Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Science of Flight by Yiyun Li - New Yorker Fiction

"The Science of Flight" is a touching portrait of a woman whose difficult past has created a desperate fear of intimacy coupled with a conflicting desire to have friends which drives her to invent stories to hide behind, to preserve her few weak relationships through and to dream with.

Zinchen was born out of wedlock to spite her father, kept by her grandmother to spite her daughter while being reproached her existance by all. Forbidden to exist, she secrets her self away into fragments of other peoples memories and assumptions about her to be snagged by the sharp edge debris of her memories.

The title, the study of flight, denotes the manner in which Zichen survives her past to build "a life of flight, of discarding the inessential and the essential alike, making use of the stolen pieces and memories, retreating to the lost moments of other people’s lives."

The word Flight in the title describes someone soaring, victory, leaving the nest, surpassing difficulty; yet it also has the more troubling meaning of fleeing, "to take flight", to escape. The title uses both positive and negative connotation of the word in that Zichen manages to escape to a better life in a another more prosperous country but she is always trying to escape her past, never landing, never still, never allowing herself to be herself. ♦

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Second Lives by Daniel Alarcón

“Second Lives” is the oil / water separation between starting a new life and being tied to an old one through family responsibility. Families hold the key to our history and ultimately to our identity while starting a new life forces us to adapt and reinvent ourselves. The two situations never blend but remain separate leaving the main character to abandon his family in the middle of a revolution and a neighbor to leave his wife to the neighborhoods ridicule of her situation.

The main character illustrates this idea through his older brother, Francisco’s whos first letters describes the weather as a bather might notice the pools temperature while not committing to dive. Then by the fourth letter, immersed in his new life “he omits to ask the family how they are instead focusing the content on his developing social life at school.”

Then a again a few line down the main character notes “We did eventually get a photo of the few American friends Francisco acquired in those first months, and perhaps this could have clued us in about his eagerness to move on.”

The name of the family Francisco stays with is, Villanueva, means new house. Francisco who no longer shares his family’s experiences, instead lives in a new house, with a new family, in a new culture. The word “new” itself seems to imply a relacement of that which can now be considered old which in his case is his past, his family, his origins.

Francisco having completely acclimated to his new life continues to move from area to area even though this makes it difficult for his parents and brother to get their visas through him enabling them an escape from a difficult revolution. The main charactuer surmises that Francisco’s attitude must stem from him wanting to forget where he had come from in order to be american. After all, this is what the Villanueva’s children were attempting in their refusal to learn the Spanish language and which was stressed again when they warned Francisco immediately upon his arrival that they didn’t speak his language even though their father was Spanish and a Spanish teacher.

The younger brother soliloquizes that he understands the need to have a second life which he compares to peoples interest in avatars and virtual realty. He himself imagined an American life for years bolstered by his brothers experiences, and pictures as well as through his attempts to learn American culture.

Then their was another character that underwent this transition as well. The neighbors husband who left his wife to live with a mistress is another way of starting a new life. The writer draws out the treachery the wife suffers of being left behind which forces her to evaluate how well we know each other and perhaps who we really are.

She asks the mother “where are your people from?” then she continues “How well do we know each other, really, Monica? Do I know what you do?”

In the end, we comprehend this need to adapt and shed an old life but we are torn because we also cannot help but feel compassion for those left behind just like the little brother who hurt and bitter attempts to forget Francisco but fails.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Train of Their Departure by David Bezmozgis

The Train of Their Departure by David Bezmozgis describes a powerful and unavoidably common theme found in society and literature today, a disconnected impersonal isolation from ourselves and those we should be closest to.

All of the main characters appear to have little emotions for themselves or those around them starting from the very beginning where it is explained Polina did not fall in love for Maxima but allowed him to pursue her into dating, sex and eventually marriage based on curiosity over his impersonal and "robotic” advances.

Even the secondary characters we never meet seem destined with the same fate: “her friends did not fall in love but descended into infatuation.”

Maxim, her futures husband is not immune from this disconnect isolation from feeling as he is described being attracted to her as one might a future business partner citing her hard working and serious minded attributes. Even when it describes how he brings her flowers it is viewed a perfunctory act by both Maxima and Polina with the phrase “he had established a habit of bring her flowers once a week.”

During abortion procedure, which is perhaps one of the most personal procedures one can have it is described by a physical sense of disconnectedness: “Like a magician’s assistant, Polina felt as if she had been split in two. The doctor and the nurse pretended that her top half didn’t exist and dealt only with her bottom half.” Her top half, her self is divorced from the operation.

During the operation she also describes focusing on only her top part pretending that what happens below is very far away as if the operation isn’t happening to her but a remote situation unconnected to her.

Then when she wages a bet with Alec to determine whether or not they would see each other again Polina makes an effort to shoot well “as if to win” as if to avoid seeing Alec again but not because she did or didn’t want to see him but simply because “she could not perform otherwise”. She should be able to make a decision whether she would like to see him or not and moderate her efforts towards those ends to win or lose but instead she explains she has to perform well as if she is at work and the outcome of the bet are of no consequence to her.

Later Polina discovers she is pregnant and confronts Alec tht she is “almost certain” the child is Alecs and not her husbands. “Almost certain” indicates she continued to have martial relations during her relationship with Alec just as Alec had keep himself occupied when he did not see Polina. This is not a story of passion and love but of people in the motions of doing things as one might find in a factory which appropriately enough happens also to be where they both work.

Although Polina is upset with the situation she isn’t passionate or even remotely emotional about where this might leave her relationship with Alec. When questioned by him about her plans she explains she can raise the child with her husband, alone or with someone else. The very possibility that she can think of someone else at this moment signifies that she is not overly attached to her relationship with either her husband or her lover or even a desire to be alone.

The ending is quiet ironic, as the one thing Polina seems to want vehemently is to avoid a 2nd abortion and the only thing Alec appear to care somewhat about is the welfare of the unbord child yet they decide to have the abortion anyway to preserve a relationship which seems at best based more on companionable convenience then about deep feelings.

This idea can be witnessed in the last few paragraphs when Alec decides to offer her to come with him out of Russia as a conciliatory/consolatory gesture for having the abortion which she responds to in kind by cautioning him not to “try to hard next time he will be telling her he loves her.” The title “The Train of Their Departure” can be viewed as a departure from the only thing both main characters hold dear, the unborn child which in the end, they don’t feel strongly enough about to keep.

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