I really gained a lot of perspective from this book, it was great for that. I love how he kind of deconstructs each unpleasantness and gets to the bas...moreI really gained a lot of perspective from this book, it was great for that. I love how he kind of deconstructs each unpleasantness and gets to the basis for people's attitudes and behaviors. Could have used more editing etc.. but was great even so!(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)
Apparently it will be necessary to read this book with a filter, so that the true parts get in and the unsupported conclusions and stereotypes etc.. r...moreApparently it will be necessary to read this book with a filter, so that the true parts get in and the unsupported conclusions and stereotypes etc.. remain inactive. Not sure how to do that.. maybe need to read other things on the same subject first - if there are any?(less)
This book provides a detailed look at the history of that portion of the Mississippi River which runs through the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Pau...moreThis book provides a detailed look at the history of that portion of the Mississippi River which runs through the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul). It describes how the river was affected by the increasing population in the area, and then by decisions made by the various entities (Army Corps of Engineers, etc..) for the purpose of shaping the river into the most effective possible transportation mechanism. It is also a work of advocacy for seeing the river as an integral part of the natural community, and limiting future interventions to those which meet a wide set of criteria including criteria related to nature's well-being.(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)
Based on the reviews, I think I'll try and read other of her books and/or some of the Mahabharata before trying this.
Chitra Banerjee Di...moreBased on the reviews, I think I'll try and read other of her books and/or some of the Mahabharata before trying this.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (1956 - ) is an Indian-American author, poet, and the Betty and Gene McDavid Professor of Writing at the nationally-ranked University of Houston Creative Writing Program.
Her short story collection Arranged Marriage won an American Book Award in 1995, and two of her novels (The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart) were adapted into films. Mistress of Spices was short-listed for the Orange Prize.
Divakaruni's works are largely set in India and the United States, and often focus on the experiences of South Asian immigrants. She writes for children as well as adults and has published novels in multiple genres, including realistic fiction, historical fiction, magical realism, and fantasy.(less)
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)
Blood - Urvashi Butalia (1997): India & Pak, a family torn by the Partition; very moving.
My Father's Raj - Mark Tully (1997); on the English psych...moreBlood - Urvashi Butalia (1997): India & Pak, a family torn by the Partition; very moving.
My Father's Raj - Mark Tully (1997); on the English psyche w.r.t. India over the past century in the family of the writer, also interesting.
Erotic Politicians and Mullahs - Hanif Kureishi (1985): Very full of content, not simply-enough-for-me written, will need to re-read, possibly multiple times. All about Pak, and Pakistanis in England, and England, and England-Pakistan. Does help fill in a bit my huge question-vessel in regard to Pak. More of this writer may well be of interest.
White Lies - Amit Chaudhari (2001); Very distinctly honest about the gently brutal interactions of people with different levels of power, the texture of such a relationship. In the same vein (at my level of familiarity anyway) as Thrity Umrigar's 'Space Between Us' and Rohan Mistry's 'Fine Balance.'
Mumbai - Suketa Mehta (1997): Some of the same content as 'Maximum Ciy', but thought would be petty to skip it since I have it in my hands etc.. Felt more afterward like maybe I'd read more..
6 March, 1989 - Salman Rushdie (1989) - poem about that period. Wow, like it! Maybe his books won't be so impossible for me to go in with.
Kabir Street - R. K. Narayan (1997): Excellent.. the sort of writing I love, a slice of life. I'd known I'd like him already, and have some whole books of his. Can't wait!
Unsteady People - Ian Jack (1989) : Fascinating sociological essay basically, about attitudes of the powerful toward the powerless in India, in brutal honesty. Then a comparison to the same in England - with the conclusion that is the same in England, only there they cover it over with make believe hoo-ha to make themselves feel better. And that in India it's all in the open atleast.
What Bengali Widows Cannot Eat - Chitrita Banerji (1995) - interesting about the writer's mother, and how fervently she wanted to keep to all the ritual laws regarding widows in that region, and her (the writer's) reaction to her mother's response. Need to read more of this writer!
Jihadis - Pankaj Mishra, 2002 - fascinating all about the rise of the Taliban and the situation in Pakistan and all sorts of related aspects.. Is the clearest account I've read from someone who actually sought to understand the Taliban and their rise. Not quite 'sympathetic' maybe, but very close - very useful to read to get a fuller-than-trivial glimpse. Also usefully clear about anti-US anger and its causes.
And actually I did already read the next one: Two Indians on America - Amit Chaudhuri & Ramachandra Guha (2002).
Pariah, narrated by Viramma over ten years to Josiane and Jean-Luc Racine. This is non-fiction, an account of her life as midwife and agricultural worker in Karani, a village near Pondicherry. In this account Viramma the obstacles faced by political organizers who visit; some of the details about her activities as midwife, some information about her children (many of whom have died, who she grieves deeply), and a lot about evil spirits and other entities that her belief system includes. The presence of this piece makes me reconsider the whole book to an extent.. wait - who pulled this together? What might the overall message be? Hmm...
Serendip, by Ian Jack, short and ok.. Still was wary.
The Tutor, Nell Freudenberger - quite long, extensive info about the main character; probably more than the writer actually knew. Liked some things about it, not all of it.
Dervishes, Rory Stewart - excerpt from 'The Places Inbetween' - fascinating about the struggles within Pakistan for what -kind- of Islam is approved and acceptable; vs. what -kind- has been in place since the beginning. Totally changed my attitude about his book, will look forward to reading it now.
Little Durga, Shampa Banerjee - all about the filming of Satyajit Ray's filming of Pather Panchali! She was in it, as a child! Fascinating and awesome.
My Hundredth Year, Nirad C. Chaudhuri - wonderful, all about aspects of his writing, how it was received, written as of his 100th birthday. 'The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian,' 19051 was his first published book.
So, as is clear at this point, this book has a really wide scope of work and subject and format and writing style etc.. I was never one much for compilations, but working my way through this I've become aware that they can serve a huge purpose.
When I first saw things about 'Mistress of Spices', it felt like a ca-ching project: cashing in on the India-mania. But since I haven't seen the film...moreWhen I first saw things about 'Mistress of Spices', it felt like a ca-ching project: cashing in on the India-mania. But since I haven't seen the film or read the book, that's probably unfair. This book was mentioned as a favorite of someone, and it sounds interesting, so will read both before concluding anything about the author. The other one first though, to stay in order.(less)
People, and those people belonging in certain groups of people; and those people and other people seeing each other and defining each other and what I...morePeople, and those people belonging in certain groups of people; and those people and other people seeing each other and defining each other and what IS it that builds actual understanding in all of that? Not sure.. sounds like the narrow range within these stories restricts deeper understandings in favor of the superficial, which is unfortunate. Still, for someone as interested as me, might gain a bit more interim understanding from this with which to continue building. (less)
Sounds like a great story from someone free of homophobia at a time marked by that disease as much as the disease of AIDS. Multiple medical profession...moreSounds like a great story from someone free of homophobia at a time marked by that disease as much as the disease of AIDS. Multiple medical professionals in my family causes me to have familiarity and interest in the professions, so there's that as well. And also content about outsider-ness, and one person's experience as an Indian-American, and other to-an-extent universal interpersonal aspects; altogether fascinating!(less)