Friday, March 21, 2008

The English Patient

Nothing that I have to say will tell you more than what is already known about "The English Patient". Everyone has heard of either the book or the movie and through that discover Michael Ondaatje. I took the reverse route. While searching for books by Asian Authors about their countries, I came across Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje. Only after that did I get to know that he was actually famous for "The English Patient". And that is how I came across this book.

The English Patient was very different from Anil's Ghost but yet surprisingly, similar some aspects. I found a lot of similarities between Hana (one of the protagonists of "The English Patient") and Anil. Both are young women, with a surprisingly strong will. They seem very mature and in control of themselves as their lives, and yet, at times, reveal their vulnerability. The child in them surface once in a while and evoke a tender feeling in us and the people who surround them in the novels.

I really liked the way "The English Patient" was written.. It was no linear. You are first taken to a Villa on the hillsides of Florence. While that immediately brings a very pleasant image to your mind, it is not to be so. The story is set during World War II and the slopes of Florences have been ravaged by the war. What is left behind is a dangerous maze of landmines. In fact, the villa itself might have undetonated bombs. In the Villa, we come across a young girl, hardly out of her teens. Se is taking care of a burnt man there in a very self-sufficient way. The man is burnt beyond recognition and Hana falls in love with her english patient in a very non-sexual kind of a way. She feeds him, reads to him, listens to his stories (for that is the only thing the english patient can do - speak). Soon, they have visitors. Hana's father's friend hears about her and comes searching for her to take care of her. He is a thief who later worked for the British intelligence. Once, while Hana plays the piano, a sapper comes in to the villa as well. He specializes in bomb disposal and knows that the germans often booby trapped the musical instruments with bombs. He comes in to make sure the piano is safe and then just stays on.
So, the book is basically about these four very different people - a nurse, a burnt person whose main interest in life is desert exploration, a canadian thief turned british intelligence spy and a sikh sapper from India. They each have been hurt in their own ways in life and turn to the rest for support. hence, a tangled web of relations.
Ondaatje constantly jumps between the past and the present of various characters- mainly kip (the sikh sapper) and the english patient. Caravaggio discovers who the english patient actually is, though he tries to mask his identity. The english patient constants talks about his past, but sometimes in first person and sometimes in the third person to keep himself hidden.
It is fabulous book. takes a while to read and grasp what Ondaatje is actually trying to say. Definitely not a simple read. But it is a great book!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Shoe Addicts Anonymous

And then, suddenly, totally out of the blue - you get the Call! Yup.. it happens! just like that! you get up one morning and you decide that you are in a chick-lit mood. Today happened to be one such day and thanks to G, I had the perfect book for the occasion - Shoe Addicts Anonymous by Beth Harbinson. Perfect book to read in one sitting. I started it in the evening and was done with the book even before i realized that it was time for dinner!
well, SAA is soo typically chick-lit and that's exactly what makes it so endearing. Four completely different women who would never have met otherwise get to meet thanks to the only thing they have in common - their love (rather, their addiction) for designer shoes.
A meeting to trade shoes grows into a beautiful friendship.. something that all four of them are desperately in need of (actually, one more similarity between them).
wait, there is a third similarity between them - they are each in deep issues - marital issues, weight issues, agorophobia, spending issues, etc etc.. the SAA meetings become their therapy sessions. They find strength to combat their issues and as you guessed.. it all ends happily..
the typically "happily ever after" kinda chick-lit ending.. and that's the best part of the book..
you spend a couple of hours and then you automatically get into a feel-good mode..
isn't that soo refreshing??
i am a total sucker for chick flicks and chick lits..:) they are my soul food!
the next time you get up in the morning and want to just snuggle in bed with a chick-lit and a bowl of popcorn, make sure you have the "shoe addicts anonymous" ready on your night stand!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Crow Lake

I don't know about you, but many times I have associated a book with a color. Subconsciously. Happy cheerful books are bright yellow, sad depressing books are usually various tones of gray (depending on the extent of "darkness" in the book). Some books, I just don't feel any color. Some how, even before I finished the prologue of this book, a color came to my mind and stuck with me till the end of the book. The color was a mossy green. Don't ask me why. It might have been due to the fact that so much of the book revolved around ponds and lakes.. or maybe the story line which was neither too "bright" nor too "dark".. whatever, but the story still is mossy green to me.
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson was a chance find. I picked it up at a friend's place and had no introduction to it whatsoever. So i took the page 69 test and I knew that the book was a sure yes! the page 69 test most certainly works!! I started reading it before I went to bed last night and I did go to bed, but only after completion of the book. It definitely was a well written book.
The book is set in a small community around a lake (crow lake) in the northern wilderness of Canada - hence the name of the book. In a small community, your business is everyone's business and everyone's business is your business. Hence, this book is not only the story of a single family..but the story of the community as a whole. The Morrison family is a family of 6..actually, 7. Dad, Mom, Luke, Matt, Kate and Bo and in my opinion, great-grandma as well. Though she is no longer alive and has never even seen the Morrison kids, she continues to live on as a part of the family as apparent in the very first paragraph of the book.
Crow Lake is a very eloquent book covering many aspects of life - the main theme being that nothing in life is ever certain. You can plan as much as you want, but life has its own way of springing surprises at you when you least expect them. Some are pleasant, many aren't. But you have to deal with them anyway.
I can go on writing about various aspects of the book that appealed to me. It is a very long list. I think the emotions and reactions in the book are very real and very understandable. Kate's hero worship of Matt turning into disappointment, the optimism of Luke, the fights between Luke and Matt.
The best part of the book, however, is the ending. Without letting too much out of the bag, I can say that it is the best example of how looking from "outside" the problem can sometimes reveal the simplest solution. Sometimes, the best people to solve a family crisis are those that are outsiders who don't even know the family too well..
how true!
This is truly an amazing book and you should pick it up if you ever get a chance.. and let me know what you think!!:)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Bookseller of Kabul

I started reading this book with the greatest expectations. I had just completed the kite runner and a thousand splendid suns and I very eagerly wanted to read more about Afganisthan. especially from a different author.. someone with another perspective. The fact that this book was by Asne Seierstad - a Norwegian journalist. When I read that it was a book about the life of a bookseller who bravely smuggled books into Afganisthan so that people could read "forbidden" books and increase their wordly knowledge, I was intrigued. Somehow, I wasn't too pleased with the book when I was done with it. It seemed to lack "the touch of life". Asne stayed with the bookseller and his family and observed them keenly and wrote about them. The book is very descriptive about their lifestyle and you get to learn so much from just reading about the day to day activities of a normal family in Afganisthan. I personally however felt that the book lacked the emotional touch. Even when she wrote about tragedies, she couldn't get me to cry (and I cry it is not a tough deal). I didn't feel the book was gripping. I could actually put the book down whenever I wanted and it took me a long time to finish this book.
But you definitely cannot call it a bad book. The insights that it gives into a typical afghan family lifestyle is amazing. And since this is a true story, you know you are getting the right picture. The bookseller and his family members names have been changed to protect their privacy. I started the book imagining Sultan Khan to be a hero-like character... what with his bravery in smuggling books into afganisthan. Instead, I saw the villain in him. the dominating, patriarchal person narrow minded in many many ways. And yet, one fine day he decides to take a young bride much against his wife's wishes. He seemed to have no heart!
Asne should really be commended for her keen observations of the Khan family and her unjust way of not taking any side and just stating the facts. She very rarely talks about herself through the book..and that is refreshing in a way. It is not just a travelogue of a person visiting afganisthan. It is the description of the lives of the members of a family.
Through just this one family so many cultures and social norms becomes clear. This book definitely gives us better insights into the typical day to day lives than khaled hosseini's books.. but it definitely lacks the drama and the ability to move you.