Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (February 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375414495
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375414497

First of all, sorry for the long absence. Things have been pretty chaotic the past few weeks so whilst I've been able to do some reading, I haven't had the chance to write about the books that I've read these past weeks. I chose to write about Cutting for Stone simply because it was a book that completely blew me away. Described by many as 'fiction at its best' I had expectations for the book, but suffice to say, my experience reading it was beyond any expectations. 

If I were asked to choose a book that has had a profound impact on my life thus far, I would have to say that for now, Abraham Verghese's 'Cutting for Stone' tops the list. The story circles around conjoined twins, Marian and Shiva Praise Stone who are conjoined at the head, but separated at birth. If being conjoined and separated at birth under medical conditions in Ethopia that are far from being ideal isn't enough, Marion and Shiva are the sons of famous British surgeon Thomas Stone and a nun, Sister Mary Joseph Praise. 

The plot is thick with an aura of mystery and mystic, not only from the twins mysterious conception and birth, but the fact that the story is set in Ethiopia lends an air of surreality to this epic book. Narrated from Marion Stone's point of view, the book has an extensive timeline, starting from the meeting of his parents, right till the time Marion returns to Ethiopia after a stint as a successful surgeon in Boston.

Although identical, Shiva and Marion are worlds apart when it comes to character, interests and outlook in life. The twins are raised by Indian doctors, Ghosh and Hema, who stand in as great parents after the death of their mother and abandonment of their father. Rich in setting, and suspenseful in plot, this is a story that's not only a joy to read, but it also highlights the challenges and selflessness of doctors and humanitarians who sacrifice time, effort and emotions to minister to the needs of the people of Africa. I found it particularly heart wrenching reading about the suppression of women, and genital mutilation that's so rampant in certain parts of Africa and amongst certain tribes. When all these are coupled together with the practice of child brides and the mental and emotional torment that these women go through is spoken so clearly through the author's writing. 

I especially enjoy the way Verghese describes emotions : 

"You are so brave." This was my consolation : all was well between me and Rosina. 
If this was what brave felt like - numb, dumb, with eyes that could see no farther than my bloody fingers, and a heart that raced and pined for the girl that hugged me - then I suppose I was brave. 
At times, he writes in a way that is so lyrical it hits me as simultaneously stupefying and beautiful. 

The observer, that old record keeper, the chronicler of events made his appearance in that taxi. The hands of my clock turned elastic while I imprinted these feelings in memory. You must remember this. That was all I had, all I've ever had, the only currency, the only prove that I was alive. 

A book that's based on part fact and most parts fiction, this reads smoothly and is enjoyably engaging. What I love besides the intricate and well thought out plot is the attention to detail and the beautifully crafted language that's used throughout the book. Abraham Verghese is a doctor by profession, but he is also a great writer and has been compared to the likes of literary heroes such as Shakespeare.  

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sophie's World

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder
  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley (March 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425152251
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425152256

I've finished reading Sophie's World over the Mother's Day weekend and boy was it a read or I should say ride! The book talks about Sophie Admunsen , who walks home from school one day to find a letter in her mailbox addressed to her from a stranger. The letter starts with a huge question : Who are you? From then on, Sophie gets enlisted onto a philosophy course, one that starts way back from the days of Socrates, Plato right up to modern philosophers such as Sartre and Freud. The book has an element of mystery, as Sophie gets postcards that are meant for a girl named Hilde Moller Knag. This aura of enigmatic mystery sends readers on a quest to not only think about the many philosophical questions, but also to try to unravel the mystery lurking within the plot. 

I picked this book up some time back because I saw that it was listed in many "Must Read List"s around. Besides, who can resist a book that's been compared to a modern day Alice in Wonderland tale, although I must say the context of the book was way better than that of Alice, as much as I loved her and Wonderland. 

This is a perfect introduction to philosophy and the art of thinking. I won't be quoting anything from this book, because if I were to start doing so I'd end up quoting the whole book ! 3000 years of history and philosophy is very cleverly weaved into the storyline, and I particularly liked the twist right in the middle because I certainly wasn't expecting that (now, I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise for you!). The intricate, complex world of philosophical thinking is explained in very simple, easy to understand, bite sized chunks, making the book both enjoyable and educational. Well-researched, well thought out, wonderfully imaginative and genius writing makes this a must read book! This is a book that's great for sitting down to read with someone, or for teenagers who are still curious enough to question, evaluate and come to their own reasonings and deductions. I most certainly loved it. 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Kabul Beauty School

The Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez
  • Hardcover: 275 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (April 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400065593
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400065592

After much anticipation, I finally found a copy of The Kabul Beauty School and instantly bought it. Eagerly, I started reading this, in between doses of The City of Joy. The Kabul Beauty School is not so much fiction as it is a memoir of Deborah Rodriguez, an American hairdresser who goes into Kabul, with the ambition of helping the women of Kabul achieve a semblance of independence by opening a beauty school there. 

The book isn't as serious as other stories I've read on Afghanistan, but it cannot be denied that the trials and tribulations that the women in the book face are very real. There is domestic abuse, poverty, desperation and yet there is the triumphant fight that some of the women put up against their circumstances and often abusive husbands. It's a book about friendship and love amongst women and the bond of sisterhood that knows no boundaries ; both geographical and cultural. I have to say though that as interesting and easy to read as this book was, at times I found myself getting irked by her ignorance as to the cultures and ways of life of the Afghans.  

Deborah is married to an Afghan man, Sam, and at times I find their marriage stupefying. For one, they hardly speak the same language. Deborah speaks elementary Dari, whilst Sam speaks a smattering of English, and then there is the huge cultural difference that both of them face. I know it's not uncommon for people from different cultural backgrounds to get together, but the fact that independent Debbie allows herself to be match made the traditional Afghan way to a man she's only known for 20 days just seems a little odd. At times, the conversation between Sam and her is comically cute : 

At one of these parties, I introduce Sam to a guy who was working in the opium poppy eradication program. "He's one of the poppy killers" I said. 
"Poppy killers?" Sam's eyes widened, He almost shuddered as he looked at the guy. " Debbie, I thought you loved dogs!"

All in all, the book isn't about Debbie's personal life so I shan't go too deeply into my thoughts on that, I do find it amazing however how she's brave enough to plunge into the depths of Afghan household chaos and other problems that her students at the beauty academy face.A true champion for women's rights, she seems to have made a difference in the lives of her students, with the help of generous endorsements by beauty products manufacturers such as M.A.C , Clairol and Revlon to name a few. So, have any of you read the book yet? If so, what are your thoughts on the book ?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

CIty of Joy

The City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre
  • Mass Market Paperback: 552 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; later printing edition (May 7, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446355569
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446355568

I actually finished reading this book a week ago, but due to time constraints,haven't been able to jot down my thoughts properly. The City of Joy refers to a slum in Calcutta, an ironic place to be called "The City of Joy" because this is where lepers, the poor and the outcast reside. The story centers on three protagonists, Hasari Pal, Father Stephan Kovalski and multimillionaire, the young Dr. Max Loeb. Following a drought in his village, Hasari ventures out into the big city of Calcutta in search of better opportunities. With his wife and children in tow, he makes the journey there on foot, only to be shocked by the state of Calcutta. Beggars, prostitutues and poverty fill the streets of the city Anand Nagar, which means City of Joy. It is depressing, reading about child beggars, and little children going through rubbish dumps to look for scraps to eat.Reading about child prostitutes was probably one of the worst parts for me : 

The adolescent girl's face was shuttered, hostile. There were traces of red on her lips and she smelled of perfume. Freeing herself from her mother's grasp and gesturing to her two small brothers, she handed over a ten rupee note. 
"Tonight they will not cry" 

On the other hand, Stephan Kovalski is a Polish missionary, who sought out the poor in order to minister to their souls, only to find himself touched and transformed by their way and philosophies in life. Deciding to settle in the slums with the very poor, Stephan brings a ray of hope to the destitute and abandoned, making life so much more bearable for the leper colonies especially. 

Max Loeb comes into the story bright eyed and bushy tail, thinking that money itself is the panacea to all troubles only to be shocked at the state of life in Anand Nagar. Operating from a 'clinic' which is basically a small room in a rest house, Max comes face to face with living conditions unlike any he has ever been exposed to. There, he goes through life changing experiences that will forever change the way he lives the rest of his young, sheltered life. This is a scene of an amputation, which took place on a pavement, without anesthetics, due to lack of medical care. : 

Neither Kovalski nor Sister Gabrielle had time to catch it before it fell onto the ground. Max put down the saw to wipe his forehead and the nape of his neck. It was then that he witnessed a scene that was to haunt him for the rest of his life : " a mangy dog carrying off in its mouth a human arm".

The beautiful part of this story is the way people are so giving despite being so terribly in need themselves. Reading this book does give you a fresher perspective of life, and if you're like me, you'll probably find yourself realigning your priorities in life. All in all, this was a riveting read, one that will stay with me for some time. I loved this Hindu saying which was in the book, I think it epitomized what the entire book was about : 

If you have two pieces of bread, 
Give one to the poor, 
Sell the other, 
And buy hyacinths, 
To feed your soul. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sea Glass by Anita Shreve

Sea Glass by Anita Shreve

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books (January 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316089699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316089692

I've read a few of Anita Shreve's books prior to this, and whilst I loved those, I admit I had trouble connecting with the characters in this book. The way the story unfolds is rather unique though, with the story narrated from different viewpoints, each character telling the story in his or her own way. 

Honora is a twenty year old, newly married bride of Sexton Beecher, and like all newly weds, the couple is optimistic, blissfully oblivious of the tests that are coming their way. Then there is McDermott, a young man working in the mills, socialite Vivian from Boston adds a contrasting view to this motley group and little Alphonse is probably my favourite character in this book. This unusual group is united in the face of the economic downturn in the 1920s and 1930s, and the story develops to envelop the struggles that small town people of that era had to face. 

The story centers upon the inhabitants of the fictional city, Ely Falls and different aspects of life are explored. Marriage and betrayal, love and friendship, economic trials and even growing pains ( in the case of 11 year old Alphonse) are all tossed around and debated, and readers will often be left guessing and wondering where it's all going to lead to. 

What I liked though, is Anita Shreve's lyrical description of the sea glass that Honora loves collecting : 

She picks up a chunk that looks like dirty ice after a long winter, ice that has been skated on and has gone cloudy with use. She fingers a piece the color of young dandelions and finds shards that look like flower petals : hyacinth and wisteria and lilac. 

She finds scraps of celadon and cucumber and jade, specks of pea and powder and aquamarine. 

Truth be told, I did not like the way the story had to end, but all in all, the plot was based on true events that occurred during that time, and it was a pretty 'educational' read in a way. The story had such great potential for further development, I found it disappointing that the beginning of the book was a little draggy, but when things started to speed up towards the end, I was begging for more details that just weren't there. All in all, this is recommended if you like somnolent reads, made for long, lazy Sunday afternoons. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Hundred and One Days : A Baghdad Journal

  • A Hundred and One Days : A Baghdad Journal 
  • by Asne Seierstad
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465076009
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465076000

It would be difficult for me to put into words what I felt after reading this book. It is a journal detailing the journey that Asne Seierstad takes in her efforts to cover the Iraq war. The book is split into three parts : Before, During and After. In each section Asne Seierstad does a great job encapsulating all the events that occurs in a very straightforward, journalistic approach. 

So many emotions are captured very vividly by the author as she goes about her work. The frustration at being denied proper access to interviews, the hawk-eyed control of the Ministry of Information, 

I am here to find dissidents, a secret uprising, gagged intellectuals, Saddam's opponents. I am here to point out human rights violations, expose oppression. And I'm reduced to being a tourist

the discretion that people insist on practicing, and most of all there is an air of distrust amongst neighbours because you never know who'll betray you. It is a book set in the harsh times during the reign of Saddam Hussein and in each sentence, you feel the oppression of the people. 

We are exhausted from lack of sleep. It is as if we are ice cold inside, immune to feelings of happiness, to brandy, fear, hunger. We walk the earth in a numb existence, an existence filled with trauma and insomnia. 

At times, the book left me teary eyed, especially at the loss of innocent lives. Readers get a first hand description of the images that will never make it in newspapers and TV because staring at the vacant eyes of infants would be dancing too close to the line of reality. 

All in all, this is a good book for those of you who would like an insider's point of view on the happenings of the Iraq war. Asne Seierstad has done a remarkable job in bringing in the fear, the frustration and the fruitlessness of war. The book is really about the Iraqis and their voicelessness and inability to command the hands of fate that sets their destiny. 

They're forgetting one thing, Yves says, looking out through the taped balcony door. The battle for hearts. He empties his glass - That too must be won. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mailbox Mondays

A week has flown by so very quickly and it's time for Mailbox Monday again , a meme hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. This week has been pretty productive for me, and readers of my other blog might already know what I've been up to .. :p So, this week, these books came into my home. 

This requires no introduction, being the winner of last year's Man Booker prize was enough to pique my curiosity. 

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb. I've been meaning to read the previous book, This Much I Know is True, but then I saw this lying around in the bookstore and decided to pick it up first. 

Curiosity got the better of me with The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie. 

Another author on my To-Read list is Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and when I saw Half of a Yellow Sun the other day, I just had to grab it. 

Nobel laureate,  V.S Naipaul's Magic Seeds was going for a steal the other day at a local bookfair and I just couldn't resist the temptation to bring it home with me. 

I like Anita Shreve's books and I've been meaning to read Sea Glass for some time now. Finally decided to bring home a copy when I saw it at a book clearance sale the other day. 

That's all for this week's Mailbox Mondays. What books came into your home ? 

P.s : I've finished Guardian of the Dawn and A hundred and One Days is proving to be a really good albeit frustrating read. Reviews on both coming up! :) Have a good week ahead everyone!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mailbox Mondays

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page, and I've loved reading about what other bloggers have been adding to their book collection. So, here's my latest bookish acquisitions :)

Guardian of the Dawn by Richard Zimler

Picking up where he left off in The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Zimler tracks the travails of a young Jewish manuscript illustrator who flees with his family from Portugal to India to escape the Portuguese Inquisition in the last decades of the 16th century. Tiago Zarco, whom his family calls Ti, is the precocious protagonist, and he and his family constantly face religious persecution, particularly when Ti's sister Sofia develops an ill-fated attraction for her cousin, a Moor nicknamed Wadi. Ti, meanwhile, has his own troubles, which revolve around his romance with Tejal, the beautiful Hindu girl he hopes to marry. Family betrayal eventually leads to the arrest of Ti's father for his involvement with the "secret Jews," a group targeted by the Catholic authorities. Ti ends up in prison as well, but, upon his "confession" and release, he embarks on a complex mission to avenge his father. The narrative and dialogue are occasionally melodramatic, but the historical authority in Zimler's prose is impressive, as is his surefooted plotting and formidable character writing. The riveting final chapters pick up the pace, a welcome change from the novel's overall slow burn. Still, Zimler's treatment of an obscure period of history makes for an exotic, colorful novel. 

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

A hundred and One Days by Asne Seierstad

I picked this up because I read the Bookseller of Kabul and fell absolutely in love with it. This book comes after the Bookseller of Kabul and I can't wait to continue reading on Asne Seierstad's future explorations of Baghdad. 

This is an international bestseller that has been made into the movie starring Patrick Swayze. The story centers on the slums of Calcutta, ironically known as Anand Nagar or 'City of Joy'. It's a tale of resilient human spirit, compassion and love in the worst conditions. A tale that is bound to tug at heartstrings and make you ponder.

Separated by Time 

From his grandmother, Alex Cross has heard the story of his great-uncle Abraham and his struggles for survival in the era of the Klu Klux Klan. Now, Alex passes the family tale along to his own children in a novel he's written - a novel called Trial. 

Connected by Blood

As a lawyer in early-twentieth-century Washington DC Ben Corbett represents the toughest cases. Fighting against oppression and racism, he risks his family and his life in the process. When President Theodore Roosevelt asks Ben to return to his hometown to investigate rumours of the resurgence of the Klu Klux Klan there, he cannot refuse

United by Bravery 

Arriving in Eudora, Mississippi, Ben meets the wise Abraham Cross and his beautiful daughter, Moody. Ben enlists their help, and the two Crosses introduce him to the hidden side of the idyllic Southern town. Lynchings have become commonplace and residents of the town's black quarter live in constant fear. Ben aims to break the reign of terror - but the truth of who is really behind it could break his heart. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

Musing Mondays

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about multitasking.
Do you – or are you even able – to do other things while you read? Do you knit, hold a conversation, keep an eye on the TV? Anything?

This depends on the type of book that I'm reading, although most of the time, I'm pretty bad when it comes to reading and multitasking. I do read and eat though, often carrying a book around with me even when I eat outside (alone that is), so I can catch up on my reading whilst waiting for the food. Other than that, I can't hold a conversation and read, reading takes me out of this world and into another so I find myself nodding without registering anything (DANGEROUS because the mother often gets me to agree to things I never normally would...) 

What about you?

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Teaser

There is this Teaser Tuesday meme that's been going about on a lot of book blogs, and I was thinking of starting them, but then I'm currently reading this book that I think is beautifully descriptive and captures the human emotion so very well that I thought I'd go against traditions and post up a bit from this book although today's not yet Tuesday... 

I was in the shop well before opening time, browsing shelf by shelf through New Fiction, to see which not-so-new fiction I must relegate to the less prominent Novels & Stories shelves. Because of that dreary human predilection for the shiny and new, I always feel when I make this shift as if I'm sending so many bright, hopeful creatures out to pasture before their youth is spent. (Though I would never condemn them, as other shops do, to a section entitled Literature, a word which to my admittedly overschooled mind is ossified and clubby. I picture a mausoleum, filled with sagging armchairs and lamps that cast inadequate, jaundiced light )  

Don't you just love the way the author gives life not only to her characters, but also character to books. How many of you have the same attachment for books ?  I know I do :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Tiger Claw

Things have been pretty busy lately and I've not had the time to update this book blog of mine .. I have been reading quite a big though so here's a review of Shauna Baldwin's The Tiger Claw

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Canada; First Edition edition (January 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-0676976205

The tiger claw is based on the life of Indian Muslim spy Noor Inayat Khan, who is of mixed parentage. Being brought up in France by her American mother after the demise of her Indian father, Noor, or Madeleine as her code name goes, has a unique upbringing spanning Muslim laws peppered with western liberal thoughts. 

Acting as a spy for the British government, Noor falls in love with Jewish pianist Armand and this is a story of bravery, courage, espionage and beneath all that, love. The forbidden love between both Armand and Noor is heart breaking and parts of the story is narrated through Noor's letters during her imprisonment, which adds a sense of realism to the story as these are true letters written by Noor herself.

I was enraptured by Shauna Singh Baldwins' captivating prose and narrative skills as she brought back to life the legend of the woman known as Madeleine to her colleagues. The undertones of courage and bravery to fight for a love that could be punishable by death never leave the plot and this is what makes the story so much more different than any other espionage tale out there.  

Suffice to say I could not put down the book and would totally recommend it to anyone with a taste for thrillers, fiction based on true stories and through it all, the power of love. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mid Week Lusting

Quickie : I saw this at the bookstore this morning. Been wanting to read this for ages now ! Should I get it? *refuses to cast guilty glances at TBR pile

Monday, March 8, 2010

Island of Lost Girls

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; 1 edition (April 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061445880

This is a story full of twists and turns and unexpected revelations that kept me guessing right up to the end. The plot starts when Rhonda witnesses a little girl getting kidnapped by a man in a bunny suit at a gas station. The fact that it happens right before her eyes and that she kept quiet about it made her a prime suspect and part of the story deals with her trying hard to prove her innocence.

There are parallel plots in this story, one concerning Rhonda's past and the other, steeped in the present. The kidnapping of 6 year old Ernie brings back buried memories of the disappearance of Rhonda's best friend Lizzy when the girls were about the same age as little Ernie.

As the plot thickens and the story takes on form, we see how the lives of these characters in a small town intertwine and how fate messes with the path they each take. The language is simple and straightforward, but boy was the ending a big surprise ! A definite recommendation for lovers of light thrillers with a twist of human drama.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Bookseller of Kabul

This is my first 'official' book review on this site. The site still has miles to go before becoming the full-fledged book blog that I hope it will be. So, I present to you..

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
ISBN-13: 978-0316734509
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Language: English

An award winning journalistic fiction centered around a family in Kabul, Afghanistan, this book was in turns heart-wrenching and frustrating to read. The Khan family is lead by Sultan Khan, a successful bookseller in the sandy deserts of Afghanistan. It is rare for an Afghan to be literate, what more to continually strive and fight to protect literature. Sultan Khan has been arrested, beaten and imprisoned all on accounts of selling books forbidden under the strict rule of the Taliban, but yet he strives on to save the books that mean so much to him.

The story also brings us into the home of Sultan, where readers meet his two wives, three sons and two daughters. It is common in Afghanistan that unmarried sisters live with their brothers and it is here where we read about Leila, Sultan's youngest sister, the subject of much compassion. The books not only focuses on the struggles fighting the battle of illiteracy but also gives a touching account of the struggles of women in Afghanistan.

Sensuous culture and strong willed determination is exposed as the story takes twists and turns. A rich narrative based on a true family, The Bookseller of Kabul left me speechless right till the very end. It was with a stray tear in my eye that I read the last word in the book.