Friday, October 25, 2013

Inside Out and Back Again

The following review for CROCUS comes from guest reviewer, Rachna Maneesh Dhir.

The topic just fills my mind with so many thoughts - having spent at least 10 years of my life in three different cities - I do not know where I belong, anymore? When it suits me- I call myself a "native" as I can really relate to many emotions and mannerisms. At other moments, it is easy for me to say, "I am a transplant" and perhaps get away from collective responsibility. More recently, the term "global citizen" is gaining popularity!!

What do books have to do with all this? My children and I are familiar with many worlds that we have or not seen, thanks to books. When they were young, I used to try and get a book for each place we visited. It was not easy but whenever we found a story, we were excited.

As they grew up, options in fiction, especially fantasy, became so much more while I found many more books set in India, the place of my birth, for children younger than mine.

Strangely, the book "Shipwreck" made me want to share my love of books with the Saffron Tree community. On the one hand, I have been neither to Japan nor to Hawaii - so, why did this book touch a chord?
Perhaps because it was a story of the first Japanese in the USA and I could relate to the emotions of immigrants?

On cab rides in Australia and the US, so many immigrants have shared their dreams without any prodding. In Bangalore, I have had numerous discussions about "home" with migrants from Orissa and even Tibet.

Hence, my first entry for the crocus is a review of "Inside, Out and back again". Though Vietnam may culturally be different from India, the author's story of "assimilation" in the United State is both unique and universal at the same time.

Inside Out and Back Again

Author: Thanhha Lai

Winner of National Book Award for Young People's Literature, 2011 and Newberry Honor.

This is an autobiography written in English by a Vietnamese immigrant, in a style that is similar to poetry in her native language.

Inside Out and Back Again is sure to touch a chord with every immigrant's heart. Every body has different circumstances and reasons for the journey- some move out of choice, others are forced by circumstances. However, the similarities are immense.

The author moved to the United States at age ten, in 1975 to escape the Vietnam War. The most poignant moments in the book are related to her life in Vietnam since there is nostalgia.
In the poems set in the USA, all the feelings of new immigrants are described with such few words but so much emotion- such as loss of the past left behind, hope as they look at the future, anger and frustration at being treated differently because of lack of English speaking skills, strangers who help as well as classmates who do not try to understand and hence, end up bullying.

The description of simplest of things from Vietnam, such as rain, festivals, food that the author experienced more than 30 years ago, match her observations made in Alabama, of what her neighbour did, what her mother said, what they understood of the government aid system and such. The book is an amazing balance of funny and sad that one has to marvel at the author's choice, as far as the style for conveying the emotions is concerned. By keeping the verse not matching yet short, she has perfected the art of story telling and engaging her audience, as a result.

The book is ideal for ages 12+, especially for parents, teachers and students who have had to move schools, cities or countries. It is a book of family and love and war - something that we are sadly still seeing today in various parts of the world. It is a story of faith and hope too, since life goes on and we continue to undertake journeys, that keep changing us as human beings.


sandhya said...

This book has been on my 'to buy' list for a long time now. Thanks for the review, Rachna and Praba.

Divya Purandar said...

Interesting one...I would have loved to read this one...if only it were available in India! I was also on the lookout for books that featured my homeland (India) while living abroad.
Even some books of Uma Krishnaswami had cross references to the immigrant culture(of course..these books have already been featured on ST)

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