I started this blog to bring back to the mind's eye all those books, poems and words that have moved my life in one way or another ever since I first picked up a book maybe some 23 years ago. Now, I realize that this blog serves another purpose - it can act as a nesting ground for first impressions of the books I continue to read. Far too often, I read a book - and then forget all about it. Recording my thoughts as I finish my book helps me to come back to it again - perhaps next time I pick up the same book again and come back with another perspective - I might smile at my own verdict then.
And then again, I think I must have had A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers to enable me to savor the pleasure of reading all this while. Yiyun Li's collection of short stories is a book I picked up just two weeks ago in my rush to know more about a country I have spent 20 months in. The stories offer achingly humanistic perspectives of the harshness of China's regime. The stonewalling of words in China and the government's ability to mercilessly clamp down the slightest whimper to its reign. The 10 stories in this book are populated by "natives and exiles of post-Mao, post-Tiananmen China," as The Washington Post's reviewer put it: ordinary people who are "victims of tradition and change, of old barbarities and recent upheavals." Perhaps the most telling comment was this; one that I can so easily understand and relate to:
"Baba, if you grew up in a language that you never used to express your feelings, it would be easier to take up another language and talk more in the new language."
Li writes with sustained brilliance - no doubt, she could well be the next Hemingway. For me though - although I am no supporter of China's repressive policies - I wish there was a spark here in this book, a star somewhere that tells that not everyone in China is unhappy. Not everyone is chafing their wounds. That although the scars of the past may never heal, and the slashing swords of the present government may never cease its massacre - there is a lot of good still in China. A lot of people must have prayed a lot. I wish that Yiyun Li had shown that little spark. And I hope that her choice of a country to live in like America does not show her approval for her adopted country's own hypocritical policies.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Thursday, July 26, 2007
"What's in a name?" A lot if you answer to the call of Gogol Ganguli. I read Jhumpa Lahiri's critically acclaimed book, The Namesake, in around 2 days flat. That does not necessarily mean the book was gripping - let's say, I had time on my hands and books to go through. Ah life! It couldn't get any better, can it?
Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli are recent immigrants to Boston from India in 1968 when they give birth to their first child, a son. Their son ends up with the pet name of Gogol, when his "good name" never arrives from India. Gogol despises his name and grows up as American as he can while his parents cling to their Bengali past while living what appears to be a typical American suburban lifestyle. The Namesake has received high praise from most reviewers. Michiko Kakutani begins her review for the New York Times, "Jhumpa Lahiri's quietly dazzling new novel, The Namesake, is that rare thing: an intimate, closely observed family portrait that effortlessly and discreetly unfolds to disclose a capacious social vision."
The book was fun to read, let me admit. Perhaps, there is a lot of soul-searching identity crisis underneath Gogol's brash Americanized ways. After sometime though, I found myself struggling to relate to the apparent "Indianness" in the book. Well, mincemeat samosas and chutney might constitute a lot of India to some. But I for one, was at a loss to understand how Gogol's seemingly Bengal-culture-loving parents could accept his string of girlfriends nonchalantly and later, even his divorce without a murmur. But then, perhaps I am being too critical. Critics found the book a delight - and it's definitely a delight to read. Just that as an Indian bound to India's society in India, I cannot quite comprehend it sometimes. Oops, by the way, did I forget to mention that the author herself was born in London and now lives in New York? Her "Indianness" is as Westernized as they come.
Monday, July 23, 2007
I saw this book last year. At that time, I was swamped for time and didn't pick it up. Now, after a year in China's English literary wilderness, buying books is practically the only thing I seem to do right now. A year later, this book seems to have become an international bestseller. With a cover of the Lord of Destruction, Shiva - the book covers the ruminations and travels of an Australian, Sarah Macdonald, who returns to a country she hated for the sake of being with the love of her life. Having taken time off from work, Sarah immerses herself into the cornucopia of spiritual delights and miseries that India has to offer.
I enjoyed the first half of the book - her opinions on Indian men largely seeming to match my own. And I was fascinated by glimpses of India's religious fervor - Sarah takes part in the massive Kumbh Mela, traipses around for ten days for the Vipassana meditation course, tries to understand how a dying vulture population would have a significant effect on Parsis, moves through the Islamic faith and dabbles with Sikhism in Amritsar. Phew! But after a while, this heavy dose of trying to find spirituality in India's madness was something I could not relate to. Needless to say, the book seems to have created a fair bit of controversy. Take a look at this entertaining thread and you would understand what I am talking about.
Did I like the book? Yes.
Was it an entertaining read? Definitely.
Would I recommend it? Probably.
Do I see in this book that India that frustrates me? Very much so.
Overall verdict: Average
Click here for a small excerpt from the book.