Façade of Perfection

A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee

The meanings behind gestures usually differ from the meanings of gestures. Franklin Hata comes from a culture where gestures and “face” weigh a lot in summing one’s life. With a Korean heritage and Japanese upbringing, Hata struggles between intent and propriety. Chang-rae Lee paints a perplexed character where the world in his head differs from the one he habitats. Doc Hata acts against his intuition, and in his later years reflects upon these “proper” actions. Hata’s persistence in choosing propriety led him to a life with a deep sense of hollowness. Although his reflective questioning cannot redeem certain actions, it draws the reader in and forces them to measure what complicity means and shows its effects.

The novel begins by showing Hata as someone who lives his life like everyone else: owning a big house, trimming one’s yard, being cordial to neighbors, etc. In fact, it smells much like the white picket fence, 1.5 kids and a dog in a nice suburbia kind of American dream. However under this American beauty, a darker truths lie beneath. Hata, a typical hard-working immigrant creates a new life in a suburb, Bedley Run, which is about 50 miles outside of Manhattan. His life is a façade of well to do with a nice beautiful home, a profitable store and a seemingly well behaved daughter, Sunny. To top it off, the town people get friendly and give him an endearing nickname “Doc.” Looking deeper into his life, the reader discovers that he is estranged to his daughter and his public life drastically differs from his private life. After he sells his store and enters into retirement, Hata fills his idle time by steeping his own memories of a world he carefully tucked away.

“I could not quite accept the whole truth of it.” Hata admits that he becomes complicit to lies. “Although it was the most naïve and vacant of notions to think that anyone would willingly give herself to such a fate, like everyone else I had assumed the girls had indeed been “volunteers,” as they were always called.” Hata faulted himself for never been able to help the a comfort woman whom he developed feelings while serving his military duty in Burma. Due to his erroneous judgment, this woman suffered a tragic death.”

All I wished for,” Hata says, ”was to be part (if but a millionth) of the massing, and that I pass through with something more than a life of gestures.” A contradiction between emotion and action exists in this statement. Becoming a part of the mass requires a certain degree of gestures and gestures generally hold no meaning. In being a part of something, like in his soldier days, he detached himself by disabling his feelings so he can survive. However, instead of disposing this skill after the war, he lives his life with this ability and makes it a habit. He stays immaculate and cautious, never rocking the boat.

This detachment is the source to how he lost his daughter. ”All I’ve ever seen is how careful you are with everything,” she says to him. ”With our fancy big house and this store and all the customers. How you sweep the sidewalk and nice-talk to the other shopkeepers. You make a whole life out of gestures and politeness.” Hata loses his precision in speech upon this accusation. He is a man who lives as he knows best and what he knows best is decorum.

Chang-rae Lee allows the readers to feel the tenderness of one’s past and how solitude meditates on the past to create more lucid understanding of one’s present. The past always lingers in the shadows of one’s present and in this interchange readers are able to see one man’s life more fondly despite what may seem like faults. Hata elevates the preciousness of life to a level where it will make readers reflect upon their own lives and actions.

Dust in Her Eyes

Raising My Voice by Malalai Joya

As President Obama readies himself to increase troops in Afghanistan on top of the recent increase in drone attacks, Americans should become even more aware of our military’s actions and their outcomes.

Malalai Joya’s Woman Among Warlords gives perspective to a topic that is usually withheld by mainstream media. She provides historical context for United States involvement in Afghanistan. Her dialog never falters to show she is a strong, independent and willful woman unafraid to state her opinions and concerns.

Giving weight to her words, while serving in parliament, she voiced her disapproval of Afghanistan’s corrupt, young government. Despite verbal threats and five assassination attempts, she does not waver her harsh criticism and condemnation of Hamid Karzai’s government. She claims the warlords that currently serve as parliamentarians should be tried in International Criminal Court for their war crimes. The government cannot secure democracy if the parliamentarians are corrupt, have no concern for their citizens and have committed war crimes against humanity. This kind of continual criticism caused her banishment from parliament.

Her book, an autography, highlights the failure of U.S. and foreign (NATO and non-NATO nations) involvement in Afghanistan. She supports her viewpoint of removing all foreign troops in Afghanistan with testimonies, logistical reasons and personal experiences. Her provided solutions, though may not be viable immediately are completely valid.

Joya acknowledges that removing US and NATO forces may cause another civil war in Afghanistan. However, she also notes before removal of the foreign troops, disarmament of warlords is essential. Like with any other country, its freedom can only be secure from within. Afghanistan cannot change with bombardment of foreign infiltration and militaristic domination. Afghani lives are considered “collateral damage.” The body count is now higher than the sacrifices by armed forces based in Afghanistan. Woman and children make up the majority of these victims as they have the least amount of rights and power.

Although the book does not always flow linguistically, Joya’s plight and passionate fight for her people is always present. If all Americans and people of other Nations that have armed forces stationed in Afghanistan read her story, there will be a better sense of what should be done for the Afghanis. Nevertheless, the foreign forces maybe there for self-interest and not that of the Afghanis. American presence in Afghanistan is definitely not an oversight nor a mistake. Until the U.S. gets what it wants from a puppet government like Karzai, U.S. presence will increase. If Karzai decides not to play along, then he will find a way to get support from someone other than the U.S. While the government plays this courtship, the very people the U.S. government claims to fight for, suffer endlessly.


It is time to ask the Afghanis what kind of help they need and listen, if that is the U.S. and NATO intentions. There is no success when an outsider provides a solution for something that needs to be taken care of from the inside. Vietnam was a clear example of that. History repeats itself when governments make their mistakes a forgotten, distant memory to their people.

The Silver Lining

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I picked up this book at the American University’s book store in Cairo, Egypt. Afghanistan is nothing like Egypt, however, being in Egypt serves as a constant reminder of struggle. With obvious human struggles strewn before my eyes and reading about the Afghans fight for their freedom laid down a whole another color in the spectrum of tolerance and compassion.

Quick Summary: The characters in the beginning of the novel albeit a bit one dimensional give light to the everyday life in turbulent Afghanistan from the 70s into the 90s. The novel travels from the Soviet to Taliban to its current Warlord occupied state.

Hosseini drives the narrative from purely female perspective(s), which is at the core of how the readers get a sense of day to day life. The leading female characters, Laila and Mariam, through historical and political circumstances form a sisterhood to maintain their own livelihood and sanity. Their abusive husband, Rasheed, is a physical symbol of how women suffer radically under the Taliban regime. Although Hosseini puts the characters in situations that appear to have only bleak ends, he gives a fantastical romantic affair to Laila and makes Mariam’s sacrifice directly lead to Laila’s potential for happiness. These kinds of romantic insertions make the readers’ want to find that suffering will redeem itself.

Upon completing this book, my interest in Afghanistan reignited. Now, I’m reading a biography by Malalai Joya, her nom de plume. The book is “A Woman Among Warlords.” After meeting her, I feel compelled to get her perspective of Afghanistan’s situation on ground. Americans have been in Afghanistan at least since the 80s, assisting the mujahideen(s) to end the Soviet regime. I hope her book will have a realistic silver lining.

Khaled's Hosseini's Website
New York Time's Review
UK Guardian