Friday, January 09, 2004

Night before last I finished reading American Woman by Susan Choi. It's a thought-provoking book and I've found myself dwelling on it from time to time since. Although it's being touted in some corners as a historical novel, I don't think it is. Choi has based her story on an actual historic event--the captivity and arrest of Patty Hearst in 1974-1975--but her major interest is not focused on recreating the actual situation or the real people involved. She concentrates primarily on imagining the life and inner world of Jenny Shimura, a young 29-year-old Japanese-American revolutionary turned fugitive, based on the player in the Hearst drama about whom the least is known.

Jenny is a sincere rebel ("She had been very good at wiring explosives"), who thinks and cares deeply about what she has done, in contrast to Juan and Yvonne, the comrades she's sheltering, who have their fingers on the trigger every minute and only think about what they've done for a second after they've done it, before rationalizing it away with a mouthwash of revolutionary slogans. Choi lays bare every fragment of Jenny's thoughts and emotions, a wearying habit after awhile, particularly when one thought is analyzed page after page.

I recommend American Woman only if one is interested in the subject matter; it could be slow going without that motivation.

My favorite passage from the book:
"Power has the power to seem natural, and to live in your gut like an ulcer: your secret certainty of your defeat, finally, at its hands. And yet Power was only people, war makers, moneypossessors, with elaborate tools to use. This had been the belief that impelled her, when she learned to build bombs...Except bombs weren't inherently good but inherently evil; she and William had set out with their bombs to expose the real evil of government violence, not to recommend violence to everyone else. Then the ground started tilting beneath them, or perhaps it was they who tilted the ground; perhaps they had been wrong to fight Power on its own terms, instead of rejecting its terms utterly." (p. 198


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