Tag Archives: discrimination

Film Review: ‘Roma’ is a Great Movie

roma 2Realism.  This is the word that summarizes why the film Roma is so great.  It perfectly reflects the realism of Mexico’s class system.  The indigenous people are at the bottom of the society, while light-skinned people who associate themselves with Europeans rule the land.

I well remember the servants I saw in Mexico.  They were from the lower rungs of the ladder.  One of my relatives was extremely poor and barely had the funds to survive.  But somehow she always found some change in her purse.  It was enough to hire neighboring ladies to do some house work; washing dishes or laundering or ironing clothes.  The ladies would be extremely grateful as the change they earned might provide their family with food for a day.

Roma shows prosperous Americans what the life of an indigenous maid in Mexico is like.  It also displays the role of politics in every Mexican’s life and how they react to and handle the current political situation.  And, sometimes disturbingly, it shows the violence in the country that is never displayed on U.S. news programs.

In one situation, Roma shows how everyone helps in an emergency.  The point is well made that we are all dependent upon each other as human beings, regardless of social status.

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Roma is surprisingly good.  I believe it has a solid chance to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.  If it does it will break the glass ceiling in unique fashion and serve as a meaningful tribute to the lives of proud, striving and hardworking people.

Highly recommended.

Alejandro Reyes

Alejandro Reyes is a former production line supervisor for Procter and Gamble.  Educated in Stockton, California, he is enjoying retirement in sunny southern California.

 

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The Rest of the Story

no one ever asked

No One Ever Asked: A Novel by Katie Ganshert (Waterbrook, $14.99, 368 pages)

Sometimes a promising novel is destroyed by the story telling structure selected by the author.  I found this to be the case with No One Ever Asked.  The fictional tale, about racism and socio-economic differences that affect two public school districts in Missouri, is a worthwhile one.  Ganshert well illustrates how racism impacts everyone – rich and poor, majority race or minority – whether it is overt, covert, deliberately hurtful, or inadvertent.  And this would have been a relevant read for these times if only she had written the tale in standard chronological form.  She did not.

No One starts with a dramatic event.  The event covered in the Prologue – something a novel almost never needs, takes place near the end of the events covered in this book.  Thus, the next 300 or more pages take the reader back in time to see what preceded the climactic event.  The reader’s patience might not have been tried if Ganshert had taken 10, 20 or even 30 pages to “set up” the non-linear story in this unexpected way.  Unfortunately, and regrettably, she used 300 or more pages to do so.  Not only this, she often refers to events that, in legal terms, “are not in evidence.”  For example, an incident that occurred in a boy’s high school locker room is referenced multiple times.  But the reader is never informed, until near the very end of the telling, as to what exactly was involved in this incident.

Hiding the ball from the reader in this fashion builds up fatigue and frustration.  I was ready to put the book down many times, for good.

There’s also the distressing fact that No One has so many characters – white and black, prosperous and poor, that you would need to keep a spread sheet in order to keep track of them.  And the author’s style is not only confusing and sometimes bewildering, but often choppy.

By the end of No One Ever Asked, I realized that Ganshert had written a decent story which might have been enjoyable had she simply kept it straight (chronological) and simple.  She did not.  I am hopeful that an editor will advise her to follow the common path of storytelling in her next effort.  Cleverness for its own sake is rarely a reward for the reader.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

No One Ever Asked was published on April 3, 2018.

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Ebony and Ivory

under-one-roof-by-adam-henig-front-cover

He’s taught in his school/From the start by the rule/That the laws are with him/To protect his white skin… Bob Dylan, “Only a Pawn in Their Game”

Under One Roof: The Yankees, the Cardinals, and a Doctor’s Battle to Integrate Spring Training by Adam Henig (Wise Ink, $9.95, 146 pages)

Much has been written and passed on about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in major league baseball and the history of the Negro Leagues. However, that single act was only the beginning of a long struggle for equality in major league baseball and society. Those that followed suffered significant abuse and hardship all to often. Hank Aaron was the target of vile, despicable hatred when he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. That, too, has been chronicled in great detail. The travails of African American baseball players during spring training received far less scrutiny, as has their journey through minor league cities in the south during the 50s, 60s, and beyond.

Adam Henig shines a light on the subject in Under One Roof. It is more of a flashlight than a spotlight, as had he chosen he could have expanded his tale to include a more substantial account of the travails of these athletes and the social mores of the time. As it stands, he confined his story to the efforts of civil rights activist, Dr. Ralph Wimbish and his work to integrate the community of St. Petersburg, Florida.

In the early 60s, St. Petersburg was the spring training home of both the Cardinals and the Yankees. Pitcher Bob Gibson of the Cardinals and catcher Elston Howard of the Yankees were among the prominent black players on those teams. At that time they and their other black teammates were not allowed to stay at the same hotel as their white counterparts. Instead, separate housing arrangements were made in segregated parts of town. Special transportation and other provisions were secured to accommodate these players.

Henig seems to be interested in telling a story more than creating an historical record which, in the end, likely serves the same purpose. Although it is a good read, and while there is research, interviews, and other supporting documentation, this is a very important topic and – had he chosen to do so, he could have gone into greater depth. The actual text runs 100 pages and the book is accessible to younger readers, which is a good thing, and would make excellent reading for middle school students and/or other classes.

My former high school coach, Ron Herr, was a phenomenal pitcher who came within a sliver of making the big leagues. He later briefly served as a coach with the Atlanta Braves. He often told us stories of the inhuman treatment that Rico Carty, Aaron, and other were subject to – buses pulling over when players needed to use a restroom and the inevitable conflict to follow, as well as predictable stories involving restaurants, housing, and fan behavior.

Gladly, my children live in (and to their credit espouse) a more tolerant and accepting society than previous generations. We are certainly not there yet, as is evidenced by recent tragedies in Ferguson, MO, Charleston, SC, and daily chaos in the south and west sides of Chicago that will likely break records for shootings and fatalities. I applaud Henig for keeping these stories alive for younger generations, who were not around to know just how tumultuous a time this was in our country’s history. If there is any criticism of the book, it would be that he only scratched the surface.

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Here’s hoping for a better tomorrow.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was received from the author. Adam Henig is also the author of Alex Haley’s Roots: An Author’s Odyssey.

This book was released on April 25, 2016.

Dave Moyer is an educator, former baseball player and coach, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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How Can I Tell You

Everything I Never Told You (nook book)

Everything I Never Told You Ng

Everything I Never Told You: A Novel by Celeste Ng (The Penguin Press, $26.95, 292 pages)

“James is all too familiar with this kind of forgetting. From Lloyd Academy to Harvard to Middlewood, he has felt it every day – that short-lived lull, then the sharp edge to the ribs that reminded you that you didn’t belong.”

Celeste Ng’s novel is about a Chinese-American family in the truest sense of the words; James Lee is a Chinese-American professor married to an Anglo woman. Although born in the U.S., “(James) had never felt he belonged here….” James has consistently experienced discrimination as a minority resident of Ohio – an experience his wife Marilyn has largely been exempted from, and his sense of bitterness has been building up. Matters come to a head when his fifteen-year-old daughter Lydia goes missing, and is eventually found dead.

The loss of Lydia threatens to destroy the Lees’ marriage as Lydia was the favorite of their three children, a daughter in whom their hopes for a perfect future had been placed. This family novel is also a mystery as the circumstances of Lydia’s death are largely unknown. Marilyn Lee makes it her mission to “figure out what happened… She will find out who is responsible. She will find out what went wrong.”

Everything Ng

Ng’s thought-provoking tale informs us that a sudden tragedy can either destroy individuals or give them the chance to start anew. And this unique, engaging novel reminds us that “the great American melting pot” operates haphazardly and imperfectly.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Something’s Gotta Give

Simple (nook book)

Simple: A Mystery by Kathleen George (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 322 pages)

Simple is not only a really well-crafted police procedural mystery; it is also the story of a mother’s love and her son’s gentle nature. Cal, who has been a victim all his life, is accused of the brutal murder of Cassie, a newly-minted attorney who has bought a house in a less-than-desirable part of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Cal seems to be more than a bit simple; however, considering the battering he endured over the years by bullies, he is remarkably able to quietly work as a handyman on neighborhood homes including Cassie’s.

There are times when she studies the shoes and hair and clothing of the people who come to the Connolly house and tries to figure out what about these things costs so much money. The black dresses she will see tonight, the sundresses, the sandals with decorative knots or jewels, cost a month’s salary. But she’s not always sure these things are pretty, that’s what bothers her.

Elinor, a woman with mixed racial blood, works for a wealthy man with high political ambitions. She diligently runs the Connolly household year in and year out, first for the senior Mr. Connolly and then for his son. Her son Cal, who has passed for white all his life, is the center of her world. She has unwavering love for him even when he is considered the prime suspect in Cassie’s murder.

Cal’s being a victim may seem like a sure segue to anger and violence. Main police characters, Detective Colleen Greer and Commander Richard Christie are willing to look past the obvious and consider alternative scenarios. The racial issues that are a considerable factor in this tale are particularly relevant with 2012 having been an election year. The aspects in this tale are about mixed race folks (like President Obama) rather than black vs. white tension. There are strong contrasts presented in Simple and relationships aren’t what they appear to be on first glimpse.

Author Kathleen George peels back the twisted layers of her story to reveal an undercurrent that is full of evil. Her book is sort of like a John Grisham work, but not really. It has more of an old-fashioned Dragnet approach, not so dramatic, rather, simple.

How shallow life is, that because nature handed her physical beauty, she should have such power.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “If anyone’s writing better police thrillers than George, (we) don’t know who it is.” Entertainment Weekly

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Love is the Cure

In the 1980s, Elton John saw friend after friend, loved one after loved one, perish needlessly from AIDS.   In the midst of the plague, he befriended Ryan White, a young Indiana boy ostracized by his town and his school because of the HIV infection he had contracted from a blood transfusion.   Ryan’s inspiring life and devastating death led Elton to two realizations:  His own life was a mess.   And he had to do something to help stop the AIDS crisis.

Since then, Elton has dedicated himself to beating the epidemic and the stigma of AIDS.   He has done this through the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised and donated $275 million to date to fighting the disease worldwide.   Love is the Cure is Elton’s personal account of his life during the AIDS epidemic, including stories of his close friendships with Ryan White, Freddie Mercury, Princess Diana, Elizabeth Taylor, and others.   It is also the story of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.   With powerful conviction and emotional force, Elton conveys the personal toll AIDS has taken on his life — and his infinite determination to halt its spread.

Elton writes, “This is a disease that must be cured not by a miraculous vaccine, but by changing hearts and minds, and through a collective effort to break down social barriers and to build bridges of compassion.   Why are we not doing more?   This is a question I have thought deeply about, and wish to answer – and help to change – by writing this book.”

Love is the Cure: Ending the Global AIDS Epidemic will be released by Little, Brown and Company on July 17, 2012.   All proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

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On the Border

The Madonnas of Echo Park: A Novel by Brando Skyhorse (Free Press, $14.00, 240 pages)

“A work of fiction is an excellent place for a confession.”

To be truthful, this is a collection of short stories with a common theme, not a novel.   As author Skyhorse makes clear in the introductory author’s note (items which always take away more than they add to the reading experience), one of the stories is based on something that happened to him in grade school.   At the time Skyhorse presumed that he was a Native American and, thus, refused to dance with a young girl who was Mexican.   Since that time the author, who has worked as an editor in the publishing industry, has learned that he is in fact primarily Mexican-American.   This collection of stories, then, is intended to honor the culture – and the people – he once snubbed.   It is an act of contrition, of penitence.

In the eyes of this reviewer, this collection worked a bit more than half of the time but was not fully successful.   On the positive side, Skyhorse gives life to people on the peripheries of Los Angeles who are often invisible.   They are the house cleaners, the bus boys, the hotel maids, and the daily contractors who scrape along in L.A. without set plans for their future.   Many of them are Hispanics (who have displaced African-Americans but themselves are threatened by newly arriving Asians) from Mexico or Mexican-Americans born in the U.S.   As Skyhorse makes clear, these are the people who take buses to work across the great expanses of L.A. and their lives tend to be at the mercy of factors beyond their control.

“The areas around St. Vincent (Hospital) and MacArthur Park are Latino; some Mexicano, some Salvadoran.   A new influx of Koreans hit the area several years ago, but there aren’t enough of them yet for tension.”

The short tales are interesting and make for relatively fast reading.   But I did not find the boldness, the vividness in the telling that some have focused on.   If anything, Skyhorse too often writes in the style of Junot Diaz and Oscar Hijuelos, as if starkness and drama and scenes that are a bit too descriptive – and occasionally disorderly – are essential to Hispanic writing.   This is offered as a critical point because a number of the tales were just this side of charming, and that charm was lost in the translation to grittiness.

Hispanic readers – and most especially those who have lived in L.A. – are likely going to see these tales as non-exceptional reflections of real life.   This is fine, but it’s hard to expect that most non-Hispanics will relate to them except as curiosity pieces.   And while Skyhorse pays tribute to Mexicans/Mexican-Americans, he also shows in one particular story that there can be troubling differences, and real anger, between the two groups.   This was a bit troubling even if it reflects reality – the laundering of dirty cultural linen in public.

Some readers will be put off by the round-robin nature of the tales, which cross-reference each other in terms of characters and situations.   What seems at first cute becomes somewhat tiring after the first hundred pages.   The most troubling issue for this reviewer, quite surprisingly, had to do with editing.   Mentioned repeatedly is the fact that the Mexican-American residents of Chavez Ravine were forcibly evicted (and their homes destroyed) in the early 1950s to make way for what would become Dodger Stadium and the LAPD Academy.   This is raised as a grievance in so many of the stories that one becomes surprised that Skyhorse did not catch his own repetitiveness and deal with it.   Or was it meant to be disruptive to the reading as an analogy to the disruption of these residents’ lives for what was claimed to be the greater good?

All in all, this is a fine debut for a first-time author.   Yet this reviewer feels that Skyhorse has a choice to make when it comes to his next release.   He can either use his calming voice to write about life in a style that is a bit more positive and charming, or he can rachet-up the grittiness and become an angry voice.   It is hoped that calmness prevails.

Joseph Arellano

Take Away:   Skyhorse has a lot of obvious writing talent, but let’s hope that next time he pens an actual novel.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “There was a time when the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park was known for silent films — not for drive-by shootings.”   NPR

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Get Together

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Berkley Trade; $15.00; 544 pages)

Wasn’t that the point of the book?   For women to realize, We are just two people.   Not that much separates us.   Not nearly as much as I’d thought.

Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help, is a wonderful story truly worthy of its attention and praise.   Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s at the crux of integration, Stockett portrays the help’s perspective of life and hardships in the South prior to the Civil Rights Movement.

Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is a young, educated woman whose only dream is to become a writer.   Encouraged to write about something that “disturbs her” Skeeter risks everything she has to listen to the stories of the black women who care for the homes and children of her wealthy friends and family.   She elicits Abilleen and her best friend Minny, both of whom have dedicated their lives to caring for the white families in their town, to put their lives in jeopardy in order to share their stories. 

They say it’s like true love, good help.   You only get one in a lifetime.

Skeeter, a budding activist fighting for equity in a town vehemently supporting segregation while Martin Luther King, Jr. leads the nation in the Civil Rights Movement, finds grace and purpose in her own life as she shares the stories of the help in her small town.

All my life I’d been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl.   But with Constantine’s thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe.

The Help invites you to listen to their stories and determine how far you would be willing to go in order to gain the truth and to ultimately do the right thing.

Highly recommended.

Kelly Monson

This book was purchased by the reviewer.   The Help will be released in trade paperback form on April 5, 2011.

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Homeward Bound

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway (Putnam, August 5, 2010)

“The person I used to be could have only made one choice; the grown up (me) might have made a different one.   That was how life was.   You only figured out the right thing after you were old.”

This is a finely told story of two persons and two cultures.   It may well appeal to those who loved Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford or The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz.   The many fans of Lisa See are also likely to be drawn to it.

This is first, the story of Shoko, a young woman in Japan at the end of World War II who marries an American G.I. – one of the many occupiers of her island nation – and then moves with him to San Diego.   In the USA she finds great prosperity, but also some loneliness accompanied by discrimination.   Her transformation is assisted by a guidebook, printed in Japanese and English, labeled How to Be an American Housewife.

The character of Shoko is based on the author’s mother, Suiko O’Brien, who told Dilloway that “her life would make a great book.”   It does, and Suiko relied on a book that her American husband had given to her called The American Way of Housekeeping.

The second story is the tale of Shoko’s southern-California raised daughter, Sue, a character who might be reflective of some of the author’s own experiences growing up.   Sue is a divorced mother who perhaps does not properly appreciate her own mother until Shoko begins to experience serious health issues.   Shoko understands that her time on earth may be short and she wants nothing more than to visit her estranged brother Taro in a village in Japan, one not too far from Nagasaki.

As children Taro and Shoko were told that they shared the blood of the Emperor’s royal family.   When Shoko, attempting to live on her own as a young woman, begins to spend time with a lower-caste man, Taro sees this as bringing shame upon their family.   He vows to never forgive her, and Taro also hates the Americans who bombed his country; thus, Shoko’s marriage to an American (a “Charlie”) is another sign of Shoko’s betrayal to family and country.

Once its determined that the elderly Shoko needs a life-saving heart operation, she is set on convincing Sue to visit Japan in her stead.   She wants Sue to find Taro and deliver to him a request and a message.   This may be the final thing that Shoko asks of her daughter and Sue elects to honor her mother’s wishes.

On one level this is about persons of one culture trying to find acceptance and peace in another one, one that is initially alien (“San Diego had become a foreign nation…”).   This is true of a Japanese woman suddenly transported to the U.S. and of her daughter who, several decades later, finds herself in older parts of Japan.   Shoko eventually finds the peace to state, “I became an American…”   Sue makes a transformational journey to the Land of the Rising Sun with her own daughter and finds that she’s “homesick” for a place she’s never been to before.

On a second level, this is about the interest and spice that’s added to life when one accepts cultures, and the habits, traditions and foods of “the others.”   In the end, the differences between us add to our experiences rather than subtract from them.   Dilloway’s story is a much-needed tribute to multiculturalism.   It is a telling that is an extremely effective one precisely because it includes examples of the sad destruction brought about by hating and fearing those who are different from us.

And finally, this is a tale of forgiveness.   It is one thing for Taro to be asked to forget the mistakes he and his sister made while they were young; it may be another to ask him to forgive a nation whose planes shot at him and dropped bombs on his village during the 1940s.   Yet, because Shoko married an American serviceman the issues become joined in his mind and heart.

The best scene in How to Become an American Housewife is the one in which Sue’s Japanese relatives take her to visit the Peace Park in Nagasaki, ground zero for the dropping of the second atomic bomb.   When the bomb exploded over Nagasaki, Taro and Shoko were close enough in their nearby village to see the lights from the explosion and hear the sound.   As Sue walks through the park, she comes to understand the horror of war, the terror of how it ended, and the fact that nothing can change the past.

Dilloway’s characters come to understand, as we all must, that the pain of yesterday is no reason to destroy the present.   This debut novel is an impressive tribute to one woman, a mother, who lived a true and large life.   It is also a tribute to the best characteristics of people in two very different countries who, separately yet together, seek to find comfort within the noisy turbulence of life.

Well recommended.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Big Girls Don’t Cry

The Male Factor by Shaunti Feldhaun

This book is a take on helping women in the business world to break through the so-called glass ceiling.   The key is to use a male-oriented approach in the workplace – it’s business, not personal.   Author Shaunti Feldhaun goes to great lengths to establish her credentials and the sampling methodology she and her team used to produce this book.   She also touts her wildly successful career as a consultant; a bit of overkill.   During this disclosure, Feldhaun emphasizes majority versus minority responses to her carefully crafted written survey that forms the basis for many of her conclusions.   At the outset, the reader is repeatedly offered allusions to the findings in later chapters.   These allusions are not the least bit tantalizing.

The world featured in this book is acknowledged as private sector; there was no exploration of the public sector – government.   This is a shortcoming, for government and its employees, albeit civil servants, factor mightily in the economy of the United States.   Many opportunities for female advancement exist in this sector.   Although civil service is dominated by testing and exam rankings, the interview and subsequent probation period following a hire determine whether women are upwardly mobile (just as is the case in the private sector).

The version of the book being reviewed here is the “Christian” one.   It contains many references to workplaces that are operated as Christian enterprises or Christian male employers and coworkers in secular businesses.   Feldhaun over generalizes and portrays Christians in a homogenous way that is presumptuous.   The “Christian” community is comprised of many permutations and is no more alike than an “Asian” or “Muslim” community.

The men who graciously agreed to being interviewed by Ms. Feldhaun (her own characterization) come off as strangely schizophrenic, following one set of norms at the office and another during their personal lives.   Apparently, because the workplace was established by men, the rules are not going to change.   Women, particularly those who she views as most in need of reading this book, are chastised for not perceiving the difference.

There are ample references to scientific studies that established the differences between male brain activity and female brain activity.   Males are described as 100% focused and not able to multi-task, while women are eager, willing and able to lay the groundwork, illustrate the concept and come to a conclusion while performing multiple activities.   No kidding!   Anyone can easily use this finding to justify why human males do not bear the babies or provide their nourishment for the first few months.

There are italicized comments placed at what the reader assumes are teachable moments in each section of the book; however, they are repetitive extracts from the immediately preceding text.   While these statements are obviously intended to be pearls of wisdom and learning points, they come off as slogans or watchwords to use on business trendy flashcards.

Sadly, a reader who would most benefit from the best parts of this book (yes, there are some) is not only fully committed to her view of the “good old boys’ network,” she is too emotional to wade through the dry narrative.   A lost opportunity but two stars for the attempt.

Review by Ruta Arellano.   This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, a division of Random House.

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