Monthly Archives: November 2011

Half Life

Apparently there is a new genre of books! According to one rather cynical reviewer, these books are female authored, describe multicultural Britain, and include emotional stories that run parallel to political ructions. These stories have “enough themes to provoke debate at book clubs but enough emotional resonance to ensure that good friends buy copies for each other and all their friends afterwards.” Ouch! The truth really hurts sometimes, because quite frankly, that was what I was looking for when I picked up Half Life, by Roopa Farooki.   I really don’t know very much about modern history (especially non European history) and so when it looks like I might get a chance to learn something without boring myself to tears, I jump on it. Rest assured that this book is that and so very much more.
The story begins with Aruna, a successful academic who puts down her breakfast bowl and leaves her place of residence to return home, a place she left two years ago. She boards the plane to Singapore with only her purse (isn’t that everyone’s fantasy, even briefly, to leave without taking a thing—she didn’t even take her keys. OK, maybe it’s just me.) She is returning to Jazz, her childhood friend and lover whom she left without a word. She is a flawed but absolutely lovable character. She is one of the most “real” characters that I have read in a long while. Next is Jazz, the best boyfriend you could possibly have. Except for the fact that they can’t seem to quite get the physical part of their relationship into the right groove, they are meant for each other. Lastly, there is Hari Hassan, Jazz’s father who is currently dying, estranged from his son, and searching for a daughter he gave up for adoption years ago. (The plot thickens. You may guess some of the twists and turns, but I guarantee that you won’t guess them all.)
This story spans the moving from pre-Independence India to modern day London, Singapore and Malaysia, yet the action of the story takes place in three days. It is an easy read, but I disagree with the book jacket that describes it as “breezy.” Arranged marriages, women as property, and the lure of self-medication make this a novel that I will never forget. It is definitely on my list to recommend to everyone I know. Hope you like it.

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Girl In Translation

Once again, a wonderful debut author has made my day! Girl In Translation, by Jean Kwok is an amazing coming of age story about a girl and her mother who emigrated from Hong Kong in the seventies. (I wonder if this is a new genre as well—immigration stories of the late 20th century!)

Kim and her mom begin their journey is an awful apartment full of mice and bugs. Apparently Kim’s aunt (who helped them come to the U.S.) had promised them a place and support but once they came to America, she pretty much turned them into slave labor. (There is an old grudge that the aunt is still carrying and she basically makes her little sister’s life as miserable as she can.) They are forced to work in a sweatshop (Kim’s mom works all day and evening, Kim works from when she gets out of school until 9 pm or so!) until all of their debts are repaid. This of course will take years.
There are many hardships in the book but do not think it is a maudlin read. It is, in fact, completely uplifting. Kim has a best friend who is amazing. She falls in love with a very kind boy. She ultimately excels in school, and it is her ticket to financial success. She deals with an overprotective mom, working 20 hours a day, peer pressure, the power of sex, mean girls, competitive relatives and that age old feeling of “I don’t think I fit in anywhere.” I think it should be on every high school student’s required reading list,  not just because of the lessons it teaches, but because there seems to be such a universal theme of growing up. No matter where or when it takes place, adolescence seems to involve the same issues.
Although this is classified as fiction, the fact that the author had also emigrated from Hong Kong during the same time period and had worked in a sweat shop and graduated from an Ivy League school made this story ring so authentic I am dying to ask the author what was fictional and what was not! This is a very fast read that was impossible to put down. I read 90% of it in one day. It is that good!

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November 18, 2011 · 7:59 pm

The Murder’s Daughters

Having just finished The Good Wife, a fascinating story that details life for a woman waiting for her husband to be released from jail, I was surprised to find my random audio selection was again about a crime and incarceration, but this time from the children’s point of view. LuLu and Merry are sisters growing up in an unstable home where violence trembles as the self obsessed mother attempts to separate the father from the family. When LuLu disobeys the standing rule about opening the front door to her father, the nightmare begins. Within a few pages, the mother is dead, Merry is stabbed and the father has attempted suicide.

Tragedy continues as these parentless girls are shunned by their mother’s family and raised by an elderly relative of their father until finally they find themselves wards of the state. In their own time, these girls grow to be strong independent woman and their individual and joint narratives are compelling.The story’s telling alternates between the two sisters. LuLu is ten when the book begins. Just four years older than her sister, she seems to adopt a parental role in the family and this of course has an impact on all she does and says for the next thirty years. Merry, always her father’s favorite, is about six at the time of the murder. She remains confused and compassionate throughout the book. The author allows the characters to grow and then stagnate
at a believable pace. I found myself thinking about them long after the book ended. Even though the subject matter seems to be violent, I can truly say that I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in watching two courageous young women learn how to survive the aftermath of tragedy.

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22 Britannia Road

He looks up and meets her eyes. “It’s hard to know how to
go on.” He searches for words, a way to explain how he needs her to make sense
of his life. He can understand nothing of the last six years. All that happened,
the way he left Warsaw and didn’t go back, the love he feels for another woman,
the war and all its bloody awfulness; all of it is a jumble of jigsaw pieces and
he never knows which he will pick up. All the time, he was hoping for peace; now
it’s here, and he is like a man coming up to the light after years of living
underground. It should be wonderful, but it’s not. He keeps pretending
everything is all right, but the truth is his son hates him, his wife cries
every night, and he still dreams of the woman he left.

OK, it’s writing like that which makes me love being a reader!

I absolutely love the novel, 22 Britannia Road, by Amanda Hodgkinson. It tells the story of a young couple who are separated right before the German army invades Poland. Janusz (pronounced Yanoosh) leaves his wife Silvana and their baby in order to join the Polish Army. Janusz becomes overwhelmed by the tragedies of war almost immediately, however, and doesn’t quite join. He also doesn’t come home. To his defense, he is really young and in a state of shock. Meanwhile Silvana, who is not as young, is at home with the baby. She is supposed to go to her mother in laws to wait out the war, but is understandably hesitant to do so. She is a very strong character who seems to think that she is bullet proof. She finds out quite quickly that she is not. And that is just the beginning of this wonderful story.

The novel flips easy between the time that the couple is apart and
the time after they are reunited. I cannot tell you how intriguing these
characters are. I felt as though I cared deeply for each of them. I was unable to put the book down.

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