Fortune Cookie

06/25/2011 at 3:44 AM (Adventure, Australian Literature, Books, Classics, Culture, Educational, Romance) (, , , )

After I read Fishing for Stars (you can read more about it in my previous posts), I had Bryce Courtenay cravings. Books can affect me this way just like cookies and cream flavoured ice cream. So I found myself Fortune Cookie. I was quite lucky because I looked it up on the library catalogue and while it said that it was on the Adult Fiction shelf, I could not find it. So I asked about it from the librarian, who told me it had only arrived a few minutes ago and handed it to me. They had not yet got to replace the returned books.

Basically Fortune Cookie is the story of a fourth-generation Australian born Chinese called Simon Koo who works in advertising but really wants to be an artist. Not a typical Asian stereotype, hmm? In any case his work gets him a promotion so he can try to manage on his own but it’s located in Singapore. Initially he’s not keen as his mum is always on the lookout for matrimonial prospects and that also was where she was born. But everything changes for the better when he meets Mercy B Lord, an orphan Chinese/Japanese girl who was raised by Catholic nuns and who works for an agency called Beatrice Fong. Her name came about when the nuns discovered heron the doorstep and said “Mercy Be, Lord!”

Fortune Cookie Book Cover

He soon falls in love with her and she seems receptive despite his peasant appearance and brick-like build, which can’t be described as handsome in the least. In addition, he has kept the fact that he is wealthy a secret in Singapore to keep his distance from gold-diggers. So he is thrilled when Mercy B Lord accepts and returns his love for her but she keeps disappearing every Thursday. She refuses to talk about it and says if he does bring it up, she will leave him. Unfortunately when his employers threaten him about his liaison with her, he brings up the forbidden subject. Then she packs up and leaves making him finally realise that her regular Thursday assignation is one of a dangerous sort.

To make up for her absence, he makes a painting of her and submits it to a Hong Kong art gallery competition. He captures the very moment that he realised he was in love with her in the painting and adds a symbol particular to a dream had by his ancestors to her gown’s collar. When the painting wins first prize, all is in uproar because Mercy B Lord has lost her anonymity. But Simon manages to see her in secret and she ensures that he doesn’t lose face by her being absent at a gala dinner honouring his painting.

Then Beatrice Fong dies and things start to fall apart again. Simon discovers the habitually drunk American ad man who is his partner and his illiterate Asian housemaid wife are not quite what they appear to be on the surface. His suspicions about his employers are confirmed to be true and he realizes that Mercy B Lord is involved with the drug trafficking trade in Thailand, Burma and also in Singapore, where handling these things were a hanging offence. But together with his friend Danvers and some high-powered people pulling strings, the two lovers are reunited to leave their doubts at rest once the mysteries are uncovered.

You might be wondering why the book is called Fortune Cookie? The story has nothing at all to do with ” a small, delicious cheap round wish cake“. Simon’s name is Kee Koo. He played rugby for his school and one of the school dad’s bet on his team. He won the game when the school had hardly ever won rugby before and the dad made a lot of winnings on the bet. So the winning dad asked Simon “what was his name?”   He said Koo. Then the father asked for his other name and Simon responded with “Kee”. Then the lucky dad said to Simon “You have won me a fortune, Koo Kee”.

Advertisements

Permalink 1 Comment

Fishing For Stars

06/19/2011 at 10:54 AM (Australian Literature, Books, Culture, Educational, Inspired, Politics, Romance, War) (, , , , , )

It actually has been a long while since I’ve read a Bryce Courtenay because work and volunteering has kept me on my toes. But on a recent jaunt to the library, I found a sequel to The Persimmon Tree. It’s called Fishing for Stars.

So shipping magnate Nick Duncan finds his life revolving around two women: Anna Til, the exotic but damaged Eurasian obsessed with profit and Marg Hamilton, ex-Navy wife and fanatical protector of nature’s treasures. These characteristics give the two women who are loath to let Nick Duncan belong solely to the other have two vindictive names to call each other: Princess Plunder and Green Bitch. The settings are interesting as it involves the Yakuza in Japan, the military environment of Indonesia, the Pacific Islands and parts of Australia. But this is a story narrated by flashback.

Penguin Fishing for Stars Book Cover

Nick is grieving after losing Anna to breast cancer and is suffering from bad dreams harking back to WWII. Marg decides this is possibly the onset of PTSD and finds him an appropriate specialist. On the advice of his psychologist, Nick decides to put his story on paper; the tale of how he has lived since being a war hero. He writes about the lifelong contest of the two women and how he tried to keep each to their separate worlds until he was forced to take action.

The struggle to save Lake Pedder annoyed me with the weight given to all the politics involved but nevertheless the information was so educational that it was easy to forgive this aspect. The take on Anna Til being a BDSM dominatrix with vaginismus who had a smack habit she couldn’t kick but was cool as a cucumber in making multi-million dollar business deals was a bit much. The habit did not really count as a flaw if it didn’t impact on her ability to be a rational and calculating negotiator. Marg was described in a better and believable way but I think this book focused more on what she did than her as a character.

Still, if you have read The Persimmon Tree, reading the aftermath in Fishing for Stars is not a bad experience even if the history is rehashed for the benefit of those with poor memories. You will always be sure to learn something entirely new in the case of this writer.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Books by the Bronte Sisters

06/12/2011 at 6:39 AM (Books, Classics, Movies, Romance, TV) (, , , , , , , , , )

Once upon a time there were three sisters living in Haworth called Charlotte, Emily and Anne.  These sisters each wrote a masterpiece of literature. By the way, these sisters did have other siblings who made no literary contributions but played a part in inspiring their use of characterisation.

The eldest sister, Charlotte Brontë, wrote Jane Eyre; she used the pseudonym Currer Bell to get a better reception by using a male name. The story of the orphan governess who falls in love with her mysterious employer who has a dark secret with its Gothic overtones is currently hailed as a raging success. I first remember reading Jane Eyre as a nine-year-old, tears streaming from my eyes at the cruelty endured by the poor girl and being furious on learning she could have lived with an uncle who genuinely loved her. Because I still enjoy the story in its adapted forms, I will refer you to this 2006 version of Jane Eyre starring Toby Stephens as Mr Rochester. I like the television adaptations better than the motion pictures, even the one with Orson Welles and Elizabeth Taylor.

wuthering-heights-by-emily-bronte

 

The middle sister, Emily Brontë, wrote Wuthering Heights; she used the pseudonym Ellis Bell for the same reason as her sisters. The tale of intrigue between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw is now considered a classic tale of English literature but its reception was mixed as some regarded the depiction of their turbulent relationship as being over the top. This was something I borrowed from the public library and I had my ear chewed off as a ten-year-old for reading it during Sunday school. To be honest, this is my least favourite of the masterpieces by the sisters but to each their own. If you are interested in watching Wuthering Heights, I suggest the film in which Ralph Fiennes plays Heathcliff. It actually includes the second part unlike the one Laurence Olivier is in.

The youngest of the writing sisters, Anne Brontë, wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; she used the pseudonym Acton Bell. The sad and controversy arousing tale of the alcoholic Arthur Huntingdon, his son Arthur and pious Helen Graham/Helen Huntingdon was a phenomenal success and even outsold Wuthering Heights. It’s kind of odd it has seemed to fall into neglect now. But then in the Victorian ages, the attitude of Helen was a victory for women because she overturned some rules concerning sexist gender politics by slamming her bedroom door after being abused. This is my second favourite of the sisters’ novels and the one that moved me most emotionally.  To see it play out before your eyes, I suggest you watch the recent BBC mini-series starring Rupert Graves as Huntingdon.

Sadly all the sisters died very young. Charlotte was 38, Emily was 30 and Anne was 29. But it cannot be denied each of them has made a significant contribution to literature and has enriched it before passing on.

Permalink 4 Comments

Water For Elephants (Film)

06/05/2011 at 8:31 AM (Action, Historical, Movies, Romance) (, , , , , , , , , )

Water for Elephants – based on the novel by Sara Gruen – is a film typical of old Hollywood and is reminiscent of the film fare from the 1930s. It starts out with an older Jacob Jankoski (Hal Holbrook) who has escaped the confines of his retirement home when his son forgot a due visit. So we see him approach a circus and talk to the ticket seller who first sees him as a nuisance. But when he begins to tell the tale of how he joined the circus as a young boy, the narrative captivates his audience of one.

We learn how Jacob (Robert Pattinson) was left penniless as a young Cornell college student. His aspirations of becoming a vet are cut short until by coincidence he ends up as a stowaway on the train carrying the Benzini circus. Pattinson actually does a good job in this movie by shovelling manure, feeding lions and diagnosing illness in circus animals – you can almost forget he is also the sparkly vampire heart-throb of teenage fans. Jacob is first treated with some respect by the circus master because of his education but after witnessing the cruelty his employer inflicts on a young elephant with a bull hook, the initial bit of camaraderie between them fizzles. His boss, August (Christoph Waltz) is of unpredictable temper, which can sometimes be very violent and tends to make everyone deferential towards him; this includes his young and beautiful wife, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) of Marilyn Monroe-esque locks whom he regards as his star attraction.

Water for Elephants Movie Poster

So when Jacob falls in love with Marlena, it creates a dangerous situation for both of them. August is a commanding man capable of terrible cruelty to the animals, to his employees and even to his wife. The representation of the Great Depression and the impact that it had on the circus was beautifully conveyed through period costumes, mood lighting and the overall atmosphere of chaos. In my opinion, I felt the husband and wife shared more chemistry than the wife and her lover. Most of Jacob’s chemistry seemed to be directed toward Rosie (Tai), the elephant. Also, while Reese Witherspoon seems to have improved from her role in How Do You Know, Marlena still seemed lacklustre perhaps because they did not give her enough depth as a character ; it was as if she was a pretty face who could do some stunts but is only a possession. So when Jacob has Marlena run away with him, he realises August will not rest until he has his vengeance. Being a little careless about where they stay allows Marlena to be taken away from him after thugs loyal to August give him a hiding. So he carefully plans a way to return and release Marlena from her brute of a husband.

It will suffice to say this strategy of his meets with some complications along the way but Jacob ultimately achieves his goal. Directed by Francis Lawrence whose previous directing credits include I am Legend and Constantine, here you have a film that relies heavily on mood and setting instead of CG rendering and special effects.

Permalink Leave a Comment