Three Cups of Tea by Mortenson & Relin: 4/16/09

Three Cups of Tea

We agreed this was not great literature, but a story worth reading about a complex charismatic with an important lesson for anyone interested in international relations. I was struck by the thought that if Greg Mortenson had appeared in my library during the days he was living out of his car and writing fundraising letters to famous people one by one, I probably would have figured he was a well-meaning dreamer with a very loose hold on sanity and no chance of succeeding with his “project.” Another reminder that appearances can be profoundly deceiving.

Members expressed admiration for Mortenson’s courage and perseverance, and appreciation for some insight into life in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. While the tone of the book was very flattering of Mortenson in many respects, there was also enough revealed about his setbacks and weaknesses that many questions came up in discussion. Will his organization be able to continue its work once he’s not there to lead it? DJ noticed that when he had the chance to speak with Rumsfeld at the Pentagon back home, Mortenson was not able to bring the open-hearted attitude of respectful listening he so notably offered when traveling abroad. She observed that tends to be a challenge for all of us…

We talked about the familiar profile of a powerful progressive leader who is far less than ideal to those he or she lives and works with. All the same, DV praised Mortenson as a great example of “why nerds are so wonderful!”

B suggested that we need a similar champion for schools in distressed communities in our own country.

W gave us sobering food for thought with a brief outline of the story of Afghanistan’s last 100 years, including the expulsion of the British – twice – then the defeat of the Russians, followed not long after by the arrival of United States troops.

Other titles suggested by book club members: Leaving Microsoft to Change the World;Michener’s Caravans.

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason: 10/16/08

The Piano Tuner The Piano Tuner

by Daniel Mason

Mason’s novel takes place in the ethnically and militarily fractured Burma of the 1880’s. Sadly, over a hundred years later, the situation has many similarities – witness the military government’s refusal of international aid after this year’s devastating cyclone. JOS was in Burma few years ago and even then her driver would not venture into Shan territory after dark.

Our group had many questions after reading this book:

    Why did Drake stay so long ? Many readers were surprised he didn’t go right home, although a reference to the Lotus Eaters gives a clue.
    Why a piano? Why a piano tuner?
    Why didn’t Carroll ever play the piano after it was tuned?
    Was Drake a pawn from the beginning?
    Where were the other Englishmen serving with Carroll in Mae Lwin?

Many of us enjoyed the portrayal of Drake’s character: a man dedicated to and absorbed by his craft, overwhelmed by the contrast between his familiar middle class England and the seductions of Burma. But the English characters “sounded” as if they were speaking in American rhythms, and many readers found the long letters tedious. Most found the relatively abrupt ending jarring and distressing. RP started the discussion by exclaiming, “What a dirty trick!”

CD has read that Werner Herzog is developing a movie based on this book. He feels this is a perfect match, as Herzog is known for bringing “borderline crazy actors to remote locations” and pushing them to the limit for excruciatingly long times.

Daniel Mason
Daniel Mason
Danel Mason Asian Review of Books on The Piano Tuner

More about Mason & The Piano Tuner:
  • For more articles on Mason and his books, try Infotrac Onefile, available at the library, or from home
    (with a Minuteman Library Network card).

Waiting by Ha Jin: 11/8/07

Waiting Waiting
A Novel by Ha Jin

17 of us met to talk about Ha Jin’s book, and most comments were very positive. I was not so enthusiastic about it, however, which may explain the ridiculously long time it’s taken me to post this summary!

Many in the group were fascinated to read about life in China during the Cultural Revolution. In Never Let Me Go the protagonist’s passivity drove people crazy, but in the case of Lin Kong, it seemed to make sense, given the power of centralized political, economic and social control in China at the time. We struggle to imagine living in a place with strict rules governing every aspect of our existence, from our job assignment to which people we are allowed to walk with and where.

Our group generally empathized with Lin’s disappointment with his situation and with himself. We noted that his gentlemanly behavior poorly hides his fear and selfishness. At the same time that he is trying to get along well with everyone, he is causing great pain to the most important women in his life.

J told us about the interview with Ha Jin she heard on the radio that very morning, and talked about the culture of shame to which Lin belongs, where the power of other people’s opinions can be crushing.

JS pointed out that the story can be seen as a tale of urban versus rural cultures. To be from the country seems so shameful to the urban educated Lin. But his ex-wife Shuyu – illiterate, with tiny bound feet – is the one who is able to adapt well to life in the city when she finally gets there, and she’s the one who knows how to treat his new wife’s seriously ill babies. In the end, Shuyu strikes us as the strongest character, even though she also seems the most subservient.

Shuyu went through years of pain to have her feet bound, creating perfection to be shown only to her husband, only to have him refuse to look at them. She gathered the courage to offer herself to him so that she could give him a son, only to have him send her back to her own bed.

Speaking of beds, TL wondered about the brick beds they slept on. Turns out they’re known as Kang, and they are heated from underneath!

As CS said, the book raises many questions. For us these include: What does it mean that the one violent and ruthless character is the one who achieves fame and riches? How could Lin have so little insight into himself? Does he really learn to appreciate Shuyu or is he just in love with waiting and yearning for the greener grass on the other side of the fence? Are we also sometimes in love with waiting? Why wasn’t Lin able to try bringing Shuyu along with him, teaching her to read and to live in the city? And JW wants to know what about all the insects flapping around the characters in this story?

Ha Jin
Ha Jin Interview with Ha Jin
Review of Waiting
  For more articles on Ha Jin and his books, tryInfotrac Onefile, available at the library,or from home (with a Minuteman Library Network card).
*Wikipedia on Ha Jin  
*Other Books by Ha Jin
*New book released October 30, 2007: A Free Life


MLN Holdings