Tag Archives: america

The Americans by Chitra Viraraghavan

The Americans by Chitra Viraraghavan Title: The Americans
Author: Chitra Viraraghavan
Publisher: 4th Estate
ISBN: 9789351362593
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

A lot has been written on the migrant experience. It has been written from various points of view. Sometimes, it is a man’s voice and sometimes it is a woman’s voice, journey and careening their way through an unknown land. I have also managed to read quite a few books on the topic. So when I picked up, “The Americans” by Chitra Viraraghavan, I was apprehensive. However, one hundred pages into the book and I could not stop reading it.

“The Americans” is about different people and how their stories merge together, at a point in the United States of America. This is what I loved about the book – the entire concept of six degrees of separation and how it was rolled in beautifully in the narrative.

There is an old man trying to find his way in a new land, on a vacation albeit. There is Tara, a single woman who visits America to look after her niece, as her sister is struggling with other issues. There are eight other stories that merge with these two and to me that was the highlight of the book. I am also somehow fond of books with short chapters and this one was written in that manner, which made me cry: Hurrah!

Viraraghavan has an acute sense of surrounding and nature to her writing. The book is set in 2005 and one can see that she knows America inside-out as she of course studied there and that has definitely helped in the research of the book.

The writing is lucid and heart-warming in most places. For me, what worked the most were the journal entries (or so they seemed) of books read by a teenager and her view of the American life. “The Americans” is a thought-provoking book on what it means to cross borders – physically and emotionally and sometimes what it takes to perhaps not cross them.

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387 Short Stories : Day 68 : Story 68 : The Toughest Indian in the World by Sherman Alexie

The Toughest Indian in the Word by Sherman Alexie Title: The Toughest Indian the World
Author: Sherman Alexie
Taken from the Collection: The Toughest Indian in the World and Other Stories

The story I read on the 15th of February was a very unique one. Not that the story was any unique but I guess the way it was written. Sherman Alexie is for sure one of my favourite short story writers and rightly so.

I read the title story called, “The Toughest Indian in the World” and there are various themes running through this story. The story is about American Indians and coping with the modern culture, while trying to remain true to the Indian ways of life.

The story is about the narrator recalling life as it was, till Indians moved to reservations and how the Indian way is slowly disappearing. The story is striking and is mainly about two cultures and identities.

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Book Review : Desperate Characters by Paula Fox

Desperate Characters by Paula Fox Title: Desperate Characters
Author: Paula Fox
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 9780393318944
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 156
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

It is not easy to write a book about marriage. It takes a lot. Sometimes I also think you have to go to that place to experience it and put it on paper. And then to talk about a failing marriage is something else. The emotions that seethe under and to bring them to fore, is not an easy feat. “Desperate Characters” by Paula Fox is one of those few books that manage to do it. It manages to evoke almost every emotion in the characters and the reader and but obviously, the sense of void, remains, as it always does, at the end of a good novel.

I got to know of “Desperate Characters” when I chanced across Jonathan Franzen’s favourite books and this one was somewhere on the top of the list, after Christina Stead I think. The book starts off with an accident and ends almost in the same manner. A couple – who seem happy on the surface – Otto and Sophie Bentwood, living in Brooklyn – the epitome of suburban bliss so to speak. The complete works of Goethe line their bookshelf, they own a Mercedes, and of course all materialistic gadgets of the time in which the story is set – 1969. Sophie is then bitten by a neighbourhood stray cat and from there on their lives change. The marriage crumbles. The decay is visible and for all to see.

America is changing, rapidly at that and in the book; their marriage to a large extent cannot handle the changes. The bite almost becomes metaphorical of their marriage – not healing, dark and almost septic. Fox’s characters are reckless. I think she conjures them that way. They cannot be anything or anyone else. The writing then is nuanced. So much so that you find yourself going over sentences, again and again, to soak yourself in the language and the emotions they convey.

What is most surprising is that the book released in 1970 and not many people know of it. I hope this will change, because I wish more people would read Paula Fox. She is one of the most underrated authors and deserves a chance for sure. Go and buy this one. Read it.

Here is a flavour of her writing:

Thus, they stand facing each other “rigidly, each half-consciously amassing evidence against the other, charges that would counterbalance the exasperation that neither could fathom.”

“Life is desperate.”

“You don’t know what’s going on,” he said at last. “You are out of the world, tangled in personal life…People like you …stubborn and stupid and drearily enslaved by introspection while the foundation of their privilege is being blasted out from under them.” He looked calm. He had gotten even.’

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Book Review: The Billionaire’s Apprentice by Anita Raghavan

The-Billionaires-Apprentice-The-Rise-of-the-Indian-American-Elite-and-the-Fall-of-the-Galleon-Hedge-Fund Title: The Billionaire’s Apprentice: The Rise of the Indian-American and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund
Author: Anita Raghavan
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 9789350097366
Genre: Non-Fiction, Business
Pages: 512
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“The Billionaire’s Apprentice: The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund” by Anita Raghavan reads as good as any thriller, so much so, that it actually makes you forget that it is non-fiction and actually happened. The way the story turns out and how it reached its end, is very difficult to write without making it sound boring. Raghavan on the other hand, takes it and turns it to a page-turner. On another level, the story that was on almost everyone’s mouth – the McKinsey and the Galleon Fund connection needed that kind of a voice to tell it intriguingly and with all honesty.

The book isn’t just about the fall of the Galleon Hedge fund or only about Rajat Gupta or Raj Rajaratnam or the insider trading that took place. It is also about South Asians and their will to make it big in the country of dreams – The United States of America. The sub-texts in the book are plenty, and Raghavan sure knows how to string them all together, without letting the main plot fall apart.

Rajaratnam clearly had a lot of connections. It is the way he used them, is what is fascinatingly told through this book. Why did Gupta, who was so revered and well-known, fall into this? Why did his protégé Anil Kumar become a part of this?

Anita’s writing is direct and to the point. The chapters alternate giving a more humane angle to each of the parties involved. She doesn’t glorify them nor does she show them as villains. What she does is some brilliant documentation of events and what led to them being played out. There is no mincing of words or any attempt to hide facts, as the case should be in a book of this nature. Anita does not take sides and yet gives the reader a complete view of things. The cultural conditioning aspects of the scandal are also brought out quite well and with great understanding – maybe that’s why the background of each character had to be told at the beginning of the book in alternating chapters.

“The Billionaire’s Apprentice” brings to light one of the biggest stories of our times in a well-researched manner. Nothing is missed out on. Every significant detail is mentioned and more so what works for the book the most is the humane side of things. A must read even for those who aren’t interested in business and market politics.

Book Review: The Free World by David Bezmozgis

Title: The Free World
Author: David Bezmozgis
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-1250002518
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When you write about the migrant experience, it becomes very difficult to encompass everything in one single book, keeping the trail of thought intact. The Free World by David Bezmozgis is a perfect example of this. A lot of books about the immigrant experience have been written and it isn’t to write so. A part of the author’s life also goes into the book or else you cannot write about the immigrant life.

David Bezmozgis’s book is a unique take on displaced people, of a family that is nowhere and yet the whole world seems to encompass in this book through their eyes. The Free World is a story of a family of Soviet Jews, who were released in the 1960s and 70s (the Russian Jews could finally leave and find their own way in the world) and could not travel directly to Israel or to the US. They had to often stop over at Vienna or Rome to enter the so-called “Free World”. The stop was undecided. It could take days, weeks or months. Till then, families had no clue as to what was going to happen. The limbo existed.

The book opens in 1978 with the arrival of the Krasnansky family in Rome. The family like any other family has its own eccentricities. Each character propels the story forward from his or her way of fitting into the novel. The patriarch, Samuil – an old Communist and Red Army Veteran, who reluctantly leaves home, misses his old life and mulls over it again and again. The mother, Emma is constantly devoted to her family and accepts all decisions without as much a mutter. She is yet central to the theme. The eldest son, Karl, arrives with his wife and two sons. He finds a new way in his life: The Roman Underworld. The younger son, Alec, the womanizer is accompanied with his new bride Polina, who is as scandalous as ever.

The family struggle with themselves – making sense of why they left and what it feels like to be in a strange country, in transit, waiting to get to the free world. The title of the book speaks to the reader on various levels – from freedom (which in this case is elusive as the characters speak for themselves) to the idea of freedom. Bezmozgis’s characters are as real as you and I. The story is beyond a story of a family’s stay in Rome. The political friction is sensitively handled throughout the novel. David Bezmozgis has successfully managed to show us how the family got to where they are when the novel opens.

The writing is accessible. At no point, did I get bogged down reading the book or turning the pages over and over again for references. The other Russian Jews in the book are as endearing as the central family. Each character has his or her story to tell and that is what makes this book unique. There is a lot of history in the book. I for one would have to read more books to understand that perspective a little better. The entire Anti-Semitism, restrictions, deep rooted fears of Stalin and his successors, the dangerous paths for Jews applying for visas, and the ones that literally got away – all this needs to be understood a little more. I could not stop thinking about the characters once I finished the book. Bezmozgis is able to capture the story of a family – lost within itself and in the outside world beautifully. A must read.

Here are some excerpts:

“So far I’ve been a citizen of two utopias. Now I have modest expectations. Basically, I want the country with the fewest parades.”

“What does it matter to them where they were?” muses Samuil. “How were they different from the birds who landed in one place or another, unmoored by allegiances or souls.” In this land of limbo, the only true connection is not to homeland – past or present – but to each other.

At one point, Alec says, “The same borders you crossed to get here, you can cross in reverse. It needn’t be hard. For all we know, it might even be easier in reverse.”

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Book Review: Drifting House by Krys Lee

Title: Drifting House
Author: Krys Lee
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0-571-27618-9
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 210
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I always look forward to reading a collection of short stories, especially when they are written well and leave an impact on my mind and emotions. Short stories are like wistful appetizers, that leave you wanting more and that one bite sometimes is just not enough. I had to make this analogy because this is what came to mind, when I finished reading, “Drifting House” by Krys Lee.

Drifting House is a collection of nine stories, spanning across North Korea, South Korea and America. The tales but obviously aren’t a happy read. The stories are centered on themes of love, loss, home, and sense of belonging. Starting from Korea and ending in America, one can clearly see the difference in culture and how Koreans are also treated in a different country.

The title story, “Drifting House” is about children escaping a famine situation in North Korea and the horrifying sacrifices they have to make in order to survive. The stories spark and only because they are so real. Krys writes with such elegance and grace that the reader gets drawn in the struggle of the characters. Lee wants us to feel this way as she takes on themes in her book and yes to some extent, I did end up feeling that way.

My favourite story in the entire collection is, “A Temporary Marriage” – where a mother leaves Korea after being abandoned by her husband, who has also kidnapped their daughter. She marries a man in America, only to be close to her daughter, and she feels nothing for the man. The Believer on the other hand is a more violent story in the book of losing faith and the search for God at the same time.

Lee’s characters are as human as you and I, though going through difficult times and situations. The collection according to me will find resonance also beyond the audience who are fascinated with Korea anyway. The language is a bit much, in the sense that it takes time for the reader to set in to the story, however that is only initially. For me, there were deeper meanings hidden in the pages of this book and I loved discovering them.

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Book Review: The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

Title: The World We Found
Author: Thrity Umrigar
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 9780061938344
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I love reading novels centered primarily on women. I need no more than that to engage me while I am reading. So I was surprised when I received a galley from Harper a couple of months ago, titled, “The World We Found” by Thrity Umrigar and I was sucked in to the story from the word, Go. Let me also add here that the book is solely about four friends who are women and about their lives.

Laleh, Kavita, Armaiti and Nishta were four close friends in their Bombay college days 30 years ago. They were also revolutionaries fighting for causes and rights. However, as years have passed by, their lives are diverged; they have lost touch and have little in common but the one strong fact, of being friends. Tragedy strikes when Armaiti reaches out from America with news of Cancer and this is their last chance to be together as what they were.

The book works on various levels – friendship, love (friends and their lives with their spouses or not), the years they spent together and apart, the Bombay riots of 1992, and amidst all of this, the friends’ individualities – Laleh, the equal in her relationship, a rebel of sorts, Kavita – the successful architect, a lesbian, hiding the most important aspect of her life from her friends, Armaiti – who went away to America and Nishta – who married her college sweetheart and is now a different person due to him.

The husbands play their roles in the book, however mostly in the background, though without them the story wouldn’t have propelled ahead. Thrity Umrigar’s writing is weaved into layers and they unfold little by little, leaving the reader surprised and shocked, depending on the situation. The story is told through the perspectives of the four women and despite using this technique; the story has the fluidity it needs.

The characters are strong, introspective women. They do not shy away from what they have to say and how they must act. Umrigar’s women are bold, intelligent, loving and at the same time individualistic. The story is not something which is unusual or brilliant, it is however the writing and the pace that makes it what it is – a wondrous read, which will make the reader understand friendships better and how long lasting they are despite death looming over one of the friends. I would recommend this book to one and all. A must read according to me.

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The World We Found: A Novel