Sunday, June 28, 2009

Life Update

It's incredibly hot in my house, and the only thing that's saving me from boiling alive is the fact that my fan is running on full blast and both my windows are open.  It's midnight, and even though it's cooled down substantially outside, the walls of the house retain heat like no other.
I shouldn't complain, though, because I prefer this heat to the wussy, luke-warm weather we've been experiencing lately.  If there is any local evidence for global warming, I'd think it would be the ridiculous winds and rain that we had as recently as last week.  Honestly, do I live in California or don't I?  Sunshine, please, any day!
I went for a run this morning with my dad and basically got my butt handed to me by my old man (who is turning fifty and can still literally outstrip me with minimal effort).  I have a long way to go.  To be fair, though, it was hot as hell outside and the hills we were running were ridiculous.
Yummmm.  Pie is delicious, especially when it comes from Marie Calendar's.  Pie digests happily as I sit in bed and update and consider reading or sleeping.  The computer is too hot to keep on my lap.  Too hot, I say!

[Carol, you demanding thing, I wrote this because of YOU.]

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Book 3: The Homecoming By Shashi Warrier

The Homecoming sat on my bookshelf at college for six months collecting dust along with the other 15+ books I foolishly took with me to school thinking I would actually have time to read.  I felt bad for not reading many (any) of them, but I felt extra-contrite about not reading this one for two reasons:  1)  Because my dad gave me this book, and 2) Because the author is a good family friend of ours.  

When I was a kid, Shashi Warrier (Shashi Uncle in our home) used to bring me drafts of his latest work in progress, the most memorable of which was a children's book by the name ofSuzy's Gift.  With this and the several other novels he has written since, however, it is clear that Warrier has moved out of the whimsical (though greatly entertaining) sphere of kid's lit and into more grave and thought-provoking subject matter.  

The Homecoming revolves around Javed Sharif, a rug-merchant, returning home to Srinagar, Kashmir for his elderly father's birthday.  After a lifetime of working to support his family, Javed looks forward to retiring soon in his beloved hometown in spite of the violent wartime that has begun to make itself known in Kashmir.  He is, at the onset of the novel, quite satisfied with his lot in life; he is fairly successful as a businessman, his three children (sons Irfan and Fawzi, and daughter Razia) are grown, and his relationship with his family is satisfactory.  Javed surveys his life's work and perceives a job well done.  

His peace, however, is disturbed when he and his younger son Irfan are arrested under suspected involvement with and sympathies for a brutal terrorist organization.  This event, which occurs some twenty or thirty pages into the novel, kick-starts the action and drives the story to a desperate, wrenching ending.  After a night in the local lock-up, Javed is released and cleared of all suspicion while his son is kept in detention.  Though he knows it will cost him his retirement, Javed resolves to spend as much time and money as is needed to get Irfan out of prison.  In a tale of pain, sacrifice, betrayal, and loss, Javed watches what he thought was a sturdy, healthy family life fall apart and, in a manner reminiscent of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, suddenly finds himself without anything.  

To me, this book epitomizes the sentiment of having the rug yanked out from under your feet.  We begin with a settled, happy protagonist and end with a wholly different picture.  Warrier does an excellent job of painting both portraits, and of illustrating the series of events that brings the characters from one to the other.  He handles the matter of Irfan's guilt beautifully  and, while never giving the answer outright, puts out enough choice pieces of information to provide the reader with a clear verdict by the end of the novel.  He presents the reader with not just the story of a family, but also the story of a country at odds with itself and its people.  

The Homecoming spares no details, no matter how harrowing they might be, and leaves the reader with a startlingly honest picture of not only the Kashmir conflict, but also of the brutal potential, the irony, and the unyielding force of human nature.

It was a slow read almost until the end, so don't go for this one expecting an action thrill of any kind.  Because it was measured in pace, the plot allowed for a great deal of contemplation and speculation on the part of the reader.  This is one I definitely recommend for older audiences, perhaps 16+, simply due to the heavy/dense subject matter.  However, if you are a particularly precocious reader, nothing should stop you from reading this wonderfully moving, evocative novel.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Book 2: Q&A by Vikas Swarup

Q&A by Vikas Swarup is the novel that served as the inspiration for Slumdog Millionaire, and after being thoroughly impressed by the film I decided that I had to read the book for myself.  
I generally find myself unimpressed by the book-to-movie conversion; one or the other almost always disappoints, depending on which medium I was exposed to first.  However I found the novel just as impressive as the movie, and whileI can't say that I liked the novel more (though, usually, I do prefer novels to their film incarnations) I can say that I really enjoyed them quite equally.  The Q&A-to-Slumdog translation put out a product that, while retaining the fundamental and important elements of the story, deviated enough from the plot and feel of Q&A that it could be considered a different animal entirely--a relative, but not necessarily offspring of the founding novel.
But this isn't a review of Slumdog.
So I'll go back to focusing on Q&A.  
Q&A is about impoverished waiter Ram Mohammad Thomas (known as Jamal Malik in Slumdog Millionaire) and his life in the slums and chawls of Mumbai and Delhi.  When we first meet him, Ram Mohammad Thomas (RMT for short from here on out) is in prison on suspicion of cheating while competing on the TV game show "Who Will Win A Billion?" (a fictitious offshoot of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?").  It is my personal opinion that the reader learns most of what there is to know about RMT in those first few pages that take place in the
prison.  Like in the movie, the questions on the game show serve as the mechanisms for the flashbacks that tell RMT's life story.  Through each chronologically displaced episode we get one more piece to the puzzle and learn, in time, what has driven RMT to be on the game show in the first place. 
There is no one clear genre for this novel.  It is a thriller in some senses, a romance in others, and certainly a tragedy and an epic.  Unlike the film, Q&A focuses much less on the love story and much more on...everything else.  We get a much clearer picture of RMT's early years and the events that shaped him and his ideals.  The novel is at once satisfying to the desire for a happy ending and at the same time brutally, unsettlingly honest.    
Reading the novel restores protagonist Ram Mohammad Thomas/Jamal to his place as a first-person narrator and, in doing so, added on all kinds of hilarious wit and snark to the narrative that hadn't been there in the film.  I love nothing btter than a snarky protagonist, and Ram Mohammad Thomas's voice is especially well-written.  It forced a wide range of emotional reactions; I laughed a lot, got angry frequently.  If I were the type to cry during books, I might've cried.  The story comes in wide, sweeping arcs that make the book easy to devour in just one sitting and impossible to tear yourself away from.  
As an Indian-American woman, I love Q&A for its honesty and its frank portrayal of India, complete with all of her strengths and weaknesses.  There is so much that is wrong with India.  But, at the same time, there is so much that is right.

I recommend this as a 12+ book, with a warning for language, violence, and mild sexual content. (But I still think everyone should read it!)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Book 1: Towing Jehovah by James Morrow

Allow me to first put it out there that James Morrow is a freaking genius.  I mean, really.  A genius.  
Now that you know that, allow me to explain the premise of this phenomenal novel:
God--that is, the bearded white male of the Bible--has died, and His body has fallen into the Atlantic Ocean.  Supertanker captain Anthony Van Horne is called in by none other than the agents of the Vatican to tow the Corpus Dei (the Vatican's name for God's body) to His grave in the Arctic.  Along the way, Van Horne has a host of difficult (and oft hilarious) obstacles to overcome, including a mutinous crew of sexually liberated pagans, off-site saboteurs, and his own personal baggage.
I don't know where he pulls this stuff from, but James Morrow has it going on.  His work is irreverent and hysterically sacrilegious.  I was hooked just by reading the back cover.  
The action in this book comes in peaks and lulls, which affords the characters time to develop outside of emergency/panic situation (which, believe me, there are a lot of).  It's well-paced, and written in this great tongue-in-cheek manner that I can't help but adore.  
I think what really got my attention with this novel was the manner in which Morrow manages to address a whole range of views on religion.  His characters include an ordained Catholic priest, a spiritually lost Jew, and a (literally) militant atheist.  Morrow toys with religion, and manipulates it in ways that force us to look at it (and its agendas) from unique angles.  His writing neatly side-steps irritating religion-bashing nonsense and skips right to the good stuff--the satire that, as it thumbs its nose at the religious establishment, provides an analysis of that establishment.  This is something we rarely see, in literature or otherwise.

I would happily recommend this book to everyone I know.  It's explicit, though, in a lot of ways (sexually liberated pagans.  'nuff said), so I'll put it out there as a 14+ novel instead.

A Statement of Purpose

I have been inspired by The Julie/Julia Project.  This lovely bit of blogging has been turned into a film starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, which promises to be adorable (see the pictures).  In brief, Julie of The Julie/Julia Project did the brilliant thing of taking a goal and turning it into a fun, humorous blog.  I'll admit it--the only reason I know about the blog is because, yes, I saw a commercial for the movie (cop-out, I know).  I wish I'd even been conscious of the scope of the Blogger Universe when this particular blog was up and running, but alas I was an Internet toddler at the time (I may as well have still been wearing Pull-Ups and velcro-belt shoes). 

But I digress.  
Coming home this summer from college, I realized that the number of books I'd read over the course of the school year just for fun totaled up to a grand ZERO.  And there were still so many books on my bookshelf that I had yet to read.  More than half of the books I own, in fact, are still waiting to be read.  And that, my friends, is a crying shame.  

There are nine weeks of summer left.  I'm going to get through as many of these puppies as I can.  

I tried desperately to come up with a cool name for my project--something catchy, interesting, representative.  But I've got nothing at the moment.  So, for the time-being, we'll leave it nameless.  Never fear, though.  I'll come up with something soon.