Wednesday, January 23, 2013

FINDING MY BALANCE by Mariel Hemingway

Finding My Balance is the bittersweet memoir of Mariel Hemingway, an author,
yogini and former actress.  The granddaughter of the renowned adventurer and
novelist Ernest Hemingway, the author recounts watershed moments in her life,
as she morphs from young adulthood into adulthood.   We get to see her at
age 12 as she cares for her chronically ill mother.  

As a teen, she starred in films like“Manhattan”--with Woody Allen--and 
“Personal Best,” in which she plays an athlete, and “Lipstick”--with sister Margaux, 
a model and actress.  Unfortunately, as a consequence of Mariel’s success in films, 
her relationship with Margaux becomes estranged.  In fact, the only familial relationship 
in the book that’s not dysfunctional is with her father, Jack, an outdoorsman, who instilled 
in Mariel a love of nature.

Each chapter begins with a yoga pose: Warrior, Eagle, Rabbit, etc.  Mariel describes
herself as she assumes each pose.  In one chapter, she details her devotion to her
guru, Paramahansa Yogananda and how he changed her life.  She also details her
stringent/extreme diets: “I routinely skipped meals in favor of iced, blended espressos
with vanilla—no milk, no sweetener.”  Another guru (though a reluctant one) is Dr.  Peter
Evans who got her to give up coffee and to re-vamp her diet. “Two buttered eggs for
breakfast with fruit or buttered toast.”

We get to experience Mariel’s intense heartache as she copes with the deaths of her
mother, sister, and father.  Throughout these crises, yoga and meditation saved her life. 
The last crisis in the book is that of her husband’s illness and how she survived that. 
The last chapter is comprised of a series of yoga poses.

Finding My Balance is the wonderfully readable story of a woman as she teeters, at first,
within  her life and then, through yoga, stands grounded on the earth, within her skin.  
“Mountain Pose.”

--Yolanda A.  Reid

Check out Mariel Hemingway’s website at  Also check out
an article on her new documentary, "Running from Crazy", about her family history at

Monday, January 14, 2013


In author Ann Mah's first novel, Kitchen Chinese, the main character  gets fired from her job
and dumped by her boyfriend of eighteen months--all in the same week.

A hip and savvy New Yorker, Isabelle Lee is an independent, fashionable, modern young woman
who works for Belle magazine.  After being fired, Isabelle follows her mother's advice and
moves to Beijing, where she shares an apartment with her sister, Claire.

In Beijing, Claire arranges for an interview so that Isabelle becomes "the dining
editor at Beijing NOW. . . an English-language magazine for expats."  

The Kitchen Chinese of the novel's title is Isabelle's rudimentary Chinese--which she defines
as "Just basic conversation. . . .  Simple words I picked up in the kitchen, spending time with
my mom."  Throughout the book, she struggles to fully understand what people are saying to her.
In one scene, she overhears two women in the community bathroom talking about her.
She flees the room.

Though she looks like everyone else, in Beijing Isabelle regards herself as American.
She is constantly having to confront this issue: as she chats in the cab, with her
date Charlie, the cab driver realizes she is a "laowai" or a foreigner.  When Isabelle is introduced
to Kristin at a restaurant, and Kristin compliments her on her English, Isabelle's companion
explains, "Isabelle is American.  She grew up in New York."

Isabelle wonders, "Though I've only been in China for a few months, has my Americanness
been erased?"  This leads to an identity crisis--for Isabelle, all of China is a social experiment
that elicits themes worthy of existential philosophers and posits the question:
Are we who we perceive ourselves to be?  Or are we whomever others perceive us to be?

“As Isabelle, I am articulate, confident, even sometimes, witty; as Li Jia [her Chinese name]
I feel . . . slow, able only to understand the edges of a [Chinese] conversation."

Ann Mah, the author, is adroit and expert in her use of English.  I loved savoring the language,
the information on Chinese food, the sense of living in contemporary Beijing.  Kitchen Chinese
feels authentic (especially if you've always wanted to visit China).

Each chapter opens with a quote that references Chinese food or history, and is sprinkled with
Chinese phrases  and an eclectic vocabulary.  Of the handful of recipes at the end of the book not
one is for Chinese food.  And despite the Chinese phrases, Isabelle seems so American.

Moreover, I liked that the novel rendered the inner dynamic of a Chinese family--mother to
daughter, sister to sister.  (As a reader, I’d like to see what happens to Isabelle and Claire
in a novel sequel.)

Kitchen Chinese  is a wonderful first novel, suffused with the ambience of Beijing,
and I eagerly await any second book author Ann Mah publishes.

---Yolanda A.  Reid

Check out Ann Mah's blog at

Sunday, January 6, 2013

EAT PRAY LOVE by Elizabeth Gilbert

Lately, Elizabeth Gilbert is my new favorite author. Her book, Eat Pray Love, chronicles her journey out of an unhappy marriage, as well as her inward journey through meditation as she travels Italy, India, and Indonesia.   Eat Pray Love unfolds with an assortment of truly interesting characters, amid the author's personal revelations and tidbits of information on each country. 

Gilbert experiences eating-bliss in Italy with delectable pasta and pizza; devotion through meditation at her guru’s ashram in India; and  true love in Indonesia. 

Two characters emerge, both in Bali. First, Ketut Liyer, a medicine man who exudes
mystery,wisdom, surprising us most when he reveals that he "shares" his wife Nyomo with his brother.

In their first encounter, Ketut reads the author’s palm.  He sums up her past, present, and future—then adds, “Someday soon you will come back here to Bali.”  So she sets out to help fulfill the prophecy by planning a return trip to Bali.

Upon Gilbert’s return, Ketut assigns her the "smile from liver" meditation.  Gilbert was a good student: the book's cover photo features her smiling a deep sentient smile--from the heart. 

The second character is Wayan, an herbal doctor in her thirties. Like Gilbert, she is
a divorcee; unlike Gilbert, she was once a battered wife.  Wayan said, "To lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life."

Finally, what I love about
 Eat Pray Love is exemplified when the author writes, "I was not rescued by a prince; I was the administrator of my own rescue."

—Yolanda A.  Reid

Copyright © 2013 by Y.A. Reid

Note:  This article first appeared on my other blog a couple years ago.  Eat Pray Love is such an inspirational story and book, however, that I am publishing it here as well. This is a book I read at least once a year.