Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: The Writing on My Forehead

Book: The Writing on My Forehead
Author: Nafisa Haji
Genre: Fiction
My Rating - 3.5/5
Short Review - Interesting story line. Could have been written better.

After reading rave reviews for this book around the blogosphere, I had high hopes for this book when I picked it up and I wasn’t disappointed. I expected a lot more but I was satisfied with what I got.

Nafisa Haji takes us down a well travelled path – cultural differences between immigrant parents and their American born children. The plot of the book, The Writing on My Forehead, is nothing new. It revolves around Saira Qadar – a Muslim American of Indo-Pakistani descent. She’s the younger daughter in a strict muslim family where adherence to culture and tradition is given the highest priority. As expected, Saira’s the rebel – the complete opposite of her well behaved obedient older sister who does everything according to her parents. She breaks the rules of the house and puts her ambitions and dreams higher up on the priority list than tradition and culture. We’ve seen the cultural confusion that second generation kids go through. Bend it like Beckham, The Namesake and many other books and movies have explored this scenario and pretty much presented all that there is to it already. I found it clich├ęd that Saira was a rebel, had an obedient older sister, had a cousin who was gay and had parents that refused to see beyond the cultural curtain they had firmly drawn.

However, in spite of having such a predictable plot, Nafisa Haji manages to keep the book interesting and entertaining. The characters, for the most part, were well defined. Here again, I sometimes felt that the female characters were strong and well drawn whereas the male characters (Saira’s dad, her uncle, her brother in law, etc) somehow fell a little flat. While there were enough characters to demonstrate the close knit nature of the inner and outer circles of indo-pak families, there weren’t too many to confuse the readers. I’ve read some reviews of this book where the reviewer felt that there were too many characters in the book. I somehow feel that without introducing so many characters, it would have been tough for Haji to demonstrate the social circles of Indo-Pak families.

And as the book progresses, the concentration somehow shifts from the issues of a confused child of immigrants to deeper matters such as understanding and respecting the choice your parents make in their lives. Saira’s grandparents, now dead, and her Big Nanima (grandma’s older sister) play a major role in the book. The book slowly moves away from being dealing with Saira’s cultural struggles and reveals the issues that her mom and dad had with their fathers. I loved the fact that Nafisa Haji moves the book in this direction. And I also liked the fact that Saira is portrayed as a complex personality. She is a rebel but she also recognizes the importance of family ties.

The book picks up pace and almost becomes too rushed towards the end. I felt that some of the characters just fizzled out towards the end and some of them just disappeared.

But I guess we would have to keep in mind that this was Nafisa Haji’s debut novel. I would definitely be interested in reading more books by her. I felt that this story was gripping and there was an element of suspense that’s maintained throughout the novel. There were a few negatives but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the book. I would definitely recommend it especially to those interested in cross cultural fiction.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Review: The Sharper the knife, the less you cry

Book: The Sharper the Knife, the less you cry.
Author: Kathleen Flinn
Genre: Memoir/Cooking
My Rating: 3.5 stars
Short Review: Interesting and easy flowing. A quick read.

When Kathleen Flinn was laid off from her corporate job - she did something that she thought would just remain a dream. She moved to Paris to study at Le Cordon Bleu. Cooking was her passion ever since she was a kid  and her sister's love for all things French was addictive as well, I guess. The combination - Le Cordon Bleu! Nothing less.
Before she realized what was happening, Kathleen and her then boyfriend, Mike, moved to Paris and she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu. The book describes (in detail) the two years that she spent in Paris. It is mainly about the school and what she learnt there but it is also sprinkled a little romance, a little humor and tons of tried and tested recipes!
"The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry" is an interesting story. It flows easily and Flinn manages to keep you entertained and engrossed throughout the book. It provides an interesting insight into the activities of the students. The language is simple. But I must mention that sometimes, it just feels like you are reading someone's journal. I would have prefered it to be more of a story- not just a description of day to day activities.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading the book and it was a good book to read after a long break. I don't think anything deeper could have held my attention.

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts?