Tag Archives: Faith

Acts of Infidelity by Lena Andersson. Translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel

Acts of Infidelity Title: Acts of Infidelity
Author: Lena Andersson
Translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel
Publisher: Other Press
ISBN: 978-1590519035
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I love how some authors treat the subject of infidelity in their books and what is infidelity in this time and age of polyamorous relationships? Does it even exist? Hold any value? Sure it does and it is all about the people in the relationship/s after all.

Acts of Infidelity by Lena Andersson, translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel is a book about Ester Nilsson, writer and poet, who very quickly gets involved in an affair with a married actor, Olof Sten. She hopes he will divorce his wife and marry her. Olof is very clear about him not ever leaving his wife. He also does not object to Ester’s advances and continues the affair. The affair lasts for several years and the book is the account of that affair.

As I read the book, I found both these characters to be utterly selfish and callous in their behaviour. One knows that she can never get him so to say and continues to pursue him, no matter what. Olof basks in the attention and glory, shrugging every ounce of responsibility of the affair.

Andersson makes us see the roles we assign to women and absolve men of all responsibility. Her writing focuses on the woman being the mistress and the man nothing, so much so as going far to not even acknowledge the relationship. The writing is nuanced, racy, sentimental, and at the same time raises so many issues that you can’t help but wonder why you empathised with Olof at some point in the book. This is to me the brilliance of Andersson’s writing then to make you empathise with a character initially and then make you see under the layers of hypocrisy and who he really is at the heart of things.

The translation by Saskia is on point. She captures the frustration, ethos, confusion, and even the cruel way society boxes women as either wife or mistress in a very nuanced manner. The double standards come alive and how the book smartly raises the issues of love, faithfulness, and ultimately looks at the cheating from a feminist point of view. Acts of Infidelity is a book that is not easy to shake off once you are done with it. It is the kind of book that will also make you question the way you think or feel when confronted by such situations, either through your experience or someone else’s. A definite read for our times.

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino

2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino Title: 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas
Author: Marie-Helene Bertino
Publisher: Crown
ISBN: 978-0804140232
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Blog For Books/Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is one of those books that stun you. They take you by surprise and you do not really know what got into you. You do know that you loved reading it and cannot stop talking about it to people. “2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas” is a book that demands your attention and once it has it, it does not let go, till you have finished the book.

I remember reading about this book somewhere and I so wanted to read it and when I did, I fell in love with it. Marie-Helene Bertino writes with such simplicity and makes you want to believe in all things nice and hopeful. Her characters are despairing, but never let go of hope and what it takes to be alive. There are odd moments in the book and yet what they only do is uplift you.

“2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas” is a magical story. It is a story of three lives, colliding by coincidence; chance, by serendipity on Christmas Eve eve. The action takes place in Philadelphia. We all know how a city becomes a character in so many books and it is the same in this one as well.

There is a nine-year old Madeleine, who has recently lost her mother. She is clueless in the world. She smokes (yes for a nine-year old, I was taken aback but then got in the groove of the book). She wants to sing. She is obsessed with Jazz. At the end of the spectrum is her teacher, Sarina, who is recently divorced and something is soon going to happen to her. The third character is Lorca, the owner of The Cat’s Pajamas – a legendary jazz club, which is soon going to slip away from him. These three characters come together to discover love, life, happiness and hope.

The characters that meet each other in the course of a day and night are marvelous. There are other characters as well besides these three that add to the plot and drive the story forward. What struck me the most about the book is the honest voice in which it is written. The book is told from the third-person perspective and rounds up every emotion and scene very well. Bertino sets the story in such a way that everything is told or not told till 2 A.M, which in more than one way is the crux of the book.

“2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas” is a charming, little book that makes you reinstate hope. As these three go through the day, and you with them as a reader, your spirits are lifted, you smile and laugh with them and feel a sense of melancholy when they are sad. Sometimes, it is also necessary for a book to have those brilliant fantastical moments (like Mark Helprin’s books do) to reinforce the magic of living. “2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas” is a perfect book for the time when you are down and about.

The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham

The Snow Queen by Michael Cunninghamm Title: The Snow Queen
Author: Michael Cunningham
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374266325
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are books that charm you from the first page. That take your breath away and you know you are in love from page one. There is nothing you can do about it. You give in to the book’s beauty and hope and pray that you savour it and not devour it. You must as a reader respect the delicacy of words and sentences, of emotions that strike you, that jump, unbeknownst at you, changing some perceptions, making you question your life and such books will be gone back to, in time, for sure. “The Snow Queen” by Michael Cunningham is one such book.

I always thought that “The Hours” was his finest work. I was proven wrong. It is not “The Hours” but, “The Snow Queen” is probably the best till now in his line of works. I was aware that the book will be good, but not aware that it would completely take me by storm. The book is about everything I guess – the way we live now, the way we love and the way we die, and almost forgot about the way we believe and what we believe in or not, at the core of the novel.

The book starts with a vision which one of the main characters Barrett sees in the sky, as his boyfriends breaks up with him over a text message. He shares a Brooklyn apartment with his older brother Tyler and Tyler’s ailing girlfriend Beth, who is dying of cancer. This sets the pace of the book. In this, new characters are introduced – Liz, the common friend of Beth and the brothers and how she brought them together to Andrew, Liz’s much-younger lover and some more. Essentially, the book is about Liz, Beth, Tyler and Barrett.

There are so many moments in the book that stun you and take you on a whirlwind. Sickness is also spoken of graciously in the book. I have yet to come across another writer who can do this. Cunningham takes topics are difficult to tread on and sails on them, with grace and ease. The city of New York is another character that is in the background, silent and watching over all the protagonists.

Barrett’s religious turn to the dilemma of a sighting to unrequited and requited love. Tyler’s conflict, using Beth’s illness as a crutch, the marriage in the wake and a song that he must write and the strong connect he shares with his brother. Beth, at the center of the brothers’ guilt, love, and affection. Liz, almost the crux of their relationships and trying to struggle with her own.

Michael Cunningham’s writing is sparse. He does not need to run into pages to say what he wants to. He follows the lives of Meeks brothers and everyone is searching for their own meaning to survive and understand the human soul. The writing as I have mentioned a number of times is just marvelous. It is heartbreaking, tragic, moving and above all just about the human soul.

Affiliate Link:

Buy The Snow Queen from Flipkart.com

Book Review: The Lilies of the Field by William E. Barrett

The Lilies of the Field by William E. Barrett Title: The Lilies of the Field
Author: William E. Barrett
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
ISBN: 9780446315005
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

What does it take to believe all over again? What does it take to get faith restored and perhaps look at life the way you never did? It is strange how in today’s time, when faith is most needed, people are renouncing theirs at the drop of a hat. I sometimes wonder how they do it so easily. So effortlessly – this giving up on something they believed in once upon a time. However, at sometimes I also believe that faith has not gone anywhere. It is lying deep somewhere within them – waiting to be reignited.

“The Lilies of the Field” by William E. Barrett is one such story of faith – which is most simply and beautifully told. It all starts when Homer Smith, an African-American ex-GI, bumps into five German nuns, who cannot speak English fluently but have a dream – that of building a church in the middle of nowhere. This is where this small gem of a book takes off or rather is about.

The book tells us about how the nuns came to be where they are and how Homer is where he is in his life. It is about dreams and how perhaps we give up too soon on them sometimes. There are no lessons and it is not preachy. It is just the way it is – subtle and full of simplicity and grace.

The writing is simple (I somehow have a thing for simple writing. I tend to automatically get drawn to it.) and beautiful. I first read this book in 1999, when I was in the most major sense having my personal moment of faith crisis and somehow I tided over that time. This time round, I just wanted a book that would make me feel good and somehow this one came back to mind and I had to buy and read it. I recommend it quite heavily. It is just like hot chocolate, which is most needed sometimes.

The book was also made into a movie and here is a trailer of it:

Book Review: The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam

The Blind Man's Garden by Nadeem Aslam Title: The Blind Man’s Garden
Author: Nadeem Aslam
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 978-81-8400-109-9
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When you read a Nadeem Aslam novel, you mull over it. You take in his words and breathe what he has to say. You are aware of the political undertones in his books. At times, you also may not like what you read. You might also detest some parts. You will yell in happiness when something good happens to one of his characters. You want to keep the book aside and you will not be able to, because that is the power of his books. You will ignore everything else and read on, because Aslam has a story to tell and his characters will talk to you. They will make you believe and sometimes make you cry and live as well.

“The Blind Man’s Garden” according to me is one of the best books that Aslam has written. I have read all his books and while all his books have the much needed political angle; this one to me is most emotional and heart-wrenching in a lot of places. I interviewed Nadeem Aslam at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year (which will be a different post) and he was so passionate about the book and the way he spoke with me. The book almost came alive through him. All his characters and the situations he put them through almost seemed surreal and believable. For me that is the craft of a great storyteller. “The Blind Man’s Garden” makes you feel and think about humans and what does war do to them. He gets into the heart of his characters and makes them speak for themselves. He makes them tell their stories, their lives spread across the canvas of his landscape, of time unknown and sometimes time is of great essence. This is precisely why I cannot help myself but mark almost every other line on every other page of an Aslam novel.

Jeo and his foster-brother Mikal leave their home in a small Pakistani city not to fight with the Taliban but to help care for the wounded victims. The Western Armies have invaded Afghanistan and the brothers only want to help the wounded, whether Afghani or the Americans. They only want to help and yet they get embroiled deep into the war as its unwilling soldiers. At the same time left behind is Jeo’s wife and her superstitious mother, and their father Rohan, who is slowly but surely turning blind. The war is seen through from all perspectives and that is the crux of the story.

For me everything worked in the book. The writing is sharp and hits in places that you would not expect it to. The past and the present situations merge beautifully throughout the entire narrative. In fact, what I loved the most about the book was the way the structure was built and at the same time the prose seemed very fluid, as though it was waiting to flow through the reader’s mind and heart. The heart of the book is about everything surrounding the war – lost children, grieving parents, hopeful wives and children who are left behind wondering when their fathers will return. Despite all this, what strings the book together is hope, which is unending and everlasting.

There are a lot of sub-elements and plots to the book (which I will not spoil for you) that add to the beauty of this wonderfully written novel. There is beauty and at the same time there is this sharp ache and a prayer that all should go well for the characters that you have come to known while reading the book. As a reader, I found myself hoping that all went well. Such is the power of this magnificent read. It is for sure one of the best I will read this year.

Here are some quotes from the book:

“History is a third parent.”

“The logic is that there are no innocent people in a guilty nation.”

“No,” he said, “but before they lose, they harm the good people. That is what I am afraid of.”

Affiliate Link:

Buy The Blind Man