Category Archives: Currently Reading

A Horror in Two Acts: A Rose for Emily

ACT I: The Systems Within

Scene I: A Haunted House

Stories are like houses, hidden away from view. Peeking in one window versus looking through a backdoor, each will give a different snapshot of what the house entails. In that manner, hidden secrets and viewpoints contained within tales can be discovered depending on the reader. So come peer through the keyhole with me, as we discuss what I found in A Rose for Emily.

At first glance a strange gothic story, of a misunderstood—or crazy—woman who was pitied by the town in which she lived. But was she truly crazy, or are the townsfolk far more to blame for her deteriorating state? Reading between the lines, it’s easy to see what the townsfolk, especially the townswomen, felt was wrong with her:

We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.

Despite what her own desires and wishes may have been, according to the town she had failed in her duty as a woman, and therefore became a social pariah. Upon the death of her father, Emily was left alone in her grief, with no man to comfort or hold her, no position as mother to her elevate her.

And then they took him. Took him away after badgering her for days, took him away and declared her a mad spinster. Took away her voice and mind, by declaring her to be pitied, and not intelligent enough to realize they were giving her a tax break in honor of her father. She had no identity, a ghost among the masses, to be pitied surely but never given the elixir to make her human—alive—once again.

Until Homer came.

Scene II: Tall, Dark, and Handsome: The Death of a Hero

A man from out of town, the “hero” come to rescue the damsel in distress in a town full of shapeshifting vipers. A person who spoke to the mad, pitiable ghost, made her alive as he took her through town in a buggy. Who once more validated her existence. However the women, the witches of this forsaken town, quickly began to poison this relationship.

Then some of the ladies began to say that it was a disgrace to the town and a bad example to the young people. The men did not want to interfere, but at last the ladies forced the Baptist minister—Miss Emily’s people were Episcopal—to call upon her.

Scene III: Wandering Ghosts

And thus Emily was thrust back into the world of the living dead, trapped within her house, trapped within her mind. The poison slowly started to work on her, the spell destroying the fragments of her mind. Homer, who was once the gallant knight, fled the cursed town, fled the damsel, and Emily’s decision was set. All Emily had was that house. There was no man to grant her a voice and no children to paint her as a living being. There was nothing but a shade who hadn’t realized they were dead yet, wandering the haunted house at the end of the lane. What ghost bound to a place hasn’t slowly gone mad? When Homer returned, to ensure she would no longer be a solitary ghost, a non-entity in her own home, Emily murdered him to ensure he would never leave her. If she could not be happy in life, Emily found a way to be happy in death.

ACT II: A Rose for Emily as Southern Eulogy

Scene I: A Eulogy             

Many critiques of William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily position Emily as a victim of the very class system she inhabits. While this critique of Emily is valid, in this critical reading of A Rose for Emily, I argue this short story is also a type of horror, as it symbolizes society’s desire/wish to rid itself of “undesirables.” The three characters—Emily, Homer, and The Negro—are metaphors for what the dominant society wishes to rid. While the main characters are single individuals, they represent multiple undesirable behaviors/characteristics: Emily is insane, a murderess, a spinster, and a symbol of the Old South. Homer is a gay, a Yankee, and symbolizes the North infringement on Southern traditions, while The Negro is Black (and therefore undesirable), and functions only as slave.

In no way is Faulkner hiding that this story is also about both death and lamenting. While Faulkner is showing the death of “old Southern ways of living,” he is also lamenting them through the voice of the narrator, giving the old Southern ways of living a type of Eulogy. One of the ways this death of the South is depicted, is when Emily’s death is positioned in relation to her house and the changing neighborhood:

It was a big, squarish frame house… set on what had once been our most select street. But garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of the neighborhood… And now Miss Emily had gone to join the representatives of those august names where they lay in the cedar-bemused cemetery among the ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson.

In this passage, Emily’s death and burial next to Union and Confederate soldiers, her decaying house—the “eyesore among eyesores”—flanked by cotton gins and garages (a symbol of the Industrial Capitalism), foreshadow the end of an undesirable way of life: Southern. Though the death of Emily symbolized the death of the South, she also symbolizes other undesirable traits: insane, woman, spinster, and murderess. For this analysis, I will focus on woman and spinster as undesirable.

Scene II: (Southern Belles) Woman as Undesirable and Unfulfilled

This story is centered in the early 20th century, before women had the right to vote and just before what is widely considered “first-wave” U.S. feminism. Within these constraints and the patriarchal system in which she functioned, Emily was undesirable not only because she was a woman, but because she had not reached her potential as a woman in becoming a wife and mother:

None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such… We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.

While women as inferior and undesirable within the context of the patriarchal systems are at play in the aforementioned passage, Emily is also denied the opportunity to become wife and mother by her father. It is a type of double patriarchal oppression of which Emily is victim. Coinciding with the death of Southern ways of living, The Negro plays an integral role in functioning somewhat as a timeline for the slow death of Southern pre-Civil War life.

Scene III: The World’s Most Interesting Man

The Negro, nameless and voiceless, is arguably the most important character in this story. Readers will notice that Emily is rarely in a scene without The Negro. The Negro is the only person who sees Emily on a daily basis. The Negro is the only person who allows admittance to Emily’s home. He is, in essence, a gatekeeper to the Old South:

They were admitted by the old Negro into a dim hall from which a stairway mounted into still more shadow. It smelled of dust and disuse—a close, dank smell. The Negro led them into the parlor. It was furnished in heavy, leather-covered furniture. When the Negro opened the blinds of one window, they could see that the leather was cracked.

The Negro is both a relic within and a gatekeeper to the house, as well as Emily. The house, as readers can infer, and the happenings within (though we are never allowed to see the inside of Emily’s house) function as a time capsule, with living bodies (The Negro and Emily) reenacting the roles of Slave and Master. Though hard to imagine a character with no name and no voice is central to the literary arc of a short story, The Negro is mentioned over ten times, and most prevalently towards the end of the story after Homer “deserts” Emily. When Emily goes into seclusion, her daily happenings are known/recorded via the narrators who observe what The Negro did every day over a period of decades.

Scene IV: Homer, The Yankee Queer

Lastly, Homer represents a double metaphor: The victorious North, its Queer ways of living, and Industrial Capitalism. When readers encounter Homer, he is the foreman managing workers as they build a paved road through town. This first scene with Homer symbolizes a type of colonization and Industrial Capitalism, a new way of civilizing the Southern savage from his/her backwards ways (unpaved roads, quiet gentle life, and so on):

The construction company came with riggers and mules and machinery,and a foreman named Homer Barron, a Yankee–a big, dark, ready man, with a big voice and eyes lighter than his face… Pretty soon he knew everybody in town. Whenever you heard a lot of laughing anywhere about the square, Homer Barron would be in the center of the group.

From the very beginning, Homer can be understood to represent the upheaval of Southern life as it moved—begrudgingly—towards certain Northern ideals of modernity and civility. While Homer is a representation of this emerging way of life, he also represents queerness, as he is gay, another type of undesirable characteristic. This undesirability—this flaw— allows the narrators (the witnesses to this change) to pity/shame Homer, and criticize the North for its own backwardness as the ladies all said:

“Of course a Grierson would not think seriously of a Northerner, a day laborer”… because Homer himself had remarked—he liked men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men in the Elks’ Club—that he was not a marrying man. Later we said, “Poor Emily.”

Scene V: Murder, Acquiescence, and Jim Crow

In the final scene of A Rose for Emily, readers are once again allowed access into the house by The Negro. After letting family and gawkers into the home, The Negro—the nameless, voiceless slave—exits the house using the rear door, no longer a slave of an individual, Emily, but a slave of a system: Jim Crow. As onlookers ascend the stairs and break into Emily’s bedroom, we see the remains of Homer, whom Emily had obviously killed and lain in bed with for years. This final act by Emily is representative of Southern vengeance on the Queer ways and thinking invading their lives, as well as its eventual acquiescence, when she lies in bed with Homer: the victor (the North). Consequently, using Queer as an umbrella term, A Rose for Emily is an homage to the Old Confederate South, a Eulogy, and a purging process by which this new Jim Crow South is attempting to shed itself from all actions and behaviors it considers undesirable.

Strategic Pseudonyms: An Overview of Women Authors

I had written this post in March, because March was not only reading month, but it was also women’s history month. Unfortunately that didn’t work out. Rather than scrapping this, I realized that confining conversations about women’s history to one month is ludicrous. I’m not interested in relegating women’s voices to one month, especially in context of this post, which talks about one aspect of the road female authors have had to trek: adopting male, and more recently, ambiguous pen names in order to legitimize or ensure success for their works.

bronte_sistersIt won’t come as a surprise to many that female authors have historically had to navigate sexism and prejudice in order to publish; upon submitting poetry for publication, Charlotte Bronte was advised that women had no place in literature. In their time all three Bronte sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) published under male pen names (Currer, Acton, and Ellis; I’ll refrain from commenting on name choice there).

Other well known authors of yore you might know under male pen names: author of Middlemarch, Mary Ann Evans, who published as George Eliot; George Sand, known for writing Valentine and Indiana, was in fact Amantine Lucile Aurore Dudevant. And while Louisa May Alcott did publish Little Women under her own name, some of her early publications were written under the pen name A.M. Barnard.

Post 19th Century a variation on this trend emerged with female authors adopting ambiguous pen names using initials or androgynous names. A great example of this is Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, whose name is Nelle Harper Lee. Another would be Pamela Lyndon Travers, who published Mary Poppins as P.L. Travers.

jd_robbThis is a trend we still see today. J.K. Rowling has published both under a male pen name (Robert Galbriath, crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling), and was asked to publish the Harry Potter series as J.K. rather than Joanne after being advised that using initials would help attract male readership. Prolific romance author Nora Roberts has been publishing her crime series, the In Death books (there are currently 50, which she’s been publishing since 1995), under the pseudonym J.D. Robb. Even 50 Shades of Grey author, Erika Leonard, did this (E.L. James)

These are only a few examples of women who have struggled to have their voices heard as a result of their sex. Looking back historically, this might not come as a shock. From this vantage a history of sexism is clearer–hindsight and all of that. What is more troubling to me is the current trend in the publishing industry of removing gender from particular genres under the idea that attaching a female name will detract from readership, particularly those targeted at male audiences, such as crime novels.

Introducing bookshelfies!

Most of us here at the Writing Center are obsessed with books, and we want to share our love for books with you. Enter bookshelfies, an internet trend that’s just what it sounds like—taking selfies in front of your bookshelf. Check it out here: http://bookshelfies.tumblr.com/.

We’ll be featuring new bookshelfies regularly, so be sure to check in!

Introducing our first book nerd, consultant Caitlin Munch…

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Hey y’all! My name is Caitlin Munch. I’m a junior studying Professional Writing with an emphasis in editing and publishing. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with reading. I think it all began with my love for Harry Potter. My dad used to travel a lot to different countries and whenever he was traveling, if the newest Harry Potter book came out he would buy it for me and surprise me with it when he got home. As I grew older,  my aunt introduced me to the world of romance and teen fantasy. She introduced me to series like The Princess Diaries, The Nancy Drew Files, Anne of Green Gables, and The Sunfire Romance series. I would read in every spare moment that I had. I was the kid that was so antisocial that one summer my parents threatened to ground me from reading. Now as a writer with aspirations to write the next best-selling book series, I still find myself reading two to three books a week. I just finished The City of Bones series and I’m now reading The Infernal Devices series. I always read Annie Between the States over Christmas, and currently on my list of books to read I have the Beautiful Creatures series, The Arcana Chronicles, and The Stephanie Plum series. I love reading because it takes me away from the life I’m currently living and allows me to be anyone I want for a brief moment in time. Yes, I’m that person that totally falls in love with men in books. And no, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Curl Up With Something Yummy for Valentine’s Day

A good book!

Rumor has it that Valentine’s Day was just upon us. Rumor, I say, because Valentine’s Day has never been my thing: I’m a romance year round kind of person. And while lots of people like to get their romance on with a partner, I’ll admit I’m picky enough that I want  the freedom to chose my own adventure.

In honor of Valentine’s, or if you’re like me, simply because you’re an addict, I thought I’d share some romantic book recommendations based on what I’ve been reading lately.  If the thought of romance or Valentine’s Day fills you with horror, come find me and I can recommend something suitably edgy and decidedly non-romantic.

chefs_tableFor some lighter, yet adult romantic reading, I’d recommend Chef’s Table, by Lynn Charles. In it we meet Executive Chef Evan Stanford and Patrick Sullivan, the head cook at Johnny’s Diner. Over the course of their careers and lives they’ve each lost sight of something – for Evan, the connection to his roots and Patrick, passion and drive that take him beyond the contentment of diner cooking. Evan meets Patrick when he’s feeling burnt out and disconnected from what he loves, and in him sees an enjoyment in cooking he hasn’t felt in a while. Shared interests become friendship which then turn into romance. Enjoyably, this book won’t put you through the ringer; instead in it we get two characters falling in love and challenging each other to achieve and enrich their dreams. This book is a light read, romantic, sexy, and a great mental getaway.

selection_cassIf you’re in the mood for something fun and romantic and dig Young and New Adult, I’d recommend the Selection Series, by Kierra Cass.  Here we have your usual dystopian world, but this one is more of a dystopia meets The Bachelor setup.  Thirty five girls are selected from various castes to come live in the Palace and “compete” for Prince Maxom’s heart. Sounds swell right? Any girl would die for this…except maybe American Singer, for whom being selected means leaving behind the boy she loves and a family that depends on her income for survival.  This series was a fast read, and despite the rebel attacks, very fun.

mcrae_malteseMaybe you’re feeling like you want love with a little grit, or romance with a little edge? I recently read the first two books of what’s going to be a six book series – Starling and Doves, from the Love in Los Angeles series by co-writers Racheline Maltese and Erin McRae. In Starling we meet Alex Cook, a PA on who works on a primetime TV show. When the showrunner of The Fourth Estate plucks him from behind the camera, Alex quickly, and resentfully, becomes a star. He quickly falls into a relationship with Paul, one of the show’s main writers, and just as quickly baggage they’re both carrying pulls things apart. This book is written in a more spare style and definitely breaks some romance novel conventions. These books get a bonus for inclusion of polyamorous characters, which I never see. I will warn that they both, especially Doves, have some darker themes.

outlander_gabaldonIf you are really dying to know what my favorite romance of all time is? Head over to read Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. Picture this: the year is 1945 and Claire and Frank Randall, recently reunited after years of service in the war, are on their second honeymoon in Scotland. You’ll have to bear with me for the part where I tell you that Claire accidentally falls back through time to 1743, because while time travel might not be your bag, but I think that’s just because you haven’t met Jamie Fraser. This book (and series) is rich with historical detail and intrigue, and the start of my favorite romantic pairing of all time.  Espionage? Check. War? Check? Hilarious, frustrating, infuriating, terrifying, mesmerizing and loveable characters? Check.

load_the_dice_gemelLast but not least, for those of you how want to get your kink on for the holiday, I’m going to recommend the episodic book, Load The Dice, by Moriah Gemel. If you’re curious about BDSM, or want to read something that really focuses on important community structures – such as Safe, Sane and Consensual BDSM – as well as a romantic kinky story, maybe skip going out to see 50 Shades of Grey for a more responsible portrayal of this lifestyle. It’s sexy as heck, it’s a character study, it examines the development of trust and love, and it’s very well written.

Regardless of where your holiday takes you – to bed with a good book in my case – I hope you enjoy your romance responsibly!

Brown Bear, Brown Bear takes on Marxism

As Banned Books week comes to a close, we decided to highlight one of the most surprising books on the listBrown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle and Bill Martin.

Yes, the delightful and beautifully drawn children’s book from our childhood made the list following one of the most spectacular Google fails in history. Bill Martin happens to share his name with a little known Marxist Theorist. Instead of fully researching if Bill Martin, the children’s author, is one and the same with Bill Martin, the Marxist Theorist, a superintendent decided that immediate action must be taken to protect his school’s youth, and banned the book outright.

In the hope of trying to make the superintendent and school district feel better for having banned Brown Bear, Brown Bear, we decided to put on our Marxist goggles and read through the book to find all of the hidden Marxist propaganda. Are you ready Comrades?

To start with, the entire book displays not only a diverse group of multicolored animals, but also a culturally diverse classroom full of children. This portrays the theory that Marxism is about including everyone and making them equal. Each animal doesn’t see another of its own kind, but rather acknowledges and accepts an entirely different species. The students themselves are all equally learning regardless of culture or race. They have become one and the same, participating within their teacher’s class.

The teacher within the book has a secret secondary purpose as well. If you read through the book, you may wonder why there are no parents present. Not for the adorable purple cat, or cute yellow duck, and none for the children at the end. This in fact is trying to slowly acclimate its readers to the idea of losing the family unit. As families are simply a byproduct of the capitalist and bourgeois way of life, Marxists support the dissolution of the concept of families. Instead, children become the entire community’s responsibility, and schools become their home. The teacher is tasked with molding these young minds with only the approved curriculum of the Marxist state. This ensures that outdated thoughts on religion and family are eradicated.

So as you can see, Brown Bear, Brown Bear is full of propaganda hiding under the mask of an innocent children’s book. Of course, it could also be that the author was trying to teach children colors and animals through repetition and artistic pictures. Whatever floats your literary boat, at least we can say that we have been reading banned books since childhood, which is a great conversation starter. So check out a list of banned books, read a few, and get ready for next year!

Currently Reading: 642 Things to Write About, by the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto

642Sometimes I get a bit stumped in my writing.  This  book was gifted to me and I imagine came originally from the Urban Outfitters establishment on Grand River Avenue.  The telltale fabric shopping bag screaming URBAN OUTFITTERS was a bit of a giveaway, but a thoughtful gift it was nonetheless.

I have mixed feelings about the content of the book. The layout has me giving a thumbs down. Each page has only one to four prompts on it. Some are followed by lines, some blank spaces, some in quadrants, and some a whole page. Personally, I would prefer a list. That way the book could be smaller and easier to carry around for those times I’m writer’s blocked and away from home. As it is, the book is a bit large and since I’m usually planning on writing more than three sentences, the space that is given for writing is hardly adequate anyway. I just leave it on the bookshelf, look to it for inspiration, and do my writing elsewhere.

21324_zoom2Ignoring the layout, however, and the awkward writing spaces, the prompts offered are just right. Some of the prompts are very specific and give you a bit of a plot to run with.  Other prompts give a short phrase like “the things she kept hidden.” I like these ones best because they’re vague, brief, and just give you a hint of an idea to get the writing going.

If you need something to get you started with your next creative writing project, I’d recommend this or another writing prompt book if you can find one. It’s a great place to start. And, if you’re looking for a challenge, try combining two, three, four prompts together and seeing what you can come up with!

Currently Reading: “Pottery Barn Catalogue Descriptions Written by an Aspiring Crime Novelist,” by Kate Hahn

This essay, from McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies, is exactly what the title suggests. Hahn takes pieces of furniture that could be and probably have been found in Pottery Barn catalogues and writes about them as if they were items in a crime novel as well as the catalogue. For example:10

“Our Newport Double Sink Console has turned legs and a white finish reminiscent of a cozy beachside cottage, but tight quarters can ignite tempers. Beside the porcelain sink, M and A’s monogrammed towels lie folded haphazardly, as if tossed down in anger. Clearly, the Carrera marble countertop, imported from Tuscany, was too painful a daily reminder for M of A’s “secret” Italian lover. PB Essential towels in 13 colors, ideal for mopping up crimes of passion, can be stored in the cozy cubby below the cabinets” (Hahn).

While it’s a bit dark, the contrast makes for humorous reading. It also provides great inspiration if you’re looking for a way to get the creative juices flowing! Try taking something “boring” and writing it in a different genre or tone. Write your course syllabi as horror stories. Write your to-do list as a presidential speech. Write your holiday wish list as an advertisement, rap, or screenplay cast list. Have some fun, do the unexpected, and just see what happens. If you like what comes from the exercise, work with it some more and see where it can go. If you don’t, I hope it got the creativity buzzing so you can start your next project with your best foot forward.

Currently reading “Merce on the Page,” essay by Sarah Stromeyer

This week I’ve been reading essays written in the second person point of view, preparing to attempt to write one of my own. In doing so, I have fallen in love with this particular essay by Sarah Stromeyer from You: An Anthology of Essays Devoted to the Second Person.

41RBdlEWGKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“Merce on the Page” is a formal-textual tango of language and dance. The text is arranged in columns of different widths and text blocks spaced so they curve across the page. The essay plays with the limits of form in as much as the text moves about the page in nontraditional ways, but also because it plays with smaller formal elements like capitalization, punctuation, and even the space after periods. Stromeyer uses the layout of text on the page as well as the text itself to portray Merce Cunningham in a way that pushes the reader to feel the rhythm and grace of his choreography. Each element that is played with affects the reader’s understanding of the text—not only does the form visually add to the text, but the text is about the form. The second person point of view challenges the reader, telling them what is happening formally and how they are reacting to it as a reader. The text lyrically describes what the form is, what it does, how the reader feels about it and is approaching it (magical second person trick), and gives it the dance context necessary to understand the form. Here’s an example from the essay:

“and you find as you read without capitals, you tend to lean less hard on those first words, put less of your weight on each beginning. which makes you carry more of your weight onto the next word, and the next, and the next thing you know you’ve not plopped yourself down and heaved yourself into a sentence in the usual way, nor come to a crashing halt at the end. no. you have made of each sentence the kind of gesture launched by that lighter, more seamless, beginning. you have ‘held’ your weight even as you let it fly, and this, you will feel in your muscles, is like what a trained body feels when dancing” (Kupperman, Simons, and Chesbro, 173).

Stromeyer’s playful form and lyrical tone work together and ask the reader to feel the similarity between language and dance. They ask the reader to, through reading this essay, connect with Cunningham and feel his passions.

Stromeyer’s essay, in addition to being seamless and gratifying to read, proposes some intriguing things to consider with your own writing. How can you break formal conventions to further your writing’s impact? What power does the second person point of view have? When is writing in the second person point of view helpful?

 

Kupperman, Kim Dana, Heather G. Simons, and James M. Chesbro. You: An Anthology of Essays Devoted to the Second Person. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Welcome Table Press, 2013. 173-174. Print.

Currently Reading: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World, by Haruki Murakami

After reading When the Emperor was Divine, my silly self was expecting this book to follow similar literary patterns. At the very least, I was expecting it to be as realistic, as tangible, as the last. Admittedly both assigned for an Asian American literature course, I expected this Japanese novel to touch on the concerns of identity and race in the same way. Then I started reading.

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I immediately forgot all expectations for the book as I laughed my way through several pages of the main character’s ramblings while he was stuck in an elevator. When he finally got out of the elevator (which happens on page six), I realized I was in a noir-esque story, following the hard-boiled “detective” character through what was a not-so-typical workday. Then I got to chapter two. The even-numbered chapters of this book are an entirely different universe. There is a town called The End of the World, a forest filled with unspeakable creatures and unicorns, and a man who goes to the library to read dreams out of unicorn skulls.

Throughout the whole book, the chapters alternate between these two worlds, these two different characters, and their lives and stories. They are both fascinating and engaging, yet have little direct connection to each other—at first. The book is a fantastical, noir-esque trek through human consciousness and the life and mind of a Japanese man with a passion for American frivolities and pop culture icons. I realize that this makes little sense. Reading the book is near about the only way to make sense of it. That being said, it is definitely worth reading.

Currently Reading: When the Emperor was Divine, by Julie Otsuka

book cover for When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka - origami bird Situated in 1942, this short novel pulls the reader into the unfortunate situation of Japanese American internment during the second World War. However, if you’re expecting a run-of-the-mill historical fiction, you’ll be disappointed. Julie Otsuka walks a fine line between the fiction novel and the creative nonfiction gray area of the lyrical essay, pulling you into the turmoil while maintaining factual accuracy and a poetic style. Instead of simply reading about a character’s experiences, you are pulled into the lives of each of the main characters as they pass around the narration, nameless yet identifiable. Yes, that’s right—nameless.

The book concentrates on the experiences of what seems to be one family, though these characters are written entirely without names or identification. In this way, Otsuka makes the reader take a step back—this isn’t only one family, this is the story of many families that were uprooted and torn apart during this period of Japanese American internment and discrimination. While the story is being told emotions are, for the most part, absent. Each character’s narration seems to be somewhat detached from any expected emotional response. This gives the reader the power to infer the emotional state of the characters on their own, identify with them more closely, and draw conclusions about the internalization and repression of the characters as a result of their experiences.

All that technical, literary analysis mumbo jumbo is all well and good and yes, if you’re studying World War II, Japanese American culture, racial discrimination, emotional trauma, or any number of other things, I do recommend that you add this book to your reading list, but in addition to all of that—it is a beautiful and inspiring piece of writing to read. It is poetic and moving and had me hooked from start to finish. If it hadn’t been for class, work, and the desire to get at least a few hours of sleep, I likely would have finished the whole book in one sitting (fortunately, two did the trick).

Reading this book made me consider my own writing: What does anonymity do to the message of a story? What does a fixed, singular narrator bring to a text? How can I use anonymity, identification, and multiple narrators to tell a story? I highly recommend reading this book for the sake of reading a well-written historical novel, but as you read, consider how you can apply some of Julie Otsuka’s artistic choices to your own writing.