Monthly Archives: December 2009

Break

To all readers of thehungryreader, I would be on a break starting today – the 24th of December 2009 and would be back only on the 1st of January 2010. Till then here is Wishing you a Merry X’Mas and a wonderful 2010.

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Sula by Toni Morrison

Sula was a re-read for me and it was awesome! It was like tasting your favorite ice-cream sundae all over again. Letting the familiar flavors and fragrances wash all over you while the taste sinks on your taste buds and remains there forever. Sula is like that sundae with loads of nuts and various toppings of regret, friendship, love, betrayal and above all redemption. What made this book even more better was the fact that all the loose ends that were left untied the last time I read it, were complete and made all sense to me this time round.

“Sula” is a world in itself. A world defined by loss and womanhood. A world that is not restricted to Bottom – it could be anywhere and could occur at anytime. This book spans between 1921-1965 taking readers to a journey in the lives of two girls, Sula Peace and Nel Wright as they become friends, share secrets and make their way into womanhood. What I liked about the book was its simplicity – yeah it was simple as would not be generally expected out of Morrison’s’ works.

This 174 page so-called novella shows readers what it is that friendship can sometimes do and sometimes cannot. Sula Peace is one character that is so enigmatic and rich – she leaves her hometown called Bottom (which has a funny yet moving significance in the book) only to return and add to the anger of the residents. Sula is a woman of a different sort. Growing up in a poor black mid-western town, she lives in a home where men often visit, but don’t stay very long. Her grandmother and mother allow men to satisfy their respective sexual desires, but don’t need them in their lives on a permanent basis.

Out of this environment, and through other events in her youth (including ten years in the outside world attending college and living in different parts of the country), Sula arrives back at home as an attractive woman who, like her mother and grandmother before her, “uses” a different man every night to satisfy inner urges but nothing else. There is no love for Sula. She has exercised her freedom and independence by becoming the ultimate “player”, loving and leaving them all over town, married or not. She even loves and leaves her best friend’s husband, destroying both marriage and friendship.

And with nary a care. Until one day when an older man, Ajax, comes calling. He is kind but not possessive. They are a perfect match. They enjoy each other’s company, and they certainly enjoy their time together in bed, but they don’t need each other. They are two free spirits who can love and stay with each other precisely because their partner could care less. That is, until Sula starts to care. When she sets the table for two, cleans house, makes the bed, and “expects” Ajax to show, well, that’s the end of that.

love, love, love,
makes you do foolish things.
sit alone by the phone,
a phone that never rings.
hoping to hear you say
that you love me still,
knowing, knowing, you never will.

Some pretty nasty things happen to and around Sula on the way to her adulthood of free and open choice. In freely bedding any man she chooses, she becomes hated. She is the town pariah. A witch. Evil incarnate. In fact, the whole town measures their worth, their piety in direct contrast to Sula’s evil. She is their yardstick. When she dies, when the yardstick goes away, they have no feedback loop, and fall into evil chaos themselves. Toni Morrison presents a clear view that evil makes us virtuous by comparison. In Sula, the entire town finds virtue by hating Sula.
Sula, was, until Ajax, the only woman in the town who could resist the standard operating procedure, the moral code: “You need a man”. To achieve that level of freedom in her time, she had to become, in many respects, the epitome of evil. Sula has to make some awful choices or sacrifices to be the person she chooses to be, to live her life as she pleases. The young Sula mutilates her own finger with a knife to prove herself a worthy opponent. “If I can do that to myself, what you suppose I’ll do to you?”

Sula has many layers – I feel that the book was written with much integrity and a lot of afterthought. Toni Morrison observes the racial issues with such strength and vigor that the portrayal of which in the book is breathtaking. We also meet characters from her earlier books such as Tar Baby and the Deweys – which do have their significance in the book – only that it is lost after a certain point. The central link though is a drunk lost war fellow called Shadrack who comes across very strongly celebrating “Suicide Day”. Toni Morrison uses Sula to help the reader analyze the conditions that have created Afro-American life in America. The picture is not always appealing, but there are some clear issues available for deep empathy and discussion.

The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt

There is a lot of chat in Hustvedt’s new novel. Erik is a psychotherapist with some difficult clients, he’s just divorced, and is falling for the young single mum, Miranda, in the flat below.

His sister, Inga, was married to a famous writer, Max, who has recently died, and they chat about what it’s like to be in love with a writer and how you kind of fall in love with them through their writing.

And then there is Miranda’s ex, who is stalking her but using the surreptitious photos he takes in an art exhibition, which kind of makes it OK. And Inga is sort of being blackmailed by one of Max’s old lovers, which is distressing.

This all, of course, happens in New York – mostly in Brooklyn – as they each weigh in with intelligent theories on the nature of their own dreams and on the morality of their own stories. And the miracle is that Hustvedt manages to make her characters engaging and her novel absorbing rather than irritating; this examining of our inner lives is what she does so well and makes reading her feel like such an intimate, personal treat.

This is a short review for sure, however there is more to come. I read this book with great trepidation since I did not know what to expect from this writer. I had not read, “What I Loved” and had no clue about her other works. However after reading this one, I cannot wait to read more of what she has written and what is waiting to come. A gem of a book.

One Note Symphonies by Sean Brijbasi

…on many levels this book is weird, yet fulfilling describing loneliness, love, hidden passions, flaunting emotions, creating a mirage at times and then again leaving the reader baffled asking for more…

the stories in this debut are simply amazing! starting with “diary of a composor” to the very last “the etymology of the swedish quen” the stories travel back and forth sometimes in time and at others on a higher evolved self-level. while reading this book, way too many thoughts crossed my mind…some happy and some sad…but they were so connecting to what I was reading…

reading this book was like painting a plain canvas with so many varied colours – sometimes of a heartbroken lover, some of a failed marriage, others of napolean’s achievements, then forwarding to brushings with elephant pieces…

one last thing: Do not under any circumstances fail to read this book!!

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I happened to read The Bell Jar for my book group discussion for the month of November and instantly fell in love with the book. More than anything else I think it was Esther and her descriptions that absolutely gripped me from the very first word.

While reading the book, many times I tried to question my own sanity and what I was going through and quite surprisingly this book I felt dealt with so many issues that we all go through some or the other time in our lives. Esther’s struggle with issues and people around her gave me an inkling into what was I facing with people around me. It’s not more of madness than being sane that made me love this book and what it stands for – probably suffocation, probably the need to get away so many times when we are unable to do so. The probability of meeting someone nice and sensitive which never really works that way.

Grappling with oneself and situations can be quite a thing to undertake. Most of the times, many of us choose to push things under the rug without paying attention to our thoughts and problems. Esther on the other hand chooses to look inside and find answers which probably is best summed up in the following lines from the book,

“How did I know that someday–at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere–the bell jar, with it’s stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”

This quote becomes all the more poignant when one discovers that only a month after The Bell Jar, her first novel, was published, Sylvia Plath took her own life. One wonders if things would have been different had she lived today. All in all The Bell Jar is one of the books in my life, which I will never let go…