Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Cinnamon Gardens by Shaym Selvadurai

Enchanted by Selvadurai's latest move, I decided to pick up one of his older titles and was not disappointed.  This book is entirely set in British Ceylon and provides a good introduction to the historical roots of the conflicts in present-day Sri Lanka.  The characters are primarily upper class Ceylonese who are negotiating with the British - some want full independence, some partial.  Most tend to agree that universal franchise would not be appropriate though Annalukshmi, a young female teacher who bristles at her family's expectation that she will give up teaching to marry, does feel enfranchisement of educated women is appropriate.

We follow Annalukshmi through two unsuccessful matchmaking attempts and an equally unsuccessful match which she finds on her own.  The book also tells the story of her more traditional younger sister, through whom we see the pros and cons of agreeing to an arranged marriage.

The other central character in the book is Annalukshmi's uncle Balendran, a closeted gay who gave up a happy relationship with a British man once his father found out about it.  He has since married and had a son and we see the havoc that prevails when his former lover visits Sri Lanka.  We also learn of his brother Arul who was banished to India for marrying a lower caste woman.  Though on a visit to India, Balendran learns of his father's secrets which causes him to question his obedience to him.

All in all this is an interesting read filled with colourful characters.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tomorrow There Will be Apricots by Jessica Soffer

Overall I didn't really enjoy this book.   There were times when I really wanted to know what would happen next but most of the time I was bored.  The book tells the story of two lonely people - Victoria whose husband has just passed away and Lorca, a young teenager who self mutilates, in my mind justifiably given how cruel and uncaring her mother is.

Lorca, always trying without success to please her mother, seeks out Victoria as the chef at restaurant where her mother claims to have had her favourite meal ever.  Victoria offers cooking classes at the behest of her odd neighbour (though aptly named) Dotty.  Lorca is the only one to show up.  And the two women bond - briefly believing their connection is even greater.  At the end they are there for each other - but first there are some twists and turns.

The book also revolves around recipes and food - all of Lorca's metaphors are food related.  At first I thought it was interesting - then it seemed too forced.

In all I don't really recommend this book unless you are very interested in Iraqi recipes or lonely people.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

I loved previous novels by Lahiri and this one did not disappoint.  I found it particularly interesting as it was primarily written from the perspective of men though it also told the story of several women.

Most of the book is written from the perspective of Subhash, at the start a young boy in Calcutta, who has no memories of life before the birth of his brother and constant companion, Udayan.  The boys are born during World War II and have vague recollections of the day Indian independence was declared - mostly of the fever they both suffered from at the time.  Despite Indian independence they are subjected to the remains of colonialism when they are beaten by a policeman for sneaking into a club that serves the British and other foreigners.

The boys attend school, then college and Udayan becomes enamoured with the Communist movement known as the Naxalites (for the town where it was born).  Subhash follows a more traditional path and accepts a position at a small college in Rhode Island.  Some of my favourite descriptive passages were those that contrasted the noise and crowds of Calcutta to the peaceful, emptiness in small town Rhode Island.

Subhash studies, becomes involved with an American woman who is separated from her husband, bonds with his roommate, a Vietnam war activist, and is alarmed to read a letter from Udayan informing him of his marriage to a girl he's been involved with since before Subhash left India.  Though Udayan's letters following his marriage no longer refer to his political affairs, Subhash eventually receives a telegram advising him of Udayan's sudden death.  He returns to India to face his parents who are broken and will not speak of what happened as well as Udayan's widow who has just discovered she is pregnant.

Udayan impulsively decides to marry her and bring her to the United States and to raise her child as his own.  The remainder of the book gives us the perspectives of Subhash, his wife and their daughter as they adjust to life together, and eventually apart, in the US.  We also slowly learn more about Udayan's political involvement and the events that led to his death.  By the end Subhash is an elderly man, who has earned his close relationship with his daughter and granddaughter.  The scenes between Subhash and his daughter are also wonderful to read.

I definitely recommend this book.