Monday, July 4, 2011

Reading History Part V: Rachel DeWoskin's Repeat After Me: Why I didn't like it

Part V: Rachel DeWoskin's Repeat After Me: Why I didn't like it

When I first heard of the book, I was ecstatic and happy: Wow, a Jewish female character who ends up with a Chinese guy in a book! (I also have interest in dating Asian men.) I thought for sure I'd love this book to pieces and all that. What has never crossed my mind is that I'd end up hating this book. I read the book last year, and I've done something in this book that I've never done in any other book: I skipped sections dealing with the present day in the book. I remember a lot what irritated, but since this will be filled with spoilers, and because I can't think of anything positive to do with it, I decided to put it in this section.

Normally I had very positive experiences reading Asian male and white female love/romance novels. (Han Suyin, Susan Choi, Jade Lee, Marguerite Duras, Takashi Matsuoka?, Kate Furnivall) But this is the first time I didn't have a good experience with that type of novel. So, what are some things that bugged me about it? The jumping time-line, female protagonist acting selfish and her alien personality, and the fact that she celebrates christmas! In my view, the whole book was a mess. (I also found irritating that as someone who has no desire for a daughter, she and other friends of her actually all had daughters! How about a mix-up or something like that?)  I feel guilty for not liking the novel.

In every chapter the author does these two or three things as I remember: she starts it out in 1990s? writes a page and a half and then space later she jumps to present day of 2000? and discusses about what it's like in China. (Would have been easier if she placed years when she did time jumps...) The present day is simply her ruminations and thoughts and unfortunately deal very little with Da Ge. Or sometimes she completely focuses the chapters on the present day in China, of her trying to move on with life by dating a Chinese guy, or else she focuses on the past with no time jump. (I skipped the modern day ruminations of China.)

The relationship between the female protagonist and Da Ge is way too rushed and I had a hard time believing it that he could fall in love with her so quickly! (In my view she could have added more dimensions or more moments of romance and cut down on modern stories!) I also had an extremely difficult time understanding why she was liked. I have to give props to Ms. DeWoskin for creating a compelling Chinese male character. (I've never dated or had a Chinese boyfriend so I cannot say whether or not she writes him accurately... but he is the only thing that I loved about the book. In my view also he was literally begging for a voice in the story...beyond the essays.)

I did wish I could have liked the female protagonist but alas I did not. She is extremely neurotic (saying something about counting fives or speaking in five sentences,) organized and at one point was in a mental hospital where she met Da Ge. (I'm not sure if the author mentioned why Da Ge was also in the mental hospital...) I also found it distasteful that as a Jew she celebrates christmas! And I found it odd that for someone who is a teacher she does little to no research about her husband's culture! (Fine, in 1990s there was no internet, no blogs or anything where personal experiences could be shared, but still, she could have found a way to find out about the Chinese culture before her husband's suicide!) All I remember is feeling anger and frustration while reading the book. Surely she and her husband could have communicated somehow and built a relationship together?

One small part that irritated me the most is daughters. Should I have children, I don't want to have daughters to be honest. Growing up I never got a positive impression of being a girl, and being a realist, well not a good combination. I can already picture spending thousands of dollars on pointless makeup (I don't wear any kind of makeup,) clothes, the grooming, and then if that's not bad enough, there will be teenage years where the girl will desire things I know I can't provide at all. (Growing up, I've never had long-term positive friendships with women besides my mother and possibly sister. Heck I even made up a name for the type of friendships I have had: Semester-Friends.)  It seems that in this book, every single woman has had daughters. (Which is what I meant by mix it up.)

While writing this review, oddly enough, it kind of made me feel appreciative that during this time there are various blogs and sites that talk about Asian man and white woman combo, even books, and at times movies.  I really do wish I had liked this book but alas I didn't.

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