Tag Archives: Books

Same/Not Same

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“The impulse to write a book appears to run like a fever through those of us who’ve lived with apes,” declares Rosemary Cooke, the narrator of Karen Joy Fowler’s recent novel We are all Completely Besides Ourselves. Rosemary goes on to list those who came before her: “The Ape and the Child is about the Kellogs. Next of Kin is about Washoe. Viki is The Ape in Our House. The Chimp Who Would be Human is Nim.”

I’m no stranger to the genre of primate memoir, particular the stories of chimpanzees who were cross fostered and raised as human children to participate in language studies. I read Roger Fouts’ Next of Kin in college. It inspired me to learn American Sign Language and spend a summer with Washoe, Moja, Tatu, Dar and Loulis in Ellensburg Washington. It was at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute that I was then introduced to others who had spent their lives among apes. Like Rosemary, I discovered Leakey’s women: “…I checked out every book, I could find on the monkey girls‑Jane Goodall (Chimps), Dian Fossey (gorillas), and Birute Galdikas (orangutans)”

Years later, I read In the Kingdom of Gorillas, before a trip to Rwanda. When discussing primate memoirs, I cannot forget to mention Robert Sapolsky’s A Primate’s Memoir, which opens with the  line: “I had never planned to become a savanna baboon when I grew up; instead, I had always assumed I would become a mountain gorilla.”

Fowler’s novel is a fictional primate memoir, but hers is not the story of a researcher and his/her subject, but rather about the fate of the human children of researchers who were raised, briefly, with a chimpanzee. There’s not too much known about the human siblings of these cross-fostering experiments. Donald Kellogg was raised with the chimpanzee Gua for the first 19 months of his life. His parents terminated the experiment when Donald started picking up chimpanzee vocalizations rather than Gua picking up human ones. Later in life, Donald committed suicide in his early 40s.

Fowler’s story is loosely based on the Kellogg’s experiment, but also draws from other chimpanzees’ stories. The Cooke Family is based in Bloomington Indiana, where the Kelloggs did their research several decades earlier. At the time of writing the book, Fowler didn’t know the Kellogg’s had another child. Their daughter contacted Fowler after the reading the book. In an interview with BookSlut, Fowler notes “She was born about the time the experiment ended, so she has no memory of it herself, nor would her brother, who was only nineteen months old when the experiment ended. But she feels strongly that it completely deformed her family.”

In the beginning of Fowler’s novel, the reader learns only that our narrator, Rosemary Cooke, has a mysterious sister named Fern who disappeared when Rosemary was 5 years old and an older brother named Lowell who left home when she was 12. Rosemary only reveals the fact that Fern is a chimpanzee about a third of the way into the book. She has her reasons for withholding.

“I wanted you to see how it really was. I tell you Fern is a chimp and, already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. You’re thinking instead that we loved her as if she were some kind of pet.”

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Literary Animal:Reading India Blog Series on Brighter Green

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Coinciding with the release of Brighter Green’s Case Study on India, Veg or NonVeg? India at a Crossroads, I will be writing a series of blogs over at Brighter Green about the intersection of recent writings on India with issues raised in our case study: “Over the past several years, there has been a considerable amount of writing about modern(izing) India. From different angles, writers are witnessing and documenting a subcontinent undergoing significant shifts. The New York Times recently launched their first country specific blog, India Ink. At Brighter Green, we’ve been most interested in the social and environmental issues that are emerging with a changing country, a changing diet, and a changing climate.  Our recent paper and our videos on India’s chicken industry [now with over 50,000 views on Youtube!] and dairy and beef industries delve into this further. In this blog series, I hope to highlight writings on India and where they intersect with sustainability, equity, and rights, particularly in the context of food security and climate change.

Read Part I of this series: Red Sorghum and ‘F&B’  which discusses Siddartha Deb’s recent book, The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India.

Check out Part II of this series, which discusses AkashKapur’s article in the October 10, 2011 issue of the New Yorker“The Shandy: The Cost of Being a Cow Broker in Rural India.”  The article is an excerpt of his forthincoming book.  India Becoming: A Portrait of Life in Modern India.

Part III, of this installment of the Literary Animal: Reading India serieswill be a slight foray into linguistics, and discuss the language of violence and Katherine Russell Rich’s Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language.
Part IV of this series explores the prologue of Amitava Kumar’s book, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of his Arm a Tiny Bomb,  where a poultry farmer provides a glimpse into how  both the war on terror and  looks and avian flu have impacted the region of Walavati in Maharashtra State.
Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers is the subject of Part V of this series that explores corruption, justice, gender, and animal rights in slum called Annawadi, outside Mumbai’s airport.
 

Monkey Mind: On Nick Flynn, Bewilderment, Torture and the Circus

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In Nick Flynn’s memoir, The Ticking is the Bomb, he introduces  the Buddhist concept of “monkey mind,” the restless, bewildered, unsettled mind.  It is also the structure he adapts for the book.  Like a monkey swings from one branch to the next, Flynn’s memoir  swings from one story fragment to another.  It is a book about torture and impending parenthood; about reading and relationships. These seemingly disparate pieces echo and resonate with one another when juxtaposed (with great care and craft). The pages reveal a mind responding to all that he is reading, witnessing and feeling. ( Flynn quotes Fanny Howe:  “Bewilderement is a way of entering the day ”)

What I am drawn to in narratives is the intersection of the personal and the political.  How does violence  on a global level, or an intimate level, affect our lives, and how do we reconcile and respond to these injustices?

Flynn received an award from PEN for his first memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, the same night Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith won a sister award from PEN.   Flynn did not know then that Harris’ book advocates  torture, and what bewilders him even more was that Harris was given an award by a human rights organization for it.

Later, Flynn has the opportunity to go to Istanbul and meet with an Abu Ghraib ex-detainee, “Amir.”  “Now if asked, I’ll sometimes say, I went to Istanbul to bear witness, though at the time I was somewhat bewildered as to my role,” Flynn writes.

One of the parts of the book I found most interesting  is Flynn’s anyalysis of Standard Operating Procedures, the film and book project by Errol Morris and Philip Gourevitch. There is further corresponence between Flynn and Gourevitch on his website here. Flynn’s main criticisms are that Morris and Gourevitch take the story of the torturers at their word, and refer to the victims by the often times derogotary nicknames the military police gave them and not by their real names or dignified aliases.  And in one particular controversial passage, it seems Gourevitch suggests that the pictures look worse than things really were.  Flynn writes to Gourevitch: Read the rest of this entry

Hibakusha in NY: Ichi go, Ichi e

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There are so many stories about hibakusha—too many to absorb.  But there is always one story that will stay with you.  Always.  You just have to find it.”  These are the words a young woman “Ami” told Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, author of the memoir, Hiroshima in the Morning.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Rizzuto  weaves transcripts of her interviews of the atomic bomb survivors, the hibakusha, and her own narrative of piecing together this story, infusing the personal and political elements that shape memory and history.

It is UN Disarmament Week, and two hibakusha have come to New York to serve as ” Special Communicators for a World without Nuclear Weapons.”

Wan and I had a chance to hear them speak  at Teachers College in an event organized by the Peace Education program.

“Call me Grandma,” Kazue Sueishi told the intimate classroom that had filled to hear her story.  Born in America, Sueishi returned to Hiroshima as a child with her parents.   She recalled her parents talking fondly of America.  In her nursery school, she remembered being asked to draw something.  She drew something beautiful with lots of crayon colors, and when asked what it was,  she said, “America”

When the war started, she said.  She didn’t feel angry.  She saw a silver  American B-29 plane everyday.  She would refer to it as an angel.  “Good Morning Angel,” she would say.

On August 6, 1945, her family had finished breakfast (an American style breakfast she added).  She was 18 years old at the time and worked in a military factory.  She had a slight fever and stayed home sick that day.  She was out on the street with her friend when it happened.  Blue sky.  Powerful flash.  She covered her eyes with 4 fingers and ears with her thumbs, then slid to a safe spot  like a baseball player sliding into home base.  B-29 had left Hiroshima.  She talked about the burns on her father, how the school building collapsed on her brother.   She saw school children 5-6 years old escaping with their teacher, crying out for their mommies.   She had given them a drink of water and umeboshi pickles which soothed them temporarily.  Later she went to check on them, and all of them were dead.   That is the reality of the bomb.

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Hiroshima in the Morning; Brooklyn in the Afternoon

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It is a beautiful Sunday.  Mookie knows this before we do.  She lays her head on the side of bed, urging us to wake up.  I look at the clock.  We overslept and her vocal communications may have nothing to do with the weather out, and more to do with the fact that she really has to go.  Patiently, she waits as I throw on a hoodie and  pants over my PJs.  Poop bags and treats fill my pockets and we race across the street to the park.  It is gorgeous out, but our morning walk is quick, just enough to get her business done.  There seems to be some sort of a march.  Occupy Brooklyn, I wonder/hope?  No, there are legions in pink, a walk for—against—breast cancer.  They are beautiful, strong and expansive.  But it is too much stimulation for Mookie, and we retreat back home.

Wan and I prep veggies to go into tonight’s vegan chili.  He then drinks chia seed water and programs his playlist for his Sunday long run.  My husband is training for the upcoming New York City Marathon.  Today he plans to run 23 miles.  While Mookie sun bathes in the light pouring in our living room window, I ponder what I should do this afternoon.

Perhaps go for a run myself, or a bike ride?   I really should write.  Keep working on the manuscript; make edits to pieces to send out for submissions; tweak the ending of this; write the beginning of that.  I often feel that in my limited spare time I have to choose between exercise and writing; reading and sleeping.  There isn’t enough time for all, and I’m never satisfied in my progress in any.

I choose to read this afternoon.  Not one of the four books I’m currently immersed in for pleasure or research, but something new.

Rahna Reiko Rizzuto‘s, Hiroshima in the Morning, was just nominated for the Asian American Writers Workshop literary award in nonfiction.   I received a copy, a generous gift, at my first Associates Board meeting at the AAWW this Friday.

I was intrigued by the blurb on the back cover :

“….The parallel narratives of Hiroshima in the survivors’ own words, and of Rizzuto’s personal awakening show memory not as history, but as a story we tell ourselves to explain who we are.”

As I write my own stories that blend memory and history, I cherish examining other narratives and the choices made in their creation.   The very first page, the very first words, draw me in: Read the rest of this entry