An Ocean Apart, A World Away by Lensey Namioka

An Ocean Apart, A World Away by Lensey Namioka
Publisher: Laurel Leaf | 2003 (first published 2002) | 197 pages
Buy on Amazon

The synopsis that’s printed at the back cover of the book urged me to buy and read it. It’s about a gutsy 16-year-old Chinese girl from post-Revolution China and she needs to make an important choice. A) Go to medical school to achieve her dream of becoming a doctor. B) Run off with the exciting Liang Baoshu who has confessed his feelings for her.

Yanyan is not a girl who bows down to conformity. She is fascinated by science, the treating of wounds and health improvement. That’s why she wants to study medicine so she can become a doctor and save other people’s lives. Lucky for her, her father fully supports her decision considering it’s 1921 in China where women rarely attend university.

Yanyan’s Eldest Brother is taking martial arts lessons and Liang Baoshu is his classmate. Baoshu and Yanyan got better acquainted while on a trip to Shanghai where she was going to say goodbye to a friend who’s going to work in America. After an unpleasant incident at a dangerous Shanghai alley, Liang Baoshu became even more impressed with Yanyan’s courage.

When he asked her to accompany him on his quest to restore the Manchu’s Qing Dynasty, Yanyan has to decide fast. If she were to follow him, she’d need to ditch her plans of studying medicine. It would also break her parents’ hearts if she went off with Baoshu. Her father has high hopes of seeing his daughter succeed in the sciences and to bring about changes for the development of the country.

She finally made up her mind to refuse Baoshu’s offer and prepared to sail off to America to Cornell University. For her, it’s career first, love put on hold. In America, she managed to make a few new friends who helped her overcome her culture shock.

I found An Ocean Apart, a World Away an entertaining and informational book. It’s a small paperback and cost only RM12 at Popular. I found it at the Bargains’ section. It was indeed a lucky find!

Issues of prejudice and stereotype were also cleverly incorporated into the story. For example, Chinese girls were expected to be good at cooking and embroidery. Well, Yanyan can’t cook a simple dish to save her life. She doesn’t even know how to cut vegetables!

Another assumption is that Western men with big noses can’t speak a word of Mandarin. Yanyan, her Eldest Brother and Baoshu discovered the contrary in an embarrassing situation on the train to Shanghai. Eldest Brother and Baoshu were insulting the Westerner in Mandarin without knowing that he can understand every word they said! Lesson to be learnt: Never speak ill of others in their presence, even if you think that they can’t understand!

I found the ending quite unfinished actually. I’ll have to read Ties That Bind, Ties That Break, which is the companion novel to this one.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My Review:

Another book on the Holocaust. The last book I read which was set during the same time was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. Such books are always sad and get the readers all worked up with all its horror and misery. Makes you relieved that you didn’t have to go through all of it.

I was sobbing away while reading the ending of The Book Thief. Yes, this book has that effect on you especially if you’re an emotional kind of person. I don’t wish to reveal the ending but I’ll tell you the beginning.

This book received a lot of attention and praises that I had really high expectations from it. However, the first 50 or 60 pages didn’t impress me much. I wasn’t used to the odd, short paragraphs and short sentences. But as I went on, the reading became enjoyable and I found myself lost in Liesel’s story.

As most of us who have already read or have an idea on what the book’s about, the narrator is Death. Death? Sounds frightening and morbid, don’t you think? Actually, it’s anything but that. Death sounds kind of melancholic and it’s (or he???) obsessed with talking about colours. I did not care about the colours though. Also, it’s not a totally depressing book. There are parts that can make you laugh too. Seriously, Death can also joke.

Okay, so I read about Liesel’s story. She’s the book thief because she steals books so she can read them later. While travelling to Munich with her mother and brother on a train, her brother dies. He was only six. Liesel would be sent to live with foster parents at Himmel Street. That was in 1939. She does not meet her mother again.

Liesel’s foster parents are Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Hans is a really cool and kind foster father. The total opposite of his loud-mouthed, cursing wife, Rosa. Because of his caring and calm nature, Liesel warms up to him. He comforts her when she wakes up from recurring nightmares of her dead brother and he teaches her to read after those nightmares. He’s like the father she never had.

Anyway, Liesel makes new friends with the kids from her neighbourhood, particularly with her neighbour, Rudy Steiner, who obviously likes Liesel a lot and is always asking her for a kiss whenever the opportunity seems right. Rudy and Liesel become best friends and they always go on stealing sprees together.

I guess my favourite character in the book would be Max Vandenburg. He’s a Jew and with the Hubermanns’ help and permission, he hides in their basement. He feels sorry for putting them to so much trouble but they can’t turn away a man whose father once saved Hans’ life. The sub-chapter, “Liesel’s Lecture”, was an emotional one. It’s where Hans tries to make Liesel understand the danger of spilling out an absolutely dangerous secret, which will ultimately cause unpleasant events.

Liesel and Max, they too become friends. Liesel would find newspapers for him to read and do crossword puzzles. They would sit together in the basement, each doing their own reading. They share a strong bond and you could feel Liesel’s sadness and sorrow when they’re separated later.

All in all, it’s a riveting and keeps you glued to the pages kind of book. It does not have a strong introduction but if you keep on reading, you won’t regret it. Of course, I assume that you’ll keep on reading to find out what happens to all the characters. Read the book and I hope you’ll like it like I do.

Other Bloggers’ Reviews: Nymeth, Laura, Leah, Kristine, Reading Monk, Rimi, Natasha, Alessandra, nylusmilk, Zeek, Tricia, Fresh Ink Books, Aaron, The Book Coop

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Wow! This is how I’d describe The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas which is about a 9-year-old boy named Bruno. Bruno comes home one day to find the maid packing his clothes and things. He discovers that they have to move to a place he calls ‘Out-With’. It’s actually Auschwitz but Bruno’s too young and ignorant to know the real name of the place.

Anyway, the whole family, that is, Father, Mother, Gretel or The Hopeless Case, and Bruno have to move because Father has been given an important job by The Fury (Führer). Bruno is reluctant to leave his home in Berlin and also his 3 best friends for life, Karl, Daniel and Martin. He just doesn’t like the idea of moving to a whole new place at all.

When they arrive at their new 3-storey lifeless-looking house, Bruno feels that the place is devoid of any real joy and laughter. Then, in his own room, through his window, Bruno sees the concentration camp and its inhabitants. He sees only grown-up men and young boys but no women. He’s curious as to why they were all wearing the same grey striped pyjamas and were looking gloomy. Bruno’s only 9 and nobody will want to tell him who he’s really looking at. Even Gretel, his older sister, can’t think of anything suitable to explain the people they saw through the window.

Bruno wants to be an explorer when he grows up. He has always enjoyed exploring at his old 5-storey Berlin house and since the new house is not even worth exploring, he decides to take his exploration outdoors. Without anyone knowing, he walks towards the concentration camp and at a fence, he accidentally meets a small Jewish boy. Bruno’s pleasantly surprised to find out that both of them share the same birthday. The boy, who calls himself Shmuel, is just happy to sit and talk to Bruno. Bruno is delighted to have made a new friend.

Each day, they’ll sit and exchange stories about their different lives. Shmuel will tell Bruno about how he came to his ‘new home’ and how his mother had been taken away. Bruno listens but doesn’t really understand that his new friend is suffering. He assumes that there are vegetable and fruit stalls in the camp. He’s also jealous that Shmuel seems to have many friends to play with while he has nobody but Gretel and she was a Hopeless Case.

The friendship between the two lonely boys is endearing and it reminds me of the two boys from The Kite Runner. I finished this book in one day as it’s quite easy to read. It’s written like a book for children but I think that only older children should read it. Younger children might not really understand and also to handle the ‘heaviness’ of the story although it’s written in a light way! Parents may need to explain things to them though.

There’s no doubt that it’s an utterly good book which everyone should read. In a way, it’s about history but history only takes up a small portion of the book. It’s more about Bruno’s young life and his chance encounter with his new friend. Moreover, it’s a relatively sad story and I won’t be able to forget it for a long time.

Other Bloggers’ Reviews: Marg, nylusmilk, Papercuts, Steven, Carol, KittyCat, Natasha, Alice, Trish, Melody, Alessandra