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Carpenter, S.

6/7-6/13

posted Jun 13, 2010, 2:19 PM by Stephen Carpenter

Do any of the characters do things you think are good or bad? What do they do? Why do you think this is good or bad?
 
To be honest, it seems as if most of the actions and decisions made by most of the characters in this story are bad ones. It pretty much starts with young adult Madame Mao, choosing to be with men who don't supply her with strong and healthy relationships. At the start, there is plenty of love and care, but by the end of those relationships it ends up being conflict after conflict until Madame Mao and the man she is with start to almost lose their heads because they are in so much pain and confusion. But soon before she meets her husband Mao, she, along with plenty of the supporting characters, begin to make bad choices much more serious than that, ones with lasting, large-scale effects. This seems to happen due to their political interactions. As with most governments and political powers, there is much corruption. Personally, I believe this is where the most and the worst of the bad choices come from. People begin to do things that are unfair, where only they benefit from it and everyone else ends up worse off that before. There are often short, not very detailed segments that reveal something that Madame Mao did when she had power, maybe locking someone up or having him killed because he betrayed her when they were younger. This is proof that she as a leader let the power go to her head, and took advantage of her abilities as a ruler, and this in itself is a bad decision on her part, but she is not the only one choosing to take advantage of leadership.

 

5/31 - 6/6

posted Jun 6, 2010, 4:47 PM by Stephen Carpenter   [ updated Jun 6, 2010, 5:34 PM ]

Can you pick out a passage that strikes you as particularly profound or interesting?
 
One thing that's really stood out to me about Becoming Madame Mao is these almost-random lines that sound something like Chinese Proverbs. They appear almost out of nowhere, in the middle of totally normal speech. They are these simple lines that sound really deep and have huge meanings behind them. These lines have stood out to me more than any others in the whole book so far, but the one that I'd have to say is the most intriguing to me is the following line from page 111:
 
        The highest building starts with a brick
        The deepest river starts with a drop of water
 
These words can be used in so many different situations, but they seem to always have the same meaning: all accomplishments have to start somewhere. One way that I like to look at it is "You can't get to point B without starting on point A." This line can easily be applied to our lives today as high school freshmen. We all have a common goal: to finish high school, find good jobs, become successful, etc. This year is where that all starts for us. If we want to achieve this dream, we have to do well in life, starting now. If our intented point B is having a successful adult life, then our first year of high school is our point A. Whichever direction we go from point A determines how point B will turn out. This year is our brick or drop of water that will soon grow into a high building or deep river.

5/24 - 5/30

posted Jun 6, 2010, 3:32 PM by Stephen Carpenter

How do you feel when reading the book? Why do you feel this way?
 
When I really think about it, my feelings when reading this book are pretty mixed. The majority of the time, I'd say the book gives off a depressing feeling. I'm not *depressed* when I read it but it gives off that feeling. Madame Mao is constantly in dark and difficult times and it just feels kind of gloomy to read. Only a few pages into the book, she's already going through mind-numbing pain when she has her feet bound by her mother. At this point you can already tell that it won't be a very cheerful story. As she grows up, she separates from many boyfriends and husbands, and over pretty short periods of time. Her relationships seem to always be sabotaged from within, one way or another. But when the book doesn't really feel depressing and sad, I sometimes find myself a bit surprised. I'd have to say the majority of the time I'm surprised about how much sex there is, actually. The thing that really surprises me about it is that no matter how horrible her life is and no matter what she happens to be doing, she can pretty much at any time suddenly be having sex. It kind of catches you off guard, she could be reading a letter or telling whoever she happens to be with at the time what kind of day she's been having or something like that, and then all of a sudden she'll be in bed with him, and it just surprises you. So overall, I'd say when reading the book, most of the time I get a mixture of feelings of sadness and surprise.

5/17-5/23

posted May 24, 2010, 6:52 PM by Stephen Carpenter

Why did the author choose to write this book?

This is obviously just my own opinion, but I'd have to guess that Becoming Madame Mao was written for a variety of reasons; to provide the reader with historical facts, to entertain the reader, to present the story from the perspective of the so-called "bad guy," etc. The historical fiction book manages to provide all the history that a textbook or non-fiction book could give you, but presents it in the form of a novel, with a plot, characters, settings, etc. This allows you to develop a connection with the story instead of just hearing "here's what happened" and then moving on. You can take it as a historical piece of writing that you read for the information, or you could just the same read it as a fiction novel you would normally just pick up and begin reading for the fun and the entertainment. But I think that one big reason for writing the book was to present the story from the perspective of Madam Mao, because it provides an alternate side to it. All we hear normally is the biased anti-communism argument, but Becoming Madam Mao let's us know what she was thinking, what she went through, and why she did the things she did. I wouldn't say it was written to convince people to believe that what Madam Mao did was right, but just to show us and inform us of why, not to convince us it was a good thing to do.

5/10-5/16

posted May 16, 2010, 7:40 PM by Stephen Carpenter

What are Ram's ambitions in life? Why does he tell Prem Kumar he doesn't know how he's going to spend the billion rupees? (#2)
 
I know that this is the same question I responded to last week, but now that I've finished the book, I have a different response. I still stand by my opinion that Ram's ambitions are to help people as much as he can, but after reading more, I now know why he tells Prem Kumar that he doesn't know how he's going to spend the money. It is because it is the truth. He doesn't know how he'll spend the money, because he doesn't even plan on winning the money. He wasn't there to win. He was there to find Kumar, so he could finally get his revenge. Ram saw Kumar's face in a newspaper and recognized him as the man who had beaten and abused Neelima, and also knew that he must have been the man who did the same to his love Nita based on the similarity of their injuries. That is why he went and became a contestant on the show, not because he wanted to win and earn the money, but because he wanted to face Kumar once and for all. But then he got lucky, and he managed to recall past moments of his life and answer all twelve questions correctly and  win the billion rupees in the end anyway. But he never intended to win. In fact, he planned on pulling his gun on Kumar as soon as he failed to answer one of the questions correctly. But instead he ended up making it all the way through and pulling the gun on him in the bathroom just before answering the final question.

5/3-5/9

posted May 9, 2010, 3:18 PM by Stephen Carpenter

What are Ram's ambitions in life? Why does he tell Prem Kumar he doesn't know how he's going to spend the billion rupees?

Based on his actions in the story, I would say that Ram probably wants to help people, in any way he can. He has done plenty of illegal things but overall it seems like most things that he does are for the better. He took a life in order to save two others. He turned in a guilty man in order to protect the rest of his family. He does whatever he can to protect those close to him who need protection. When Ram became close to Guyida, he went as far as pushing her father down the stairs when he abused her and his wife, and when his employer Colonel Taylor was keeping secrets from, lying to, and mistreating his family, he turned him in to the police to put an end to Taylor's deceit.
 
I believe that Ram told Prem Kumar that he didn't know what he'd do with the money simply because he didn't have any specific plans. He probably knew at the time that he would eventually use it to start and support a family (the right way, unlike those families he saw in pain) and then spend a lot of the money mending broken lives like the ones he encountered as a teenager, but that was as specific as it got. He didn't know when and where he would spend the money, but he had general ideas of what he would do with it, and he didn't think it was worth bringing up without specifics.

4/26-5/2

posted May 3, 2010, 5:46 PM by Stephen Carpenter

What do you think of Salim's decision to give Ahmed, the hit man, a picture of Maman? Did Salim have another choice? Is he guilty of murder? Did Ram have other options besides throwing Shantaram down the stairs? Are these violent acts justifiable considering the behavior of the victims?
 
My feelings for what Salim did are complicated. At first it seems like it wasn't a good choice because, even if it meant saving one innocent person, he was choosing a person to be murdered. It was almost like he was ordering a hit on someone without having to pay. But at the same time, it feels like, if somebody *had* to die, then it was the right thing for Salim to do when he swapped out the information, because at least he knew an innocent man's life would be spared and the one to die would be someone who deserved it--or got as close to "deserving it" as possible. However, the feeling that is really dominant in this situation is this: Salim didn't know anything about the man who was originally set to die. For all we know he could have been swapping one "bad guy" for another "bad guy." And if this is the case, then what Salim did really was wrong, because he was deciding, "No, don't kill this guy. I know he deserves it, but how about you kill this guy instead for me? He treated me badly, kill him!" So I really don't know whether it was a good choice or not. As for Ram, I don't know about how things are in India, but if he were in America, I would say that instead of throwing Shantaram down the stairs he should have gone to the police, and they would have been able to do something about his abusing his family. Maman and Shantaram's acts don't make what the children did right, but they do at least slightly justify their reasoning, and make it at least for a good cause. However, it still was not right what they did.

4/19-4/25

posted Apr 25, 2010, 6:22 PM by Stephen Carpenter

Why does Ram turn in Colonel Taylor? Is this retribution for the colonel's spying, his derogatory comments about Indians, or for the way he treats his family? Or does Ram just want to collect his wages before returning to Mumbai?



I believe that Ram turned in the Colonel because he was spying behind his family's backs, because of how badly he treated his family, and because he wanted to make sure he got the money he earned fairly. However, I don't think just anyone would have done this. Ram turned in the Colonel for these reason only because of his past experiences, specifically two of them. First was the moment that determined the course of his life: the day he was left in the bin to be found and taken to an orphanage. Second: the time he spent next door to Guyida (assuming that this had already occurred at this point in his life). These two moments, I believe, helped him develop a strong belief in devoting yourself to your family. When he was a baby, his mother gave him up and left his life in a downward spiral. And he developed a strong connection with Guyida, and he felt the pain she was going through as father abused her and her mother. He almost went through the same pain as she was experiencing it. So at this point in his life, he knows what it can do to you to have a family who doesn’t love you, or who treats you badly. He knows that the Colonel’s family doesn’t deserve what they are receiving from him; abuse and deceit. So he decided to act on it. He also knew that if this abuse and deceit continued, something would eventually go terribly wrong, so he needed to make sure he would get paid before he lost that chance.

4/12-4/18

posted Apr 19, 2010, 6:39 PM by Stephen Carpenter

Ram has a recurring dream of a tall woman with black hair that obscures her face. At what moments does he have this dream, and why? What does this woman represent? Is she his biological mother? A symbol of hope? Abandonment?
 
During the course of the book, there have been multiple occurances when Ram had a dream about this woman. I believe that those times he has this dream are not necessarily "good" moments or "bad" moments, just the really significant moments; at the times in his life where he can sort of stop and think about where he is and how he got there, just those times that are almost turning points for him. (And then of course the time that he tries sniffing glue, but that's a different story.) That moment that he keeps imagining was the biggest turning point of all for Ram. When he was left in that bin when he was born, that was what determined the direction his life would take. So that's what he keeps thinking back to, is that woman he always pictured as the woman who left him there. I think it almost makes him feel things like "this is the woman who left me in that bin that would determine the rest of my life." I don't know if it's his mother or not, and I don't think he knows either. As long as she's the woman who left him there, that is what's really important to him. I think these dreams of this woman just bring him complicated and confusing "what if?" feelings. "What would my life be like right now if my mother had kept me, instead of abandoning me at birth?" It probably makes him feel sad that he wouldn't have the good things he got to experience, like Salim, but he also envies the fact that he wouldn't have had to experience all the horrible thing he went through.

4/5 - 4/11

posted Apr 11, 2010, 2:34 PM by Stephen Carpenter

What problems develop almost immediately when Enrique is reunited with his mother? Do these problems surprise you?

After several years and several attempts at reaching the Unites States, Enrique finally reaches his goal: his mother Lourdes. He has been through much pain, and he had to use every ounce of his will to push himself toward the country. When they are first reunited, it is a sweet moment. Enrique has been through so much since Lourdes left, and now he finally gets to see her again... but before long we start to see that their new relationship is going to be far from perfect. Enrique has grown up without his mother, and therefore his styles are different than hers. It starts off with small things like what they like to drink. But soon it turns into real conflict. Lourdes gets upset when Enrique does things without her permission and when he uses dirty language. But Enrique doesn't know any better, because he doesn't know what she is like. When she gets mad at him for these things, it only makes him even more angry. He doesn't believe she has the right to yell at him and hit him. When these things happen, he ends up telling her that he doesn't look at her as his mother because she left him behind as a child and he was raised by others. This conflict is an on-and-off thing; often they will begin to only show love towards each other, but soon their conflicts show through again. Honestly, this scuffle between them doesn't surprise me. After Lourdes left for the United States, Enrique became a troublemaker and a drug addict, and he really only did things his own way and didn't listen to others. Knowing how he acted throughout his childhood tipped me off that when he reunited with his mother, someone who left him behind, and was going to only tell him what to do and try to get him to change, he wasn't going to just take that sitting down.

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