Posts Tagged ‘India’

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

July 17, 2014

The Hundred-Foot JourneyReader beware: reading this book may cause extreme hunger, salivation and an extreme case of wanderlust.

As a boy in Mumbai, Hassan Haji grew up in his family’s restaurant. Food was his way of life and viscerally connected him to his mother. Because of religious strife, a fire destroys the restaurant and kills his mother. Very distraught, his father takes the children and flees India. His father still wants to be in the restaurant business,  but cannot seem to find a profitable niche. He eats his way across Europe until they end up in Lumiere, a quaint village in the French Alps.

Lumiere does not know what to do with the brash, Indian family. Hassan’s father decides to open a restaurant. Likeable and with a discerning palate, Hassan’s father wins over the locals through his loudmouth joviality. But he makes an enemy in famous, local chef Madame Mallory. She owns the respected restaurant across the street and is beside herself with anger at the tacky restaurant with the gaudy colors, loud music and foreign odors. Madame Mallory does everything she can to make the restaurant fail.

Madame Mallory is more distraught when she discovers that the son of this loudmouth has a wonderful gift. Hassan has a way with food and flavor. Madame Mallory believes this gift is innate. Her jealousy gets the best of her when she confronts the family and accidentally causes Hassan to be severely burned. After a lot of guilt and some time reflecting on her life and actions, Madame Mallory decides to take Hassan on as her pupil. Hassan’s father is adamant that this will not happen, but as we all know, Madame Mallory is relentless when she wants something.

And so begins a beautiful relationship that takes Hassan to the top of French cuisine. This is a delightful read that will warm your heart!

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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

April 24, 2014

The Lowland by Jhumpa LahiriThe two brothers in The Lowland are so close that people often mistake them for twins. They do everything together and they are similar in appearance, yet they have always had different temperaments. Subhash, the elder brother, is the more serious one, and Udayan is more bold and idealistic. When they reach college age, these differences become more apparent. Subhash works hard and jumps at the chance to further his education in America. Udayan is less focused on academics and becomes involved in the radical leftist movement at the university in Calcutta. The movement begins with students who want to eliminate poverty in India, but eventually becomes outlawed when it is infiltrated by guerrilla communist groups.

While Subhash is in Boston, Udayan falls in love and marries young, moving with his bride back to their parent’s home. Everyone believes Udayan has left his radical days behind, but one day Subhash receives an urgent request to come back to India because of a tragedy in the family.

What happens next will change the course of Subhash’s life, as well as the lives his parents and Udayan’s bride. Lahiri’s lyrical writing gives a wonderful picture of family life in Calcutta and of the student movement of the 1960s. The book then follows the family through the rest of their lives to show what happened to them after Udayan’s death. I enjoyed this approach because I am often left wondering what happened to characters I become so involved with after the book ends. Fans of Lahiri’s other book, The Namesake, will not be disappointed.

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A Question of Honor by Charles Todd

January 17, 2014

The latest in the Bess Crawford mystery series by Charles Todd begins with a prologue set in India. Bess is just a young girl at the time, living in military quarters with her parents because her father’s regiment is stationed there. One of the young officers, Lieutenant Wade, suddenly goes missing, and the police come to inform Bess’ father that Wade is accused of murdering his own parents in Delhi. Wade is tracked into the harsh mountains of Pakistan until his trail is lost on the side of a mountain. He is never heard from again, and everyone assumes he died. Bess and her parents find it hard to believe he was a murderer, but if it isn’t true, why would the man have deserted his post? Bess’ father was very upset over this incident. Not only did it make his regiment look bad, but he also thought he knew the man well enough to think him incapable of such an act.
Now a nurse stationed in France during WWI, Bess is informed by an Indian officer that Wade was seen there, fighting for England under a different name. Bess is unsure of what the man saw until she herself catches a glimpse of him. Meanwhile in England, people associated with Wade’s childhood are turning up dead. Could he be crossing the channel and exacting revenge in between battles? Or, was there another killer all along? Bess and her father are determined to find him and find out the truth of what happened all those years ago.
The unusual nature of this mystery really kept me guessing. It may seem unlikely that a soldier would come back to fight in WWI under another name, but I don’t think it’s necessarily unbelievable. Many lifelong soldiers feel they have no other training to build a different kind of life, and it would have been much easier to assume another identity before the age of computers. The chaotic nature of the front in WWI makes it the perfect scene for a mysterious reappearance. I would recommend this book (and the entire Bess Crawford series) to fans of historical mysteries.

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Greatest Hits: The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

January 7, 2014

We’ve kicked off the new year with The Book-A-Day Blog’s most popular posts of 2013!
Mythical and mystical, The Mistress of Spices is reminiscent of fables, magic, realism and fairy tales. The storyDivakaruni tells is transporting, but it is her gift for metaphor that makes this novel live and breathe. You feel like you are involved with the characters; its pages as redolent as any freshly ground spice. The themes revolve around the age-old magic of spices, which are imbued with powers as complexly spiritual as India itself, the birthplace of Divakaruni and her fearless heroine, Nayan Tara (Tilo). Born ugly and unwanted in a tiny village in India, Tilo is discarded by her family for the sin of being a girl. Resentful at being treated so shabbily, young Tilo throws herself on the mercy of the mythical serpents of the oceans, who deliver her to the mystical Island of Spices. There, she is initiated into the priestly sisterhood of Spice Mistresses, sent out into the world to help others by offering magic potions of fennel, peppercorn, lotus root, etc. She works her gentle magic in a tiny, rundown shop in Oakland, California, hidden within the body of an old woman. Here, Tilo devotes herself to improving the lives of the immigrant Indians who come to buy her spices–including an abused wife, a troubled youth, a chauffeur with dreams of American wealth, and a grandfather whose insistence on Old World propriety may have cost him his relationship with a beloved granddaughter. The spices are harsh taskmasters, and Tilo’s life is limited until her rebelliousness reasserts itself, and she becomes involved in the lives of her troubled customers. Tilo is forbidden to step out of her little shop or get involved with anyone, but of course Tilo goes out and gets involved with her customers. She falls in love with Raven, the quintessential romantic hero–dashing, handsome, rich, and brooding–but Raven actually embodies nothing less than the great spirit of the American Indian. Find and reserve this book in the catalog.

The Caretaker by A.X. Ahmad

July 1, 2013

Looking for a great summer read? I recommend this well written thriller. It has locales that range from India to Boston to Martha’s Vineyard, lots of action, and sharply drawn characters.

The protagonist, Ranjit Singh, is a Sikh and a former member of the Indian military. Discharged from service due to scandal, Ranjit immigrates to the United States where he barely makes a living doing odd jobs on Martha’s Vineyard. He’s thrilled to land several jobs as winter caretaker for some of the expensive homes. At least until he and his family find themselves running for their lives from mysterious men who want to steal something from one of the homes under Ranjit’s care. The targeted house belongs to a charismatic United States senator, with a beautiful wife of whom Ranjit is particularly fond.

The scenes on Martha’s Vineyard alternate with flashbacks to India and the failed mission that ended Ranjit’s army career so suddenly and spectacularly. I think Ahmad is particularly good at describing setting. I really felt like I was on the glacier with Singh and his men in the scenes set in India. When the action moves to the Vineyard, I could see the empty houses of the rich as Ranjit tended them during the somber days of the off season.

Ranjit Singh is an appealing character with a background I’ve never run across before in a thriller. I found the details of his army career fascinating. The sense of honor that made him a good soldier carries over into his civilian life and is, for me, one of Ranjit’s most endearing qualities. He stubbornly insists on behaving honorably, even if it’s not convenient or worse yet, downright dangerous.

The Caretaker is the first in a trilogy featuring Ranjit Singh from debut author A.X. Ahmad. The second title in the series, Bollywood Taxi, will be published next year. I look forward to reading it.

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The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

June 7, 2013

Mythical and mystical, The Mistress of Spices is reminiscent of fables, magic, realism and fairy tales. The story Divakaruni tells is transporting, but it is her gift for metaphor that makes this novel live and breathe. You feel like you are involved with the characters; its pages as redolent as any freshly ground spice. The themes revolve around the age-old magic of spices, which are imbued with powers as complexly spiritual as India itself, the birthplace of Divakaruni and her fearless heroine, Nayan Tara (Tilo).

Born ugly and unwanted in a tiny village in India, Tilo is discarded by her family for the sin of being a girl. Resentful at being treated so shabbily, young Tilo throws herself on the mercy of the mythical serpents of the oceans, who deliver her to the mystical Island of Spices. There, she is initiated into the priestly sisterhood of Spice Mistresses, sent out into the world to help others by offering magic potions of fennel, peppercorn, lotus root, etc. She works her gentle magic in a tiny, rundown shop in Oakland, California, hidden within the body of an old woman. Here, Tilo devotes herself to improving the lives of the immigrant Indians who come to buy her spices–including an abused wife, a troubled youth, a chauffeur with dreams of American wealth, and a grandfather whose insistence on Old World propriety may have cost him his relationship with a beloved granddaughter. The spices are harsh taskmasters, and Tilo’s life is limited until her rebelliousness reasserts itself, and she becomes involved in the lives of her troubled customers.

Tilo is forbidden to step out of her little shop or get involved with anyone, but of course Tilo goes out and gets involved with her customers. She falls in love with Raven, the quintessential romantic hero–dashing, handsome, rich, and brooding–but Raven actually embodies nothing less than the great spirit of the American Indian.

Find and reserve this book in the catalog.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books of 2012: Sharon S.’s Picks

December 28, 2012

I love to read nonfiction as well as fiction, so in presenting my best “new to me” books for 2012, I decided to use the categories of my favorite nonfiction, my favorite “how to” book, my favorite biography, my favorite novel, and my favorite collection of short stories. (You can see the full list of books I have blogged, too.) — Sharon S.

https://catalog.wakegov.com/bookcover.php?id=469543&isn=9780316114752&size=large&upc=&category=Books&format=A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman
I found this book to be deeply reassuring! It’s OK to have cluttered desks and crammed closets, say the authors, and in some cases it may even be beneficial (up to a point, of course). Abrahamson and Freedman present many examples of successful scientists, business owners, politicians, homemakers, and people from many other walks of life who spend that time they could have spent organizing being creative and productive instead. Also, staying loose and not locked in to one system allows us the freedom to adapt quickly to changing events.

https://catalog.wakegov.com/bookcover.php?id=619722&isn=1592334652&size=large&upc=&category=Books&format=Barefoot Running Step by Step by Roy Wallack and Ken Bob Saxton
You’ve got to be kidding, I thought when I first picked up this book, but I ended up being a convert. I’m no runner, so I tried barefoot walking instead (which Ken Bob says is just like running except you always have at least one foot on the ground). There’s no doubt in my mind—heel striking is a bad thing for your joints. When you learn how to bend your knees like Ken Bob suggests, your calves act as shock absorbers that preserve your joints. Of course, you can do this even with shoes on, but when your foot is not cushioned with a running shoe, you have a constant reminder not to bang that heel down! Also, it adds a new dimension to the experience to learn to place your feet lightly and actually feel the ground under them.

https://catalog.wakegov.com/bookcover.php?id=538201&isn=0385529090&size=large&upc=&category=Books&format=Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg
Steinberg was tired of being a free-lance writer and wanted a job that had health insurance, so he answered an advertisement for a librarian position at a prison on the outskirts of Boston. He ended up with more than he bargained for. What is or should be the purpose of a library in such a place? In trying to help the prisoners learn and prepare for lives outside of prison, he often runs afoul of the rule-bound guards. On the other hand, in getting too emotionally involved with those he is helping, he finds himself in some difficult moral dilemmas. There is no easy answer to the question of why people end up in prison, nor is there an easy way to help them get out and stay out.

https://catalog.wakegov.com/bookcover.php?id=233880&isn=0679743626&size=large&upc=&category=Books&format=O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
This slim novel set on the Nebraska prairie at the beginning of the twentieth century contains some of the most moving scenes I have yet encountered in literature. It is a story about love, friendship, betrayal, and the price of self-knowledge that readers will not easily forget. I am amazed at Cather’s ability to create characters that seem so real to me that I feel like I have actually met them. See my full review.

https://catalog.wakegov.com/bookcover.php?id=322416&isn=039592720X&size=large&upc=&category=Books&format=Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Lahiri also creates memorable, realistic characters in these stories, each one a view into the hearts and lives of people of different ages and cultures. A young married couple suffers a devastating loss that rocks their faith in each other. A school-age girl slowly learns to appreciate the fact that everyone does not live the privileged life she does. A young man and an old woman come to know and respect each other through mundane events that turn out to have been not so mundane after all. Each story shows us something unique about human nature, how and why we move toward or away from one another, how we mature and come to understand the meaning of life. See my full review.

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

August 22, 2012

This is the first in a series starring Vish Puri, India’s Most Private Investigator. The word “starring” fits this investigator who has a charismatic, over-the-top personality. A former military investigator who was asked to resign, Vish now directs a skilled staff in his detective bureau. Pride of place on his office wall belongs to a Super Sleuth plaque presented to him for solving the Case of the Missing Polo Elephant. Vish nicknamed his staff: a beautiful undercover agent is Facecream, others are Tubelight and Flush, while the secretary who keeps the chaos to a minimum is the respectable Mrs. Rani.
There’s an abundance of irony and humor mixed in with the real cases, which do hold interest: in this novel an old friend asks for help when a female servant goes missing and it appears the friend may have killed her or is being framed Relish the hot, colorful life of Delhi, India and Vish’s family: Mummy-ji (his senior and very active mother), Rumpi (wife) and many others. Vish’s nickname is Chubby and Rumpi is continually after him to lose weight, which never happens because Vish loves and lives to eat and there are plenty of mouth-watering descriptions of his sneakily consumed “extras.”
The sense of place and light hand are reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe series in Botswana. The descriptions of the city, family relationships and food make one think of the cozier parts of Donna Leon’s serious series about Commissario Guido Brunetti. Hall’s use of Indian English vernacular and Hindi words necessitate consulting the glossaries in each book on a regular basis, but that enriches the story and gives ideas for ordering in Indian restaurants. Crowded, noisy street scenes reminiscent of  the movies The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Monsoon Wedding are skillfully replicated here in words, so don’t let the simple titles and gaudy covers keep you from getting away to Delhi for a few amusing hours with Vish Puri and company.

Other titles in this series include The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing (2010), and The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken (2012).

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The Sandalwood Tree by Ellie Newark

August 21, 2012

This is a riveting novel of a very interesting time period in India. It is 1947, the year of Independence and sadly of partition, the price for British withdrawal from the country after a century of slavery.
Different stories in different time periods converge at a single point.  An American Fulbright scholar, Martin Fulbright, moves with his family to Simla, India during that tumultuous time of the country. His wife, Evie Mitchell, with their young son accompanies him. The once in-love couple is desperately trying to save their marriage. Evie finds a cache of hidden letters in the house they live in and this becomes an interesting turn in her otherwise desolate life. The letters take us back to the lives of two British girlfriends, Adela and Felicity, who lived in India a century earlier when the English ruled India.
Not only is the story of Adela and Felicity touching but it also awakens the voice of Evie, who is trying very hard to save her marriage while becoming lonelier.  These letters are her only solace and she keeps them close to her heart and desperately wishes to unravel the secrets of these two girls thereby making her own life interesting.
Elle Newmark has outdone herself by portraying the history of the region with its nuances intact, for that time period in India was tumultuous and difficult. She has woven a tapestry of good characters in a story against the background of the Independence-Partition era in India.

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The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

June 20, 2012

The Space Between is the story of two families who have been tied together for many years, yet live completely separate lives. Bhima is a servant who leaves her home in the slums of Bombay every morning to spend her day cooking and cleaning for an upper class family. Sera is the seemingly fortunate woman she works for who is hiding the fact she is in an abusive marriage. These two women spend the majority of each day together and have shared much of their lives, yet there is a barrier that can’t be crossed.

Sera has often used her family’s wealth and position to help Bhima through hard times, and has even promised to contribute money for Bhima’s granddaughter, Maya, to attend college. Bhima hopes are focused on Maya. She believes if Maya succeeds in college she will pull the family out of the slums forever. All of Bhima’s savings and sacrifices are threatened, though, when Maya turns up pregnant at 17. When Bhima turns to Sera for help once again, their fragile relationship is changed forever.

This novel gives a glimpse into a society which was difficult for me to understand. Sera seems to both care for Bhima and be repulsed by her at the same time. She gladly helps her when she can, but she will not allow Bhima to sit on her furniture or drink from her glasses. She is happy with the relationship the way it is and can’t cope with any changes that might come.

Umrigar’s writing is beautiful and I liked most of the characters even if I sometimes didn’t agree with what they chose to do. This book was also one of my book club’s favorite selections. It made for a great discussion.

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