And so, today: Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, a collection of short stories based on the Vietnam War & its repercussions by Robert Olen Butler.
- Some of the simplest sentences to work good literature that I've read in a while; it's a kind of style I envy and wish I could work with better. Not stark, simply present, and sharp.
- A sensation of blunt Americanism, as though the country is an entity, so foreign and West and too large and unrefined an instrument to treat war, Vietnamese culture, assimilation; and yet also: full of something strange and good and equally as foreign, as if Vietnamese culture is too fine an instrument to take in enormity. But I know too little about either, only the generalities of both, and culture differences. Makes me think, as I always think, of my own half-and-half, like my parents the milk and my reading the cream. YAY ANALOGY WHEN TIRED.
- Endings that twist your heart; such is the beauty of short fiction: a few thousand words, and then a wrench. The only drawback: ten short stories equate ten pulls at the heart, and sometimes your heart doesn't have that much to give in one go. Had to put the book down.
(from Mr. Green:)
When my grandfather told me about the birds plucking out the eyes of the dead and about the possibility of our own ancestors, our own family, suffering just like that if we ignore them, I said, "Don't worry, Grandfather, I will always say prayers for you and make offerings for you, even if I'm Catholic."
I though this would please my grandfather, but he just shook his head sharply, like he was mad at me, and he said, "Not possible."
"I can," I said.
Then he looked at me and I guess he realised that he'd spoken harshly. He tilted his head slightly and smiled a little smile - just like his father in the picture - but what he said wasn't something to smile about. "You are a girl," he said. "So it's not possible for you to do it alone. Only a son can oversee the worship of his ancestors."
I was surprised and delighted that first day when my grandfather motioned to the birdseller and began to point at sparrows and the merchant reached into the cage and caught one bird after another, and he put them all into a cardboard box. My grandfather bought twelve birds and they did not fly as they sat in the box. "Why aren't they flying?" I asked.
"Their wings are clipped," my grandfather said.
That was all right with me. They clearly weren't in any pain and they could still hop and they would never fly away from me. I wouldn't even need a cage for my vain little friends.
We had always kept chickens and ducks and geese. Some of them were pecking arond near us even as I crouched there with my mother. I knew that we ate those animals, but for some reason Ham Nghi seemed like a different place altogether and the sparrows could only be for song and friendship. But finally my mother finished cutting the vegetables and she reached into the box and drew out a sparrow, its feet dangling from the bottom of her fist and its head poking out of the top. I looked at its face and I knew it was a girl and my mother said, "This is the way it's done," and she fisted her other hand around the sparrow's head and she twisted.
Even better bits in other parts, but too tired now, and will post again about it if the rest of the book is any good. Just to say, though: he writes some of the best off-kilter persona narratives; if you can snag this book, then please just flip to the short story Fairy Tale, and watch the voice of an uneducated Vietnamese prostitute gone to America come to life in words.