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The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

I decided to read this book because it sounded like an interesting self-discovery book. I can’t say that I was disappointed, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. I would label this book a classic, primarily because of its language and content. I actually found it was quite interesting although I’m not quite sure why.

The story follows Kitty Fane. She is a young (mid-20s) woman living with her husband Walter in the English colony in Hong Kong, China in the 1920s. Kitty had only married her husband in order to be married before her younger sister, and there is no love in her heart for her husband. She has an affair that her husband found out about. He gave her two choices he divorces her (leaving her ruined socially) or she goes with him to a remote Chinese village to help fight a cholera epidemic. After fighting with her lover, she consents to go to the village.

When she gets to the village, she is in a severe depression and the rest of the story is how she comes to view herself and those around her. There is the local English Customs official for the town that she finds herself in company with a lot, her husband Walter, and the local nuns that she spends the bulk of her time with and help to shape her ideas. The nuns in particular have a profound impact on her as she slowly changes her views of the world.

I think this book was a wonderful cultural read. You learned quite a bit about the English in China in the early 1900s. There’s prejudice and racism. Kitty in particular is quite racist, but for the time the language and opinions wouldn’t have been at all unusual. The first third of the book is Kitty having and being caught about her affair. After that, you move into rural china where a lot of the interesting aspects of the book are. You learned about nuns and why they become missionaries and how they are happy in their work. They reference traveling by chair all the time. I was correct in what I thought that meant, but was still surprised by this mode of travel. Here is the chair that is described. It is carried by¬†collies (indentured servants) from the front and back.

Overall I thought it was an interesting read. I can’t say way in particular I thought it was good, but it was just the general impression of writing style, language, culture, and emotional growth. I can’t say Kitty grew by leaps and bounds, but she did grow some. I liked that the romance scenes happened ‘off stage’ by being alluded to and then a scene change. I enjoyed the language and writing style as well. The chapters are extremely short, some only a page or two long. It made it easy to stop as needed.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys classical fiction. Also, anyone interested in early 1900s China or the English colonization of China in that time frame might enjoy this, as long as they keep in mind it is still fiction and the story focuses on the emotions and life of a young woman. I’m giving it three cheese slices only because I think this is a one and done read. I can’t think that I’ll go back and read it, but it was an enjoyable read the first time through.

My rating:

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I’m pretty sure this is the first book I’ve read by a Black author. I decided I wanted to read something in honor of Black History Month and asked the library to recommend some authors to read. When Maya Angelou came up, I remembered¬†I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was on my TBR list and decided that would be the one I was reading.

I cannot say I was blown away by the book, but I found it to be a very interesting cultural study. Having grown up after desegregation and the civil rights movement, a lot of the information and events in the book weren’t surprising. However, it was still fascinating and moving to see the world through the eyes of a young black girl.

I thought the most powerful part was her graduation from eighth grade. She discussed how the speaker was talking about the white school getting new microscopes and such but the black school was going to get a paved field. She explained that to a black girl she felt he was telling they could only have athletes as heroes, they could only hope to work in the trades but that was all – there was no hope for them to get into any other field. I found that very interesting. I had never seen words from that point of view before.

I thought the book was going to be more emotional for some reason. There was quite a bit of emotion and there were several heart-rending events, but it always felt somewhat detached. I’m not quite sure why. I almost wanted to get further in her head and see more of her thoughts than was in the book. It did give me insight into African American traditions (not sure that’s quite the right word…maybe habits?) and mindset. It was also a glimpse into a different era in a way you don’t often get to see (a child’s view as opposed to an adult view).

For anyone interested in a cultural study or African American history, this is a great read. For someone looking for an interesting book or memoir, this is also a good read. As for someone looking just for a book to read, I’d have to say you need to either be interested in memoirs, history, or culture in order to fully enjoy it.

My rating:

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