A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut

A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A man without a country is a connoisseur of humanity, appreciating the universality of sentiment and reason common to all humankind beyond the demarcation of the territorial, cultural, and racial ambits. In that regard, Kurt Vonnegut is not only a great American writer but also an honorable citizen of the world.

Vonnegut was liberal and socialist without being Marxist, but he was also a traditionalist and Christian without being conservative and religious. He was on the side of the underdogs because he regarded himself as one by being a kind of black sheep in the literary circles for his studying engineering, not English literature. However, he wasn’t a grumpy sullen dark literary figure but a funny, talkative writer who stroke conversations with anyone in daily life. Vonnegut refused to lose his days in unsocial solitude and decided to become – as Samuel Johnson called – the sun in his evening declination, remitting his splendor and maintaining his magnitude, pleasing more, though intimidating less.

A Man without a Country is a charming little book packed with thoughts, wits, and knowledge. Vonnegut was only a human because he saw the heart of human nature and wanted to help people bring it out and nourish it thus: “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” Vonnegut was a writer who practiced what he preached. So why not read this book by such a writer?










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‘American Made: What happens to people when work disappears’ by Farah Stockman

Howard Stern might not be everyone’s friend, but he’s got the point when he articulated in his radio show a decade ago that what was eating out this great nation was not racism but classicism. The recent unionization movements among service industry workers, such as Amazon and Starbucks, indicate that the demand for the dignity of workers supersedes ideological politics that discourage the growth of American esprit de corps. American Made is a story about this American class consciousness that will put together disintegrated tesserae of the collective national mosaic made by the people and events.

The author follows the three principal workers of the now-defunct Rexnord Factory in Indiana: Wally, a black man whose diligence and amiability promoted him to a coveted position in the factory; Shannon, a single white woman with an abusive partner taking pride herself in being a wielder, a male-dominated position, and John whose fortitude and conscience never left him during his long, turbulent unemployment days. Sex and race don’t matter when it comes to losing their jobs, let alone loving them because the importance of what they do for a living and the need for their livelihood are their commonalities that build a sense of camaraderie. In fact, class solidarity can never be achieved if class consciousness is transcendent of racial prejudice to be achieved first. Unfortunately, the antebellum wealthy southern plantation owners systematically destroyed the poor white laborers’ wage systems by replacing their workforce with the free labor of African slaves, thus planting the seeds of racial hatred in the hearts of the poor whites. The vicious cycle of devious racialized economic caste system has since firmly constituted the American economic system ethos under “Separated but Equal.” The author sees the absurdities of American society as a result of the disintegrated labor movements primarily due to racial prejudices, which is why worker’s solidarity is a way forward to achieve national unity.

Wally, Shannon, and John are not just working-class Americans. The author emphasizes differentiating her elite station characterized by expensive private higher education and intellectual “profession” from those with hardened coarse hands of workers in the factory. They are ordinary people, a majority of Americans making up this country, ubiquitous in the landscape of our daily life. They are expendable at the whims and caprice of profit-driven employers who see their employees as no more than living at-will automates. That is what happened to the Rexnord Factory, where workers’ lives were no less than collateral damage for a successful operational mission of the company.

At times, the author positions herself as a conscientious liberal intellectual, paralleling her fortunate environment with her unfortunate subjects. Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard for being an NYT journalist. Nevertheless, the book succeeds in pointing out a lack of national cohesion resulting from the politicization of racial rhetorics into bipartisan ideology, which falls by the wayside of solidarity of labor movement overcoming institutionalized racial prejudices. Recently, I have read that the workers of Starbucks and Amazon in New York have voted to unionize. American Made is a story about them and us too because the dignity of work makes us who we are.

Spirit Away: ‘The Sentence’ by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich is about the power of words, spoken or written, awakening the spirits of the author, storyteller, characters, and readers, all adrift and luminous as the boundary between the real and the ideal collapses. It’s a polyphonic work of trauma narrative, cultural studies, social commentary, and philosophical memoir interwoven in multiple strands of a joint account.

The story evolves around Tookie, a doubting bibliophile who thinks books have everything you should know except what actually matters. Books are no more than a portal to mental escapade, a world of make-believe in the likeness of truth or reflected in the highest ether of reason and sentiment, which makes no defining impact on her checkered life as if it were her sentence from the judges of this world and the beyond. So much so that when Tookie finds that the newly deceased soul of a regular customer haunts the bookstore, she works at, she laments her fate of chaos that seems ever to stalk her small wish to live a quiet everyday life. Is it her sentence to live In perceptual existential malaise? And yet, Tookie ends up living daily life with a loving husband and daughter in a house of their own with a steady job as a bookstore attendant. Isn’t it what is considered an everyday life? So why can’t Tookie let the ghost alone when ghosts refuse to depart for the other until they finish their businesses in the world as part of their spiritual sentence?

I decided to read this book after reading a review from the NYT Book Review a couple of months ago because of Tookie for being exceptional wanting to be ordinary. I felt for her, which was valid until the middle of the book. But as Tookie became settled with her husband in their own house burgeoning as a knowledgeable employee at a local bookstore, she began to lose her fabulous, unique luster. Indeed, I was all high fives for her happiness that I felt deserving, but the further I progressed to pages, the more my heart parted with Tookie’s existential frustration, except the touching moments of love between her and her husband. Also, unlike the book’s general introduction as a ghost story, It is not a supernatural book that will fulfill your cravings for an intelligent horror story. Instead, it is an extended short story featuring a ghost as a fire-starter of narratives connected by bibliophilia. The author believes bibliotherapy is a recipe for the existential malady to quiet the anxious mind. There is no more enchanting than a book, electronic or bound. The lifeless words become alive as the reader awakens the book’s spirit by entering the world of make-believe through the labyrinth of stories leading to the secret garden of truths that the author has fruited.



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