The Collective

Julie Huynh | 46376331

The Collective was one of the few fictional books I’ve been able to read during my college career and could not put down.  What I enjoyed most about reading this novel was the author’s diction and style of writing; very descriptive, graphic, and detailed.  The voice of the narrator was straightforward and I actually liked hearing the way he spoke and digested his world.

My overall feeling after completing this book was one of mild disturbance, because of the characters themselves.  I was still thinking about Noklek’s immolation, trying to piece together exactly why she chose immolation (allusion to Thich Quang Duc) and what her actions meant thematically.  I was also disturbed by Joshua overall as a character, because of the choices he made (such as bringing down Eric and Jessica with him in the chalkboard incident) and the viewpoints he had (non-Asians can’t write about Asians), and his misogynistic attitude! I think that was one of the traits about him that appalled me the most; that not only was this character able to get away with being narcissistic, manipulative, arrogant, and undoubtedly bright, he also had to be misogynistic.  Although I agreed with some of the things he said once in a while, he was also a very unlikeable character who I still felt compelled to try to understand. I feel like months from now I will still be thinking about this character because he is so dynamic.

I had some minor frustrations with the narrator himself as he progressed from college to the real world, where he continued as Joshua’s best friend.  I didn’t understand why he chose to act just like Joshua in the Kathryn Newey incident again towards Esther Xing (besides from his great dislike of her), because I felt that even though he admitted to himself that he agreed with her points, on the outside he is coming off as a narrow-minded jerk who thinks only Asians have rights to Asian culture. It was already disappointing the first time he didn’t speak up to defend Kathryn Newey. I also took issue with how he relapsed with Mirielle during their “platonic” time period, because it was a pretty dumb thing for Mirielle to do — to think it’s okay to see someone while leading Eric on. I want to say his romantic nature brought him into that situation. In the beginning, I suppose it’s safe to say that my impression of Eric was of a pretty spineless guy, until the end in the way that he conducted himself in front of Barboza. I thought that it was good of Eric, to take initiative to track down the man and also tell him what’s up (that public safety hazard line!).

One aspect of this book that affected me the most was the role of family. It was very difficult to read about Eric’s feelings about his treatment towards his mother, because it reminded me of my similar actions to my own as a teenager growing up. How Jessica Tsai’s parents disowned her was also something I could connect to — not because I’ve ever been disowned, but because the whole issue of family honor and filial piety is one that I can identify with very well because I personally struggle with it very much.

The one other theme that provoked me the most was the incident in which Barboza says “little egg rolls” and “bonsai bushes” to the public. My favorite scene in the entire book was when Eric confronts Barboza about this and they have a conversation about creative license. I liked this excerpt because for once, it seems like I’ve come closer to seeing someone (in this case, Eric) call out the perpetrator on his ignorance. It’s a little empowering, to see Eric attempt to explain to someone like that why they’re wrong, especially since it seemed like Barboza was trying to understand at first. Also, I actually agreed with the city’s desire to at least have a warning of sexual material and the like, because at the end of the day, even if it is art, not everyone understands the context and will take it the wrong way and at face-value. One thing that Barboza also said that struck me a little was when he asked Eric, What have you contributed to this society? That actually reminded me to humanize Barboza, because for me, I feel that it’s very easy to pit against the offender in any case that you forget who they also are (a father, etc) outside of the situation that they’re involved in.

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