Tag Archives: bloomsbury

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob Title: The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing
Author: Mira Jacob
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9789384052706
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Publicist
Rating: 5/5

The past is beautiful and also has the power to be vicious. For it to rear its ugly head and not let go, till the demons have been put to rest. As a reader, I see this theme occurring again and again in books. I think that one cannot ignore it in any art form. The past is a strong element of nature that will not be ignored at all and it will be repeated again and again, just as it plays a central and vociferous role in Mira Jacob’s book, “The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing”.

“The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing” is a story of a dysfunctional family, of old ties, of relationships that cannot be forgotten and which honestly, is nothing new in the world of literature. What is new though is the way it is said. The narration is so strong that it made me feel that I was reading a book of a different nature and plot. As it happens in all family stories – this one also has a lot of grandeur, a lot of mess, a lot of fleeting and unsaid emotions, and a lot of past, present and future that tangles itself and slowly unravels the plot.

At the heart of this book is the Eapen family. The novel opens in Seattle where Amina Eapen gets a call from her mother, Kamala in Albuquerque, saying that something is wrong with her surgeon father, Thomas, who is now talking to family members who are no longer alive. This is where Amina flies down to check on her father and the story begins – back and forth between India and America and New Mexico and the Eapen family’s secrets and despair and love and longing are unravelled, chapter by chapter. There is a lot happening in the book and maybe that is what makes it so special, also not to forget that it keeps coming back to the core of the plot.

The family is just like any other family and yet it is not what it seems. As you turn the pages, you are stunned by the language, the tenderness and harshness of prose at the same time, the starkness and as a reader; I was only happy that it was a big read and not cut down. Every character has his or her part etched beautifully. No one is out of place. From Amina dealing with her issues and identity looming large to her brother Akhil who is struggling with his own demons. There is also a lot of humour infused in the book – dry as it may be but it definitely helps the reader get through the complex parts.

Jacob in a very tragic-comic manner talks of an Indian family in America and their past linked to their future. The journey from India to America in search of a better life and the consequences of it, are described in great detailed and told with great empathy. The book is honest and that is most needed out of any book. There are no frills or pretensions around it. There is a lot of food in it as well. There is a lot of drama. There is a lot of love and there are sentences and dialogues which are stunning and will leave you begging for more.

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The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit Title: The Wives of Los Alamos
Author: TaraShea Nesbit
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408845998
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I was way too kicked to read this book. May be this is what happens to me all the time. I get kicked about a book and then somehow it does not live up the way I thought it would, to my expectations. “The Wives of Los Alamos” though surprised me after the first hundred pages or so. I think sometimes, the beauty of reading a book is perhaps not to give up on it. There is this voice that keeps telling you to go with the book and you do, and sometimes you end up thanking that voice.

As the title suggests, this book has got to do with Los Alamos, the military town that laid the ground for the invention of the atomic bomb by the United States of America. The wives of the scientists and physicists also arrive with their husbands to the town of Los Alamos, New Mexico. They start lives afresh, not knowing what is in store, with WWII looming large. They wonder, they speculate, and they cannot figure anything. Their children are brought up just like that – randomly almost, their households just take care of themselves and nothing seems right, as they are away from home.

“The Wives of Los Alamos” starts off slow and ends up picking up pace, right at the end of the book. I somehow got bored mid-way but it was the last part that really got me hooked to the book. Nesbit’s writing is of collective people – the nouns are collective, the wives are together – thinking, feeling and experiencing the same events and agonies and joys.

The husbands, the director and the General are also very strong characters in the book. The Manhattan Project as it was then called is explained quite succinctly in the book. From Oppenheimer the director to the views of the wives and the household help, Nesbit covers every tract of information beautifully. I would most certainly recommend this book to you, if you like history and the events it unfolds.

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Paper Towns by John Green

Paper Towns by John Green Title: Paper Towns
Author: John Green
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 9781408857144
Genre: Young Adult, Teen Romance
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

At one point, I thought that John Green could not write what he did when he wrote, “The Fault in Our Stars” or at least when I read it, I felt that way. Till I picked up, “Paper Towns” (which was published way before TFIOS) and gave it a read.

“Paper Towns” is a unique book. It is different (I hate using that word, but hey, it just somehow fits). It is special. It is about life and somehow Green manages to infuse humour in all his books (which to me is the best part of it all – saying the toughest life situations, with a pinch of salt and sugar). “Paper Towns” is bittersweet. It is everything perhaps you do not want to happen to you and yet you want it all. It has that effect on you.

Margo Roth Spiegelman is what every girl in school wants to be and every boy wants to be with. Quentin Jacobsen is her next-door neighbour who is in love with her, since he can tell. They are both at school together and Margo is known for her wild ways – to run from home and come back later, to do things that no one would expect her to do and somehow with her all is forgiven. And one night she plans one of her adventures and invites Quentin to be a part of it – it is revenge and they play it well. The next day Margo disappears and the entire school, her family and Q are left wondering, as to what happened.

She in turn has left clues for Q – so she could be found or maybe not, and this is where the story actually begins. This is the plot of “Paper Towns” in short. The writing is just what John Green is used to doing – breaking your heart and making you smile at the same time. There are levels and trails that are magnificently brought out in the writing, which perhaps makes it more than just a teenage romance. For everyone out there, who has read The Fault in Our Stars, you must read Paper Towns. You will love it more. Just like me.

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Book Review: Delicacy by David Foenkinos

Delicacy by David Foenkinos Title: Delicacy
Author: David Foenkinos
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781408827574
Genre: Literary Fiction, Romance, Humour
Pages: 250
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

Once in a while, you chance upon a book, that you just have lying on your shelf and intend reading someday. However, that someday takes a while and when you do read it; you begin to realize that you wasted a lot of time, waiting for that someday. “Delicacy” by David Foenkinos had that impact on me. I kept wondering, why had I missed out on this when I first bought it? Why did I wait for two years to read this book? And all it took me was a six hour bus ride to finish it and come out of the reverie with a big fat grin on my face.

“Delicacy” by David Foenkinos is a charming little book. It is full of joy, happiness; comic moments and at the same time, there is sadness as well. Natalie is a woman who has it all. A great lover, who in turn becomes her husband. A successful job. A life which is fulfilled – more or less and there is nothing she could need or want. Till her life falls apart in one minute, or rather on a fateful Sunday, when the love of her life gets run over by a car and nothing makes sense anymore. And then just like that, life changes again and Natalie sees herself falling for the most unusual man ever. The setting I must mention is the city of romance, the capital of love, Paris. Paris is almost another character in the book – all pervasive and right there, sometimes mocking and sometimes encouraging love, the way it should be.

What I loved about the book was the way it is written but of course. The chapters are short (which I love) and there is no melodrama. It is as real as it could be. There is office romance. There is life going on as usual after the loss of a loved one. There is also the knowing that life may not be the same, but it will change for the better, if you want it to. The other guy – Markus is clumsy and doesn’t know how a woman like Natalie could love him. He may not be her knight in shining armour and yet Foenkinos writing makes him one.

The book speaks of social norms and breaks all of them in one single long sweep. I am not one for romantic books and yet Delicacy is romantic and not so, if you know what I mean. There is a lot of soul to the book. There were times I found myself weeping and with the next turn of the page, I was smiling.

“Delicacy” is maybe one of those rare books that truly come to you when you really want to read something like this. You cannot read it when you wish to. You perhaps have to wait it out, like I did. There will always be such books and the good part is that there will always be patient readers, waiting to be enthralled.

You can watch the trailer of the move here starring Audrey Tautou, one of my favourites. This should also lead you to read this wonderful book.

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Book Review: Tenth of December by George Saunders

Tenth of December by George Saunders Title: Tenth of December
Author: George Saunders
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1-4088-4666-7
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I should be ashamed of myself of not having heard of George Saunders before reading this book. “Tenth of December” by George Saunders is a collection of stories that is brilliant at every single level. The stories are dark, funny and I can safely say that if you ever have to read a short story collection this year, then this will be the book that you will and must read.

George Saunders’ stories shine on every single page with reference to plot, style, imagery and the way his characters turn out to be. The stories are not only dark and funny but also touching. He completes the cycle of storytelling the way it should be done, without making the reader uncomfortable or getting too familiar with emotions displayed. He tunes in the living of today and what has happened in the past, and maybe that is why every single reader would be able to relate to what he writes.

I was a little skeptical about it to begin with. The first story also did not do much for me. However, from the second story on, the entire collection took on a different pace. I loved the title story, “Tenth of December” and only for that alone, I could give it five stars. It is about a character who walks into the December woods wanting to die, before becoming a burden on his family. Stories such as these make you wonder about the power in Saunders’s writing. It breathes everyday living infused with its tragedy and humour.

The entire collection makes you assess and reassess life and very few books manage to do that. The stories are devastatingly beautiful and extremely powerful. Be prepared to take your breath after every story, before moving on to the next one. They reek of the times we live in and a great combination of the hopeful and the hopeless, which works with me as a reader. After all the human condition can never be black or white. Go on and buy the book. Read it and love every word he writes.

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Book Review: Homesick by Roshi Fernando

Title: Homesick
Author: Roshi Fernando
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408826362
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 200
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

When I first started reading, “Homesick” by Roshi Fernando, it came to be like any other book of displaced families and forgotten voices. Of the second generation and third generations, wanting to search themselves and what they stand for. However, though the book did run on these lines, it had a different voice to it.

Homesick is a book of many layers and each layer has a unique and original voice. When I say layers, I but obviously mean the inter-connected stories and at the same time, there is something that tugs at the heartstrings that gives the book the enrichment and understanding it deserves.

Homesick is a collection of seventeen stories – telling the tales of SriLankan immigrants carving out new lives in sometimes warm and a sometimes hostile Britain. The narrative is cohesive and sticks to the larger framework of the book – of alienation and getting to know the new ways of living. At the same time it is contemporary (the issue will always be at hand, no matter what nationality) and complex, being careful about the emotions and voices of characters. There is a silent boy who experiences life through Charlie Chaplin, a man stuck in the aftermath of a war, to a family’s life destroyed by a child’s murder, each story comes together and linked by the theme of cultural displacement and its trauma, so to say.

Roshi Fernando’s writing is crisp and razor-sharp. She does not sugar-coat emotions, though there are moments in the book when she had me laughing or at least smiling at the situation. There is an ambience created by the writer that lingers in the readers’ heads long after one has finished the book. The cast of characters is intricate and appear in more than one story, unraveling themselves, little by little; getting the reader familiar and that is what I love about interconnected stories. The transitions are handled with ease, from one story to another and that is what also makes the book so strong. The questions of identity and belief are still left unanswered, which in a way works to the book’s advantage. All in all, Homesick is an evocative study of what home means and sometimes what is takes to create a new one.

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Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

I bought this book on a lark. Under normal circumstances, I would have probably not read this type of a book. Parenting and I do not come close – sometimes I feel like being a parent and then there are times I think that I may not make a good parent. There is always this doubt that creeps in and stays there. It is not easy being a parent. The balance between authority and leniency is needed and only a parent would know how to work around it or so it seems.

The book is more of a memoir than a handbook on Chinese vs. American Parenting styles, though that was the intent of the author. It is about the author’s way of parenting – The Chinese Style and how it impacts her two daughters – Sophia and Lulu. Amy Chua is a Chinese American, born in the USA to middle-class Chinese parents who had immigrated to the US from China via the Philippines.  A very attractive, intellectually bright, hard working young woman she studied at Harvard Law School. She broke with her family’s expectations when she married a Jewish American who was also a lawyer (Jed Rubenfield, author of the run-away best seller ‘The Interpretation of Murder).  Both she and her husband are Professors of Law at Yale.  They have two daughters, Sophia and Lulu (Louisa), and this book is about her views on parenting and how she has brought them up.

She opens by declaring herself a ‘Chinese’ mother, and by that she means someone who is extremely strict with her children, who demands academic success from them and will make them work for hours on end to achieve it. Second place is never an option, getting an A- is not good enough, straight As are the only thing that counts.  Western parents, she says, even when they think they are strict, never come close and as a result their children never achieve their full potential and become super-successful.

From the moment her daughters were born, she had mapped out a parenting style from which she did not waiver until the girls had reached the targets she had set for them.  She had determined that both girls would play musical instruments, Sophia the piano and Lulu the violin, and what is more, they would be the best at it, and would win awards and accolades.  Simultaneously they had to be top in all academic subjects, no excuses would be tolerated.  This meant a punishingly hard schedule, not just for Sophia and Lulu, but for Amy herself, as she juggled her career as a full time lawyer holding seminars, flying all over the USA, writing legal books, then as an academic, whilst driving the girls for hours from teacher to teacher and then standing over them as they practiced late into the night. Any of the normal aspects of modern childhood in an affluent western society were ruthlessly jettisoned. No sleepovers, no play dates, no TV, no video-games, no joining after-school clubs, Girl Scouts, ballet or drama classes. No participation in the school play or in sports of any kind – all these were considered rubbish by Amy.

Chua doesn’t mince words as a mother. Reading her honest confession, it sometimes comes across as harsh in the ways she addresses her kids. She justifies some of the more painful interactions with proof of the success of her children. Both musiclally gifted, they achieve high honors early in their careers. Chua wouldn’t accept anything less.

It was also clear to Chua to distinguish between “Western” style parenting and Chinese parenting. Here is probably the harshest part of the book, and ultimately why I reduced my rating down a star. Clearly, Chua’s disdain over Western style parenting techniques shows up on many of the pages. She needed to do so to justify her choices as a Chinese parent. However, it runs the risk of alienating some of the audience that would have reacted more kindly to the book. However, Chua is merely being honest. Still, it doesn’t always make for a comfortable read.

One other thing that many “reviewers” miss is the parts of the book outside the realm of parenting. Chua writes lovingly of her decision to allows dogs in the family, which is funny and surprising. Also, the painful recounting of her sister’s fight with leukemia is harrowing and real. I appreciated her putting some of these elements in her story to round it out.

Chua’s voice is hilarious, intelligent, human, aggressive, and insanely blunt. This combination makes her offensive to many people but the way she mocks herself endears her to me. She’s self aware enough to know that she can be wrong and that she can be overly obsessive. I liked the book mainly because it was an entertaining, touching, well written memoir. It also contains insights into Asian culture and values, and into human nature in general. I don’t think it’s intended to be instructional or preachy- she’s not trying to use her memoir as an “Autobiography of Malcolm X”-like call to action. Although I do think Chua thinks she’s right about almost everything and her daughters are amazing, I don’t think she thinks everyone else should strive to be like her, nor do I think her “we must be the best / we are the best” attitude is the message of the book- it’s just her personality. The sheer amount of time and energy she put into the upbringing of her kids and into every project she approaches is staggering (even for an Asian person!), and I think she acknowledges that she’s atypically obsessive and anal, for example when she relates funny anecdotes about how she tried applying her Chinese parenting methods to her fluffy, clueless dog.

As a memoir, Chua’s book is great. Because of her writing, she makes me interested in her life even though she’s not an important historical figure or anything. Her use of language really pushes the humor into the laugh out loud zone for me (for instance she describes the discovery that her dog ranks low in intelligence as “nauseating”). In addition, I relate to a lot of what she’s saying as a Chinese person. For example she proudly asserts for the record that she is the only Asian her husband has ever dated, and she has funny anecdotes about how first generation asians are so frugal they worry about using too much dish detergent. I think her bluntness will offend a lot of people because they take it to mean she is cruel or rude- she’ll use words like “fatty,” “lazy,” and “loser,” words that white people do not use casually in the presence of their children. In contrast many Asians are very ready to use those words and it isn’t meant to just insult for the sake of hurting someone’s feelings. It’s a cultural difference that Chinese people are less tactful and more blunt in their language, particularly when they are talking to family.

One of the best passages in the book is when the author describes her view of where TRUE confidence comes from. She believes that TRUE confidence cannot just be externally given(through repeated praise etc) instead it comes from working hard and persevering at something until you not only pass it, but MASTER it. This is exemplefied in the most controversial part of the book where she forces her daughter to practise the piano for hours without a break until she masters a musical piece. She did go too far here; however the point was that her daughter truly believed she was INCAPABLE of playing the piece. So her confidence grew mountains when she not only made a breakthrough and played it correctly, she mastered it and played it with ease and came to love it. She learned through experience as opposed to the ‘mantra method’ of you can do/be anything you want to be with perseverance and hard effort.

I finished the book in a day and loved the insights. I for once wished that my mother had raised me that way – to be an over-achiever. I somehow and totally agree to Ms. Chua’s style of parenting. It is much needed in the times we live in. Parenting is not easy. The choices we think we make sometimes may or may not always be right, however one has to make them, even if they change or tilt the balance. But then again it is each one to his own. All in all this is a book you should not be missing out on.