Monthly Archives: February 2010

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

Ok so I am amongst those readers who did not read, “Eat, Pray, Love” and now I want to, and that’s primarily because I have finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book, “Committed”. As the title pretty much suggests that this book is about marriage and what does it entail being married or divorced to a person.

Elizabeth had just gone through a terrible divorce at the beginning of “Eat, Pray, Love” and had just about started living life to the fullest with Felipe, a Brazalian Born Man of Australian citizenship – who she found at the end of the book. They were looking forward to their new life and swore fidelity in its truest form to each other. However, it was not as easy as it would seem for them. The United States Government gave them a simple choice: Either get married or Felipe would never be allowed to enter the country again, and this is where Committed begins.

Felipe is packed off out of the country and he and Elizabeth meet a lot outside the country and this is where she researched not only on the so-called holy history of matrimony and how has it come to be what it is today, but also gain an introspective version of what it really means to her and the people she knows.

The book is spread over eight chapters and each chapter deals with a different perspective on marriage. The first one for instance speaks of the surprises (or rather shocks) that it holds, the second of expectations, the third of its history (which is quite an eye-opener in more than one way), the fourth on infatuation with the loved one, the fifth on women and their role in wedlock, the sixth on autonomy and marriage, seventh on subversion and last but not the least on the ceremony.

I must say that I started reading this book on a lark. I was not expecting anything out of it, because I had been warned by a very dear friend not to read, “Eat, Pray, Love” and here I was embarking on reading about marriage, which was ironic as it will be years before my boyfriend and I can get married in our country. I am so excited that I read this book. It speaks of marriage without attaching any melodrama to it. Its direct and calls a spade a spade. Elizabeth does not hesitate to write what she honestly feels about marriage and what it does to her. I love that and so will other readers as it comes directly from the heart and the mind. There is no mincing of words here.

For instance, here is her stance on gay weddings:

Still it is true that many same-sex couples want nothing more than to join society as fully integrated, socially responsible, family-centred, taxpaying, Little League-Coaching, nation-serving, respectably, married citizens. So why not welcome them in?

And here is my personal favourite on expectations:

Or, at least, perhaps I was asking too much of marriage. Perhaps I was loading a far heavier cargo of expectation onto the creaky old boat of matrimony than that strange vessel had ever been built to accommodate in the first place.

And the story continues with a woman’s journey to discovering Marriage as a sanctimonious institution. The need to know what is it all about (I love that because she was married once which ended badly and yet the need to know more because you know then person is right, don’t you?), what it means to take vows or is it just something that you do as part of a ceremony?

I am going to recommend this book to everyone I meet who ever wants to get married – only because we have a long way to go before we fully realize what it is all about and may be this book will help. In the meanwhile, I think I am going to read, “Eat, Pray, Love”.

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The Life of Saint Nicholas by R.O. Blechman

One of these days I am going to ask Mr. Blechman what goes through his mind when he comes up with such beautiful works. Life of Saint Nicholas is a delightful little book. The reason I love reading Mr. Blechman’s works is they relieve me of any stress in the business of day-to-day living.

Life of Saint Nicholas

An Italian man comes across the text for the life of Saint Nicholas while he is taking his dog for a walk. It all starts with the Roman baby being born with magical powers – he can bend cutlery, transform wine into vinegar and vinegar to wine, he is the miracle baby who eventually grows up to be the miracle man.

I was first introducted to Mr. Blechman through Talking Lines and I only want to read more of what he does. I want to see his cute-like cartoons and the relevancy in our times.  

This is a must read for people of all ages. I sure loved it and I know so will you. It is minimilastic in its illustration and story telling. It is just a re-telling of what we have heard of saints. A read I will treasure for a long time to come.

Guest Post by Robin Maxwell

I am so thankful to Robin for writing this guest post on how she came up with the idea of  O, Juliet. It is a brilliantly written book and she is an amazing person to know. Thank you Robin.

I had been desperately trolling around for months after finishing SIGNORA DA VINCI, a project that was so research-intensive I thought my head was going to explode. That book was a hard act to follow with its rich, colorful real-life characters and civilization-changing events. Also, I was distressed to realize that with so many historical fiction authors out there (so many more than when I started in 1997) that all the well-known historical figures had been done and done to death, and every waiting lady, royal cousin, seamstress, confectioner and bastard child had also been snatched up for a book. How was I going to be original in this climate?

Then I read that that Susan Fraser King had written a historical fiction called LADY MacBETH. That stopped me in my tracks. “Brilliant!” I thought, “Use a literary figure instead of an historical one.” I had loved Sena Jeter Naslund’s AHAB’S WIFE (a wonderful adventure and beautifully drawn heroine gleaned from a single reference in Melville’s MOBY DICK about Captain Ahab’s wife). But why go any farther than Shakespeare? It took me another split second to come up with “Romeo and Juliet” for myself, only the most romantic tale ever told. I’d always wanted to write a great love story. And best of all, I realized with more than a touch of disbelief, nobody had ever written it as a novel. It took place close to the period and in the same part of Italy as SIGNORA DA VINCI, so I wasn’t going to have to kill myself with research. It was an easy-peasy pitch to my agents and publishers. Everybody LOVED the idea from the first moment.

I decided from the get-go that I was not going to compete with Shakespeare. How could I? He, in fact, had stuck pretty closely to the basic story points — hard to call them “facts” — that the three Italians short story writers had used in the century before him. But the Bard invented Juliet’s nurse, and Paris (the young man Juliet was betrothed to), and gave the helpful cleric (Friar Lawrence) and Juliet’s cousin whom Romeo kills (Mercutio) names and distinct personalities.

I took similar liberties, going even further. I lost Juliet’s nurse altogether, as my Juliet is four years older than Shakespeare’s heroine. Besides, I wanted my Juliet to have more freedom to move around and see Romeo privately. I made her cousin a character who is much more central to the action and a closer family member than Mercutio had been. My friar (Bartolomo) is a well-known figure in Florence and tied into my Dante sub-plot. And since I’m a firm believer in really bad “bad guys,” I created the character of Jacopo Strozzi to replace Paris as Juliet’s family-approved suitor, even giving him a “dragon lady” mother.

Shakespeare’s play takes place over a few days. I felt that was not nearly enough time to expand my characters, add scenes of Romeo’s peace-making between the families Monticecco and Capelletti (both names from the older Italian short story), get to know Romeo’s wonderful parents, give Romeo a calling that he loved (olive growing), and situations in which Juliet and her best girlfriend can confide in each other.

Lucrezia Tornabuoni (that girlfriend) is a major addition, and one of my favorites. Those of you who read SIGNORA DA VINCI (that takes place several decades later than O, JULIET) will remember her as the fabulous mother of Lorenzo de’ Medici and materfamilias of that powerful Florentine family. Here she is an 18 year old girl on the verge of her marriage, and a devoted friend to Juliet. Extremely bright, though rather conservative and conventional, she is frequently freaked out by Juliet’s outrageous behavior.

So you can see I didn’t feel constrained by Shakespeare’s play, or the Italian short stories. I just freely used what worked for my purposes and left the rest “on the cutting room floor.” I’m sure I’ve ruffled a few feathers, but that was a risk I was wiling to take, and I’m confident that there’ll be plenty of readers who will be happy with my take on the iconic legend.

Like so many of my historical characters, Juliet is a woman ahead of her time, someone courageous enough to take chances and buck convention, particularly in her passionate drive to find a marriage for love (something unheard of in her society). And like all my heroines, Juliet is well-educated (also not common among women of her time) and her educated, discerning, cultured mind is central to her character. I didn’t feel it was hard to convey it in the writing. I wonder if those qualities come across in the reading.

You might wonder why I linked the works of Dante Alighieri to the story.  While I was doing the research for SIGNORA DA VINCI I kept running across references to Dante. EVERYBODY idolized him, read him, quoted him and if they were writers, emulated him. He was responsible for making the Italian language acceptable in literature and poetry (as opposed to Latin). When I was creating my characters and their relationships I tried to remember what was at work while I was falling in love with Max (we’ve just celebrated 26 years of marriage), and I recalled that besides a strong physical attraction, we found we shared a passion for certain music, yoga and human anatomy (don’t ask!). In Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet had a physical attraction for sure, but beyond their “love at first sight,” there didn’t seem to have much else going on. It worked perfectly in a story in which everything takes place in a few days. There was no time for any real getting to know each other.

So I put all those factors together, decided Romeo and Juliet needed “common ground” on which to play out their burgeoning romance, and realized that a love of Dante was perfect. I made the two of them amateur poets (which kind of scared me when I realized I had to write poems in both their voices). But the greatest benefit to me was that I got to use so much of Dante’s love poetry. It gave my book a rich literary pedigree I wouldn’t ordinarily have had. His words are really beautiful and I, think, accessible and relevant today.

I would recommend reading the slim volume VITA NUOVA (New Life) and Dante’s biography, THE LIFE OF DANTE written by Boccaccio. THE DIVINE COMEDY, THE INFERNO is a masterpiece and Dante’s most famous work, but it’s pretty grim and hasn’t got much to do with love.

Thank you so much for inviting me to share my thoughts with your readers.  I hope you enjoy reading the book that was such a joy writing, O, JULIET.

Warm wishes,

Robin

My Top 10 Fictional Heroines

Yes! Yes! and Yesses some more…I have been waiting to write this post for a very long time now and finally I will, about my Top 10 Heroines in Fiction. They are brash and sassy and know no boundaries. They are independent and live on their terms and conditions. They know no rejection or fear, and yet they love with a passion unknown to men. These are women I have admired growing up and love them to tiny bits. Here goes:

1. Catherine Earnshaw: No where can I find such a heroine who is mad with love for Heathcliff and yet hates him with a vengeance. She hopes he dies at one point in the book and regrets it so much. Catherine is a woman of contradictions and vulnerability – the irony kills me everytime I read “Wuthering Heights”. She is free spirited and beautiful, but can also be spiteful and arrogant. She is a wild animal and sees herself only with her one true love – Heathcliff.

“It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and [Edgar’s] is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.” -Catherine Earnshaw, Chapter IX

2. Dominique Francon: She is a smoldering siren. The one who Roark rapes and she loves it. She is the woman behind the sole standing man, Howard Roark. I believe she is the fountainhead of the book, who wants to keep everything sacred in her man, who rather destroy him herself than let him be taken advantage of by the world. Such is Dominique Francon.

I wish I had never seen your building. Its the things that we   admire or want that enslave us, Im not easy to   bring into submission.

3. Miss Havisham: There is nothing more beautiful in a character than unspeakable obsession. The bridal dress is never removed. She is waiting for her groom to the verge of madness. The random nature of her revenge is not so random after all. She drives Estella to hate men. I love this character. She is a lady with a heart and its broken.

4. Becky Sharp: She lives up to her name. Her wit and sharp edge of sarcasm makes Vanity Fair a delicious read. She is witty, sexy and sandy-haired. Becky is from an impoverished background and makes no qualms about it. She is hungry – for rich men and power.

Revenge may be wicked, but it’s natural

5. Anna Karenina: From the time we are first introduced to her on a railway coach to the time she has an affair with Vronsky to her ultimate death at the very station where she first lands in the book, Tolstoy knew she would be his greatest heroine and she was. No one can touch the honesty of Anna.

6. Madame Bovary: Alright, bring out your little black books and please do not let them be provincial as Madame is in the house. It must have been difficult to please three men in one book, but not for this one. She epitomised beauty, slander, sexual desire and above all the act of being human. You go girl!

7. Emma: Jane Austen’s Emma is so very human. She is always plunging into such embarrassing mistakes – and yet they’re the mistakes one longs to make oneself, like telling the tediously garrulous Miss Bates to shut up. And, bless her, she is truly ashamed when she does, because she is actually very nice. Nicer than I am by a long way.

8. Sumire: She is not known to many (just like the way she would have liked it). She wants to be a writer and gets lost for the love of a woman. She is passionate and does not know how to dress well. She is the object of affection of K who can never have her. Loosely put, she is the best. You have to read Sputnik Sweetheart to believe what I am saying. Trust me.

9. Scarlett O’Hara: Try as I might I cannot ignore this cat. She had it all – the style, the attitude and the ambition. She wanted what she got, well most of the time. She could make clothes out of curtains and look stunning. According to me, Scarlett could have done anything. Anything at all.

10. Holly: Who can forget her at all? I for one cannot. From being Lulu Mae to Holly – the life of a party, to a call girl who has to but make her money. Holly Golightly was everything that Capote ever wanted to be and he made her come alive in more than one way.

You know those days when you’ve got the mean reds…. the blues are because you’re getting fat or maybe it’s been raining too long.  You’re sad, that’s all.  But the mean reds are horrible.  You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don’t know what you’re afraid of.  Except something bad is going to happen, only you don’t know what it is. 

And these are my women…No not jezebels. They are only human, in their defense…You’re always a woman to me…

Authors I Love: #2 Charles Dickens

Yes I admit there was a point that I hated reading Dickens. I loathed him as I would only be gifted his books as a child (little did adults know back in the day) and I was not the one to read about orphans and their miserable lives. Trust me, I had my own problems growing up. Till I read “Great Expectations” and from there on Dickens became an author who I loved and still do. From Ms. Havisham’s loneliness to Estella’s cold cold gaze to Pip’s helplessness and the need to rise in the world is what marvelled me in the book. I think this is Dickens best work ever, though I am also a sucker for “A Christmas Carol” and “David Copperfield”. But having said it all, Dickens does rule in some eerie sort of way – in the back alleys of London and in the hearts of scoundrels.

Here are few of my favourite quotes from Great Expectations:

So,’ said Estella, ‘I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me

Also, when we played at cards Miss Havisham would look on, with a miserly relish of Estella’s moods, whatever they were. And sometimes, when her moods were so many and so contradictory of one another that I was puzzled what to say or do, Miss Havisham would embrace her with lavish fondness, murmuring something in her ear that sounded like, “Break their hearts my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy!”

Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts.

I’ll tell you what real love is. It is blind devotion, unquesitoning self humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter–as I did
Need I say more about this book and its author. I always wondered if most of Dickens’ works was based on the way he lived his life. Probably so. I cannot wait to read his biography by Peter Ackroyd though.