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Sunday, April 25, 2010

3 book reviews

My post went to publish when I accidentally pressed a wrong button so please excuse me!

I am doing three mini reviews here on books recently read

Presumed Innocent - Scott Turow

I have seen many giveaways of this book but this book I picked up at a second hand
bookshop here. The story is fascinating and the end is the punch line. A person accused of murder - all evidence whether contrived or genuine points to the accused but then the charges seem to fall apart due to various reasons. Till the very end
the reader seems to waiver as to who is the actual murderer - the accused or is it a
random sex killing. One is never sure till the very end and the end is surprising. A good read for those who like this genre of law/murder/intrigue and crime.

Digging to America - Anne Tyler

I loved this book. I have close ties with several families abroad who have adopted Sri Lankan children so this story became something that I could relate to. It deals with two babies adopted by two American families from Korea and the lives of how two absolutely different families evolve, seem similar and very different at the same time, just from the random fact that the two babies came on the same flight from Korea and that the two families accidentally met at the airport purely by chance and felt an instant rapport that there was something common in their lives. One family is totally "white" American and the other is an immigrant Iranian second generation American family. It was a very interesting read as it also dealt with not just American families adopting Korean babies, but how an immigrant family deals with prejudices and differing points of view on the subject of adoption from their own families who were not as broadminded/non judgemental as the other families. I really liked this book.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards.

The book was beautifully written, an unusual, different story but always with a tinge of sadness not far behind. Even in good times I felt the sadness overwhelming me but this did not detract from the story. A normal story of a woman giving birth, husband is an orthopaedic surgeon, she gives birth to twins. The little baby girl is born with obvious symptoms of Down Syndrome and the husband knowing the trauma ahead for the couple takes a decision unilaterally of getting rid of the baby girl. The story evolves from there and this one decision taken on the spur of the moment at the actual birth and how it affects husband and wife for the rest of their lives, and how the eventual reappearance of Phoebe after a very long time shakes up the worlds of so many people was a very different story to read. I enjoyed it but as I said before there was a tone of sadness throughout.

3 Reviews - Presumed Innocent Scott Turow, Anne Tyler's Digging to America and The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

Post wedding !

I must have walked miles before, during and after the function as my feet hurt ever so
much! I am still trying to recover after returning home at 3 a.m. and still having to put away stuff.

The function went off very well, everything went off according to schedule and time, the flowers were gorgeous, my daughter even more so (photographs will follow I promise) and today being Sunday we just lolled around reading the Sunday newspapers.

In my shopping rounds I managed to get to a second hand book sale and picked up two books - both of which have been around for quite some time. One is Digging to America by Anne Tyler and the other The Road to Nab End. I finished the former despite all the shopping so you could say it drew me in - I also finished The Memory Keepers Daughter and Presumed Innocent all of which I will review in a separate post. I still have heaps of books to read and this is something to look forward to.

I was very sad that my son and second daughter couldnt make it for this function but hopefully they would be there for the next one.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lagging behind

I am sorry that I have not been able to do my usual reviews or even post anything
of interest mainly because we have a wedding at long last!

My eldest daughter's wedding registration is scheduled for this coming Saturday
and since she only returned from Melbourne just last Friday we have one week to organize her sari, the flowers, the reception and the hundred and one myriad details
that girls seem to love! Its a fun experience but very time consuming - I am noted
as being a bad shopper and very impatient - I have had to patiently wait whilst everyone else keeps swapping jewellery and comparing and contrasting with different
fabrics to see the effect whereas for me everything looks very very good!

Needless to say books and blogging has had to take a small break. We are disappointed
that the other children could not come but flights from Melbourne are also on hold
till the 22nd so we wait and see whether our second daughter could come in time.

This is just the first of several functions for this wedding so we are merely warming
up as it were.

Till next week. I am still reading but its in small bits and pieces. I havent paid a visit to my second hand bookshop at all and maybe I should try to drop in there to dig out some gems.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review - The Rich are Different - Susan Howatch

This book was different to my earlier reads of Susan Howatch which deals with the Anglican clergy and its bishops and provides a glimpse into lives which may not be
very well known to the average reader.

This book deals with a high flying American banker Paul and his fascination for Europe and all things European, his marriage and his English mistress Dinah. These are the two main characters of the book and it is their story in the main then going on to the sequences of the story after Paul's death and the ascendancy of his heir Cornelius and of the strange twist when Dinah who was Paul's mistress falls in love with a protege of Paul's and marries him.

The Rich are Different deals with love as well as hate, murder, suicides, kindness as well as revenge and revenge which is calculated and far seeking which contributes to the twist in the plot. It also proves that the rich are not different at all in that everyone feels ultimately the same - whether its love, hurt, remorse, or anger. Whether the title is meant to be what it is or whether it is meant to show as a contrary point of view that the rich are not different I do not know.

The book begins in the benign period of 1922 and ends in the turbulent 1940's covering both the stock market crash in America as well as the beginning of Hitler's supremacy in Europe and how it affected not just England but America as well and the way it also affects the people of this story.

The book was a heavy one of just over 700 pages but I did not find it burdensome. The period it covered was one which I have not read much of and I found it both descriptive and informative - the love story was intense and so naturally was the break ups! A good read for me but you have got to be patient with this book as it is the ending which makes it different.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Review - The Feast of Roses - Indu Sundaresan

The story combines the best of historical fiction - history in great big measures, what is ever bigger than the Mughal empire, romance in spades, infighting amongst
brothers, greed for power (all invasive all the time) and a love story which is very unusual considering the times and the people involved.

The story revolves around Mehrunnissa who becomes wife to Jahangir. Very different circumstances to what would be imagined under normal circumstances. She was a widow in the first instance when he took her as his wife, and she was his wife not just a mistress. Mehrunnissa became Nur Jahan and the absolute power behind the throne becaue Jahangir though an absolute ruler, an absolute despot I would say, deferred to her on most decisions of state, believing that what she did - she did in the best interests of the Empire. I would say something similar to Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The story also revolves around the four sons of Jahangir and the inevitable clash that occurs as to who should inherit the throne. A lot of treachery is involved in the book, fratricide as well and there is no holds barred as one son tries to outdo
the other in his father's eyes to gain the kingdom for himself.

The love story of Mehrunnissa and Jahangir is beautifully described in the book, and the succeeding story of Khurram and his queen who will become even more powerful than Mehrunnissa. The story is different because this is one story where women are not in the background picture but they are very much part of the actual running of the kingdom which, in the Mughal period of history was virtually unknown.

The book is unusual and a must read for anyone who loves Indian history. Its evocative, well written and moves fast so that one is not bored with too much of
warfare or death or destruction.

I bought this book in Bangalore on one of my visits there and this is one author I am going to look out for in the future.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Review - Haruki Murakami - UNDERGROUND

The book was a surprise for me. I expected a story and instead got a collection of recollections and views of various people affected both directly and indirectly by the infamous Tokyo Gas Attacks on the subway. Whilst reading it, it sounds a bit surreal and a little bit sci fiction like, but then you sit up and realize that this is an account of what actually happened and in the first person itself so that there is nothing imaginary about it or it is not someone's imagination going haywire at all.

The stories are personal and very down to earth. The people involved are your everyday clerk, workman, driver, and railway attendant. There are no high flyers here or anyone whom one cannot identify with.

The stories deal with those who were mildly effected both physically and mentally, those who are still emotionally distraught even though the events in question took place in March 1995. The deaths were as a journalist bluntly put it "only twelve" but the effects it has had on Japanese society as a whole have been immense.

The society which brought about the attacks - a doomsday cult - and its members who never showed the slightest remorse for what they did is also a highlight of this
story. It shows also what brainwashing can do and what indoctrination is all about
particularly as most members who carried out the attack were highly skilled, educated
professionals whom one would never dream of behaving in such a ruthless manner.

This subway attack is considered as one of the gravest tragedies in post war Japan put alongside the Kobe earthquake. One can then only imagine what the Japanese themselves thought of this Aum cult which brought about this tragedy. Also what is strange is that there seems to be a great deal of reticence on the part of those who took part in the interviews and who were thus the ones directly affected, to actually point a finger at the authorities and declare that this or that could have been done better. Is this some kind of Japanese way of not "losing face" to outsiders and to keep the story well within the family?? There are lots of questions that Murakami brings out but these questions are not actually answered and one wonders where should one go for an actual yes or no answer.

The interviews also include members of the cult themselves who seem restrained and lethargic in the extreme. The ones who were articulate either did not seem to realize how violent the Aum cult was devolving into, or knew and knew they were helpless in the bigger scheme of things to do anything about it. The followers also seemed to think that they were on a higher spiritual level than "ordinary folk" and that the religion propounded by Asahara would be not understood by the majority. Those who knew where the cult was heading did not seem to have any idea of how they could even restrict the damage or curtail it to some degree. Most of the followers were drawn to a kind of utopia which they imagined would allow them to live their lives the way they wanted to. The disasters that followed their actions created a tragedy which Japanese have to live with always.

It also highlights that those who join cults are not those who are strange or stressed out. The ones in this particular cult were articulate, educated, highly professional skilled people - people who may have been more sensitive to those around them and the world around them and found something lacking in their own lives and hoped to fill that void with the Aum cult. This is the danger. Those people are just normal ordinary folks and though this cult seems dead and buried the danger lives just beneath the surface still.

This was a very different book in my quest for Japanese authors! It was not a light read. I still have Norwegian Wood to go through in my TBR.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Computer woes/long holidays/and a bit of this and that

My computer is playing up and I think I am going to have a completely dead computer in a couple of days. A friend of mine has also said that they have got strange messages from me via my email and I am horrified that it could be porn! Anyway other than this post if anyone gets a strange message from me please do not open it.

It is a period of long long holidays in Sri Lanka. A general election was completed with very few incidents of murder and mayhem which is a little miracle - thank god for small mercies. We now are in the euphoric stage of celebrating the win and commiserating with the losers in this election. We also have Monday and Tuesday as holidays it being the Singhalese and Hindu New Year. Virtually everything has closed down, slowed down or disappeared and thats why I cant get the computer chappy to come over and have a look. Nothing will get done till Thursday at least when I return to work and hopefully can drag someone to look at whats going wrong.

Since the New year has conveniently fallen on a Tuesday and Wednesday most working people have taken Monday off so that it has become a holiday from the 7th to the 15th. The cities are deserted as everyone has run off to any place they can find - we have in Sri Lanka such a huge range to choose from and all within 150 kms of you that its always difficult to choose either the beaches, the ancient cities, the what we call up country with the tea plantations or to go to Jaffna which has opened up its borders after 22 years.

On a bookish note I am in the middle of two books and also doing some hand sewing on a quilt which I really want to finish and gift by the end of the next week. Hopefully it will all get done. With such a long break the intentions are always very honorable but whether anything will get done or whether I will just sit in front of the TV and watch the fascinating world of the IPL Cricket happening in India is also possible.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Book review - Daughters in law - Henry Cecil & some ramblings

Sometime ago I did mention that I picked up a whole lot of books - most of which both the titles and authors were unknown to me. I thought I'd start reading some older books and though at times the books have not appealed this one did.

The writer Henry Cecil depicts the story of two men who marry or rather want to marry two sisters and the problem arises is that both are them in the field of law which is something absolutely abhorent to the boy's father. The extent of this antagonism goes to the point where he tries very hard to persuade them not to marry these two charming girls who are accomplished, pretty and charming!

The story rambles on through a rather difficult court case and ends with a twist which I never ever expected - not in a million years!!!! The story which seemed placid ended with a bang!

A pleasant read.

This week two days more in fact - sees us having another general election with all the mayhem and madness which accompanies elections in Asia. An election is not a tame affair. You dont just go and vote and mind your own business. Everyone seems to want to mind other people's business and the why's and wherefore's being discussed are endless and acrimonius. It sets the tone for the entire election and hopefully like everything else, we will go through this and survive.

Apart from the holidays which ensue as a result of these doings, we also have coming up the Singhalese and Hindu New Year - the biggest event in the calendar for Singhalese and which is celebrated with much joy and happiness. Like Easter, its a season for renewal of family ties, friendships and much enjoyment.

Till then.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Book Review - East of the Sun by Julia Gregson

East of the Sun dealt with a new topic for me. The girls who used to go out to India to hopefully look for a husband - crudely put The Fishing Fleet. It also dealt with a lesser known element of women going out to India. Those who had no means of support in England and who felt that a better life was available for them in the form of getting employment as governesses, companions, and teachers.

The story revolves around Rose, Victoria and Viva three completely different women going out to India for three different reasons. Rose the quiet, traditional girl who has already found her partner and is going out to marry him. Her fears and insecurities on the journey out to India are descriptive and very sensitively described. She realises that what started out as a very light hearted journey is one which is very serious indeed and one that is going to change her entire life. On the other hand Tor as Victoria is known is going apparently to be a bridesmaid at Rose's wedding. Delving into her mind we see that she is escaping a tyranical mother and Tor has no intention of ever returning to England and looks upon this trip as a means of getting away from her mother permanently.

In Viva's case getting away from a lover who has treated her badly was the catalyst for the journey which also involves finding out what really happened to her parents who lived and died in India - finding employment is another reason for Viva to move out of England.

The three stories are interwoven and as each one unfolds we see Rose maturing as a young woman who begins to see that life is not just parties, dances and good clothes but that her marriage is something that she has to work on if she wants to make a success of it. For Tor it involves heartbreak once again before she finds love with a man who is more attuned to her though he may not have the money or position which for her was all important when she started her journey. For Viva getting to the bottom of her parents deaths and then finding someone who cares for her is a dream come true.

The book is a light read with a happily ever after kind of story. For someone who likes to read about India and specially India at the time of the English sahibs and their hold on Indian society, this will be a good read as there is a fair amount of description regarding life as lived in this period. An interesting book.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter and new beginnings

Easter here is a quiet time. Good Friday services are a traditional three hours and believe me in the heat Colombo is presently having it is a real sacrifice following the stations of the Cross on Good Friday. Easter is once again a very religious festival with mass being something of primary importance. Families do get together for a festive lunch but this is purely secondary I have been furious with myself at not being able to add pictures to my blog of my trip to Pooneryn. My first contact was with Rajini who is absolutely pretty at 16 but at such a young age has gone through so very much that its just not fair. Both mother and father have died in the aerial shelling, and she has been left at 16 guardian of four younger siblings. She has given up school to take over home and hearth and look after the younger ones. I was so happy to have met up with her, chatted with her and promised her that I will try to look after her as long as we can. I have been able to find a sponsor for the whole family from Melbourne so thats the financial side taken care of. Now we just continue to be there for Rajini and show her that someone cares for her. She is so frail that I worry over how she is going to survive to look after not just herself but her siblings as well.

The other family that was particularly hard to face was Rajendra at 17 left orphaned with four younger boys to look after. He has given up school, and cooks, cleans and makes sure that the younger lot go off to school. Such a nice, well spoken boy who at 17 is still very childlike - he has started poultry farming on a very small scale
and I am trying to see what other option I could introduce him to - not just to earn money but to keep him occupied because at 17 this burden is way too hard for him.

All the children I saw on this trip had their own tragic stories to tell us but these two particularly were very sad. Grandparents in Rajini's case are elderly and not really able to do anything and in Rajendra's case non existent. The support system of aunts and uncles and neighbours is there but they too are in an impoverished state and able to help in a very limited manner.

However looking at it positively I hope that now that the initial breakthrough has been made with my trip to this area, we would be able to help out more actively as it were. I feel that the lack of emotional support is horrible and though we give financial support, losing one's family is a body blow that is going to take time to get over. With no counselling available at all in this part of Sri Lanka and no support system from a school for Rajendra and Rajini I just hope and pray that they will be alright.

Happy Easter to you all.