NWAW’s June must-reads

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

“Soliloquy in Tibet”
By Anne Park
Aventine Press, 2010

“What is the meaning of life? Why are we here?”

Although everyone asks these questions from time to time, not many people truly think about them and contemplate the answers. At age 23, Maya is among the few who really want to know why we were put on this planet. Originally from Hong Kong but studying in Tibet, the philosophy student becomes restless and unsettled as she struggles with the purpose of her existence.

Maya becomes disturbed when she and her friends attempt to see their future souls. Having tried several times in the past, but coming up unsuccessful, the group sees the activity as nothing more than a game. The game is no longer fun for Maya when she not only sees her future soul, but sees herself as a Buddhist monk.

Questioning the consequences of seeing into one’s future, Maya embarks on a journey that is nothing less than a roller coaster of emotion filled with love, loss, and heartbreak. With each leg, she faces challenges — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Despite everything that she goes through, Maya remains strong and doesn’t lose faith or abandon the commitments that she made to herself and others, no matter how much she is tempted to do so.

“Soliloquy” will open your mind. Although the story probably won’t make you want to convert to Buddhism, it will definitely open your mind. If you haven’t already done so in the past, this short novel will have you considering the possibility of soul mates, reincarnation, fate, and destiny.

Readers will also begin to ask the same questions that Maya has about the meaning of life and the purpose of our existence. The more contemplative we become about our lives, the more mindful we become about our actions, which can only be a good thing.

“Balarama: A Royal Elephant”
By Ted and Betsy Lewin
Lee and Low Books Inc., 2009

Elephants are the largest land animals on the planet. They can be both fierce and gentle, making them undoubtedly fascinating creatures. Elephants are even idols of worship in some cultures.

In Indian culture, elephants are used during Dasara, a royal and religious festival celebrated in the fall.

In “Balarama,” authors Ted and Betsy Lewin travel to India to see Drona, the Royal Elephant that leads the procession on the last day of the festival. Upon arrival, the Lewins discover that Drona has died. The elephant who has taken his place is Balarama.

What I like about this book is how the story focuses on one aspect of Dasara. The celebration is used as a backdrop to highlight the roles of the elephants in the festival. This is an excellent way to introduce children to other cultures without overloading them with information.

With its denser text, “Balarama” is suited for more advanced readers (grades 3–6). But younger readers will enjoy the book’s bright and colorful illustrations.

At the end of the book, there is a section that has facts about elephants. It discusses topics such as distinguishing the Asian elephant from the African elephant and royal elephants of the past, and it includeds a glossary and pronunciation guide to words used throughout the book.

Whatever their reading level, readers young and old will learn the interesting history of how elephants become trained for such festivities in India, in addition to the elephants’ roles in Dasar.

Prior to reading this book, I didn’t know much about elephants, but “Balarama” has made me see how important animals are to humans and how we often take their presence for granted. What we may see as a great addition to our celebrations can be a drastic change in lifestyle and quality of life for these creatures, and I believe this is something everyone needs to realize.

“Leaving Yesler”
By Peter Bacho
Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press, 2010

Bobby Vincente wants a better life.

At age 16, he’s living in the housing project of Seattle’s Chinatown. He has lost his mother Eula to cancer and his brother Paulie in the Vietnam War. And now, his father Antonio is slipping away as well — mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Father and son know the former is not long for this world, and the two men do their best to spend as much time together as possible.

The two grow closer than ever as Antonio teaches Bobby how to box, a sport in which Antonio used to professionally compete.

Bobby has always been shy and introverted. This is partly due to the fact that although his father is Filipino and his mother was part Black, Bobby’s skin is quite light — making him the target of much ridicule among his hardened, streetwise peers. But boxing lessons help Bobby break out of his shell and give him confidence.

Throughout the story, Bobby is visited by his mother’s and brother’s ghosts, who reveal long-buried secrets that help him understand many confusing aspects of his life and his family.

Mostly told from Bobby’s point of view, “Leaving” is a powerful story with strong and complex characters.

Insight into Bobby’s family’s and friends’ minds will make readers want to turn the pages to see if the characters share their thoughts with Bobby.

Readers will learn the strength of all types of love — the love between parent and child, the love between brothers, and the love between lovers.

What I loved about this book was how honest it was. Life for Bobby is rough. Kids deal and do drugs, teachers don’t really care what happens to their students, and boys fight over girls who don’t care about them to begin with. Bacho does nothing to hide this fact, which is so important for young adults to see.

Despite Bobby’s struggles in life, the overall theme of “Leaving” is Bobby’s remaining hopeful as he works hard to not become like the other kids in his neighborhood. ♦

Samantha Pak can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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2 Responses to “NWAW’s June must-reads”

  1. click here says:

    You’ve managed a first class post

  2. Yatzy says:

    This is excellent! It also brngis to mind the old parable of the blind men and the elephant. No one can actually see the elephant. We’re all blindly trying to build a complete mental model of this creature from incomplete and conflicting data. The interpretations are all over the map, though some are more accurate than others. Maybe we might manage to collaborate & synthesize an accurate understanding of the beast, in time to avoid adding one more inaccurate description: the causal agent of human extinction…


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