Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book 113, Guam: "Attitude 13" by Tanya Chargualaf Taimanglo

I've just flown into Myanmar, where I'll be maintaining the Flying Circus Project Blog for the next two weeks. I'm terribly short of sleep, and I've just learnt that we're not gonna get the chance to meet Aung San Suu Kyi at the Freedom Film Fest.

So let's get this over with, shall we? (I want to invest in a nap now so I can live larger later.)

Honestly, Attitude 13: A Daughter of Guam's Collection of Short Stories isn't that great. The style has a strong whiff of the amateur and the plots tend to end anticlimactically. If I had to grade these, I might give a B+ if I were being kind (some are better than others, though: Chirika's Pepper Plant, which won the author a prize with Latte Magazine, isn't half bad).

But the content is what saves the day. Taimanglo's exploring what it means to be a Guamese Chamorro woman in the 21st century - no longer sarong-clad natives to be studied by anthropologists, but college students in Honolulu, expatriates in Seattle, army officers serving their terms of duty in Afghanistan while their daughters wail for them on their home islands, 88 year-old marathon runners in nursing homes with spiky pink and blue hair. Also explored is the condition of being biracial: the author is Chamorro-Korean, and she's described what it's like to be labelled a Jap in school and denied recognition of your true island heritage in the clumsily titled Yes I Am. And also a rather nice fantasy piece at the beginning: an encounter between a washed-ashore mermaid and a jeep-driving, zori-wearing, culturally deracinated Guamese girl in today's world. (Yes, there are stories about boys and men too, but it's clearly womanhood that takes centrestage.)

I suppose I'm drawn to this cultural testimony - not just because I love how foreign vocabularies collide with English: chenchule', pica, buñuelos aga', dinugan, donne', finadene', Hafa Adai - but also because so many texts from Oceania are written by outsiders. Immigrants, colonists, anthropologists, wayfarers - they have the resources to talk about these cultures, not the natives themselves.

Taimanglo happens to be an emigrant, though - she's lived in San Diego and now she's a military spouse in Washington, if the Internet's to be believed. Well, better brains draining out and speaking out than brains staying mute under scrutiny, I suppose.

Damn, I need sleep. Later!

View Around the World in 80 Books!!! in a larger map

Representative quote: I left the movie theater and the cold Washington air embraced me. It was almost midnight and I was out with my fiancé. This was the 18th movie I watched with a date. You can feel happy for me. This was my own doing. I didn't get to the age of 35, engaged and still a virgin, by accident. I am a Goddess on purpose. I am a beautiful Chamorro woman, on purpose. My fat is no longer my shield. 

Next book: Hiroshi Funasaka's Falling Blossoms, from Palau.

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