Tag Archives: memoir and biography

Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs

Ethel & Ernest

Ethel & Ernest is a true story of Briggs’ parents, from their first encounter to their deaths. It’s a story of two ordinary people, who experience the changing of the world around them: Second World War, the arrival of television, people landing on the moon, as they brought up their only son. It’s really nice for a change to read a book about ordinary lives. No abuse, violence, extreme poverty, and all the things that make the world dark and gloomy. This time, it’s intimate insight into life of a simple working class couple, who have simple wants and dreams, who are happy and sad for things that are important to them (not necessary to the world of course).

The main storyline is okay, but I found some scenes to be very choppy. Sometimes there’s no transition to one scene to another, and scene can change in one page from one to another abruptly. So that makes it a bit hard to understand. Furthermore, the setting is in Britain, and there are some references that I couldn’t really get or relate on. But that’s probably just me.

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At some points of the book, I felt kinda annoyed with them. Interestingly though, it’s probably what I feel with my parents. I feel annoyed with my parents sometimes (okay, often!), but I cannot not love them. Their complaints to some aspects of life and to their son sound familiar. It probably just hits close to home. So at the end of the book, it’s really painful to see them dying. I mean, everybody has to die and you know from the beginning that the book tells the story of Ethel and Ernest until their deaths, but it’s still hard to swallow. I remembered my parents.

The art! How pretty! The art was exactly the thing that pulled me. I think it’s combination of crayon, color pencils, and marker. They somehow just make into something really beautiful. Love it! Look at the cover art below. The whole book looks pretty much like that.

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It’s really hard to rate a graphic novel without considering the art. So that’s what I’m gonna do.

Rating: 4/5 (3.5 for the storyline, 4.5 for the art)
Pages: 104
Publication year: 1999

Award
1999 The Illustrated Book of the Year from Galaxy British Book Awards

Also reviewed by

Things Mean A Lot (whose review just appeared on the same day before mine. We probably read it at the same time by coincidence :)

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

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The Complete Maus is a memoir presented as a graphic novel. The complete story was published in 2 volumes: Part I: My Father Bleeds History in 1986 and Part II: And Here My Troubles Began in 1991. It recounts the struggle of Spiegelman’s father to survive the holocaust and also the troubled relationships between the author and his father. It draws largely based on the father’s recollections of his experiences.

The characters were drawn as half-animals (with animal head and some characteristics, but with human body). The jews are depicted as mice (hence the title, which is “mouse” in German), the Germans as cats, the Poles as pigs, Americans as dogs, and other minor animals. This choice feels so surprisingly natural that I can’t imagine it be done in any other way. The very few simple lines show the expressions very well. Even though all the (same) animals look pretty much similar apart from their clothes, I never lost track of who is whom. Love love love the arts. Spiegelman must be a genious.

I’m also very fond of the parts that show Spiegelman’s relationship with his father. How the war had affected so much, even to generations after the direct victim. How I wish to hear his mother’s side of the story. I found it completely ironic that the mother committed suicide after surviving a holocaust with no note. It was soo very very sad when at the end of the book, upon finding each other again, the father said “We were both very happy, and lived happy, happy ever after.” What an irony :(

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At first I found the way they talked was kinda funny, and thought it was a translation mistake. I think it was done on purpose to show the way the father talk English (which is of course not his first language). After a while I started to find it adorable and I could really imagine a real person talking like that. The father was really smart. He survived by being smart. Of course there was a whole lot of luck involved. But he was first resourceful and strong, pysically and mentally. I found all of his little ‘survival techniques’ very interesting.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. This is not just ‘another’ Holocaust story (which I kinda thought at the beginning). It’s not. It shows things from different views. It’s detailed but not graphically violent. It’s simple but it really strikes you all on the right spots. It’s personal, it’s heartbreaking, and but not overly melancholy. The book is a masterpiece. Nuff said.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Pages: 296
Publication year: 1986 (part I: My Father Bleeds History), 1991 (part II: And Here My Troubles Began)

Awards
1992 Pulitzer Prize, Special Awards and Citations – Letters
1992 Eisner Award Best Graphic Album: Reprint (Maus II)
1992 Harvey Award – Best Graphic Album of Previously Published Work (Maus II)

Also reviewed by

Maw Books Blog | Caribousmom | Rebecca Reads | Educating Petunia | Things Mean A Lot | The Hidden Side of Leaf | Nothing of Importance | Bold. Blue. Adventure. | Rhinoa’s Ramblings | In Spring it is the Dawn | 1morechapter Maus I Maus II | A Life in Books | An Adventure in Reading | Thoughts of Joy Maus I Maus II | Book Nut | Books I Done Read (the only negative review :) | Out of the Blue | The Indextrious Reader | Cynical Optimism | Booknotes by Lisa | A Fondness for Reading (Maus I) | Historical Tapestry | where troubles melt like lemon drops | Regular Rumination (Maus I)

Sugarbabe by Holly Hill

Sugarbabe

Holly Hill got depressed after she was left by her wealthy married boyfriend and found herself totally broke. After a few days of soul searching and a help from a friend, she picked herself up and decided to find a sugar daddy, who’d pay for her with no strings attached. That way, she wouldn’t find a chance to get her heart broken again and have her bills paid. And so Holly went to the Internet and went through a journey of finding and selecting a man who’s looking for a smart sophisticated woman with psychology background who cooks and of course, serves in bed. She also promised exclusivity to the man.

** Possible spoilers below **

At some points, I thought she was an open-minded independent woman who’s not scared to get what she wants. At latter points, I thought she might have just been on the borderline of prostitution. The exclusivity was a very good excuse not to fall on that side. It’s very hard not to be a tiny bit judgmental. I thought she was getting pathetic. Instead of getting the freedom and independence that she wanted, she was totally dependent on the whim of the men to stay with her (and give her the generous “allowance”, or fee as she called it) or leave. Predictably, they just kept leaving like men always do. (pardon my sarcastic note, I was only half joking :) But seriously, how do you expect a man to stay when money is the only string that tie you together?

I do applaud her way to come clean upfront and stated what she wanted out of the relationship. After all, that’s what mistresses (and some wives) do. Getting money and security in return of other services. It’s just that she was being really honest about it.

** end of spoilers **

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Having said that, I did enjoy it. It was funny, sexy, and kinda charming. It’s hard not to like Holly. She was just trying to do her best given her circumstances, and she was searching. She was searching for answers and she got them at the end, though I may not agree with it. She learned her lessons and we get entertainment. It’s a win win situation. (Did I mention that this is a memoir/biography? Though I’d say it’s leaning more towards journalism.)

I like the cover. It’s a lot better when you see it on paper. The sugar on the lips looks mighty tasty.

Holly wrote her second book titled Toyboy. She turned the table and looked for a younger man who will be paid generous allowance for being a company of her (a 40 year-old woman). This is also hinted at the end of Sugarbabe. I might be interested to read it in the future, though not very soon. I have higher priority for the more serious books right now. Except if Random House gave me a free copy *hint*

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pages: 301
Publication year: 2007

First line
It was a ‘John’ who introduced me to my life of Dicks.

Last line
Stand by for the results.

Has anyone read and reviewed this book? Please let me know ‘cos I couldn’t find any.

Escape by Carolyn Jessop

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Escape is a haunting biography of Carolyn Jessop, a woman who was born into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints community, a religious group in United States around Utah and Arizona. A religious group who believes in polygamy, woman degradation, absolute obedience, children brainwashing, apocalypse with resurrected Indian heroes and evil black people, and a bunch of other crap. Everything in the name of God. Seriously, like it’s mentioned in the book, how can things that are so harmful be works of God?

Carolyn was forced into marriage when she was 18 to a man of 50 years old. She was his 4th wife. She had 8 children in 15 years. The man married more women after Carolyn, last count up to 14. One would wonder, how anyone could be “trapped” into believing all those things and live faithfully for years (for lots of them, forever). This book explains how having been born in so tight community and programmed into following the rules, make people subservient. When you see only one way of living, it’s probably hard to imagine living any other way.

Escape covers Carolyn’s life from she was little, all throughout her marriage and struggles with Merril Jessop, until the end of her escape, closed by the winning of her custody battle for her children. She became the first woman who ever granted full custody of her children in a contested suit involving the FLDS. All 8 of them.

A blurb from Jon Krakauer sums it well:

“The story Carolyn Jessop tells is so weird and shocking that one hesitates to believe a sect like this with 10,000 polygamous followers, could really exist in twenty-first-century America. But Jessop’s courageous, heart-wrenching account is absolutely factual. This riveting book reminds us that truth can indeed be much, much stranger than fiction.”

The last leader of FLDS, Warren Jeffs, was caught in 2007. In 2006 he was in FBI Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List. He was indicted with numerous counts including sexual conduct with minor, incest, and rape as an accomplice. From what Carolyn tells in her book, the leaders before Jeffs were sort of still okay. Sure, they practiced polygamy and they preached random forecasts of the state of the world. But they were still sympathetic. This Jeffs guy though, sounds like a total nutcase. He’s just out of his mind. Hungry for power, he just kept making things up to make people suffer. He’s crazy. Period. It’s tough to have a crazy man to be your leader who you believe is a prophet of God. Really.

I find stories about twisted churches are always interesting. How they can stray so far from their root is beyond me. In fact, stories about religions often fascinate me. How the hands of men are always the ones that twist and turn everything, rather than works of God. What an irony.

My only complaint is that the book is quite repetitive in stating the points of how unvaluable and miserable the women are in the community. It slows down somewhere in the middle too. But all in all, it’s a great insightful book. Considering the thickness, I finished it in only a short time. It made me want to know more and more.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Pages: 413
Publication year: 2007

First line
Escape.

Last line
Freedom is extraordinary, and love a miracle.

Also reviewed by

Maw Books | Mindless Meandering

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Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi

I had Coraline and Persepolis 2 on my hands, and I reckon I’d have time to read only 1 before I leave Singapore. So I chose Persepolis 2, because it seemed to be shorter, and is also part of a series. I really love the first one.

In the second Persepolis, it tells the story when Marjane went to live in Austria when she was 14 to run away from the war in Iran. So a good half of the book is set in Austria. How she struggled to live alone away from her family in such a young age, how she tried to fit in as an immigrant, how she felt that she’s lost her identity as an Iranian, and how she struggled through love.

Satrapi decided to return to Iran when she was 18. So the second half of the book is about the story of a return. How still oppressed was Iran, how she struggled to fit back and re-found her identity. Social and politic issues at various places were discussed throughout the book.

I can definitely relate Marjane’s story with my own. I too was sent away out of the country when there was an internal war (although not with guns and tanks, but more with fire and stones). I too had struggled to live alone at other people’s country. But I was 17. And I never returned.

Different with the first book, the tone is more serious, considering that it deals with a lot of depression problems and struggles to become an adult. The book loses little Marjane’s innocence and hope as a child, as the adult Marjane does. But who doesn’t, having to go through all that?

I love the book, though not as much as the first one.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I LOVE this book! I’ve watched Persepolis movie twice and thought that the graphic novel would be just like the movie (good, but similar). But it’s not! It’s BETTER!

The book discusses more sensitive topics around religion and the government in Iran. More social classes issues, more demonstrations, more cruelties. Satrapi is truly one of the lucky ones. Her family is rich and she could get proper education even during war time. Her parents are kindhearted and alive. Still her point of view is really interesting. As a child, she’s critical, rebellious, and simply funny.

The book is divided into many connecting short stories. So the topics are clearer. The movie only took a few selected topics/scenes and worked on those. So there are more told in the book. It covers Satrapi’s childhood, up until she leaves Iran for Austria. The end is oh so sad. There are many sad moments throughout.

I love the art style. It’s simple, yet neat and sweet. I can’t wait to get my hands on the second Persepolis. Hope I could find it soon in my library. I’m actually thinking to buy both books for personal collection since I love the first one so much. *sigh*

Pages: 153
Rating:
5 out of 5 (I just had to :)

Award
2004 Alex Award

Also reviewed by
Rebecca Reads | Dewey | Nymeth | Kristin

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

I was looking for Persepolis for ages, but it’s always checked out at my library. A few days ago, not only did I find Persepolis (first, but not the second one), but also another graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, called Embroideries.

Embroideries is entertaining reading about the sex lives of Iranian women. After the afternoon lunch, while the men go to have a nap, the women gather around for cups of Samovar (tea). And that way begin a session of “ventilation of the heart”: share of secrets and regrets about virginity, arranged marriage, plastic surgery, and men.

The art style is simpler than Persepolis in a glance, but it’s entertaining indeed. Sweet, short, and funny. Love it :)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

ps: This is probably my first graphic novel.

Also reviewed by
Nymeth

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