Sunday, July 28, 2013

Review: The Chalk Circle compiled by Tara L. Masih When I opened Tara L. Masih’s “The Chalk Circle” I didn’t really know what to expect aside from knowing it was an anthology of intercultural essays, but as I delved deeper I started to feel what bush-pilot Jimmie Angel must have felt when he stumbled upon the majestic Venezuela waterfall that now bears his name. The more I read, the more I realised that the banner “Intercultural Prizewinning Essays” across the bottom of the front cover was not hype: it was later that I found out that the book had been put forward for and won a number of awards, including a Skipping Stones Honor Award, a Benjamin Franklin Finalist Award, a New England Book Festival Runner-up Award, and a ForeWord Book of the Year Award. Without doubt, this is one of the best books I have read in a very long while, each essay taking me from the musings of a young American Chinese woman hiking the Appalachian Trail while wondering what her life might have been had her grandmother married a peasant farmer, to a Native American trying to understand her own culture while grappling with the world around her, and on to a White American raised in Thailand not knowing the culture she assumed was her own was somebody else’s. More followed, each writer looking inward or outward, often both, and I realised that with culture, it’s often not so much the big things that separate us—the big differences are obvious and so we think understand them—but that chalk circle of seemingly small things that we ‘don’t know that we don’t understand’ is the barrier that separates us. Why would you eat French fries with a fork, for goodness sake? I mean if you are British, well then, OK, but an American? Oh…you were raised in Thailand? Well, that’s just weird. The book is well written; each essay allows you to glimpse the writer’s soul, that of a different race, culture, religion…and there you begin to see life from a different perspective, and hopefully gain some understanding of the writer’s situation. And, if you are like me, it will reinforce the understanding that no single culture is better than another, least of which is what I call my own. This book is a keeper—one definitely worth reading more than once.

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