Tag Archives: civil war

The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam

Title: The Story of a Brief Marriage
Author: Anuk Arudpragasam
Publisher: Flatiron Books
ISBN: 978-1250072405
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars


“The Story of a Brief Marriage” is a raw and stark portrayal of a marriage amidst the civil war in Sri Lanka. There, that’s what the book is about. But don’t be mistaken by this one-liner. There is obviously more to the story than just a marriage in time of war. What I could not believe was that this was the author’s debut, only because the skill and craft is way too meticulous and perfect. Also, the backdrop (or perhaps just another character) that is Sri Lanka, adds to the tumultuous nature of this brilliant novel that you just cannot not read.

Dinesh has been evacuated to a makeshift refugee camp as the army advances. He is alienated from home, his family, even from the language he speaks to even his own body. He lives his days without any reaction to what is going on around him (my heart broke to read descriptions of Dinesh in such situation. Arudpragasm does a wonderful job of bringing the real to you as you turn the pages and sometimes too scared to turn them as well) till an old man approaches him and proposes that he marry his daughter Ganga. Marriage in this environment of war seems like safety and the two of them do get married. How they live thereon and make do with circumstances that surround them is what makes the rest of the book or the entire book what it is.

There are so many hopeful moments in the book that sometimes you forget that you are reading a story set in the time of war. Dinesh and Ganga’s banter and silences stay with you and make you wonder how you would react in such situations. Some things as basic such as eating, sleeping, drinking water, breathing, washing or even speaking are touched on with such tenderness in the marriage and the reader is yet well aware of the war that wages outside and its repercussions, that make for an unexpected ending.

Arudpragasm writes with simplicity and honesty that is so at the core that you believe everything he tells you. He also makes you invest your time and emotions in his characters. You feel what they feel, think what they think and also experience fear as they do. The strange and yet assured intimacy between Dinesh and Ganga is sometimes funny and sometimes just heartbreaking. As I reader, while I was aware where the book was headed, I didn’t want it to go there, given how hopelessly a romantic I am.

“The Story of a Brief Marriage” is a short book that doesn’t waste words. The structure, plot and dialogues between characters seem so real that it could very-well be happening in your backyard and you could relate to it just the same. Their world collapses and Anuk makes you feel for them. You are happy for them. You sigh for them and you also cry a lot for and with them. A read not to miss out on.

Book Review: The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride Title: The Good Lord Bird
Author: James McBride
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1594486340
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historic Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always been wary of award-winning books. Something about them, that makes me most skeptical to pick them up and start reading. May be that is why, I get all wired when I start reading an award-winning title. It has happened in the past and I thought it would happen again; however this year’s NBA winner, “The Good Lord Bird” by James McBride took me by surprise. I actually enjoyed reading this, though in parts it did get tedious, but overall, it was an irresistible experience. I would keep the book in-between and immediately get back to it. I had to soak in everything it had to offer.

“The Good Lord Bird” is about a boy – Henry Shackleford (an African-American slave), who is abducted by John Brown (a white abolitionist), following a brawl. We all have heard of John Brown – the zealot, who wanted to abolish slavery in America and succeeded to a large extent. The novel is about Henry also known as Henrietta (as he is mistaken to be a girl by John Brown and his men), and the incidents that occur, as seen through his eyes. He is known as “Onion” by John Brown and that is another name that sticks.

Henry observes people around him as the group is on the move to free slaves, wage wars against people who are Pro-Slaves and think of ways and means to win the battle against slavery. What I found most interesting in the book were the parts of Henry being a girl, and interacting with other white men and people of his own colour. Why is he a girl? Because John Brown mistakes him to be one, given his skin colour and hair texture and that sticks. In order to save his life and be free (which is of a conflicting nature in his head sometimes), Henry pretends to be a girl.

McBride captures an age gone by beautifully through use of language, idiosyncrasies, and description of the landscape. The story moves from Kansas to Missouri and Virginia with great ease and aplomb and so do the characters, as seen by Henry. The writing almost feels real, though you know that most of it is made up or rather all of it is, and yet you cannot help yourself but think of the conversations and incidents to have occurred.

There is a plethora of characters that Henry meets along the way, and they all have a role to play, which McBride executes with great ease and charm. The book is funny in most places and yet there is the tragic aura to it, given the concept of slavery and other issues mentioned. There is a lot of depth of emotion to the book, lend by various characters – from one of the whores in a brothel to John Brown’s sons, to even a couple of Pro-Slavers.

James McBride takes a major chunk of history and makes it his own, which is something very few authors can manage to achieve. Why is the title what it is? For that, you would have to read the book to find out. I can only say one thing, that perhaps this book has to a large extent changed my opinion of award-winning books. It is definitely going to be read again in 2014.

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Book Review: Emily Hudson by Melissa Jones

Title: Emily Hudson
Author: Melissa Jones
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 9780670021802
PP: 360 Pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Price: $25.95
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Written in a combination of narrative and personal correspondence, Emily Hudson is the tale of a beautiful young woman filled with spirit and creativity, who finds herself the dependent of a strict and oppressive uncle after being tragically orphaned. Brought to live at the family’s beach house in Newport she is permitted limited freedom, yet dreams of traveling abroad and exploring her talent for art. Encouraged by her cousin William, she finds a certain amount of contentment and happiness on the Newport shore, especially after meeting the handsome Captain Lindsay.

Emily’s happiness in Newport is shattered when the threat of consumption presents itself and she feels the responsibility to decline Captain Lindsay’s heartfelt petition of marriage. After caring for and witnessing the death of her mother, father, sisters and brother to the terrible disease, Emily can not bare the thought of putting another through such a bitter and tragic experience or risk their health in so doing.

William, ever her champion, brings her to London to study art and improve her health. Yet William’s controlling and demanding persona begins to become too much for Emily and she finds that they are often at odds. Increasingly ill with the effects of consumption and tired of her cousin’s constant tantrums, Emily runs away to Rome where she can surround herself with art and make a life of her own. Fearing her end is near, Emily contemplates her life, her missed opportunity with the man she loved, and an uncertain future.

Emily is a wonderfully well-drawn character and the story is engaging. Over half of Emily’s story is told via the letters that she writes to her loved ones and this is particularly well done. This is a literary historical romance that is passionate and elegantly written.

Melissa Jones is the sister of Sadie Jones, the author of The Outcast and Small Wars and Emily’s story is inspired by the relationship between the novelist Henry James and his cousin Minny.

A sweeping tale of dreams, lies, love and manipulation, Emily Hudson is a highly captivating novel. Jones’ deeply introspective writing style endears you to Emily in a profound way, carrying you through the story as if with a friend.