Wednesday, October 1, 2014

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler

Booker Shortlist -2014
One of the most beautiful stories I have recently read. An issue which has plagued our 'scientific' society for decades has been dealt with so compassionately, with humour and such understanding, that it would be a shame if it didn't win the Booker this year. 
The heroine Rosemary, is a college student who has to face up to her childhood reality that her sister Fern, was a non human primate. Rose was a month old and Fern a three month old orphan when Rose's parents started the 'experiment'. The journey that the story traces is primarily from the perspective of Rose and the devastating effect Fern's departure had on the family and how Lowell, Rose's brother suffered as he blamed himself for being unable to protect Fern, his dear sister. 
The author also touches upon the various experiments conducted on dogs, rabbits, monkeys and rats in the name of understanding the 'human' condition and shows how bestial are our experiments. One can only set up a tortured lament empathizing with all those 'animals' that we presumably study in the name of 'science'. 
As Coetzee said, in Elizabeth Costello, even the knowledge of evil, somehow fundamentally alters us. And the same thought is reflected in this book, "The spoken word converts individual knowledge into mutual knowledge, and there is no way back once you’ve gone over that cliff". But the qualities which make us human include the good and the evil. Like Rosemary says, of her brothers' fight to rescue his sister Fern, “Lowell’s life has been the direct result of his very best qualities, of our very best qualities – empathy, compassion, loyalty, and love.” 
A book I would read and re-read, just to remind myself of my 'human-ness'.

Saturday - Ian McEwan

An action packed day in the life of Henry, a neurosurgeon with a loving family - journalist wife, musician son and poet daughter. The elaborately described and shared details of Henry's day could have been painful but for the insightful statements that emerge in the course of following his thought processes.
.....he knows that sleep is behind him: to know the difference between it and waking, to know the boundaries, is the essence of sanity.
work - the ultimate badge of health.
..his free time is always fragmented, not only by errands and family obligations and sports, but by the restlessness that comes with these weekly islands of freedom.
Furthermore, nothing can be predicted, but everything, as soon as it happens, will seem to fit.
For a few seconds they enter one of those mute vacuous moments that follow an enthusiastic reunion - too much to be said, and a gentle resettling needed, a resumption of ordinary business.
When there are no consequences, being wrong is simply an interesting diversion. 
Even as you struggle against the numbness of poor recall, you know precisely what the forgotten thing is not.

That so much happens in our heads during the course of a single day, is something we all realize - our thoughts wander to colleagues at work, to children when they were young, to our parents when we were young, to our spouse, to the state of the world and our changing surroundings, to the service we are subjected to at shops, parking lots and hospitals - but that it can actually fill an entire book in an interesting way, is something McEwan has accomplished.  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Brodeck's Report - Philippe Claudel

      Brodeck's Report

A haunting story about a young Jew in a tiny village, who survives a concentration camp. When he returns to his village, he finds everything the same yet changed forever ........ He is a survivor from the first world war and owes his entire life to the old woman who rescues him from the burnt shell of his village. His new village accepts him but at the first sign of invasion gives him up as an the Lepidoptera butterflies.

The choices that human beings make when confronted by life or death situations and the atrocities inflicted by ordinary 'normal' people - without provocation - on friends and neighbours - if they are Jews, is so brilliantly and lucidly described. 

The survivors' journey back to his village from the concentration camp is a healing process for the reader also........ It however doesn't prepare you for the excesses of the retreating German army on the village....and it's consequences for our hero..... Not a single sight, sound, smell, feel of what the concentration camp was for the Jews, is left unsaid........a very graphic story which excels Ely Wiesel's 'Night'......

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Swimming Home - Deborah Levy

Swimming Home

Swimming HomeIt's actually a short story which goes on a little longer. Very crisp story line, makes you want to find out more about the characters. A little like an Agatha Christie novel - very English kind of setting, a swimming pool, a dead body waiting to happen.....but it has it's own twists and turns. It captures the modern day feeling of loneliness even when you are with people. A good read.

The Lighthouse - Alison Moore

The Lighthouse
A very lucid novel with a suspense in the end which just lets your imagination go wild........what will happen to Futh? When the bathroom door opens, will Bertrand find him, or will Ester, or will Futh assert himself.......

I was initially attracted to the minute details that were on a plate, on someone's face......the missing mother...the scents and aromas of coffee, of violets. The young Futh and his neighbor Kenny.......the adult Futh and the relationship with his wife Angela, the ever present Dad and the acute loss that Futh feels for his mother who abandoned him.....make up the running theme in the entire book. 

Tautly written, I felt I was reading a murder mystery and wanted to make sure I remembered all the details given.....just in case I was called to solve the mystery....

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
The story offers a refreshing look at life in an English village in today's world. A retired, widowed Major with connections to the Indian sub continent, the subtle underlining of the increasing presence of people of Indian/ Pakistani origin in England, the decaying aristocracy with an impoverished specimen called 'double d', the rise of bankers as a breed, the whiff of wall street, a bunch of church-ladies hell bent on doing good in the village........ Duck hunting in the local pond, ...a family of Pakistani Muslims stubbornly resisting western culture when having been born and brought up in England, and a pretty Pakistani-origin widow ........A very sweet love story, extremely entertaining. Great read !!!

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce

Harold Fry
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry One of the most lucid, touching books I have read. 

In the telling of the Ramayana, it is always said that after the entire recitation, one should again listen to the story of Rama's ascent to the throne, because it is so full of good will for Rama and is an auspicious moment. In the story of Harold Fry also, I felt that in order to rise above the grief experienced by Harold and Maureen on the death of their only son David, they recapture the joy they had felt when they first met - across a dance hall - and fell in love.

Harold Fry resides in all of us as does Maureen. They embody the decisions that one takes which finally define our life for us -either because it impacts us or because it has consequences for those whom we love.

The friendship and gratitude that Harold feels for Queenie is awe inspiring. He is beholden to her for taking responsibility for something he did in a fit of anger and grief, at the work place. The author, Rachel Joyce, has re created in simple words, a very poignant picture of the fragility of human interactions, the way in which we cocoon ourselves into comfortable nooks and crannies - "we hang on by so little, he thought, and felt the full despair of knowing that."

There are any number of people who show immense kindness to Harold Fry along the journey and this is one aspect of the story which I found most uplifting. The Slovakian doctor who cleans his feet and offers him food and a place to rest, while she herself waits in vain for her partner to return to her....while she fills her days by cleaning houses and toilets....a trained doctor!!! This is just the kind of devotion to a guest which is prescribed in Hinduism where it is said that a guest is like a God "athithi devo bhava". The oncologist who shares his table at a tea shop and enlightens him about the different manifestations of cancer, the stray dog which follows him around asking for nothing but only offering its companionship, the occupants of farm houses who offer him food and shelter him in barns........

A beautiful and unforgettable story, which makes you introspect and maybe conclude like the mother of six in the story, who confided that she never knew life could be so solitary." "The superhuman effort it sometimes took to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday. The normalness of that."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

on canaan's side - sebastian barry

On Canaan's Sidethis is one of the most sensitively written books i have come across in a long time.
the life of lilly bere and her dramatic, terrifying and most defining relationship with tadg, which brings her to america....her marriage to joe and the birth of her son ed.
the wars
which killed her brother willie, consumed the soul of her son ed and left a shell in its stead, which shocked a young bill her beloved grandson who sees oil fields being burnt in kuwait and people running to escape the war....are all described with a poignant intimacy because of her dear ones being invariably drawn to these comes across as an uncomplaining person, surrounded by helpful and caring people while simultaneosly being abandoned and betrayed by the one's she loves.
she is able to cope with her tragedies because of the comfort of genuine and warm friends. they restore her faith in humanity.
its a very human story, written in the most poetic prose...not a word is jarring, not an emotion out of place, such gentleness in her pathos that lilly wins your heart before the end of the first page.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

the goodman jesus and the scoundrel christ - philip pullman

Goodman Jesus

Pullman's Christ, what I liked: 
- I liked the tongue in cheek analysis of the life of Christ.
- The attempt to arrive at a realistic sequence of events is fairly successful
- The naive Jesus with his passionate and instinctive way of doing things is juxtaposed by a more analytical, organised, careful Christ. By making this distinction, the need for both types of skills is high lighted when one is starting out a new organisation. Jesus here is the one with the passion, the idea, the vision of a 'Kingdom of Heaven', while Christ is the one with the skill for organisation, for marketing the Jesus - vision with 'miracles', for creating a careful documentation of the birth of the organisation. You cannot have only vision or only organisational skills for creating and running a large successful enterprise........both are vital for starting and sustaining it.
In the course of documenting the events relating to Jesus - as they unfold, Christ is guided at crucial stages by the enigmatic 'stranger'. From this perspective, it is more a modern day tale of a venture capitalist who emerges as a shadowy 'stranger', a likely dry -fruits merchant.
- I liked the simple, lucid recital- i can recommend it to my fifteen-year old son to read.
- I liked the way all the well known parables of Christianity are skilfully woven into the Jesus and Christ story - the tale of the taxes to be paid using the coins with the emporor's head, the way people are stopped from stoning the woman accused of committing adultery.

- What made me think was the part where Jesus is shown to have no attachments, no regard for his mother and brothers, for eg, at the feast where Jesus is asked to do something about the wine which was almost over, and he shouts at his mother..... but eventually finds enough wine for all the guests.
Is it necessary to withdraw from the world to find God?
What about the parable of Vishnu, where Narada finds that he is not the greatest devotee, but it is a poor farmer with a large family? The farmer is immersed fully in the interminable task of living his life but Vishnu thinks of him as being closest to him, since he finds the time to remember Vishnu at all times of his busy day.
So is salvation attained through isolation or through living and participating in life?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

snowdrops - a.d.miller

the book starts out dramatically with a dead body being discovered in the boot of a car parked on the street, when the thaw sets in moscow. nick, the hero, is constantly aware of his weakness - for young leggy girls, for living the rich life that moscow offers its expat citizens. He learns to look the other way when shady deals for non existent oil wells are being brokered at the office, when his beautiful young girl friends pretend to be sisters while they escort him around, when the girl friends 'help' their 'aunt' exchange her large spacious central moscow apartment for a half built apartment in the outskirts of moscow.
the visual imagery created in describing the moscow of the 1990's is beautiful. i could see in my mind's eye the snow as it falls on moscow and see its citizens slipping as they walked on the pavements, the short skirts that the girls wore and the cheap coats which looked opulent from a distance, the dacha that nick visited with his girlfriends, the train journey to the apartment that the 'aunt' is being conned to move into.
the fascination in reading this book lies in the curiosity that one demonstrates, in trying to find out the extent of nick's self deception.