Sulaman, Jakie, Mae and Lana grew up in Pakistan under the shadow of their controlling and somewhat abusive mother. The two brothers are sent abroad t...moreSulaman, Jakie, Mae and Lana grew up in Pakistan under the shadow of their controlling and somewhat abusive mother. The two brothers are sent abroad to become doctors, one to England and one to America, but the two sisters are left behind and expected to make good marriages, to bring honour to the family. But being a 'good child' is harder than it seems and in one way or another, all four children fail to meet their mother's exacting standards. Sulaman becomes a renounced academic and expert on torture, but marries an unsuitable Hindu girl he meets in America. Jakie does become a respected doctor, but starts a relationship with a white man in London. Mae and Lana both marry suitable men, but their marriages suffer as they refuse to compromise their lives for the men they are married to. When all four grown up children are called back to Lahore for a family emergency, they have to come to terms with their past, and the role their mother has played in their lives.
The Good Children is the first book I've read by Farooki, and I will definitely be reading more as soon as possible. Prior to starting this, I was in a bit of a reading funk as I just wasn't reading anything amazing, but The Good Children restored my reading mojo almost instantly as it's simply a very good book. It may be 600+ pages, but I raced through it in under three days. The stories of all four children were distinct and engaging, and splitting up the narrative with their different points of view maintained the pace of the novel. Farooki touches on a lot of important themes, such as mixed race relationships, domestic abuse, homosexuality and adoption, but The Good Children never feels like an 'issues' book, it always feels like a good story that happens to involve all of those things.
Although I enjoyed reading about all four children, I was most drawn to the stories of Jakie and Mae. Jakie starts a relationship with Frank during a time in London when homosexuality was still a crime, and Farooki explores the prejudice he faced, and the reactions of those around him. Mae was interesting as she was the child most like her mother, and her struggle to succeed for herself without crushing others was well done. Mae also leaves her husband when he takes a mistress, something that is frowned upon at the time, and I liked reading about her determination to ignore what others thought and forge her own path.(less)
Evie Nicholson loves antiques and is working for a dealer when she gets the opportunity to value family heirlooms at Kettlesheer Castle in Scotland. A...moreEvie Nicholson loves antiques and is working for a dealer when she gets the opportunity to value family heirlooms at Kettlesheer Castle in Scotland. A daydreamer and a romantic, Evie's imagination goes into hyper-drive when she learns that she will be at the castle at the same time as traditional ball hosted by the family (including the handsome heir). Caught up with visions of sweeping down staircases Gone With the Wind style and dressing for dinner, Evie pays little attention to the reality of life for the Nicholson family. Can she learn to take a step back from her fantasy life?
The Vintage Girl was a lot of fun to read. Hester Browne is a good writer and the story just flows from chapter to chapter, never feeling too short or too long. The pacing is perfect and the romance, whilst being rather predictable, builds up slowly and avoids the pitfall of insta-love. Evie herself is easy to relate to as a main character, particularly for someone like me, who also likes to live with her head in the clouds sometimes! Equally her love interest, Robert, isn't too perfect, and is shown to have a few flaws of his own.
The main tension in the narrative comes from the fact that Robert is expected to marry someone else, someone rich who can use their money to save Kettlesheer Castle from bankruptcy, and is already in a relationship with this person. But their relationship never felt believable enough to cause any real problems, and Browne made it too easy on Evie and Robert by making Catriona rather unlikeable, to the extent that it was hard to see why Robert was with her in the first place. Similarly, this problem was solved too easily later in the novel. I'm not expecting deep depression or anything like that in a novel like The Vintage Girl, but I would have liked the emotions of the situation explained a bit more.
I would recommend The Vintage Girl if you are after a fun, easy read with a bit of romance thrown in for good measure. It's not the best chick-lit novel I have ever read, but I certainly enjoyed it.(less)
Although Batsheva has been bought up as a Hasidic Jew, she has always been indulged by her wealthy father and allowed to taste more freedom than her s...moreAlthough Batsheva has been bought up as a Hasidic Jew, she has always been indulged by her wealthy father and allowed to taste more freedom than her school friends. She reads Western literature, pursues photography and dreams of living her own life before becoming married. But when Batsheva turns eighteen, her father arranges for her to marry a scholar in Jerusalem, and she is sent half way across the world, away from everything she knows. Isaac Harshen follows his religion strictly and wastes no time in destroying her books and 'training' her in the ways of being a Hasidic wife. Gradually Batsheva's freedoms are curtailed, her actions are punished, and her marriage becomes an abusive cage. When she tries to reach out to her family and others in Hasidic society, they remind her that marriage is forever and that husbands are to be obeyed. Batsheva has retained some of her spirit, but is it enough to enable her to challenge the society she has always known?
Jephte's Daughter was published in 1989, and was apparently quite controversial in it's portrayal of women and domestic abuse in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. I have to admit that it was the religious aspect of the book that drew me to it; I am non-religious myself so am always fascinated by stories set in societies that are so different from my own. I can't imagine what it would be like to have religion at the centre of your life, to have so many rules to follow, and to be so withdrawn from other beliefs and lifestyles. Batsheva's religion in Jephte's Daughter forms part of her cage; divorce is seriously frowned upon, and being married to a respected scholar like Isaac is seen as the pinnacle of a woman's life anyway. It's hard for her to complain about the loss of intellectual freedom when she isn't expected to think. But although Ragen shows us this downside of such isolated, strict religious communities, she also shows the love Batsheva has for her religion, and the way she wrote about Jewish beliefs and communities was fascinating.
Jephte's Daughter is really a book of two halves. The first half deals with Batsheva's marriage and the domestic abuse, and the second is about what comes after, and the issues she has to face as a consequence. I much preferred the first half of the novel; I felt it was a powerful portrayal of an abusive marriage, and strongly written. I was rooting for Batsheva and had an enormous amount of sympathy for her. Unfortunately the second half was a bit of a let down. Batsheva's journey to regain her confidence was delicately handled, but some plot events felt unrealistic, especially something convenient that happened at the end of the novel (mentioning no plot spoilers). Things fell into place a little too easily, and I felt like this distracted from the power of the first sections.
Still, I've never read anything quite like Jephte's Daughter before. It reminded me in some ways of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston; it had similar themes of a woman finding herself and not letting others define her. I would recommend it, and will look out for more books by Ragen in the future.(less)