This is a very quick read since each chapter ends with a significant recipe section. Nina Mukerjee Furstenau tells the story of growing up in Kansas iThis is a very quick read since each chapter ends with a significant recipe section. Nina Mukerjee Furstenau tells the story of growing up in Kansas in the 60s-70s, the child of Bengali parents, living in a very unBengali place. The book starts with a description of the traditional Durga Puja holiday, a week long celebration after the monsoon season, a holiday that can't possibly be fully experienced in Kansas no matter what a community might do.
The entire book has an element of sadness and loss to it - the author has a connection to her background through the food she learns to cook, but she never learns the language fully, only gets to visit Bengal on a rare occasion, and even getting to know her cousins' names is difficult. Still, the descriptions of food and the dichotomy of home life (with Bengali elements) vs. public life (as Americanized as possible) bring her experience very vividly into the mind. One chapter is named, "All Our Tupperware is Stained with Turmeric," which to me was the best example of the combination of East and West!
Also included are recipes from when her parents lived in Thailand, and when she and her husband worked for the Peace Corps in Tunisia.
"It is not as easy to shape a life that includes all the important bits from the past as it is to follow a recipe, especially when you leave your homeland."
I received a copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for nothing other than the opportunity to read it. I am always honest in my review....more
When this book was named to the Booker longlist, I was disappointed that it wouldn't be published in the USA until 24 September, far beyond when the sWhen this book was named to the Booker longlist, I was disappointed that it wouldn't be published in the USA until 24 September, far beyond when the shortlist was announced. But then I got a review copy of the audiobook from Random House Audio, and moved it to first in line.
The audiobook is read by Sunil Malholtra, who I hadn't heard before, but he does a good job capturing the characters of Subhash and Godi (sp?). I somehow had the tracks out of order, so my initial complaint as I was listening that the story glossed over too much of the opportunity for more in-depth examination of the characters wasn't actually accurate, I just didn't hear it until after I knew the end of the story. Whoops.
I didn't know a lot about the Naxalite movement in Calcutta, and the story revolves around one brother who is killed as a revolutionary. The other brother marries his wife and takes her to the United States where both of them pursue educations and raise the first brother's daughter. While Lahiri's previous works have dealt very intentionally with the theme of immigrant life, in The Lowland, that is an element but not the central story. It centers around the brothers and their wife.
The only complaint I have about the book is that I just didn't connect emotionally to the characters. Everyone had a coldness that I could not get past. While the characters make mistakes that have consequences, they never seem to really grow and change because of those mistakes. Instead they often pull back from their lives as if they can't stand the contact. I didn't feel sympathetic to any of them, and I would have liked to. I'm not sure it's the author's best work; it's definitely not my favorite, but it did make the Booker shortlist, so it has a 1 in 6 chance of winning that prize.
Publisher summary: Shuklaji Street, in Old Bombay. In Rashid's opium room the air is thick and potent. A beaAnother one from the 2012 Booker shortlist.
Publisher summary: Shuklaji Street, in Old Bombay. In Rashid's opium room the air is thick and potent. A beautiful young woman leans to hold a long-stemmed pipe over a flame, her hair falling across her dark eyes. Around her, men sprawl and mutter in the gloom, each one drifting with his own tide. Here, people say that you introduce only your worst enemy to opium.
Outside, stray dogs lope in packs. Street vendors hustle. Hookers call for custom through the bars of their cages as their pimps slouch in doorways in the half-light. There is an underworld whisper of a new terror: the Pathar Maar, the stone killer, whose victims are the nameless, invisible poor. There are too many of them to count in this broken city.
Narcopolis is a rich, chaotic, hallucinatory dream of a novel that captures the Bombay of the 1970s in all its compelling squalor. With a cast of pimps, pushers, poets, gangsters and eunuchs, it is a journey into a sprawling underworld written in electric and utterly original prose.
When the first chapter was one seven-page sentence, I wasn't sure what I had gotten myself into, exactly. It turns out that was the perfect introduction to the drug-riddled world of this book. The writing was compelling, and I enjoyed the way the world was slowly explored, all centering around one opium den (and later, heroin den), following tangents of seemingly minor characters all leading back to the central place. I never knew where it would head next, and this style allowed for multiple perspectives of Rashid, who owned the place (through his landlord, son, everyone except his wives, which would have been interesting); and Dimple, the eunuch who prepares the pipes (through her older Chinese lover, among others).
The story starts out in the Bombay of the 1970s, and moves all the way up through 2004 with some of the characters. And I suppose if you count Mr. Lee's own story, it also includes the China of his childhood.
The poverty of the setting is well-described, with some commentary such as this:
"Only the rich can afford surprise and/or irony. The rich crave meaning. .. The poor don't ask questions, or they don't ask irrelevant questions. They can't afford to. All they can afford is laughter and ghosts. Then there are the addicts, the hunger addicts and rage addicts and poverty addicts and power addicts, and the pure addicts who are addicted not to substances but to the oblivion and tenderness that substances engender." (39)
There is a direct connection between the drug culture and the poverty, made by one of the more unpleasant characters: "How the fuck are you supposed to live here without drugs?" (211)
Some of the characters have incredible experiences together because of the opium, and there is a very memorable scene between Rashid and Dimple that includes the line: "Dreams leak." (184)
One of the characters, after trading up the opium addiction for harder and more damaging drugs, ends up in rehab. She explains addiction in a different way: "There are so many good reasons and nobody mentions them and the main thing nobody mentions is the comfort of it, how good it is to be a slave to something, the regularity and the habit of addiction, the fact that it's an antidote to loneliness, and the way it becomes your family, gives you mother love and protection and keeps you safe.... It isn't the heroin that we're addicted to, it's the drama of the life, the chaos of it, that's the real addiction and we never get over it; and because, when you come down to it, the high life, that is, the intoxicated life, is the best of the limited options we are offered - why would we choose anything else?" (229)
Another important element in the setting is the conflict between Muslim and Hindu, more importantly how it has an impact on business relationships. There are moments throughout the novel where violence traps the characters inside, although they don't really seem to mind.
A few other tidbits I liked:
This is a taxi driver who has been taking an opera singer around town. I think it gives a good example of the tone and the writing: "...That's when she tells me to open the sunroof and she starts to sing, and all of the sudden I got it, you know? ... The function of opera, I understood that it was the true expression of grief. I understood why she needed to stand and turn her face up as if she was expressing her sadness to god, who was the author of it. And for a moment I understood what it was to be god, to take someone's life and ash it like a beedi. I thought of her life, her useful life, and I wanted to take it from her for no reason at all." (226)
I also think the author has a sense of humor about his characters, considering that the following quotation (and a much longer reflective passage on doubt and confidence) comes from a man who is in jail, filthy, and high (also possibly a murderer): "Doubt is another word for self-hate, because if you doubt yourself and your position in the world you open yourself to failure." (232)
When I started writing this review, I had ranked the book at 4 stars, but honestly, I feel like this is well-crafted, I hadn't read anything like it, and I look forward to reading more of his work. It looks like he is otherwise known as a poet.
I needed a light read in between other reads, and this fit the bill. The author travels to the world's most"Who knew petroleum could be so adorable?"
I needed a light read in between other reads, and this fit the bill. The author travels to the world's most polluted places and pretends as if he could ever think about being a tourist there. He isn't there as an activist. And it's a little weak, but it does tie a few interesting places together. It's the writing that drove me crazy. He writes like he would talk in a casual setting, not leaving out the "you knows" and "hey maybes" - I'm torn as to what I think because it was very easy to read, but surely that wasn't necessary. It made it feel unpolished and the opposite of expert. The really scaled down explanation of nuclear power was almost insulting.
For instance, here is an example of when it was really annoying: "The Steel boom would gather up a bucketful of sand - and we're talking about a bucketful the size of... the size of... hell, I don't know. What's bigger than an Escalade but smaller than a bungalow? Big, okay?"
Not exactly a voice that compels belief and trust.
But then here is an example of the writing when it made me chuckle: "There was something wonderful about the fearsome improbability of the reclaimer's existence. It was the bastard offspring of the Eiffel Tower and the Queensboro bridge, abandoned by its parents, raised by feral tanks."
And I'm not going to lie. Pollution is horrifying, not entertaining. So I'm not sure this worked for me on that level either. The author's insistence that he wanted to see "the rind of beauty that must exist in every uncared-for corner of the world" kind of falls flat when he starts talking about the rainbows in a river of shit. From the perspective of reading around the world, which is something I've been doing since last year, it was interesting to highlight the places damaged by pollution since I've read a lot of damage by war....more
All three of these stories show the gulf between what life would be if it lived up to our idealistic expectations and what life really is. And life inAll three of these stories show the gulf between what life would be if it lived up to our idealistic expectations and what life really is. And life in the India portrayed in the three novellas is just not that great. The characters don't often make the brave choices they could make, or if they do, they backfire.
My favorite of the three was "Translator Translated," about the woman who translates the work of an Oriyan author into English and it doesn't go as she had hoped.
Still, I lacked much of a connection to these stories, and I'm not sure I can explain why. The translator one had what seemed like a random shift in voice, and it was disconnecting as a reader. The title story was arranged in a way that by the time I was getting the details of his burned down house, I didn't care much about it. I would have chopped 2/3 of it off and leave it as this quirky mystery....more
This book won the Booker Prize in 1997, so it was not surprising that it had something to do with the former British empire, this time set in Kerala,This book won the Booker Prize in 1997, so it was not surprising that it had something to do with the former British empire, this time set in Kerala, India. It circles around a set of fraternal twins and a tragedy that happened in their childhood.
The story is told in time circles, where the details are filled in gradually, but once I got into the pattern of it, that didn't bother me much. The characterizations remind me of Rushdie quite a bit, with a lot of really quirky and disturbing people with strange habits that all still seem to make a living. Roy describes the setting with such clarity that you can almost smell it... this is not necessarily a good thing. The only other author with this ability has been Stephen King, describing corpses in The Stand. So you can imagine.
Part of it is set when parts of India are embracing Marxism, and the chaos that brings to the pre-set class system.
There is a lot about history, particularly what the parents and grandparents try to impress on the twins:
"He explained to them that history was like an old house at night. With all the lamps lit. And ancestors whispering inside. 'To understand history,' Chacko said, 'we have to go inside and listen to what they're saying. And look at the books and the pictures on the wall. And smell the smells."
"...And we cannot understand the whispering, because our minds have been invaded by a war. A war that we have won and lost. The very worst sort of war. A war that captures dreams and re-dreams them. A war that has made us adore our conquerors and despise ourselves."
I really enjoyed the family dynamics, particularly between Chacko and his ex-wife, and of course between the twins:
"He was used to their sometimes strangeness."
And isn't it nice when an author explicitly explains the title of their novel:
"And the Air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. The Big Things lurk unsaid inside."...more
The writing in this is incredibly vivid (in an uncomfortable way, most of the time), and I was transported into the world of Balram Halwai as he descrThe writing in this is incredibly vivid (in an uncomfortable way, most of the time), and I was transported into the world of Balram Halwai as he describes his journey from servant to entrepreneur, from the Darkness to the Light in Indian society. ...more
I read this because it was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2010.
It stared out good - interesting characters, chaotic family and city setting,I read this because it was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2010.
It stared out good - interesting characters, chaotic family and city setting, but it kind of wore out for me. I have a feeling it would be much funnier to people who had lived or live in New Delhi....more
Elizabeth Gilbert gets divorced and has to find herself, so she travels across the world to do it. Some of it seemed contrived, but I'm a sucker for sElizabeth Gilbert gets divorced and has to find herself, so she travels across the world to do it. Some of it seemed contrived, but I'm a sucker for spiritual journeys and travel writing, and this had both! I didn't identify much with her severe codependency issues, and felt like the Indonesia section was boring, but all in all it was an interesting read. ...more