Friday, August 30, 2013

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: August 2013

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: Burma Chronicles
Writer and Artist: Guy Delisle
via Amazon
For the first Cephalopod Coffeehouse meeting back in May, I featured a book by Guy Delisle entitled Aline and the Others (link here).  As noted in that post, Delisle is best known for his travel narratives, all in graphic novel form. Burma Chronicles is his third such book.

Delisle's wife Nadège is a doctor with Doctors Without Borders, referred to in the book by their French name, Medécins sans Frontières (MSF).  She was assigned to a clinic in Burma (recognized by the UN as Myamar), primarily to combat malaria but to offer general medical aid as well.  Guy was initially a stay-at-home dad for their son Louis but once a nanny was hired, he was able to resume his cartooning career.  Burma Chronicles recounts his adventures both large and small in adapting to an isolated and impenetrable country. 

I really enjoy Delisle's ex-pat perspective.  Anyone who has lived in a foreign country knows that the experience is entirely different from just traveling through.  The tourist sights aren't such a big deal.  The challenges of building a life are what you remember.  For instance, Guy has great affection for supermarkets as a window into culture.  I also easily identified with his observation that people would ignore him on the street unless his son was with him.  Of course, that happens on native soil, too!

Delisle does not pull his punches regarding the military junta that rules the country.  While Rangoon comes off as a quiet and safe city for the most part, the silence is born of brutal government suppression.  When MSF and other international organizations are banned from certain parts of the country, the prevailing assumption is that the regime is cracking down and doesn't want witnesses.  In theory, the ex-pat community is above the fray but Guy can't help worrying about the Burmese friends he makes.

The book is essentially a collection of vignettes rather than one continuous narrative.  A few of the chapters, including tales of the family's side trips, are entirely wordless.  Some of the stories are quite funny, others heart-wrenching.  While Delisle's book did nothing to entice me to move to Burma, I'm certainly interested in exploring his other travel works.

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post September's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is September 27th.


36 comments:

  1. 2nd review is up.
    I hate to say it, but that doesn't really sound interesting to me at all. Less does these days, though, as I have just too much stuff piled up, so it takes a lot to grab my attention.

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  2. I've never read a graphic novel... the part in me that's resistant to change is telling me to stick to the traditional novels..but the adventurous side is urging me to try it out!

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    1. I've really enjoyed exploring the genre. Do you speak French or Japanese by any chance? The comics industries in those cultures hav a much broader audience so they cover a wider range of interests, too - might be a fun place to start if you're keen.

      So glad you're joining us this month!

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  3. Graphic novels are not really my thing although from your description this book sounds rather interesting. It must be difficult in a new country without the added complications of political and military unrest.

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    1. I've never lived in such a country but I have visited one. In 1984, my family took a trip through Europe including what was then East Germany - very creepy.

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  4. It's interesting to hear his thoughts on supermarkets and people ignoring him unless child was present. I spent a month in Russia, and I found both to be true there as well.

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    1. Asia's particularly funny that way. I stand no chance of passing for Japanese so there's no way I could walk around even in my own neighborhood without being noticed. I'd catch a lot of averted gazes as I walked down the street. I had no child to draw them in at the time but I saw it happen with others.

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  5. I would be VERY interested in reading this; I have made wonderful friends that are from Burma. There is a bit of a language barrier, as they are still learning English BUT I have never met two people more appreciative of their opportunities here since coming to live in the USA.

    I invited them to my house for dinner; they ate the salad and garlic bread I served, and thought that was it. They simply couldn't believe I had entrees to serve them as well- it blew their minds. And it made me want to cry. I know that they lived without. I'm very curious to read this book to see if it could possibly help me understand their government and more of what they lived like, before. Thanks for the recommendation!!

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    1. Wow! What a great experience for all of you. I'd love to know what you think if you end up reading it.

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  6. The only graphic novel I've read is Persepolis, which was great. Looks like it may be time for another; this sounds fascinating.

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    1. Persepolis seems to be the gateway drug for graphic novels. I read another book of hers called "Chicken with Plums," also very good.

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  7. I love travel memoirs. It is great to see a different culture through eyes similar to your own. Thanks for reviewing this book

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    1. Me, too. One of my favorites is Dave Barry Does Japan - hilarious, of course, and surprisingly insightful for a three-week trip.

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  8. It's funny about the supermarkets...that's one of my favorite things to explore when I'm traveling. Better than any tourist attraction for getting a window on the local culture. :)

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    1. Absolutely. One of my favorite early memories from Japan is walking into the fish section of the market and seeing the head of a tuna on display. Before that moment, I had not idea they were so big!

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  9. I've never heard of this author before but this sounds like something I'd really like. I love reading about other countries and cultures even though I haven't done nearly as much traveling as I'd like.

    Thanks again for letting me know about your book club, Armchair! It's fun to take part in it. :)

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    1. Books are definitely the next best thing to being there - cheapter, too.

      So glad you're joining us, Julie!

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  10. I'm so glad Yolanda Renee introduced me to this bloghop. I've found a few books to add to my growing wish list. Thanks for starting this.

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    1. So glad you're joining us, Maryann! Adding to the to-read list is what this is all about.

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  11. "While Delisle's book did nothing to entice me to move to Burma..." This made me laugh. A novel I recently finished, "Shine Shine Shine," is partly set in Burma, from the point of view of Christian missionaries. Well, a fanatical missionary and his reluctant family. That put Burma on my mental map, and your review here really makes me want to read this graphic memoir I think a graphic memoir is a perfect way to do travel writing: we ought to see more of it.

    (I have two reviews I'm doing today, btw: Sisterhood is up and Words Inc. I'll get to before day's end. Thanks for keeping this going, AS!)

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    1. There's something wonderfully intimate about drawings rather than photographs, too. Delisle's work is not rich in detail. Instead, he's pretty good at sugaring down to the cruciall elements.

      Two reviews! I'll be around to visit soon, I hope.

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  12. I've lived in France on a couple of occasions, so I completely understand that feeling of living in another country and, yes, those lovely sights become something you don't even notice after a while. I also love the front cover of this book. Thanks for sharing it!

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    1. France! That sounds wonderful. Where were you?

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  13. I love the look of this book and wonder if my library has it ?
    Haven't read the Dave Barry book on Japan but the one on England is a hoot.
    In Japan, especially Tokyo, you will not get lots of eye contact. Space is a premium so personal space is not intruded on. But I have always met many wonderful and helpful people there. But Osaka is different what a great and fun city and area.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. Actually, I loved Tokyo for the anonymity it afforded. In Yokohama, where I lived, I always felt exposed. People in Tokyo are generally more accustomed to seeing foreignors, so they look right through you. In that, it's no different from New York, London or any other major world city. After a while, it was a wonderful comfort to feel like just another face in the crowd.

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  14. What a wonderfully unique way to get the inside look at another part of the world.

    Thanks for running the coffee house. :)

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    1. My pleasure. I'm so glad you're joining us!

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  15. Sounds like a great read. No doubt the close connection he has gives the vignettes serious weight.

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    1. He also does a nice job of mixing up the lighter stories with the heavier ones.

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  16. This sounds intriguing. I like the different way it is told in vignette style. Myanmar is a fascinating place. Not the best tourist destination though.

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    1. Have you been there?!!! I have not. Closest I've gotten is Malaysia, still two countries away.

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  17. I like the idea of a series of travel vignettes instead of one continuous narrative.

    I have been into a fair few supermarkets in my travels, so I can relate to that. I always like to check out the packaging of food in different countries. :)

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    1. Even Canada has its differences from the US. They have a much wider range of interesting potato chips than we do.

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  18. This seems like an interesting thing to put in graphic novel form. I have a feeling it will be making it's way to my ever growing list of things to check out.

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    1. I hope you will read it and share your thoughts when you do!

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