Archive for category Book Reviews

“Little Night” by Luanne Rice – Book Review

Image result for little night by luanne rice“Little Night” by New York Times Bestselling author, Luanne Rice is heart-wrenching family drama, centered around two sisters and the abusive man who wrecked havoc in their life.  Frederick finds a vulnerability in the older sister, Anne and almost within days of meeting her, proposes to marry her.  Almost immediately he begins to lay down the rules in their relationship, insisting that marriage is a special bond between two people.  To young Anne, this older and confident man’s proclamations felt like he was “offering me a new contract: I would be his, accept his pronouncements, and in return, never be alone, never be unloved”.  

Very early on into the relationship, Frederick saw the closeness between his wife Anne and her younger sister Clare, as a threat to his ability to control and claim Anne completely.  He began to drive a wedge and soon Clare was unwelcome in their home and unable to contact Clare.  It took Clare several years to understand that “Frederick had laid down the law, and, even more horrifying, Anne had signed on to obey it”.  But long before she gets that insight, Frederick nearly ruined Clare’s life when Clare showed up unexpectedly at their home, wanting to see her sister.

Image result for domestic abuseAfter that devastating episode, Frederick took Anne far away and more isolated and alone, Anne learned to walk on eggshells to please Frederick.  Any little thing by Anne or their two children, Grit and Gilly, could throw Frederick into his dark and menacing mood.  Initially, Clare nurtured a hope to get away from Frederick and promised her children freedom.  But gradually, it became a pipe dream with an understanding that communication only occurred only through “intimidation and fear”.  And yet, even Anne’s showing any fear threw Frederick into a rage; “you make me feel like an animal when you act like that”, he said, “as if you’re so afraid of me”.  

Image result for owlMeanwhile Clare had picked up pieces of her own life, marred by Frederick’s interference, and was living a quiet life an urban birder and nature blogger, learning to find both comfort and peace in her work and with her boyfriend, Paul.  The story takes an unexpected twist when Anne’s daughter, Grit shows up at Clare’s door, ready to move in with her.  She explains she is working on a project that has “everything to do with resurrection, restoration and resurgence”, as found in nature.  As they unravel tangled family ties buried in secrets, healing and freedom begin to appear, albeit at a price.



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Stan’s Leap by Tom Duerig – Book Review

This book was recommended to me by my friend and author, Tom Duerig.  Tom Duerig is a scientist by training, specializing in Nitinol, a shape memory alloy.  He is the founder and president of Nitinol Devices and Components (NDC).  This was his first book of fiction and he asked me for my honest, unbiased opinion.  I found the book so wonderful that I decided I needed to write the review.

I will say that the best parts are a bit slow in coming, but they come and eventually it becomes a sheer page turner.  As the book progresses one sees that the author matures as well.  After the first few slow moving pages, the first 35% of the book is interesting with lots of good information.  The story gradually becomes more interesting as it becomes clear that 20 or so vacationers initially looking for total immersion in polynesian resort experience, now are finding themselves stranded without any hope to reconnect with the outside world.

The resort experience that was supposed to be a short enjoyable vacation and a fun challenge at the beginning, now became a survival issue.  Learning the skills became essential for their survival.  There are plenty of good lessons, should you ever get stuck on an island without any modern amenities, including phones, radios, clothes, tooth brushes, shoes and everything else that you can think of.  You can make torches and ink from candlenut trees, rope from hibiscus, use ti plant to wrap food for cooking, use tutu trees to make pareos or cloth and so on.  Where the story comes up short initially is in character development.  The reader somehow does not feel connected enough to care for the stranded people.  

All that changes dramatically at about 50% mark, as Adam, son of Jenny and Stan, emerges as the main character and also the narrator, as the story moves forward.  All other characters now emerge with their own personalities and depth.  Story also starts moving at a faster pace as the stranded group moves from stone age to the age of metal and tools.  Aspiration grows among some group members, to learn about the outside world.

When the contact is finally made with the outside world, the stranded vacationers who had moved back to the stone age of the past, now find that they have the future to catch up to.  Two major companies Google and Yahoo had gone out of business and the younger generation did not even know what internet was.  This book takes the readers on quite a journey and the lessons in sailing and surviving on an island, come as added bonus.

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“How to be A Woman” by Caitlin Moran — Book Review

With provocative images, words, and language, Caitlin Moran advances her feminist agenda in what is clearly a prescriptive book, “How to be a woman”.  Some people in my book club were not amused; perhaps by the crude language.  But let’s face it; would you rather have yet another preachy feminist book or a sarcastic, sardonic, witty, and funny one?

The book is part memoir and is interspersed with her own experiences of growing up in a crowded home, with five younger siblings. A home so crowded that Moran concludes that it is “far more sensible and much quicker to cry alone” about all the issues accompanying “growing pains”, as she grows from a girl to a woman.  When it comes to subjects concerning women, Moran tackles them all, controversial, provocative, and seemingly superficial; from teenage angst, obsession with the body, sex, love, work, motherhood, cosmetic interventions, and yes also birth control and abortion.   

Regarding the teenage angst of discovering hair growing in odd, inconvenient places and the pain and cost of waxing, she says, “we’ve got to a point where it’s basically costing us money to have a vagina”; and panties and thongs that are constantly getting skimpier and more inconvenient, they “should be bombed back to the stone age”.  With the same fervor, she tackles uncomfortable, bad for the legs, high heeled shoes and dozens of highly expensive brand name handbags that women must have.  As for clothes, Moran says, “women are judged on what they wear in a way men would find incomprehensible”.  “Normal women buy clothes to make them look good; whereas the fashion industry buys models to make the clothes look good”, says Moran.

English: A pair of high heeled shoe with 12cm ...

English: A pair of high heeled shoe with 12cm stiletto heels. Category:Shoes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And then there are deeper societal issues.  Sexism, she says, used to be overt and everywhere.  Now there is subtle sexism and it is more pernicious and damaging because there is an “element of doubt involved”.  And if you previously did not know it, by the time you read her account, you will be convinced that pregnancy and childbirth are not for the faint of the heart.

Recounting her own experience, Moran says, “My water is unbroken – they break it with a crochet hook.  My contractions have stopped — they jump start them with a pessary.  My cervix is unyielding — painfully, they sweep it, just as a contraction starts.  It is a sensation a little like being diced, internally, at the start of a slow murder”.  This is just a start of the description of her difficult childbirth process, during the birth of her first child.  I will skip more gory details here.  However, speaking in favor of motherhood, Moran says, “once you have experienced that level of pain, the rest of your life becomes easy.  However awful an experience, it’s really not wasted”.  Moreover, if you do get mentored in a women friendly environment and can use the magic of gravity then the task of child birthing becomes “simple, amazingly simple”!

Mother and Child (Gordine)

Mother and Child (Gordine) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Regarding child rearing, Moran says, “the sheer emotional, intellectual, physical, chemical pleasure” of children, being “high on ridiculous love” is “awe-inspiring”.   “It’s like being mugged by Cupid”, she says.  But Moran does not shy away from saying that for all women and at all times, this may not be the most appropriate vocation.  She says, “Our view of motherhood is still so idealized and misty — Mother, gentle giver of life — that the thought of a mother subsequently setting limits on her capacity to nurture and refusing to give further life seems obscene”.  In fact, Moran candidly shares her own moment of decision, when abortion was just the right choice, in her life.  She says, “the stakes are far, far too high.  I can’t agree with a society that would force me to bet on how much I could love under duress”.

“How to be a Woman” takes a stand against sexism, without being moralistic and without apologies.  From provocative observations of women’s lives, from the impact of wearing high heeled shoes to getting Brazilians, to being pressured into having an unwanted child, Moran weaves a narrative of what it means to be a woman, in a society where sexism exists.  And in doing so, Moran reclaims the word “feminism”.


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“The Book of Salt” by Monique Truong – Book Review

Primarily set in Paris in the 1930s, in “The Book of Salt”, we get to understand life through the perspective of Binh, the Vietnamese cook employed by Gertrude Stein and her lesbian partner, Alice B. Toklas.  Binh is a shrewd observer and in equal measure, he is creative in recounting the life of his famous mesdames, as he is candid in telling about his own place in the world.  If you are looking for a story with a beginning, middle, and an ending with a climax then the story might disappoint you.  His is a story that must be enjoyed as as a journey, without yearning for a destination.  The beauty of language in how the story is told is striking.  Enjoy below a few interesting quotes from the book and read it to enjoy more.

English: Portrait of Gertrude Stein Deutsch: P...

English: Portrait of Gertrude Stein Deutsch: Porträt Gertrude Stein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The vocabulary of servitude is not built upon my knowledge of foreign words but rather on my ability to swallow them.

Communicating in the negative is not the quickest and certainly not the most esteemed form of expression, but for those of us with few words to spare it is the magic spell, the incantation, that opens up an otherwise inaccessible treasure trove.

Only the rich can afford not to eat their animals.

After years of the imposed invisibility of servitude, I am acutely aware when when I am being watched, a sensitivity born from absence, a grain of salt on the tongue of a man who has tasted only bitter.

In order for his new business to thrive, he needed to be within walking distance of poverty.  Abject was not required.  That would be overdoing it.  He needed just a paid-on-Saturday, broke-by-sunday kind of poverty, a deep-rooted not-going-anywhere-soon kind of insolvency.  

He was a cook, after all.  For tenderness, we all know that braising is better than an open flame.  

She believes that it is possible to be humane even when one is behaving brutally.

A bridge belongs to no one because a bridge has to belong to two parties, one on either side.  There has to be an agreement, a mutual consent, otherwise it’s a useless piece of wood, a wasted expanse of cement.  Every bridge is, in this way, he explained, a monument to an accord.

Regarding sea sickness………
My body had to first let go of land before it could survive at sea.  It is the body’s stubborn resistance and violent refusal that are solely at fault, producing sham symptoms.

Charity that has to be repaid?  Wouldn’t that make it a loan?

She sat still and received from her mother a rare gift of tenderness, which for the girl would always mean pain.

Wives are never geniuses.  Geniuses are never wives.  GertrudeStein, therefore, has no use for them.  

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A pinch of salt, according to my Madame, should not be a primitive reflex, a nervous twitch on the part of any cook……..

Salt is an ingredient to be considered and carefully weighed like all others.  The true test of salt – the whole of the sea on the tip of the tongue, sorrow’s sting, labor’s smack — has been lost, according to my Madame, to be centuries of culinary imprudence.

A “memory” was for me another way of saying a “story”.  A “story” was another way of saying a “gift”.

For a traveler, it is sometimes necessary to make the world small on purpose.  It is the only way to stop migrating and find a new home.  

Plaque at No 27 Rue de Fleurus, Paris 6th, whe...

Plaque at No 27 Rue de Fleurus, Paris 6th, where Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) lived with her brother Leo Stein and later with Alice B. Toklas. Many artists and writers came here to visit her between 1903 and 1938. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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“Minefields of the Heart” by Sue Diaz – Book Review

Praying for safety and security of all our Veterans and their families #VeteransDay #VeteransMatter

Darshana Varia Nadkarni's Blog

“War is hell”.  Most of us know this however, from a certain safe distance, except those who are in it; in the physical hellishness of war.  Towards the end of the book the author discusses another book “Black Hearts” by Jim Frederick, an account of one platoon’s descent into madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death.  Diaz says, he writes a factual and fair account of “lonely outposts, insurgent safe-houses, cold canals, farm fields crisscrossed by enemy fire, and streets as dangerous as they were dusty”.  This is the physical hellishness of war that despite being gruesome, is, for most of us, at a certain geographical safe distance.

Minefield maintenance Marines stack mines for ... Minefield maintenance Marines stack mines for disposal. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is clearing it’s minefields of outdated mines in accordance with President William Jefferson Clinton’s directive. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But in this book, Minefields of the Heart, Diaz writes…

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“The Dog Lived and So Will I” by Teresa J. Rhyne — Book Review

“I was hideous.  Hideous.  In preparing for chemo I’d thought about the hair loss, of course, and concentrated on the fact that it would grow back.  I thought about losing my eyelashes and decided eye shadow and liner would work miracles.  I knew of the bloating weight gain the steroids could cause but told myself that was better than nausea and again it was temporary; after all, Seamus (dog) had gained 20 percent of his body weight and just as quickly was back in fighting shape.  Menopause would come, sure, but it was going to do that sooner or later anyway, and before it happened I was no more aware than anyone else of the true meaning of hot flashes and how you burn from the inside out, so that hadn’t bothered me either.  Somehow I had overlooked skin rashes as a side effect and never, never had I given thought to what these side effects would all be like together.  Not until that moment, face to mirrored face.  …….. How does one recover from this? Impossible. ……. I can’t do this.  I can’t”.

Heaven forbid and if one ever has to go through cancer treatment, having read this book not only would help one navigate the morass of health care system, but also giver clear hope that not only “it too shall pass” but it is worth waiting for the “cookie moment”.

Teresa poured her heart and soul (not to mention her hard earned money) to take her beagle, Seamus, survive through an aggressive form of cancer.  She cried buckets of tears, took him for his biopsy and chemo appointments, rushed him to the hospital when his white blood count dropped dangerously low, and stood up to the neglectful veterinarians, to get him the care he needed.  However, in one of life’s cruel ironies, before long she discovered that she had a lump in her breast and the biopsy showed it to be the one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, a triple negative breast cancer.   How does one survive such traumas?  The answer is “love”.

Some may consider this a story of surviving cancer, but this is a story about the rock, the glue, and the toast.  After being divorced twice, Teresa had a new boyfriend Chris, ten years younger, smart, funny, wise, and infinitely kind.  Little did they know that he would be the rock (the pack leader) on whom she would need to lean during both Seamus’s and her own illness and treatment.  When Teresa is completely dejected and feels she can’t do this anymore, he bakes her cookies at four in the morning, drives her to all her medical appointments, tries out wigs with her, and in solidarity as she looses her hair, he grows his hair, making a deal that he would only cut when she needed a cut, after the regrowth of her hair.

Camry the beagle

Camry the beagle (Photo credit: laRuth)

Teresa for her part is the glue that holds their family together.  She leans on him but gives him space.  She is infinitely grateful and brings her and Chris’s family into the fold, eventually bringing them to meet each other.  Seamus who loves toast, steals people’s hearts with his cuteness.  He brings much needed joyful respites to their little family.

I cry easily but this book did not make me cry.  I teared up often reading this touching tender story, but I also laughed a lot.  Deep grief is wrapped in smart, witty, humorous, funny anecdotes.  And then there is treasure trove of information about little questions that are hard to get answered.  Is it painful for the radioactive tracer to be injected in order to locate the tumor for a biopsy, how long it takes for a chemo treatment, how long does it take for radiation, and more.

And while majority of the health care personnel and physicians are compassionate, committed, and are deeply dedicated to the welfare of their patients, there are some who are clearly uninterested, detached, and neglectful.  Teresa stands up (unfortunately not always succeeding) for her right as a patient to get timely information and reasonable care.  One of the physicians who rarely sees her patients, leaving actual care in the hands of the nurses, assures Teresa (about her dangerous white blood count crash), these side effects are very common, and the nurses know how to deal with them.  We deal with this stuff all the time.”  Teresa points out, that the nurse did not have the answers on how to deal with them and says, “it’s not common to me.  I don’t deal with it all the time”.  Contrarily, she is enormously grateful and highly appreciative of the compassionate and thorough care she received at the UCLA cancer center and particularly Dr. Amer Karam.

This is an engaging, funny, sweet, uplifting, heartwarming story.  After all, who would not like to read about a cute dog’s hilarious antics?


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સાત પગલા આકાશમાં – કુન્દનિકા કાપડિયા — Gujarati Book Review

ફરી પાછી કાલીફોર્નિયા માં યોજાયેલી બેઠક
કવિ ઓ ને માણીએ, લેખકો ને સાંભળીયે
પ્રજ્ઞાબેન ખુબ ટેકો ને પ્રોત્સાહન આપે
થોડું લખવાની અમે કોશિશ પણ કરીએ
લખી લાવજો કોઈ પુસ્તક ની પ્રસ્તાવના
હોમ વર્ક આપેલું, અમે ભલા ક્યે તેમ કરીએ

મારી પ્રસ્તાવના નીચે પ્રમાણે છે.  મેં “દીકરી તો પારકું ધન” કરીને એક કહેવતો ને જોડી ને બનાવેલી કવિતા પણ સંભળાવી – તે નીચેના લીંક ઉપર જોવા મળશે – .  બીજા સ્થાનિક લેખકો ને માણવા, જરૂર નીચે ના બ્લોગ ઉપર લટાર મારજો।

સાત પગલા આકાશમાં – કુન્દનિકા કાપડિયા

સન 1982 માં જયારે આ ચોપડી બહાર પડેલી ત્યારે ઘણો ઉહાપોહ થયેલો. “તમને જેલ માં મોકલવા જોઈએ”ત્યાંથી માંડી ને “તમને નોબેલ પારિતોષક આપવું જોઈએ” તેવા ભાવો વાચકો એ વ્યક્ત કરેલા.  શરૂઆત માં એમ લાગે કે જે વિષય ઉપર આ ચોપડી માં વાત થઇ રહી છે તે આ સદી માં, આપણા જમાના સાથે સંબંધ રાખતી નથી. પુરુષ અને સ્ત્રી હવે તો હારોહાર સાથે ઉભા રહે છે.


Sky (Photo credit: Honou)

પરંતુ થોડો વિચાર કરીએ – શું જમાનો ખરેખર બદલાઈ ચુક્યો છે? શું આપણા ભારત દેશમાં સ્ત્રીઓને ખરેખર પુરુષ જેટલો અધિકાર અને મોકો બધે મળે છે? લગભગ બધી જ બાબતો માં હજુ પણ તેવી જ અસમાનતા છે. વાચોકો ચોપડી વાંચશે અને પછી વિચારશે તો તેવા જ દાખલા હમણાં પણ મળશે. અને ખાસ તો પ્રસ્તાવના વાંચવાનું ચૂકશો નહિ. પ્રસ્તાવના માં કુન્દનિકા બહેને અમેરિકા, ચીન, બ્રાઝીલ, રશિયા વગરે બધા જ દેશો માં સ્ત્રીનું સ્થાન કેવું હતું અને કેટલું બદલાયું છે તેનો ઐતિહાસિક અહેવાલ આપ્યો છે.

સ્ત્રી પુરુષ વચ્ચે ની અસમાનતા વિષે પ્રસ્તાવના માં કુન્દનિકા બહેન ઘણું લખી ચુક્યા છે એટલે હું તે વાતો પછી નહિ લખું. પણ હમણાં બહાર પડી રહેલી ઘટના ઓ ઉપર થોડું ધ્યાન દોરવા માગું છું. આફ્રિકા ના દેશો ને છોડી ને, ભારત દેશમાં સૌથી વધારે સામુહિક બળાત્કાર એટલે કે ગેંગ રેપ થાય છે. આ અતિ અન્યાયિક પરંપરા પાછળ જોઈએ તો કલ્ચરલ વ્યુ એટલે કે સંસ્કૃતિક વિચારો દેખાશે. જો કોઈ અંગત બળાત્કાર કરે તો તેને છુપાવવાની કોશિશ કરે. એ વ્યુક્તી ને પૂરો ખ્યાલ હોય છે કે આ ખોટું કામ છે, એક અન્યાય છે, એક ગુનો છે અને તેની સજા મળશે. પરંતુ સામુહિક બળાત્કાર માં એવો વિચાર હોય છે કે હું કૈક મોટું કામ કરું છું અને માં મિત્રો મારો ખભો થાબડશે અને તેની મને ખાસ કઈ સજા નહિ થાય. થોડા મહિના પહેલા જ બંગાળ માં પંચાયતે ફરમાવેલું કે જે યુવતી બહાર ની કોમ ના માણસ ના પ્રેમ માં પડેલી તેની સજા છે સામુહિક બળાત્કાર અને તે ફરમાન અનુસાર તેર પુરુષો એ તેનો બળાત્કાર કરેલો. આ હમણાં ની વાત છે કે આ સાલ 2014 ની ચુંટણી માં સમાજવાદી પાર્ટી તરફ થી ઉભા રહેલા મુલાયમ સિંહ યાદવે વચન આપેલું કે જો તે ચૂંટાશે તો બળાત્કાર કરનારાઓ ને ઓછી સજા માટે અરજી કરશે.

ઘણું બદલાયું છે અને આપણાં લાડીલા ભારત માં ઘણું તેમ નું તેમ છે. હમણાં થોમસ રોઈટર્સ દ્વારા થયેલી જી 20 ની સર્વે માં આવેલું કે દુનિયા ના 20 દેશ ની સરખામણી માં ભારત દેશ સ્ત્રીઓ માટે સૌથી ખરાબ દેશ છે. અમેરિકા માં અને ખાસ કાલીફોર્નિયા માં દોમેસ્તિક વૈઓલંસ ના કિસ્સા ઇન્ડિયન કોમ માં વધારે જોવા મળે છે.

આ નવલ કથા માં વસુધા અનેક અન્યાય નો ભોગ બનતી રહે છે. પછી તેના જીવન માં એક વણાંક આવે છે અને તે અન્યાય પ્રત્યે જાગ્રત થાય છે અને મુક્તિ ના રાહ ઉપર પગલા માંડે છે. કુન્દનિકા બહેન લખે છે “સ્ત્રી ની સમાનતા એટલે પુરુષના અધિપત્ય નો ઇનકાર, પુરુષ ના સાથ નો ઇનકાર નહિ. સ્ત્રી મુક્તિ માં પુરુષ વિહોણા જીવન ની કલ્પના નથી, પણ પરસ્પર સ્નેહ સંવાદ વડે સમૃદ્ધ બનતા જીવન ની વિભાવના છે. અને આવો સંબંધ સમાનતાના પાયા પર જ રચાઈ શકે”. અને તે આપણને વસુધા ના જીવન માં જોવા મળશે.

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“The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls – Book Review

Jeannette Walls is a regular contributor to and lives in New York and Long Island and is married to writer, John Taylor.  But it would be hard to believe where her roots are, her nearly homeless existence, her entirely dysfunctional family, and her wandering parents who embraced life and inculcated love for learning but never learned about living like regular folks.  This is Walls’ memoir and the best and succinct way to understand this incredible book is as described by New York Newsday.  “Some people are born storytellers.  Some lives are worth telling.  The best memoirs happen when these two conditions converge.  In “The Glass Castle”, they have”.

It is rarely that two highly dysfunctional individuals come together and spend an entire lifetime together.  It is rarer that that they become parents and raise the children in so very dysfunctional an environment and still escape intervention by child protective services during the entire duration of the children growing up.  It is perhaps rarer still that the children become self sufficient and pull themselves out of the mess and tell the powerfully story.

Rex Walls dreamed big dreams, had a childlike curiosity about life, was highly intelligent, and loved his family.  In the absence of his drinking addiction, he might have been an entrepreneur with some cool patents to his name and a huge big GlassCastle for his family.  But he had a drinking addiction, most likely suffered sexual abuse in his youth, could not hold down a job, and could not budget or manage finances.  He moved his family from one small town to another, “skedaddling” from place to place to escape from child protection services, creditors and so on.  Like her husband, Rose Mary Walls was also a free spirit.  She loved to paint and although trained as a teacher, she hated it because she felt her true calling was to be an artist.   Often after she received money from her land that was leased by an oil company, she splurged it away in a few days and then fed popcorn for dinner to her children; sometimes there were no dinners at all and they were left to forage for themselves, and sometimes as infants, while cooking their own food, the kids set themselves on fire; their mother encouraged independence and self-sufficiency.

Rex and Rose Mary fought, Rex tried to kill Rose Mary with his car, Rose Mary screamed and fought with Rex when she found her children snacking on margarine because that is all they found to eat; but they always kissed and made up.  Together, they created a family that was neither well provided for, nor well fed, nor well housed.  While they lived dirt poor and almost homeless at times, they did not care to find out about and use their million plus dollars of inheritance and in another instance, let their inherited home in Phoenix crumble due to termites, and eventually to be looted. Despite the fact that a rifraf wandered into their home and was inappropriately touching their daughter, before she yelled, “pervert” and he ran away, they insisted on leaving their doors and windows wide open for air to come through.

After years of wandering through the West Coast and mid-West, they ended up on the East Coast, in the little town of Welch, in West Virginia. After the grandma tried to sexually molest one kid and after the kids were left in cold basement in icy cold winter, the parents managed to scrape together a small fund and bought a house for $1000 on a small hill.  The house stood on stilts, was moldy and stove gave out shocks when it rained, the stairs cracked, and eventually a hole in the back wall served as the entrance.  Jeannette’s brother Brian slept under an inflatable raft, because it poured in the room when it rained, her sister Maureen, mostly ate at her friends’ homes, and elder sister Lori found her dreams dash, even as the children pushed and cajoled and coaxed the father to stop drinking and mother to start working.

Jeannette Walls at the 2009 Texas Book Festiva...

Jeannette Walls at the 2009 Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a story of unimaginable hardships and of incredible tenacity; a story with a bad beginning, sad middle, and a good ending.  What can be more inspirational?   Although Jeannette Walls’ parents never learned to live inside a proper home, within a budget, and without addiction or clutter, the children supported one another to make life better and normal, one which has boundaries of appropriateness.  Jeannette Walls’ story powerfully tells us that neither our lives nor livelihood need to be determined by challenges, no matter how grave they may be.  It is a touching story, beautifully told.  I could not put the book down.  According to “People” review, Walls has joined the company of writers such as Mary Karr and Frank McCourt who have been able to transform their sad memories into fine art”.

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The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee – Book Review

The Piano Teacher is a story of British, American and other expats in Hong Kong and the local wealthy Chinese who were all caught in a tremendous struggle for survival, during the Japanese occupation in the early 1940s.

Historical Background
In March 1939, Japan dropped bombs on Hong Kong territory, destroying a bridge and a train station.  Japanese occupation of Hong Kong began in December, 1941, after 18 days of fierce fighting against imposing Japanese forces who invaded the territory.  The occupation lasted for 3 years and 8 months, when Japan surrendered at the end of the Second World War.

All the characters are caught in a complicated struggle for survival during extremely brutal Japanese administration during the occupation.  There is a constant tug between integrity and submission, for the sake of survival.  The story is interesting and is placed in a historical context that is important and yet not a lot is written about it.  There are times when the author gives interesting insights into the characters.

Some aspects of the story emerge with clarity and are interesting.  For instance, during 1940s and 1950s, the extent to which stereotypes and prejudices played a role, in an outwardly diverse place like Hong Kong, is interesting.  “The Indians had been brought over by the British, of course.  Pakistanis ran carpet stores, Portuguese were doctors, and Jews ran the dairy farms and other large businesses.  There were English businessmen and American bankers.  White Russian Aristocrats, and Peruvian entrepreneurs – all peculiarly well traveled and sophisticated – and of course, there were the Chinese, quite different in Hong Kong from the ones in China”.  Similarly when occupiers came, they divided the immigrant population by race and accordingly assigned living quarters and other privileges.  Author has done good research to convey the brutality of the occupiers and their impact on innocent people.

But unfortunately, there are many limitations.  The book meanders and the real plot begins only after a reader sticks through slow moving and boring beginning.  There is too much of vague dialogue that seems to be going nowhere, there are portions of the book that do not flow well.  The characters are not well developed and they lack depth.  There isn’t a single character that a reader can identify with, root for, and turn the pages to see the character survive the occupation.  This is a huge limitation in the book.  The occupiers are clearly bad, brutal, and loose in the end.  That part of the story is very clear and well developed.  Almost any reasonably well told story would have had survivors that a reader is rooting for and is eager to see them come through this horrific ordeal.   Character’s humanness and limitations would only make them more real, not distant.  But characters in the book feel too distant.  As a reader, you feel no empathy, no dislike, no hope, nothing for them.  Then there is the piano teacher.  The book has her title but she has no role whatsoever.  The story could have been told without her presence.

The story just does not grip you in anyway whatsoever.  You flip the pages and it matters little how it will end.  It is extremely disappointing.  This is a story with an exciting plot and tremendous promise that simply failed to live up to its potential.        

Japanese soldiers arrested the western bankers...

Japanese soldiers arrested the western bankers and kept them in a Chinese hostel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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“Wild – From Lost to Found on Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed – Book Review

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver (quoted at beginning of Part Five).

If Cheryl Strayed is any inspiration, you will do much.  “We aren’t poor, because we’re rich in love”, her mother said, while Strayed and her siblings were growing up.  Her mother with many faults (and who isn’t), was kindhearted, forgiving, generous, naïve, and an undying optimist (when you read the book, you will see there is a pun in here, alluding to one of life’s strange ironies).  One day life threw a curve ball and her family went bankrupt, at least, in love.  Strayed’s memoir is a brutally honest, funny, sad, and absolutely magnificently written account of her journey through her 1,100 mile walk on the Pacific Crest Trail, through her denial and her anger, and her acceptance of things as they are, that led her to love.  Wild, chosen by Oprah as her first Book Club 2.0 selection, was also chosen by Huffington Post in August 2013, as one of “40 books to  read.

Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta (Photo credit: radzfoto)

In a desperate attempt to reclaim her life run amok with her zany behaviors, in one swell swoop, so characteristic of teens and early adults, Strayed traded the material world of possessions and comfort for life in the nature, in the wild, and in favor of her backpack, Monster, so heavy that she had to perch on a chair to lift it.  At the age of 22, she began the journey at Mohave in the Sierras, in her boots so tight that her toe nails popped off.  On the long journey, she held together her fraying sandals with tape, got new boots shipped by REI at next pickup location, almost stepped on the rattle snakes, came face to face with a bear and a fox, ran into the crew about to blow off the mountain she was walking on, woke up from her sleep once covered with black ants and at another time found frogs jumping over her in droves.

She walked on during days of merciless heat and on bone chilling nights, got lost and then found, ran out of money and got invited for meals by kind strangers.  Strayed hiked on from Mohave desert through Tehachapi Mountains to Kennedy Meadows in the high Sierras, through Forester Pass, at 13,160 feet, the highest point on the PCT, through Sierra City (a town that was wiped out by an avalanche in 1852) and other scenic villages.  She kept walking through Northern California, where the High Sierra Nevada yield to the Southern Cascade Range, through Lassen Peak, through extremely dry Hat Creek Rim, to Mount Shasta to Oregon’s Cascade Range, through Mount McLoughlin to Mount Thielsen to Mount Mazama.  At one time, Mount Mazama had stood at 12,000 feet tall and was then hit by the crater and became Crater Lake, a site of incredible beauty, its waters so pure and deep that apparently it absorbs every color of visible light except blue, and reflects pure blue back, into the world.  Srayed continued walking through the Three Sisters to Mount Washington to Three Fingered Jack to Mount Jefferson and to Mount Hood (Oregon’s largest and most active volcano), finally ending her journey at the Bridge of the Gods on the Columbia River, on the Canadian border, in the state of Washington.  Yes, she did a solo two month hike and walked One Thousand and One Hundred miles!  It is an incredible story of physical agony and persistence, of humanity filled with kindness, and one where only luck can help you, if in the wild, you are faced with people, with evil intentions.       

Crater Lake - Discovery Point

Crater Lake – Discovery Point (Photo credit: Odalaigh)

Throughout her journey, Strayed also reflects on her inner struggles, her deep loss, her heart wrenching grieving, her egregious behaviors that jeopardized her safety and put her marriage at risk.  In the wild, she hollers, sobs, curses God, ruminates and reads.  Some of her ruminations are gut-wrenching.  She regrets the “small things that stung now”, where in arrogant superiority, characteristic of a teen, she had “scorned her mother’s kindness”, how she hurt her kind and infinitely forgiving husband, she yearned to talk to her siblings, yearned for a family, “to be folded into something that was safe from destruction”.  Her enormous physical accomplishment pales in comparison to the place where her self healing and spiritual journey led her.  About her mom she says, “the truth was, she’d been a spectacular mom”, one who gave her “all-encompassing love”, and “considered that love her greatest achievement”.  She was able to forgive her step father Eddie, who was there in the most significant ways, when it mattered.

At the end of her long journey, Strayed feels very present to her life, “like all lives, mysterious, irrevocable, and sacred.”  (Indeed – what a profound description of life which can be seen in the rearview mirror, but can only be lived forward).  Strayed is filled with gratitude, as she accepts her life, without feeling the need to recapture it.  “Something inside of me released”, she says.  I, highly recommend this book.  You will laugh, you will cry, you will reflect, you will regret, you will accept, and most of all you will enjoy her beautiful writing.  (Personally, it also reminded me of the month I spent with 4 of my fellow climbers/hikers in the Himalayan mountains, carrying our own monster packs with tents, mats, food, stove, crampons, rope, ice ax and blistered feet, and fully bathed only after the span of almost 27 days.  Some day I too might write my story).

The Bridge of the Gods from Cascade Locks, Oregon.

The Bridge of the Gods from Cascade Locks, Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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