Genre: Autobiography

Maid – Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive

Maid - Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive
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Publisher:
Published: January 22, 2019
Stephanie Land writes about poverty in America, being a single mom, being on welfare, and surviving intimate partner abuse. She writes about her experience working as a maid while she supports herself and her daughter and studies to be a writer.

When I read this book, I knew right away that the reactions would be polarizing. There will  be a lot of people who will hate it, and a lot like me who will identify with it somehow. I think that people who have never been poor will benefit a lot from reading it. The very first chapter of the book drew me in an kept me reading, and it made such an impact on me because the scenario she described there is somewhat familiar. If you’ve ever been poor at some point in your life, many of the things she wrote here will resonate with you.

The  book goes back in forth to her past and present. She didn’t grow up poor, but it showed how a series of events and decisions led her to a path of poverty. She shows what being poor in America looks like for many people, and it’s far from the stereotype that people on welfare are all lazy. More often than not, those who work hardest are paid least for their backbreaking labor.

Land writes about the stigma of being poor, that feeling of never doing enough, and the debilitating guilt of not being able to provide better for her child. She writes about some things that some people may not understand or identify with, like why poor people may often spend their money on what others may consider frivolities. She writes about how being poor means that you’re one unforeseen expense away from spiraling out of control. An accident, an illness, any sudden expense may upset the budget that’s already stretched extremely thin and end up in homelessness. Every moment of every day is lived on a precarious edge. For some people, losing a month’s paycheck is a hardship; for some, it sets off a series of events that will take a long time and a lot of effort to recover from.

She writes about the attitude of people towards those like her who are on welfare and uses food stamps, and honestly it made my heart ache. It’s so easy to dehumanize people who are poor without even bothering to learn why and how they got there.

Being from a third world country, it fascinates me how many welfare programs there are in the US. They’re not perfect, and there are so many paperwork to submit and hoops to jump through before you can qualify for them, but they’re there. People can really apply for them and these programs can be very instrumental in helping people get back on their feet. It’s so different from the experience of being “third world poor”, where there’s no single real, functioning welfare program in place. I read about these programs with a hungry heart, wondering if my country will ever get to the point where the government cares for the most vulnerable members of society.

The writer does not romanticize poverty, though she does recognize that the things that are the sources of happiness in her life are those that can’t be purchased with money. It’s not whole chapters of whining, but an appeal to see struggling people as people. To really see and have empathy for them and not just dismiss them. She writes about having to fight for every single dollar as she lives among what seemed like inaccessible prosperity around her. She writes about how alone she feels, not just because she had separated from her abusive partner and is raising her daughter alone, but because practically all of her family had checked out of her life. She also writes about the sprinkling of people she encountered who treated her as their equal, who respected the work that she is doing and the effort she is making to survive. To them, she’s “Stephanie”, not just “the maid”.

I really loved reading this book. It’s one of those books that you wish was a lot longer than it is.

Infidel

Infidel
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Publisher:
Published: 2006
A brilliant, captivating memoir by Ayaan Hirsi Ali recounting her traditional Muslim upbringing in Somalia, then Saudi Arabia, and Kenya. It recounts her intellectual awakening and self-emancipation and the cost of her life's advocacy. (SOME SPOILERS BELOW)

I found this book both hard to put down and hard to read because of the writer’s story. I find Ayaan Hirsi Ali very brave to even write this memoir. I am unsure of how I feel about the part of her belief that Islam needs to be reformed because I am unfamiliar with the teachings and texts of the religion. But taking this book as a memoir and basing her arguments on all that she has witnessed and experienced living in different Muslim countries, I find her arguments compelling.

Her story offers a rare look into a window that isn’t always open for us to peek into, as outsiders. Her writing is clear, concise and rational. Writing this book came at great personal cost to her, and I respect that a lot. There are many things about her life that one can consider a fortunate turn of events that helped her along her journey to her intellectual awakening–the fact that her father insisted on giving his daughters an education, that he was often away which meant he could not arrange her marriage early in life like what happened to her peers, that she was educated and found access to books, etc. Books became her window to a different culture, one where a woman isn’t her father or husband’s property, where she has the right to make her own decisions on her body and on other aspects of her life. These books planted seeds of hope and longing for a way to exist for herself instead of for others.

Her arguments against Islam’s claim to be a religion of peace are passionate but very clearly laid out and supported by her own experiences and the histories of the countries that she called her home at some points in her life.

The courage to write this book and put her beliefs on paper in order to include the reformation of Islam in political debates is hard won. It must have taken great courage to put her religion, undoubtedly the cornerstone of her life, under scrutiny. It’s an eye opening book, and it makes me think about the things that I take for granted in my daily life, living as a woman in my country where I can choose who (and if) I marry, have a career if I want to, go anywhere on my own and assert my right to my own body.

A very compelling read, no matter what your political and religious beliefs may be.

Blankets

Blankets
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Author:
Published: July 1, 2003
A coming of age autobiographical graphic novel written and illustrated by Craig Thompson. It's about his childhood memories and traumas, the Evangelical church that shaped much of his childhood and influenced his young adulthood, and his first love.

As far as I can tell, this is the first graphic novel that I ever read, and only because a friend recommended it. There’s much about this story that I found I could relate to. The character describes his childhood traumas in such subtle but graphic details, without a lot of words but in a very impactful way nevertheless.

He writes about his relationship with his younger brother, which is equal parts loving and competitive.

He writes about his disillusion with organized religion, particularly his family’s religion. As somebody who grew up in Sunday School, I can truly understand what he is trying to describe. Even if you didn’t grow up in Sunday School, I suppose you can still understand his message. How his concept of God was rooted more in fear than in love. How church took up a whole lot of family time. How Christians are sometimes out of touch and out of reach, unable to truly connect with people who need them. How church can sometimes be filled with overused platitudes but, again, being unable to truly connect with people who are in pain.

For the writer, this resulted to a break with his relationship with his church, not necessarily with God. As he goes through young adulthood, he had a hard time reconciling his very natural, normal feelings with his Christian faith. My issues with organized religion was not resolved the same way his was, but I can definitely see where he is coming from.

A bulk of the story is also about his first love. It’s cute, sweet, heart wrenching, tummy twisting all at the same time. Even the family issues of the girl he likes are described in such beautiful details, albeit without so many words. Going through all the stages of this first love brings back memories.

The illustrations were fascinating. Each page is a work of art that I really enjoyed looking at. It lent the story more emotions, like the writer is showing in both words and drawings the nuances of each moment. I think I enjoyed most the pages that had no words. The author had a way of using “silent” pages to let you breathe and feel for a moment before you move on. It’s quite beautiful.

Overall, it’s a beautiful book. I appreciated both the story and the artistic effort that went into each page.

The Hiding Place

The Hiding Place
Category:
Publisher:
Published: 1/1/1971
During the World War II, Corrie Ten Boom and her family helped many Jews escape Nazi Germany. They were eventually captured and sent to concentration camps. The books isn't about the horrific conditions inside the camps though (even if it gives a very graphic account of it), it's about the grace of God that has enabled her to survive, live without bitterness, and find the strength to forgive.

I bought a copy of this book through my Kindle a few weeks ago. I haven’t heard of Corrie Ten Boom until Philip Yancey mentioned her in one of his books that I read a few years ago, but I had forgotten all about her until now. I bought the ebook because it popped up in my recommended books, I wasn’t prepared for the emotional journey it was going to take me on from the first page to the last.

The book’s first scene opened on the 100th anniversary of their family business, Ten Boom Horlogerie. The first few pages made a great impact on me because Corrie was able to describe the warmth and light that pervaded her community before the holocaust, and at the same time, inserted little glimpses of the near future that awaited her, her family and friends, like thin slivers of shadows in a beautifully-lit scene. I loved the way that she narrated the story of her life and described people. I found myself laughing out loud at her descriptions sometimes. She had this wholesome, delightful humor that wasn’t trying hard to be funny. In fact her story telling technique was so fluid; she wasn’t trying to be profound, she was just trying to tell her story. She had me both laughing and crying while reading the book.

She picked an interesting time to start her narration, because it described very well how that hateful darkness had begun take root. It shows how something can start out as a tiny dark cloud in the horizon, catching people unaware until it’s upon them. Corrie’s family is amazing. Their devotion to God, their desire to live in a way that pleases Him, their humility in surrendering their lives as a tool for His good work, everything about their testimony as individuals and as a family left an indelible mark on me.

This book details how the horror of the Holocaust unfolded around them, first as an angry voice on the radio from another country, until it crept into their home. The thread that weaves the chapters together is God’s grace, and the journey through the book from start to end was life-changing. Though the book tells of the heartbreaking experiences inside the concentration camps, when viewed in the light of God’s love, the family’s baffling, grace-filled reaction to an unspeakably horrible experience becomes easier to understand.

It’s definitely a must-read.