My Tsondoku List: The Handmaid’s Tale

Handmaid's TaleI read the majority of the book in the ICU waiting room where my big brother was confined because of a stroke. The atmosphere, the dread, the worry, and stress just made reading this book, all the more depressing. I would not recommend this book to someone in that situation.

Not to say that the book didn’t deserve the accolades and awards it garnered. The story is fascinating, especially for me, a self-declared practical feminist.

You know what I think? I think Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984 should stay the hell away from each other and definitely not make a baby. Can you imagine the result of such a union? The utter perversity.

The feeling I experienced reading the book reminds me of the way I felt reading/trudging through 1984. The feeling was heavy, claustrophobic, and utterly uncomfortable. This is definitely not a light read.

What’s a Handmaid?

The book is a dystopian novel dealing with the role of females in a military theocracy where – surprise, surprise – the society is dominated by men. Majority of the women are sterile and the birth rate is dropping at critical levels. Women are forced into classes – from the legitimate wives, handmaids, econowives (which I thought was hilarious!), Marthas,  Jezebels, and unwomen.

When I first heard of Handmaids, I immediately thought of harems and concubines. Turns out I was right. But the sick part is that there are no emotions involved when a handmaid is used by her master. In fact, (SPOILER!) the wife is right there in the bed, holding the handmaid’s hands while her husband boinks the handmaid. Sick,  right?

Econowives are really just wives who perform the duties of a handmaid and a Martha. As the name suggest, if you’re an unfortunate man who is not at the top of the food chain, you get an econowife like an economy class plane seat. Get it?

Marthas are basically just maids. No copulation involved as they are barren as the Sahara desert.

Jezebels are basically just the ladies of the evening.

Unwomen are the feminist rebels. They defy the status quo and have idealistic dreams of starting a revolution.

Offred, literally.

We get to know this society in the eyes of Offred, a handmaid, of – Fred literally. We assume the commander’s name is Fred.

Offred became a handmaid because she’s proven to be capable of reproduction. In fact, the most heartbreaking parts of the book are the flashbacks to a more normal life, recognizable to readers. She had a normal loving relationship and she bore a daughter before the madness and shift in the society. There were flashbacks of their escape attempt and separation. And one of the motivations for the character is the hopeful search for her family.

The novel explores the relationships that develop in the commander’s household — the barren wife’s resentment over the need to have a handmaid, the marthas’ jealousy over the slightly elevated status of the handmaid, the temptation of having an emotional connection to the commander (and his driver).

The story has no conclusive ending. And I loved that about it. The reader is left to imagine what happened to the character and this world where women are suppressed. In today’s world where sexual discrimination is still happening, this book is a reminder of what happens when society goes off the rails and demand obedience without question.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday, Audrey Hepburn!

Thank you Google Doodle for reminding me.

Square-jaw, dark hair, stick thin, with doe eyes that’s arguably too big for her face, Audrey Hepburn defied the Hollywood beauty stereotype in her days. When blonde, curvy, and bimbo was an actress’ golden ticket to fame, she still got to the top spot with her eyes brimming with intelligence and smile radiating sincerity.

Audrey Hepburn was and still remains my favorite of all Hollywood actresses. I don’t think I saw every one of her films though. So I’m making a list of all her movies I’ve seen and all the movies I still need to find and enjoy.

So far, I’ve seen(no particular order):

Sabrina – I saw the remake; it so does not even compare to charm of the original

Roman Holiday – It made me want to go to Italy!

Funny Face – Audrey shows off her dancing skills with Fred Astaire .

The Nun’s Story – Her subtle performance earned her both an Oscar and Bafta nomination.

Two For the Road – All I can remember is MOD fashion

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – I was such a fan, I cosplayed her during our Hollywood-theme Christmas Party!

My Fair Lady – If I could afford to replicate that white gown, I would have worn this instead!

I still need to see:

War and Peace

Green Mansions

Paris When It Sizzles

How To Steal a Million

Wait Until Dark

Always

Love in the Afternoon

The Unforgiven

Did I forget anything? Any suggestions?

 

Goodbye, Kuya.

March was a bitch of a month for my family. The first week, my brother got a blinding headache that made his eyes hurt so much he can’t open them and his left body was left paralyzed by a severe stroke coming from within the midbrain – one of the locations in your body you don’t want a blood clot to burst.

By the start of April, we were laying him down to rest in the family crypt. He was only 49 with newly adopted 1 year old twins.

In all honesty, this is the first time I felt like a piece of my heart was missing. Even after my father died, I never did feel as much sadness and longing. I wish I could hi jack a time machine to warn my brother to go to the doctors to get his blood pressure checked.

My brother was not famous, he never even had a regular job but he was probably the most kindest person you will ever meet. For reasons all his own, he chose the life of a “tech hermit.” He loved technology, tools, science fiction, and folk music (not necessarily in that order). He also loved to be a dad to his twin kids.

I will and do miss you, my kuya. I hope to see you again in another life.

 

My Tsundoku List: The Book Seller of Kabul

The Bookseller of KabulWhen I read Asne Seierstad’s The Book Seller of Kabul, I wasn’t aware of the controversy that surrounded the book. Although while reading, in the back of my mind I was thinking, the actual bookseller approved of this?

The portrayal of the patriarch wasn’t exactly flattering. In fact, it just solidifies all biases we (outsiders to Afghan and Islamic faith) already have about Afghanistan and its culture of misogyny.

Although all the names were changed, I would imagine, its not hard to find the biggest bookseller in Kabul. In fact, the real bookseller apparently sued the author, demanding a cut of the royalties. After reading about him, it doesn’t surprise me.

It’s a compelling read, a real page turner, if I may say so. I read it relatively quickly, mostly while in a public transport (jeepney) with all its reading challenges.

The book is a very intimate look at a relatively rich and relatively educated Afghan family but we also get a glimpse of what life is like for the ordinary Afghan family. The timeline includes the periods before the Taliban, during the Taliban, and after the American forces attacked the country because of 9-11.

The most heart-breaking character in the book would probably be Leila. She was portrayed as a kind of Cinderella, the only difference is there’s no prince charming and happy ending waiting for her. I identified with Leila, being the youngest in a brood of 6. I had my share of chores in the house but in no way was I slaving away my days waiting on my siblings and parents. 

Sultan Khan is admirable only for his love of books and literature. What he did, protecting the books from the Taliban, was nothing short of heroic. But even with his level of education and vast knowledge, he failed to become what he thought he was. He could’ve been a champion of Afghan women. A tool for change and revolution but in the book, he was just another product of a twisted society.

His son Mansur, kind of reminds me of that jerk, Joffrey Baratheon, from Game of Thrones. Looks like he’ll turn out to be a worse version of his father with his lack of education but excess in cruelty.

I’m glad that at least Shakilah is better off with her new family. I think, by her description, she’s one dynamite of a lady that could bring positive influence on her students.

Are all the contents in the book accurate? I’m not sure. How much of the dialogue and description are true? If there are only 3 translators in the family (Sultan, Leila and Mansur), I’m sure the conversations have been censored before the author could write it down.

Nevertheless, The Bookseller of Kabul is one great read. It makes you think about your daily life as a woman in a country that is relatively free. Even if I live in a third world country, there are a lot worse places to be in as a woman. I don’t think I have the strength to survive there as these Afghan women have. Besides…

I don’t look good in a big blue invisibility cloak anyway.

Doctor Who Series 5, 6, & 7: How do you get over The Doctor?

I’m trying for the last couple of weeks to put The Doctor behind me. I seem to be failing… A lot. I mean I’ve got work to do, other stuff to write, books to read, and a life to live. Seriously, someone tell me how to move on! I keep googling news about the new series, I keep re-watching episodes. Even if I’m not sure about the new older-looking doctor, I can’t help but get into debates about the what would happen in the next series. I congratulate myself if I get through the whole day without inserting Doctor Who into conversations with friends.

Series 5 & 6: 11th Doctor and The Ponds

Before I watched Moffat’s era of Doctor Who, Matt Smith looked kind of weird to me. I supposed Benedict Cumberbatch did too. This is, I think, what they had in common. They are not the typical sexy and attractive guy. Both are tall, yes, but lanky and had weird long faces. That’s before they open their mouths and start getting into character, of course. Brainy is the new sexy, indeed!

Personally, I’ve always been attracted to brains before the looks. Even as a kid. I’ve fallen in love with fictional characters and never real people. I think that’s because they never measure up to the fantasy. And let me tell you, I’ve fallen in love all over again with Matt Smith’s Doctor. And then he’s gone… again…sigh.

I’m starting to get it. Recognizing the Doctor as one character with a different face in every new regeneration. The major differences and nuances in personality. This doctor is more child-like, a little lot more immature compared to the tenth doctor (who’s more emo, now that I think about it).

Matt Smith, in the beginning, was not as spectacular as what he became in the 7th series. In the 5th series, he’s still trying to grasp the role. Understandable, of course, but I still missed Tenant, then. But then, he started owning the doctor and suddenly, there he was. The Doctor, at last.

In Moffat’s Doctor Who, I felt the production’s higher budget – with the new sets, and better effects. There’s a feeling of lightness there, compared to Russel T. Davies’ era.

The Model Companion

And may I just say, I envied Amy Pond’s legs and hair! I loved the fact that the Doctor met Amy as a little girl before an adult. Loved that first episode! The touch of Sherlock is a bit disconcerting though. I see this Doctor as very eerily similar to Sherlock making deductions. (not surprising of course, as they have the same executive producer/writer).

I love the relationship between Rory and Amy. I thought it was so believable and it’s very refreshing not to see the Doctor playing the Romeo to the companion but rather like the doting fairy godmother. Oh I’m forgetting River Song… But that’s different. She’s his wife!

River Song’s Melody

As someone who comes from a family with couples with large age discrepancies, I was not bothered by the fact that Matt Smith is actually 26 and Alex Kingston’s 40-ish. I though their relationship was lovely, beautiful, and poignant. I’ve read Audrey Niffeneger’s Time Traveler’s Wife and I saw where Moffat got the idea and inspiration from.

There were a lot of plot holes still, but your suspension of disbelief just have to tolerate it all when watching Doctor Who.  Anyway, I don’t watch this series for the sci fi, anyway but the characters.

My favorite episodes: The Lodger, Vincent Van Gogh episode, A Good Man Goes to War, and Wedding of River Song (of course, though I still don’t get why the doctor need to marry River? and does that marriage even count?)

Series 7: 11th Doctor and The Ponds, and Clara Oswald

So apparently, there are 2 parts to this series. First part are still with the Ponds, while the second is the proper episodes with the new companion, Clara. Loved, Asylum of the Daleks and though I normally hate overly perky people, I love geniuses and I thought that Oswin Oswald was gonna make onehelluva companion. (spoiler: she dies!)

I don’t get the plot holes in Angels in Manhattan though – when we say goodbye to Amy and Rory. If this weren’t a TV show, in a more “realistic” Who-niverse, I’m sure The Doctor could’ve saved the Ponds with a wave of his magical sonic screw driver. I thought the writer could’ve made something more poignant than that scene.

As for Clara, I loved her Victorian saucy version as well. She’s properly coquettish which I suspect annoys some of the more hardcore fans but makes us, shippers, positively gleeful.

The real Clara or the original copy in the contemporary world has been described as a more tame and normal version of the other two. I see what they mean. I really would’ve liked the more extreme versions but what can I say.

I feel that we barely know her but that would change, of course, with the next series with Capaldi. I would’ve liked to see Clara spend a bit more time with River Song but I suspect, we’ll also see those two interact more in the coming episodes.

As for the explanation of why Clara keeps on appearing and dying in different times, I’m satisfied with that. Jumping on the Doctor’s time stream…Sure, why not? It’s interesting to see her in the classic eras. Almost made me want to watch the 60s-80s episodes. (I bet my co-worker, I’d watch them only if he can procure all the episodes himself.)

Matt Smith’s speech in the Christmas special was heartbreaking and perfect. This is how a Doctor should say goodbye. Although I love Tenant’s Doctor with all my one heart, the overly long goodbye took away some of the poignancy.

So what’s next, Peter Capaldi?

My prediction is that we haven’t seen the last of River Song. I read news that Matt Smith wants to keep the character with the 11th but fat chance, as Moffat have other plans, apparently.  It would be interesting to see an older looking doctor with the comparatively younger looking River.

So shipping Clara and the Doctor would come to an end, me thinks. I know Clara said she fancies the Doctor in the Christmas episode but that would be an overly crowded Tardis with River Song in the mix.

Matt Smith’s Doctor did a lot of jumping, running, and other physical stunts. Would Capaldi be up to this very physically demanding role? Or would he be a more intellectual and subdued Doctor?

I really can’t wait for Series 8. In the meantime, I’ll continue converting everyone to Who-vism. They really don’t know what they’ve been missing ;)

Goodbye, Philip Seymour Hoffman! You Brilliant Man, You!

Philip Seymour Hoffman may look like the blonde version of the bumbling comedian, Jack Black, but his flair, intelligence, and grace in front of the camera sets him immensely apart from even the most good looking leading men of Hollywood. One does not simply objectify a man like Philip Seymour Hoffman!

Did you see him in Hunger Games? Everyone was dressed like ridiculous clowns (as they should in the book) but his costume was embodied in himself. He doesn’t need the colorful hair and outlandish outfits to fit the role. He is MOTHER FUCKING OSCAR WINNING PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, BITCH! Just be glad he is there in your mainstream Hollywood movie lending his air of authenticity and brilliance to an otherwise forgettable movie franchise (loved the books though!). — Oh yeah, Donald Sutherland was good too, by the way.

Whenever I see PSH in a movie, somehow, I’m assured that this movie won’t be some same old boring story. I trust in his choices of roles. I saw The Talented Mr. Ripley, Big Lebowski, Magnolia, Almost Famous, Synodoche New York, and Pirate Radio (yes that’s not Jack Black). He did a lot more movies but some of his parts were for minor roles.  In each one though, his subtle brilliance shines.

I was so looking forward to the last Hunger Games movie. If only they didn’t have to divide it, I think it would’ve been finished before his death. See what you did there, ye gods of Hollywood? How would you finish this now?

Jack Black, you would have to step up, man! You have some awfully big shoes to fill.

Sherlock Series 3: The Empty Hearse and The Sign of Three

SPOILER ALERT!

I’m a little apprehensive after watching the second episode.

This is one of my problems – placing so much expectation to the next album from an artist, the next book in a series, the next season of a TV show, the next movie in a franchise etc. etc. after putting the previous ones in a pedestal and obsessing about it for months even years. I need a life. Seriously.

So this season or series (as the Brits call it) of Sherlock may not be my favorite so far. After waiting 2 years (only 1 for me – as a late comer) the fandom has grown so big (and apparently so influential) that Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat had to take notice. Talk about Great Expectations! Well, extremely high is an understatement. In my opinion, Sherlock rivals one of my most favorite TV shows of all times – The  X-Files. Unfortunately, I fear if Sherlock follows my perceived trajectory (from the 2 episodes I’ve seen), it might follow the same fate of the X-Files towards the end when it died slowly without anybody caring except for die-hard fans.

The Empty Hearse

I liked the first episode and forgave it’s flaws (unnecessary and super jazzed-up mind palace sequence, Moriarty-Sherlock shipping, and the disappointing explanation of how he survived). I thought the whole episode was hilarious! I did missed some of the more complex plot that leads to the mystery. In the previous episodes, I had to watch and re-watch the episodes to fully comprehend every detail that leads to the case. I didn’t mind doing this, I actually liked that every time I watched, I gained another insight or detail I missed the first time.

Being a Molly fan, I was thrilled with the imagined kiss, of course! But I was thoroughly disappointed at Molly for her choice of fiance. Oh come on, Molly! Really? A cheap version of Sherlock??? (I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that Tom proves he’s actually the better man for Molly. Even after the second episode when he opens his big mouth.)

The best part of this episode is the reunion. I thought it was sheer perfection. Drama and comedy blended right in just like it always did in seasons past. I also liked Sherlock and Mycroft’s repartee and would have liked to see  more of how the brothers interact with their parents.

I didn’t like the bomb scene, though. I thought that was just mean of Sherlock to put John through that! John should have head-butted him again, in my humble opinion.

The Sign of Three

In the next episode, the focus is on John and Mary’s wedding. To nobody’s surprise (except Sherlock’s), the detective was chosen to be the best man. The concept of Sherlock being a best friend seems so foreign to him that the detective slightly short-circuited trying to comprehend what John just said. That.was.funny.

There was so much hilarity all over this episode, it might’ve been mistaken for a sitcom. That’s where, I think, the problem lies and also the long meandering Best Man speech which I deduced could’ve been tightened and edited making more room for the actual mystery. Again, this episode is such a departure from the past Sherlock episodes from the last 2 seasons.

Don’t get me wrong, I laughed at the Drunk Sherlock, for sure. But what I loved about this series (aside from Benedict Cumberbatch) is the fact that the writers usually blend comedy, drama, and suspense with such perfect balance and precision it leaves everyone’s jaw on the floor.

The balance was thrown off and the mystery of the locked room killer really is head scratching – in a bad way.

But there’s still hope! I’ve seen the 3rd episode’s (His Last Vow) preview and it looks as if we are finally getting a proper look at the new villain, Charles Augustus Magnussen (formerly Charles Augustus Milverton – from the books). We can all pray that Steven Moffat is finished catering to the fandom and stopped stealing ideas from fanfics and finally give us the Sherlock we were all craving for!