Monday, February 20, 2012

Hope Gala and THON '12 UPDATE

Super exciting news to report:  The Hope Gala (that I photographed a few weeks ago) raised an awesome $27,760 for the kids!  Here are a few of my favorite shots from the event.

Also, in related awesomeness, THON celebrated it's 40 year anniversary over the weekend by raising an inspiring $10,686,924.83 for the Four Diamonds Fund!!!  So proud of to be a PSU alum!  Congratulations to all involved!  FTK!!!

Review: The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

title: The Lake [purchase here]
author: Banana Yoshimoto
genre: fiction
pages: 188
source:  New York Public Library

It was this blurb on The Millions about Yoshimoto's The Lake being shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize that prompted me to pick it up:

"The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto: She’s big in Japan, inspiring a cult following and selling upwards of six million novels, but Banana Yoshimoto will always polarise opinion. Critics may be tempted to call her Murakami-lite, given her fondness for the same kind of broad subjects as her heavyweight compatriot – ultra-modern and slightly otherworldy paeans to urban restlessness. But that comparison probably doesn’t do Yoshimoto too much justice. Certainly, Murakami could learn from her brevity. The Lake revolves around the relationship between two fragile students, Chihiro and Nakajima. Nakajima bears the scars of a terrible past, and the plot – such as it is – concerns Chihiro’s attempts to figure him out (complete with a visit to a couple of Nakajima’s mysterious old friends who live in a run-down shack by the side of a conveniently misty lake). It has its moments, and her champions – of whom there are many – will doubtless shout her claims from the rooftops. But if this was the best book to come out of Asia this year then I’m – well – a Banana."

After reading The Lake, I'm planting myself firmly on Team "Murakami-lite."  I'd even argue that although 1Q84 could have done with a bit of editing, Yoshimoto has far more to learn from Murakami in terms of character development and literary language.  Yoshimoto's narrative is spare, almost arid.  I had expected her style to be simple, but not barren. What drew me to the book was all the buzz I'd read about the story.  The story was supposed to be so compelling, so mysterious...I just didn't find it so.  I just don't get what all the fuss is about.  

Back when I was a teacher, one of the teaching points we spent a lot of time on during the Writer's Workshop was the concept of "show not tell" when developing a character.  Granted, I was teaching first and second grade, where "show not tell" was incredibly basic (read: instead of telling me you felt sad, show me what you said and did and looked like that would let your reader know that you felt sad).  Yoshimoto could brush up a bit on her "show not tell" technique.  The story is written in first person from the perspective of Chihiro, an artist who starts a relationship with a young man who lives across the street.  Instead of letting the reader infer how Chihiro is feeling or evolving over the course of the story, nine times out of ten Yoshimoto has Chihiro just tell us in a super straightforward manner, which seems a bit elementary.  Maybe it was an intentional stylistic decision, but for me, it felt too easy. 

Rubric rating:  4. If this was the best book to come out of Asia this year then I'm--well--stunned.  

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Please consider making a donation to help fight pediatric cancer!

As some of you know, I work frequently as a freelance photographer, and tonight I have the honor of shooting the Hope Gala, a Penn State alumni fundraiser for the Four Diamonds Fund, an amazing organization that raises money to not only fund pediatric cancer research but also to help families deal with the huge expense of caring for a child with cancer.   Please consider making a donation to this incredibly important organization here.

On a personal note, it's been a rough year to be a Penn State alum.  Sandusky's inexcusable and horrific actions against children shocked and disgusted our community.  The we lost Joe Paterno, and quickly after taking our time to be furious with him for not doing more to protect children from Sandusky, there was the complex task of how to mourn his death.  No person is one thing, and cannot be defined by one decision or one action, so after his death, many of us chose to put aside that anger and mourn the man many of us would like to remember him as.  What has continued to frustrate me throughout the Penn State scandal has been the affect it has had on student fundraising efforts for the Four Diamonds Fund.  THON, a dance marathon fundraiser for the Four Diamonds fund, is one of, if not the largest student philanthropy in the world.  We raise millions of dollars for cancer research and treatment each year to help make a dent in the enormous cost of caring for children with cancer in Pennsylvania. THIS is the face of the university many Penn State students and alum wish those not lucky enough to be part of the Penn State family would recognize.  Please consider making a donation here for the kids, or as we say, FTK.

Review: Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak

title: Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
author: Jean Hatzfeld
genre: nonfiction
pages: 244
source: New York Public Library

"I think, moreover, that no one will ever line up the truths of this mysterious tragedy and write them down--not the professors in Kigali and Europe, not the groups of intellectuals and politicians.  Every explanation will give way on one side or another, like a wobbly table.  A genocide is a poisonous bush that grows not from two or three roots, but from a whole tangle that has moldered underground without anyone noticing." ~Claudine Kayitesi, page 206

Journalist Jean Hatzfeld made several journeys to Bugesera in the late 1990s to interview the men, women and children who survived the Rwandan genocide, where 5 out of 6 Tutsis were brutally massacred by their Hutu neighbors over the period of several weeks.  This book is a collection of those interviews where the survivors, in their own words, describe life before, during and since the genocide.  Each survivor's story is preceded by Hatzfeld's delicate and vivid impressions of Bugesera's community.  

What struck me most was the bravery, openness and honesty with which each survivor spoke, as each relayed their own history bare and tried to make sense of it.   Some powerful quotes:

"In my memory, the genocide was yesterday, or rather, last year, and it will always be just last year, because I can detect no change that will allow time to return to its proper place."  ~Edith Uwanyiligira, page 173.

"We wrapped our fears in the leaves of silence."~Berthe Mwanankabandi, page 183

"The genocide pushes into isolation those it could not push into death."  ~Berthe Mwanankabandi, page 188

"We were forgotten by time, which must have continued to pass for others--Hutus, foreigners, animals--but no longer wished to pass for us."~Claudine Kayitesi, page 200

"A genocide is a film projected every day before the eyes of the survivors, and there's no point in interrupting it before the end." ~Sylvie Umubyeyi, page 222

"I feel that fear is eating away at the time luck has saved for us...[b]ecause if you linger too long with the fear of genocide, you lose hope.  You lose what you have managed to salvage from life.  You risk contamination from a different madness." ~Sylvie Umubyeyi, page 234

This collection is what I had hoped for when reading Burmese Refugees: Letters from the Thai-Burma Border.  Hatzfeld does an incredible job creating the platform from which the survivors teach us about the best and worst of humanity.  Powerful, moving and carefully wrought.  

Just a word of advice:  I chose this book as my subway read because it was compact...not a good call. I found myself frequently tearing up as I read each gripping account of survival.   I'm not big on crying in public...little awkward for my fellow commuters!!  Sorry about that!!

Rubric rating: 8.  I'm looking forward to reading the companion piece Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak.