michelel72 (michelel72) wrote,

Random thoughts on other-culture narratives

I've been trying to do more non-internet reading lately, as well as checking out more shows now and then. Two recent works have been outside my comfort zone in different ways.

(I've tried to avoid spoilers for the works discussed here.)

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord can be called a modified folk tale. It blends Caribbean and Senegalese elements into something that is — as far as I know — new. I don't know that I'd feel a need to re-read it, but I'm glad I've read it once.

It was work to get through, though, and it took me a couple of attempts. [Sidebar: I don't read WIPs because I generally can't retain any sense of continuity (plot or character) with constant interruptions. I tend to process narratives far better if I can consume them at my own pace.] I had thought I would read this book during adoption-hours shifts at the cat shelter, but that didn't work at all.

At first I thought the book just wasn't for me, because I simply couldn't get into it, but the author made me laugh a few pages in. Intelligent humor is a very strong hook for me, and there was just enough humor to make me want to do the work of relating to an unfamiliar narrative style, culture, and setting.

I read this book on my own, without seeking out any other reviews or read-alongs. As far as I know, this worked out; even though the core tales, cultures, worldview, and setting were all "foreign" to me, the book is written in English and apparently for a modern Western (English-language) audience. So I was a little slow to truly understand the nature of the djombi, for example, but that's a minor omission on my part that didn't affect my reaction to or understanding of the narrative. The story didn't employ the characterizations, tropes, or narrative arc I expected, but I was still able to appreciate it without outside influence or assistance. (That's not counting the brief review that led me to pick up the book in the first place.)

Meanwhile, for probably over a year now I've been reading the "reviews" and many of the comments at the Mark Does Stuff sites. (Without those sites, I might never have discovered the Newsflesh series or Tamora Pierce's books, just for two book examples. I can't read at his posting pace — see my comments about WIPs above — so if a book he's currently processing interests me, I read ahead and then follow his slower pace for the discussions. I don't have the same problem with visual media, fortunately, though re-watching Buffy and Angel as he discovered them for the first time was highly entertaining.)

He recently covered the short anime series Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Before his reviews, I had never heard of this series, and I would likely not have had any reason to check it out. I held off doing so even when he was posting the reviews; I didn't have the time for something new and knew no reason to investigate this one.

He gave just enough visible (above-the-cut) commentary to pique my interest, though, so I did eventually check out a few episodes, making sure to read each review and discussion after each episode.

And I quite liked it! The thing is, though, I don't know that I would have liked it, and I certainly wouldn't have gotten nearly as much out of it, without those reviews and discussions. It's an anime, in Japanese, created by and largely for folks within Japanese society and for whom anime is familiar. I didn't know what tropes it was based on to start with, so the fact that it was then deconstructing a wide swath of those tropes would also have escaped me. I would have missed so much about it. (And that's setting aside the language issues, like the major plot revelation that relies on wordplay and that the official sub did not remotely convey.)

It's a beautiful series, with innovative and artistic direction and artwork. I'm also certain there are elements I've still missed or underappreciated. But experiencing it with a guide, a community of translators if you will, made a vast difference to what I got out of it.

This means that, even though I'd planned to skip them, I'll likely now go ahead and pick up his two current visual series: Cowboy Bebop and Princess Tutu. I was never interested in the former; I've only seen brief mention of the latter on my reading lists; but Madoka turned out so well that I should probably check them out.

I don't read or watch much outside my comfort zone of standard English-language narratives. Whedon's trope deconstructions (and similar) are about as adventurous as I tend to get, and I've felt ... disappointed lately by the books and TV series that don't give me the resolution I'm expecting. I've always felt a little bad that my narrative consumption tends to be so culturally "sheltered", but I rarely have the time or energy or knowledge to get into works from other cultures or traditions.

In some cases, there are "other-culture" narratives that are tailored to cater to the inexperienced; I think Redemption in Indigo is one such. But for those that aren't, I think I need the "book club" approach to walk me through it. It's odd; I don't tend to go seeking out communities, for the most part.

But I'm glad when I come across these experiences anyway. The works deserve appreciation on their own merits, and working to appreciate them is good brain exercise.

Originally posted at Dreamwidth | Comment | comment count unavailable comments
Tags: meta, reviews, reviews:books, reviews:tv

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