It’s been a long time coming, but I finally decided to read this book. I have a bad habit of purchasing books despite the size of my to-be-read pile, which never seems to stop growing. It should be no surprise that I bought Dinner at the Center of the Earth way back in 2017 despite only reading it in 2019.
I first encountered Nathan Englander’s writing when I read The Twenty-Seventh Man back in college. I liked the short story so much that I bought For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. Since then, I never forgot the name. Come 2017, I found out that Green Apple Books on the Park was hosting a reading by Nathan Englander; I made it my mission to attend the event. After the reading, I shamelessly asked him to sign a book and to take a picture with me as I embarrassed myself with my fangirling. It was worth it.
Dinner at the Center of the Earth goes back and forth between 2002 and 2014, chronicling the experiences of several characters and how they were affected by the Gaza conflict. The book was more about personal experiences than the conflict itself, so it was quite easy to follow the story despite knowing very little of the conflict.
There are several characters involved, and throughout the story, all of their actions had been tied to the orders of the General (most clearly demonstrated by Prisoner Z’s imprisonment). It only took twelve years and some horrific events, but, by the end of the book, the characters have taken back control over their own lives. I felt a certain satisfaction that it ended in the characters’ own terms, even the General’s.
There’s a quite the history to go through before we even get to that point though. The chapters switch off across different characters at different moments in their lives, and at first, this comes off as choppy. The story gets a bit confusing to follow, mainly because the story lines and identities turn around pretty quickly, but don’t let that discourage you from reading on. Eventually, everything comes together as we learn more about the characters, and it’s all worth it.
An office book club read, The Underground Railroad was compelling and unfiltered—a refreshing change from somewhat controlled environments. To me, the main character was intelligent though uneducated. I found myself triggered as I came upon the main character’s harsh realization about life: equality is but an illusion.
The Underground Railroad took me through an emotional roller coaster. Here are some questions that I asked myself as I read the book and some snarky questions-as-answers from yours truly because fake closure:
How do you know whom you can trust?
You don’t. You don’t know if they’ll help you, and they do. You think they’re going to help you, but they won’t. It’s hit or miss, so how incredibly lucky can you get?
Why would you risk your life for another person?
Why does anyone do anything anyway? What makes another person’s life more valuable than yours? Can you even make a difference? Will anyone even care?
Will you take a leap of faith?
How do make that life worth living?
Read it. I hope it sparks a fire in you as well.
Bookish Plug: Another book that got me triggered as well was Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
Where to start for this one? I admit that it took me a while to read this book. Now that busy season is almost slightly maybe but only for the meantime over, I was finally able to finish this book. I only wish that I’d begun this book not-during-busy season, but we can’t all win, can we?
So… just in case I’d have free time or not be too pooped to read, I brought this book everywhere to the point that I almost ripped the dust jacket as I tried to stuff the book into my backpack. (I’m sorry, book.)
I love this book because it’s about family, and it’s pretty much an origin story. (Where did I come from? How did I get here?) As I read, intermittently, I remembered my own grandmother telling me tales of her youth—piece by piece and at different points of my childhood. In the same way I’ve always loved hearing about old family stories, e.g. my mom living in a boarding house; my grandmother hiding in the jungle during the war; my mom and my aunt preparing a chicken for dinner, I absolutely enjoyed reading about the most enigmatic grandfather ever.
Some themes in Moonglow that are very relevant today: PTSD and mental illness; family ties and unconditional love; pursuit of one’s passion—ya know, things like that. It’s a great book—I feared I would spoil it if I raved too much, so I just vaguely listed things out to get it out of the system.
PS I met Michael Chabon. I decided to stop by my fave bookstore, Books on the Park (see here for reference) one beautiful spring evening, and I noticed that there were more people than usual at the bookstore. I turned out that Michael Chabon was going to give a reading, so I stayed since I was already there anyway. I went home a happy camper; Michael Chabon signed my book, yay.
Even with its battle scars (lipstick stain included), what a beloved book this is.