His Second Wife

Ernest Poole’s His Second Wife follows Ethel  as she leaves small town Ohio after her father’s death. She goes to New York to live with her sister, Amy, a socialite and shopper, and Amy’s husband Joe and daughter. Ethel tries to fit in to the shallow scene Amy relishes, but just can’t. The superficial and materialism don’t appeal at all.

She’s after the new and exciting ideals, art and politics New York is supposed to offer. After Amy’s sudden death, Ethel stays to help Joe, but struggles to avoid getting trapped living her sister’s life.

Poole creates an original dilemma that rings true. Ethel isn’t the polar opposite of Amy as a lesser writer would have made her. She doesn’t hate shopping or all of bourgeois life, she just wants more. The novel recounts her struggle to find friends and to find her own identity, while evading Amy’s more manipulative friends who want to control Joe after he’s married Ethel. An original, compelling story, worth getting from Amazon, which offers it for free on Kindle.

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The Masks We Wear

masksNicholas Gattig wrote a  fascinating article from The Japan Times on how people adopt or expect people of different cultures to behave in a certain way, to don a stereotypical mask.

On the night of April 18, three days after the Boston Marathon bombing, a side-drama to that story unfolded between three men as they criss-crossed the city, a performance staged partly in the theater of culture.

Just before 11 p.m., Danny, a young Chinese man on a work visa in the U.S., was carjacked at gunpoint by the Tsarnaev brothers, two immigrants from the Northern Caucasus. As recounted by Danny to The Boston Globe, the ordeal was a gruesome variant of the ethnic interactions that play out in America every day, with the players assigning and assuming their roles based on stereotypes.

“Maybe you think all white guys look the same,” said the older Tsarnaev, Tamerlan, warning Danny not to remember the brothers’ faces as he was chauffeuring them around Boston.

“Exactly,” lied Danny, who later identified the men to the police.

“You are Chinese,” said Tsarnaev. “I am a Muslim.”

“Chinese are very friendly to Muslims,” Danny said. “We are so friendly to Muslims!”

The exchange is surreal, especially Tsarnaev’s non-sequitur about identity. Islam is a religion, which means being Muslim doesn’t contrast with being Chinese (however friendly disposed, China is home to an estimated 20 million Muslims).

In fact, Tsarnaev imagined himself as a jihadist, a self-image that helped propel him through a heinous crime. In his perverted reading of the faith, killing Americans is a thing Muslims do. The Chinese Danny, in turn, obliged the views of the Chechen with the gun, so he would live to see another day. Both men were staging a performance, projecting identities to each other. Their encounter was a high-stakes version of what since the 1950s has been known as “impression management.”

You can read the rest of the article here.