Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Radhika R’s Picks

December 30, 2014

Albert Einstein said  that “Imagination is more important  than intelligence!”  Books fire that imagination for me! Books make me think, laugh, empathize and take me through a gamut of emotions. I travel around the world from the the comfort of my couch!  Here are a few of them which I enjoyed reading.

MadoMadonnas of Leningradnnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
A story of love, suffering and helplessness. Marina is rendered helpless when she is affected by Alzheimer’s. While she has difficulty remembering her children or grandchildren, she remembers clearly the 40 day siege of Leningrad, and how she overcame it. As a museum docent, she helped to hide countless priceless works of art from the invading Nazis, all the time creating a “memory palace” in her mind in which to cherish their beauty. These memories and those of the works of art she saved are juxtaposed with the present, where she regularly forgets her own granddaughter. A very sad, poignant story of an Alzheimer’s patient and how the caretakers the family members stand by helplessly while their loved one’s mind is slowly shutting down on the immediate present. A very touching read.  Read another review.

Burial RitesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent
This book explores the grey areas in life. Not every situation can be put into boxes of right or wrong. It makes us think and ponder and feel gut wrenching emotions for all the characters. It is a true, but fictionalized story of the last beheading in Iceland. In 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is sentenced to death by beheading for the brutal murder of two men. Because there are no local prisons, Agnes is sent to the remotest village to await her execution while living with a farming family. The family is wary of Agnes and takes time to adjust to her presence. The farmer’s wife, slowly thawing towards Agnes, comes to hear her story and is devastated when she realizes there is nothing that anyone can do to save Agnes. The story is told compellingly in different voices and makes you feel the pain and the helplessness of the circumstances.

Defending JacobDefending Jacob by William Landay
Andy Barber, happily married to Laurie and a district attorney in a small New England town, is at a crossroads of his life. He is investigating the murder of a young teen boy, Ben, despite the fact that there might be a conflict of interest – Ben was his son Jacob’s friend, and attended the same school. From here starts the real roller coaster journey! When Jacob is accused of the murder, Andy and Laurie’s world reels. This book explores questions many will never ask. How much do we know about our children? Where does love end, and practicality begin? How do we even begin to imagine what the truth is, whether our child is capable of taking a life… a parent’s worst nightmare come to the fore! What will it take a parent even to accept that it is a possibility? Why is it that when tragedy strikes, all relationships start to unravel? An intriguing piece of fiction where legal implications mesh with family emotions.  Read another review.

The Garlic BalladsThe Garlic Ballads by Yan Mo
This novel is the Nobel Prize winner in Literature for the year 2012, and it is rightly so. The angst, worry, fear hope and helplessness of poverty is so well portrayed that we can actually envision ourselves in the pages of the book and live with the characters, wondering how they survive in those circumstances! The farmers of Paradise County have been leading hard, miserable lives for centuries when the government asks them to plant garlic. The farmers do so, but find it hard to sell. At the mercy of corrupt government officials, the farmers are forced to pay money they don’t have in order to sell their wares, but find that after paying the various taxes and tolls, their crops remain unsold. This is the breaking point for many of the farmers, leading to riots and arrests, followed by inhumane conditions in jail, torture and beatings. An old bard sings the song of tyranny throughout this book, and is killed for it. This book is not just about human suffering and despair, but also filled with tales of family love, loyalty and hope! In the midst of desolation, each character finds a reason to live. This is truly an amazing read, where depths of despair and the upliftment of spirit reside side by side

I am MalalaI am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christian Lamb
Most of us have read about Malala and may feel we know her story. This book made me think differently. Malala was born to parents who were strong supporters of women’s rights and had a school of their own for girls. Raised with this mindset, Malala was determined to do her part, and her parents supported her decision. All of them knew that Malala’s bravery would ultimately mean facing the wrath of the Taliban when it took over their Swat Valley. Her parents, who knew the danger their child faced every day, made the difficult choice to support her, and Malala chose to stay the course despite unimaginable pressure. You know the story – Malala was shot – but thankfully, she survived to become a spokesperson for the rights of girls to an education. This review is a salute to all the young girls and women who have fought against the Taliban atrocities for the right to a just life and education, and paved the way for Malala to bring their cause to the attention of the world. Kudos to Malala, a brave young girl who took such a bold, courageous step to improve lives of other girls and fight for their right to education! It is rightly said that the strength of human spirit always humbles you!

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

May 19, 2010

This book captures a different perspective than the average American one on life pre- and post- September 11. The story begins as an encounter between a young Pakistani, and an unnamed American stranger in a Lahore café. The American is dressed as a middle-aged business man, but the younger man speculates that he is actually an American agent of some kind. The conversation is related as a monologue; the stranger’s part in the conversation is discerned through Changez’s responses. Changez relates the story of his life in America, how he achieved financial and social success by graduating at the top of his class at Princeton and attaining a good position with a top firm in New York. He met and fell in love with an American woman while on vacation in Greece. He felt at home in New York, where Urdu was spoken by many of the cabdrivers and he was welcomed as an exotic acquaintance by co-workers and clients.
This all changed with the events of September 11. Although he doesn’t understand it, he felt satisfaction that America, so rich and sure of her place in the world, had been so shockingly assaulted. He noticed immediate changes in people’s attitudes towards him and he resented the general ignorance of the international events and history that have led up to the attacks. He came to realize that he no longer wanted the life he had sought so zealously. When his romantic relationship ended with his girlfriend’s nervous breakdown, he had nothing in his life in New York and gradually distanced himself from everything he once valued, eventually returning to his family in Lahore.
The monologue is skillfully and subtly written. It is at turns confiding, gracious and mocking, describing Princeton as raising her skirt for corporate recruiters and “showing them some skin” and describing how the buildings on campus were antiqued to look older. He pretends to soothe the stranger’s uneasiness of the people around while painting him as a timid xenophobe. The reader is left with the question: was this an actual conversation or did the narrator catch sight of the stranger and fantasize goading the stranger with the story of how Changez rejected an America that he had found inferior?  Whatever your conclusion, the beauty of the language and the unusual device of “conversation through monologue” make this a story worth reading.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin

May 6, 2010

This book has been compared to James Joyce’s Dubliners in just about every review that I’ve read–not surprisingly, as Mueenuddin, like Joyce (or Balzac or Faulkner or Salinger) has written a series of stories populated by characters whose lives intertwine.

It’s also like Dubliners in that you’re made privy to regional culture, class, and mores; however, please don’t go looking for any salt-of-the-earth types who just love to sit on the lanai, sipping juleps whilst swapping gossip and folksy wisdom.  Mueenuddin’s characters live in rural Pakistan.  Their lives revolve around K. K. Harouni, a wealthy landowner with a farm in Dunya­pur and a mansion in Lahore; they are his servants, managers, and family.  None of them are happy, all of them are self-absorbed and calculating.  You will not be “uplifted,” so if you’re feeling despondent then you should probably read something else.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about why this book shall henceforth be counted among my favorites.  One of the so-called sins of writing fiction is telling rather than showing.  Mueenuddin shows.  Here he is describing a distracted, uncertain young woman: “Her thoughts ducked in and out of holes, like mice.”  Or here, the consummation of a doomed love affair: “Letting him do exactly as he wanted, throughout she wore a look in her eyes that he misunderstood as surprise and shyness, and later identified with moods that verged on madness–sequences of perplexity and focus in her eyes, expressing her hooded rage to get what she wanted.”

This is the sort of book that’s often labeled a “human comedy.” I can understand why, but I’d rather avoid that because I think it implies that these stories will “amuse” or “divert” you.  You will not be “amused.”  If anything, they will describe the corruption and cruelty present among members of a society that favors nepotism and rigid class structure.   Women are at the mercy of their families and patrons, while moments of happiness are fleeting.

But, despite how grim this seems, Mueenuddin’s stories remind me of the last sentence of another incredible but sad book, Junot Diaz’s Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao:  “Diablo! If only I’d known. The beauty! The beauty!”

Check it out and take it home.

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