Monday, November 3, 2008

Nighttime Reading

I read a lot, but I haven't really had the brainpower to tackle any substantial reading for a while. In an attempt to return to my literary roots, I picked up Joyce Carol Oates' The Gravedigger's Daughter. I hadn't read any of her books, but I've always read phenomenal things about her work.

The book isn't a difficult read, but it is depressing. I haven't quite finished it, but three-quarters of the way through, I have to say that it is a heartbreaking tale of immigration gone wrong, and the repercussions that has through the generations. The back of the book describes it as "distinctly 'American'". Filled with disappointment, death, and abuse, I really didn't want to admit that this represented a story about America. But then I thought about how the majority of us are children of immigrants. While we may not all have experienced the extent of despair that this family did, at some point or another, our families, whether as immigrants in the recent past or many decades ago, experienced a difficulty adjusting to this new land. Being a second generation American on one side of my family and third generation on the other side of my family, I can relate.

Rebecca, the only person in her German family to be born an American (just barely, by virtue of her mother giving birth on the ship as they arrived), does not experience that "All-American" life that we envision from a nostalgic view of mid-century America. Instead, she endures her hardships and slogs on. She pushes her life forward, not necessarily heroically. As a legacy fro her self-loathing father, for a large portion of the book, she completely denies the immigrant part of herself. Consequently, she continues onward not for herself, but to create a better life for her son.

That seems to be the classic story of immigration, done not just for the initial generation, but for the betterment of future generations. However, personally, as a child of the merging of various immigrants, I sincerely hope that by the end of the book, Rebecca is able to reconcile her immigrant past with her birth country. I'll let you know what I discover.

1 comment:

BMendezNewman said...

The blog idea is great! It will be great to hear what you're up to when you aren't saying "No, Hannah! Don't take that from Isaac!"
I've read one Joyce Carol Oates book a long time ago, but I don't remember which one. But I do remember some quite vivid details from it. And I have several on my shelf at home.