Saturday, August 21, 2010

26. "Potiki" by Patricia Grace

Grace, Patricia. Potiki. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1986. Print.
185 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Patricia Grace is a Maori writer. She has written novels, children’s books and short stories. She is one of the first and most notable of Maori women writers. Potiki is her second published work.

Potiki is about a Maori family and their struggle to preserve their culture, land, and way of life. They are threatened by impeding businessmen who want to take their land and build a resort on it. These business men will stop at nothing to get what they want.

The novel describes time as being a spiral rather than a straight line. Each chapter is written in a spiral pattern. For example, in a chapter titled “Roimata” the narrator begins by speaking about children and their war games: “And games are stories too, not just swallowers of time, or buds without fruit. Games, as played-out stories, also define our lives—but I did not understand the children’s war games. I could not tell what their war games were a reflection of” (Grace 44). The narrator then goes on to describe war games from when she was a child and then spirals back out to the children’s war games. At first this seemed repetitive until I understood what Grace was doing. I think it is a genius form to use to illustrate the way the Maori families understand time.

Each chapter is told from a specific character’s point of view but the point of view shifts. Chapters titled “Toko” and “Roimata” are told from first person point of view while chapters titled “Hemi” and “Mary” are told from third person limited point of view. For me, this kept the novel fresh and interesting. I was allowed to understand the characters and the family from many angles and points of view. Doing this deepened my connection to the whole group instead of just one individual. This is another running theme in the novel—a focus on community, not individuality.

When the family’s land floods because of the construction work the colonizers do, I felt a connection to the text. As an Iowan, I’m no stranger to floods and the floods that have been happening in Iowa the past few years are, as certain scientists argue, the result of poor land management. Iowa’s natural prairie grasses have been replaced by farm crops and the land can no longer absorb the rainfall it was once able to. Similarly, when the construction workers blast holes through the hills in Potiki, the land no longer has a natural barrier to the waters and the village is flooded.

I love this text. It is rich, and deep, and it was the first book in several years that actually moved me to tears.

5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: KEEP

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

25. "The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros

Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage Books, 1984. Print.
110 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

A professor of mine once taught me that I can’t psychoanalyze characters in a novel the way I might a friend, or family member, or even myself. I can’t try to guess at what is going on in their heads or predict what they might do in a different situation.

“All you have are words on a page,” she told me.

“You have to enter into a relationship with each book you read, but all you really have are words on a page,” she emphasized over and over again in class.

Nothing held truer for me as I read Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street. The House on Mango Street is written in snapshots. Each chapter gives readers a glimpse into a different part of the narrator’s (Esperanza's) life. Each very short chapter is somehow connected to the others, though there are no clear transitions between them. Readers must be quite conscious sometimes to make the connections.

The House on Mango Street is about Esperanza’s process of figuring out where she belongs in the world. Esperanza is a young teenage girl and she doesn’t feel at home on Mango Street. She doesn’t like her house which could be symbolic for the way she feels lost in other parts of her world. Cisneros provides delicate character sketches and once the sketches are combined, one can understand Esperanza’s community a little more clearly.

I finished the book but my desire to know Esperanza wasn't fulfilled. She was always just beyond my reach. The snapshots weren’t enough for me. I wanted to really get to know this character beyond glimpses here and there. I wanted to understand her in ways other than through how other characters reflected her. I wanted more but all I had to work with were words on a page. Esperanza remains a mystery to me, for whatever reason.

This doesn’t necessarily detract from the quality of writing in this novel. Cisneros uses beautiful descriptions and imagery. I enjoyed it very much despite Esperanza’s ability to sneak away from me. It was certainly worth the read.

4 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: DONATED TO A LIBRARY