A Hundred Secret Senses – Amy Tan

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I finished reading Amy Tan’s A Hundred Secret Senses. After 3 false starts – reading, getting to about page 10 or 15 and then life calling me to its umpteen undone things– I woke early yesterday, started before the house woke, stopped to cook, clean, digitally connect with my family and friends, and then stayed up through the night to finish the book and ruminate.

The story opens and immediately discloses the meaning of the title… “My sister Kwan believes she has yin eyes. She sees those who have died and now dwell in the World of Yin, ghosts who leave the mists just to visit her kitchen on Balboa Street in San Francisco”. Now, no reader has a doubt about which of the hundred secret senses this book speaks of or where the story is set. As an impatient person who likes to know the who, what, and where so I can connect the why and how when they come about, getting right to the point is helpful in engaging me in the action of the story.

The book is about past lives and soul ties, about rebirth and reincarnation (which are also senses), about loyalty, friendship, and sacrifice, and about maintaining dignity and decorum. Two half-sisters, Kwan and Olivia, have opposing cultures and personalities. Kwan is the part of the family that her father, Jack Lee, left in China, while Olivia and her brothers are Jack Lee’s family from a new chapter in his life after he immigrated to the U.S. Kwan embodies all the qualities that come with being a peasant from rural China (most Asian cultures): she is loud, food centered, steeped in tradition, superstition and beliefs that are mind-boggling to anyone living outside that cultural boundary. Olivia is a typical city girl–skeptical of anything that isn’t “modern” or rooted in science, cynical when it comes to the emotional aspects of life, and condescending of anything that doesn’t meet her standards of materialism.

Olivia’s family become aware of Kwan only in the dying moments of Jack Lee. Kwan was the wild card no one knew about. Olivia’s mother brings Kwan to the U.S. as part of her promise to her husband. Olivia describes this when she says, “Looking back, I can imagine how my mom must have felt when she first heard this. Another wife? A daughter in China? We were a modern American family. We spoke English. Sure, we ate Chinese food, but take-out, like everyone else…… According to Aunt Betty, at the funeral, my mother vowed never to remarry. She vowed to teach us children to do honour to the Yee family name. She vowed to find my father’s firstborn child, Kwan, and bring her back to the U.S. The last promise was the only one she kept”. Kwan, with her lack of understanding of the English Language and its nuances, her curiosity about everything that is part of city life, and her boundless capacity for optimism in the face of hurtful situations becomes a source of embarrassment for Olivia. But what Kwan lacks in lingua franca and other seeming frailty she makes up for with her astute understanding of human nature, her forgiving personality, and unwavering loyalty to family and friends. Kwan is endearing to me, I want to wrap her in the warmest clothing and hold her safe, ‘cause she is what I would want in an elder sister. She embodies that Safe Haven feeling that everyone should have in their lives.

The timeline weaves back and forth between the missionaries in Manchu China, with its Heavenly King and present day China and San Francisco. In between, Kwan narrates incidents in her own childhood and past life, as bedtime stories to Olivia. Olivia usually dismisses it as imaginative stories, having nothing to do with reality. But her perception changes when a job assignment brings Olivia, who is a photographer, Simon (Olivia’s estranged husband), who is a writer and Kwan, who becomes the interpreter, to China. And all the stories come alive. As Olivia’s perception about the other senses change, the reader becomes aware of the depth of the connections that she and the other characters in the story share. Along the way, we listen to some profound epiphanies that come out of the characters, as they move out of their comfort zones, grow, and learn.

Love – “Love is tricky. It is never mundane or daily. You can never get used to it. You have to walk with it, then let it walk with you. You can never balk. It moves you like the tide. It takes you out to sea, then lays you on the beach again. Today’s struggling pain is the foundation for a certain stride through the heavens. You can run from it but you can never say no. It includes everyone.”

Loyalty – “Libby-ah, do you know what loyalty is?” “What?” “Its like this. If you ask someone to cut off his hand to save you from flying off with the roof, he immediately cuts off both hands to show you he is more than glad to do so.”

Hate– “Then one of Kevin’s friends, a swaggering second-grader whom all the little girls had a crush on, said to me, “Is that dumb Chink your sister? Hey, Olivia, does that mean you’re a dumb Chink too?” I was so flustered I yelled, “She’s not my sister! I hate her! I wish she’d go back to China!” ……
My mother shook her head looking sad. “Olivia,” she said, “we don’t ever hate anyone. ‘Hate’ is a terrible word. It hurts you as much as it hurts others.” Of course, this only made me hate Kwan even more.

Hope – “Everyone must dream. We dream to give ourselves hope. To stop dreaming – well, that’s like saying you can never change your fate. Isn’t that true?”

Priority – “You know, they’re sort of lucky.” “What do you mean?” “You know, the small community, family histories linked for generations, focused on the basics. You need a house, you get your friends to help you slap a few bricks together, no bullshit about qualifying for a loan. Birth and death, love and kids, food and sleep, a home with a view – I mean, what more to you need?” (Simon tells Olivia when he senses her wince at hardship of the village life, on their walk across the Changmian Village)

As I ruminated before sleeping, I thought of how I grew up, straddling two different worlds at all times. One side was very comfortable with the idea of an unseen, all-feeling world, where our ancestors watched over us, where the spirits of the forests, waters, and plants help us; where the air, water, fire, dirt, and smells are messengers between the seen and unseen. The other side knew I would be mocked if I spoke of such things at school or work, or amongst people who weren’t familiar with the region, place, and people I came from. Yet, I was thankful for the culture I grew up in, the unexplainable and intangible was accepted as “the hope for life”, even as we embraced the science and the explanations it offered in understanding the tangible world. I felt humbled by my circumstance of life. I realize why I found Kwan lovable.

I understood and felt sorry for Olivia. Her relationship with her mother seemed to become an underlying principle for all of her relationships, giving it a sense of unfulfillment, a neediness, a sadness, a blocked off path. I feel like the author was playing around with different views of Karma and Reincarnation, making me wonder about my beliefs on the subject. Could it be that all of the familiarity, the joys and hurts that I experience with the people around me, is part of a past life account? Do we ever live our lives in Present-ness I wonder, if we are constantly paying out for our past lives? Do we really undo the kinks in our previous life, if all of this is true? What if it isnt true? Is the sole purpose of the ideas of reincarnation or rebirth, just to stymie our fear of death?

Overall I give this book a 4/5. It is well written…Although I felt like the author, like Paulo Coelho, has a constant theme in her stories (I watched The Joy Luck Club)–A strained relationship with a Mother figure that spills into relationships in other spheres.

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Humeirah, by Sabah Carrim — a book review by Vasudev Murthy

The Johari Window is a simple construct created to help understand the relationship of a person with oneself and with others. What parts are known? What are unknown? How do we evolve as thinking individuals in our lifetimes particularly when exposed to radically new ideas that seem orthogonal in spirit to the milieu in which one must perforce exist? Can we exist within, and be quite content? Do we really need someone else?

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Humeirah, by the Mauritian writer Sabah Carrim, stands out as a particularly courageous story, of looking within for answers. Island cultures tend to be insular, or so we are led to believe, as heterogeneity is difficult to achieve on a consistent basis, and perhaps survival is compromised if there are too many mavericks. If we go with this premise for a moment, it must be an even greater challenge for a mind to strive to be absolutely independent, driven to constantly question and challenge, when the ecosystem around him or her discourages such striving, considering it heretical and socially unacceptable to the extreme. Where does one escape to when there is nothing to stimulate and give answers to often imprecisely described, constantly evolving questions? How does one find release from the strictures of a conservative community that discourages independence of thought and cannot understand why one would want it to begin with? Indeed, how does one escape from an Island? I found the unstated analogy interesting.

In Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence the protagonist spurns a career as a banker in London and takes up art to find meaning in life. He does indeed find many answers and the world ultimately recognizes his genius. This is a quest that we all have – with time, however, we allow that quest to lose its pungency and join the herd.

While Maugham’s protagonist, Strickland, is able to walk away from the traditional and socially acceptable roles of a caring husband and father, Humeirah has much more to grapple with. What if a woman’s maternal instincts are not as intense as other women? What if the desire to be a “good wife” is muted? What if all this is happening within the bounds of a very conservative Sunni Muslim family in a tightly knit social setting? The struggles of an intelligent woman are a million times more desperate and painful to the observer, especially in what appears to be a very tough situation with no escape.

Some seek the madness of music, some find solace in spiritualism, some in art. In this case, the probing beauty of philosophy. And for the vast majority – there are no avenues, a grim testament to the tragedy of wasted lives that wither in time, with no possibility of being nourished simply because of social circumstances dictated by religious or traditional strictures. In Humeirah, there is a glimmer of hope offered. It is not a call to rebellion necessarily – though, by the way, the book is banned in Dubai of all places – , but certainly a subtle appeal to find answers in other passions and find some sort of uneasy resolution to the very baffling question of “Who am I, really?”

One may argue that the author has unwittingly portrayed the protagonist in an overly sympathetic light. Is there something inherently undesirable in conforming to some minimal extent with the needs of those with whom we have a social bond? The withdrawing into oneself and the obsession with questions of existentialism possibly created a rift with other actors in the story who were not gifted with the same intellectual strengths and needs, and were performing traditional roles that had, very possibly, delivered optimum happiness and structure over centuries. Could she be accused of being selfish? Indeed, she was. Great men and women, trapped in circumstances and roles which they abhor, possibly must bear the taunts of being called a bad mother or a cold husband, when they start questioning or exploring their passions. Or being called mentally disturbed, which of course raises yet another series of questions, as to who exactly is normal.

It would be a pity if Humeirah were to be just considered exemplary Mauritian literature. The story has many elements of Mauritius, but the appeal for me was elsewhere. The fact that I knew nothing much about the country did not bother me because the intellectual jousting and the description of internal chaos and conflicts was perfectly universal. It must take courage to challenge the norms of a community (Kutchi Memoms in this case) that would be considered successful in the conventional sense.

The author’s language is sophisticated and fluid and does not detain you unnecessarily in the reading, which in itself is a sign of confident and accessible writing. Only on such a firm foundation could she have been bold enough to exercise her intellect and frame complex questions. To me, a good book need not have answers. To provoke questions is in itself a great achievement.

Required reading for those who seek something new and powerful, yet believable…

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald (a review)

Perhaps it’s because I’ve read so many attempts at love stories that have been terrible, I’d begun to lose faith in the genre, but this revived it. The character of Gatsby did that. To wait for someone so many years, and then, knowing that that someone is already married, still try to win her over, having a feeling that she would still be in love with him too, that was beautiful. The way the love is brought out, through small details like how long they had been separated, or throwing parties expecting that she will be one of the uninvited guests that come, or even owning the mansion across from her so he can be near, that was brilliant. If Jay Gatsby’s love was interesting, the same can be said about how Fitzgerald portrays Tom Buchanan’s love too — wavering, reckless, adulterous, even to the point of taking his wife’s cousin along to meet his mistress. It stays the same till the point where he knows deep down that his relationship with his mistress will not continue. And Daisy… did she love Gatsby as much as he loved her? That’s something I find difficult to answer. Till the twist to the tale, I thought she did. After that too, I thought she did. But looking in retrospect, I do not know for sure.

Not every book that has been recommended to me by friends turn out amazing. But there are some that turn out to be wonderful, and when done reading, brings about a sense of loss, of wonder not just about the story but as to why I hadn’t read the book before. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald turned out to be such a book.

5 stars would be too less for the book, a classic that I found to be very enjoyable… yes, the Great Gatsby was so.

Vinay Leo R. | A Bookworm’s Musing

Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

http://andiwrite.com/2015/08/05/review-world-war-z-an-oral-history-of-the-zombie-war/I do not obsess over zombie films. However if a movie us particularly good, then I will make a point to watch it. One such movie that I did end up watching couple of months ago on the TV was World War Z. I did enjoy watching this take on the movie, and ended up reading some reviews of it. It was during this search that I came to know that the movie is based on the book by Max Brooks. The full name of the book is “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War”.

Freshly having finished a different book, I was itching to get into another one. Few moments later, I was ready with it on my kindle. After the first 3 chapters, I began to lose my interest in the book. You see I had based my frame of reference on the movie. The book and movie are nothing alike. Zilch. The movie follows the plot about a zombie apocalypse from Brad Pitt’s character being the central character. The book however, is entirely different. It is (as the title says) an oral history of the war on zombies. I will cover this review in two aspects: The (long) synopsis, and the review.

The narrator had been asked to prepare a report for the UN, but his supervisor found the report to be too human and opinionated and has only the facts and figures submitted as the official report. The books serves as the records of the narrator as he interviews people from all over the world about the zombie war. His intention with this compilation is that a report on the war on Humanity cannot be complete without the human side of the war.

The book covers 8 major periods of the Zombie War:

  • Warnings: Referred by some of the characters as the pre-war time, this particular period has very few cases of out breaks. Patient Zero can be traced to a boy in rural China, and begins spreading to India. A hiker is said to have brought the infection to USA. Bodies that were dumped in the seas wash up on the shores of the countries and spread the infection across the world.
  • Blame: Isolated outbreaks begin in China, but the government tries to suppress knowledge of it. Black market trading of human organs spread the infection across borders, as some of the organs are harvested from people who had fallen sick to the infection, but before their corpses had been reanimated into zombies. The blood from these organs infects the recipients, who after reanimation begin to attack people and spread it even more. There are large outbreaks in Africa, and disease begins to be dubbed as African Rabies. Most of the governments are still in denial about the infection, or its extent. A company tries to profiteer from the scare by marketing a vaccine called Phalanx. Since the vaccine is designed rabies, and not the zombie infection, it fails massively when the infection begins to spread across the USA. While the initial Alpha teams manage to contain the infection, in sufficient follow up actions by the government on account of wanting political gains causes a surge in the spread.
  • The Great Panic: After a new reporter breaks the news that the Phalanx vaccine is just a placebo and has no protection against the actual zombie virus, there is a mass spread of panic and a resulting breakdown of society/civilization from the rapid spread of the infection and people’s attempts to run. The United States Armed Forces try to hold a big stand against the zombies at a choke point called Yonkers near New York. Instead of being the morale boosting war, the battle is a disaster with huge casualties and serves to further reduce the morale of the surviving population.
  • Turning the Tide: The Redeker Plan, prepared by Paul Redeker (an Apartheid era official) is executed in South Africa. The government realizes that realistically it cannot save everyone. Safe zones are identified in highly defensible areas, and the zombies are lead to other zones. People who are not in these safe zones are killed and reanimated as zombies, while the armed forces defend, purge and slowly expand the safe zones. Other countries implement a similar plan based on this plan’s success. Millions of people are reported to have lost their lives during this period.
  • Home Front: Primarily set in the USA, this chapter deals with how the country is restructured. Once bitten, twice shy (excuse the pun); the government reorients its strategies based on the lessons learnt throughout the world. This leads to not only just new military, but also economic and social strategies.
  • Around the World: Similar restructuring and stories of people from around the world, in other countries.
  • Total War: Around the time that most of western USA has been reclaimed, the governments of the world think that it is better to wait out the rest of their time for the zombies to decompose, get weaker so that they either die on their own or are easier to kill. However the USA wants to go on a full offensive to reclaim the entire nation and hence increase morale by touching Humanity’s undying spirit. In itself, it is a very difficult task. This is because the zombies do not require any logistics or weapons. They do not need to stop for feeding or resting. There are no leaders whose assassination can cause a collapse as each individual zombie is a self-sufficient enemy that only focusses on attacking humans. Even large injuries like burning, cutting of limbs only seem to just slow them down. The only way to defeat them is to destroy the brains of each and every one of them. They employ old war strategies re invented by General Raj Singh in India, where by a square of armed forces can go against thousands of zombies. It is used on a large scale at the Battle of Hope in USA with great success. Ten years after the start of war, North America is cleared free of zombies. The world celebrates Victory Day two years later, when China is also cleared of zombies. Russia and Europe have been able to clear the zombie infestation as well.
  • Goodbyes: Also known as the Post-War time, most of the nations have been able to become zombie free. Some parts in the extreme North face a different problem, where the zombies was frozen due to extreme winter and start coming out to attack after they thaw out. There are still millions of zombies at the bottom of the oceans, of which some manage to float or walk to the beaches and have to be killed by the armed forces.

What really works for this book is that it is an oral history of people around the world. Barring a select few characters, characters do not reappear. It does require getting used to, because by the time you get attached the story of a character, the interview of that particular character has finished and we move on to a different character. The reason this works for the book, is that this is the story of humanity as a whole, and not some particular central characters and other secondary supporting characters.

The book covers both, the good and the bad of humans. When you read about the screw ups, each one is as painful as the previous because all of them cost human lives. As you read through the books, it becomes easier to observe and predict the screw ups and poor decisions, but one cannot change or control what happens in this story. We have to live through these losses, as much as the narrator and characters do. To balance this, each act of courage, and help makes you wonder an awe at the strength of human bonds and survival. This book shows how stupid and brazen, and how helpful and caring humans can get.

Another reason (which is discussed in detail in the book) for why lost so many lives, and took this long to recover is that most (if not all) of our war tactics and strategies are based on fighting fellow humans. All of this fails when we’re fighting an enemy that can wage total war against us. This an enemy that does not stop, and has no specific leader. Things that would kill a normal human (like gunfire to the torso, being set on fire, drowning, or starvation fail when it comes to zombies. Every human lost to a zombie bite, is a loss to the humans, but is an addition to the zombie army. This is literally an army that grows as we lose ours.

The interviews are not limited to military veterans, or politicians. There are people who survived only because of the kindness of strangers, people who became veterans because they had no other choice but to enlist and fight, people who witness that sometimes it is humans who are to be most feared as they descend into violence and cannibalism. This is a story that talks of the best and the worst of us.

Since this is a book, and not a film or TV series, it relies upon the imagination of the reader to deal with the gore of the zombie attacks, of them eating humans. Honestly speaking though, these are the least disturbing parts of the book.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, absolutely yes. Full 5 stars. I will leave you with some quotes from the book:

“Fear,” he used to say, “fear is the most valuable commodity in the universe.” That blew me away. “Turn on the TV,” he’d say. “What are you seeing? People selling their products? No. People selling the fear of you having to live without their products.” Fuckin’ A, was he right. Fear of aging, fear of loneliness, fear of poverty, fear of failure. Fear is the most basic emotion we have. Fear is primal. Fear sells. That was my mantra. “Fear sells.”

Our country only exists because people believed in it, and if it wasn’t strong enough to protect us from this crisis, then what future could it ever hope to have? He knew that America wanted a Caesar, but to be one would mean the end of America.

Marty chose, instead, to show the other side, the one that gets people out of bed the next morning, makes them scratch and scrape and fight for their lives because someone is telling them that they’re going to be okay. There’s a word for that kind of lie. Hope.

When that famous Latin singer played that Spanish lullaby, it was too much for one of our operators. He wasn’t from Buenos Aires, he wasn’t even from South America. He was just an eighteen-year-old Russian sailor who blew his brains out all over his instruments. He was the first, and since the end of the war, the rest of the IR operators have followed suit. Not one of them is alive today. The last was my Belgian friend. “You carry those voices with you,” he told me one morning. We were standing on the deck, looking into that brown haze, waiting for a sunrise we knew we’d never see. “Those cries will be with me the rest of my life, never resting, never fading, never ceasing their call to join them.”

KONDO: I thought he was insane, and told him so right to his face. The two of us against millions of siafu? TOMONAGA: I handed his sword back to him; its weight and balance felt familiar to the touch. I told him that we might be facing fifty million monsters, but those monsters would be facing the gods.

I made eye contact and gave him this look, like “Hey, Doc, they’re all nut jobs, right?” He must have known what my eyes were asking because he just smiled back and shook his head. That really spooked me; I mean, if the ones who were acting loopy weren’t, then how did you know who’d really lost it?

Yeah, we stopped the zombie menace, but we’re the ones who let it become a menace in the first place. At least we’re cleaning up our own mess, and maybe that’s the best epitaph to hope for. “Generation Z, they cleaned up their own mess.”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I don’t miss some things about the old world, mainly just stuff, things I used to have or things I used to think I could have one day. Last week we had a bachelor party for one of the young guys on the block. We borrowed the only working DVD player and a few prewar skin flicks. There was one scene where Lusty Canyon was getting reamed by three guys on the hood of this pearl gray BMW Z4 convertible, and all I could think was Wow, they sure don’t make cars like that anymore.

I’ve heard it said that the Holocaust has no survivors, that even those who managed to remain technically alive were so irreparably damaged, that their spirit, their soul, the person that they were supposed to be, was gone forever. I’d like to think that’s not true. But if it is, then no one on Earth survived this war

 

This post was originally posted at Andiwrite.com

“Buddy Guy – When I left home” – A review

Venu @ the window

“Buddy Guy – When I left home”

A review

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I was eighteen when I first fell in love. It was at a dingy little record store at Fountain Plaza, on Pantheon Road in Egmore, Madras, back in the mid 80’s, where I paid the then princely sum of 62 rupees for a well-preserved vinyl LP – Eric Clapton’s seminal double album, “Just one night”. All afternoon at home, I listened to the four sides, over and over again. If ‘Blues Power’ touched me for its tinkling piano work, then ‘Tulsa time’ electrified me with its grinding beat; if ‘Further on up the road’ seemed heavenly, then ‘Double Trouble’ was divine. By dinner time, I knew I was in love – with the blues. Over the years, my love deepened, and the spectrum of my affections grew to encompass countless greats: Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howling Wolf, Little Walter, and…

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Review : I am The Messenger – Markus Zusak

iammessenger I picked this up because of the Author. I enjoyed his Book Thief immensely, so I wanted a repeat performance with a different story.

The story starts with a stick up in a bank, where four 19 year old friends happened to be – Ed Kennedy, Marv, Ritchie(Dave Sanchez) and Audrey. Ed ends up being a Hero at the end of this event as he ends up capturing the bank robber in a twist of events when the thief drops his gun and Ed takes charge of it. This event is the turning point of his aimless life. Soon after he gets a game card – The ace of diamonds with three addresses to deliver a message, or else. That was the start of his job as a Messenger. As he finishes the delivering the messages in each card, he gets another. A total of 12 messages to deliver and the gradual change that manifests in Ed as he delivers the messages is nice to watch. It felt like watching a child grow up, stand up for itself, move through life trusting itself more, being more of itself, gaining an insight that helps the child live a satisfying life. All within 360 odd pages of a book. That is a good deal.

Ed is the narrator of the story. He is an underachiever par excellence. He has a brother who does everything right and two sisters who have their own lives. All of them left the place they were born for better prospects except for Ed. He is in love with Audrey, who has friend zoned him. His friends Ritchie and Marv are very loyal and good to have as friends but there isn’t much growth between them or for themselves in their apathetic choice of lifestyles. Ritchie, is the typical, mask wearing person we all get to meet in our lives- the always jovial, nothing phases them, nothing bothers them, laid back outer vibe that hides a deep sense of loneliness and dissatisfaction with life. Marv, is the 9-5 kind of guy or at least that is what he shows himself to be- the go to work, save money, thrifty bordering on miserly, in love with his car. Ed and Audrey work as cab drivers for a taxi company with Ed having lied about his age to get the job. Ed’s father has passed and the only legacy that was left to Ed was his father’s old and stinky dog, The Doorman. His mother was a lady(not sure if I should call her that) with a foul mouth, who couldn’t finish any conversation with Ed, without punctuating it with profanity. She was deeply disappointed in Ed as he resembled his father and she felt he could do more. She was verbally very abusive to Ed, yet Ed had unfinished business with her. Or maybe the fact that she is his mother made it difficult for him to find his way out of that relationship.

Each of the messages that Ed is compelled to deliver changes the life of the receiver of the message, and the giver. Each of the messages helps Ed see that life is more about Love, about giving, about helping, doing what you can under the circumstances. Each time he delivers the message, he becomes less timid, more purposeful with his life, more thoughtful of what he is doing.

I was specially touched the way he handles each of the messages, even when the results weren’t as he wanted. There is Milla, the old lady who is still waiting for her beau. There is a beauty in the way he pretends to be Her long lost Love. Sophie, the young barefooted athlete, specially touching was the gift he gave her. The Family of Tatupu and Carusso, their gifts were so simple, yet so loving. As he delivers the messages, he gathers courage enough to confront his own demons.  His perception of his mother and the relationship he has with her, changes.

The story gives a message of hope to the reader, that if a person like Ed could Get Up when he was down, do the things that he did, that are way beyond what he could ever imagine, then maybe anyone could. You don’t have to be a special someone, a famous someone or a wealthy someone to connect with people, to reach out, do the needful, be there, send a message of love and of care, of understanding the human need to touch and be touched in our hearts.

I have to say, that I wouldn’t put this book in the hands of anyone who is younger than 16 years old. Maybe that is a little prudish of me but I really don’t think someone younger than that age really understands the nuances and implications involved in Adult relationships – sex, rape and foul language.

The premise of 19-20 year olds, wandering aimlessly in life is believable but the plot of how to get them to have a purpose in life was unbelievable. I liked the message he was trying to deliver though I felt the ending was a bit abrupt. Like as if, he was forced to end the book due to a deadline. It is light reading. Nothing too deep, A simple message with a beautiful story.

Overall I give a 4/5.

Books we love

We have shared books to read before we turn 10, 20, 30 and every decade that a human possible could think of being alive. And we talk about books that we liked, hated and loved. And then there were a few that we just could not stop talking about. Isn’t it only fair that we have a list of our own? The BE – must read list. A compilation of what we discussed over the past month and a half…starting with the latest.

1. Shikhandi: And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik  

Aswathi:

The very title of the book seems to be an invitation to enter a room filled to the brim with stories.. we are familiar with most of them, it could be even in a scattered kind of way, at some level, we all know the story of the Pandavas, our Gods and goddesses… If not grandparents and parents, we had our B R Chopra with his tales on national television and the like..in the 90s

Read her full review here – https://bookendersblog.wordpress.com/2015/03/04/devdutt-pattnaiks-shikhandi-and-other-tales-they-dont-tell-you-2014/

2. Night Film by  Marisha Pessl

Amit:

It is about this journalist who is investigating the suicide of the daughter of a movie director. Now this director is famous in night film circles for his gory and chilling movies, never appeared in public and has is ultra clandestine life. I don’t want to go in more details. The book plays with your mind.

3. Where the Rain is Born: Writing About Kerala by Anita Nair

Vinay:

Reading this, I can feel the drops of that October drizzle, trickling down my cheek, like I am standing on the threshold of my own ancestral home in Kerala seeing the hues.

Reading is bliss. Heaven.

4. A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul

Venu:

Best opening line in a long time.
“The world is what it is. Men who are nothing…have no place in it”

5. How to be Good by Nick Hornby

Kiran:

How to Be Good is this very modern day English tale of a certain class of Brits- liberal, professional, upright citizens in an upper middle class locality. wife is a doctor, husband is a minor columnist cum author in the making. two small kids. The story starts with the wife announcing she wants a divorce. on the phone. while she has started her first extra marital dalliance And then the story goes into their lives the questions troubling them, and the underlying dynamics. simply, engagingly, direct dil se. A great example of how to tackle difficult toics in a simplisitc yet profound way.

6. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Kiran:

a little older tale of an older couple. again, frayed, ageing lives, whats been the good, the not so good and then startling new twists. A more intense and involved language n style than Nick hornby, with a lot more range of coverage. and yet, within the realms of the simple tale told sweetly.

7. In the Light of What we Know by Zia Haider Rahman

Kiran:

PROFOUND. LITERARY. INTENSE. SUPER INTELLIGENT. All that needs to be said out loud. Because it is a book that is not subtle or gentle in the least. Grabs you from the start and makes you work hard. and takes you such a journey. One of the most brilliant books ever i have read . And incredibly, it is the first novel ever by the author. Full of the big themes of identity, class, love, loss, knowledge, knowing, memory and its shaping, and even global geo-politics.

8. Love among the Bookshelves by  Ruskin Bond

Bindu:

Absolutely loving this short and delightful read

9. Seahorse by Janice Pariat

Joseph:

Call it surreal, but many a times I felt like that I was being sat by Pariat under the shade of a massive tree and told the story. And it does not matter whether Nehemiah will find his lover at the end, you will want the book to never end or so I felt.

I became a fan of Pariat after reading her collection of short stories “Boats on Land”, which is her first book and “Seahorse” is her first novel. With “Seahorse” I have become her disciple now and will be waxing eloquence about her art with all the book lovers there.

Read his full review here – http://evann-joseph.blogspot.in/2015/02/seahorse-review-lyrical-and-musical.html

10. The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family by Laura Schenone

Priya:

I just started this book – just 3 pages into it, in fact – and it is delicious! I have a feeling I am going to like this book very, very much.

11. The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America’s Grasp by Marin Katusa

Venu:

At the BE meet in Matteo last Dec, I managed only a short five minutes down time with the man from E&Y, in which I reiterated my two points: that a centennial power shift was happening from west to east [colloquially, from NATO to SCO], and that the manifestation of such a shift would be in the oil price change in 2015. Well guess what? Someone’s gone and written a book saying precisely this. Naturally, the author still views India as a penniless beggar [which in energy terms we are], but he also says we are building enough clout to engage in long-term discounted crude trade deals with Iran entirely to America’s chagrin…and India’s benefit [which I touched upon in Sept 2014, and is supported by MoPNG Pradhan’s visit to Islamabad a fortnight ago]. Also ties in well with the J-man’s fears of a new cold war brewing. And finally, here’s a tip: If I were in the E&Y M&A div, I’d look at North American service companies in the oil patch [currently facing mass extinction!]

12. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Rashmee:

It is story of strength of women, the stuff we go through and still keep our humanity in tact. It is about love, love of family, love of mother, of lovers. I love a good love story and this has that typical in the teens love that has an innocence mixed with ambition for the future.

Read the full review here – https://bookendersblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/178/

13. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Gigi:

A beautiful hard bound book complete with silk tassel bookmark and illustrations sat on the table and I must admit that it was love at first sight!!

The writing has me spell bound and I have to agree that there is an undeniable class and sophistication in the writing , that somehow seems to be lacking in many of the contemporary books that I have read.

Here is one of my favorite scenes so far in the book for its imagery .

14. Aarachar by  K R Meera

Godan:

really good up and coming writer in Malayalam. Forgot who inBookends suggested this, it really is a good read.

15. Lucknow Boy: A Memoir by Vinod Mehta

Bindu:

Much more than I bargained for – Sharad Pawar and Dawood Ibrahim, Morarji Desai and CIA, steamy scene – writer Narasimha Rao and now a moderately drinking, non-veg eating, naughty Vajpayee

16. Editor Unplugged: Media, Magnates, Netas and Me by Vinod Mehta

Bindu:

He has written about almost everyone with at least one irreverent anecdote about each, but one was missing, that too very obviously. The Madam. And he finally agrees, that she could do no wrong. At least in his eyes. That was the Lucknow Boy in him talking. Now let me go see what the Editor has to say, Unplugged.
I love memoirs. Especially when they are as juicy

17. A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces: Extraordinary Short Stories from the 19th Century to the Present by  David Davidar

Bindu:

A surname caught my attention, in fact, his is the last story in the book. I had read an article by him sometime ago and loved it. Studied at Yale, where he graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with BAs in History and Literature and at Columbia, where he was a FLAS fellow in Persian and South Asian studies. Loved his writing and tongue in cheek humour, surely a name to be reckoned with in future…a chip off the old bloke

18. The Passion of Artemisia: A Novel by Susan Vreeland

Bindu:

Ladies, and gentlemen who at least try to understand their ladies, if you have ever loved, been betrayed, longed for something with your whole heart and soul, have felt the sweet and aching tug of love for a mother figure, yearned for beauty, things that were beyond your reach, have admired women who were headstrong and passionate, this is one book that you absolutely MUST read. What a woman! And mind you, she is no mere figment of imagination..

19. And Then One Day: A Memoir by Naseeruddin Shah

Bindu:

Never had work consumed me so badly that for a few weeks I could not get past even two pages of a book. People who know me would understand when I say it was like I’d stopped breathing. Only a book and a man like this could redeem me. The smile is now back on my face and the breath is back to being yogic.
What a man, what a story!

20. To Kill a Mockingbird by  Harper Lee

Devaky:

I was 10 when I read To Kill a Mockingbird. I distinctly remember the stern look from the librarian at Corpus Christie High School in Kottayam as she admonished me for borrowing a “grown-up’s” book (yes, it wasn’t under the section for children’s books, I’d already finished the entire section).

I clasped the book tighter with my small fingers, didn’t budge from her desk… I sat through the night to finish the book. The next day I climbed back up on my favourite guava tree behind our dormitory & spent my afternoon reading it again.

Of course I got detention for missing my dance class & PT, but my head was filled with the agony, emotions, wit & beauty of Harper Lee’s tale. Nothing else mattered.

Can’t wait to read the sequel 30 years later.

Devdutt Pattnaik’s Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t tell you (2014)

shikhandi & other tales

It is funny how the title can itself lead to so many readings of what the book entails…”Other Tales they don’t tell us…”

The stories in the book retold by Devdutt seem to be stories that were always there. But at least the title seems to tell the readers that they were somehow not actively passed on. it is as if there was some restraining order on these stories.. stories withdrawn from the larger public for some reason, and these reasons make them all the more mysterious and therefore, the demand to read 🙂 Even though the book is not part of the genre of mystery and thriller, the title kind of gives it that edge of mmm what is it, if not a whodunit 😛

Therefore, I feel the title invites the readers to explore the seemingly unexplored, of the suppressed, not talked about.. in addition to think about how certain stories are there and some are not.. it is about what trickles down as history, stories, what all gets to be talked about and circulated….

Writing about myths has its good and bad.. and the good is, that it is in the realm of the familiar.. Devdutt need not explain a lot to his readers, if they are Indians or well read on Hindu myths.. most of us would have heard these stories over and over again from some source if we live or have lived in India… it is difficult not to come by or ignore them.. they are so in the face every where.

the bad is, exactly the same familiar, which makes it difficult to make the stories interesting ..One of the ways he works this out is by giving additional background and context. The very act of pooling together stories from different mythological sources on a given theme , here the third gender, makes it a new collection.. we may have come across these stories, but reading so many of them together in this given context gives it a perspective..

The very title of the book seems to be an invitation to enter a room filled to the brim with stories.. we are familiar with most of them, it could be even in a scattered kind of way, at some level, we all know the story of the Pandavas, our Gods and goddesses… If not grandparents and parents, we had our B R Chopra with his tales on national television and the like..in the 90s

I think it is because of this Mahabharata, this programme used to be aired on Sundays, that I can only think of Mukhesh Khanna as anyone but Bhishma. and that too, the image of him in his silver coloured clothes on the bed of arrows. It is curious that I don’t remember him at first as his later avatar of the first televised Indian superhero, Shaktimaan. If it is a coincidence, the image I have of Khanna- Bhisma is brought about in the tale by none other than Shikhandi..

“Drupada was happy to finally get a son, but then, to his dismay, Shikhandi in a rather cavalier moment placed around his neck Amba’s garland of ever-fresh lotus flower that for years had been hanging on a pillar of his palace. ‘He will kill Bhisma,’ moaned Drupada, ‘But I need a son who will kill Drona.”(Devdutt Pattnaik, Shikhandi & Other Tales They Don’t Tell You, pg 43)

The title of the book says, “Shikhandi and other tales they don’t tell you” .. and quite aptly, we all seem to know about Shikhandi.. Devdutt begins his set with the story of Shikandi..and then he goes on the tell us other tales of transformation and births.

The book was recommended to me by Uma.. in passing, during our conversations in the Jsquad 🙂

Cross posted as part of Teaser Tuesdays on pins & ashes

Review : Girl In Translation – Jean Kwok

translatingirl

A week ago I was done with Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. I picked up the book on a whim.  I did the usual drill.  I pick up the book and read bits and pieces in between before taking it home. If nothing catches my interest I leave it alone.

The blurb read “When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life-like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition-Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.” The back and forth straddling two worlds is what I recognize very well, since I am a fence sitter on most things.

I turn to a random page and I read “There’s a Chinese saying that the fates are winds that blow through our lives from every angle, urging us along the paths of time.  Those who are strong-willed may fight the storm and possibly choose their own road, while the weak must go where they are blown.  I say I have not been so much pushed by winds as pulled forward by the force of my decisions.”  Gets me thinking, how much of that was true in my own life.  I believed in Fate and Destiny like most every Indian kid. That writing on our foreheads that never can be changed. I still do to a degree but the older I get, my memory of what the choices I made that got me to where I am today is undeniable.

Now for some thoughts on the book –

1. The story is about a young girl, Ah-Kim AKA Kimberly, just entering her teens moving to the US from Hong Kong with her Mother. Told from the Girl’s perspective as she grows. An immigrants experience always makes me empathetic, cause I am in those shoes partly. Though I have been curious about immigrants from other countries and their experiences, my own inhibition when it comes to falling over myself to make conversations makes it impossible to know another the way I want to. The fear of being labeled nosy or disrespecting a person’s privacy makes me very wary of crossing certain boundaries.

2. Throughout the story, there is a theme of “so many skirts worth” when ever they buy something.  I couldnt help but laugh in complete knowing what that meant.  When we came to the US, we didnt have much money although it was definitely more than what we had in our home country. So we became such experts at the 33 and 34 times tables. A Dollar was worth about 33  Rupees at the time. And every dollar we spent would be converted to rupees in such habit that it never seemed like we lived in America, we lived in a  “so many rupees worth of dollars spent” world.

3. As the girl grows in a place unfamiliar to her, you see the obstacles of clashing culture with her own rich inner life. The experience is very poignant, cause some of those very emotions are the emotions I think any girl growing anywhere in conservative Asian societies goes through. Its that “not being heard but seen” rule that girls in Asian societies are afflicted with and the inner worlds we build because of what cant be voiced freely and the freedom we find in voicing it when an opportunity knocks, compelling us to grab it.

4. It is story of strength of women, the stuff we go through and still keep our humanity in tact. It is about love, love of family, love of mother, of lovers. I love a good love story and this has that typical in the teens love that has an innocence mixed with ambition for the future.

5. The premise that a woman can make it, no matter what obstacles, with her single mindedness and need to keep it together, it’s a trait that I watch in a lot of women. I am not saying that Men don’t have it, but that it is more appealing in a woman cause she rarely gets credit for it. Society rarely awards women for their strength, the quiet strength that is used every day of their lives. Its that strength that helps those around them breathe and move free, cause they yoke themselves in one place being the sun in others lives. I am yet to see someone give a woman “The Best Housewife award”. And I think I am biased, I like the underdog better than the hero.

6. There are a few instances where the girl Ah-Kim uses different pronunciations for words in English that she couldn’t understand in the beginning of her stay in the US. She isnt well versed in English, though she studied the language in Hong Kong. It felt funny as I read it, cause it reminded me of my faux pas. I have been in situations where I didn’t understand the US English word for certain things and had misunderstandings in spite of knowing the British Version of the Language. Nuances, Redneck Jokes, The Southern Drawl, the dropping of consonants from certain words in the East Coast, the laid back words of the NW, References to Books and stuff that wasnt part of my growing up(like baseball, Roots, different genres of music, art etc.) were things I had to learn over time. In a way I am glad I learned and that I have a lot more to learn(Hey, I am not dead yet Right?). I am aware that certain others of my ilk never make the effort, and I make it a point to explain if I am around, just so they will enjoy their stay here better.

7. Overall I give it a 3.5/5. I shaved the points for the fact it isnt a book that will appeal to anyone anywhere.

Review: Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth by Aruna Nambiar

For me, 2014 has been a year of reading new Indian writers. I bought many books out of pure curiosity, without waiting for reviews or recommendations. Many of the books left me unsatisfied. They certainly didn’t seem like books that I would want to recommend to any one else, or even pick up again.

And then I bought Aruna Nambiar’s “Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth”. I had met Aruna through mutual friends and the excerpt on Facebook got me curious. But let me be honest. I thought this would be one of those books that got by on pure nostalgia. (That’s always an easy sell.) The blurb and cover picture certainly promised this.

I was in for a pleasant surprise. The book does indeed bring back quintessential Indian memories. The story centers around little Geetha, who is at her grandparents’ house in the village for the yearly summer vacation with cousins. But Aruna refuses to succumb to simple nostalgia in telling Geetha’s story. She paints a fascinating and complex tableau of life in a small and conservative village, and turns her lens on things that are seldom talked about in such books: infatuation, greed, jealousy, and, yes, sex.

Aruna has a wicked sense of humour and her observant eye misses nothing. I was delighted by the tongue-in-cheek descriptions of the characters and their compulsions. The biggest surprise for me in this book was how beautifully Aruna captures the struggles of growing up. As adults, we tend to trivialise the concerns of children, but if we cast our minds back, we’d remember how serious the world seemed to us. Little Geetha is forced to confront many things that summer, not the least of which is the fact that she no longer fits in with her group of cousins. I enjoyed the peek into her mind as she wanders around the house trying to amuse herself and also show her cousins up.

“Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth” was a completely satisfying read for me. This is a classic, timeless book that illuminates and entertains by turn. The writing is nuanced and distraction-free, and the story pulled me in from the very beginning. If I have one criticism, it is that the ending is rather abrupt for a book that otherwise chugs along so smoothly. I would have liked it to have stretched out a bit more, and it could have done without the sudden shift in narrative tone.

But this is a minor quibble. Like the judges on Masterchef Australia, I asked myself, “In the end, did I enjoy it?”, and the answer is a resounding “Yes”. I want to add that I’m also very grateful to have my faith in new Indian fiction restored. I hope to read more of Aruna Nambiar’s writing and perhaps discover more delightful writers like her.