I loved this book and the really great gentlemanly voice of its narrator. The book captures a man, a voice, a view that was a moment captured in time amongst the world changing around him. This is a great study of tone and style above all, and the ending was both beautifully surprising and fitting. (spoiler alert!) The aristocratic Russian who is under house arrest for so many years after the revolution finally breaks free. And where is the one place he longs to go to as an old man? Not anywhere free, not anywhere that would move him forward in life and time. Instead, he moves back, returning to his hometown, to his family's old estate, to the place that had defined him for all his childhood, young adulthood, and throughout his exile/imprisonment.
I read this book because I took on a position as a Lecturer at a university in Hong Kong, where I design digital classes for graduate students. Many of these students want to go on to work in finance, in business, in Hong Kong. I was myself also curious about the book. What was the argument, what did it mean to lean in? I'd heard the phrase repeatedly over the past year or two.
Of course I like the idea very much. To lean in to what you love, to work, to continue to contribute to the world, to speak up and to work for equality. Sandberg writes well, and passionately about these issues, though I understand, as she does, that she speaks from the top to those with the ability to also speak out.
As I get older and closer to planning a family, I've started to think more seriously about the issue of family and work - or, more accurately, the issue has weighed on me more heavily. (I've always been a bit nearsighted when it came to understanding what would be around the corner.) I used to think that perhaps I'd take a break when raising children. But this was maybe a few years ago, in my mid-twenties, when I was working a job that I wasn't particularly passionate about. Now, at thirty I am lucky enough to be building a career in the field of my passion - writing, educating, editing - and I never want it to stop. I am especially fortunate that my work is mostly online and that I can handle the solitude of working from home. In fact, I quite enjoy it.
I am quietly working away, writing every morning, teaching in the afternoons, editing the magazine, in peace and calm, and I'd like nothing more than just a year or two more of this. I guess sometimes women stop working because they don't love what they do and then their love for children feels respectively overwhelming. I also never understood women who wanted to wait, to achieve more, to be more themselves before having children. These days I do.
This was the first book by Zadie Smith I've read and I didn't love it as I'd expected to. The characters I found not compelling, the writing clunky at times. And I felt constantly distracted by the too-similar resemblance to Madonna - not in a way that felt revelatory, but in a way that felt a bit shallow. It did, however make me want to watch many YouTube videos of Fred Astaire dancing - the childhood friendship, the love of dance, the hope: these were the beautiful parts. What came after was not so enjoyable. But I suppose that is like a lot of life.
After I read Lahiri's latest, In Other Words, I went back to her debut collection. I love the wide variety of perspectives the stories of this collection encompass, all related to the unifying theme of self-created identity. My favorite story, and the story that first introduced me to Lahiri, remains Sexy. It is the story of an affair between a married Indian man and a white woman in Boston, told from the perspective of the woman.
Reading these stories again, I found one small weakness to be Lahiri's endings. They fall a little flat at times. But the stories themselves are so good - the language so subtly graceful. It's a treat to read these stories again, and I'm sure I will in the future too.
I chose this book as my month's selection for a book club I started with a few friends. I chose it because the group of readers included foreigners, Chinese, and hyphenated folk alike, all working in fields related to writing. I thought for a group of these people living in China and working through language daily, this book might be a good choice.
Lahiri's musings on language and life in Italy, as well as her experience with language in general as an American were all very interesting and lyrical, as expected. Most impressive about this book, though was that it was written in Italian by Lahiri, after she'd lived in Italy for about two years.
Her love of language and her dedication to studying it was so apparent and inspiring throughout the book. It made me want to spend more time studying Chinese myself. I thought so many times while reading this book: if she can do it, why can't I? The book also made me think about priorities, deep accomplishments, and the passage of time. Lahiri dedicated two years of almost full-time study to Italian, in addition to the prior exposure she had of the language over the years. The book made me realize that two years is a drop in the bucket, but if you devote yourself wholly to one thing during that time, you can really go far. The book confirmed my belief that it's better to do one or two things deeply than to do a number of things simultaneously but in a shallow way. It also brought to my attention how important and how impactful it can be to one's life dedicate oneself to language learning.