Pro: - I believe the descriptor most commonly attached to a novel like this is "sprawling", and this certainly is. Yet the author managed to gather thePro: - I believe the descriptor most commonly attached to a novel like this is "sprawling", and this certainly is. Yet the author managed to gather the many different characters' backstory and developments into a coherent and compelling thread
- Title completely apt, on more than one level. I love when that happens.
- Pick a form of exploitation/mistreatment, and it is quite likely it will be contained in this story. Racism, sexism, classism, tribalism, religious bias, abuse due to developmental delay/gender orientation/type of education, contempt for an addict, etc. etc. - it is all here, sometimes in as brief and subtle a form as superior facial expression, sometimes in as blatant and jawdroppingly self-serving a form as the American slave trader trying to convince a biracial character that his actions are positive as they serve to "free" people from the "tyranny of a darkie king", or the British merchant who informs coincidentally (or perhaps it wasn't?) that same character of the backwardness of the Chinese emperor who is trying to prevent import of opium to China (experiencing severe problems with high numbers of opium addicts) and therefore standing in the way of the the "divine" right of British traders to engage in business. The salt in the wound of that particular bit of ethnic self-aggrandizement is how the character not only expects that should it come to war, that it will be a very short one due to general incompetence of Chinese government, but that it is the Indian army members (whom he likewise looks down on) who are going to do the work of going to war for the British
Yet despite all these varied and depressing examples of mistreatment, the story is essentially about how a number of characters come to question the social order that has been imposed upon them, and eventually break out of those roles in some way. I loved those parts.
- My favourite characters were the American sailor and the young widow. Over and over, they were forced to adapt to changing circumstances, and over and over, they demonstrated growth, resilience, and a kind of essential humanity. The character of the rajah was also notable, being one who goes from one extreme to the other. Though the transition was unwilling and at times appalling, the rajah responds to circumstances in unexpected ways, that gave me, as a person partially of Indian descent, hope that the caste system can ultimately be overcome IRL.
- The novel ended, to use BBC Sherlock terms, in a cliffhanger of "Reichenbach Fall" proportions, with high drama all over the place and involving pretty much all of the characters. Not having understood from the audiobook cover that this is the first of a trilogy, I ended up dementedly shouting "Are you KIDDING ME?????" as the last disc played ending music. Thankfully I don't need to wait for a Sherlock length interval and can move on to Book 2 without delay.
Con: - in novels that take place with multicultural characters, or characters travelling to a new place, it is expected that the author will throw in some phrases in another language to liven up the narrative or enhance the setting/mood or some such. This can be done more and less skillfully. I've winced more than a few times when translations were just plain wrong, or when an author apparently decided to use every ounce of foreign language at their disposal, and made such WTH decisions as translating the word "the" only in a sentence. In this novel, what could have been a strength and marvellous flavour enhancer rapidly turned into the single biggest "con': massive dumps of language the average reader would have no way of understanding. This was true of subcontinent-born characters as well as Westerners, with the worst offenders being British characters whose speech was so laden with slang/historical terms/technical vernacular of the time that this reader could at best guess general tone during what sometimes turned into several paragraphs. Made me contemplate invention of warnings on the book jackets along the lines of "This novel is directed at individuals of ____ cultural background" or "for readers bilingual in ____ and _____"
- one of my pet peeves is fake sounding accents in audio books. If the reader can't pull a particular accent off, then better not to even try. In this case, there was a female character whose heritage was French, and the way the reader read her dialogue was not only excruciating (to my ears), but made no sense whatsoever as she was born in India and spent little time with her father. Therefore, her English should have sounded either fully British or like "Indian" English, learning the language as she would have from exposure to those two possible groups, and in the Indian tongues she spoke (I can't remember exactly which ones) she would have had no accent at all, those being her very first known languages.
Overall: Engrossing, looking forward to next part....more
Pro: - billed as "Ratatouille" meets "Slumdog Millionaire", and this was actually delivered - the author has an extraordinarily descriptive writing styPro: - billed as "Ratatouille" meets "Slumdog Millionaire", and this was actually delivered - the author has an extraordinarily descriptive writing style, and I loved how the similes and metaphors made such striking and apt sense as seen through a chef's point of view: "The sun set like a mango sorbet melting over the horizon" "the artichoke looked like a bizarre form of spiky hand grenade" " …we slept contentedly curled together like a couple of Moroccan crescent pastries…" - I loved how, for once, the immigrant family did not struggle with financial hardship in the countries where they settled. They were not wealthy, but neither were they impoverished, and it was refreshing to read a story where the protagonist's family was able to deploy clever financial strategies in their battle to overcome integration challenges. - I loved how despite every new challenge that came down the road for the protagonist and his family, they not only carried on, but carried on in unison, operating as a family.
Con: - for a little over half the pages, I adored how the story unfolded and following along with Hassan's development. Once he arrived in Paris, however, for me the story fell off somewhat. I'm not sure if this was because of the large jumps in time that took place narratively from that point, or the draggy feeling that naturally accompanies a situation where the main character becomes utterly wrapped up in their career and all the interesting secondary characters seem to drop away, or some other factor, but I did feel let down with how little attention seemed to be given to characters who had been such driving forces in the story up to that point (the father, the mentor). - I also felt a growing sense of lack of completing the circle of where the story started out, He became so extremely well -integrated in his new place, it seemed to me, that it needed more reflection of where he came from (emotionally, geographically, cuisine-wise) to not create an overwhelming impression that he had come to reject all that. In the end, there was some of this, but by then I had almost come to the point of feeling it was too little, too late. - I really, really wished there had been less mention of, shall we say, hygiene-challenged moments. Not just because that it my personal preference, but because of the explicit depiction of how xenophobia is often expressed in terms of relative cleanliness/dirtiness. As in, a person's appearance being such that the xenophobe equates darker skin with uncleanliness (and uncleanliness is tied throughout history with fear of illness being passed on, meaning avoidance of a source of potential illness can be justified). The character who expresses this age-old form of stereotyping eventually comes to a change of outlook. But in a story where one of the messages was to look beyond outer appearance and appreciate the inner qualities of a person, i.e. NOT to perpetuate the dirty foreigner myth, it perplexed me when the author repeatedly chose to mention less salubrious physical details in connection with the South Asian characters only .
Overall: I loved this story and will look forward to the author's next work....more
Another very enjoyable installment in the ongoing Flavia de Luce cozy mystery saga. Even though disbelief could ultimately not be suspended regardingAnother very enjoyable installment in the ongoing Flavia de Luce cozy mystery saga. Even though disbelief could ultimately not be suspended regarding the total lack of comment by ANYONE that 11 year old Flavia keeps popping up in the church and its subterranean chambers in the middle of the night, developments in the ongoing parallel story of her family's evolution kept interest and emotion high.
5 stars, not as much for quality of writing but out of respect for subject matter and courage of western author to immerse himself in the sometimes ap5 stars, not as much for quality of writing but out of respect for subject matter and courage of western author to immerse himself in the sometimes appalling realities of slum life. He brings both harshness and simple, splendid humanity to life for those of us who cannot imagine such a vastly different type of existence. I place this in the same category as such novels like "Book of Negroes" by Lawrence Hill, "A Fine Balance" by Rohinton Mistry, & "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana de Rosay, in that they vividly portray parts places or times of world history/reality that everyone should learn about since we all share in ramifications/aftereffects of what took (or is taking) place. ...more
I was so intrigued by the blurb of this novel from a nobel prize winner author:
an elephant and his handler travel from sixteenth century portugal acrI was so intrigued by the blurb of this novel from a nobel prize winner author:
an elephant and his handler travel from sixteenth century portugal across Europe as intended wedding gift for an emperor
However I was so confounded by the writing style I backed down. Though there are chapters, there are no paragraphs, nor upper case use for names. The result is page after page of full text blocks with no white space. It felt like weight-lifting.
Maybe one day when I'm feeling more muscular I'll pick this up again....more
like most, if not all anthologies, some of the tales in this collection work better than others yet altogether, they do the tr3.5, bumped up to 4 stars
like most, if not all anthologies, some of the tales in this collection work better than others yet altogether, they do the trick of transporting the reader away from the everyday, and cultivate a yearning for experiences apart from mass-market, sanitized and pre-digested travel...more
Been thinking for long time about how to rate this novel and why it is perplexing me so much to get it down. Best conclusion I've come to is: becauseBeen thinking for long time about how to rate this novel and why it is perplexing me so much to get it down. Best conclusion I've come to is: because it forces me to evaluate which is more important - that I end the story with warm fuzzy feelings of sunshine and roses? (exaggeration, but the reader gets my drift) Or that the story makes me think about the characters and/or my own way of looking at life long after the final page?
And I come to this: character statements and actions that remain with me months after I've finished the book trump characters whom I liked while I was with them but would be hardpressed to remember in detail. On that basis, 5 stars, even though there were parts of the story I didn't like, including: the vast quantities of swearing going on, how the viewpoint of some characters I really would have liked to see wasn't depicted yet the pagetime of some I wasn't so interested in was high, despising the character who responds to disappointment of not meeting his own standards of religious by attempting to forcibly impose those standards on his children, while stripping his wife of all rights to input in the children's upbringing (though I have to admit this kind of thing seemed all too plausible in real life to me).
But the good parts were really good. There is a cliche that "memorable characters leap off the page". There was a whole lot of leaping going on here. The characters were original and clearly defined, even when they didn't end of occupying much on-page space in the ongoing story. The story threads came together in an unexpected and cathartic way, even if I personally would have liked a few more open end tied up a little more. And, as the child of parents of different ethnic backgrounds, who immigrated to a new country, there were many moments in the POV of several characters where I felt echos even though the details of their stories were nothing like mine.
I thought for a long time, also, about the title metaphor which keeps recurring as sectionheads like "Root Canals", etc., grisly but evocative, and repeatedly bringing the reader back to overarching theme: what binds different groups of humanity together? What keeps them apart? We all grow teeth (doesn't matter what culture you're born in, you're gong to have to wrestle with aspects you question and you're going to have to figure out how to deal with people from other backgrounds in a constructive way), we all lose baby teeth (mature emotionally and physically, some with more trouble than others), white teeth are a sign of health, but sometimes when they are shown it's hard to tell if it is in friendship or in warning of attack, root canals are like the pivotal moments in a person's life when they are forced to make a hard choice and deal with the consequences forever after.
For giving me so much food for thought, I give this author full marks, and will look for future titles....more