White Teeth delves into family history and dynamics: an unlikely friendship between two men, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, and how this brought their families together. It explores what it’s like to be a person of color in London from the 70s to the 90s (though I am guessing even until today). It is the kind of book I’d recommend to readers who are more invested in characters than the plot, those who want to understand why people-are-that-way and who do not mind the lack of action in a book.
It took me a bit longer than usual to sort out my feelings about White Teeth.
I read this book based on a recommendation by someone in my professional network. This was one of three fiction books in a list of ten books, so I felt that the book would at least expand my reading horizons. It did; I have no regrets.
After reading Kurt Vonnegut’s “The Epizootic,” the second story in his posthumously published collection, While Mortals Sleep, I wanted to bring to light the hushed up epidemic that ravaged America a few decades ago: the epizootic. Of course, actions have since been taken to rid America of this disease, so let me tell you about it because I thought it was an interesting read.
Please be aware of the epizootic, a disease that drove down the age of mortality among American men from 68 to 47 years old. Family men, men with wives and children to support, were most prone to contracting this disease especially in times of financial crises.
The epizootic was a terminal illness, and it spread through thoughts and words. Unless one covered his eyes and ears and lived far removed from society, there seemed to be no escape. Research has shown that the epizootic cases were correlated to increased instances of crashing planes and falling from heights.
“Modern communications are wonderful, aren’t they?” he said. “Almost as wonderful as life insurance.”
Kurt Vonnegut, “The Epizootic” in While Mortals Sleep
Thankfully, fine print has aided in eradicating the epizootic epidemic. For good measure, I suggest reading “The Epizootic” for a first-hand account of the covered up epidemic. The hope is that all breadwinners, no longer limited to family men, do not ever have to succumb to this disease.
It could just be me, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with Miguel Syjuco’s Ilustrado. I liked the way the writer incorporated different forms of media and literature, all of which eventually made sense as the story developed, into one cohesive work, but I was just … okay with it. It’s not a very long book, but it took me a while to finish. (This doesn’t mean I have nothing to say though. I have a bunch.)
Because I like my history, let’s first talk about the title, Ilustrado.
For context, the Philippines was colonized by Spain for 333 years (I am not making this number up) from 1565 to 1898. The word “Ilustrado” referred to people from the Philippines who obtained their education abroad, in Mother Spain. This exposed them to liberal ideas, and they came back seeking to reform Spanish colonial rule (to turn the Philippines into a Spanish province instead of just a colony). Think: Jose Rizal and Plaridel.
But why use a word so old that it was used in history books?