Archive for November, 2008

Wild Swans: Wildly Good

November 18, 2008

china1I have China on my mind.

Why? Well, for one, I’m traveling there tomorrow and just finished stuffing a suitcase full of everything I might need. Which, on a housekeeping note, I must tell you that while I am gone, there will be no WordHappy posts. Do not fear that I have abandoned ye faithful few. I shall return with all sorts of yummy things I got to read and hear and watch on the plane. Marathon Spongebob episodes on DVD, anyone?

The other reason I have China on my mind is because I recently finished an enormously good book chronicling three generations of women in China, beginning with the early twentieth century. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang, is a book that needed to be written, and could only have been done so by her. It is the story not only of her family, but through a century of Chinese history so epic that it boggles the mind that it could be contained in only one hundred years.

The story begins with Chang’s grandmother, who in 1924 becomes a concubine to a general in Peking, during a time when China is mostly unified from the Kuomintang under Chiang-Kai-Shek. Her daughter, Chang’s mother, comes of age as the Communist Party is rising in China, marries a Party official and becomes one herself. The reader watches as she, along with the rest of China, idealistically follows the teachings of Mao Zedong, only to be persecuted and detained during Mao’s campaign to suppress counter-revolutionaries. Then finally there is Jung herself, who spends much of her childhood entrenched within the Cultural Revolution. It is she who sees China emerge as a global entity, meeting her first foreigners in 1975 and winning a scholarship to Britain in 1978.

Wild Swans is a fascinating, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking tale.

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Essays on Obama: America the Beautiful

November 6, 2008

obamaAs I’ve posted before, regardless of one’s politics or feelings about the outcome of our 2008 Presidential election, there’s one thing that can be said about President-elect Barack Obama: the man can write.

The first sentences of his remarks on election night, as people screamed and sobbed and hugged each other, gave the inspiration that so many of his speeches have evoked:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It surprised me not one whit to be moved by his speech on election night. But what has pleasantly surprised me is how many essays I have read since Tuesday night that have equally moved me. All of the excerpts that follow invoke the same pride, inspiration, and love of country of Obama’s speeches:

The Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, in his essay “Morning in America,” wrote:

Yet something changed on Tuesday when Americans — white, black, Latino, Asian — entrusted a black man with the power and responsibility of the presidency. I always meant it when I said the Pledge of Allegiance in school. I always meant it when I sang the national anthem at ball games and shot off fireworks on the Fourth of July. But now there’s more meaning in my expressions of patriotism, because there’s more meaning in the stirring ideals that the pledge and the anthem and the fireworks represent.

Garrison Keillor had this to say in his column for The Chicago Tribune, “Advice for the Happy Couple”:

A golden November day under a blue sky and an air of sweet amiability at the polls and at the end of the day, we elected the right guy, no doubt about it. Yes, we can and we did. A nation spread its wings and achieved altitude.

Maria Niles, in her PopConsumer blog, wrote:

My 21 year-old niece voted in her first presidential election.  She will never know a different possibility – a time when only white men could lead this country.  Where black people where considered anything less than fully and completely American even though this country was built on our backs and with our blood.  My 94 year-old grandmother, our matriarch, who has been the keeper of our family’s oral history of slavery and escape is alive to see this moment.  My cousin who traveled from the north to the south to be a freedom fighter in the civil rights movement is witnessing this history.  My mother who spent days and months volunteering and making phone calls to participate in democracy and help make history is witnessing this moment.  My father who fought for the country he chose to become a citizen of has been transformed and electrified by this campaign and he is witnessing this moment.

Perhaps Roger Cohen of The New York Times best expresses in his essay “Perfecting the Union” what I am feeling as I read these essays, as well as the words of President-elect Obama: that words matter:

America can mean what it says. It can respect its friends and probe its enemies before it tries to shock and awe them. It can listen. It can rediscover the commonwealth beyond the frenzied individualism that took down Wall Street.

I know, these are mere words. They will not right the deficit or disarm an enemy. But words count. That has been a lesson of the Bush years…

Obama will reinvest words with meaning. That is the basis of everything. And an American leader able to improvise a grammatical, even a moving, English sentence is no bad thing.