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Friday, May 27, 2011

The search for identity and belonging

"Why am I as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life, from Birth must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient." Malcolm X

Although I didn’t enjoy reading “The Finkler Question” (see my last post) it did stir in me, yet again, the desire to find my identity. Not that I ever lost my identity, it didn’t fall out of my pocket or disappear down the drain with the shampoo as I washed my hair. I’ve just never really worked out who I am or where I belong.

Once a week I volunteer at an English conversation class for migrants and refugees. For one hour every week I sit and talk to a group of people, young and old, male and female, who are all attempting to learn the English language. They all know where they come from and where they belong. They come from China, Japan, Iran, Korea, Romania, Vietnam and Myanmar. They are proud of their cultures and they belong to their families and their histories. But when they ask me where I come from, I’m not sure what to say.

Do I simply tell them I was born in America and that at age 10 my parents kidnapped me and forced me to live in Australia? Or do I dig deeper into my family’s roots? Do I tell them that my mother’s parents were Russian, but she was born in France? Do I tell them my father’s ancestors were German, but his family lived in the Baltic States? Am I Russian? Am I German? Am I American or Australian?

Citizenship doesn’t matter here. I have dual Australian/American citizenship. Of the two I have always felt more American. I’m proud of the country where I was born and I always will be. But being proud of being born American doesn’t give me an identity, nor does it create a firm sense of belonging. Conversely it makes me feel even more alone seeing that most people I meet refuse to believe I’m American as I no longer have the accent. I am also happy I live in Australia. If I hadn’t have moved here I would never have had my wonderful boys. In a way I have no country, or maybe many countries.

I sometimes wish I had been born into a large family, one with traditions and celebrations and gatherings. But there was only ever me, my parents and my grandparents on my mother’s side. There was an awful lot of religion, but not much celebration and we were too few to gather.

Recently I’ve been piecing together my family history. It’s a fascinating task and one which will take me a long time to complete. Each time I find another bit of information, go down another path, uncover another fact, I’m finding out who I am and where I belong. It’s a work in progress, a journey rather than a destination and one day I might have the answers I’m looking for and the sense of belonging I need.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Finkler Question

I had planned to write this post reviewing this Man Booker Prize winning novel written by Howard Jacobson a few days ago. However it took me this long to finally finish reading the book. I haven’t had to physically make myself plough through a book for awhile now. The last time was when I forced myself to finish Tess of the D’Urbervilles and that took me over a year to read!

Thank goodness it only took just over a week to read The Finkler Question because I don’t think I could have coped with it any longer. From the first paragraph I knew I was going to hate the hero. Not only was he dull and boring, but he was also frustrating. I felt like clipping him over the ear and telling him to get a life. If he was a friend of mine, not that I would have such useless friends, I would have spent a fair bit of time trying to organise him into a functional person rather than an emotional leech.

I had read fabulous reviews about this book:

'A real giant. A great, great writer'

Jonathan Safran Foer

'The Finkler Question is wonderful. A blistering portrayal of a funny man who at last confronts the darkness of the world'

Beryl Bainbridge

'Naked, haunting, unflinching. Its account of sexual obsession is frightening, painful and finally very moving. A tour de force'

Harold Pinter

But I simply couldn’t see what they were seeing. No way was Treslove funny. He wasn’t even slightly amusing. He was purely annoying. Granted, Jacobson has a way with words. Some of his sentences are brilliant. But his characters are not so luminescent. They might have been real and true to life, but they weren’t the sort of characters I wanted to read about. I have more than enough questions about my own identity to want to read about someone else’s angst over their identity and whether they are Jewish, or feel Jewish or will ever be accepted as a Jew. There is more wringing of hands and wailing at walls in this book to ever interest me. I guess I prefer to read about people who overcome their childhoods or upbringing or disillusionments to achieve great things. I prefer not to read about those who drown themselves in continual torment and anguish, especially when there is no happy ending. Sorry – did I just spoil that for anyone???

So… onto the next book – Tim Winton’s “Breath”. Hopefully I will enjoy this one a tad more.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Procrastination and Challenges

So here I sit in front of the computer, supposedly working on my last Linguistics assignment for this semester, in reality writing this blog. I got a fabulous mark for my first Linguistics assignment – 86%, a high distinction. It should spur me on to writing another wonderful essay but I would rather be doing almost anything else.

On the bright side my topic is about blogging, so perhaps I can count it towards my assignment. But no, to be honest that won’t cut it. I’m writing on Gender and online participation, particularly on how many men comment on female blogs, using my blog as an example. The answer is not many - not on my blogs anyway. Luckily I only have to write an essay and not do the actual research. I haven’t been able to find much research in this area. There is a bit on blogging itself but not much on commenting.

Apart from the challenge of finishing this assignment by tomorrow night, not to mention just trying to start it, I’ve set myself another challenge. I’ve decided it’s well past time for me to walk the walk as well as talking the talk and write a novel with a view to publish, perhaps an autobiographical or semi-autobiographical novel. In order to do that, I felt I should really read the novels out there that have won the big prizes, the ones considered to be worth reading, good literature.

So, I’m going to read through at least the last ten Miles Franklin Award winners and the last ten Man Booker prize winners. I’m not reading for pleasure, I’m reading with a view to working out why they won. I’ve started on Peter Temple’s “Truth”, winner of the 2010 Miles Franklin Award.

To be honest the first sentence of “Truth” threw me. If I wasn’t reading for a purpose I probably would never have continued to read. I’m halfway through the book now and I can say the language confuses me, the characters confuse me, the plot (or plots) confuse me and I feel as if I’m lost in some sort of maze which is blanketed by fog, however I can’t put the book down. I mustn’t be the only reader confused by the characters as some previous reader has scribbled the names of the main characters in the blank pages at the back of the book with a description of who they are next to their names. I find myself regularly flicking to that page.

There is a lot of dialogue in “Truth”. I’m not comfortable with writing dialogue. I prefer descriptive writing but perhaps I should practise more with dialogue. Temple’s dialogue is just baffling. I often can’t make out who is talking or indeed what they are saying. He uses plenty of slang and innuendo, most of which is incomprehensible to me. But it does make me stop and think. This is a book I can’t just dart through. I actually have to read every word, or I find myself having to go back and re read passages.

I guess “Truth” is not the type of book I envisaged being chosen to win a literary prize. I’m now very interested in reading the other winners to see if there is a pattern in choosing winners. Will keep you updated!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

World Peace

I’ve just realised I haven’t posted anything for awhile and I feel extremely guilty. The last few weeks have simply flown by; I’ve been almost out of breath trying to catch up with life. There’s been work of course, which is just getting busier, my study – I’ve had to hand in two assignments, got one more to do and one exam to take before the end of semester, my once a week volunteer tutoring at an English conversation class and the usual home duties. I’ve also been attempting to read more than usual – not for study, but for pure entertainment. But I would only complain if I wasn’t busy and I get bored very easily.

Speaking of assignments, I was just finishing off the last one I handed in when I was startled by a TV announcement that breaking news was at hand. Of course it was the Osama Bin Laden killing that dominated all the TV stations from then on. In a not so politically correct way, I was a bit relieved that at least the Osama news guaranteed there would be no more coverage on the Royal wedding!

I was probably one of the few people in the world who did not watch the Royal wedding. Seriously, to have every free to air TV station showing the exact same footage of the wedding with only slightly different commentaries, was beyond me. Luckily we have pay TV and I watched the football instead! I know – I’m just different.

So Bin Laden is dead. I’ve thought a bit about this and I still haven’t come to a conclusion whether this is a good or bad thing. On the one hand I simply welled with pride at being an American at a time like this. On the other I can clearly see that someone out there will be planning repercussions. There are never any easy options left in this world. Every decision has some sort of consequence that could have global effects. I have to admit, I would hate to have the power to make those decisions.

I guess everyone remembers where they were on September 11 when the twin towers were destroyed. I certainly do and I will never forget the images I saw on TV. I was definitely roused to anger and disbelief and horror at what had happened. I don’t know how anyone can hate another human being that much and I’m saddened to think there is that level of hatred in the world that grows and spreads until more and more tragedies happen and more and more lives are lost.

I don’t put up with any form of racial or ethnic or religious intolerance from my boys. I hope I’ve taught them to try to see everyone as an individual before boxing them into some sort of generalised and usually prejudicial label. I believe that most prejudice comes from fear. We fear what we don’t know and if someone looks strange, or talks in another language or follows religious practices that we don’t understand, we fear them and their lifestyle. The Bin Laden’s of this world are just bullies who thrive on encouraging others to hate and seeing our reactions to their hatred. It’s a vain hope I know, but one day it truly would be wonderful if we could simply accept people for what they are and leave them to live their own lives just as they leave us to live ours. Just like all those Miss Universe hopefuls, I long for “world peace”…