Tag Archives: mothers

Before we visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

BeforeWeVisitTheGoddess FC Title: Before we Visit the Goddess
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 978-1471146930
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I started reading Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s books in about 2001. I clearly remember being fascinated then by the writing and surprisingly still am. Every time there is a book by her, I devour it. I am somehow taken in by the writing that is so lucid and the interpersonal relationships that stand out so strong in all her books. Whether she is speaking of Draupadi in “The Palace of Illusions” or trying to deal with cousins and their lives in “Sister of my Heart”, she sure knows her craft and is the top notch mistress of it.

“Before we visit the Goddess” is her latest book and to be honest, I think it is way better than the others (that’s saying something) and very taut in its writing. It is a story of three generations of mothers and daughters – spanning right from West Bengal and leading to Texas – a sort of back and forth – not only between terrains but also emotions and lifestyles.

The book is about a family that is torn apart by love, ambition, pride and the need to belong. It starts with Sabitri, daughter of a poor banker in rural Bengal and the decisions she makes that will rock not only her world but also those of her daughter Bela’s (even though she manages to escape to America, falsely thinking that the past is well behind her) and her granddaughter Tara’s who will learn and unlearn love the hard way.

I think more than anything else it is the uniqueness (or not for some) of the plot that had me going. The voices are strong, fearful, uncertain and only human at the end of it all – as the story progresses and reaches an end which is quite unpredictable.
The writing as usual is succinct and not too long. At no point did I feel that I did not know the characters or wanted the book to be longer. It is just right. The pace of the book is languid – the way it should be – the descriptions rich and in full detail, making you wait as a reader about what’s going to happen next.

“Before we visit the Goddess” is an honest book revealing the emotions, the decisions and lives across time and generations of women – each trying to find their own existence and home. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I am sure so will you. A must read.

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Book Review: The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Title: The End of Your Life Book Club
Author: Will Schwalbe
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0307594037
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs, Memories
Pages: 352
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I had wanted to read, “The End of Your Life Book Club” the first time I read about it, which was in April 2012 or somewhere closer to that month. I love reading books about books and more so when a selection is made and discussed, just as the title suggests – a book club. For me, it was more than that. It was the story that made me want to grab this one and start and I did when I got the first chance. I have just finished reading this book and I am overwhelmed beyond words. So maybe this review will be a short one, just because I want whichever reader to pick up this book, to be able to enjoy it without any pre-conceived notion of anyone else’s opinion about it.

“The End of Your Life Book Club” is about a mother and a son (the author and his mother), whose love for books is never-ending. They discuss books and talk about books throughout the journey that the author describes brilliantly in this work. Will’s mom has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and the journey of the book club starts at the doctor’s office and the waiting room as they wait for the chemo appointments and discuss books that they are reading at the same time. The book is a tribute to his mother and books and life and its magnanimity.

What struck me was the way this book is written. It is about Mary Ann Schwalbe and her family, with books playing a major role between her and her second born, Will Schwalbe. The book is simple and yet chronicles a family’s life, a mother’s love and more than that, the woman that she was – compassionate, generous, kind, loving and a reader. I had to pen down this review because I want more people to read this book – it is about books for sure and it is also about connections – about telling your loved ones that you love them and are proud of them, no matter what.

The writing is thread-bare and comes from the heart. It must have been very difficult for Mr. Schwalbe to pen this book, considering how personal it is, and yet at the same time, I am only too glad that he decided to write this book and share his mother’s life with readers around the world. Of how building a library in Kabul was the most important task for her (given her associations with non-profit organizations) to the daily planning of dinners and birthday parties. Mary Ann Schwalbe is a woman I think every reader would want to have known and this book is a perfect way of doing that. To know what she read and why and more so what sort of a woman she was – determined to help others and live her life to the fullest no matter what, not even deterring in the face of a disease.

“The End of Your Life Book Club” comes from an emotional place. There were times I choked and nearly cried and was so happy to have been reading this book. I know for a fact that I will reread this one and also read all the books that Will and Mary read throughout the course of the book. It is a book about reading and how it can save you at most times. It is about love and what family means to you. It is about life. I cannot recommend it enough.

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Book Review: Please Look After Mother by Kyung-Sook Shin

Title: Please Look after Mother
Author: Kyung-Sook Shin
Publisher: Orion Books, Hachette Book Group
ISBN: 978-0-7538-2907-3
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 261
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Have you ever wondered what would it be like if your mother disappeared one fine day? What would you go through if you were unable to locate her? What would you go through knowing that your mother has disappeared for good?
“Please Look after Mother” by Kyung-Sook Shin is about a mother’s disappearance and written with great empathy and emotion. The mother has disappeared in a crowded Seoul subway station, where she and her husband of 50 years are about to board a train to get to their oldest son’s house. Her disappearance devastates the people left behind.

The story is told from different points of view: her oldest daughter Chi-hon, a writer, her oldest son, Hyung-chol, who disappointed her and feels guilty about it throughout, her husband who is an adulterer, her second son, and last of all her, Mom. Slowly and steadily as the reader makes way through the book, facets of Mom emerge, none of which were known earlier by her family.

For instance, when the daughter’s point of view is being narrated and she finds her mother thinking about her brother, it hits her that even her mother is a sister and daughter to someone before being her mother.

The story will strike a chord in you somewhere. It made me feel the kind of attention may be sometimes I need to give my mother. Kyung-Sook Shin writes with clarity, which is only heart-felt. The relationships are complex (and sometimes you wonder whether is it the same in your family?) and the interaction between family members is restrained (which is the point of the story).

The Korean culture shines throughout the book – the way they live, the traditions and rituals, which to a large extent make the book what it is. The book is a universal story of love and loss, guilt and redemption and the things we do and sometimes we don’t for love. I like how each character in the book was fragile in his or her way and what “family” and “mother” meant to each of them.

Please Look after Mother is a distinct voice in literature and deserves to be read. Kyung-Sook Shin who has been recognized much later (MAN Asian Literary Prize for 2011) only deserves all the accolades for this book and her writing, which makes the reader, feel vulnerable and bare. The book is universal and that is what works best to its advantage. Anyone and everyone can relate to this one. A must read.

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Book Review: Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi

Title: Beside the Sea
Author: Veronique Olmi
Publisher: Peirene Press
ISBN: 9780956284020
Price: £8.99
Source: Publisher
Genre: Translated Work, French Fiction, Novella, Literary Fiction
PP: 111 Pages
Rating: 5/5

What would drive a mother to kill her own children? Why would she do that? Which mother ever does that? What must be the situation or circumstance that propelled such behaviour? I had these questions raging in my mind, when I read about 3 weeks ago in the local newspaper, that a woman had flung her 2 children – aged 6 and 11 years old and then took the path of suicide herself. She could not handle the stress at home and her husband wasn’t supportive of her choices either. I stared at her picture for the longest time and then it struck me that I studied with her. She was almost my classmate. We knew each other. I had once upon a time laughed with her. I could not get her out of my head for the longest time and she still lingers there somehow.

The reason I mentioned all of this is when I started reading, “Beside the Sea”, my thoughts time and again centred on her and her children. The book is about a nameless mother and her two children Stan and Kevin and their trip beside the sea. The story is set in a nameless town – grey and dark and full of rain and mud. There is no mention of any colour in the entire book and may be that is how it is supposed to be, given the plot and the atmosphere. Well the story hinges on the two day trip and aftermath. I had to give the spoiler away since I had to mention what I was going through and what I had experienced.

This is no joyful jaunt to sun, surf and sand. Instead, we discover a deeply disturbed mother, already on the edge, afraid for the life of poverty and exclusion that she fears her boys are destined to lead. Determined to give them at least one happy memory, she takes them on a holiday that she cannot afford and has not properly planned.

We are introduced to the two little boys, Stan and Kevin, through the eyes of their mother allowing us to develop a proxy parental concern for them. The story is told from within their mother’s mind but she remains nameless, allowing us to feel empathy for her while still keeping her at arms distance.

Seeing the experiences of this family through the eyes of the boys gives a sense of wonder and delight, but the covering veil of the mother’s thoughts and emotions and the constant presence of rain give the story a continual sense of darkness that leads to a disharmony – a sense that something is not quite right.

My head was empty when I finished reading this book. I don’t know why. I know and yet the book shook me in several ways, ways I did not think it was capable of. The book takes you by surprise (or may be by shock?) and manages to make you think long after you have finished reading the book. I thought the translation was perfect considering it was originally written in French by Veronique Olmi. The writing is perfect, neither too less and nor too much – anyway that’s how a novella should be written, isn’t it? I did not want to know more at the end of it. I was satisfied. I have had a roller-coaster of an emotional ride while reading this beautiful work. So must you.  

You can purchase the book here on Flipkart