Sunday, June 03, 2007

Inheritance of Loss- Kiran Desai

This novel follows the life of its characters who reside in, or once resided in, Kalimpong at the foothills of the Himalayas. The central character is Sai, an orphaned young girl who shows up at the doorstep of her grandfather, a judge, to live with him and their cook. The story studies her life, the judge's, the cook's and his son who is an illegal immigrant working the restaurant circuit in NYC, and various other characters who live near them in the small village town. The novel is set around the time that the local Nepalese are seeking a seperate state in India and traces their village as it goes from idyllic and ideal to absolute unspeakable chaos and violence.

Though the book clearly showcases her wisdom and beautiful insights to life, there really is no clear solid plot in this novel. Its more a reflection of the characters and the lives they lived and who they were. And though it is a reflection of characters... Desai does not let us get too close to them. Her descriptions are lacking, the self reflection of their feelings is seldom... None of the characters are described to a degree where you can truly picture them, none really attain any degree of affection to the reader as they are presented distanced and disaffected.

Perhaps Desai wanted it that way, because her novel is really more than just about the people and the plot in and of itself but about the issues that the people of India have suffered with post-colonialism. She explains quite well the different ways that colonialism has affected the people of India by tracing different people in different social classes and age groups. I also loved the cook's son Biju's storyline and reading about what it was like to be an illegal immigrant in NYC struggling to make it through.

I feel that Inheritance is an important book for its highlighting of important issues, but for a book with good storytelling and plot or character development, I would not read this particular novel, but instead would easily recommend Zadie Smith or Khalid Hussein any day.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

High Fidelity, Nick Hornsby

What I love about Nick Hornsby is that his books make me laugh out loud. They are escapist yet still meaningful and make you think. High Fidelity is his most famous book about a thirty something guy working at a "going nowhere" record store with "going nowhere" friends. The story picks up with when his girlfriend leaves him and he reflects on women in the past, women in the future, and where he is going with his life. It's thoughtful and hilarious and I enjoyed it down to the last drop. It had a great ending which some may not like, but the sort that makes my day.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

On Beauty, Zadie Smith

What a perfectly delicious book! Scrumptious down to the last word. This is a story about two families with professors as their heads of household living in Boston in a college centered middle class community. The Kippses and Belseys are long time rivals due to their divergent views on Rembrant's work. But that really is just background static. The book is mostly about the dynamics of the Belsey family and how they interact with one another and with the Kippses. I love this book because the characters are so vivid and there were at least five times that I said out loud, "yes this is the feeling- exactly". She just has a knack about explaining what you feel though she wrote about something so completely different. What I really liked was that the characters were likeable and their lives though dreary at times still had that realistic under current of having highs and lows much like any other regular family. Some stories like this take themselves too seriously and you finish wanting to weep for days, their stories haunting you to peices. But this isn't like that. It deals with harsh issues but in a manner that you read, absorb, but move on from still loving most of them anyways. It's a great book. I recommend it.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Kite Runner, by Khalid Husseini

I hestitated buying this book. And then I stuck it in on the bookshelf and would try to avoid eye contact with it as I walked by. I knew I wanted to read it, but I knew it would be a tough and emotional read and I was afraid. I am so grateful that I ended up picking it up and reading it. It starts of slightly slow but it picks up its pace through the first half of the story. I loved his character descriptons. I could see Ali and his wife and young child. I could see the father of the potaganist so clearly that the images months later are still fresh in my mind. I think that made the book. I also appreciated the insight they provided to life in Afghanistan before the times of the troubles. It is good for the public to know that Afghanistan had modernity and colleges, etc. once upon a time. They are a victim of their geographic location, and their political problems. The people who suffer are the innocents. The book is an interesting perspective on the lives of the people of Afghanistan both living there, and the refugees as well.

There is a scene **warning spoiler to follow* where the protagnoist returns to Afghanistan after many years and as he eats at the home of a villager he sees the children staring fixed at what he thinks is his watch. He removes it and gives it to them as a gift. They seem polite about this gift yet uninterested. It is only later he learns that the host in an effort to be gracious fed them all the food they had for the entire family and the children were staring at the food from pangs of hunger and not at his watch. It was a powerful point in the book for me about perspective.

I loved this book and I consider it one of my favorite books of all time.

Muhammad, by: Karen Armstrong

This is a good book that explains the life of Prophet Muhammad and also traces the hatred and the prejudice over the years after the passing of the Prophet. She also traces fanaticism over religion through history as well. You can tell her book is an attempt to both portray a historical image of the Prophet and also to dispel popular misconceptions about him as well. Those who are Islamaphobic will think she is being too sympathetic or too kind about the Prophet. But to answer that you must read her book "The spiral staircase" Where she says to understand the religion of another you must learn it from their perspective which is not harsh and criticising. She does just that and provides a very balanced perspective. There are things in the book that hurt me, and Im not happy with but I I dont know if its inaccuracy or the truth of a time long ago that I simply can't grasp. (i.e. ghazu/raids of traveling caravans)

The book jumps around quite a bit but if you make it through to the end you will be glad you did.

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, by: mark haddon

What a delightful book! This is a story told from the point of view of an autistic child. That is a very difficult feat to accomplish, and to accomplish well but Mark Haddon did just that. It's got great dialogue and the plot of the dead dog does not overpower the more important point of the story, the relationship of this child with the people in his life. The book is a delicious read that you are sorry to see end because it is such a joy. I also liked that the book had a resolution. There are a lot of books I read these days that are considered deep and all but they have no conclusions. This is not right. The reader deserves some sort of resolution and this book had a good one. It didnt wrap up the story in a bow, but it did provide some resolution and closure.

The book is a bit unconventional in its writing style. Almost written in a diary format from the child. So if you don't mind the different writing style and the perspective that you have to read a little bit into to understand, this is a great book and why I call it a 5/5. I simply can't find anything to put down.

The End, by Lemony Snicket

This is the conclusion to the "Series of Unfortunate Event" saga. I feel duped. Royally duped. I read the first 12 as the drama built and I couldn't wait for book 13. And it just stank like a dead fish.

****Warning: Spoilers follow*****

I understand that everything would not be wrapped up nicely in a bow with this story. It is after all, a miserable story of children met with obstacles and tragedy every step of their way. But absolutely nothing was resolved. The sugarbowl that we followed for three books? Nothing. The twins that were kidnapped? Nothing. Most of the mysteries that we followed through and salivated for were left open. I guess the Olaf stuff was dealt with and you sort of empathise with the villain. You understand a bit more about the parents of the siblings. But not much more. And the only thing David Handler could tell us is that you can't tie things up in a bow because life does not work like that. Yes, David you can't tie things up in a bow because life does not work like that but this is a fictional fantastical story and you are a writer and you owe your readers some conclusion. I think he may be planning sequels to the saga to explain some of these mysteries but I for one won't be contributing to any more of his sales. I'd hate to encourage this sort of irresponsible storytelling.

The Spiral Staircase, by: Karen Armstrong

What an incredible breathtaking book. She writes honestly and eloquently on her life after leaving the convent. She talks about battling depression, an undiagnosed epilepsy that everyone maddeningly insisted was all in her head, working for a doctorate degree with disastorous results, and trying to find herself in a world that had changed drastically while she had remained in convent life. It's not necessarily what happens to her but how she writes it, how she reflects upon it, and how she learns from it.

At least for me she echoed many of the fears and pain that I myself have experienced in life. For example, there is a point where she attends a get together after leaving the convent and as she stands there in the lights and watches the dancing and drinking she says For a second, I felt a pang of envy, I would have loved to be able to do that, to be so wild uninhibited and free. These students were living fully and intensely in a way that I could not.. It must be a marvelous feeling. But it has never been possible. At a very impressionable age, my body was schooled in quite other rhythms, and it has for better or worse, taken the print. I had found to my considerable sorrow that even though I no longer belonged in the convent, I did not belong out here either. In her completely different experience I could find and relate to her feelings of being the odd one out, wanting desperately to fit in, and knowing it would never be possible.

She is a gifted historian and explains how she came to be a writer on religious history, but her prose and descriptive talents are also brilliant. I hope one day she writes fiction, I know she would write well.

Bird By Bird, by Ann Lamott

This is a book with advice by analogy on the art of writing. Her stories were okay and she does a decent job helping a writer who is still at the stage of not being able to write because of their self doubt on their ability. It helped me in this area as she reminds us to push out those voices when we are first drafting. She empathises we must write for ourselves and says that you can find joy without being published. This is true but she overstates this point in my opinion and provides scant advice on how to publish. Her analogies are how her agent liked her books, but if she's writing to people who are scared to put even pen to paper, why is she giving advice on how to negotiate with your agent before giving advice on how to get an agent in the first place?? I also was not amused by her attempts at humor and advice which resorted to being a bigot against Islam and Muslims. She made a lot of jabs and it was so unnecessary because it was a book about writing and her analogies came out of nowhere. I did not appreciate that and I lost respect for her as a person for having to resort to that.

My advice would be if you are seeking a book on writing that writes to the novice writer but also provides you with excellent advice on publishing would be to read Stephen King's book "On Writing" that is absolutely superb.

Eats Shoots and Leaves, by Lynne Truss

A humorous book on punctuation. You have to be a good writer to acheive that oxymoron! This is a book on the rules of punctuations such as commas, semicolons, and periods. How they work, where they go, when to use them and when not to use them but told with many stories and analagoies that make you laugh out loud and smile. If you're looking to brush up on your punctuation, or get really annoyed by punctuation errors in our daily lives, you will love this book!

Single Wife, by: Nina Solomon

This was the most painful book I read in a long while. Fine, maybe I can't write worth diddly squat either but you don't see me in print do you? Nina's book was the sort I read and think I can surely write better than this. As an aspiring writer her book just provoked a lot of hostility that it appears anyone can get a book into print if they presumably know the right people since Nina had to know someone to get this travesty published.

The title was intriguing and the jacket promised an interesting story of a woman whose husband does not come home one day. This is nothing unusual. He frequently disappears unexplained and then just returns home and life resumes as normal. Outside of this issue they have a good mariage. Until one day he leaves and he doesnt return for what seems like forever. The story follows her as she pretends to the world he still lives there and the excuses and issues she must now struggle on, on her own.

Sounds interesting doesn't it? Its a royal shame such an intriguing plot was wasted on such terrible writing and character and plot development. The heroine of the novel is a spineless person and the author does nothing at all to help us understand her thoughts or feelings.

It's a book that could've been a page turner. couldv'e provoked deep thoughts on marriage and being single. But it didn't and for that reason, for the complete waste of potential I give it zero points.