Monthly Archives: October 2009

Almost Done – Genesis by Bernard Beckett

Yes…My first challenge book “Genesis” by Bernard Beckett (though I started the challenge about 5-days earlier) is almost coming to an end and I just cannot wait to talk about it to everyone. It is super! It is not something that at least I have read before. Like I said I cannot wait to review it.

Book Meme 2

Hmmm..I had to write another Book Meme. I love them so. I do. I came across this one on so here goes:

  • Grab the Nearest Book
  • Open it to page 56
  • Find the fifth sentence
  • Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions: “Don’t dig for your favourite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one. Pick the CLOSEST!”

Well so the closest book to me right now is “Genesis” by Bernard Beckett. The fifth sentence on Page 56 is:

The Head Examiner waited for her to move into place and then straight went into the next question, as if the break had happened only in her imagination.

I am so so loving this book right now. Can’t wait to post about it.

So Much to Read…

Yes! There is a lot to read and everytime I tell myself, “So little time”. I try and I try and I try. I have given up on television (well almost except for my DVD Movies with my boy). I read when I travel. I read when I wake up. I read when I eat breakfast. In short, I try and read everytime I get the chance to. Does reading alienate you from everything and everyone else? I have often asked that question and always got only one answer: No it does not and the greed to read is only what a fellow-reader will understand, isn’t it?

I mean look at it this way, we hardly have enough time left on this planet (with all the prophecies and not to forget what we have done to ourselves), then might as well spend that time reading, isn’t it? Why bother to waste that precious time on something so trivial like writing a blog post or watching “Julie and Julia”(which by the way I loved. It was one of the few films that I was cosying up to my boyfriend while watching) or doing laundry or looking at the clouds pass by.

I go back in time sometimes. When I was fifteen and I thought I had all the time in the world to read. I used to sit on the Worli promenade (ofcourse skipping school and college) and indulge in – you guessed! Reading! The first time I read, “Wuthering Heights” was beside the sea and that was the first time I fell in love with Heathcliff. I would spend hours at the local coffee shop and read and read till a good-looking man would enter and I would swoon over him for a while and get back to reading. The first time a boy broke my heart, I was reading, “Middlemarch” by George Eliot. When I got my first job, I celebrated by buying Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy” – which by the way I yet have to complete. I know this post is just a ramble, however there are so many memories connected to books.

My first adult novel, “Madame Bovary” was given to me by my aunt and even she was not aware of its contents, considering she had never heard of it or was ever a reader. Not good for her. The two books my mother introduced me to when I turned seventeen were, “The Fountainhead” and “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”. In my family, my mum, my sis and I are the only readers. Sadly enough, my family does not believe in what books do for the mind. Its sad to know that my 10-year old cousin is not aware of his fairy tales or who Enid Blyton is, but he knows the plot of the next soap-opera to be aired on television. I wish more people would read. I wish people understand what its like to hold a book in their hands and smell the pages and cherish and get lost in a different world…Yes! I am lost and I love it!!

Haruki Murakami and Sputnik Sweeheart

So I was all of 21 when I first read, “Sputnik Sweetheart” by Murakami and yes like any other 21 year-old who reads of love, I was blown away. Literally. My mind was in pieces and my heart was trying hard to decipher the writing on the wall. I came out to my folks when I was nineteen, but I guess my coming out was realized to myself when I finished reading, “Sputnik Sweetheart” and not because of the same-sex love overtones in the book. It went at a level deeper than that and I knew it. This post is dedicated to my favourite writer in the whole wide word: Haruki Murakami and his writing.

Sputnik Sweetheart was an eye-opener in almost every sense of the word – the writing was simple and yet tugged at the heart and mind strings to a very large extent. I remember savouring the book, wanting to drown myself in the words and was so apprehensive that it would get over soon. After all it was only 224 pages long and honestly I wanted it to go on and on.

What is the book about you ask? Well, its about Sumire – a 21 year old aspiring writer who is not lesbian and yet somewhere down the line falls in love with another woman. The narrator is Sumire’s friend who loves her. Sumire’s love is Miu who does not love her, at least not the way Sumire does and there starts the disappearance of Sumire and its consequences. It seems a simple story. It is not. Here are some quotes from it. My favourite ones:

“And it came to me then. That we were wonderful traveling companions but in the end no more than lonely lumps of metal in their own separate orbits. From far off they look like beautiful shooting stars, but in reality they’re nothing more than prisons, where each of us is locked up alone, going nowhere. When the orbits of these two satellites of ours happened to cross paths, we could be together. Maybe even open our hearts to each other. But that was only for the briefest moment. In the next instant we’d be in absolute solitude. Until we burned up and became nothing.”

“The answer is dreams. Dreaming on and on. Entering the world of dreams and never coming out. Living in dreams for the rest of time.”

“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”

“So that’s how we live our lives. No matter how deep and fatal the loss, no matter how important the thing that’s stolen from us–that’s snatched right out of our hands–even if we are left completely changed, with only the outer layer of skin from before, we continue to play out our lives this way, in silence. We draw ever nearer to the end of our allotted span of time, bidding it farewell as it trails off behind. Repeating, often adroitly, the endless deeds of the everyday. Leaving behind a feeling of immeasurable emptiness.”

See what I mean! Its unrequited love all the way and may be that’s why I love it so much. I do not know how to end this post. All I know is that for me, Sputnik Sweetheart will always hold that special place in my heart.

An Interview with Alice Eve Cohen

WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW is a great title. What does it mean?

A: At pivotal moments throughout the memoir, there are short sections titled  “What I Know.” In the book, whenever I try to make sense of overwhelming and mystifying events, I make a list of everything I know. But time after time, I find out that the “What I Know” list I’ve come up with is utterly wrong. With twenty-twenty hindsight I realize that what I thought I knew was based on long-held false assumptions. At the end of the book I finally get it right.

Your story is incredible. At age 44, when you thought you couldn’t bear children you discovered you were 6 months pregnant. What were some of your concerns about finding out you were pregnant when you were so far along?

The first six months of my pregnancy were a disaster, in terms of prenatal care and lack thereof. I had been diagnosed as infertile many years earlier, and told never to attempt pregnancy with fertility treatment, as I could never carry a baby past six months. When I started to feel sick, doctors attributed my ailments to early menopause and other conditions related to aging. Six months, numerous x-rays, CAT scans, prescription hormones, and a slew of doctors later, I was raced to an emergency CAT scan for a large abdominal tumor—which turned out not to be a tumor at all. I was 6 months pregnant.

My first reaction was shock, followed by the fear that I would deliver the baby prematurely, which would result in severe disability. I was terrified that I had already injured the fetus by subjecting it to so many terrible risks.

There’s a great deal of humor in your book. Given the immense challenges you faced, how were you able to mine so much comedy?

The comedy in my memoir helped me to write the book. It made me laugh and enabled me to maintain perspective. I want the humor to welcome readers into the story.

My approach to storytelling is to infuse as much humor into the writing as possible. My preferred survival mechanism is to find humor even in the most painful situations. I look for the story value in scary moments, for the absurdity in intolerable predicaments. I take great pleasure in self-mockery. Humor is an appealing unspoken contract with the reader. Audiences will shut down when offered a journey of unmitigated bleakness; they will join you as a partner if you pave the road with humor.

You are in the unique position of having adopted a child and then having one biologically. How are the experiences different? How are they the same?

As every parent knows, raising a child is infinitely complex. Adoption contributes a layer of complexity to the parenting equation, but there are countless other variables. Each of my daughters came into the world with a unique prenatal resume: Julia’s back-story includes adoption; Eliana’s back-story… well, hers is the inciting incident of my book. Julia, now 18 years old, has always had very positive feelings about her adoption. This spring, her adoption story came full cycle when she found her biological mother and visited with her for several days. 

My daughters have both asked me about the relative merits of adoption and biological parenthood. In response, I sing the praises of motherhood—by any method—but readily admit that physically it’s a hell-of-a lot harder to give birth at age 45 than to adopt.

Ultimately, adoption doesn’t change how or how much you love your child. Here’s an excerpt from my book on the subject. This is the “What I Know” list where I finally get it right:

“I love both my daughters.

The one who was planned for, researched, fought for, hard-won, rehearsed for, competed for, and paid for on the not-for-profit Spence Chapin Adoption Agency’s sliding scale.

I love the one who arrived unannounced and impossibly.

I love the one who was adopted, whose birth I observed from a comfortable and pain-free distance.

I love the one who I gave birth to at age forty-five, after forty-seven awful hours of labor.

I love the one whose birth-mother didn’t know about her, until she was 6 months pregnant.

I love the one I didn’t know about, until I was 6 months pregnant.

I love the one who is off-the-charts tall and the one who’s off-the-charts short.

I love the dark-haired one and the fair-haired one.

I love the symmetrical one and the asymmetrical one.

I love the one I desperately wanted, and the one I desperately didn’t want.”

When reading WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW the reader can feel your anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. It’s dramatic. You are a playwright and a solo theater artist. How did this background help you shape the writing and storytelling in the book?

Structurally, my book is deeply influenced by my theatre writing. It’s written in three acts, with an epilogue. Each act is divided into scenes. The action of the scenes is revealed through dialogue, and the reflective narrative throughout the book is akin to solo theatre monologue. The three-act structure gave me a container in which to shape my unruly collection of experiences, thoughts, and feelings into a coherent whole. The dramatic structure also helped me figure out the where my story began and ended—which eluded me for a long time.

My book begins, “Scene 1: Stage Fright. This was going to be a solo show…” I originally thought I would write this story as a solo theatre piece, but I quickly discovered that I wasn’t ready to contemplate performing this story for an audience. It was too raw, too frightening. At that time, three years ago, I could barely talk about the story, no less perform it. Writing a book allowed me to work through my very personal struggle with the material, by removing the terrifying prospect of performing it.

I found it ironic and amusing when my publisher recently asked me to perform a portion of the book for a promotional video. “Um… excuse me, but did you happen to read the first page?” I asked. Luckily, I’d gotten over my stage fright and I found it immensely pleasurable to perform the story for an audience. In fact, I’m now revisiting the idea of creating a solo theatre piece about this story.

Can you describe your writing process for this book?

It took me a couple of years to regain my emotional footing after my unexpected and traumatic pregnancy. It took me much longer to write about it. I tried several times to start writing the story, but couldn’t, and soon stopped writing completely. “This is the story you have to write, and you know it, Alice,” said my bullying subconscious. “Until you figure out how to write it, I won’t permit you to write anything.”

One day, quite unexpectedly, I started writing again—in absolute secrecy.  I spent a year writing with a frenzied urgency, as if under a spell. I had to finish writing the story, or else—I didn’t know what else, but I was sure something bad would happen if I didn’t finish it. I became uncharacteristically superstitious: I was afraid that if I stopped writing for even a day, or if I told anybody I was writing this story, the spell would be broken, and I’d be cursed again with that same demonic and depressing stranglehold of writers block. For a year I didn’t even tell my husband that I was writing the book. That early writing process was something I needed to do for myself, in order to make sense of what had happened, so much of which was still deeply troubling to me. Then I was able to edit, rewrite, and turn it into a book.

This book hits upon real hot button issues including medical and legal. Obviously you can’t go into the specifics of the case, but you reveal in the book that a wrongful life lawsuit was brought. What does this mean?

“Wrongful life” refers to a class of legal cases in which the birth itself is a result of the medical malpractice. You can only sue for wrongful life if the baby has a sickness or disability that will result in expenses over and above the cost of raising a healthy child. Damages are limited to the additional and extraordinary expenses of raising a child with special needs. In the book, I talk about pursuing a wrongful life lawsuit. For legal reasons, I can’t discuss any details about the case or its outcome.

With regard to “hot button” medical issues, I’d be thrilled if the absurd and nightmarish health insurance frustrations I describe in the book could contribute to the current national debate about healthcare, and help to underscore the need for universal health insurance coverage.

Psychologically you experienced pregnancy in a condensed timeframe. Most people plan for their pregnancy and have nine months to mentally come to terms with how their lives will change. You didn’t have that. You had 3 months for your emotions to run the gamut of joy and fear. In WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW you reveal that raw emotion. What was it like?

 Short answer—I don’t recommend it. Nine months of preparation sounds positively luxurious, but with both my daughters I’ve had very little prep time: two months to prepare for Julia’s adoption; three months to prepare for Eliana’s birth. Since I was on bed rest for those three months I had lots of time lying in bed on my left side to think, fantasize, worry, obsess, hope, rage, dream. Act II of my book draws from those highly saturated three months of pregnancy.

What do you want people to take away from reading WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW?

WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW invites readers to observe my pitfalls, fears and triumphs, my stumbling and imperfect attempts to do the right thing. It is a rocky journey that ends at last in a soft, safe landing; a nightmare that ultimately becomes a love story. Perhaps my tale will bring comfort to readers as they reflect on their life trials and their own best efforts to do what is right.

I hope readers will enjoy the book as an exciting and moving story filled with suspense, surprise twists, vivid characters, and unexpected humor. I’ve been told it’s a page-turner, which delights me. (Spoiler alert—it has a happy ending.) I also hope it invites discussion about the topical issues embedded in the events of the book—including the problems with our country’s health care system, and the national dialogue about abortion rights.

As this is a memoir, I’ve written as honestly and candidly as I can about my personal odyssey and about the complexities of motherhood. In my story, there were times when I didn’t recognize myself, times that I feared for my daughter’s life and for my own. Somehow, my family, my marriage, my children and I all survived and thrived, despite (and maybe because of) the storm we weathered together.

I imagine that the book will speak to anybody who has been through difficult times—which of course includes just about everyone. For years, I was unable to talk about my experience. Since writing the book, I have felt hugely relieved, and deeply gratified that readers enjoy and relate to it.

This happened about 9 years ago. How is the baby today?

 The “baby” is nine years old and she’s great. Eliana is phenomenally smart, she has a wonderful, quirky sense of humor, and she’s an awesome fiction writer. She loves animals, donates much of her allowance to World Wildlife Fund, and can’t wait to go back to sleep-away camp, where she has learned to take care of llamas and a variety of barnyard animals. The extra thrill this summer is that her big sister Julia will be a counselor and lifeguard at the same camp. Eliana is finishing up a long and arduous leg-lengthening procedure, the first of two; the second one will be in a few years. She had surgery in November, and she’ll be recovered just in time for camp in August.

 What have you learned from putting your story on paper?

 “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.” Zora Neale Hurston

I chose this quote as the epigraph to my book. Telling stories makes us human. Hurston’s quote has special resonance for stories that are particular to the domain of women. “Bearing an untold story inside of you” evokes the image of a woman’s story as a metaphoric pregnancy. I concur that it is agony to bear an untold story inside of you, and I’ve learned that sharing a story is powerful medicine.