Book Reviews


 
By Chitra Banerjee DivakaruniI was wandering the aisles of the bookshop at a mall in Bangalore when I chanced upon this book sitting atop a shelf. The title was inviting and I reached out for it. I read the first page and wanted to read the second and the third and before I knew it I was in possession of the book. The book was good company on my flight back home both engrossing and interesting.

Chitra Divakaruni is a well known author of 15 books. Her award-winning short story collection Arranged Marriage was equally interesting in addition to her wonderful books The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart. Two of her novels have been made into films and her works have been translated into 18 languages. She is the Betty and Gene McDavid professor of Creative Writing at the University of Houston.

One Amazing Thing captures the imagination as it flits through the lives of a bunch of people trapped at a consulate after an earthquake strikes. They begin to tell each other stories from their lives which are personal sharing things they have never spoken before. Their tales are tragic and life-affirming, revealing what it means to be human.

A short book that can keep one hooked to it until the very end.

 
 
 
 
 
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Edith’s War

By Andrew Smith

Edith’s War is a story of one woman’s personal war and triumph; a journey in which she finds herself surmounting all the trials and tribulations amidst all the chaos of the war.  

The narrative dexterously weaves between the Britain of 1940’s during WWII with the subsequent internment of Italian men in Britain and 2002 in idyllic Venice; the stories unfolding simultaneously, switching between the past and the present.

The crisp and vivid narration follows Edith’s raw passions, her tumultuous life and motherhood during the war, slowly unraveling bits and pieces of her life. The Italian immigrant family living next door to whom she is drawn to, her subsequent involvement with Carlo, his internment, her separation, the secret she shares with her husband Joe and their reconciliation adds intrigue to the well-crafted story.

Edith’s persona comes through as an ordinary person with an extra-ordinary resolve and grit whose passions lead her away from the accepted norms of society. She succumbs willingly to true love, justifying it with the absence of any emotional attachment to an absentee husband, whose return confuses her furthermore. She despises the war and its repercussions as she watches the gory happenings around her.

Interwoven into this story are the revelations of her adult sons Shamus and Will who are putting together the jigsaw puzzle of their life, as they wait in anticipation for the arrival of their 83-yr-old mother in Venice. Shamus confronts Edith with the truth about his paternity, eventually accepting it for what it is. The discussions between the brothers add a touch of comic interludes as the grim scenes of the war unfold in the background.

Andrew Smith captures the raw emotions of its central characters with his vivid descriptions and seamless narration. Smith sheds  light on a hitherto lesser known facet of  the war; the internment of the Italians during WWII. After Mussolini’s declaration of war against Britain and her allies on June10, 1940, Winston Churchill issued the command to arrest and intern all Italian males living in Britain. Wartime changes in morality and the senselessness of a war which inflicts untold miseries on innocent citizens are highlights of his beautifully written book.

The war time heroes are those who go through life everyday barely getting by, in addition to the entire psychological trauma they are subjected to. The emotional nuances of the characters are described in a sensitive manner by the author deserving accolades for his efforts in portraying realistically the grimness of war, the passions and suffering, consequences of choices, love and reconciliations.

Andrew Smith’s writing has been included in the Journey Prize Anthology, has been shortlisted for the CBC Literary awards and has garnered a Western Magazine Award for travel writing. He has previously published two non-fiction books: Highlights, an illustrated history of cannabis (co-author) and Strangers in the Garden, the secret lives of our favorite flowers.

Edith’s War is a novel I would recommend to readers and a lovely addition to any bookshelf.

For more Info got to:

http://www.edithswar.com/

(Video trailer of Book by the author)

http://www.edithswar.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/Edithtrailer.mov

 
 
 
 
 
 
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Sophie’s Choice
 

By William Styron

The novel was published in 1979 by Styron.  A brilliant book that takes you on a journey by Stingo, an aspiring writer who befriends the Jewish Nathan Landau and his beautiful girlfriend Sophie who is a survivor of the holocaust. The book is largely narrated in first person by Styron and ocasionally by Sophie when she relates her experiences in Auschwitz.

The interwoven lives of Stingo, Nathan and Sophie leading to their mutual destruction along the way; the vivid descriptions of the Holocaust camps and Sophie’s experiences being a Polish-catholic suffering along with the Jews are narrated explicitly in first person by Styron. He often alludes to Stingo’s own life and up-bringing during the days of slavery in Southern America leading to angry discussions between Stingo and Nathan.

Strong powerful characters whose self-destructive lives grabs the reader by his mind, following their every word, action almost wanting to offer succor to its characters giving them a respite from their chosen paths. Ultimately Sophie’s choice which leads to her destruction. A compelling read so evocative and beautiful in it’s narration.

The book won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1980. It was made into a movie with Meryl Streep giving a stellar performance as Sophie winning her the Academy award for it.

 
 
 
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The Stranger

By Albert Camus

Translated from French by Stuart Gilbert

I bought a bunch of used books on sale, from the library for 5 $ and this one was one of them. A  slender book with only 154 pages to it. I opened the first page and started reading it.

”Mother died today. Or yesterday. I can’t be sure,” was the first sentence and that got me hooked, right there. Each page got me in it’s grip and soon enough I found that I was unable to put the book down until I had finished it. And finally I did and I must say ‘it was a real cerebral treat ’…

The book was published in 1946 but continues to be one of the most influential books to date.  An unrelenting saga of one person, an Algerian called Mersault who lives his life on his own terms, skimming though it in a very detached way, never involved with it; never succumbing to it. For him the entire world was a grand stage, with each one playing out his role and he was the observor; watching it all and taking it in- analysing it  in an unemotional way.

Mersault shoots and kills an Arab man on the beach; un-intentional yet he couldn’t stop himself from doing it. The court scenes are descriptive and walks us through the proceedings from a prisoner’s eyes. The dis-passionate look into the ‘how’, ‘why’ and everything else the court was arguing for and against him. He finds himself in a position where nothing matters to him anymore and he welcomes death, if it will offer a respite for him from the world, the way he sees it. The death sentence to him leaves him unfazed.

Several of his thoughts are poignant-

“Throughout the whole absurd life I’d lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, across years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind leveled whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real than the ones I was living. What did other people’s deaths or a mother’s love matter to me; what did his God or the lives people choose or the fate they think they elect matter to me when we’re all elected by the same fate?”

The last paragraph sums up his thoughts:

“With death so near, Mother must have felt like someone on the brink of freedom, ready to start life all over again. No one had a right to weep for her. And I, too felt ready to start life all over again. …I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that i’d been happy and that I was happy still…”

A book I am happy to have read and would love to read all over again another day…

Albert Camus was born in Algeria, in 1913. The stranger, The Plague, The Fall, Exile and the Kingdom, The Rebel and The Myth of Sisyphus are his notables. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. He died in 1960.

 

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Dispatches From The Edge

By Anderson Cooper

 A memoir of war, disasters and survival

Anderson Cooper is synonymous with CNN as much as Christian Amanpour is. The host of Anderson Cooper 360 a regular feature and a notable watch, he has always been a hero for investigative journalism and excellence in reporting. I wasted no time in buying and lapping up his book after it hit the markets since he is my idol of sorts.

Growing up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Cooper felt drawn to every other place. He was trying to stay one step ahead of his past, the tragic deaths of his father and brother and beyond the fame of his mother Gloria Vanderbilt.

As a reporter he has been all over the world covering Tsunamis’, the war and the pain that accompanies it, Hurricane Katrina, and other natural disasters Cooper takes us on a journey often disclosing how deeply he was affected by some of the tragedies. He allows us to see it all through his eyes a trusted, fearless and pioneering reporter. One needs a strong stomach and an empathizing spirit to follow him on his journey.

In his words:

“In Africa there are too many pictures, too many contrasts. You can’t catch them all. It’s like sticking your head out of a fast-moving car-you suffocate; it’s too much to take in….

Little kids run to the road, stand frozen, not sure if they should be happy or scared. They keep their weight on their heels so they can run back at the lurch of the car, the crack of a shot.”

“ One minute you’re there in it- stuck, stewing in the sadness, the loss, your shirt plastered on your back, your neck burned from the sun-then you’re gone, seatbelt buckled, cool air cascading down, ice in the glass. You are gliding above the earth, laughing…”

————————

Tuesdays with Morrie

By Mitch Albom

An old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson…

If there is ever a book I would gladly gift the whole world as a ‘must read’ it will be this one. 192 pages of delight, simple, lucid, touching one’s heart and mind leaving an indelible impression regarding ‘living’. It is not to be ignored as another self-help book on the shelf. A book to be kept in the glove compartment, on the coffee table and gifted on occasions to near and dear ones or to a stranger even.

A story of the heart as told by a writer with soul.

A story that can be read aloud.

The relationship of a teacher and student.

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Henry Adams

Do I wither up and disappear, or do I make the best of my time left? Asked Morrie…

Study me in my slow and patient demise. Watch what happens to me. Learn with me…said Morrie

A book that cleanses the soul and thoughts; re-thinking life and its priorities and striving for simple pleasures in life.

A must read…

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Immortality (Book Review)

 

Immortality by Milan Kundera  (Book Review)

 

Milan Kundera’s Immortality is translated from Czech by Peter Kussi. Kundera needs no introduction; this Franco Czech novelist has written several novels. This one was recommended by a  friend and being a book lover I couldn’t wait to read the book which sounded interesting to me. For people with philosophical inclinations this one is a wonderful read but for others it might be a little heavy. Themes of existence , the ‘here & now’ that trickles often into thoughts of after life , the association and longings that embody one’s imaginations and dreams.

Agnes sees, relates, thinks and wishes along these terms sailing through life with eyes wide open, observing, taking in and assimilating it all only to find herself being disillusioned at times and wishing for alternatives- including death. Then there is Goethe and Bettina, Laura, Paul, Avenarius, Hemmingway and others appearing through the narrative, adding flavorful extensions to his concept and rhetorics.

The book is beguiling in the sense that it lures the reader into accepting the thoughts and the vision that might often sound contradictory or blasphemous but the reality sometimes, explained by Kundera.

Hard to pick any one line or lines to highlight but they are all over the book in various nuances. ‘Imagologues’ being one of them. A term used and described very well and making sense often as to what is perceived and what is the truth.

Some brilliant lines:

“All ideologies have been defeated: in the end their dogmas were unmasked as illusions and people stopped taking them seriously.”

“Ideology was like a set of enormous wheels at the back of the stage, turning and setting in motion wars, revolutions, reforms. The wheels of imagology turn without having any effect upon history. Ideologies fought with one another, and each of them was capable of filling a whole epoch with its thinking. Imagology organizes peaceful alternation of its systems in lively seasonal rhythms.”

Several such interesting discussions run throught the book.

Hoping to catch up with some of his earlier published works.

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Three Cups of Tea (Book Review)

 Three Cups of Tea
Authors:  Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Broken Verses

By Kamila Shamsie

Kamila Shamsie the author of 4 novels. Twice short-listed for the John Llewelyn Rhys Award and the recipient of other prizes lives in London and Karachi and is a visiting professor of English at Hamilton College.

The book is engrossing since it has my kind of humor, the kind I find entertaining with satire and wit. The story revolves around Aasmani working in an independent TV station in Pakistan. The arrival of a secret code that she deciphers  taking her on a journey, unraveling the mind- boggling mystery behind it. A mother-daughter story narrated so well. Her philosophical musings are beautifully interwoven into the narrative.

Her book ‘Kartography’ might be interesting also set in Karachi. I plan to read that eventually.

—-

February 20, 2010 Posted by serenemusings | Book Reviews | , , | 2 Comments | Edit

By Albert Camus

Translated from French by Stuart Gilbert

I bought a bunch of used books on sale, from the library for 5 $ and this one was one of them. A  slender book with only 154 pages to it. I opened the first page and started reading it.

”Mother died today. Or yesterday. I can’t be sure,” was the first sentence and that got me hooked, right there. Each page got me in it’s grip and soon enough I found that I was unable to put the book down until I had finished it. And finally I did and I must say ‘it was a real treat  cerebraly’…

The book was published in 1946 but continues to be one of the most influential books to date.  An unrelenting saga of one person, an Algerian called Mersault who lives his life on his own terms, skimming though it in a very detached way, never involved with it; never succumbing to it. For him the entire world was a grand stage, with each one playing out his role and he was the observor; watching it all and taking it in- analysing it  in an unemotional way.

Mersault shoots and kills an Arab man on the beach; un-intentional yet he couldn’t stop himself from doing it. The court scenes are descriptive and walks us through the proceedings from a prisoner’s eyes. The dis-passionate look into the ‘how’, ‘why’ and everything else the court was arguing for and against him. He finds himself in a position where nothing matters to him anymore and he welcomes death, if it will offer a respite for him from the world, the way he sees it. The death sentence to him leaves him unfazed.

Several of his thoughts are poignant-

“Throughout the whole absurd life I’d lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, across years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind leveled whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real than the ones I was living. What did other people’s deaths or a mother’s love matter to me; what did his God or the lives people choose or the fate they think they elect matter to me when we’re all elected by the same fate?”

The last paragraph sums up his thoughts:

“With death so near, Mother must have felt like someone on the brink of freedom, ready to start life all over again. No one had a right to weep for her. And I, too felt ready to start life all over again. …I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that i’d been happy and that I was happy still…”

A book I am happy to have read and would love to real all over again another day…

Albert Camus was born in Algeria, in 1913. The stranger, The Plague, The Fall, Exile and the Kingdom, The Rebel and The Myth of Sisyphus are his notables. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. He died in 1960.

 

By William Styron

The novel was published in 1979 by Styron.  A brilliant book that takes you on a journey by Stingo, an aspiring writer who befriends the Jewish Nathan Landau and his beautiful girlfriend Sophie who is a survivor of the holocaust. The book is largely narrated in first person by Styron and ocasionally by Sophie when she relates her experiences in Auschwitz.

The interwoven lives of Stingo, Nathan and Sophie leading to their mutual destruction along the way; the vivid descriptions of the Holocaust camps and Sophie’s experiences being a Polish-catholic suffering along with the Jews are narrated explicitly in first person by Styron. He often alludes to Stingo’s own life and up-bringing during the days of slavery in Southern America leading to angry discussions between Stingo and Nathan.

Strong powerful characters whose self-destructive lives grabs the reader by his mind, following their every word, action almost wanting to offer succor to its characters giving them a respite from their chosen paths. Ultimately Sophie’s choice which leads to her destruction. A compelling read so evocative and beautiful in it’s narration.

The book won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1980. It was made into a movie with Meryl Streep giving a stellar performance as Sophie winning her the Academy award for it.

By Andrew Smith

Edith’s War is a story of one woman’s personal war and triumph; a journey in which she finds herself surmounting all the trials and tribulations amidst all the chaos of the war.  

The narrative dexterously weaves between the Britain of 1940’s during WWII with the subsequent internment of Italian men in Britain and 2002 in idyllic Venice; the stories unfolding simultaneously, switching between the past and the present.

The crisp and vivid narration follows Edith’s raw passions, her tumultuous life and motherhood during the war, slowly unraveling bits and pieces of her life. The Italian immigrant family living next door to whom she is drawn to, her subsequent involvement with Carlo, his internment, her separation, the secret she shares with her husband Joe and their reconciliation adds intrigue to the well-crafted story.

Edith’s persona comes through as an ordinary person with an extra-ordinary resolve and grit whose passions lead her away from the accepted norms of society. She succumbs willingly to true love, justifying it with the absence of any emotional attachment to an absentee husband, whose return confuses her furthermore. She despises the war and its repercussions as she watches the gory happenings around her.

Interwoven into this story are the revelations of her adult sons Shamus and Will who are putting together the jigsaw puzzle of their life, as they wait in anticipation for the arrival of their 83-yr-old mother in Venice. Shamus confronts Edith with the truth about his paternity, eventually accepting it for what it is. The discussions between the brothers add a touch of comic interludes as the grim scenes of the war unfold in the background.

Andrew Smith captures the raw emotions of its central characters with his vivid descriptions and seamless narration. Smith sheds  light on a hitherto lesser known facet of  the war; the internment of the Italians during WWII. After Mussolini’s declaration of war against Britain and her allies on June10, 1940, Winston Churchill issued the command to arrest and intern all Italian males living in Britain. Wartime changes in morality and the senselessness of a war which inflicts untold miseries on innocent citizens are highlights of his beautifully written book.

The war time heroes are those who go through life everyday barely getting by, in addition to the entire psychological trauma they are subjected to. The emotional nuances of the characters are described in a sensitive manner by the author deserving accolades for his efforts in portraying realistically the grimness of war, the passions and suffering, consequences of choices, love and reconciliations.

Andrew Smith’s writing has been included in the Journey Prize Anthology, has been shortlisted for the CBC Literary awards and has garnered a Western Magazine Award for travel writing. He has previously published two non-fiction books: Highlights, an illustrated history of cannabis (co-author) and Strangers in the Garden, the secret lives of our favorite flowers.

Edith’s War is a novel I would recommend to readers and a lovely addition to any bookshelf.

For more Info got to:

http://www.edithswar.com/

(Video trailer of Book by the author)

http://www.edithswar.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/Edithtrailer.mov

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