A Fine Balance - between hope and despair - the reference is buried somewhere in the middle of the book in a minor character. I had to digest this for...moreA Fine Balance - between hope and despair - the reference is buried somewhere in the middle of the book in a minor character. I had to digest this for a few days before I could begin to write anything. At times a very depressing read but there is that glimmer of beauty here and there, enough to sustain the soul. I wish I had a better knowledge of the real India of this time period. The story takes place in an unidentified city you would assume to be Bombay - in a time frame following India's independence and into the State of Emergency. The 'Prime Minister' is never named but assumed to be Indira Gandhi. Mistry is obviously not kind in his portrayal of her leadership or the politics of that era. The book is an endless stream of the corruption on all levels, in politics and the judicial system, as well as the destructive nature of the caste system, various religious and sectarian violence. One becomes emotionally attached to the characters and their evolution through the course of the book. The writing is beautiful, simple and straightforward storytelling, not judgmental or didactic. Nothing predictable in this story and I definitely didn't see the ending coming. To me the fine balance was the way the four main characters overcame their prejudices and created a family among themselves, and how that relationship of barely a year defined their lives. What a gorgeous tale. (less)
On stories: "It didn't matter that the story had begun, because kathakali (a stylized Indian dance/drama or the actor in one) discovered long ago that...moreOn stories: "It didn't matter that the story had begun, because kathakali (a stylized Indian dance/drama or the actor in one) discovered long ago that the secrets of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones that you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't decieve you with thrills and trick endings. They don't surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover's skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don't. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won't. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn't. And yet you want to know again. That is their mystery and their magic."
I know I had too much caffeine last night but I couldn't sleep after finishing this book. The story kept rolling around in my head. Roy’s writing in the last 9 pages was enough to put me over the top. If you had asked me at some points in the reading I would have told you it was too dark and depressing, that there were pieces of the style that were annoying. It is certainly not for everybody. But if you can make it all the way to the end, there is ample reward.
The plot of The God of Small Things centers around twins Rahel and Estha and the consequences of a family tragedy. Mirrored in the storyline are reflections of India and what the caste system, poverty, British colonialism and politics have done to the people – collectively and individually. As in many modern novels, it jumps time frames. This book was not necessarily easy to follow, but my feeling was that was intentional. The foreshadowing was meant to lack clarity. You had to get a few paragraphs into a chapter to be certain of whether you were in the past or present. It felt like walking through a maze of veils without solid walls. It gave you a hazy glimpse through time.
Roy wrote mostly third person narratives but really inhabited the voice of the twins, giving whole other dimensions to their thoughts by using Anglicized language slurred together, then breaking words in unconventional places with odd capitalization. Significant Words and runningtogetherwords as Salman Rushdie did in some of his writing. It was annoying at first, but took on a whole other interpretation as you got deeper.
I felt wrung out but totally enriched at the end. Brilliant insightful writing that apparently has some autobiographical influences. I am inspired enough to move on to A Fine Balance to immerse myself in another piece of India.
On death: The steel door of the incinerator went up and the muted hum of the eternal fire became a red roaring. The heat lunged out at them like a famished beast. Then Rahel’s Ammu was fed to it. Her hair, her skin, her smile. Her voice. The way she used Kipling to love her children before putting them to bed: We be of one blood, thou and I! Her goodnight kiss. The way she held their faces steady with one hand (squashed-cheeked, fish-mouthed) while she parted and combed their hair with the other. The way she held knickers out, for Rahel to climb into. Left leg, right leg. All this was fed to the beast, and it was satisfied. She was their Ammu and their Baba and she had loved them Double. The door of the furnace clanged shut. There were no tears. The crematorium “In-charge” had gone down the road for a cup of tea and didn’t come back for twenty minutes. That’s how long Chacko and Rahel had to wait for the pink receipt that would entitle them to collect Ammu’s remains. Her ashes. The grit from her bones. The teeth from her smile. The whole of her crammed into a little clay pot. Receipt No. Q498673. Chapter 7: Wisdom Exercise Notebooks (less)
This collection will most likely not have the import for someone who is not a musician. It seems like five trivial stories on the surface. But there i...moreThis collection will most likely not have the import for someone who is not a musician. It seems like five trivial stories on the surface. But there is an emotional undercurrent not everyone would recognize. Ishiguro exposed so many issues fundamental to any artist. For a musician, there is an intimate relationship with their art - impossible to express fully without a deep connection to who you are as a person. You give yourself away, lay yourself bare in every performance. It is a shared relationship with the audience that changes each time. There is also a fine balance between emotion and command of technique. One cannot overrun the other without losing something in the process. Finding the right teacher carries far more weight than an outsider would realize. It is a relationship of trust that you lay yourself in the hands of someone who will twist and mold not just your skills but your heart (and confidence) in the journey. Just as every fine athlete isn't going to play for the NBA, nor will every decent musician or artist 'make it big.' The number of opportunities are few and competition is fierce. At least a musician can share their skills well into old age if desired. Unfortunately our own expectations often get in the way. If we can't achieve a certain level of success, do we quit? I would hardly think so as most artists are a driven impulsive lot. Life often revolves around the need to express yourself in your craft and my husband and kids will confirm they have taken a back seat at times. Personally a very meaningful little book. Thanks Mr. Ishiguro for sharing your writing gifts!!! (less)
What an intense read! There are so many layers of meaning and symbolism. I am glad to have read this now and not as a high school student. It would ha...moreWhat an intense read! There are so many layers of meaning and symbolism. I am glad to have read this now and not as a high school student. It would have been over my head in so many ways. The writing style of the period - what would now be considered long run-on sentences - plus the antiquated language, were a hurdle in the beginning. The first part - the Customs House - was unnecessary although it does set a tone. As I finally got used to the voice, I found a rhythm.
Themes of good vs evil, knowledge and original sin, love vs. hate are all contained in this story. Good and evil can be embodied in the same person. Hester may have been marked by the letter A, but how that defines her changes throughout the story. Her name Prynne even rhymes with sin. The scarlet letter physically and emotionally separates Hester from the entire Puritan community but also offers a door to an intellectual and spiritual freedom she wouldn't have otherwise enjoyed. She refuses to reveal the identity of Pearl's father, perhaps to protect him. Eventually her quiet strength in the face of persistent scorn bring her some redemption. How could they possibly overlook her care for the poor and downtrodden. Dimmesdale - weak or dim, without light - also struggles with his sinful nature versus the ministry he provides to the people.
A dichotomy of love and hate are found hand in hand in the plot and characters. Best expressed at the end of the book: "It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not the same thing at the bottom. Each in its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent for the food of his affections and spiritual fife upon another; each leaves the passionate lover, or the no less passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his subject. Philosophically considered, therefore, the two passions seem essentially the same, except that one happens to be seen in a celestial radiance, and the other in a dusky and lurid glow."(less)
One of the best books I've read in a while and certainly one I will contemplate for a long time to come. This is often billed as a dystopian political...moreOne of the best books I've read in a while and certainly one I will contemplate for a long time to come. This is often billed as a dystopian political/feminist novel, but there was more for me than the obvious sexual overtones. On one level, its about the subjugation of women and power between genders. Its takes a good slam at some of the things in our culture that we continue to allow to diminish our self esteem and power. This is not just in terms of prostitution but the oft criticized but more subtle values put forth in fashion, entertainment and advertising, or even equity in our relationships. But on deeper level it makes the reader question much of our present struggles in individual autonomy versus government control. I would refrain from turning this into a long review, but the book is fodder for long discussions. One of Atwood's talents is her ability bring the reader to question and never didactically lead you to any specific answer or judgment. (less)
Im struggling between a 3 and a 4. I really did enjoy this book. The fate of the characters propelled me along. I found it rather implausible at times...moreIm struggling between a 3 and a 4. I really did enjoy this book. The fate of the characters propelled me along. I found it rather implausible at times, but I don't think it needed to be plausible. There was something more magical about it, a certain awe that the title implies. So many questions but no real answers. Fear and love are big pieces of this literary puzzle. They can be both destructive and empowering, the impact of which was felt by all lives in this novel. The subject matter leaves you with questions about the price we pay in pharmaceutical research for the balance between good science versus what corporate competition demands. It leaves you pondering the arrogance of colonialism, its extinguishing of cultures and our own definition of intelligence and success. A thoughtful read. (less)
Beneath A Marble Sky is about the building of the Taj Mahal. It is a time period I know little about. As a GR friend said - it was a "guilty pleasure"...moreBeneath A Marble Sky is about the building of the Taj Mahal. It is a time period I know little about. As a GR friend said - it was a "guilty pleasure" to read, perhaps because I don't normally read what could be called a romance. It is more likely classified as historical fiction. I clicked around to find out how much was factual and am often frustrated with speculative story lines such as this. But not this one - the writing flowed quite effortlessly. There were indeed some lovely moments intermingled with some fascinating history that never read like insertions of info. I'd do another John Shors in a heartbeat. (less)
I really really liked this book and in that respect should probably give it a five star. However, this stems more from the way my own life was echoed...moreI really really liked this book and in that respect should probably give it a five star. However, this stems more from the way my own life was echoed in the characters. The story centers around a somewhat geeky girl who goes to a summer camp for the arts. She comes into her own, blossoming among people who don't have any preconceived notions about who she is. The relationships forged shape her self image, if not her entire life, in both good ways and bad. Wolitzer writes about the disparity between who we imagine becoming versus who we really are. There is a point in life at which hopefully we all come to accept that while we should never stop dreaming, not all desires are rooted in reality, nor are they necessarily true to our deeper selves. Imbedded in the story is also a interconnectedness with people who cross our paths, ties that we can not escape. Lovely story. I found myself in several of the characters and situations. (less)
I enjoyed Pickard's The Virgin of Small Plains and thought I would give her another try. I guess I like contemporary mysteries more than I want to adm...moreI enjoyed Pickard's The Virgin of Small Plains and thought I would give her another try. I guess I like contemporary mysteries more than I want to admit and need to stop being a book snob! I don't care for the shallow characterizations and action packed mainstream thriller genre. But I have come to appreciate the work of writers like Kent Krueger, Nancy Pickard and in particular Tana French. When I want something that is entertaining enough to keep me turning pages in the wee hours, has a bit more substance, a deeper characterization and writing that doesn't spell it all out in black and white... they are my "go-to." Of course she sets the reader up for several possible perpetrators by laying little crumbs of suspicion along the way. And I was close, but missed the mark on my guess! While I liked the first one better, this was definitely engrossing by the end. 3.5 to 4... (less)
I couldn't write a review after finishing the first in the series The Sparrow. It never felt like the story was complete. My instincts were right on....moreI couldn't write a review after finishing the first in the series The Sparrow. It never felt like the story was complete. My instincts were right on. You are definitely missing something if you haven't gone on to the second book. Russell covers lots of territory in both of these. While science fiction is not generally my genre, that is a limiting classification. She touches on spirituality as well as cultural ethics. On the other hand, one of my all time favorites, A Canticle for Leibowitz is a science fiction book that explores religious themes. Nowhere did I feel 'preached' to. However my life philosophy tends to run the same gamut, so it's easier not to be offended.
I was sucked in not just by the religious aspects but by the idea that music and the inspiration for its creation was a prompt in the story line. In the first book, a group of astronomers, on a quest for life outside our solar system, hear a distant broadcast of what appears to be music. With mixed motivations the Jesuit community foots the bill to train and send a group in search of the mysterious planet. Without giving away too much, things don't end well. The reasons give the reader lots to think about on many levels. Exploration and colonialism. The sociological and ecological costs of intermingling cultures and scientific progress. The precarious nature of faith. Science and religion. Autism, among many other things. The second book returns Emilio Sandoz, the main character, to the planet Rhakat, to redeem both Sandoz and the Jesuits' failures in the first attempt.
Can't believe I succumbed to a romance, chick lit kind of book,... but I did. On a particularly down day in December, this popped up on a respected, G...moreCan't believe I succumbed to a romance, chick lit kind of book,... but I did. On a particularly down day in December, this popped up on a respected, Goodreader's TBR list and she does about as wide a genre as I do. Plus that week it was a cheap price on the Kindle... and I caved. And you know what? It was truly ok. Decent writing. A quick, easy to read. Not so plausible, but I allowed myself to imagine. Lots of interesting historical, cultural and travelogue tidbits thrown in. Stock characters, but once in a while, even an old girl needs a little of the fantasy... Permission granted. (less)
At the recommendation of a relative, I've started reading William Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor mystery series. These are all somewhere between a 3 and...moreAt the recommendation of a relative, I've started reading William Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor mystery series. These are all somewhere between a 3 and 4 for me. For this type of writing, he admittedly does a good job. He is a Minnesotan whose stories take place in Aurora, not too far from the North Shore and Lake Superior. He truly shapes the locale and people. Its beautiful country and Krueger not only describes it well, but weaves Native American spirituality into his characters and plots. Contrary to my stereotype of the mystery genre, the characters have slightly more subtlety than most. I've been advised to read them in order as the relationships progress. These are the perfect diversion when I get in these stressful spells at work, need entertaining reading and not something I have to work at. (less)
An absolutely fascinating read about the disjointed group of men assigned with the task of preserving and restoring art, most of which was either dest...moreAn absolutely fascinating read about the disjointed group of men assigned with the task of preserving and restoring art, most of which was either destroyed in bombings or confiscated by the Nazi's during WWII. Many of these items were either 'appropriated' illegally from Jewish families or cultural treasures taken in conquest. These were hidden, often stored inappropriately in ways that were damaging, but they were fastidiously cataloged. In Hitler's last days, many Nazi fanatics took it upon themselves to extend interpretation of his Nero decree to mean destruction of these treasures. This is the book upon which the upcoming movie is based. Given the trailers I have seen, I worry that Hollywood will dramatize a story that is phenomenal without any doctoring. There is more than enough drama and suspense to this story all by itself. Much of the excitement comes from the last ditch efforts to locate and avoid the Nazis blowing up all these riches.
Many of these men returned home to careers that were extremely influential in American culture, including James Rorimer, curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and its Cloister exhibit; Lincoln Kirstein, founder of what would become the New York City Ballet and renown sculptor Walker Hancock. None of their expertise was recognized in their respective ranks - Kirstein was only a private. These men and women were dedicated to protecting the artistic expressions and history of all people, enemies or allies, be it avoiding destruction during combat, repairing damage to historical architecture or art work or documents/literature and returning stolen items to their rightful owners. Most of their work and influence came in the last months of the war and in the years there after. A sad commentary in the epilogue was how little recognition they received for their efforts and how subsequent wars have had no such division guiding battlefield decisions or overseeing troops in responsible conquests and the taking of 'souvenirs.' (less)
This is a book based on the well known radio series by the same name. The concept arose out of a meeting between Ward Wheelock, a Philadelphia adverti...moreThis is a book based on the well known radio series by the same name. The concept arose out of a meeting between Ward Wheelock, a Philadelphia advertising exec; William Paley, the founder and CEO of CBS; Donald Thornburgh, general manager of the local Philadelphia CBS affiliate and broadcaster Edward R. Murrow. They "bemoaned the spiritual state of the nation - that 'material values were gaining and spiritual values were losing.'" This was blamed on economic instability, the shadow of war, and the frustration of the younger generation in terms of the shape of their future. All things that are still current more than half a century later. They decided to produce a five minute radio broadcast that revolved around interviews with famous people influential in their fields. The immediate response was overwhelmingly positive. Although a simple letter from a housewife, asking why they didn't engage in conversation with average citizens, changed the course of the program. Thus it included people of prominence and people of obscurity. It aired for four years in the early 1950's, until Wheelock lost is agency's prime account with Campbell's Soup, and went missing a year later while sailing in the Bermuda Triangle.
Eventually the concept was revived, and became a product of NPR. The essays included in this first volume were varied in subject and immensely thought provoking, if not emotional reads. For me, they hold the same appeal and attachment as the StoryCorps broadcasts. A beautiful connection to people of all classes and walks of life that illuminates the common threads in all our journeys. (less)
Bennie Salazar is an aging music mogul/promoter. Sasha is his young employee, with a complicated life. Each chapter of Egan's story is a further look...moreBennie Salazar is an aging music mogul/promoter. Sasha is his young employee, with a complicated life. Each chapter of Egan's story is a further look into how their lives converge and spin out into other avenues and other people. And it does travel from NYC to Africa to Naples and beyond, at times absurd and quirky but honest. Just when you think you have figured out the compass markings, Egan drops some other little bomb in your lap. Some fragment of the character's past or future that completely changes what you thought you knew. The time frames do bounce back and forth. While that can have a confusing effect when not done well, here it enhances the jaw dropping realizations in each backstory. Egan does a wonderful job of shaping their interior lives with simple straightforward prose. On the other hand, one whole chapter is in the form of power points. A creative visual representation of the character's intersections and the repercussions. Loved it. (less)