Daily Archives: May 16, 2012

Book Review: The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

Title: The Land of Decoration
Author: Grace McCleen
Publisher: Chatto and Windus
ISBN: 978-0-701-18682-1
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 291
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Land of Decoration starts off as a strange book. About a girl, her father and their staunch religious beliefs. At the core of it, it is a battle of good and evil at times, about the choices we make and how we can pretty much differentiate, and the times when everything clouds over and we aren’t able to make the right decisions.

Judith McPherson is a 10-year old girl raised by her widowed father to believe they are living the end of days. They go out canvassing neighbourhoods, passing out religious pamphlets, wanting to educate people about the coming Apocalypse. They read the Bible every night and ponder over it. Judith’s father has no time for her besides these set activities. They visit Church and that is that. Judith is lost in her own land of questions and answers. She builds things from garbage and scraps, almost a whole new town she calls, “The Land of Decoration” in her room, as there is no access to TV or books, as laid out by her father. The entire made-up town represents where she lives and people she meets. The only solace she finds from school bullies and a life without her mother is in this land.

One day, due to the scare of a school bully Neil Williams, Judith prays and hopes it snows in the middle of October. She prays against all hope and creates snow through paper and glue on her made-up land. She wakes up to snow next morning and school is cancelled. She continues this for another day and believes God is speaking to her. Is God really speaking to her? Or is it just her faith? Things take a severe turn for her at school and at home Judith exacts revenge (or teaches Neil a lesson). Neil and his friends’ tyranny reach Judith’s home. Judith’s father has problems at work that involve Neil’s father Doug.

Judith has choices to make: Should she listen to so-called God that speaks with her or give up her so-called magical powers to set things right?

The constant struggle of faith and doubt is the crux of this book. Judith’s beliefs or not form the structure. It is interesting how Grace McCleen takes us in the head of a 10-year old and makes us explore her thoughts and emotions. Questions like, What about faith? What does it mean to you?, and more enter the reader’s mind.

I could not believe it was Grace McCleen’s first novel. The writing is descriptive and sets the tone of the book in almost every chapter. The novel is delightfully inventive and unusual. Judith’s voice sometimes is sad but honest. The book more or less reminded me of “Room” by Emma Donoghue which also had a child as the narrator and was set in unusual circumstances as well.

The Land of Decoration is a fresh and original debut, which definitely will keep you wondering about certain elements of faith and religion. An interesting read for sure.

Here’s my favourite part in the book:

“Miracles don’t have to be big, and they can happen in the unlikeliest places. Sometimes they are so small people don’t notice. Sometimes miracles are shy. They brush against your sleeve, they settle on your eyelashes. They wait for you to notice, then melt away. Lots of things start by being small. It’s a good way to begin, because no one takes any notice of you. You’re just a little thing beetling along, minding your own business. Then you grow.”

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Book Review: The Submission by Amy Waldman

Title: The Submisssion
Author: Amy Waldman
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-1-250-00757-5
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 337
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It isn’t easy sometimes to write a book review about a book that has had a huge impact on the way you think and what you believe in. Very few books manage to achieve that and The Submission by Amy Waldman did just that for me.

The premise of the book is simple on the surface: It has been two years after the 9/11 attacks. There is a contest for a 9/11 memorial where the World Trade Center once stood tall, bringing with it all the thoughts, fears and anger of NY citizens to surface. The contest submissions are made. The winner is “Mo”, a regular American architect, born and raised in Virginia. There is one slight setback. Mo is short for Mohammed Khan – son of immigrant parents and that is where the problems start to arise, but of course.

The contest jury consists of Claire – the wealthy widow whose husband died in the attacks, and a key juror at that. She is pro for Mohammed and at the same time doesn’t understand why she cannot be more assertive when the media and general public makes too much of Mo’s selection. On the other hand there is Asma, the Bangladeshi widow whose husband, an illegal immigrant, worked as a janitor in the building and was killed.

There is the side of the press hounding on the story and wanting to take advantage of the “scoop”. There is the side of the general public in the form of the Gallagher family who lost their son in the attacks.

Amy Waldman writes with a sort of detachment that is needed for a topic as sensitive as this. For me, there was a point when I choked on certain passages, but that was because of the intensity of the subject matter and the writing.

The novel is extremely strong in its depiction of no solution to this matter in the real world. The title does not just refer to the submission of the design and the contest. It goes deep. For instance, Mo’s submission or not to the decisions made, Claire’s submission to some members of the jury and most of all, the submission of public to fear or not. The book is not always about religion and culture, it also veers to art. What is the importance of art in our society? Even if it represents memory. What place does it deserve?

The Submission is written with reality that will not allow you to forget it that easily. There is no ploy or gimmick here. The reader succumbs to the book because it strikes a chord somewhere. Amy Waldman takes no sides while writing the book. She is as neutral as neutral can be. The Submission made me see different points of view. The emotion of course is that of an outsider if you have not faced the situation, however one can connect to it because of the strong writing and dialogue that comes across and makes readers think way after the book has ended.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

“Nothing in life gets dropped without someone else having to pick it up.”

“Jealousy clings to love’s underside like bats to a bridge.”

“Sorrow can be a bully”

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