Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent

self made manThe author went into 18 months long of disguise as a man. That’s the gist of it. She blended in the “men’s world”: bowling league, strip club, monastery, door-to-door sales work, men’s movement retreat (yeah didn’t know such thing existed either until I read this book).

It’s a good book, and not to mention informative. But to be really honest, I kind of struggled to finish it. I put it down halfway for weeks before continuing again, and it hasn’t been a smooth ride.

I guess I found her a bit over-analyzing after a while. Although I can’t say the information that came out of it isn’t eye opening. Fact is, which she also mentioned in the book, men and women are just different. As different as two creatures from different planet. And efforts to understand our counterpart sex can lead you to point of depression.

I think it also helped that she’s a dyke. So at least there’s no attraction coming from her to any of the man (and the other way), which means all her analysis was quite objective and matter-of-fact.

I particularly like the cover of the book. I’ve seen two versions of them, both with pictures of Norah in man and woman form. She can definitely pass for both, her disguise is very believable. I find it fascinating.

Oh, and I did learn more about men ;).

~Finished on 16 March 2007

3.5 stars


“I, meanwhile, am staying right where I am: fortunate, proud, free and glad in every way to be a woman.” ~ Norah Vincent

The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan

The book is a collection of stories, journal, published writings of Amy Tan. This time it’s non-fiction. I found the book in Biography section. I wouldn’t miss this book, because I’m such a fan of Tan :)

There are some chapters that I love so much, but some others I had a bit of struggle to go through. The main reason being her effort to play more with words, which in my dictionary are considered never-heard-and-probably-never-will-ever-again. She is, after all, a linguistic hobbyist, we can say if she doesn’t prefer the word expert. The language used in her other books, are the ones “simplified” in respect of her mother’s English.

Apparently it’s not only me who wonders why the picture of Dad is never that big in her life. I think it’s really not the matter of the person as a role model. It does not mean the Mother is a better person, or the Dad has weaker personality. I guess some people in your life just make greater impact, for reasons that probably noone really understands. They could be person you love the most, you hate the most, a stranger, someone who’s with you all your life, or one that just passes by ;)

Finished on 09 May 2005

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

“The truth is, I write for more self-serving reasons–that is, I write for myself. I write because I enjoy stories and make-believe. I write because if I didn’t, I’d probably go crazy. Thus I write about questions that disturb me, images that mystify me, or memories that cause me anguish and pain. I write about secrets, lies, and contradictions, because within them are many kinds of truth. In other words, I write stories about life as I have misunderstood it.” ~ Amy Tan

Burned Alive by Souad

burned aliveBurned Alive is a story about a woman from Palestine, who was burned alive by her own brother-in-law because she was pregnant (of course, outside marriage). The man was asked the favour by her own parents, supported by her own brother and married sister.

Reading it was very depressing. She told all the stories about the society in her village, how women are literally worth less than animals. Only men are counted in terms of everything. Women cannot live without men. Without men in the family, the women are just a bunch of flocks. There is no one owns them. It’s very normal for the men to hit and struck his wife and all his daughters, even for a very simple mistake, like dropping some water on the floor or picking a green tomato. She said her father hit her much harder than he hit the donkey. Women do not speak, think, or even see people in the street. If a girl looks at a man in the street, she’d be called charmuta, a whore.

(And I thought the old Chinese/Asian society was pretty bad already…)

The whole book was very disturbing. Her experiences were so bad, even to feel a touch of it made me sick. I can’t say it’s a fun book to read. I always felt something heavy in my stomach every time I finished a bit of it.

Before I read the book, even until in the middle, I thought it would tell all the history of how it happened, what, why, when, where, someone rescued her and she finally was freed to really live her life.

But she got to the point where the brother-in-law came, poured gasoline all over her, and burned her, at about less than halfway of the book. And so I half thought, shouldn’t this lie at somewhere before the end? What else is she going to tell us?

Yeah, more than half a book was the story of how she built her life after the freak incident.

It is very hard to live. Much harder than to die.

Her rescuer was a woman names Jacqueline, that works for an organization that fights against the injustice of the customs that victimize women who are subjected to criminal traditions. Her line was put very nicely, which I think is the core of the story. During the whole obstacles she must have gone through to save this girl, she fought her own battle inside, because this she fully realized:

“Keeping her from dying is one thing. Making her live again is another.”

~ Finished on 31 July 2004

3.5 stars

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

kindredKindred utilizes the devices of science fiction in order to answer the question “how could anybody be a slave?” A woman from the twentieth century, Dana is repeatedly brought back in time by her slave-owning ancestor Rufus when his life is endangered. She chooses to save him, knowing that because of her actions a free-born black woman will eventually become his slave and her own grandmother. When forced to live the life of a slave, Dana realizes she is not as strong as her ancestors. Unable to will herself back to her own time and unable to tolerate the institution of slavery, she attempts to run away and is caught within a few hours. Her illiterate ancestor Alice succeeds in eluding capture for four days even though “She knew only the area she’d been born and raised in, and she couldn’t read a map.” Alice is captured, beaten, and sold as a slave to Rufus. As Dana is sent back and forth through time, she continues to save Rufus’s life, attempting during each visit to care for Alice, even as she is encouraging Alice to allow Rufus to rape her and thus ensure Dana’s own birth. As a twentieth-century African-American woman trying to endure the brutalities of nineteenth-century slavery, Dana answers the question, “See how easily slaves are made?” For Dana, to choose to preserve an institution, to save a life, and nurture victimization is to choose to survive.

Easy to read, an eye-opening book about slavery of black people in the States. This is great, I went from stories about old Chinese culture, Geisha of Japan, muslim laws in Saudi Arabia, old tradition of Palestina, genital mutilation in Somalia, to slavery of blacks in 18th century US. I should read more and more :)

I somehow had to compare Kindred with The Time Traveller’s Wife, because both are based on time travelling, although in completely different way (and no resemblance of the story as well). Kindred is lighter read (and write) on the chronological events, because the character goes so far back in time that it doesn’t directly affect anything on her own time. Now, Time Traveller’s Wife is VERY COMPLEX and crazy. I can’t imagine the amount of work for the writer and the editor to manage all those little details. The writer is a genious. (Cross ad for the book hey? :)

~ Finished on 7 January 2007

3.5 stars

Desert Dawn by Waris Dirie

desert dawn“I wanted to return to the place where I was born and see it with new eyes. I had no idea where my family was in Somalia. At first it seemed impossible—almost as impossible as a camel girl becoming a fashion model.” ~ Waris

I read this book altogether with the first one, Desert Flower. The sequel is about Waris coming home to Somalia, looking for her family. Easy read, like the first one. Less sad and lighter. I read the book a long time ago before I wrote this review though, so I’ve already forgotten many details and direct impression which people get soon after they close the book. In short, if you read the first one, this one is worth the time too, even just for the sake of finishing the journey.

~ Finished on 4 September 2006

3 stars

French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano

I LOVE THIS BOOK! I was trying to lose a couple of kilos when I came across this book, which was perfect for me, because it’s more of eating/life style book rather than dieting (I’m always worried of the wrong way of dieting). So the tips and messages in this book can definitely be sustained for a long time, unlike unhealthy yo-yo dieting which you can probably do for a short while before going back to your old eating style and gaining your weight back.

She makes a lot of comparison between American and French women (being sort of both by living in New York and Paris most of the time). She also had personal experience of being fat the first time she went to America as an exchange student. How I’d love to see her picture that time :D!

In short, great book! Oh and there are a lot of healthy recipes in the book too. So I went to type some of them down to try them later (the book belongs to library). Some are a bit hard to try in Singapore because they use a lot of oven and grill. I’ll try them later when I go back to Australia. After reading this book, I somehow got to love bread so much more. Went to Delifrance many times during and after the reading ;). Combined that with Yakitake Japan anime and I’m totally into BREAD now more than ever!

~Finished on 04 April 2007

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Desert Flower by Waris Dirie

desert_flowerDesert Flower is a life story about Waris, a desert nomad from Somalia who ran away from her country and was becoming a fashion model. She posed for Levi’s, Revlon, and L’Oreal, just to mention a few. Today still Revlon lists her as “the most beautiful woman in the world”, together with Cindy Crawford, Claudie Schiffer, and Naomi Campbell.

She left the life as a model, became the UN Ambassador, and had campaign against FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). She was circumcized as a child, a tradition that brings unnecessary intense suffering to a lot of girls around the world.

The book is written in such a simplistic way that it took me only around 4 days to finish (1 book usually takes me about 3-4 weeks). But I found it very interesting and insightful. There’s so much to know and learn. The tradition, culture, country, and life in Somalia and Africa. As a life story, it’s simply amazing. It’s a true Cinderella story. A true American Dream (or should I say Europe? She’s after all a British citizen now). From a camel girl to international fashion model? Cool :). Don’t forget that Somalia is one of the five poorest countries in the world. The daily life story in Somalia itself made me stick my eyes to the book till the end.

~ Finished on 28 August 2006

4 stars


“My nomad days prepared me well for this life: Traveling light, moving on when the work did, accepting what life had to offer and making the most of it.” ~ Waris Dirie

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