Tag Archives: family life

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

The House of Broken AngelsTitle: The House of Broken Angels
Author: Luis Alberto Urrea
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 978-0316154888
Genre: Family, Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Some books are a treat and such a joy to read. The House of Broken Angels is just that. Essentially about family and what you carry to other generations, this book is also about being human and relationships. For most part, I thought nothing is going on in the book and yet when you take a step back and see the book from an overall perspective, there is needed a lot going on – making the reader feel like a stranger to begin with and before you know it you are a part of the De La Cruz clan.

The House of Broken Angels is about family and the ties that bind us, over and over again, no matter the mistakes or the trials that family go through. At the end of the family is indeed family and one can’t deny that at all. The beloved and ailing patriarch Miguel Angel de La Cruz has summoned the entire family for one last legendary party, in his final days. And in this time, his mother, nearly a hundred years old dies. In all of this there is Big Angel’s (as Miguel is fondly known) half-brother, Little Angel – almost an outsider’s perspective.

The book is really about Big Angel and his mother. The others are merely secondary characters but written brilliantly by Luis Alberto Urrea. The lore, the fantastical tales, the myths are weaved into the narrative so effectively that they become the story, without ever losing track of the bigger plot. The book has all of it – kindness, rage at being discriminated against, hope, zest and the spirit of togetherness which when you think about can only after all come from family.

At times, it may be overwhelming to keep track of so many characters and sub-plots, but you should allow the stories to take over and engulf you. There is chaos, confusion and people walking in and out of the narrative, but it is worth it as it all adds up wonderfully, lending itself to the primary focus. “The House of Broken Angels” is a highly gratifying and charged read – everything happens in a rush, at a break-neck speed and sometimes everything slows down, compelling you to look around.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout Title: My Name is Lucy Barton
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Publisher: Random House
ISBN: 978-1400067695
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

There are times when you stumble on books, do not read them, or read a couple of pages and drop them. You pick them up again and do not get past a couple of pages. You pick it up again (the specific, dreaded book in question) and yet you just cannot seem to make it beyond the thirtieth page or so. Till one fine day, you pick it up and voila! You just cannot seem to stop reading it. In fact, you don’t want the book to end. You want it to continue, to unravel its secrets, the words that consume you and in turn make you think things about your life.

Art is almost a replica of life. They say it imitates life. I say, it just is. “My Name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout may not resonate page by page or in the overall sense of plot, but there are places where it will take your breath away (it at least did that to me). It is a very regular story or so it seems.

Lucy Barton is unwell. She is undergoing a minor surgery and is in the hospital. It is the early 90s (not specified but you can more or less figure). Her mother visits her and stays with her for five days. The book opens with them speaking of the old days – of Lucy’s childhood, her siblings and how they lived.

That is when the secrets tumble and questions come to the fore – them being born to poverty, the time her parents locked her in a truck with a snake (why), the time her father humiliated her brother, calling him a “fucking faggot” in front of everyone after he was caught trying Mom’s high heels. We can see the family is beyond dysfunctional and redemption of any kind. Lucy is wounded, and yet she is happily married (or so we think), with two children and is on the way to becoming a writer.

Strout speaks of marriage, family, children, love, homosexuality and so much more through Lucy. And yet she makes Lucy such an unreliable narrator that you are confused but want to know so much more and after a point you do not care, if Lucy is telling the truth or not. You believe her anyway. The book is pretty much rooted in Lucy’s childhood and her reactions to things as she is an adult comes from a deep, dark, lonely place.

On the surface, “My Name is Lucy Barton” may not seem much of a book, but as you dive into its pages, you can see it for what it is and if you are looking for more answers, then there’s the sequel “Anything is Possible” (which I need to get to as soon as possible). Strout proves that brevity could most of the time be the best tool used in fiction. This book is less than two hundred pages and yet it is not a fast read. You will mull and ponder over what you read. Perhaps even go back to some sentences.

Here are some of my favourite quotes:

“It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.”

“Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.”

“You will have only one story,” she had said. “You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.”

“But I think I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longings so large you can’t even weep. We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart: This is mine, this is mine, this is mine.”

“But the books brought me things. This is my point. They made me feel less alone.”

“Because we all love imperfectly.”

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice by Lisa Genova Title: Still Alice
Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher: Pocket Books, Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 9781501106422
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 353
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

One of the many diseases of old-age that I am most frightened of is Alzheimer’s. The thought of losing all memory, day by day and not knowing anything at all makes me break into a sweat. The idea of not recognizing your loved ones even more so. I don’t think anyone should go through that torture. It is just one of those diseases that take everything away from you.

So when you read a book where the disease is almost the protagonist, you are completely overwhelmed and more than anything else you also cheer for the person for being a survivor and battling it at all costs. Dr. Alice Howland has it all going for her. She is a psychiatry professor at Harvard. She has three children and a loving husband. She is fifty years of age and Alzheimer’s has struck. It is about her family coping with her disease and how their lives change forever. “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova is a book that will make you think about life and death and the consequences of life being too short.

Genova skillfully explores Alzheimer’s through Alice. The onset of it and the rapid progression as shown from September 2002 to September 2005 will make you turn the pages and feel for Alice and her family, which maybe you must not have in a very long time. For instance, the unwell Alice spotting a message the healthier Alice left on voicemail and figuring what it was will absolutely break your heart. There are many such instances throughout the book.

I was majorly taken in by the book because Alzheimer’s is one thing that has always intrigued me. One day you know it all and the other you are reduced to becoming someone who can’t even remember his or her name. “Still Alice” had me in from the very first page and did not let go of me at all. I recommend this to all readers – it will appeal to everyone and probably also make you realize that time is too short and life must be lived nonetheless.

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Still Alice

Family Life by Akhil Sharma

Family Life by Akhil Sharma Title: Family Life
Author: Akhil Sharma
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books India
ISBN: 9780670087457
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always enjoyed a good dysfunctional family story. Somehow, I see my family in it. Somehow, it is true. All families are like that. There is always this undercurrent of tension, of nerves, of issues that are not spoken out loud, and of silences.

“Family Life” is a book of grand proportions. It is also written with the objective, I think to let the reader fill in some spaces, and rightly so, I mean, after all, why should a writer spoon-feed the reader all the time?
Akhil Sharma’s writing is nothing like what I have read in the past. I wanted to read, “An Obedient Father” but never got around to it. So “Family Life” came by and was my first Sharma book. The book is about a family who moves to the US of A and how their lives change forever.

The Mishras (parents and two children, Birju and Ajay) move to America in the 70s, hoping and dreaming of a better life, getting away from the Emergency period in the country. America is full of hope and promise. Birju, the older one is the smart one – with the good grades and a great future, till an accident in the swimming-pool leaves him brain-damaged and Ajay is left to pick up the pieces of a life, torn apart. The father becomes a drunk. The mother loses sight of everything else and only wants to take care of Birju. Ajay on the other hand, does not know what to do and how to grow up in a strange country.

The book is dark. The writing is also funny at times. There were times I wish things would change for the family, but then it would not be the story that it is. Akhil Sharma weaves a story of too many layers – of ambition, loss, living, forgetting, escaping and the condition of the human heart in all of this. “Family Life” is a book for you, only if you want to know about a slice-of-life, close up and personal. A great read this summer.

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Book Review: Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo Title: Flora & Ulysses
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 9781406345186
Genre: Children
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always wondered what it is about children’s stories that immediately draw me to them. The need to read almost all of what is written in that genre and still crave for more. It is always so calming – the reading of stories written for children. At one point or the other, it almost makes you want to believe in everything and everyone – all over again. It makes you want to be a child – all safe and sheltered.

“Flora & Ulysses” by Kate DiCamillo is one such book I stumbled on this year and I cannot be gladder than having read it before the year ended. “Flora & Ulysses” is about an eleven-year old girl, who is a cynic and a squirrel with superpowers. It seems wonderful, doesn’t it? It is more wondrous than it sounds. It all begins when a squirrel gets sucked into a Ulysses vacuum cleaner (hence the name), almost dies and survives because of Flora and before you know it, he has acquired super powers (which I will not discuss here) and also an archenemy that must be stopped. Besides this, the squirrel knows how to type and write poems (he loves poetry after all).

In all of this, there is Flora’s neighbour, her parents (divorced and estranged), a lamp most hated and a boy who will not remove his sun glasses, because he thinks he is blinded. To read such a story is always heart-warming. I could see myself fawning over the characters just as soon as I began the story. The book is all about hope and love and a heart that can change.

To me, the book was just right and came to me at the right time, when probably I was in danger of becoming a cynic. Sometimes you need the required optimism and belief from other sources and what other way to get it than through a wonderfully written book of young children, squirrels with superpowers and characters who want to change the world – one day at a time.

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