The Cellist of Sarajevo’s Tribute to Victims of Ethnic Hatred

I picked up the Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway because of my interest in music. But I find that it’s more like a meditation on the senselessness of war than a story on some theme regarding the power of music. The novel has no clear beginning, middle and end. Maybe, that’s how it should be. The story happens during a real war, when Sarajevo … Continue reading The Cellist of Sarajevo’s Tribute to Victims of Ethnic Hatred

Stark Truth: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

I suppose in a large country like India you can see life in as many ways as you can imagine it to unfold. But in the poorest hovels of that huge country the reality is that life unfolds in ways you’ve never imagined. Ways that make you wonder how people can endure them. Ways that coax your admiration for a resilient social class whose existence … Continue reading Stark Truth: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Cruelty Knows No Bounds: In The Country of Men by Hisham Matar

The telling of a terrible event seems somehow more compelling when done from the point of view of a child. We often assume that a child does not have the biases of an adult to color his perception. We also assume that he’s less likely to lie when recounting what he sees. On the other hand, lack of a life history may mean a child … Continue reading Cruelty Knows No Bounds: In The Country of Men by Hisham Matar

Fiction as History: Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace

Myanmar—does that ring a bell? You guess that, maybe, it’s the same as Burma. And maybe you’ve even heard of its most famous citizen, Aung San Suu Kyi. Or, maybe, you have no idea whatsoever what Myanmar is. And you couldn’t care less. Myanmar is fascinating—rich in resources, diverse, exotic, unique, complex. Once a monarchy, invaded by the British, then terrorized by a military regime … Continue reading Fiction as History: Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace

The French do it again: An irresistible Story of Sex

How much do you know about sex? Probably less than you think. That’s how I felt, anyway, after reading The Story of Sex, a delightful book on sex. I first came across The Story of Sex in an article in theguardian.com with a long, formidable title: A graphic history of sex: ‘There is no gene that drives sexuality. All sexuality is learned. As if that … Continue reading The French do it again: An irresistible Story of Sex

Lolita

Mature Iranian Women’s Kinship with Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita—Reading Lolita in Tehran

I anticipated a great read with Reading Lolita in Tehran. It tackles two of my main interests—a woman’s journey through life, and her experience living in a culture quite different from that I live in. I strongly empathized with what I saw to be its underlying themes. But after reading pages and pages full of details to support those themes, I thought, okay, I get … Continue reading Mature Iranian Women’s Kinship with Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita—Reading Lolita in Tehran

Vietnam War, A Retrospective: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer

Forty years after the end of the war in Vietnam comes a widely-acclaimed, generously awarded début novel—The Sympathizer: A Novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen, published by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. in 2015. I’m going to throw in my two-cents worth among the throng of gushing admirers of this 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning novel (plus at least five other awards), because this work says something essential to me. … Continue reading Vietnam War, A Retrospective: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer

Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas by Patrick Modiano

I’m waxing nostalgic. I can’t help it in these last few days of official summer in the Bay Area. If you don’t know what that means, think heavy clouds, high humidity, and 64⁰ F — warm in most areas, but not here. For us, it’s winter weather. But what does this all have to do with the three novellas in this collection by Patrick Modiano, … Continue reading Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas by Patrick Modiano

No Broad Shoulders. No Romance.

This post is technically not a review. Rather it’s a rant about the typical novels in the romance genre. I nearly zapped a historical romance out of my iPad while reading it one evening. It wasn’t badly written. It wasn’t boring. But it annoyed me that for the umpteenth time, the author says her hero has “wide/broad shoulders.” Now, how often must she remind of … Continue reading No Broad Shoulders. No Romance.

Kawabata’s Beauty and Sadness: Love, Sex, and Revenge

Is it merely coincidence that a thread runs through the two books by Yasunari Kawabata that I’ve read? Maybe, I should read at least one more to conclude that this 1968 Nobel Prize winner, who writes about obsession, is himself obsessed with the issue of older Japanese men preying on vulnerable young Japanese women. I understand Kawabata’s obsession better, after a quick Google survey on … Continue reading Kawabata’s Beauty and Sadness: Love, Sex, and Revenge

Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata

I continue my romp into world literature with Yasunari Kawabata, the first Japanese to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1968). In awarding him the prize, the Nobel Committee gave special mention to Thousand Cranes, along with Snow Country and The Old Capital among the many novels he had written. When I first read this novel, I wondered what about it merited special mention. Granted, … Continue reading Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata

Two Short Books Set In France

What accounts for tastes? The appeal to your senses or sensibilities? The pressure to be a la mode, maybe? Or, because something helps the image of you that you want to project to the world? There are a few things billions of people like for obvious reasons. Those, we have no need to explain. People’s fascination with Paris, for instance. I’ve never actually met anyone … Continue reading Two Short Books Set In France

The Real Jane Austen, A Life in Small Things: A Review

Reading The Real Jane Austen, A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne, I understood more clearly why Austen novels appeal to me. And, more than ever, I’ve come to appreciate these novels for their artistry. Not just as a reader—but maybe more importantly—as a writer. Once again, this book proves “God is in the detail.” But for details to serve fiction well, they must … Continue reading The Real Jane Austen, A Life in Small Things: A Review

Duchamp’s Infamous Urinal

I read art books. Not often. Sometimes I just need a break from made-up stories. My interest in artsy pursuits dates from childhood. I got into drawing growing up with three brothers who refused to play with me. Today, I have pretensions to being a painter of sorts. Anyway, I read this book—all 500-some intimidating, fascinating pages of it. It teased me into expecting that, … Continue reading Duchamp’s Infamous Urinal

Cultural Duality: With Downcast Eyes

In affluent Western countries, those that aren’t “us,” the “Others,” are minority, often disadvantaged groups. In France, the Other usually comes from North Africa (the Maghreb). Like Fatma, a Berber girl, in Tahar Ben Jelloun’s With Downcast Eyes. Fatma, like the male narrator in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, moves from her home. In this case, it’s from the hills of Morocco to France where her father … Continue reading Cultural Duality: With Downcast Eyes

Two Novels With Indian Roots by C.B. Divakaruni

The Palace of Illusions A woman with five princely warrior husbands–how cool is that? I didn’t read this book; I listened to it. I borrowed it from the local library while recovering from a vitrectomy (an eye operation). The two-week tedious down time—literally had to keep my gaze on my feet—became so much more bearable. The dramatic reader was a delight and I appreciated the … Continue reading Two Novels With Indian Roots by C.B. Divakaruni

How To Get To Know “the Other”: Part 2. Listen to their story

How many ways can you get to know a culture different from that in which you grew up? One delectable way described in Part 1 is through cuisines, which I’ve amplified in another post. Marlena DeBlasi takes a different tack in her memoir, That Summer in Sicily. While she does sumptuously describe sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures in earlier chapters, she seduces you into experiencing … Continue reading How To Get To Know “the Other”: Part 2. Listen to their story