Finding Common Themes in Four Books About Immigrants

Immigration has been a hot topic this campaign season and, as the spouse of an immigrant, I get frustrated with the misinformation, distrust and xenophobia that’s been dominating the national conversation.

What is life really like for immigrants? Obviously there isn’t a universal experience, but we can turn to fiction to help us discover some common themes among the different categories of immigrants. Read these four award-winning books to get a glimpse of the lives of a variety of immigrants.

sympathizer1) The Refugee: The Sympathizer by Viet Thang Nguyen

The 2016 Pulitzer prize winner follows the story of a Vietnamese man who is an undercover communist agent during the Vietnam War. A large portion of the story is set in California where the main character lives as a refugee with other Vietnamese who are having to endure the transition of having been esteemed military leaders and are now forced to live unassuming and impoverished lives in the U.S. This is definitely a common theme among refugees and immigrants who end up in America and have to start all over again. This time from the very bottom.

loss2) The Immigrant Without a Visa: The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Winner of the Man Booker Prize, this book follows the lives of two Indians, including one who is an immigrant living and working in the U.S. illegally. This novel does an excellent job of debunking the fantasy of many immigrants that they will make tons of money quickly in the U.S. and can either send money home or just move back home. This is hard to do even when you have a visa, but even harder if you’re not legally able to work.

americanah3) The Student Visa: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi

Americanah (winner of the National Book Critics Circle award) is a novel about an immigrant from Nigeria
on a student visa, which is a good contrast to the story of the visa-less immigrant. As great of an opportunity as it may be to get a visa to study in the United States, one common problem students have is that they have no way to legally earn money even while in school. Only the most privileged of us are able to get through college without working a part-time (or full-time) job at the same time. When I shared parts of the book with my husband he would say, “that’s too real.” This quote was one of those.

They would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness.

maladies4) The Immigrant, Permanent Resident, Naturalized Citizen: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpar Lahiri

The final category is of those immigrants who live and work in the United States legally and may even have become citizens. Lahiri’s Pulitzer-winning collection of short stories focuses on the lives of Indian immigrants, but reading the stories I could relate to the challenges and themes as a wife of an Eastern European immigrant. The stories focus a lot on learning to live in a new, vastly different culture than your own, which is something most immigrants will experience.

Picture + 100 Words: Nature’s Simplicity

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Trees growing in a straight line? This is not coincidental. This is what happens when trees grow out and on top of dead, fallen trees. A concept called the nurse log. As you hike through the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park everything feels very alive – the greenery all around is teeming with life that supports more life. And if that weren’t enough to inspire, the local library placed signs with poetry along the trail (including the poem below).

Nature is what we know –
Yet have no art to say –
So impotent our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.
-Emily Dickinson

A Stack of Seven Links on Criminal Justice

Criminal justice has been on my mind this year. I just finished reading the third book for the social justice book club (hosted by Kerry at Entomology of a Bookworm), which have all had a criminal justice focus. Today you’re getting seven criminal justice links.

Put It in Perspective

Why criminal justice? One of my favorite quotes from the first social justice book club book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is still this one:

We are more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.

9781595581037Link 1: I shared some thoughts about Just Mercy and that quote here.

Link 2: I kept thinking about Stephenson’s quote while reading this month’s book The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

Alexander did a nice job summing up the danger of a society that doesn’t see people as more than the worst thing they’ve done.

Criminals are the one social group in America we have permission to hate.

Kerry asked us what surprised us most about Alexander’s book. To me, the most shocking things stem from this idea of “permission to hate.”

What Happens When We Hate?

Permission to hate is a great opportunity for police state tactics to emerge. The Fourth Amendment is intended to protect us from unwarranted search and seizure, but in the past few decades our rights have slowly eroded in several key supreme court cases that Alexander summarizes in her book.

Link 3: Supreme Court Justice Douglas puts it nicely in his dissent in Terry v Ohio.

To give the police greater power than a magistrate [judge] is to take a long step down the totalitarian path.

As we’ve seen in the past year or so, these stops and searches can and have turned deadly. Link 4: That’s why I love Zeynep Tufekci’s thoughts on this topic in this Twitter thread.

Permission to hate also manifests itself:

In prison conditions. Link 5: Ramen is the new cigarettes in the informal prison economy, due to the fact that, “cost-cutting at detention facilities has many inmates complaining they’re not getting enough to eat.”

In the application of the death penalty. Link 6: The Supreme Court has considered it cruel and unusual to execute someone who is “intellectually disabled” for 14 years, but they let each state define “intellectual disability.” This year the Supreme Court is looking at whether the Texas definition of intellectually disabled (based on a fictional character in a Steinbeck novel) violates the 8th amendment.

And it affects men and women. Link 7: The Equal Justice Initiative delves into the “exploding U.S. female prison population.

Have you read anything worth sharing about criminal justice lately? Share in the comments.

 

Flavors of Summer Water: Lavender, Mint & Lemon

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It’s hot again. We had this slight tease of 2 days of Fall-like weather earlier in the week, but we’re fully back in August’s armpit this weekend.

Drinking plain water can get boring, so this summer I’ve been experimenting with some infused water recipes. If you’re looking to shake up your drinking water, take one or both of these recipes for a whirl.

Want something summery but more adult? Check out my Pimm’s Cup recipe.

Lavender, Mint & Lemon Infused Water

Place a sliced lemon, a handful of lavender and a handful of mint leaves in a pitcher. If you’d like, smash it all with a muddler. Fill the pitcher with filtered water. Place in refrigerator and let sit overnight. Pour the water through a strainer into another pitcher. Serve with ice. (You can discard the solids, or give it another go with more water and another night in the fridge).

Slightly Sweet Lemon Mint Water

Put half of a sliced lemon and a few tablespoons of mint in a quart-sized measuring cup. Sprinkle a half tablespoon of white granulated sugar on top. Muddle until the sugar is wet (about 30 seconds to a minute). Pour filtered water on top to fill the measuring cup. Whisk well to make sure the sugar dissolves. Pour through a strainer into a pitcher, pushing down on the solids to extract more flavor. Discard solids.You can add lemon slices to the pitcher if you’d like. Serve with ice.

Picture + 100 Words: Finding Kyoto’s Best Bamboo Grove

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In Kyoto we wanted to visit the bamboo grove Arashiyama. We had seen pictures of rows upon rows of bamboo that looked mesmerizing. We trudged there all the way across town and were, well, underwhelmed. Yes, lots of bamboos. But it didn’t have that dizzying quality we expected. (Plus it was packed with tourists). We had seen more impressive groves elsewhere in Kyoto. On an unassuming detour at Fushimi Inari, we walked by hundreds of bamboos lining the trail. Later at Enko-ji we saw the grove pictured here, which had a major advantage because we were the only people there.

A Stack of Seven Links

Lists are the best. As I was reading Emily’s 6 on the 6th list over at Curious Iguana’s blog, I was reminded how much I love reading lists of things other people are enjoying on the Internets. So I am going to share a few of mine.

1) As a woman with a master’s degree and the wife of a professor I have read lots of academic writing (most of it lately in the form of free copy editing services for my husband’s papers). I have always said that the lack of plain language wasn’t because these academicians are so much smarter than us, it’s because it’s harder to write clearly. And now The Atlantic is backing me up in this piece about unnecessarily complex academic writing.

2) I was driving listening to BBC earlier this summer and heard Tope Folarin read an essay about his obsession with creation stories. It was so compelling that I scrambled to record an audio note to myself with my smartphone (because that seems so much safer than typing, but it was still pretty dangerous tbh). Thankfully my app caught most of my note and I was able to decipher it plus do some googling and find the audio clip (now only available via the BBC free media player app). Not only was I introduced to Folarin’s writing, but I also learned about the Caine Prize. It was a win win.

3) Oh, hey, have you been participating in the Social Justice Book Club? We’re on our third book (it’s one book every other month) and maybe you’d like to join us? Kerry is the hostess of the club and has more info about the August bookThe New Jim Crow.

IMG_20160809_2141004) When I saw the illustrations on the covers of Flannery O’Connor’s books in Curious Iguana earlier this year I was mesmerized. I bought O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge because a) I had never read her and b) the cover was so darn beautiful. I decided to find out more about the illustrator, June Glasson, and came across this lovely interview she did (the best part is you get to see lots of examples of Glasson’s work).

5) I don’t know why it took me so long to read Flannery O’Connor, but one thing that pushed me over the edge was Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer. She’s used O’Connor as an example several times. I’ve been slowly taking Prose’s book in and already find that my reading has more depth.

6) The Man Booker prize announced the 2016 longlist and while I recognize many of the authors, I haven’t actually read any of the books on the list. What about you? What do you think is going to make it to the shortlist?

7) I LOVED Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-winning Goldfinch. I’ve often wondered when (and if!) it would be made into film. If you didn’t already hear, the director of Brooklyn, John Crowley will be adapting Goldfinch into a movie. This is promising news to me, because I thought Brooklyn was such a sweet and well done movie.

Old & New: Four Pieces of Active Gear I Can’t Run Without

I’ve been running for 10+ years, and over the years I’ve gone through lots of active gear and clothing and shoes. When I think about my favorites, there are two pieces of gear that have been with me for years and two new ones that I am really loving. Check them out.

Two Things That Changed My (Running) Life

Spibelt

How did I ever run without my spibelt? I’ve had this thing for years and it’s probably the single best piece of active gear I’ve ever bought. Basically it’s a svelte fanny pack that is just big enough for your smart phone and a key and maybe a few other things. I don’t even notice that I’m wearing it, and I always have my essentials on hand.

Body Glide

Oh, body glide, how I love thee. Running would be much more uncomfortable without this little stick of happiness. Swipe it on anywhere you’re prone to get chafing and be amazed.

Two New Pieces of Active Gear I’m Loving

IMG_20160728_170558220-01Bottle band

I am not a fan of running in super hot heat (who is?) and in past summers I would use the treadmill at the gym. I’m no longer a gym member (plus I never really loved the treadmill) so I’ve been running outside in the heat this summer. I tried carrying my water bottle with me and it was awkward holding on to it the whole run. I checked out some options and happily came across the Bottle Band. For just a few bucks, the band will latch on to any sized water bottle and provides you with an insta-handle. I love running with it now. It’s comfortable and I can change the way I grip it throughout the run.

Bellabeat’s Leaf

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Photos courtesy of Bellabeat

I always liked the idea of the Fitbit, in terms of the data I could get from it, but was never crazy about the idea of the plastic band. Enter Bellbeat’s Leaf. It’s made for women and made to look beautiful and can be worn four different ways (as a necklace, bracelet, clipped on your shirt, or on your pants). I got the Leaf earlier this summer and enjoy trying to get to 10,000 steps a day (harder than I imagined!). The app that goes with it is easy to use and it’s been fun keeping track of my health data. I wear it when I run and with all my outfits every day. So far so good!

What are your favorite new and old pieces of gear that you recommend? Tell me in the comments.

Five Books to Read Before This Summer Ends

Five Books

Can you believe August starts next week?

As a kid, August was always a month of doom. I used to ban family members from using the “s word” (school) during this time of year.

Ramona Ausubel sums up the August angst perfectly in Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty.

“August arrived despite their prayers that it would not. Each swim and sail meant more…They begged the days to pass more slowly.”

Even now that I work 12 months of the year with no 3-month summer break to speak of, there’s something about August that makes me want to cling on to summer for just a little longer.

In honor of August’s approach, I’m sharing five books to read before the summer is over. I’ve never been sure what constitutes a “beach read,” so my standard for this list is a book that I devoured quickly and frantically.

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Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Kerry of Entomology of a Bookworm recommended this book and it was a pageturner. The concept is odd and reading it quickly helped me keep up of where I was in time (yes, you’re moving through time here).

 

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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I read Ishiguro’s Man Booker prize-winning The Remains of the Day earlier in the year and my friend Melissa recommended I also read Never Let Me Go. Melissa’s description of how she reacted to the book—being devastated for caring so much for characters who were not real—didn’t really make sense until I was well into the book. I’ll leave it at that. Check this one out and don’t read too many synopses of it before so you can avoid spoilers.

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Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe

Yet another recommendation, this time from Marlene of Curious Iguana, that turned out to be a favorite. My peeps are on a roll! I read this book in probably fewer than 36 hours. I picked it up on a Friday and was done by Saturday night. I couldn’t put it down. The father / daughter relationship, the struggles with mental illness, the WWII history, the setting in charming Lithuania – it was all so delightful and smart.

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Grace by Natashia Deon

I picked up an advanced reader’s copy of this book because the premise was haunting me – a woman has a child, is murdered moments after giving birth, and then lives on as a ghost to watch her daughter grow up. And this is all happening in the middle of the Civil War in the South. And the woman is black. How could I not? The bonus was Deon’s writing and nuggets of wisdom dropped throughout the novel. Check this one out.

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Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel

I rarely would recommend a book before finishing it, but I only have 50 pages left and can’t put it down. (It was a real struggle to type this post instead of read this book). I’ve recommended Ausubel before and I am not surprised that I also love this book. The title alone (Ease and Plenty? How perfect is that?) hooked me. Bonus points if you read this book while vacationing on the East Coast in Massachusetts.

What books are you going to try to read before summer is over?

How Others Deal With the Heat

If you haven’t heard, it’s going to be hot the next few days and into next week. H-O-T hot. Like 99 degrees hot here in Frederick. But it’s not just Maryland, a heat wave is in the forecast for much of central and eastern U.S.

I grew up in Louisiana, so I’m no stranger to heat (and humidity!). But how do others handle the heat? Here are a few clever ways I’ve come across.

Dubai

We were in Dubai in January and it was hot. It was about 30 degrees away from summer weather, but it was 85 and I was wearing lots of modest clothes. So how do you escape the heat in Dubai? You go to the mall.

The wonderfully air-conditioned mall.

Let's go to the mall

We joked that Dubai was one huge mall because there were so many of them, but it makes sense. Isn’t there nothing better when it’s ridiculously hot out than stepping into a 65 degree climate-controlled space?

Spain

The other week we were complaining about the heat in Maryland. We were dealing with low 90s here and I decided to check the weather in Southern Spain. It was 110 degrees. Spain was one place where we were fascinated by how they’ve handled hot weather.

You have table misters that keep you cool while dining alfresco or just walking by.DSC_5225

Sun shades that stretch across streets do you don’t have to walk in the sun.DSC_5224

And kissing lanes that are designed to be so narrow for more shade.
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This is also the culture that has perfected the art of the siesta – a midday nap that coincides with the hottest part of the day.

Greece

I was thinking of all of the places we’ve traveled when it was hot, and the only thing that I could think that Greece really got right about the heat was having the sea RIGHT there. You just jump in and immediately cool off. Genius.😉

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Phoenix, Arizona

When we were in Phoenix this past January it was warm (for January!) and sunny. At one street corner I happened to look up as we waited to use the cross walk and saw the ingenious shade structures on all four corners of the street. It was this convenient little tree-shaped plastic fan that spread out over us and provided shade from the relentless Arizona sun.

I don’t know if it necessarily makes me feel better to know others are dealing with hight temperatures, but I do hope that some of these heat-beating solutions will be implemented more widely here in the U.S.

What other smart ways have you found to beat the heat?

Picture + 100 Words: You Will Know It By the Smell of Sweets

DSC_2560You smell Takeshita Street before you see it. A saccharine cloud descends upon you. It’s not even noon and you find yourself craving ice cream wrapped in a crepe drizzled with syrup. As you walk down what’s supposed to be one of Tokyo’s most fashionable streets your every inhale is tinged with sugar. You expect to see Harajuku-style dresses and cosplay, but the predominant fashion on this weekday is sailor collars on school uniforms. Clusters of school children line up to buy candy, creme puffs and other goodies. Meanwhile you’re wondering whether they could all possibly be skipping school.