This review may contain spoilers, I didn’t check that box because it isn’t really that kind of book. However if you’re a read...moreLove and Marriage: Review
This review may contain spoilers, I didn’t check that box because it isn’t really that kind of book. However if you’re a reader who likes to know things only via the author, and beforehand to know only what’s on the book covers, you probably don’t want to read this.
This novel of a family tapestry woven with many threads including those of terrorism will impact you not due to the intensely sensational nature but instead due to it’s quiet intensity. The aspects of terrorism are some of the most intensely quiet moments of this book, certainly by conscious design.
The book is very tightly structured, reminiscent of a vise - or a straight-jacket; the tone is flat and dry which forms a smooth surface for the wildly dramatic and turbulent content. I will try and keep my review free of excess emotion/words etc.. in response.
My interpretation of the structure of this novel is that it mirrors the structure imposed on a family by those individuals who make certain life choices. Like when a person chooses a military career, or to be in the police forces, or to be a politician, or to an extent to be a doctor - the family of that person is affected. There is a discipline imposed, a set of actions that are prohibited, a set of actions that are required. There is a format that is imposed - these things happen repeatedly and always this way, those things never happen. The structure of this book - very short chapters, everything told, but told minimally so that what is told does the showing to an extent, voice that is not always clear who it belongs to - requires the reader to adapt in a way perhaps similar to how the family adapts to their life structure.
In this book, a question is asked: is the choice to become a terrorist similar in these ways to the choice to be on the police force or in the military? Can a choice to be a terrorist be valid, if made earnestly and with the best intentions? Of the answer to that were yes, would it still be yes over any range of actions? Or only over certain actions? What about the family of a terrorist - are they still a family? Do the same family-rules apply about love and loyalty and keeping secrets and following rules? How does forgiveness work at the end of such a life?
I feel like at this point I should include a disclaimer of some sort - I don’t agree with this idea, or I don’t feel that way. But I’m not, because this isn’t about me, it’s my review of the work of someone else. She has included in her text all that she wanted to in that vein, any of my own feelings are irrelevant. And would violate the discipline (my German talking, a different word is probably more true) and the rules that are bound in with this book.
This is a piece of fiction, a novel; presented as a memoir of a family from the point of view of a member of that family. That creates also a great deal more work for the reader, as information is presented in a order and a format that is not conducive to rational thought or analysis.. For instance, the struggle of the Tamil Tigers is at first presented as having been triggered by a certain event, then later on more is said about the beginning that might color a person’s perceptions differently. That choice of the author also could be a suggestion about life in such a family - that incomplete information is often all one receives. Reading this actually coincided for me with working in a place in which I never received all relevant information about anything. There, as in this family (or atleast as a reader) the choice is available to feel less in response - knowing that if you knew more, you might feel differently. So in order to feel incorrectly / come to an incorrect conclusion, better sometimes to remain in suspended animation, withhold closure, stay detached. Of course, that detached state makes it easier to do as one is asked without being conflicted also.
This book explores:
Love-Marriages and Arranged-Marriages, Proper Marriages and Improper Marriages, and love: the choices and securities and risks involved with each and whether or not there are other kinds. Human will and personality and self, constructions of paradigms of self. The Asian diaspora experience: living in North America with people who aren’t aware of your home country, being different (or being in an enclave and then the same), much more. Family relationships and emotions: in particular the complexities and power of them. The Asian residence-at-place-of-birth experience, village life and rituals and customs, discrimination and injustice as well as internal community workings in all their variety. Terrorism: both exhaustively and incompletely; due to it being voiced as a family member and the terrorist himself. That choice of voice allows for freedom to leave out aspects and go in depth particularly according to choice. A lot of challenging content, with particulars about Sri Lanka, the conflicts between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE - the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, formerly the Tamil New Tigers). Children and growing up: what effect do the parents’ choices have? What freedom does a person have regarding their opinions/feelings about family history, homeland history and struggles? What about a person who has a family member very involved in a struggle - do they have the same choices then about their opinions/actions? Do they have fewer choices? When are they ok? Always? Only if they obey? Only if they feel inside the correct way? Only if they accept/understand/confirm with their lives the choices/actions of their parents/other family members? Communities with injustice: What is the best response of the group suffering injustice? Does anything work? If a government is brutal, are they ‘bad’ in the same way that terrorists are ‘bad’? More bad? Less bad? Madness.
Many of these subjects are universal, one interesting counterpoint regarding that last set about a child and their choices comes to mind in Freedom Writers, the book and film. It’s very very different situation of course. But the core comparison is between parents who choose their actions/lifestyle vs. parents who didn’t; and what basis that gives the kid for their decision-making as they come into adulthood.
Anyway, this is a rich and complex book which I’m almost certainly not doing justice to. If the topics explored are of interest, I’d encourage you to try it! (less)
Part way through: I really love the part where her friend tells her to petition God for what she wants, and then list all who would sign the petition,...morePart way through: I really love the part where her friend tells her to petition God for what she wants, and then list all who would sign the petition, and she ends up listing this huge group of people.. delightful idea.
A little farther: Now in Italy, I'm just so weirded out by the tone. Because, we know she's a grown woman, that's been established. But her tone - to me - is more like a 12-15 year old girl. The resolute silliness, the resolute studiousness, the resolute traveler; that overly, consciously, 'I'm going to be this because I've decided to be' - seems a way younger point-of-view that what is supposed to be the case.
So I hold the book - figuratively - way farther away than arm's length, because I have no idea what to expect. If it's not real, then the door is open for just about anything.
Ok, now I like it again, the part about where she writes in her most-personal notebook and a self (of some sort) answers, perhaps " 'locutions' - words from the supernatural that enter the mind subconsciously, offering heavenly consolation," .. "But the very fact that this world is so challenging is exactly why you sometimes must reach out of its jurisdiction for help..". p. 53.
Very tedious going, at the end of Italy, for me. The problem with being excessively self-indulgent is that there's a large risk of being *too* excessively self-indulgent, and for me, she's there. Her paradigm seems to be that the reader will be unquestionably interested in every foible of her and her journey, writ across the landscape of this or that foreign locale. For me, I'm not interested sufficiently and the locale-as-backdrop doesn't delight. Her life - especially around the central issues (for her) of whether to 'have kids' or not and how to best deal with her relatively substantial mental/emotional health challenges - is different enough from mine as to make it irrelevant on the personal level she's writing at. She could have translated it into more universal applicability, which she does from time to time and I get something from it then, but otherwise the repelling forces are great.
Maybe it'll turn another corner for me soon though, I would really like to finish it.
Oh, and one more big difference - she's totally male-focused, as in she has been in one relationship or another since she was a teenager. Me - I'm a solitaire. So another repelling force. And now, in the Ashram, she's latching on to a guy who makes all her struggles there easier. Great.
Ok, then I also really like the part on p. 184-185, the ritual to let things go. Shit like that, you know, always useful to have in mind. Cause seems like the times we need ideas like this is the time when we forget all such ideas, and so having them nearby is good.
Her tone towards various things including aspects of India is how I'd imagined it would be - unselfconsciously flippant. As Americans, I still hope for better of us, one of these eons. Like one part, she's talking to a young girl about what makes a woman harder to marry off, and light skin is a positive. She compares herself to the checklist later, and concludes, 'Well, atleast my skin is light. I have that going for me.' Yeah, unawareness of all the situations and realities around light-skin privilege sure does make things happy and nice...
Once I'm done I'll turn this into some actual review-type thing, but right now snarky works for me.
On the other hand, I really like the part about her process with tehe Gurugita.
I also like her idea about fate vs. free will, and the two horses (just added it as a quote), and that the trick is to tell the two apart. Which is similar to the Serenity prayer, the strength to tell the difference between what we can change and what we must accept.
I got it - this is a gemini book! Two disparate selves, polar in various ways. Atleast for me.
So I'm pretty comfortable with most of the spirituality stuff, and still on a spectrum of dislike with much of the personal content the author shares.
There's content that makes me cringe as an American white woman; kind of a 'more things change, more they stay the same' feeling - the condescending tone, the feel that the world is her playground.
But the optimist in me likes to see it as imperfect, strenuously slow progress. In that: she's written it, thinking it was great and all ok. I and others read it, seeing progress to be made. The next book will be written by an author who things it's great; others will read it and see further progress to be made.
Being aware of the deficiencies may feel like it puts the goal further away, but it's actually a necessary part of goal-attainment: re-calculating the goal in reference to one's position from time to time makes it much more likely that it will be eventually attained than if one starts off and ignores the goal altogether, all happy and self-satisfied. And if the goal keeps getting extended/re-defined; one's journey may surpass earlier goals as it continues, bringing one to new, previously-unimagined heights.
Woo-hoo! Finished it! Yeah for me.. Will finish this review shortly..(less)
Seems like potentially the perfect antidote to my current conundrum of hard-to-read Great Literature ala my daughter's class, and tedious Mom-sourced...moreSeems like potentially the perfect antidote to my current conundrum of hard-to-read Great Literature ala my daughter's class, and tedious Mom-sourced current novels..
And starts out engagingly interestingly!
I've wanted to get around to this for so long, am very excited! ---- Finished 2/26/10: This book deserves a really excellent review. Unfortunately, my time is overcommitted right now especially, and am going through a transition as well. Plus, I just want to re-read it instead of writing anything about it right now!
So, rather than doing any misc paragraphs right now, I think I'll start something in Word and see if it becomes anything good enough to include.
Until then, I'll just list some of my favorite aspects of this: Multiple points of view Day-to-day life details Intimacy details Self-identity construction insets in which a character's life is explored fully, fascinating lots of political content feels true India
If anyone (in the US) is thinking about 'living simply', this book is a great starting point. Middle-class in India can entail a very, very modest lifestyle by US standards. And a couple times in the book, a character feels bad about the luxury around them. Only, they're talking about a towel, or a mattress. This book is great for really getting a serious glimpse at how others - others who are just as real, just as whole, just as smart, just as good, etc.. etc.. - live with much, much less. My extensive clutter looks very different to me now.(less)
This collection of short stories is massive and fascinating; succeeding in its goal (in my opinion) of presenting life at the edge of multiple culture...moreThis collection of short stories is massive and fascinating; succeeding in its goal (in my opinion) of presenting life at the edge of multiple cultures as lived by folks of South Asian ethnicity. First, about the name. The word 'wallah' in South Asia means some or all of the following: vendor of, craftsman of, expert in. It is a very common term there, and carries connotations of abundant supply of all that is good. In the introduction the editor, Shyam Selvadurai, describes his journey and struggle of self-identification as he went from Sri Lanka to Canada (moved at 19). He uses the term diaspora over immigrant to include weight to each person's (sometimes secret) history, and also to include the struggles of each person in reshaping their identity in relation to both their old and new home. Those areas are some of the main essential contents of this collection. While these themes are very specific, the truth of them reaches the universal. For instance, in Anita Desai's 'Winterscape,' the space between people who are in intimate relationships is explored with ringing clarity. Anita clearly creates four characters: a man who moved to the West, the white woman he married, and the man's two mothers who remained in India. And the moment captured is his wife's defining as 'other' the man's two moms, in their reaction to snow. He feels bewildered and somewhat hurt by her reaction. In that is contained so much of the human experience: and thinking about ok/not ok; good/ bad fascinates me. Another universal (and particular) aspect of life included in this collection is religious extremism, which is cut wide open in Zulfikar Ghose's 'The Marble Dome,' which explores Pakistani society and is another of my favorites. In editing this collection, Shyam includes aspects of his own being. One of those aspects is that he is gay which - in many South Asian cultures - continues to be outside the definition of normal. I realized when I was reading some of the stories that I was reacting as myself, a straight-but-not-narrow US resident who's been aware and supporting of lgbtq culture for over 20 years; and that the cultures involved in these diasporas were very different. In those contexts, the sub-set of these stories with lgbtq content are ground-breaking, brave and probably difficult for many in the intended audience. Two in particular are especially poignant. The first, by Shyam Selvadurai himself, is called 'Pigs Can't Fly,' and tells the story of gender definitions being imposed on a person who had been happily living outside the norm to that point. His mother, answering the question of 'Why?' would say: "Because the sky is so high and pigs can't fly, that's why." Seems as valid a support for normalcy as anything I've ever come across! The second, Sandip Roy’s ‘Auld Lang Syne’ has lingered on my mind. It is about the reunion of two men who had been lovers, on the return of one from San Francisco to India. And mentions a third man, a mutual friend of these two, who has committed suicide. It shows the three choices available to people outside their culture's norms: escape away, suicide, stay and pretend and be internally dead. That later choice is in place for millions of course, in every community almost, required by a variety of conditions. Brings 'Angels in America' and 'Brokeback Mountain' to mind, which show that the pain and damage of that choice is not restricted to the individual, but is shared by their spouse and others. Other themes in this ambitious collection include cultural differences related to historical and cultural variations. He discusses in the introduction some of these primary divisions: the first wave of movement in the 1830's, when South Asians were brought in to many British colonies (in particular) to replace slaves; the second movement beginning in the mid-1950's, in which people moved to major metropolitan centers of the West. One fascinating tidbit about British motives in encouraging businesses to import South Asian populations: 'The aim was to get people in as guest workers who, even after they acquired citizenship, would continue to function as "passive citizens" as opposed to "active citizens" who participated and represented the nation-state of Britain." That is fascinating to me, but not referenced, and the stories (those few set in England) don't really get into that sort of political question at all. I'd love to learn more about that. Anyway, additional variances among the writers he describes include relationship to South Asia - some were born elsewhere and have never visited, most travel back intermittently, regularly or frequently. Some are 1st generation, others are 2nd, 3rd, even 4th generation. While this anthology is in English, the language is a huge variability, as native vernacular is used in quite a few stories (mainly those by writers of that earlier migration): and for me that was a big challenge. In a longer work incorporating native voice, one gets used to it. In this collection, each time it's a transition to master, and each vernacular is significantly different. Fascinating, but I hadn't been ready for that. I personally found it challenging as well to determine the setting of each story, the time period, and details like that. Comes with the short-story territory; and I am disadvantaged with not having the background to catch the significance of the information that is given much of the time. What it all adds up to is that this collection of short stories both demands and rewards active reading. Prior to reading each story, there is information available about the writer and their context that is of use to contextualize their work; the content then is rich and varied on all these multiple axis. And be warned: Shyam is apparently among those who believe that Indian Diaspora in inextricably linked with India’s extreme poverty: the last story in the collection - 'Chokra', by Numair Choudhury - is a short, brutal instance of that shocking misery. This would be a great book to include for any number of classes on culture, history, identity, population, work, many different topics. I personally would encourage the reader to take your time and read according to what you are seeking and/or slowly, one at a time. Rushing through would only dilute the essence and dull the fine points of this breathtaking collection.(less)