Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

Under the Poppy

September 26, 2012

Author: Koja, Kathe

Title: Under the Poppy

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publication Date: 2010

Number of Pages: 360

Geographical Setting: unspecified city, most likely Brussels in Europe

Time Period: 1870’s

Series: N/A

Plot Summary: Under the Poppy is a book about a brothel with the same name in a historical city, possibly nineteenth century Brussels. Its setting of theatrical atmosphere and cabaret scenery coordinates perfectly with the flamboyant and vivid main characters. In the first part of the story three friends meet again after not seeing each other for years. Rupert, who owns the brothel, Decca, his co-owner and the madam of the place and who is in love with Rupert, and Istvan, Decca’s brother, with whom Rupert is in love. The complicated love triangle begins while Istvan, also a puppeteer master, comes back to town. It’s a story about the war too, from which Rupert and Istvan want to escape by getting involved in the circles of the upper class society of the decadent 1870s Brussels.

Koja’s use of language is undeniably genius, rich, refreshing, and engrossing; the entire story is eccentric and requires lots of patience for the extravagant style. It has plenty of distinct and provoking sex scenes, but they are tastefully written.

Subject Headings: Friendship; Sexuality; Gay Man; Nineteenth Century; Houses of Prostitution; Triangles (Interpersonal Relations); Puppetry; War and Love; History and Drama.

Appeal: fast-paced; intense and sophisticated prose; rich and unexpected dialogues and narrative; theatrical; flamboyant; refreshing language; decadent and dark world; text dense of double-maenings; heartbreaking drama; descriptive, sexy.

Three Terms for Book: theatrical scenery, engrossing prose, intoxicating characters.

Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

1. Carter, Angela, Nights at the Circus – Provocative touring circus among European Cities; gothic and magical scenery plus unconventional 19th century characters.

2. Diamant, Anita, The Last Days of Dogtown – Stories of an old Massachusets town in the 1800s, populated mostly by extraverted and decadent community members. It’s a piece of  quirky, uneasy, still very sensual Historical Fiction.

3. Valentine, Genevieve, Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti – Apocalyptic and Fantasy Fiction with an edgy and melancholy tone.  There are adventures of th post war circus Tresaulti’s Troupe. Gorgeous prose.

 Relevant Nonfiction Works and Authors:

1. Blumenthal, Eileen, Puppetry: A World History – Explores the ways puppetry played in the past cultural history of Western Europe and North America. Some photos can be shocking, but true to the topic.

2. Schwarzenbach, Annemarie, All the Roads Are Open: The Afgan Journey – This is the only one translated into English. A lyrical essay and memoir of Annemarie Schwarzenbach, who was a bohemian, free spirited, bisexual, cult figure in early years of the 20th century.

3. State, F. Paul, Historical Dictionary of Brussels – An interesting insight into hundreds of years of Belgium, Brussels, including the often colorful times of 19th century culture.


Nickel and Dimed

April 8, 2009

Author: Ehrenreich, Barbara

Title: Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America

Genre: Nonfiction (Current affairs, investigative reporting)

Publication Date: 2001

Number of Pages: 244 (paperback edition)

Geographical Setting: Key West, FL; Portland, Maine; Minneapolis

Time Period: 1998-2000

Series: N/A

Plot Summary: Shortly after telling a magazine editor that someone should go undercover as one of the working poor to expose what it’s like trying to live on the prevailing “unskilled labor” wage of $6 to $7 an hour job, Ehrenreich, then in her late 50s, winds up doing just that. Between 1998 and 2000, she works as a waitress—and for one day a hotel housekeeper—in Key West; as a nursing home aid and a maid in Portland Maine; and as a Wal-Mart “associate” in Minneapolis. Like many of the working poor, she sometimes attempts to work two jobs at once in order to make her rent, and she experiences what she aptly calls a sort of “repetitive injury of the spirit” as she endures callous supervisors, exhaustion, miserly tippers, drug and personality tests, clueless management and the monotony of corporate culture. And she witnesses worse: co-workers living in vans, going without health insurance, working while injured and more. Interspersed with Ehrenreich’s experiences as a wage slave and her compassionate depiction of the those whose work is deemed beneath a living wage—the nameless “benefactor”[s], to everyone else”—are statistics inserted as footnotes. Occasionally leavened by Ehrenreich’s wry humor, this is an insightful, candid, compelling and closely observed portrait of working class America that should be required reading for anyone who has stiffed a waitress or believes that hard work is always rewarded.

Subject Headings: Minimum wage; Unskilled labor; Poverty; Investigative reporting; Working poor; Working class.

Appeal: closely observed; compelling; insightful; compassionate; wryly humorous; telling detail; richly drawn portraits; sympathetic narrator; candid; thoughtful; ruminative; detailed; accurate; recognizable; realistic; thought-provoking; issue-oriented; investigative; moving; persuasive; accessible; engaging; muck-raking.

Relevant Fiction: Boyle, T. C. The Tortilla Curtain. (The working poor—here illegal immigrants—contrasted with yuppies. Unskilled labor, poverty, economic struggle, issue-oriented, compassionate, compelling) O’Nan, Stewart. Last Night at the Lobster. (Detailed portrait of a restaurant on its last day of operation. Restaurant workers, working class issues, economic struggle, detailed, realistic.) Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. (Expose of working conditions and workers’ lives at the beginning of the 20th century. Poverty, working poor, detailed, realistic, issue-oriented, compassionate, closely observed, muck-raking.)

Relevant Nonfiction: Hamper, Ben. Rivethead. (Memoir of assembly line life at General Motors. Working class issues, exploitative management, wryly humorous, sympathetic narrator, unfulfilling work). Shipler, David K. The Working Poor: Invisible in America. (Another portrait of those struggling to keep afloat, but more reportorial and statistic-laden than Ehrenreich’s “immersion” journalism. Sympathetic author, low wages, obstacles to financial stability, worker exploitation.) Conover, Ted. Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing. (Author goes undercover as a corrections officer/security guard at the infamous, maximum security prison. Immersion journalism, expose, firsthand account, high-stress jobs, insightful.)

Name: Laura