The Fat Years ridicules until it gets ridiculously boring

Sorry Penguins, I meant to blog more this week but it’s been a busy week! But that’s not my real excuse. No, my real excuse is that I’ve been buried in The Fat Years by Hong Kong media veteran Chan Koonchung.

I picked up The Fat Years because it was banned in China. And while not all books banned by China are good – this one was probably one of my favourites. Based in the near future, The Fat Years features a Taiwanese journalist named Lao Chen living in China.

Lao Chen is beyond happy, he’s elated and he’s not the only one. And he’s not entire sure why – except that the economy has fallen in the West and China has become the greatest superpower. Lao Chen begins to doubt his own happiness when he runs into an old friend who tells him that the whole country has forgotten about a whole month. A month that was filled with turmoil.

Dystopia fans take note – this is a fantastically, puzzling dystopia. Except in the preface you learn that this isn’t a dystopia, this is simply Maoist China. Which explains why Chan Koonchung was able to write such a detailed dystopia. I actually really enjoyed the book with its rich use of facts from Chinese history and translated proverbs.

The Gao Brothers

But the story takes a dive when the characters kidnap a government official and interrogate him. The official gives a very, very long speech which resembles something out of my university political science textbooks. Only duller. Mind you, I think this was a satire of all the rhetoric The Communist Party likes to feed its citizens but it was a very long satire.   I couldn’t read all of it because it was so long and tedious.

I mean, even the characters in the book fall asleep during the monologue. And I fell asleep several times reading it.

The Execution of Christ by The Gao Brothers

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Passing Love is all that jazz, love & lies

*A big thank you goes to Hachette Books for sending me Passing Love via the Ontario Blog Squad‘s blogger meet-up. Passing Love by Jacqueline E. Luckett is available today!

Passing Love is a romance from start to finish. Nicole Handy leaves her home in California and against everyone’s wishes, goes to Paris for a month. What she finds there is more than the magnificent architecture in Paris, she finds her own story. But what she ultimately finds out is that history is indeed something to leave in the past.

The best part of Passing Love is when Nicole traces her aunt’s history in Paris, dating all the way back to the post-War jazz scene. The setting is rich, luxurious and scuzzy at the same time. And without the morality policing and discrimination faced by blacks in the Southern U.S., it’s no wonder that so many African-American musicians gathered in Paris during this time. Nicole’s aunt, RubyMae, is glamourous, precocious and well, she makes poor decisions. But she’s also everything that Nicole is not.

Photo credit: Martin Soler (

I had a problem with the pace of Passing Love. I wasn’t hooked until about 40 pages in. I fear many readers will give up on the book before it gets really good – and it does get very good. Nicole also runs into a lot of the same people over and over again in random places all over Paris. It’s too much of a coincidence for a city as large of Paris! If I were Nicole, I’d be asking all these random French men why they were stalking me.

Each chapter also starts with vocabulary list from Nicole’s French dictionary. I initially found the lists awkward and reminded me of my elementary school French textbooks. But as the story progresses, I started to see more meaning behind those vocabulary lists.

But Passing Love does a great job of describing the passion behind love – the kind that defies all sense of logic and reason. For some, it’s for a man or a woman but for RubyMae and Nicole that love is for Paris. Luckett tells a convincing doomed love story between people but ultimately makes us all fall in love with a city.

Related Penguins: Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon – a beautiful snapshot, The Sweet Sweeper reminds us how far we’ve come – or have we?

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Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon – a beautiful snapshot

I heard so many rave reviews about Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon that I had to see what all the fuss was about. There are a lot of authors writing about Paris but Gopnik seems to be THE Francophile on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

I wasn’t in Paris long enough to be wooed by it. But I imagine Gopnik would have said that Paris doesn’t care to woo me. Paris to the Moon is the complete unpublished journal entries of Gopnik’s five-year New Yorker assignment. Despite being published in 2000, his reflections on life as an ex-pat are still remarkably fresh. He does a wonderful job at depicting all the insecurities of being the “outsider” looking in.

Some of my favourite parts of the book were his reflections on raising a child in Paris. There are also reflections on French life – another hilarious story about fitness centres in Paris, or the lack thereof. You can practically salivate at his descriptions of Parisian cuisine. It’s all a fantastic read till Gopnik starts trying to justify why soccer is so boring. I found that chapter so dull, I could barely finish the pages. Gopnik is by no means a sports writer.

Perhaps the best reflections are about French politics. He explains that his answering machine constantly gives a “distant erreur” message and that French politics is much the same way. The problems are always from someplace else. And in a lot of ways, this is politics everywhere.

Gopnik is truly, madly, deeply in love with Paris. He takes a great snapshot of a culture that is slowly losing its lustre thanks to the commercialization of all things good. Hundreds of years from now, we’ll read Paris to the Moon and wonder if we’ll ever see the bistros he describes again.

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