I have to admit I had never heard of this book until I read about it on JoV’s blog. JoV hosted a giveaway on her blog and I was one of the lucky winne...moreI have to admit I had never heard of this book until I read about it on JoV’s blog. JoV hosted a giveaway on her blog and I was one of the lucky winners. I chose the popular Random Acts of Heroic Love, but she was generous enough to send me a copy of Digging to America along with my chosen book. If not for JoV, I would have never discovered this wonderful book.
This book is about two Korean babies who are adopted by two different families based in America. While Jin-Ho is adopted by an American family, Susan is adopted by an Iranian family based in America. These two families come together on the night the babies arrive from Korea and are bonded by the one common thing – adoption of a Korean baby. The two families gradually discover the vast gap in their culture and opinions. They meet at every occasion and religiously celebrate the “Arrival Day” – the day the babies arrived home.
Anne Tyler’s Digging to America has an intriguing title. I wondered why it was named this way and didn’t find out the reason until almost half way into the book. Jin-Ho is digging a hole in the backyard one day and wonders just like how she is digging a hole to China, is there a girl in China who is digging a hole to America. And that’s the trigger for the title – and also that all the characters in the book are trying to find a place for themselves in the land of opportunities.
We see several characters – the girls themselves, their parents, maternal and paternal grandparents, relatives and so on. The best part of the book is the characterization. I am guessing Tyler reads psychology in her spare time because she understands human mind so well. Each and every character in this book is so real and so beautifully created, that it reminds me of Somerset Maugham. I love his characterization and Tyler comes really close. Of all the intriguing characters, I find Maryam, Susan’s paternal grandmother, the most interesting.
The adopted girls, Susan and Jin-Ho, could have been built better. The girls are shown to be different but never explored further. We just know Jin-Ho to be clumsy and pretty whereas Susan is plain yet graceful. It would be interesting to know what the girls felt about their adoption. There is a fleeting mention of the girls not caring for the Arrival Day Party and the video, but I was hoping to read more. I expected a bit more elaboration when Jin-Ho gets an adopted sister – wasn’t there sibling rivalry at all? Also, the incident where Sami and Brat have a fight – this part appears childish and it doesn’t affect the relationships of the character which I found hard to believe.
I like the fact that the third person POV changes after every few chapters. The initial few are in Maryam’s POV and it shifts to Ziba, Sami, Bitsy and even Jin-Ho. It needs a bit of context switching and it takes a while to get used to.
I need to work with American people on a daily basis and the cultural differences crop up all the time – sometimes totally unexpected. What we call politeness is seen as lack of confidence by the American team. When they try to be frank and open, we see it as rudeness. We constantly check our words hoping not to toe the line and hurt anybody. I could relate so well to the cultural clashes that the characters in this book experience. A very interesting and thought provoking book that one must read.(less)
There are very few writers who can convey their inner thoughts and feelings and transport the reader to the world that exists only in the writer’s min...moreThere are very few writers who can convey their inner thoughts and feelings and transport the reader to the world that exists only in the writer’s mind. Haruki Murakami is one such writer for whom this comes naturally. After Dark was my first Murakami book and I am kicking myself why I didn’t read this author earlier. I wouldn’t have tried Murakami if not for The Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge. I do not have anything against him, but never felt the urge to read his books. I ignored him as one of the Dan-Brown-type-hyped-up authors who doesn’t really have anything to offer. How wrong I was!
After Dark, as the title suggests, is set in Tokyo in the dark hours of midnight. The book spans over 7 hours in a cold night where we see interesting characters. We meet Mari, who is killing the night in Denny’s by reading a book where she bumps into Takahashi, a trombone player who is practising in a building nearby. He claims he has met her and her sister, Eri, at a summer date a few years back. The night proceeds and we see Mari’s help being sought by a female wrestler who runs a love hotel where one of her clients is injured and can only speak Chinese, which Mari is fluent in. One thing leads to another and many characters enter the scene only to realize they are all tightly bound together through one string or the other. Meanwhile, Eri – Mari’s sister, is deep asleep in a quasi-coma state and finds herself being transported to another world inside her television and back to her original room. We see a character’s image being reflected in the mirror even after the character has long gone. These scenes add to the already established surreality of the book.
Some of my favorite quotes from the book:
In this world, there are things you can only do alone, and things you can only do with somebody else. It’s important to combine the two in just the right amount
People’s memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn’t matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They’re all just fuel.
Nothingness means there’s absolutely nothing, so maybe there’s no need to understand it or imagine it
Time moves in its own special way in the middle of the night. You can’t fight it
From the first word, Murakami’s surreal tone casts a spell on you. As soon as you open the book, you are transported to that cold night in Tokyo where you see Mari and Takahashi and still feel as if you are floating on air, watching the happenings beneath. The characters come out so beautifully that you can feel their pain and the loneliness. The book is divided into small chapters based on the time of the event and a clock at the beginning of every chapter keeps reminding us of the time.
Even after I finished reading the book, it still lingers over in my mind. I am constantly reminded about a dialogue or a scene or an action and I keep going back to that book. I can’t wait to start reading my next Murakami book. I am thinking of picking up his popular book Norwegian Wood. Any other suggestions?(less)
Milan Kundera is one of those writers who can leave a long lasting effect on you. I met (you know what I mean) Kundera when I read his The Unbearable...moreMilan Kundera is one of those writers who can leave a long lasting effect on you. I met (you know what I mean) Kundera when I read his The Unbearable Lightness of Being and was so taken by surprise that I wondered if I was actually reading that book or dreaming. I did not care about the story that much, but the philosophical notes that interspersed the story chapters were the best part about that book. Having been completely blown away by his first book, it was only natural that I picked up The Joke from the library.
The book is about a young man, Ludvik Jahn, whose life changes for the worst owing to an innocent joke he cracks in a letter written to his girlfriend. What he thought would be a funny comeback makes him look like a traitor to Communism and is kicked out of university and makes him end up in a prison.
I went on taking in the story hoping to read some more philosophical meanderings from the author, but they never came. The book was one big rant: most (if not all) of the characters appear morose and lacking something or the other in life. I am not sure if it is the translation, but the language did not have the kind of impact I was expecting. This book is supposedly the one which brought recognition to Kundera in the English speaking countries. I fail to see what is it about this book, but I found it lacking on many fronts. The characters lack depth, the story is quite boring and the language is not that great either. There were some parts which held my attention, but a major part of the book was one big, boring read.
This in no way stops me from reading more from Kundera. I took back so much from his first book, that the second one is no deterrent. I hope I like what I pick up next.(less)
What is it about me and classics? When the entire world is raving about classics, I only end up getting disappointed. After having many bad experience...moreWhat is it about me and classics? When the entire world is raving about classics, I only end up getting disappointed. After having many bad experiences with classics before, I vowed never to read one again, but I did it anyway hoping atleast this time, I will be proved wrong. I wasn’t.
Wuthering Heights is the name of the house where most of the book is set in. This is where Heathcliff is brought in as an adopted orphan and takes a more important place in the household and thus invokes wrath from the natural heirs of the property – Hareton and Catherine, which eventually turns into a blooming romance between Heathcliff and Catherine. Though the couple is very much in love, Catherine ends up marrying another guy and Heathcliff takes that as a personal insult to him and vows to take revenge. The story continues to the next generation where Catherine’s daughter ends up getting married to Heathcliff’s son and what happens later on.
Wikipedia says wuthering means turbulent weather in Yorkshire and this best describes the happenings at this bizarre house. Heathcliff, whose love for Catherine takes the centre stage in the initial part of the book and his hatred and revenge forms the later part, is one strange character. He starts off as being innocent and guileless, who then turns into a headstrong teenager who thinks the entire world is against him, who then turns into an out and out monster. Without marking this review as spoiler, I can’t reveal his heinous crimes, but it’s suffice to say I was revolted and disturbed by certain parts of the story. I had to pause and ask myself if this character is for real – I mean, this person is too evil even for a fictitious character. Most of the characters in the prologue are like this – evil, sharp tongued, foul mouthed – I thought the name ‘Mad House’ was a better name for the novel.
I fail to see why this novel has this amount of attention and praise. It is a decent novel, no doubt, but what is so great about it that it has to be listed as one of the must reads. I have a similar opinion about Jane Eyre and most of the other classics, so I guess it’s just me. Go ahead and enjoy reading this classic while I figure what gene is responsible for appreciating classics and how do I go about procuring it.(less)
When this book was released last year, it immediately caught my attention. Many readers in my circle were reading this book and the attractive book co...moreWhen this book was released last year, it immediately caught my attention. Many readers in my circle were reading this book and the attractive book cover and the subject itself was so interesting, I ordered a copy for myself without much thought. Now that I have finished reading this book, I can safely say it was a wise decision.
Jaya, in simple words, is Mahabharata retold. It narrates all the stories connected to the war between Pandavas and Kauravas - the incidents that led to the war and which influenced it and the incidents which followed the war. The author does not stop at just narrating an incident, but goes on to dissect and contemplate to bring out the actual meaning of the incident. Most of the stories are well known to Indians, thanks to the weekly dose of Ramayana and Mahabharata serials on Doordarshan, but very few of us would have stopped and thought about what the story really meant. Pattanaik helps us fill this gap by neatly listing down 'points to ponder over' at the end of every chapter.
The first thing you notice about this book is it is not about some guy who graduated out of IIM and landed himself a job in an MNC company. What a rel...moreThe first thing you notice about this book is it is not about some guy who graduated out of IIM and landed himself a job in an MNC company. What a relief! When every second book released (my exaggeration) by an Indian author is about IIM or IIT graduates, this book comes as a breath of fresh air. Rashmi Kumar debuts as an author with this book and it does make you sit up and take notice.
Stilettos in the Newsroom is about Radhika, a fresh graduate who finds herself a copy editing job in a newspaper. The book takes us through her roller coaster ride called life and how she manages to keep herself sane in the crazy world of press.
The book is written in a very informal, chatty style which might put off some readers. I found it a bit irritating at first, what with ‘Arre’ and ‘na’ being used before and after (almost) every statement, but I got used to it with time. This book could have used another round of proof-reading because I found a mistake bang on page one.
‘Arre, baby, but it’s your first day na…’, her voice trails of.
Now, I am no expert proof reader, but shouldn’t that be ‘trails off‘?
Radhika’s character comes across as someone who is desperate to prove herself in her new job. She could have used some more layers though, especially when it comes life outside her office. Also, most of the other characters lack life – except for one, Tina. It’s funny because Tina’s character hardly has any dialogues, but yet I could connect with her. Sushmita is another character which comes across as real.
For people who are ignorant of newsrooms and what goes inside, this book gives you a peel into the life of a reporter.
The book moves fast and is over before you know it. This book is for one of those weekends where you want some light entertainment and don’t want to work up your grey cells. It is a good filler between two heavy books because this book is light as a feather, literally and figuratively.(less)
I discovered Lionel Shriver when I read her most popular book We Need To Talk About Kevin. It was highly recommended by a blogger friend of mine and I...moreI discovered Lionel Shriver when I read her most popular book We Need To Talk About Kevin. It was highly recommended by a blogger friend of mine and I was more than happy to read this book and discover a writer who could write a story with different underlying subtext. I immediately took a vow to read more of her books. Unfortunately, her The Post-Birthday World is neither as powerful, nor as interesting as the former book.
Irina McGovern, a children’s book illustrator, has a steady relationship with her partner Lawrence. They both are Americans living in London. One fine day, Irina finds herself on the verge of betrayal when she is in the company of Ramsey Acton, a popular snooker player, on the occasion of his birthday (hence the title). The book forks out here with two options – does Irina betray or doesn’t she? One thread of the book flows with the first option where Irina goes through the guilt trip and finally leaves Lawrence to marry Ramsey. She faces a different set of challenges where she has to convince Ramsey of her fidelity and put up with his eccentric ways of displaying love and claiming ownership over her. Another thread goes on parallely in which Irina remains faithful to her husband and faces hurdles and the biggest shock of her life when Lawrence cheats on her. The chapters from each thread appear alternately and some of the incidents are common to both threads and they become repetitive.
Shriver takes pity on us lesser mortals and uses comparatively simpler words in this book. We Need To Talk About Kevin had such complicated words that I had to keep a dictionary nearby and look up a word after every sentence, but fortunately this book was an easy read. Shriver creates powerful characters and this book is no exception. Irina’s character has so many layers and is so real, you could feel her guilt and her joy as if they were your own. Lawrence too is quite easy to relate to, but I found Ramsey’s character somewhat confusing. I could never make out what the character’s intentions were. Irina’s mom is another character I found amusing and interesting.
It is good to see a book using an unconventional structure and construct, but it just didn’t work for me. Many incidents and dialogues become repetitive and wear you out. In the end, when both the threads reach conclusion, you are not really sure what the message is. Is the writer trying to say no matter what option you choose, you will end up with your dose of happiness and sorrow and your choice does not really matter? Shriver does not take a stand when it comes to Irina’s choice of whether to betray or not, so I am wondering what is the message that she is trying to convey?
The book was okay while it lasted, but coming from Shriver, it was a big disappointment for me. I was expecting a similar kind of effect that We Need To Talk About Kevin had on me, but the book did not touch me at any level.(less)
After I enjoyed reading The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, my friend JoV recommended that I try my hand at other Scandinavian crime fiction nove...moreAfter I enjoyed reading The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, my friend JoV recommended that I try my hand at other Scandinavian crime fiction novels. We got talking about it and she introduced me to Nordic Challenge 2011 and I took it up in order to read more Nordic crime fiction. I had no clues what books to read and again, JoV came to the rescue. She recommended some famous novels and authors and I picked up the first novel in the Wallander series.
Faceless Killers shows Kurt Wallander, a policeman in Sweden, solving the case of double murder of a farmer couple, who are brutally murdered in their farmhouse. The novel starts with a very interesting plot - the run up to the crime, the fear of the farmer who discovers the crime, the mention of a horse which seems odd - the scene is set and you are eager to know who is the murderer.
Enters Wallander who is assigned to this case and you are already impressed with him. His wife has left him recently, his daughter refuses to talk to him and his aged dad does not appreciate him. While his personal life is in a turmoil, he needs to give all his energy to the case at hand. Wallander displays a passion for crime investigation and it somewhere rubs on you. You want to solve the case too!
The plot is interesting. The first few pages grabs the reader and has your complete attention. The sub-plots keep your interest piqued. Wallander's character is well etched and he is something you can identify with. The intentional interrupts to the crime story to give us a glimpse of Wallander's personal life comes as a welcome change to the pulse racing pace of the main plot.While the book has a promising start and maintains its pace and mood for almost half the book, it begins to get boring when the investigation hits a roadblock. The story loses its momentum and when Wallander finally reaches a turning point and gets a clue about the murderer, you no longer care. After this point, it's a simple run and chase story. The case is solved and you don't even realize it.
While reading a crime novel, the reader should suddenly realize who the culprit is - it should be like a a-ha moment, as it happens in some of Agatha Christie novels. But, that a-ha moment never appears in this book, which was a big let down for me. The book held a lot of promise, but was a disappointment. This does not discourage me from reading more of Mankell. I want to read a few more in Wallander series and see how they fair.
Faceless Killers was made into a 90-minute television edition and was aired on BBC. Now, that would be interesting to watch.(less)
Norwegian Wood is about Toru Watanabe and Naoko who are bound together by the death of a common friend, Kizuki. Toru learns to deal with the grief of...moreNorwegian Wood is about Toru Watanabe and Naoko who are bound together by the death of a common friend, Kizuki. Toru learns to deal with the grief of his best friend whereas Naoko becomes emotionally unstable after her boyfriend’s death. Toru continues his study at the college and Naoko goes to a sanatorium to deal with her emotional instability. Toru has his group of friends and goes on with his life and continues to exchange letters with Naoko. Their relationship is uncertain and strange because they act like lovers but neither wants to admit it.
The trouble with reading a popular book is you would have built high expectations before you even read the first word. If the book turns out to be good, then all is well, but in my case, more often than not, a popular book fails to impress me. Sadly, Norwegian Wood falls under the second category. The book has this monotonous voice which is depressing, which is right considering this book is about dealing with death and grief, but what irritates me is how the characters behave sometimes. Toru and Naoko and the other characters are in their late teens or early twenties and they act as if they know the world and give out intellectual insights which make me cringe.
I am not sure if it’s the original text or the translation, but the writing is really poor and amateur. There are places where you want to tell the writer, forget what she is wearing and move on with the story already! Toru and Naoko are supposed to be having a very intimate conversation when Toru visits the sanatorium. He is seeing her for the first time after she vanished a couple of months back and he really wants to know how she is doing emotionally. When the scene has this emotional momentum going, does it really matter whether Naoko slid the clip off her hair or if she transferred it from the right hand to the left? The captivating, surreal tone which I liked the most about After Dark is non-existent in Norwegian Wood. Both the books are so different, it makes me wonder if they really have the same author. If I hadn’t known this was a Murakami book, I would have never guessed!
The ending is very predictable and left me wondering what the point of the book was. This vaguely reminds me of Catcher in the Rye, another over-hyped book which I just could not stand. There might be a message hidden for me underneath: do not read popular books! I plan to pick up The Hard-boiled Wonderland and End of the World next.(less)