carol and also likes her for her), and chowing down on a hamburger. She is the only one who is relaxing before the gig. Even though she wasn’t going through intensive training before the gig, she still did a great job at it.

Overall, this film was great and I honestly wouldn’t mind watching it again. Also, like Booksmart, the film had a cool soundtrack with a lot of great hits from Ice Cube and Tears for Fears.

In a World. 2013. Rated R for language including some sexual references.

Book Review: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Gosh. Like Homegoing, I had a hard time putting this book down. Even though the book is set in 2007-2008, around the time that Lehman Bothers collapsed, it is still important to read in 2020, especially since, in the past few years, we have witnessed a president who has exhibited all manner of toxic anti-immigration sentiments. I devoured this book in about a week because it was so good.

Behold the Dreamers takes place in New York City in 2007. Jende and his wife Neni have a son and are expecting another child. They have left Cameroon for the United States and found employment, and they find themselves working for a white American couple named Clark and Cindy. Clark and Cindy are upper middle class people who live busy lives, but they have dark secrets, one being that the company Clark works for, Lehman Brothers, is doing shady stuff that could lead to the company going underwater. Another dark secret is that Cindy struggles with addiction and alcoholism. Even though Neni tries to help her and find out what is bothering Cindy, Cindy pushes her away and tells her to mind her business. But as the novel goes on, things get more stressful, and also Jende and Neni are struggling to stay in the U.S. because they don’t know if their request for asylum will get approved.

This was an important book to read because I didn’t know much about the Lehman Brothers collapse other than what I learned briefly in my history and social studies classes in high school. This novel taught me that Lehman Brothers didn’t just affect American citizens but also immigrants like Jende and Neni who not only have to deal with losing their jobs, but also losing their right to stay in the U.S. I never thought much of the American Dream but after reading books like Dear America by Jose Antonio Vargas, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue and The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, and after listening to my friends from countries outside of the U.S., like India and the Congo, talk about their struggles to obtain green cards and apply for permanent residency in the U.S., I have a different idea of what the American Dream is. When I read The Great Gatsby in high school, we talked about how the novel portrays the American Dream, but it was from the perspective of a well-to-do white American guy who never had to get a green card or even think about his citizenship. The American Dream isn’t accessible to many people and to get the American Dream requires a lot of emotional and financial sacrifice for many people who immigrate to the U.S. While I can’t relate to what immigrants go through, I can’t begin to imagine what a stressful process it is, but watching John Oliver break it down was fairly helpful.

Overall, a very important book to read for our time.

Behold the Dreamers: A Novel by Imbolo Mbue. 2016. 382 pp.

Book Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

photo courtesy of me.

A friend recommended this book to me, and I couldn’t recommend it enough. Yaa Gyasi’s writing really left an impact on me. It is a powerful novel about the importance of remembering our history. I honestly have no other words to describe it, and I cannot do justice by just putting a basic summary. I took a class in which we read literature from authors of the African Diaspora, but that was a few years ago. This book served as a reminder to me to not forget my history. I first started reading it on the cruise I went on and it spellbound me immediately. What I find unique about this book is that each story seems to stand on its own and it feels like you are reading several novels within a 300 page novel. The book covers so much history in just 300 or so pages that I was left feeling both exhausted and incredibly moved.

I do admit because I wasn’t super focused while reading, I sometimes got lost while reading the book and had to go back at some points and remember who the characters were, but there is a family tree at the beginning of the novel with the characters’ names. The family tree was helpful because each character has their own chapter, and the characters cross paths in each others’ stories, so it can be helpful in order to keep up with the characters. If you end up not taking an Africana Studies course at any point in your life, at the very least read this book because while it’s not going to just lay out all the bullet points and basic facts just like any standard textbook would, the lived experiences of these characters at these different points in history (the slave trade to Jim Crow-era segregation to the present) is enough to make you pause and reflect on the history of race and blackness and how it has shaped African-Americans’ individual lives. Overall, it is an incredibly powerful book that left me with goosebumps and honestly I hope they make it into a movie someday.

Homegoing: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi. 320 pp.

Movie Review: Uncle Drew

After watching the emotionally heavy film Jackie, I had to watch something funny, and the only funny movie I had checked out from the library was Uncle Drew. I saw the trailer for it a long time ago, but didn’t know if it would interest me. But after watching it, I was sorely mistaken: it was so funny and also had a beautiful message.

It’s about this basketball coach named Dax Winslow who is struggling with encouraging his team, as well as trying to please his girlfriend, Jess, by buying nice things for her. He also has a rival named Mookie Bass who puts Dax down and even gets Dax’s team to turn on him when Dax buys them all the latest shoes when working his shift at Foot Locker. Dax loses all hope in coaching the team, until he finds a retired basketball player named Uncle Drew who proves a group of young basketball players wrong when he beats them at their game (they think that just because he walks slower than they do and has grey hair that he is a grandpa and thus cannot play basketball). Dax catches up with Uncle Drew after the game and asks if Uncle Drew can join his team since Dax is short on players (Mookie Bass stole his teammates from him). At first Uncle Drew is reluctant but then agrees to join if Dax lets him also recruit Drew’s old teammates.

Everyone else on the team is a retire basketball player, and at first Dax is having a hard time convincing them to come back to playing, but in encouraging them to get back in the game, Dax also comes to terms with his own past struggles. He stopped playing basketball after he missed a shot during a game and his teammates felt he let them down, but after seeing Uncle Drew and his teammates show their stuff during games, Dax realizes that he must overcome his fear of getting back on the court.

It was also a really cool movie because towards the middle of the film, Shaquille O’Neal’s character, Big Fella, has his headphones in, and when he takes them off, we hear the words “Nam myoho renge kyo”. As a Nichiren Buddhist, this was such a cool scene because the only other times I’ve heard Nam myoho renge kyo used in films and movies is What’s Love Got to Do With It? (I still have yet to see it, but that’s how most people I encounter have heard of NMRK) and one episode of The Simpsons. The movie also has a message that very much resonates with Nichiren Buddhism. There’s a concept in Nichiren Buddhism called fundamental darkness, which means that we cannot see the potential inside of us. When we do what is called our human revolution, or self transformation, we awaken to the reality that we each have innate courage, wisdom and compassion and this gives us the strength to face our problems head on and overcome them. Dax’s fundamental darkness in this context is that he can’t see his potential to win at basketball and encourage his team, but when he overcomes his fear, he awakens to his potential and even his girlfriend is impressed (it’s also his chance to prove Mookie Bass wrong since Mookie thought Dax never had a chance).

Even though I don’t know much about basketball and have only played a few times (although more often than not just shooting hoops by myself at the gym), I really loved this film and thought it was cool to see these influential people like Lisa Leslie and Kyrie Irving in this heartwarming fun film. The only people in basketball I knew before seeing this film were Shaquille O’Neal and Lisa Leslie (sad but true).

Even though Nick Kroll plays a jerk in this film, I still love him in The Kroll Show. Also, he has a nice smile. And I also loved seeing Lil Rey Howery (who plays Dax) because he was in Get Out and I love that movie. His role in that film made watching the film less stressful because he was the voice of reason to Daniel Kaluuya’s character, Chris. Chris was convinced his girlfriend’s parents were okay even though there was something fishy about the town they were in, and it took Lil Rey Howery, who plays Chris’s friend Rod, to tell him to get the hell out of that town and leave the girlfriend and her family since they were planning to kill him.

Movie Review: A Bad Moms Christmas

I am playing catch-up after being off of this blog for so long, and in the time I haven’t been blogging I have been just consuming books, movies and music like it’s nobody’s business. Okay, maybe it hasn’t been that long, you all will need to check the calendar for me.

Anyhoo, enough with that. I just finished (my typical beginner line, maybe I should find another beginning line, I’ve kind of worn this “just finished” one out) the film A Bad Moms Christmas. Lately I have been checking out a bunch of comedies since a lot has been going on in the world with coronavirus, the helicopter crash that killed Kobe, his daughter and others, the White House, and climate change, and I just needed to take a break from my phone to have a good laugh. My advice: watch the first Bad Moms movie ( back in the dinosaur age I wrote a review on it), and then watch Bad Moms Christmas. Most important tip of all: prepare to laugh even harder than you did when you watched the first. Bad Moms was obviously quite hilarious and had me laughing so hard my side hurt, but Bad Moms Christmas one made me laugh even harder (and yes, all this laughter made my side hurt harder than the first time).

The basic premise of Bad Moms, for those who haven’t seen it, is Amy, this mom living in suburban Chicago, whose life is anything but perfect. Her kids are entitled, her job barely lets her have time off for herself, and worst of all, she is dealing with a clique of PTA moms that are straight out of Mean Girls (only they never have a change of heart like Regina, Gretchen and Karen had), the ringleader of which loves to taunt Amy and pile all these PTA mom responsibilities on her and expect her to have her life together. Amy meets two other moms who struggle to make time for themselves because they are all trying to be perfect moms, and the three of them strike up a friendship and get back at the PTA mom clique and its ringleader by doing things like bringing store-bought donut holes to bake sales, holding house parties with alcohol, and cursing. Amy, Carla and Kiki (the three main moms in the film) realize that it’s okay to not be the perfect parent and what’s most important is just being their best selves.

In A Bad Moms Christmas, the story continues, but this time, with the moms’ moms all coming to visit them for the holidays. Cheryl Hines (who plays Cheryl on Curb Your Enthusiasm), Christine Baranski (from Chicago, Eloise at Christmastime and How the Grinch Stole Christmas) and Susan Sarandon (who I found out on my American Philosophical Association poster majored in philosophy like me!)—all of them make the film what it is: touching, hilarious, and clever. Cheryl Hines plays Kiki’s mom Sandy and the thing she struggles with is respecting her daughter’s need for space and to live her life independently. Susan Sarandon plays Carla’s mom, and she only comes to see Carla when she needs money for gambling and was never really there for her daughter all the time when Carla was growing up. And Christine Baranski, who plays Ruth, Amy’s mom, is an overbearing perfectionist who comes into Amy’s home and puts her way of life down. She thinks she is going to come into Amy’s home and tell her how they are going to celebrate Christmas, driving everyone to see the five-hour tragic version of The Nutcracker and taking the family to at least 200 homes to sing Christmas Carols with a choir that Amy’s mom hired. She even elaborately decorates the house and invites 100 people over to Amy’s house without her permission because she thinks that a casual Christmas with takeout and time with family isn’t going to cut it. Amy feels that she can’t live her life anymore because her mom wants to control it, but at least she can always rely on her friends Kiki and Carla to support her.

Overall, I really loved this movie. Carla especially is hilarious, and the scene where she has her, Amy and Kiki get drunk and rowdy in the mall during the holidays was very silly but had me busting up. And Kenny G makes a cameo appearance!

A Bad Moms Christmas. 2017. Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some drug use.

Movie Review: Jackie

Jackie was truly an excellent film. At first I wasn’t sure how I was going to like it, but it definitely was intense and left me holding my breath for a pretty long time (seeing as how it was produced by Black Swan‘s Darren Aronofsky, this isn’t surprising in the least). It takes place in the immediate aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, and is centered on the trauma that his wife, Jacqueline (“Jackie”), dealt with. The movie opens up with her talking to a journalist who is writing about her perspective on JFK’s assassination. The movie is so brilliant because it focuses on Jackie telling her side of the story and how she is actually quite knowledgeable about the field of journalism, having once been a reporter. She tells Billy Crudup’s character that as someone with experience as a reporter, she knows that the press expects someone like her to try and tell a story that the public wants to eat up. However, as a private person, Jackie was caught in a bind because these people wanted her to share these intimate details of the assassination with them. As she is recounting the details of the assassination, however, you can only feel her pain at having to remember these details, just as anyone who has ever experienced any kind of trauma will feel when people who never went through what they did expect them to simply just tell their side of the story without feeling any kind of emotional exhaustion or pain whatsoever. Not only did she have to figure out how to maintain her confidentiality, but also she had to prepare for her husband’s funeral, she had to tell her children about the assassination, and she had to leave so that Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson could move in as the new President and First Lady.

If Jackie taught me anything, it’s this: the events in history themselves often get warped when people put their own interpretations on them. Bias in telling history is inevitable. As Jackie says towards the end, people love to believe in fairy tales. However, Jackie and John’s marriage wasn’t some perfect fairy tale. They had relationship issues and problems just like everyone else (not to mention the numerous extramarital affairs JFK apparently had behind Jackie’s back. No one taught me this in history class). They were human beings who just happened to be the President and First Lady of the United States. And Jackie knew that JFK wasn’t perfect and that he slept with these women behind her back. However, that didn’t change the fact that his assassination was going to traumatize her for a very long time. Just a few hours after JFK’s assassination, Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife are sworn in as President and First Lady. While we don’t get as much detail into the rapport between Lyndon and John, or Lady Bird and Jackie, the movie focuses on how stressful the rapid transition was for Jackie. Probably one of the scariest scenes of all (besides the scene where JFK gets assassinated) is when Jackie is walking in the Oval Office with her clothes bloodied. She walks around with this numbness that gave me goosebumps. When she describes to the reporter the assassination in great detail I literally felt my heart go heavy. After seeing the film, looking at the poster for Jackie gave me chills in the same way that looking at the poster for Black Swan gave me chills after seeing it.

Another thing I loved about the film was the score (courtesy of Micachu, or Mica Levi, who I had little knowledge of before seeing the film. I am glad though because the only female film composers I knew of were Rachel Portman and Germaine Franco ). It has these slides in the strings at the beginning that gives the film its unsettling character, and there is one scene in particular that will stick with me for a while, and that is when the cellist Pablo Casals is performing at the White House, and as he is performing, the camera cuts to Jackie sitting in the center seat and front row of the audience, staring in awe and contemplation as Pablo performs. It is a deeply chilling moment because it is one of the memories she shared with her husband before his assassination. The music is rich with strings, and while I’m sad she didn’t win for Best Original Score at the Oscars (La La Land won) it is still an amazing score.

Another lesson that Jackie taught me was that you need to see history from more than one perspective. When I was in AP US History we went so quickly through our 1960s unit that some of the historical events covered in Jackie I didn’t know until I saw the movie. In one scene(this article articulates the scene way better than I ever would), Jackie is coping with her husband’s death by drinking several bottles of alcohol and taking medications while the song “Camelot” is playing in the background (she tells the journalist that she and John would listen to the Broadway musical Camelot before bed). This scene gave me chills because it’s this super upbeat song but then later in the film Jackie keeps saying that while she and her husband lived a Camelot like life when he was alive, there is no longer a Camelot now that John is dead. The upbeat song, juxtaposed with her trying on various dresses and sitting at the Oval desk and replaying the trauma over and over again in her mind, forced me to sit back and really think about how deeply the assassination of her husband messed up this young woman’s life.

Before watching Jackie, I would always pass by the grassy knoll near Dealey Plaza and never paid much mind to it, and I thought for a second, “Hmmmm this is kind of morbid. Everyone’s snapping pictures at the place where JFK got shot”. But after seeing this film I don’t think I’ll ever look at this grassy knoll the same way again. In fact, thinking about that knoll reminds me of the emotional, psychological and spiritual toll that JFK’s assassination had on Jackie. But of course, the history books, especially in a place like Texas, won’t tell you all that. That’s why I recommend they show this film in high school history classes during the 1960s unit, and yes, the shooting of JFK is shown in pretty vivid detail, but the film is so important because I don’t even remember my history teachers even giving us Jackie’s perspective on the assassination. Kids need to know the perspective of Jacqueline Kennedy on her husband’s death because it will show them how important it is to look at history from different perspectives, especially if the figure, such as Jackie herself, was a private person who wanted to maintain control of the narrative that other people wanted to impose on her. Critical thinking is so important and when you watch films like Jackie, it teaches you how to digest history in a way that encourages students to ask questions and have discussions about the material. Overall, I think this film is important to watch, and Natalie Portman’s haunting and poignant portrayal of Jackie Kennedy will stay in my brain for quite a long time.

Jackie. 2016. 1 hr 40 min. Rated R for brief strong violence and some language.

Why Persepolis is Both a Must-See and a Must-Read in 2020

In 2007, the film Persepolis came out. When I saw the trailer, I really wanted to go see it, but so many other movies caught my attention at the time that I never got around to it. I also had seen the book before, but never got around to checking it out from the library or buying it at the bookstore. So this time, I decided I wanted to check it out, and I was able to score a copy. I devoured the book like the best dish in the world. Persepolis, if you haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet, is a comic book (Marjane Satrapi, the author, prefers that her graphic novels are called comic books because there’s so much stigma around the word “comic book”. I agree.) about Satrapi’s life growing up during a tumultuous political time in her home country Iran and her adolescence in Vienna, where her family sends her so she can escape the trauma of war between Iraq and Iran. The book was enlightening because I remember studying about Iran during World Geography, and Persepolis was on the list of recommended movies for the course, but I forgot most of what we learned in the course about Ayatollah Khomeini and the U.S. involvement with affairs in Iran and Iraq, as well as the history of Iran and how the West’s invasion of Iran influenced its economy (Britain invaded Iran for its oil, and then later ended up joining America and the Soviet Union in bullying Reza Shah, Iran’s ruler, into going against the Germans to side with them and then later organized an embargo on all oil exported from Iran).

As I continued to read Persepolis, I couldn’t help but think about how important this book is even though she wrote Part 1 in 2002 and Part 2 in 2004. More than a decade later, relations between the U.S., Iraq and Iran are getting tenser. In the film, Marjane is seen walking around wearing her hijab, but also wearing a jean jacket with a button of Michael Jackson on it and the back of her jacket reads “Punk is Not Ded”. Two women who are part of a group who arrest women who are improperly veiled target Marjane, calling Michael Jackson “that symbol of decadence”. While Marjane returns from the tense encounter unscathed, it showed me how complicated the relations between Iran and the West were (and still are). In the introduction to the novel, Marjane tells the reader that it’s important that she wrote this book about her life because many people associate Iran with fundamentalists and terrorists, but in doing so, they are forgetting that so many Iranians spoke out against oppression and fought for the good of the people, and so we can’t judge an entire population based on a few individuals who oppose justice.

Reading Persepolis and watching the film adaptation also reminded me that I need to be more aware of what is going on in the world. When a top Iranian general Quasem Soleimani was recently killed in a U.S. airstrike last week, I just scrolled through articles about his death because I thought it was too stressful to read. When it was revealed that the Iranian government lied to its citizens about its military striking down a Ukrainian plane with more than 100 people on it, again, I scrolled past the news stories about it. When I heard about the following student demonstrations against the government in Iran, I once again scrolled past. But after reading Persepolis, I came to understand that my apathetic scrolling was just me coming from a privileged Westerner’s perspective where I never have to deal with what Iranian citizens are going through. I have never lived through war. My family never had to live through war. Marjane Satrapi is just one of many Iranian people who lived through war, which is why she doesn’t get why her privileged friends in Vienna complain about their privileged lives. One guy in particular, named Momo, tells her that life and everything means nothing, and that more people need to realize this so they can live truly great lives. She calls him out by telling him that this is absolute bullshit because there are people who give their lives to fighting for freedom and justice, such as her family during the Revolution. I’d probably call Momo out on his bullshit, too, speaking as a Nichiren Buddhist who believes everyone has a purpose in life and that fighting for justice is important. He counteracts by telling her that those people fighting for freedom are just doing it as a way to keep themselves busy (to “distract” themselves), and she shuts him up by asking him if he thinks her uncle Anoosh, who died speaking out against the government’s oppression of its people, died to distract himself. This is a powerful moment in the second part of the novel, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. This interaction between Marjane and Momo is one of many powerful moments, and it taught me that I need to educate myself more on what’s going on in Iran and its political history rather than believing the vitriol that the U.S. president tweets about it.

I was sitting in the lunchroom at work while reading Book 1 of Persepolis, and when I finished it I broke down crying not just because of the incredible illustrations but also because Marjane’s life story is just so poignant, especially speaking as someone who has never had to live through war or had to worry about leaving my house for fear of the government cracking down on me. Yes, sure, America has its own issues, but a lot of us take for granted that we can get on Twitter and call out our president on his nonsense, while in some countries outside the U.S. like Hong Kong, speaking out will get you tear-gassed and beaten with batons. Reading Persepolis also taught me the importance of knowing your family history and of memory. Uncle Anoosh, when telling Marjane about his life, tells her before she goes to bed that he is telling her these stories about her family’s past so that she doesn’t forget them. When we forget our roots, we can get easily influenced by what other people or the media say about our country or our people, but when we remember our family history and individuals in our family who had to live through torture, war, genocide and other trauma, it stays with us and then we can tell future generations what happened so that hopefully they can change the trajectory of what’s going to happen (i.e. help history hopefully not repeat itself, which it has done too many times).

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (English translation published in 2003). 153 pp. and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (English version published in 2004). 187 pp.

Persepolis (film). 2007. 1 hr 36 min. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including violent images, sexual references, language and brief drug content.

Book Review Bundle: Books I Read on Vacation

I was on a cruise ship library (yes, girl, they had a library on a cruise and I was ALL.FOR.IT) and wasn’t able to check out my target book: Moonglow by Michael Chabon. Instead, the only section was the book exchange section, so I checked out a book from there called Girl in Translation.

Image courtesy of yours truly. 🙂

At first I was disappointed to not be able to check out Michael Chabon’s book, but I’m glad I got to read this book instead. It’s about a young woman named Kimberly who immigrates from Hong Kong with her mother to New York City, where they find work in a sweatshop. Kimberly has a hard time fitting in because she doesn’t speak English and the other kids tease her. Her teacher also treats her poorly because she doesn’t speak English. However, she befriends one girl in her class named Annette, and they continue to be best friends through thick and thin even when Annette, who is white and upper middle class, can’t fully understand Kimberly’s life, or why Kimberly has to work while the other kids get to go to academic programs and do other things over summer. Kimberly also meets a guy at the sweatshop named Matt, and later on as they grow older, he changes her life, and not exactly in a good way (no spoilers here, you’ll need to read the book to find out what I mean by this). The book is a fast read and not just because it is accessible in terms of language, but because Kwok’s writing is so on point and as the reader, even if I couldn’t directly relate with Kimberly and her mother’s situation, I felt for her throughout the novel. It also made me want to educate myself more about classism (the discrimination of someone based on their socioeconomic status) because Kimberly not only encounters racism, but also classism. She cannot afford nice things, and Annette is constantly asking her why she can’t come over to her house to hang out, and feels upset when Kimberly won’t tell her the truth. I take a lot for granted since I grew up with class privilege, but reading this novel made me want to think more carefully about what I say, since I have said things before that could be considered classist.

This photo also courtesy of me.

The Poet X: Another excellent novel. I took back Girl in Translation, and wanted to check out another book from the cruise library (also because I’m nerdy and was still so hyped about the fact that there was a library on the cruise. I brought three books with me, but feared somehow–totally irrational fear, come to think about it, since I didn’t even finish the books I brought with me on the trip–that I would finish them). I saw The Hate U Give, but I already read that book, then I found another book next to it, and it had a beautiful cover, so I decided to check it out. I understand it’s bad to judge books by their covers, but this cover was just so amazing I couldn’t pass it up. I didn’t know if I’d be able to finish it, since it’s a pretty long book, but I finished it in one evening. Not only was the writing spellbinding and raw, but also it was in the form of poetry, so the lines just flowed so well. The book is about this young Dominican woman named Xiomara, and she struggles in school with students teasing her about her body, and also feeling her mother instilling a sense of guilt in her. She is also conflicted about her faith in God. However, one of her teachers shows her a video of a young black woman reciting spoken word at a slam poetry event, and immediately Xiomara is hooked. So she writes poetry like it’s nobody’s business and joins the poetry club that this teacher sponsors (the one who showed her the slam poetry video), but she also has to keep it a secret from her mom because her mother wants her to focus on school and faith, and writing poetry in her spare time would go against that. It’s an incredible novel and I felt inspired to write more after reading how Xiomara uses writing as a medium for expressing all of the human emotions she feels every day: frustration, angst, depression, guilt, love, the list of emotions goes on, but when she writes about how free she feels writing poetry, I could relate. Writing for me has allowed me to express myself in ways that I normally wouldn’t, especially as someone who tends to be introverted even though I like talking to people, too.

Solo: I found this at the time that I found The Poet X. I saw that both books were in the format of poetry and I thought, “This is epic,” so I checked them both out. This is a really good book about a guy named Blade whose dad, Rutherford, is a famous musician fresh out of rehab who is trying to get his life back together but is failing in the process. His son feels embarrassed when his dad tries to come back into his life, and also the son, whose name is Blade, is having problems because his girlfriend cheated on him for some big-name rapper. He goes to Ghana because he wants to find his birth mother, and through his journey in Ghana he finds out stuff about himself and his relationship with his family roots that he never thought he would ever find out. He also develops a deeper bond with his dad because at first, he is embarrassed that his dad followed him to Ghana (even when his daughter-and Blade’s sister–Storm tried to talk him out of it), but he learns that his dad is more than just what the media portrays him as, and he learns to appreciate his time with his dad more. It’s a really heartfelt book and the music recommendations are pretty sweet.

Dog Man and Cat Kid: There was no way I was going to pass this book up. Honestly. I saw it was Captain Underpants‘ author Dav Pilkey and I knew I needed a knee-slapper. Like most, if not all, kids, I loved Captain Underpants as a child: Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman, Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space, Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants, you name it. So of course, it was no surprise that after watching dramas and reading dramas, I would want to check out a lighter read. If you haven’t read Captain Underpants, it’s about these two little boys named George and Harold who do goofy pranks to try and bug their teachers and principal, and also write a series of comics involving their principal, Mr. Krupp, who becomes Captain Underpants and gains superpowers when he drinks alien juice. This time, George and Harold sought inspiration from a book they read in school called East of Eden (honestly, I think they just skipped seven grades because I didn’t get to read East of Eden until senior year of high school. I would never have grasped the language or content of that book at George and Harold’s age. Also it had some pretty raunchy scenes in it as well as racism) and this book influenced their newest comic Dog-Man and Cat Kid. I won’t give away spoilers, but as a grown adult, I needed to read this book. Life as an adult can be pretty stressful sometimes, but reading this book taught me that it’s ok to laugh at potty humor sometimes even if it seems immature to do so at my age.