This book was Lim's first novel, and I have to be honest and admit that I don't think that this was a well written book. A lot of it felt contrived, the conversations particularly, and I didn't feel like I really got to know the characters at all.
The Rice Bowl is about politics and imperialism and race, and how political theories and ideal intersect with actual lives.The book's main character is a novice nun, who becomes a left wing activist when she commences university. The story is set at the time of the war in Vietnam, and her and her friend's activism culminates in a protest against the war.
For me, this novel demonstrates a lot of what I didn't like about lefty politics and some of the people actively involved (I don't mean to offend anyone and I'm sure no one I know falls into this category :-) !!!)
This mainly revolves around the main character of Marie, or Sister Marie-Therese. Marie has great intentions and ideals, she encourages her students to think about the world around her before commencing university with them, where she continues to do the same. Unfortunately for her and those around her, her good intentions end up the victim of her own ego and other people suffer as a result.
What really drives Marie is her ego. She likes people to look up to her; she likes having a 'group' of followers. She is so certain that she is right, that she doesn't listen to others in any meaningful way. She aspires to these great ideals that she expects the world and others to live up to, but she doesn't live up to them herself. She can't recognise any way but her own.
A good example of this is where she attempts to convince her convent community to join her and her activist friends in the protest against the war in Vietnam. Her nun colleagues refuse, arguing that they do important work to help the impoverished and the sick in their own way, they educate the young in their schools, and this is the work that they need to prioritise. In the end, the nuns choose to prioritise this work over the idea of protesting against the larger social problems facing the world. They do not reject the idea behind what she is doing, but they reject becoming involved. Marie sees them as rejecting the good of the world, she cannot accept that despite their rejection of 'her way' of resolving to world's ill, they might still be doing good of their own. She says, "As a community they're more interested in social welfarism than in working for the more fundamental changes in the social order". She does not ask herself what is wrong with this? Why shouldn't some people focus more on the individual and others on the bigger picture? Can't these two methods of progress work together? With Marie, its her way or the highway.
Maybe I'm being a bit too harsh. Regardless of her inconsistencies and questionable motives, The Rice Bowl is about people trying to make sense of the world around them, and make it a better place for people to live. They are trying to find meaning, and hope and fight injustice. I think that despite some of the reservations about the methods and motives of those actively taking charge of the collective and protest, the ending of the book demonstrates that the author ultimately believes that their brand of politics has some merit in the world.
There are a lot of issues with politics that this book raises, and despite how poorly I think the novel was written, it did provide some food for thought, especially for those politically minded.
5.5 / 8
Good and worth reading if you have the opportunity, but there's no need to prioritise it unless you have a particular interest in left-wing politics and activism.