Books As Art: Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine Trilogy

I just read three books in an hour. True, they’re short kid-length books. An epistolary trilogy whose essence I’m at a loss to fully capture. All I can say is the Griffin and Sabine Trilogy by Nick Bantock is a joy to read. Yet, it’s also sad, hopeful, poignant. And so achingly human. I’ll treasure it and read it many times. The main story that … Continue reading Books As Art: Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine Trilogy

Adam Johnson’s North Korea: Fiction as Trauma Narrative 

Disbelief. That’s my initial reaction as I follow the life of orphan master’s son, Jun Do, in Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize. Is this really what life is like in North Korea? Lives subjected to unrelenting propaganda from its one radio station, and unrelenting trauma, probably almost from birth if you’re an orphan? As he grows up, Jun … Continue reading Adam Johnson’s North Korea: Fiction as Trauma Narrative 

Joyce Carol Oates—Mudwoman

A story of a woman full of angst. A woman whom modern, educated women can relate to. But only to some extent. Meredith Ruth (MR) Neukirchen is the first woman president of an Ivy League university. That alone makes her totally unique. She’s achieved the pinnacle, a plum usually denied women, even those with her background and ambition. But what’s more remarkable about MR is … Continue reading Joyce Carol Oates—Mudwoman

Fate in Fiction: Antoine Laurain’s The Red Notebook

How much of life is made up of coincidences? And is coincidence Fate? Or is it Chance? I think these questions are at the heart of Antoine Laurain’s novel, The Red Notebook. When a guy called Laurent finds a discarded stolen bag on top of a bin, a bag that he later learns belongs to a woman named Laure—is that fate or chance? On the … Continue reading Fate in Fiction: Antoine Laurain’s The Red Notebook

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

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

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

Is it merely coincidence that I see a thread running through the two books by Yasunari Kawabata that I’ve read? Maybe, I should read at least one more before I 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 … 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

God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

I seem to be focused on small things lately. Maybe in getting old, I have realized that big things are rare. I’ve learned one truly valuable lesson growing up (I want to believe we keep growing): You can fashion a good life out of small things. You do so by making big things of small ones. It’s not that hard—it’s what humans do to feel … Continue reading God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

SF Bay at sunset, from Oakland Hills

Queen of Dreams: Divakaruni, again

This book comes closer to home than the other two I’ve read by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Literally. It’s set in Berkeley. At some point in the story, Rakhi, the daughter of the Queen of Dreams, might have lived next to me on the Oakland Hills. If she had been real of course. Rakhi is real enough to me because she is a modern woman coping … Continue reading Queen of Dreams: Divakaruni, again

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—I literally had to keep my gaze on my feet—became so much more bearable. The dramatic reader was a delight and I appreciated … Continue reading Two Novels With Indian Roots by C.B. Divakaruni

Butting Heads With A Different Writing Style

I picked up this book mostly for the way it’s written, with vivid language and a jaunty almost staccato cadence that could leave you breathless just skimming through it. This writer has a way with words. And as I read, I thought—this must be the new way of writing. The way I write would be stodgy compared to it because I’m of the old school. … Continue reading Butting Heads With A Different Writing Style

Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Shadow of the Wind

Shadow of the Wind. I’ve puzzled over this title. Technically, a wind would not have a shadow. Or, maybe, it does; but we need a sixth sense to see it. If so, this title is the best anyone could give this novel, although I must confess, I did not feel that way until I got almost towards the end of the book, 358 pages later, … Continue reading Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Shadow of the Wind