Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Review: In the Time of the Butterflies

I saw this book on my friend's bookshelf and immediately had to pick it up. Some books just do that to me. I don't know if it was the cover or the description of the book that made me do it. Whatever it was, I am glad I picked this book up.

Julia Alvarez fictionalizes the lives of four sisters in the Dominican Republic under the dictator Trujillo.They were involved in the resistance against him. I was horrified to hear that US, after leaving the Dominican Republic in the 1920s, gave Trujillo the right to rule knowing that he was a repeated rapist! The Mirabal Sisters slowly come to know of the atrocities committed by him as they are growing up and eventually end up in the secret movement against him. In the end, three of the four sisters - Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa were beaten to death after their car was ambushed by Trujillo's men. Dede alone survived. Known as "the butterflies", the sisters became beloved national heroines.

Julia Alvarez attempts to re-create the lives of the four sisters through this book. She read about the sisters and even managed to meet with Dede. But she decided to give the sisters a life of her own and made this book a fiction.  I loved the way the book was written. Each chapter is narrated by a different sister. Dede's has a present and a past version. Maria Teresa's section are just pages from her diary. Through these bits and pieces, we get to know the four sisters. Each one of them so unique- and yet, somehow, all so similar.

From their accounts, it becomes obvious who would enter the movement first - Minerva; the girl with the courage to slap Trujillo when he makes a move on her at a party. When you can go that far, joining the resistance movement against him cannot be much farther, can it? Slowly, Patria, Maria Teresa and Minerva are neck deep in the resistance movement. The religious Patria seems to be the least likely to involve herself in this but she finds her own way of joining in the movement. Dede however doesnt involve herself too much because of her husband Jaime and his political views. By the time she decides to get involved with her sisters, it is a little too late.

The book is definitely not perfect. Alvarez has faced many criticisms for attempting to humanize the idols. She has even been accused of being an "outsider" with no knowledge of the actual happenings. In addition, when I tried to google this book, i read some more about Trujillo's atrocities against Afro-Dominicans. alvarez doesn't mention anything about that in the book.

Despite all that, I loved the book. I am glad she made that effort to bring to light the story of 'the butterflies'. The world definitely deserves to know more about them!

This was a perfect time for me to read this book. November 25 is observed as "The International Day Against Violence Towards Women". It was on this day in 1960 that the Mirabal sisters were killed.

I highly recommend this book.. It was a very interesting read!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Second Glance

Friends have been recommending Jodi Picoult books to me for quite a while now and I have no idea why it took me so long to actually sit down with one. One of my colleagues at work (and another book lover, of course) gave me her copy of “Second Glance” to read.

My first Picoult book and I had no idea what to expect. To keep the suspense going, I didn’t even read the back flap of the book for a sneak peek into what the book was about. I am glad I did that and if you haven’t read “Second Glance” as yet, then, that is exactly what you ought to do as well!

It has been a while since I read a book as addictive and compelling as this one. Honestly. I started it and couldn’t function normally until I turned the very last page of the book. How she managed to give a twist to the story in practically every page totally amazes me! To say anything about the plot of the book would be like giving away a bit of it that you would discover as you breeze through the pages and I don’t want to do that. Let’s just say that it is a very spooky book. Much to the amusement of those around me, I am still very scared of the dark. I have a very vivid imagination and dark places are a perfect trigger for the cells that would love to work overtime anyways!

“Second Glance” practically kept my jumpy all through. Picoult talks about spirits and ghosts in a way that make them seem as normal as a Starbucks coffee on the way to work! But I loved it. It would take me a long while to actually become brave enough to venture into my yard in the dark or even look at the frosty mirror when I am done with my shower but I think it was worth it.

So, have you read this one? What are your views?
Have you reviewed it as well? Leave me a comment with your review and I’ll link it to mine.
Not read it as yet? Go and grab your copy now!:)

Btw, what is your favorite Picoult book? I am surely going to pick up another one by her and I would love to hear your recommendation!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Forever Lily

A lady in the US accompanies her friend to China when she (the friend) goes there to pick up a baby that she has decided to adopt. In China, the friend suddenly decides to back out of this plan because she doesn’t feel the way she expected to feel towards the baby. Meanwhile, a strange thing happens. The lady (our protagonist) starts experiencing a strange set of dreams. What is fascinating is that her dreams are continuous. The story pauses when she wakes up and resumes when she goes back to sleep. So, effectively, she is almost leading two lives – one during the day as a lady accompanying her friend to China to help her adopt a baby there. The other life is her dream-life whenever she dozes. In this, she’s a Chinese woman in Imperial China. The king is attracted to her and decides to make her the mother of the heir to his throne. She however has a child with someone else and is forced to give the baby girl away before the king finds out that she has not been loyal to him.
 Our protagonist suddenly realizes that the dream is nothing but her own story in a different lifetime and that she is actually getting a chance to make up for having had to give away a daughter in her previous life. She is aided in her realization by a psychic who is in America but can “sense” that the baby is hers and that she has to take it. To strengthen the aid, random people pop out of the blue and tell her how she and the baby were meant to be together. Eventually, the friend hands over the baby to our protagonist and they both return to the US to live their happy lives.

I must say that this is a pretty interesting tale and I definitely enjoyed reading it. Here’s the part that I found hard to accept – this is not a fiction. This is a memoir! Yes! Beth Russell, who accompanied her friend Alex to China, brought back her baby Lily after realizing that she was meant to have this baby as a result of the happenings in her previous birth. Am I the only one having a tough time dealing with this? I have never felt the urge to discuss anything personal about the author in relation with the book until this. But when the book happens to be a memoir, I am not left with any option. I read the entire book in disbelief. Was she serious? Did she actually have one long story broken up into dreams for every night? It almost felt like episodes of a TV show that airs every time she falls asleep (or sometimes, even just closes her eyes to meditate). The whole thing seemed too story like for me to accept it as a true life story.

At the risk of offending the author and anyone who happens to accept this memoir for what it is, I HAVE to say that I had too many issues with the story line. I can understand Alex’s nervousness when she is handed the baby in China. You can plan to adopt a baby and think about it for years, and do all the paper work, etc – but somehow, nothing is as real as actually carrying the baby in your own arms! I would be scared.

Somehow, I felt that Beth made no attempt to assuage her fears about adopting the baby and rather promptly announced that if Alex didn’t need the baby, she would take it! And then she proceeds to bond with the baby. When Alex has doubts about giving it away, Beth allows her to bond with the baby but makes no effort to hide the fact that she is upset that Alex might change her mind! To top that, the whole dream sequence feels like something straight out of a Bollywood movie. For the uninitiated, “Bollywood” refers to the thriving film industry of India “Bollywood” actually just stands for “Hollywood of Bombay”. Many bollywood movies, much to our amusement, deal with re-births and fantasy tales not too different from what I described above as Beth’s memoir. After having mocked such insane story lines throughout my life, I find it very hard to be able to accept something like this as a memoir. I cannot be more honest here. This is just my view! To me, it felt like the dreams were Beth’s way of convincing herself and Alex that she was actually meant to be with Lily.

Well, here’s the deal. Beth is a good writer. I liked her style of writing and enjoyed the book. If it were a fiction novel, I would have even praised it and recommended it to everyone who is actually reading this post. But unfortunately, the only issue that I have with this book is a big one. It is a memoir and I cannot understand how it can be one!

One thing I must mention though is the fact that I absolutely loved the cover of this book - the white motifs on those tiny blue shoes in the palms of an adult - fascinating picture and very very appealing. Someone please tell me that it is not actually a memoir and I will feel so much better!

If you have read this book and completely disagree with me, I would love to hear your views. Agree with me? Please tell me that I am not the only one to feel this way!Haven’t read this book? What do you think? Would you want to give this a shot? What are your reactions to this review? 

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Off The Menu

The first thing that I liked about the book when i received it was the cover. I loved the heart shaped chocolates. They added such a feminine touch to the cover and i instantly knew this was one book I could like.  

I am going to be doing this review a little differently. I thought I'd share a little something from the author herself about the book. In the following passages, Christine talks about her book, how the plot came about and what her inspirations for her main characters were. 

"OFF THE MENU's the story of three, twenty-nine year-old Asian-American women who have become the embodiment of everyone's expectations of them--their parents, each other, society as a whole and themselves. They're living lives that everyone anticipated from them, but each harbor a desire that clashes with what they've become. They don't tell each other their hidden ambitions, partly because they think the others will disapprove, but mostly because they can't handle the idea that they might fail in their endeavors publicly. In the end, they do share a bit more of themselves, of course, and they come to realize that whether or not they strive for their dreams (I won't tell if you they or not!), they've got each other's support through thick and thin.

Each of the characters share a bit of my personality and struggles. Or those of my friends or acquaintances or family members or anyone else I might have met. At the time that I was thinking about the plot, I was dreaming of becoming a writer, and I couldn't tell anyone about it because it seemed so ridiculous. I was a lawyer at a prestigious international firm, making more money than I should have, working more hours than were reasonable. It was a good life, at least from an outsider's (read: my parents) perspective. A lot of my girlfriends were in the same boat, whether they were doctors or professors or fellow lawyers, and we spent so much time daydreaming of what we wanted to be when we grew up. But we were in our late twenties. Or thirties. Or forties. I started to think that this idea--of balancing the real world with our secret dream ones--was a very accessible and shared characteristic. So I started there. The rest of the story was my own projection of what could happen. What would it be like if Whitney Lee went for a music career? How would that look? How would she go about doing it? How would her friends and family react?

Inspirations for the characters? Me, of course! Ha! Seriously, some of the characters are very loose amalgamations of me. A lot of the characters are compilations of a bunch of people I know. Friends and family. Some are influenced by TV characters or movie characters or in part inspired by characters in books I've read. Some are pure figments of my imagination. I'm enormously chatty (can you tell?) and love to be around people. I'm usually the one laughing too loudly or making a jackass out of myself. But I also listen incredibly closely. I watch and observe, and when I'm around other people, the little things they do--mannerisms or tics or the way they tilt their head--I suck all of that up. Eventually, it may end up as a characteristic of one of my characters."

I am sure you see what an interesting person Christine is! Well, her book is pretty interesting too. It is a light and entertaining read. The characters are distinct and strong and by the time you put the book down, you actually start missing them! I enjoyed reading the book and I am sure you will too!:)

Do drop by again tomorrow afternoon to read my interview with her for her book tour by TLC! I had so much fun interacting with her and I hope you will enjoy reading the interview:)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

One Native Life

I got “One Native Life” when I wasn’t even expecting it. I didn’t even remember requesting for it. But the cover somehow looked appealing enough and I thought I’d just open the book and read a couple of pages that night before going to sleep. Two hours later, I was still awake, reading the book, loving it and totally unable to put it down!

Richard Wagamese is a native Indian living in Canada – he is an Ojibway from the Wabasseemoong First Nation in Ontario. This book “One Native Life” comprises of autobiographical snippets from his life. Wagamese is 53 years old now and this book is his way of reminiscing about his life. His life has been a struggle – a struggle to give himself an identity and find out more about himself and in the process, his people – the native Ojibway people. Abused and abandoned as a kid, Wagamese spent his adolescence moving from home to home amidst non-native people. At one point, he leaves his foster home and takes to the streets. He does odd jobs, drives aimlessly around the country, and survives. He later reconnects with his family, with his own people, goes on to become a successful journalist, and in the process finds himself.

The book is divided into 4 parts to demarcate the four stages in his life. Each part consists of many chapters is an incident – a snippet – written in short story format. These stories were originally published in the newspaper columns he wrote as “One Native Life”.  And somehow, the chapters flow together, the parts flow together and we have the well written story of one man’s life.

Here is the description of his book in his own words (from his blog):
My collected memoir, One Native Life, is exactly what it says. It's a series of pieces originally written for newspaper and radio that look back at the road I travelled in 52 years of life as a native person in Canada. you'll meet Muhammad Ali, Johnny Cash and a lot of other people who touched my life in good, healing ways. It's about the fact that we are, in truth, all neighbours and we need to learn to talk to each other more and share the stories of our time here. The reaction to the newspaper columns has been tremendous so I'm sure you'll enjoy the book.

I loved the Wagamese’s style of writing and I loved the content of his book even more! As Wagamese looks back on his life, what is amazing is not how much he has learnt/ done. What is amazing is the way he has learnt it and his teachers. Wagamese shows us the importance of simple living and the importance of bonding with nature. There is so much to learn from everything around us – even animals (“animal-people”, as the Ojibway referred to them). We drift from day to day without really observing things and people around us. Wagamese’s book showed me the importance of relishing every living moment. There’s a message from every “seemingly-mundane” incident -  so much to observe and so much to learn.

I know for a fact that I am not doing justice to this review. I totally enjoyed the book and I wish you would pick it up sometime and enjoy it as much as I did as well. I had never heard of Wagamese until I found this book in my mail box and now I suddenly want to read every book of his ( I think, he’s written 4 novels and a memoir in addition to  “One Native Life”).

To know more about Wagamese, you can visit his website –

I found a link to my favorite chapter in the whole book – one about making bannock. Something about this chapter totally appealed to me. I think it was the sense of belonging that he got when he baked bannock for the first time after getting the recipe from his mom. The sense that he was actually someone in this world – someone who belonged to a community, had something more than just a body and a name. Here is a link to this article. I am sure that’ll give a taste of the book:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Lipstick Jihad

I had been meaning to read Lipstick Jihad for at least a year and then I finally got an opportunity to pick it up. How can you resist reading a book with such a fancy name? I read it last month during the week that blogger made my blog mysteriously disappear.

The book says that it is about growing Iranian in America and American in Iran. Azadeh Moaveni is a second generation Iranian in America. She was born and raised here but her parents were from Iran. This book is her memoir. It is about feeling alien in both America as well as in Iran. Somehow not fitting well in both places but yet fitting right in! It was something that I was totally interested in reading about.

With an influx of immigrants into America it is always interesting to observe the characteristics of those that moved here from another country and their children through various stages in life. Jhumpa Lahiri talks about this in her book “The Namesake”. If you haven’t read it, it is one book you should definitely read. She talks about a young couple moving to the US from India and then she goes to show their children dealing with the issues of being a second generation Indian in the US. I can imagine how tough it would be to be at cultural crossroads. I guess that was what made me pick up Lipstick Jihad – a first hand narration of the life of a second generation Iranian. Azadeh grew up in America not really knowing too much about Iran. She had been there once as a child and didn’t have too many memories of the place. To her, she was “Persian” and the Iran that her parents talked about was a mystical land of carpets and rugs. She has always been different from the other kids around her and somehow felt that in Iran she would fit right in.

She gets an opportunity to go to Iran. Because she has an Iranian passport, she is allowed to enter the country as a reporter (a privilege that other Americans don’t get). But when she gets to Iran, she realizes that she is even more of a misfit here than she was in America. She can’t speak Farsi too well and she can’t relate to the lives of women under the Islamic regimen. She observes their behavior as an outsider, not being able to relate to their feelings and their need for freedom.

The book is all about coming to terms with her identity.

In concept, it is a great book. I was really interested in finding out everything about her life in the US as well as in Iran. But, somehow, I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I wanted to. It wasn’t gripping enough for me. I found myself putting the book down pretty easily. I had to make myself pick it up to finish it just because I wanted to find out more. I guess my expectations for the book were too high and somehow it didn’t meet them. I didn’t feel a part of the book. To me it was a bunch of incidences that I liked reading about. When I put the down, I didn’t really miss it. And I guess that is why I have taken so long to write this review. I feel bad when I want to like a book and land up not liking it as much as I wanted to.

But after having said that, I really think that if you are interested in the concept of this book you should read it. There is a lot to learn about life in contemporary Iran - The true state of affairs after the Islamic revolution. I really hope you like it better than I do.

If you have already read this book, I would love to hear your comments.