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!

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!

 

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

state of wonder

Marina is heartbroken by the news of the death of her co-worker, Anders, who had been sent to the Amazon to assess the progress of research being conducted down there.  But when she learned that she now was the one being sent after him to investigate his death, her feelings were, understandably, quite mixed.  Why would her boss, Mr. Fox, with whom she had an “un-bossly” relationship send her down into a perilous situation?  And what would she encounter with the strong-minded and controversial researcher with whom she’d trained and had a checkered past with herself?  After seeing Anders’ wife and 3 boys and their sadness and disbelief that their father could truly be dead, she felt it her duty, though, to go and to see for herself how he’d died and what she could do to bring back his effects to help them in their grief.  What she found was beyond what she could have ever imagined.

This novel was stunning in both beauty and its depth.  As Marina learns more and more about the Amazon —  its people, its natural habitat, its dangers and its wonders — so too, does the reader.  Because of the crispness of the writing, one can breathe in the heaviness of the air, hear the insects buzzing around ones ears, feel the murkiness of the water they bathe in, and see the filth on the clothing Marina is forced to wear because she’s lost all of her luggage on the very first day.

But there is also a layering to the story which gives it depth.  There is the search for how Anders became sick with his undiagnosed fevers and the tenderness of the relationship he’d developed with the boy raised by the head researcher, Dr. Swenson.  There is the research itself, looking into why the women in the local tribe maintained their fertility well into their sixties and seventies – and the ethical concerns surrounding this.  There is the controversial character of Dr. Swenson – her avoidance of oversight and reluctance to be beholden to those who are funding her research.  What is she hiding?

I will not say how this book ended – but I will admit to you that I cried as I read the last few pages.  There unexpected twists that tug at your heart and at least caught me quite off guard.  So well done!

I have to say, this is a must-read!

 

The Girl who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes

girl who wrote in silk

In the late 1880’s, Washington territory, Mei Lien’s whole world revolved around her father and grandmother, both of whom she revered and loved with all her heart.  But with one unthinkable strike, both of them were torn from her and her entire life trajectory changed.

Fast forward to current day, and we find Inara, whose favorite aunt has died, with a wish that Inara take her estate and turn it into an island inn.  In her exploration of the estate, Inara stumbles upon the sleeve of a robe, embroidered with an elaborate scene that appears to be communicating an urgent message from long ago.

What is the connection?  And what will that connection mean for Inara’s family?  What did it mean, more importantly, for Mei Lien?

I feel this book, while powerful in its message and matter, just missed its mark in the telling.  The idea of the story is a brilliant one, based in a historical reality that needs to be told – and one that I, for one, was beforehand, ignorant of.  In the late 1800’s and well into the 1900’s, the Chinese who immigrated to the US and Canada were treated abominably, often with prejudice at best and with violence at worst.  This story brings that racism to a very personal level, highlighting the loneliness, despair, and abject terror that racism induces.

On the more literary side, the resolution of the story that is told is just too extreme to be believable.  The family connections are too improbable.  The way Inara finds a chef for her kitchen for her inn is too coincidental.  And the ending just slides into home plate for that grand slam in a way that almost trivializes the story.  I am not saying that the ending is not what anyone reading the story would have wanted, but I think it was too neat and tidy.  It’s not real life.

But maybe that is why it’s called fiction.

I am still glad I read this book and would recommend it to others as well.  If not for the literary sparkle, for the historical perspective it provides.