In the late 1970s, four women friends were politically active students in Bombay. Thirty years later, Armaiti has terminal cancer and wants the otherIn the late 1970s, four women friends were politically active students in Bombay. Thirty years later, Armaiti has terminal cancer and wants the other three women to fly to her home in America for a bittersweet reunion. Laleh lives a comfortable life in Bombay with her successful husband and their children. Kavita, who has a secret relationship, is finally at peace with her lifestyle. Nishta, a Hindu woman who converted to Islam at her husband Iqbal's request, has become a virtual prisoner in her home since he became deeply religious. Iqbal turned to fundamentalism after Bombay's Moslems were beaten, murdered, and forced from their homes and jobs in 1993.
Umrigar tells about their politically active student days when they protested against injustice, and the world they found now. India had gone through many social changes in those thirty years. Although there has been improvement, there is still widespread discrimination against people of certain social classes, religions, and gender. Some husbands still treat their wives like second-class citizens. The author shows us a slice of life in India through the lives of the friends and their spouses.
The final pages of the book are rather open-ended. While the college friends may not have the burning idealism of their youth, they are still willing to help someone in a meaningful way thirty years later....more
The Norwegian ambassador, a friend of the Prime Minister, has been found in a Bangkok motel/brothel with a knife in his back. The Norwegian governmentThe Norwegian ambassador, a friend of the Prime Minister, has been found in a Bangkok motel/brothel with a knife in his back. The Norwegian government has requested that detective Harry Hole fly to Thailand to work on the case with the Thai police. Why was the depressed alcoholic Hole chosen? There are politicians that want to cover up the sordid details, and they feel the self-destructive Hole will be too busy drowning his sorrows to do a thorough investigation. But Harry sobers up, and looks deeply into the dealings of a group of corrupt Norwegian expats. The fast-paced plot has lots of twists and turns as Hole ferrets out the murderer.
The story shows lots of local color in the seedy streets of Bangkok--the world of prostitutes, drug dealers, opium dens, and pornographers. Traffic is out of control as drivers muscle their way through congested roads like a swarm of insects.
Harry found cockroaches in his room. He had "read that they hide when they hear the vibrations of someone approaching and that for every cockroach you can see there are at least ten hiding. That meant they were everywhere." It seemed that society's "cockroaches" were also everywhere in the corrupt underworld.
Cockroaches is the second Harry Hole novel. The series of books by Jo Nesbo was translated into English starting with the third book, The Redbreast. His first two books, The Bat and Cockroaches, were translated later, and give the reader some of the back story of the damaged detective.
The Space Between Us is a novel about the relationship between two Indian women, the upper-middle class Serabai, and her lower class servant, Bhima. TThe Space Between Us is a novel about the relationship between two Indian women, the upper-middle class Serabai, and her lower class servant, Bhima. The lives of these two likable women have parallel experiences that connect them, but there is always that "space between them" due to class differences. Poverty, education, family, and gender roles are also explored in the story. In India's patriarchal society men hold the power, and abuse of women of all classes is often overlooked.
The author also wove in descriptions of Bombay (Mumbai)--the slum where Bhima and her granddaughter resided, Sera's apartment, the markets, the beach, the traffic, the food. Umrigar based the book upon her experiences growing up in Mumbai. There was a real domestic servant named Bhima who worked for her family. She served as a model for the hard-working, stoic character in the book. ...more
The Girl from the Coast is loosely based on the experiences of Pramoedya Ananta Toer's grandmother. The fourteen-year-old lovely girl from a fishing vThe Girl from the Coast is loosely based on the experiences of Pramoedya Ananta Toer's grandmother. The fourteen-year-old lovely girl from a fishing village became the wife of a nobleman, the assistant to the Regent of Rembang. Her parents thought they were giving her a better life in this arranged marriage. Although the girl was surrounded by riches, she led a life of loneliness in the Bendoro's large house. She found out she was just a "practice wife" or a concubine since a nobleman must marry within his own social class. She is referred to as "the girl" throughout the story which seems fitting since she is treated like a piece of property, rather than as an individual. The kindness of an older woman servant helps the girl navigate her way in the household. Her story is written simply but emotionally, almost like a fable.
The story took place during the Dutch colonial rule of Java (Indonesia) around 1900. The brutality of the Dutch occupants is described by many characters, especially the forced labor to build a railroad line. The tale also gives us a look into the lives of the men and women in the fishing village where the fishermen risk their lives in the sea to put food on the table.
The author had written a trilogy about his family's history and the growth of the nationalist movement in Indonesia. This first book is the only one that survived. The last two books were destroyed by the Indonesian military. An epilogue was added on to the English version of this novel to give closure to the girl's story. The author spent more than seventeen years imprisoned by both colonial and independent governments for his political activity....more
The parents of Anand Giridharadas left India when they were in their twenties to pursue new opportunities and greater freedom in the United States. ThThe parents of Anand Giridharadas left India when they were in their twenties to pursue new opportunities and greater freedom in the United States. The author reversed the trip, going to India to work as a management consultant, and later as a journalist. He looks at the changes in India through the view of his own family's history, and through years of interviewing Indians from all walks of life. He writes about the conflicts between traditional parents and their modern children regarding old traditions, especially arranged marriages. He interviews Indians of the new generation that escaped their low standing in society, and reinvented themselves as entrepreneurs and industrialists. As India goes through rapid economic growth, and attempts to throw off the divisions of class and caste especially in urban areas, the young Indians meld together old customs, modern technology, and new opportunities. As individual freedom and ambition grows, the importance of the large extended family declines. This was a fascinating look at the new India....more
Vietnamese-American Andrew Pham writes about his search for cultural identity in a book that is both a memoir and a biking travelogue. He remembers thVietnamese-American Andrew Pham writes about his search for cultural identity in a book that is both a memoir and a biking travelogue. He remembers the fall of Saigon, his father's imprisonment in a communist reeducation camp, and the family's escape from Vietnam in a leaky fishing boat when he was a ten-year-old. After a stay in an Indonesian refugee camp, the family came to the United States and eventually settled in California. Although he recognizes the sacrifices made by his parents, he also recounts how the Pham children were subjected to his father's temper and beatings. The suicide of his transgendered sibling was the impetus for Andrew Pham's journey of self-discovery.
The author quit his job as an aerospace engineer, and traveled by bike up the Pacific Coast, through Japan, and up the length of Vietnam. He visited important places in his family's history and found them completely changed. While he had some enjoyable times, he also saw terrible poverty and extreme corruption. Dysentery was an unwelcome companion over part of the trip. He weaves together two story lines--about his family and about his bike trip.
He was called "Viet-kieu" (foreign Vietnamese) in Vietnam, a slur by people who envy his success. In America, he also feels like an outsider. He experiences survivor guilt, explores his roots, and feels the pull of two cultures. He still seems to be searching at the book's end--and maybe it will be a lifelong search--for who he is. Laced with adventure and humor, this was an engaging story that held my interest....more
Yun Ling has retired from the Malayan Supreme Court, and traveled back to the Cameron Highlands where she had lived during the Malayan Emergency in thYun Ling has retired from the Malayan Supreme Court, and traveled back to the Cameron Highlands where she had lived during the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s. She has just been diagnosed with early aphasia, and wants to write down her memories before her mind forgets the past.
Yun Ling and her sister Yun Hong were teenage prisoners in a Japanese prison camp in the Malayan jungle during World War II. Although they had Chinese ancestry, they were admirers of Japanese gardens which they had visited with their parents. Yun Ling promised Yun Hong that they would create a garden if they lived through their ordeal at the prison. Yun Ling was the only survivor, and she decided to create a Japanese garden to honor her sister and wash away some of her survivor's guilt.
After the end of World War II, the country contended with communist terrorists during the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s. Malaya was multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, and was still under the control of the British at that time. Yun Ling was visiting a family friend who was the owner of a tea plantation. He suggested that she ask his neighbor, Aritomo Nakamura, to design her Japanese garden. Aritomo had been a gardener to the emperor in Japan in his younger years. Aritomo takes Yun Ling on as an apprentice in his own garden so she can learn the art of designing a Japanese garden. As they work together, hidden details about their lives during the war are revealed, layer by layer. Memories form an important theme in this book.
There is a contrast between the peaceful serenity and beauty of the Garden of Evening Mists, and the violence that is taking place outside its walls. The author wove together poetic descriptions of Asian art and culture with depictions of brutal atrocities to create a wonderful story....more
Like The Joy Luck Club, this book is about relationships between mothers and daughters, and the importance of knowing each other's life stories. In thLike The Joy Luck Club, this book is about relationships between mothers and daughters, and the importance of knowing each other's life stories. In the first part of the book, we meet Ruth, a first generation Chinese-American working as a ghostwriter for New Age self-help books in California. She has a hard time asserting herself in her ten-year relationship with her boyfriend. Her mother, LuLing, has been recently diagnosed with dementia, and can no longer live alone. LuLing is depressed, critical, sends her daughter on guilt trips, and threatens to commit suicide whenever she is crossed. She believes in superstitions and curses, and needs to communicate with the dead when she makes important decisions.
The second part of the book tells the story of LuLing and the bonesetter's daughter back in China. This memoir written by LuLing, was my favorite part of the book. LuLing was part of a rural family that made high quality ink that was used in calligraphy. Both LuLing and her mother faced difficult challenges, and were never totally accepted by her father's family. In her teens, LuLing was taken in by missionaries during the Japanese occupation of China, and she later immigrated to the United States. LuLing's journal gives Ruth the knowledge to understand her mother better, and to make sense of Ruth's childhood.
The third part of the book is set in the present, and easy solutions are found for both LuLing's and Ruth's problems. A thread seems to tie the three generations of women together in strong, but difficult, mother-daughter relationships.
I had mixed feelings about this book. The first part of the book, about Ruth's problems and LuLing's negative parenting, dragged for me. The second part, set in China, was exciting with wonderful characters--the bonesetter grandfather, the wicked relatives, LuLing's first love, the suicidal nursemaid. The short third part brought things together well, but seemed to promise an almost too rosy future....more
"I had a habit of standing at my window, looking out, and so did Nakajima, so we noticed each other, and before long we started exchanging nods." Chih"I had a habit of standing at my window, looking out, and so did Nakajima, so we noticed each other, and before long we started exchanging nods." Chihiro tells the story about how she met Nakajima, a fragile, brilliant student doing research in genetics. Chihiro, a muralist, had recently moved to Tokyo and was mouning the death of her mother. Chirhiro's mother was an unmarried bar owner and her father's family had never accepted their daughter. Chihiro and Nakajima had a common bond of experiencing loss in their lives. Nakajima also had secrets from his childhood that remain painful. A sweet chaste love forms between them as they start to live together.
Nakajima brings Chihiro to a lake shrouded in the mist to meet two friends, a woman who has mystical powers and her brother. Chihiro discovers the dark, traumatic events that haunt Nakajima. "Nakajima's past would always be there, so the foundation could crumble at any moment. That's what happens, I realized, when people destroy other people." While the future was uncertain, it ended on a hopeful note.
The author lets us know, layer by layer, what made Chihiro and Nakajima the individuals they have become. This was a poetic, haunting story of an unusual relationship, a love based very much on emotional need, rather than a traditional romance....more
What a wonderful, inspiring book! Conor Grennan wanted to see the world so he took a year off from working. He decided to volunteerRecommended by Will
What a wonderful, inspiring book! Conor Grennan wanted to see the world so he took a year off from working. He decided to volunteer at the Little Princes Children's Home in Nepal for three months before continuing on his world tour.
The children in the home were not actually orphans. Child traffickers had told their families that they would take their children from the unsafe villages during the civil war for a price. The traffickers promised the parents that the children would have safe homes in Kathmandu with plenty of food and good schooling. But the children were abandoned or kept in wretched conditions once they reached the city of Kathmandu.
Conor had never worked with children before, but he fell in love with them. Most of the children were boys since the parents were trying to protect them from being forced to be soldiers in the Maoist army, and they were also more apt to send the boys to school. Conor made it his mission to find the families of these children so that they could be eventually reunited. He treked through the dangerous mountains of Nepal with a painful knee injury to the villages of the children's parents.
He also met the woman of his dreams during this time. Liz had done volunteer work as a humanitarian in Third World countries as well. An e-mail relationship progressed from friendship to romance.
Conor and his French friend Farid founded the non-profit organization Next Generation Nepal (NGN). The group opened another home for the children, and is still working to reunite chilren with their parents in the mountainous villages.
Conor's story is told with humility and self-deprecating humor. The love he has for these children shines throughout the book. There is also plenty of adventure and adjustment as he describes his travels through the mountains of Nepal, deals with government officials, learns to live with the slower pace of Nepal time, and deals with sub-standard medical care. This is a very special book that we all should read. _______________________________ More to read or view:
"Children of God" is a documentary film about the children who live on the sacred grounds of a Hindu temple in Katmandu next to a river where funeral rites are carried out. Great sums of money are spent to honor the dead, while the children resort to begging and stealing funeral offerings....more
"When you have lived as long as I have, the div replied, you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same color."
Khaled Hosseini has w"When you have lived as long as I have, the div replied, you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same color."
Khaled Hosseini has written a multigenerational story about family love, betrayal, heartbreak, redemption, and healing. The book, set in Afghanistan, France, Greece, and California, centers around two siblings separated as children. It shows the difficult life, and unthinkable choices, that exist for many people in the impoverished country of Afghanistan. Even when they move around the globe, their morally ambiguous decisions, family ties, and culture travel with them like an echo.
And the Mountains Echoed was the book I was most looking foreward to reading this summer, and I was not disappointed. This is a wonderfully crafted book written with intelligence, with beautiful language, and with lots of heart. Khaled Hosseini again shows us that he is a fascinating storyteller....more
It was hard to put down this unusual multilayered novel. While walking on an island beach in British Columbia, Ruth found a barnacle-encrusted plasticIt was hard to put down this unusual multilayered novel. While walking on an island beach in British Columbia, Ruth found a barnacle-encrusted plastic bag containg a Hello Kitty lunchbox with a book, a bunch of letters, and a watch inside. She and her husband theorized that it might have been caught up in the ocean currents traveling from Japan after the 2011 tsunami.
The book is a copy of Proust's "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu" ("In Search of Lost Time") with the pages cut out and replaced with blank pages. It was the perfect secret diary--no one would think of looking in an old book. A teenage Japanese girl starts the diary: "Hi! My name is Nao (pronounced Now), and I am a time being." So we know that time is going to be an important element in this novel.
Nao goes from being funny and irreverant to despairing to philosophical as she tells the story of her family. They had been living in Silicon Valley until her father lost his job, and they had to move back to Japan. Her father was unable to find a new job, and fell into a suicidal state because of the shame. Nao was treated as an outsider coming from America and subjected to terrible bullying. Nao also contemplated ending her life.
A bright spot was a summer spent with her great grandmother, a Zen Buddist nun over a hundred years old. Jiko's Buddist ceremonies and philosophy bring some calmness and warmth into Nao's life. Jiko teaches her to do zagen, a meditation to enter time completely.
Nao started the diary intending it to also tell the story of her great grandmother's life. Ruth, the Japanese-American reader of the diary, becomes very concerned for Nao as she reads the diary. She searches the internet for clues of what happened to the troubled family. The letters, which were written by Nao's great uncle in World War II, were heartbreaking and a glimpse into the brutal training of kamikaze pilots.
Ruth is a semi-autobiographical character. The author does live in an island community in British Columbia with her husband Oliver. He also serves as a character, giving the readers some interesting science information and acting as a soundingboard for Ruth. The author is also an ordained Zen Buddist priest.
Although the novel touches on some serious subjects, there is an element of humor that runs through it. The story shifts from past to present, and from reality to the magical. It combines Proust, Zen philsophy, quantum physics, Japanese culture, and historic events. But it was the good storytelling that produced a book that I didn't want to end....more