This book was recommended to me by my daughter, who works in the book-related industry and gets lots of ARCs (as a full-time student, not that she hasThis book was recommended to me by my daughter, who works in the book-related industry and gets lots of ARCs (as a full-time student, not that she has time to read all of them.) However, this book she finished in one sitting, and found it funny, unique and eloquent. The story's taken place at Oxford University about an English major (like she is currently) does not hurt, either.
The book, strangely, reminded me of An Unnecessary Woman. The female protagonists in both books were intelligent, book-loving, yet reclusive and awkward. Most conversations and thoughts were either book related, or literary related. However, the two were vastly different in age. Although Aaliya in An Unnecessary woman was 72, Sam was only 20 here in this book. Sam was the last living descendant of the Brontes sisters. She started attending college in Oxford a few years after her Dad died a tragic death. She was homeschooled by her Dad all her young life on literatures (especially the ones by their famous ancestors) and hardly met any other human, so Oxford was a strange and intimidating new experience for her. When her Dad was alive, they played these treasure hunting games where her Dad would leave her a clue on a bookmark (hers) leading to other places with clues. The final destination always had a matching bookmark (his) with the treasure (usually a book.) Imagine her shock when the lawyer who took care of his Dad's estate gave her an almost empty shoebox with a "her" bookmark. In her understanding, her family was broke and had no inheritance or treasures left over from the sisters.
So, the story also has a small mystery with a treasure hunt, which I found just okay...although people who definitely needed a plot in their books will find it more intriguing. What I enjoyed about the book were the witty conversations, especially the ones between Sam and her tutor/professor Orville when they analyze literary works. I laughed out loud many times through out the book. This is when they first met:
"Why did you come to Oxford?" "Everyone's got to be somewhere." "Is that supposed to be funny?".... "I came here study English Literature." "And why was that?" "I like books." "You like books." "I'm good at reading?" "I did not ask you whether if you are literate. I asked you why you are studying English Literature. What do you imagine it will provide you?" "Unemployment?".... "English is the study of what makes us human?"... "Human biology is the study of what makes us human,"...."Try again." "English is the study of civilization." "History is the study of civilization," He corrected. "English is the study of art." "ART is the study of art.".....
The rest of the book was sprinkled with conversations like the above. They were more intense and take a bit of thinking to comprehend since they were filled with specific quotes and phrases from the Brontes and other books, as well as analyses of literature and writing. Knowing a little history and work of the Bronte sisters (and other classics) might help, but not necessary, to enjoy this gem of a novel. I also enjoyed how Sam moved from being a reliable narrator, to an unreliable one, and vice versa. It's fun to keep guessing. Watching her navigating her life is also cringe-worthy but enjoyable.
This review is getting out of hand, so I'll end with my favorite short quote from the book -
"It was the sort of library you'd marry a man for."
As one of my favorite authors...Ms. Lahiri's new book about her love of the Italian language took me unbelievably long to read. I got bored s3.5 stars
As one of my favorite authors...Ms. Lahiri's new book about her love of the Italian language took me unbelievably long to read. I got bored so many times. I admire her courage and talent of mastering another language, and such a beautiful one, at middle age. I envy how she could just pick up everything and move her family to Rome in order to perfect this difficult language. I also adore the hardback with Italian and English printed side by side (My friend who's learning Italian and my daughter, who studied aboard in Florence, absolutely enthralled by this wonderful format), and we all agreed that Ann Goldstein was the perfect person to translate Lahiri's amazing words/other words. However, I think I'll stick with Ms. Lahiri's English fictions from now on.
For readers who are more interested about the difficulties and/or pleasantness of living in an Italian city and learning the language and customs, try Anthony Doerr's Four Season, Ferenc Mate's The Hills of Tuscany, or Tim Park's An Italian Education....more
Since I have never read any of his other works, I did not know what to expect...so this book was a genuine surprise, a big one. This guy is great withSince I have never read any of his other works, I did not know what to expect...so this book was a genuine surprise, a big one. This guy is great with words...in fact, he enjoyed himself so much that sometimes he got carried away with the writing, yet he seemed to enjoy his own wits and words tremendously. Not sure if I loved the fantasy subplot, but the characters, the writing, his knowledge of human nature, literature and the world, his humor, the globe trotting, his way with words and sentences, the introspection that this book elicited in me - all worth a solid 5....more
This could easily be a 5 star book. The reason for the 4 star was that, even though AJ loved short stories and found them harder to master, the lengthThis could easily be a 5 star book. The reason for the 4 star was that, even though AJ loved short stories and found them harder to master, the length of this novel is embarrassingly in between - too short for the reader to fully fall in love and feel comfortable with each and all characters, yet a bit too long than a short, precise story. Words and phrases also need more polishing. However, it's still an amazing story for book and bookstore lovers.
P.S. Do read the acknowledgements. She gave away some secrets of growing a writer. ;)...more
I was stalled about 40-50 pages near the end for two reasons. First of all, I did not want this book to end, I love this author's writing style tremenI was stalled about 40-50 pages near the end for two reasons. First of all, I did not want this book to end, I love this author's writing style tremendously. I truly believe she could breathe life into every object, every human, every feeling and every action she describes. Nothing fails or escapes her pen. I wanted to keep reading the book non-stop. I also heard that she spent 10 years between her last book and The Goldfinch, I'm afraid I can't wait that long for another work of hers.
The other reason: I hadn't been able to put the book down for more than a few minutes since I started. I was actually late one day for my daughter's lesson since I could not bear not being able to continue reading while waiting for her in the car, so I drove back to my house after discovering the Kindle was forgotten. I was really worried that she would blow the whole book by giving it a wrong or mediocre ending. I lingered, and dawdled, and prolonged as much as I can... Let just say, I can finally breathe now that the book is finished, but it's still a sad situation that most seekers of great writing will understand. The ending was so good that I read it three times....more
I don’t read reviews before I actually finish a book. Most of my reading selection and book purchases are based on instincts. The cover definitely helI don’t read reviews before I actually finish a book. Most of my reading selection and book purchases are based on instincts. The cover definitely helps, and the little blurb on the inside fold of the cover usually differentiates if a book will be put back on the shelf, or going home with me. My Kindle purchases are simplified, but similar versions of the same process. However, after I finish reading a book, I’ll read some of other people’s review to see if we share similar feelings about the same book…
After seeing so many negative (below 3 stars) reviews of this book, my finger hesitated between four and five stars for a long time, before I made up my mind to select the fifth one. I truly enjoyed reading this story, and Thea is among my favorite narrators of all times. This is another one of those books that people who enjoy plot-driven and non-wordy books will hate. This book is narrative-driven, character-driven, but it’s definitely not a thriller or mystery. We definitely don't read it to find out “what has she done?” What Thea has done or is going to do definitely should not be our main concern in reading this book. This book is great because of the characters, imperfect yet lovable. I also loved the book since the author did a great job bringing out Thea’s full character, her self-reflection, her self-doubt, her desire for love (parental/sexual), her worries, her passion for riding and her friends and family…it’s all there. It’s a wonderful coming of age novel. Thea is a conflicted girl. Yes, she’s self-destructive, let her desires rule over her head, compulsive, rebellious, headstrong, judgmental…yet she’s also smart, sensitive, curious, spirited, horse-lover, a great friend and sister, wise beyond her age, full of passion, and knows herself very well even without much guidance from her parents. Unfortunately the story took place in 1930, on the verge of the depression, when women/girls are still treated unfairly. I couldn’t help but imagine what kind of achievements Thea could’ve reached in our present world. She has just the right personality, drive and passion. It’s hard to remember she was only 15 at the beginning of the book, and barely 16 at the end.
“Mother would tell us that we were loved even before we were born. But that wasn’t quite true: one of us was loved, the other unknown.”
In the beginning of the book, Thea was dropped off by her Father at the Yonahlossee Horse Camp for Girls in the mountains of North Carolina. The camp was only affordable by the rich, where the girls could learn all sorts of things (including riding and manners) among other similar girls. Although she did not know herself at that time, Thea was sent here because her family was ashamed of something she did or caused. Among a bunch of teenage girls, Thea, who was sheltered in a luxurious home all her 15 years of life, being home-schooled by her physician Dad along with her twin brother Sam, feels out of place. Thea’s Mom, we later found out, was definitely not a normal, supportive and loving Mom. Although they had lots of money and physical needs were met, She did not provide her growing twins with the emotional support teens desperately needed, and she loves Sam more. Sam was the closest “friend” Thea had, along with their cousin Georgie. The animals in the farms were Sam’s world, and the horse Sasi was Thea’s. Being thrown into this mixture of girls, some nice, some not so, forced Thea to grow up and handle her own affairs. Being able to still ride offers Thea tremendous comfort, because it’s great to at least have control of something as simple as a horse. Making a close friend, Sissy, also helps. The whole story was narrated by Thea’s 15 year-old voice. The voice was sometimes naïve, sometimes angry and scornful, and other times lost and scared. The reader couldn’t help but get emotionally involved with her life. On the other hand, we also wait patiently for her to reveal her past, which came rather late in the book, while her “present” error somewhat mimics her past one. In a way, she made her mistakes over and over again. As a mother of a teenager at around the same age, I understand how important guidance is at that age. (view spoiler)[I also understand the curiosity about the other sex, and the pleasures that sex could bring. (hide spoiler)] With a Mom who kept her in a house without any other human contact was definitely not a good way to teach her about the world, or the rights from wrongs. Choosing to send her away was also not exactly problem solving, but it was 1930. Thea’s actions; therefore, were understandable in the way she was brought up.
“I was a girl of fifteen, locked away in the mountains, surrounded by strangers. But I would be all right; I would emerge from this place.”
As a debut novelist, the author’s reign on her story was as good as the Yonahlossee girls’ on their horses. It’s quite impressive considering her storytelling also alternated between now and then to tell Thea’s present and past environment/story. Not one instance I felt bored. Usually an inexperienced author would make the transition from now to the past at the wrong time, I find her transitions smooth, her story telling prose soothing yet gripping. Her descriptions involved all five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and uniquely, smell. Thea’s character, as well as all others, along with the camp, came alive on the pages. I truly enjoyed reading the story and did not roll my eyes at the more sensual scenes (I do that a lot since some people are terrible in those kind of writings). However, a sense of sadness lingers long after I finished the book, for Thea, and for all the other suppressed women in that era. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
There was a question on one of the book pages I frequent: "Name the last book that kept you up all night." It was an easy question for me to answer. SThere was a question on one of the book pages I frequent: "Name the last book that kept you up all night." It was an easy question for me to answer. Since I read all the time, I hardly stay up all night to finish a book; I have all day to do it. However, in a trip to Thailand many years ago, I hid in the bathroom to finish a book, a rather difficult book due to all the historical facts. I hid in the bathroom so my light did not bother the other members of my family (prior Kindle time). The book, The Twentieth Wife, was by this author. Since then, I've read a few more books by Indu Sundaresan, and none has disappointed me. I enjoyed this story as much as, if not more than, all the others.
This book, like all her books, was written with intensive research into the history of India (also England in this case.) The story is centered around the Koh-i-Noor diamond, a gorgeous yellow diamond that's was held by rulers in Hindu, Mughal, Turkic, Afghan, Sikh and finally British, countries. The diamond was once around 186 carats and its name means "Mountain of Light." It has a curse that is believed for centuries to bring bad luck to all its male owners. They suffered from sicknesses, the loss of their throne, or worse, death. Only women owners could wear it safely without suffering any ill effects.
“The diamond is said to have held a curse. Legend had it that the Kohinoor could be safely possessed only by a woman, that no man who had it would long hold his kingdom, and that it could never be worn in the official crown of a monarch (hence, perhaps, the reason it was worn in an armlet or set in a throne). In India, Persia, and Afghanistan, during the diamond’s tumultuous and bloody history, only men owned the Kohinoor.” **
With her known beautiful words and realistic descriptions of people and sights of the period, along with reliable facts, the story begins when the Koh-i-Noor was given to the Punjab ruler Maharajah Ranjit Singh so he could help the Afghan ruler Shah Shuja regain his lost throne. The story ended with the death of Dulip Singh in Paris and the ownership of Koh-i-Noor in British Empire. From page one, the reader will feel transported back to the sound and sight of old India. Through out the book, you will experience the love of the young who are full of hope for a better future; the power of rulers, the betrayal and loyalty of human, the architecture and sights of India, the brutality of conquest, and the sadness and hopelessness of old age and along with losing one’s country. The smell of Chai and saffron will still linger after you close the book. It’s the best journey a reader could ever hope to achieve.
Other than everything that mentioned above...this story offers a very interesting take on the effect of colonialism. It's quite a sad book to read. I couldn't help but feel a sense of loss for the diamond, for the puppet maharajah Dulip Singh...and for his three children that all had no heir. History, which could never be forgotten, influences all of us. Will the human race really learn from their past mistakes?
If you have time, google the Koh-i-Noor and admire it on the crown of the Queen of England. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, regardless how it was obtained…
**Thanks to Washington Square Press for a preview galley. The quote was from the advanced reader's copy. ...more
"I have told stories, in fact, that were elaborate-you could say-fictions, and although these fictions were not meant to defraud or to injure, I alway"I have told stories, in fact, that were elaborate-you could say-fictions, and although these fictions were not meant to defraud or to injure, I always knew-I knew in fact-that they would."
The book is narrated by Eric Kennedy as an apology letter to his estranged wife Laura, after being put in jail for abducting their daughter Meadow during a regular supervised parental visit. They were deeply in love before, but sometime during their marriage, like 50% of other marriages in the US, it fell apart. He then lost custody of the person he loves most. During that particular visit, Eric suddenly had a spontaneous urge to spend more time with Meadow, whom he deeply loves. He decided to take her for a prolonged trip, without consulting his wife Laura, who would have just said no to the request anyway. The complicated part is, Eric Kennedy was not a man he claimed he was, so the deceit was much more than a simple prolonged visit.
Eric's real name was Eric Schroder. He emigrated from East Germany with his Father when young. He had a harsh childhood that he has been trying desperately to forget. During a summer when he was applying for a prestige summer camp, he changed his last name to Kennedy. He got in. The name also got him into college with scholarship. When he met Laura, he was still a Kennedy who grew up somewhere near Hyannis Port. After marrying Laura, to protect his identity that he loved so much, he decided to stop visiting his Father.
From the first few pages of the book, we knew all about Eric and everything I mentioned above. We knew how the book was going to end and how unlikable Eric is. We knew that he was caught, thus the apology letter. We also knew that Eric was an emotionally non-existent husband, an unreliable Father, a pathological liar. He leaps before he thinks; he had no concern about anybody else but himself. Knowing the plot ahead of time, the fact that I actually finished the book, and gave it 5-stars, indicates how brilliantly this book was written.
This book falls into the strange book category that I can't classify simply, which includes The Death of Bees, Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See, and Where'd You Go, Bernadette: brilliant writing, unforgettable characters and even thought-provoking questions. Since this whole book is narrated in Eric’s voice, one could only understand the other characters from glimpses in his narration, which is unreliable since he’s a liar. However, we did understand Laura’s frustration when he described his life with her. We knew Meadow is exceptionally intelligent from his conversations with his daughter. We got how irresponsible, unreliable, lack of common sense, extremely self-absorbed, spontaneous, unpredictable Eric is. The strange part is, due to the talented writing, we somehow started rooting for him or rather, his voice, regardless of all his faults. We found his love for his wife and daughter genuine, his pain substantial, his lies…somewhat understandable. His narration was so powerful that sometimes the readers need a break to recuperate from their emotions. We even found him brilliant in his study of “pauses.”
”I’ve always been fascinated by – and uncomfortable with – pauses. My research forced me to see that short pockets of silence were everywhere and that even sound needs silence in order to be sound. There are tiny silences all over this page. Between paragraphs. Between these very words. Still, they can be lonesome. So for all my project’s shortcomings, I’d say the worst is that I haven’t shaken the lonesome feeling that pauses give me. Sometimes I still wish there weren’t any silences at all. And so it is with some reluctance that I give you this one.”
The author did an awesome job on this wonderfully and beautifully written book. I don’t normally re-read books, but I might re-read this one just to roll those words and phrases on my tongue again.