Tag Archives: debut

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum Title: A Woman Is No Man
Author: Etaf Rum
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0062699763
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

So here’s the deal with this book: Either people have loved it or didn’t like it at all. I belong to the category of readers who loved it. What the book encompassed for me really was that sometimes you have no choice, no matter how hard you try.

While a part of me, vehemently opposes the idea, there’s a part of me that also agrees. I also believe that circumstances play a major role in deciding what you choose or vice-versa: You choose and your choices create those circumstances. Essentially, it is majorly about the deck of cards life hands you as well, but most people would not consider that.

A Woman Is No Man is a book that is also not easy to read. There will be a point in the book when you will question, challenge, and get angry at the characters for behaving the way they do, but I also think as a reader one must look at the larger context and picture, to be able to separate emotions from the text (sometimes) and look at things more objectively. After all, the story is about one large culture and how it looks at its women and treats them.

It might also seem like a book that you have read in the past, but what makes it different is the voice. Rum’s voice is hers alone and cannot be replicated at all. The book is a mother/daughter story. Through the mother Isra, and her daughter Deya we see the harsh reality of the Palestinian Muslim culture and how it remains unchanged over time, unless challenged, even in modern-day Brooklyn. Some that occurs in the past, and some in the present. There is a lot of domestic violence in the book – in the sense that it is even the focus. So if you think you cannot handle it, then perhaps this read isn’t for you just yet.

At the same time, I was also thinking of the book appealing to a white audience perhaps a lot more because of the content, context, and the uniqueness of culture. However, having said that I firmly believe that this story is universal, even if the so-called “uniqueness” is removed from it. Yes, at times I also felt that the characters were one-dimensional but to my mind, the plot is so good that it doesn’t matter. And yes, Isra might have been one-dimensional but there are a lot of times I could also see her burst through the pages with gumption, but those moments were very rare.

For a debut, Etaf Rum has hit this book out of the park. Fareeda for instance, who is Deya’s grandmother (paternal) is a character that has so many layers to her – that you want more of her and you get that as well. I cannot give away more at this time, but you have to read it to understand what I am talking about.

Having said this, the overall treatment of women in the book is a little hard to stomach. Isra’s mental and physical abuse at the hands of her husband and his family get to you. There were times I just couldn’t bear to turn the page. The book in a way also deals with what value women place on themselves to be able to take a stand. What I loved was the character of Deya (Isra’s daughter). How she views the world differently, and treat situations despite not knowing where she belongs – she wants to experience her Americanness but is bound by the culture of her parents and grandparents.

A Woman is No Man is a book that will definitely make you think about people, more so women who come from different cultures to the US of A in the hope of a better life, and what goes on behind closed doors. It is the kind of book that also grows on you, frustrates you as well (but naturally more so if your culture and point of view is different), will make you question the world around you (perhaps), and also help you find some solace in its pages.

 

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

Tangerine by Christine Mangan
Title: Tangerine
Author: Christine Mangan
Publisher: Ecco, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062686664
Genre: Literary Fiction, Suspense
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

I am a sucker for literature in an exotic setting. Also, when it is a thriller that is set in a location so removed. That was the case with “Tangerine”. It is racy, sparse and written the way a noir novel should be – atmospheric, dark and gritty to the bone. Having said that, there are also portions in the book that seem to drag and not go anywhere, but the prose is just as brilliant.

“Tangerine” is a story about Alice Shipley, who has moved to Tangier with her new husband John. Enter, her once upon a time close friend and roommate Lucy Mason who she least expected to see there, given the circumstances in which the fallout occurred. Things but of course go haywire with Lucy’s presence. She is as usual controlling. Alice sees herself dependent on her a lot more. One fine day John suddenly disappears and Alice finds herself questioning everything and everyone around her.

This is the plot of the book. Sure there is more, but I am not going to give any spoilers. The writing has its moments of brilliance and then sometimes you think it isn’t going anywhere, but it redeems itself right back. Mangan creates and builds on an entirely new Tangier in tandem with where the story is set. It is that of the mind – place is again of great importance in Alice’s mind and even Lucy for that matter, which shines through the book.

“Tangirine” when I started reading it felt like just another book that I had read in the past. Thakfully, it wasn’t that. You need to give it a chance past fifty pages for sure for the book to grow on you. It is the kind of book that builds on everything rather slowly, but once it does, it sure does make an impression and stays.

 

 

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

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“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.

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard Title: The Deep End of the Ocean
Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard
Publisher: Penguin USA
ISBN: 9780140286274
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 434
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

I have always been a fan of the books Oprah has recommended on her book club. It all began in 2001 I think and since then I have read some of the old ones recommended by her and some of the old ones. This year I decided to read all the books chosen by her – one after the other. What better place to start than the very beginning, isn’t it?

The beginning came in the form of a dark, depressing and quite a hopeful book called, “The Deep End of the Ocean” by Jacquelyn Mitchard. When you read it, you cannot believe it is her debut. It is a story of a mother and her child and about every mother’s worst nightmare.

Beth Cappadora is at her school reunion, all ready to check-in to her room, only to turn around and realize that her 3-year old son is missing. Everything changes in a split second. Her relationship with her husband, her children, her relatives, all of it – it just goes to smoke as she perpetually is in a grieving mode.

I could not turn the pages enough of this one. It had me stuck from the word go. I would also suggest that you do not watch the movie of the same book as it just does not do justice to the book. While reading the book though, I felt myself grieving with Beth – almost scared to turn the page, to want good things to happen to her and her family.

Mitchard’s writing is so simple and yet so heart-wrenching that if you are a parent you wouldn’t want to even imagine what would happen if this were to happen to you.

“The Deep end of the Ocean” does not disappoint one single bit. This was another book for which I shouldn’t have waited this long. I should have read it sooner. However, better late than never I guess.

Next up on the Oprah Book Club Selection: #2 Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. This will be a reread for me.

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The Deep End of the Ocean: A Novel

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh Title: My Sunshine Away
Author: M.O. Walsh
Publisher: Putnam, Penguin USA
ISBN: 9780399169526
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 307
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are books that open universes up for you. There are books that make you see life differently and make you realize that maybe growing-up is so much more than what meets the eye. It is about decisions, choices and consequences. For me, off-late there was a growing-up book that had that kind of impact the way “My Sunshine Away” by M.O. Walsh has had and in the truest sense of the word, I cannot even call it just a coming-of-age book when there is so much more to it. Also, let me add here that this is a debut novel that will knock you off your feet.

“My Sunshine Away” is set in the late-eighties in Baton Rouge, in Southern USA. It starts with a crime – the rape of a fifteen year-old girl Lindy Simpson and that is when life changes for the entire town. The idyllic suburbia is no longer what it used to be or what its residents perceived it to be. The narrator of the story was fourteen when the crime took place and he loved Lindy and how the crime and the events that followed changed him completely. The book delves deep into the psychology and limitations of human emotions and what it means to be human more than anything else.

What makes this book so different is the way it is structured. It is not just another coming-of-age story nor is it just another mystery, nor is it just another literary fiction debut. There is to more what meets the eye in this book. There are secrets that people living in every place keep to protect their loved ones. It is a lament to growing-up and innocence lost. There is a lot of guilt laced on the pages of this book, not to forget love in its purest and not-so-purest forms.

The element of the Louisiana mystery is all-pervading and almost delicious as the novel unfolds. It is a part of the story for sure but there is something else to it. The late-eighties and early-nineties nuances are captured to every single detail – the late night conversations to watching a TV show at a designated time to unfolding mysteries about yourself as you grow-up to becoming an adult from a teenager.

M.O Walsh’s prose is biting in most places and so tender in the others. There is a good mix of empathy and cruelty that shines from the pages. The book makes you realize and mull over vulnerability and what safety means. “My Sunshine Away” I think in most ways just holds a mirror to the way we live and how we really are. The book wants to make you believe in so many things nice about life and at the same time makes you see the dark places as well. I for one could not stop turning the pages on this one and highly recommend it to one and all as their next read this summer.

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