No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal

no one can pronounce my name

Harit does not imagine how he will ever escape the droll and bizarre routine of his life, working in Men’s Accessories in a department store with the tedious and talkative Teddy, and then on returning home each day, having to dress as his dead sister for his mother to appease her denial of the death.  This just seems to be his life.  Likewise,, on the other side of their Cleveland suburb,  Ranjana is questioning how she should adapt to what she has found on her husband’s search history on their shared computer, which suggests the possibility of an affair.  Now that their one son is off to Princeton, does this mean that their life together will change?  Not that she’s been all that satisfied, as she’s had to express herself through the writing which she’s all but hidden from everyone but her little writing group that she sneaks off to once a week.  Eventually, her world collides with Harit’s in an unusual way, and the two of them find what friendship really means and how deeply it can enrich their lives and enable each of them to grow into their best selves.

This is a very quirky, sweet novel that highlights the immigrant experience and shows how important it is to find community and support from others.  Neither of these characters has just arrived to the United States and neither is young, but both are still grappling with finding themselves in the context of their families and their histories, given their own talents, limitations, and orientations.  They each reach out for friendship and learn that it may be hard to find honesty where you hope to find it.

I believe the strength of this story rests in the character development, as each character is rich and layered and colorful.  Each one is traced out at different times in the story and we travel through time and country with each as they track back to the center of the action, successfully reinvigorating the story with a new understanding of each character. It is similar to the experience of getting to know those in our own lives as we ask more and more about them and learn more and more about their past.

This is an interesting read – colorful, quirky and sweet.  Enjoy!

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

spark of light

Immediately on learning that both his daughter and his sister are inside the abortion clinic where a gunman is holding hostages, Hugh knows he should recuse himself from the situation and not be the hostage negotiator.  He knows he cannot be objective; but nor can he allow anyone else to do this job either.  And what are they doing in there anyway?  How did he not know they were there and why?  What did this say about his relationship with his daughter?

And inside there is a bloody scene.  The gunman has killed people but now he’s taking stock of his situation and wondering what comes next.  How did he get here?  It wasn’t supposed to be this messy.  Or this real.

The whole story is told over the course of a day, and actually told mostly in reverse.  We learn what happens, mostly, and then we hear the back stories, the histories of each of the characters who create the scene of what makes up this dramatic story of A Spark of Light.  The story is steeped in fact.  Characters who harass women entering the clinic (whether or not they are actually having an abortion or going there for a PAP smear)  but  who may have had abortions themselves, when it has suited them.  Single abortion clinics trying to survive to accommodate the needs of the women in an entire state, and trying to fulfill the rules imposed mostly by rich, white men on mostly impoverished women of color.  Characters like Dr. Louie Ward, depicted intentionally like the real-life hero, Dr. Willie Parker, an abortion provider who does so because of his Christian faith, not in spite of it.

In true Jodi Picoult fashion, this story is shared by many of the characters.  It is told from the eyes of each character, and built gradually by adding block by block, minute by minute, how each character perceives the passing of the day and of the experience.  We hear each opinion on abortion, religious and otherwise.  We hear each legal perspective and each is given credence, such that each perspective can be respected.  We also see that these women’s clinics serve as much more than abortion clinics as well. We also develop an appreciation for the various and desperate situations that lead women to require their procedures at a women’s health clinic.

This is an important book and serves as so much more than just a piece of fiction. Jodi Picoult never shies away from difficult subject matters and here conquers yet another.  In my opinion, she’s done another great job.

Another MUST READ!

The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

coddling of american mind

For anyone who works with or parents a young person who has entered college starting the year 2013, you will have noticed a difference from those who started at any time prior.  There is a rate of anxiety unlike any generation that has preceded it – and it is compounded by parents who perpetuate the sense of fragility that these students have by continuing to overprotect them and college administrations who do the same.  Why?  The researchers who have written this book give explanations based on the following 3 “untruths” that get perpetuated by these parents and college administrators:

  1. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.  (Actually – it makes you stronger.  But we still strive to shield our young from any and all potential harm.  This of course deprives them of the opportunity to learn how to cope with adversity.)
  2. Always trust your feelings.  (NO!  Our feelings are often inaccurate.  We need to explore and learn and find that there really isn’t a ghost hiding under the bed, and that girl over there looking at us might not hate us, but might just be shy herself.  We need to look at facts, not at just our own perceptions.)
  3. Life is a battle between good people and evil people.  (This may be the most dangerous of the untruths, creating the us-vs-them mentality that informs the current toxic discourse on college campuses today.  There is so much more intolerance of opposing views and so much less ability to have civil conversation about anything at all controversial that even professors are shying away from anything that may smack of real import in their classrooms.  This is actually a threat to education itself.)

The book expounds upon these ideas, given fascinating – and often appalling – examples of real incidents on college campuses and some high schools where these theories and ideas have come about.  They also expound upon what might have caused this situation and what might improve it.

As someone who not only has children exactly this age and who works professionally with students at a college, I fully appreciate the message of this book.  It is a harsh statement about how restricting free play time, scheduling so many activities, making the college application process so all-consuming that it has to start in preschool (!) — this takes away from a persons ability to develop normal self sufficiency.  There is no room for failure from which to learn valuable life lessons.  And when we don’t learn how to fail, we don’t learn that we can ever be wrong – and that is quite dangerous.

This is an outstanding book that I have to recommend as a MUST READ!

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Nikki has been caught between feeling like she’d let her family down by walking out on her legal education and feeling resentful that they’d tried to control everything in her life.  She couldn’t imagine letting her family arrange and control as much as her sister did – even going to the extreme of seeking a possible arranged marriage! – but then again, here she was, working in and living above a bar.  Was this a better option?  When an opportunity arises to teach women in an Indian cultural center to write stories about their lives, Nikki applies and gets the position.  Little does she know that these women have stories to tell that will shock and amaze her.  And as she comes to know these women, she comes to also uncover the mystery surrounding a single voice that has been stifled forever…

This book was surprisingly engaging and ultimately suspenseful.  What started out quite innocent and almost superficial grew into a much more complicated plot and twisted and turned quite unexpectedly.  Characters that one would have guessed would have been staid and traditional showed not only a cheekier side, but actually true, deep-seeded bravery.  This made a book that I initially felt nonchalant about become much more meaningful to me.

I am still unsure if the sexually explicit scenes in this book are totally necessary.  I am not prudish and I do not shy away from this.  I know why they are here.  But I felt they were a bit too long.  (I almost got a little bored with the off -shooting they provided.)  I’d be interested to hear what others think about this.

A worthwhile read, in the end, though.  Please add comments –  I’d really be interested to hear what you all think about my issues with this book!

 

LETHAL WHITE BY ROBERT GALBRAITH

lethal white

After being thrust into the headlines by their prior notorious capture of a serial killer, Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott are struggling to regain their footing.  The fame has brought in much business but it has also strained their relationship.  Everyone is on edge, when an unwashed, terrified and possibly psychotic young man storms into their office twitching away and muttering loudly about a child having been murdered and buried, wrapped in a pink blanket many years ago.  Could this be connected to the new case of blackmail of the Minister of Culture, which they are being asked to investigate?  As Robin and Strike are thrown back into this case, their private lives become somewhat entwined and the suspense, as always, sustains you until the very last word.

What is truly magical about the writing of this novel is that while an incredibly intricate plot is unfolding, the characters who are acting in this story are vulnerable and human and so real the reader might reach out and touch them.  The pain of Cormoran Strike’s stump of his amputated leg is so palpable that each time he is forced by circumstance to go back out to follow another suspect, the reader can almost feel pain in their own leg in empathy.  And when Robin becomes angry at her new husband, who is quite the “arsehole” as is demonstrated in this story time and again, we want to slay him ourselves on her behalf.  Because they are so kind, we almost feel we have a personal stake in their success and that they are more than fictional characters from the mind of an author.

These are completely absorbing works of great suspense and highly recommend the whole series – and to read them in order is definitely worthwhile.  First, you’ll have the opportunity to read them all, and one is better than the next, but also they build on each other, with references to prior cases and prior history in their respective lives.

Highly, highly recommend these books!  You won’t regret them!

They May Not Mean To But They Do by Cathline Schine

they may not mean to

Joy has been extremely busy – although she’s well into her 80’s, she still works at the museum, and she still cares for her ailing husband, who is needing more and more care these days.  As Aaron deteriorates further, Joy’s children seem to be more and more concerned that she can’t handle it all, which makes Joy feel ironically both supported and misunderstood.  She is truly exhausted, but she does not want Aaron to be placed in a nursing home, where he’ll be disoriented further and not cared for as well as she knows she can care for him.  As Joy’s world continues to change, her role in it seems to become a moving target.  Will she find her place?  Will she see where she fits in?

Every once in awhile, I read a book and do not realize how important a book it is until I’ve finished it and look back on it.  This is one of those books.

This story focused on seemingly small details of Joy’s life and her conflicts with her children, Molly and Danny, were often fussy and whiny.  This,  I believe, was the point.  Life is often fussy and people are often whiny.  Especially within families.  (And especially within Jewish ones!)  And I suppose it gave it that very realistic tone that we all recognize and maybe don’t want to hear more than we have to, because we hear it enough in our own lives!  But it certainly does ring true.

And the details of Joy’s life and her struggle to find her place, I believe, really gives one a feeling for what it is like to age in our society.  There is no good place for the aging individual in our society, especially those whose minds are sharp but whose bodies may not be entirely fit.  It might be a little hard for them to get around and do for themselves, but they still need to be involved and contribute to those around them.  For example, while Joy’s children sought to do the right thing, it was hard for them to accept her on her own terms in this next phase of who she wanted to be.  They tried to mold her into their idea of who she should be, but that wasn’t who she was or wanted to be.  Fortunately, Joy was not one to be pushed around.  I am not sure everyone who ages is this strong or independent, and when they are – and assert themselves – are listened to.

I think this is an important book for us all to read and to empathize with those growing older – because we will all eventually get there!