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Blogger Flannery finds that The Jade Peony strikes a chord

Hello, readers.

Welcome to another week of Canada Reads 2010, and the first week of the New Year! I love a fresh start and I'm determined to not let the weather affect my feelings about 2010. That determination hasn't stopped me from wondering what New Year's Day must feel like in a tropical climate, however. The warmth of the sun, a gentle breeze, birds chirping — I'm guessing it feels pretty fantastic to wake up to such a world on January 1, or January 4 for that matter. I think of these things while I bathe my desiccated flesh in Vitamin E each morning.

In spite of frigid temperatures, we press on. This week we're spotlighting novelist Ann-Marie MacDonald. Each day we're rolling out something new from the acclaimed author: interviews, podcasts, audio chats and more. I hope these special features are enhancing your experience of the novels as much as they are mine.

Reading is an entirely personal and private activity for me. When I read, I lie back and let the author do the talking. It's one of the few times in my life that I don't interrupt or speak out of turn. I don't influence the progress of the tale because I can't. And believe me, I would do some damage if I could. There have been many times that I've been dragged kicking and screaming toward the conclusion of a novel. (Any Thomas Hardy novel qualifies for "kicking and screaming" status here.) I'm still recovering from A Tale of Two Cities (Sydney: She wasn't worth it.) That precious time spent in the playground of another's far richer imagination is the meat and potatoes of reading. Playlists, podcasts and interviews with the authors are the gravy: completely unnecessary but damn if it doesn't make the meal feel like an event!

I'm always surprised by how my own life influences my interpretation of what I'm reading at any given point. I've come to feel that the books somehow find me at precisely the right moment. I read the bulk of The Jade Peony while I was home for the holidays. All three of my now-adult siblings were there, which made for a strange parallelism with the novel.

Wayson Choy's sibling narrators felt very real to me, perhaps even more so because I was back in the old family dynamic so concretely (space constraints meant my sister and I had to share the same queen-size bed; not cool, Mum!) Sekky, Jook-Liang and Jung-Sum ignore one another while simultaneously and painstakingly monitoring one another's behaviour. There's nothing sentimental about their interaction with one another. In fact, most of the time they show a complete lack of awareness of their siblings' internal workings. All three are so caught up in the intensity of their own impressions and feelings — in the struggles of adolescence — they don't have the emotional energy to contemplate similar turmoil among their brothers and sisters, or when they do, it's but briefly. Very few writers have captured the curious dynamic that exists between siblings — the ferocity of the bond — as Choy has. It's a victory, really.

I clearly recall the moment it dawned on me that my younger brother (I have two brothers) was a bona fide human being capable of emotion. I was 12 or 13. He was seven or eight. I was teasing him mercilessly as was my wont. My intention was simple: make the little brat cry (that was his habitual response). I was lying on the sofa tormenting him from a reclining position — I was that good; I could do it lying down — when he suddenly sprang from his seat on the floor and punched me in the nose. It was a game-changing act.

I was shocked. I was indignant. I took off running. Surely, my father would punish the evildoer appropriately. I got another surprise. I told my father what had happened and even squeezed out a few tears for effect. He laughed and told me I probably deserved it (he knew I had a history of younger-brother torture). I don't think he went so far as to high-five my brother, but congratulations were definitely implied. At the very least they exchanged sympathetic glances. I should have known better. He'd been a little brother once too.

I'm wondering: Did the family dynamics in The Jade Peony strike a chord with you too? What about the other books?

Keep reading! I'm tackling Fall on Your Knees this week.

Flannery

 

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