Monday, June 13, 2011
Feiwel and Friends, 2007
Vassar has the next few years of her life completely planned out from the summer before her senior year to her achieving a PhD and marrying a surgeon (or judge) by age 25 to receiving a Pulitzer. But a few days before that summer, she receives a package from her grandmother and embarks on a trip with her to collect found art around Southeast Asia, including stops in Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos, which completely shakes her worldview.
I alternated on liking Vassar. I admired her ability to plan and her commitment to seeing those plans through (I tend to lack follow-through) but she was also very supercilious and closed-minded in a lot of ways. Judgmental would be a great word to describe her for much of the book. However what she undergoes during this trip was startling. Toward the end, she is basically held for ransom by opium addicts in a tiny Laotian village! So there's that.
Just as I sometimes liked and sometimes didn't like Vassar, I also alternated on the plot. On the one hand, I think her grandmother's art sounds crazy. I don't get modern art, preferring a nice landscape and flowers as you can see in my icon over there on the left (it's Monet). Everything that the grandmother picks up is garbage...or priceless antiques that would cause the police to intervene. One the other hand, she really challenges Vassar's notions of the "correct" way to live and is the reason for much of the crazy things that happen.
Besides Grandma Gerd, there is also Hanks, a Malaysian cowboy who further challenges Vassar's preconceptions and helps her to loosen her rigid stance on life. The descriptions of places and food in Southeast Asia were fascinating. I became interested in the region when I studied abroad in Singapore and thus those parts were the most exciting for me.
Overall: Some fascinating descriptions but all of the place in terms of quality. I appreciate the message that there's more to life than school and that not everything can be planned but I didn't love this book.