Tag Archives: american

Book Review: We the Animals by Justin Torres

Title: We the Animals
Author: Justin Torres
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0547576725
Genrre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

If you think an author cannot successfully manage a book in less than 200 pages, then think again. Or better yet, read, “We the Animals” by Justin Torres. It is the kind of book that you will read once in a lifetime and with assurance I can say that you will be blown by it. We the Animals is a not a happy book (though it is infused with moments of happiness). It is neither a tragic tale. It is a slice-of-life so to say, of a ride through a childhood of three “animals” and their dysfunctional parents.

“We the Animals” is not something like I have read before. It can be called a grouping of stories or just a plan simple novel. It is about three boys and their growing up years in up-state New York by their Irish-Italian-American Mother and Puerto Rican father. The story is told from the viewpoint of the youngest son (who throughout the book is nameless), who loves and cherishes his older brothers and is also not quite like them. There are vignettes that build the story, just like “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros.

One obviously would expect some amount of latent madness and dysfunctionality running throughout the book, which is there; however, there are also moments of happiness and light, which balance the plot and structure. For instance, in one story, Ma refuses to answer the phone. She knows it is her husband and she doesn’t answer the phone. The entire piece is told through the events that occur while the phone is ringing in the background. The feeling of reading this is surreal and magical.

By far, my favourite piece in the entire book is the opening story, “We Wanted More” which sets the context and tone of the entire book. The sparse language used in almost every chapter is commendable, as it also happens to be intense in most places and touches the right chord. It therefore becomes very hard to believe that this is a debut work.

Justin Torres knows how to put up the book, exactly the way he saw it – intense, raw and rough. There are no smooth edges and shouldn’t be when writing a book of this nature. Torres makes you feel that you are going through a family album while reading the book. Each picture and each snapshot is telling a tale of its own. It is a complex study of family dynamics and written with a lot of substance.

While reading, “We the Animals”, there were a lot of moments I was choked up, however I had to let that pass and focus on reading the book. The reason I mention is to make the reader understand the power of a well-written book. We the Animals is one of the most beautiful books I have read this year and I am not hesitant to say this right at the beginning of the year, also because the book was published in 2011. It will break your heart and mend it right back. It will also make you see life differently. I highly recommend it to one and all.

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We the Animals: A novel

Book Review: My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe

Title: My Korean Deli
Author: Ben Ryder Howe
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9343-8
Genre: Non-Fiction
PP: 320 pages
Price: $25.00
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

To me, the best memoirs begin with the author thinking and acting one way and through the course of the book, changes and comes out, if not a better person, at least a different person. Ben Ryder Howe seems to have done this very thing and he writes beautifully about it in “My Korean Deli: Risking it All for a Convenience Store”.

Ben, a WASP from many generations of Bostonians settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts, married his college girlfriend, Gab Pak. Ben is from a laid-back family but Gab, a lawyer by training, is the child of first generation Korean immigrants who have come to this country with a fierce can-do attitude. Nothing is impossible in this golden land of opportunity if you work hard enough. The Paks, Kay and Edward, have raised and educated three children, through the ethic of hard work. Ben and Gab, together for ten years when the book opens right after 9/11, have moved in with the Paks – in their basement on Staten Island – and are considering buying Kay Pac a deli she can manage, as a sort of “thank you” for raising Gab. Ben is an editor at the “Paris Review” and Gab has a job at a law firm, working long hours. They see the deli as a way of working together and making enough money to move out from their basement dwelling.

I don’t suppose you could find two societal opposites than the offices of the “Paris Review” and a Korean deli. It would be like going from the equator to the North Pole, yet both exist in today’s New York City. Ben straddles the two worlds – WASP and ethnic – for the three years he and his in-laws own and operate the deli they buy in Brooklyn. As Ben bounces from one place – and one life – to the other on a daily basis, he learns about himself and his possibilities in a very visceral way. But learning to accept the can-do immigrant spirit does not make him turn away from his own family and their values. He has learned to balance them by the end of the book.

Ben Howe is a marvelously fluent writer. There’s rarely a wasted sentence or thought. He introduces the reader to some very, um, “amusing” characters – from both worlds, yet he is never condescending in his treatment of a drinker, be it his boss at the “Paris Review”, George Plimpton, or the store’s employee, Dwayne. There’s not a mean-spirited thought in this book, but despite the charity given to most of the characters, they are still shown as real people.

Howe nails the difficulties of owning your own small business- the strain it puts on a marriage, the constant money worries- it’s a 24/7 responsibility, much like having a child, which Ben and Gab are also struggling to do. His tales of the deli, what it means to the neighborhood, to his family, and eventually to him, give the reader a real appreciation of small business owners. I loved his story of Gab trying to get from Queens to Brooklyn during a horrible snowstorm, and of keeping the store open during the big blackout. Howe is a gifted writer, and this book is one I would highly recommend. It’s a great American story.

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Book Review: The Ask by Sam Lipsyte


Title:
The Ask
Author: Sam Lipsyte
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 9780312680633
PP: 304 Pages
Source: Publisher
Price: $15.00
Rating: 5/5

The Ask is a weird novel to find yourself really enjoying–it’s like getting punched in the face and laughing about it. It’s hilarious and dead serious at the same time; on one page you laugh out loud, only to be soberly put in your place on the next by the pitiless resentment and biting cynicism that plagues Milo, Lipsyte’s hapless protagonist, who gets fired from his job at the development office of a Manhattan university after mouthing off to an overly entitled student. Then there’s all the other failure in Milo’s life–the failure to be a successful painter, son, husband, and father–and the added burden when his college friend Purdy (the picture of wealth and success) comes out of the past with a particularly awkward proposition for him.

An early review at the Quarterly Conversation has called The Ask “another unrelenting tour de force of black bile…there is no cushy fictional distance between the world [Lipsyte:] describes and the world he inhabits.” But even though The Ask ends on the most unnerving note possible–and regardless of whether or not you’re repelled by Milo’s view that “stories were like people…we pretended they all counted, but almost none of them did,” you at least realize (as Milo does) the guilt-inducing fact that there are always people worse off than you, that no matter how low you think you’ve gone, there are things to feel lucky for. “Everybody wanted to get home,” Milo reminisces after he hits rock bottom at his childhood home in New Jersey, where his lesbian mother lives with her longtime lover. “Home could be a ruined place, joyless, heaped with the ashes of scorched hearts, but come evening everybody hustled to get there.” A concrete sense of home is what Milo apparently seeks the most, but ultimately he wants a life free of illusions about what “home” really means.

What really won me over in The Ask was not only the razor-sharp writing–phrases like “sexagenarian whippersnappers” and “greeting card ontology” are abundant–but Lipsyte’s equally razor-sharp observations about the absurd truths of American life: of the spoiled, uber-connected kids at the university (“they were happy, or seemed happy, or maybe they were blogging about how they seemed happy”); the purgatorial middle class existence he is destined never to leave (“We still did not own the devices that let you skip the commercials. Would we always be part of the slow television movement?”); the satirical, misguided manifestos of child daycare centers; and the sobering realities embodied by war veterans. The Ask avoids tempering the bitterness that comes with all this; instead, it stews in it, even embraces it. It’s sort of exhilarating to finish the book seeing Milo “digging in for the long night of here.”If he gains anything, it will be peace…maybe

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

To begin with I have one thing to say about this big: It is huge. Mammoth – just like A Suitable Boy, The Stand, It and Ulysses. At over 900 odd pages, I thought I would never be able to finish the book and yet when I started reading it I was glued. I have always loved reading Follett’s works (except for Night Over Water) and they are fast-paced for sure and so was this one. However, the historical fiction angle to this book is huge and though the book is long – there is not a single sentence which is irrelevant. Size does not matter when there is an enthralling story brewing to be told. I was up most nights reading this one and not for once did I feel that my time was being wasted.

The plot is not as simple as it seems: The story moves logically and seamlessly starting in 1911 and ending in 1925. The large canvas of characters are sweeping and each one has its place in tact. No one is out of place. Their motivations are known – no matter how minor the character and he or she fits hand in glove to the story.

So book I of the trilogy (yes there are two more to come titled “Century Trilogy” and I for one cannot wait) is set in Europe before, during and after WW1. The 5 families who lives are intertwined are American, English, Scottish, German and Russian. What made me love the book even more was that it was set in a time and place I was completely unaware about. The kings, the queens, the dukes and duchesses, the coal miners, the working class – their lives and how they thought. Ideas about politics, love, family traditions, comunities and class distinctions, women suffrage and how they thought in those times intrigued me to the core.  This period of time encompasses the First World War. The period of late the Victorian Age was a time when society was rigid with “manners”. The upper classes new their place and weren’t shy about letting everyone else know their place as well. If the code of conduct was firmly set for the upper classes and royalty, so was it set for the lower classes as well! If you were a member of the “working” class you knew who your “betters” were and behaved accordingly. Life was hard and took its toll on the masses. Follett does a masterful job at describing the world as it existed at that time and he spends a good deal of time examining the class struggle which went on in much of Europe during this time.

The story is intriguing and complex, but eminently readable. The violence and gore that were present in Follett’s previous works is absent here, and the action is fast and the storytelling fantastic. I have a fondness for historical fiction, and this work does not disappoint as the author has obviously thoroughly researched the era and has rendered it beautifully.

I won’t provide a detailed synopsis of this book since the product description on this page does that, but will say that it’s a drama about life and love during these fateful years and I promise you that this will go down as being one of the best books you’ve ever read.

I cannot recommend it highly enough and can’t wait for the sequel! This book, however, has a very satisfying conclusion and can stand alone as you are not left with unanswered questions at the end! Historical fiction at its best.

Here is a book trailer for you of the book:

Fall of Giants; Follett, Ken; Macmillan India; Rs. 350