Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Poetry Meme

I have never attempted a poetry meme before so I was ecstatic that the lovely Lesley of Lesley's Book Nook would tag me- a big "thank you" to her and also to Cam from Cam's Commentary for originating the meme.

Here goes:

1. The first poem I remember reading/hearing/reacting to was:

Abou Ben Adam by Leigh Hunt

My dad dabbled in amateur theatre as a youngster and Abou Ben Adam was a poem he could recite with a lot of dramatics and hence he was forever reciting it all over the house...infact, one of my earliest memories of my father was him reciting this poem to us children. He also recited a lot of Punjabi poems that I can't find on the net, so I'm not going to be able to write about them.

Abou ben Adam

Abou ben Adam (may his tribe increase!)

awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,

And saw, within the moonlight of his room,

Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,

an angel, writing in a book of of gold.

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adam bold,

And to the Prescence in the room he said:

"What writest thou?" The vision raised its head,

And, with a look made of all sweet accord,

Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."

"And is mine one?"said Abou, "Nay, not so,"

Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,

But cheerily still, and said, "I pray thee, then,

Write me as one who loves his fellow men."

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night

It came again, with a great awakening light,

And showed the names whom love of God had blest,

And lo! Ben adam's name led all the rest.

- Leigh Hunt

2. I was forced to memorize (name of poem) in school and........

I was forced to memorize "O Captain My Captain" by Walt Whitman and you would think I'd hate the poem, but au contraire, it's one of my favorite poems! I went on to recite it at my school's elocution competition and WON! :)

3. I read/don't read poetry because....

I don't read modern poetry because I'm an old-fashioned gal, I like poetry that rhymes. The only non-rhyming poetry I love are the Sufi poems by Rumi, Hafiz etc. Also, poetry is getting so abstract these days that I don't always understand what the poet is saying.

4. A poem I'm likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem is .......

When I think of the word poem in the dictionary of my mind, "Solitude" by Ella Wheeler Wilcox is the poem that comes to mind. Good or bad, I've often taken her advice...

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow it's mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.

Sing, and the hills will answer; Sigh, it is lost on the air. The echoes bound to a joyful sound, But shrink from voicing care.

I also love this one by RUMI

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.

5. I write/don't write poetry, but..............

Sadly, I don't write any poetry, not even the rhyming kind!

6. My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature.....

When I read certain kinds of poems it's a magical experience, it's almost as if I am lifted up and away into a different world and even when the words are long forgotten, the essence of the poem continues to stay with me. Very few bodies of literature have been able to do that for me.

7. I find poetry.....

especially the old-fashioned or Sufi poetry, fills my heart and touches my soul. I love the rhythm of poetry, I love that for the most part it is free from rules of grammar, allowing it to bend and flow any which way it wants to go.

8. The last time I heard poetry....

I think the last time was when my friend and fellow blogger "Waryer Poet" or 'Cactus Poet" as he is now known, sent me a recording of his poems.

9. I think poetry is like....

Red wine, when you read the right kind of poetry and it can intoxicate you, but when you read something that you don't particularly enjoy it gives you a headache!

There are so many on my blogroll that would love attempt this meme, so I'm going to invite all of you to play if you would like!

This might also be a nice time to introduce some friends and fellow bloggers whose wondrous and clever poetry I absolutely enjoy:

Beloved Dreamer
Gautami from Rooted
Sharanya Manivannan

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Shalimar The Clown by Salman Rushdie

Category: Fiction

Format: Trade Paperback, 416 pages

Publisher: Vintage Canada

Price: $21.00

Whenever friends or acquaintances learn of my love for South-Asian fiction, I am asked the inevitable question: Have you read Salman Rushdie's "........."(fill in any title you want here) and I am almost embarrassed to have to reply to them in the negative. I have no good reason for not reading an SR, except to say the opportunity never really presented itself until now. A few weeks ago Random House asked if I would like to read "Shalimar the Clown" and I jumped at the chance because not only was it a Rushdie, but also, it was set in Kashmir a place I am drawn to because of its handsome people, beautiful scenery and its precarious position in the world (political pundits say that if a nuclear war does take place, Kashmir is where it will be, after all it is the only place in the world where two nuclear forces are staring down at each other across the Line of Control.)

The book opens with the killing of Max Ophuls, ex US ambassador to India, in Los Angeles on his daughter's doorstep. His death, believed to have been carried out by an Islamic fundmentalist, has no witnesses. In flashbacks we learn that Max Ophuls during his tenure as Ambassdor in India falls in love with a beautiful but uneducated Kashmiri village belle, Boonyi Kaul, who leaves her family to become his mistress...such being the lure of his position and power. A bulk of the story is about what happens to her after she becomes his mistress and what happens to her family, her husband Shalimar the Clown and her native Kashmiri village, a village of theatrical performers and cooks,which she leaves behind. Shalimar, a tightrope walker is understandably devastated when Boonyi leaves with the American ambassador and starts to fall apart, his beloved Kashmir seems to mirror his descent by falling into a madness of its own.

It is not easy for an author to wed large social and political conflicts, such as the conflict over Kashmir, to personal lives, but in "Shalimar The Clown",through the lives,loves and tribulations of the 4 main characters, Boonyi, Shalimar the Clown, the Ambassador Max Ophuls and India, his daughter, Salman Rushdie deftly does just that. Through some great storytelling he acquaints us with the history behind the "rape" of the beautiful valley of Kashmir.

Some history:

When India gained its independence from Britain on 15 August 1947, the Asian sub-continent was partitioned into Hindu-dominated India and the newly-created Muslim state of Pakistan. Kashmir which had a larger Muslim population was expected to join Pakistan, but, it was ruled by a Hindu Maharajah who dithered over the issue because ideally he would have preferred to remain independent of both countries. While he agitated and fussed, Islamic militia from Pakistan began pouring into Kashmir and to counter them the Maharajah had to call on India to send troops to Kashmir, thus began the oppressive military presence and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the beautiful and formerly peaceful valley of Kashmir.

Rushdie's book not only turns the spotlight on that bit of history but also explains the genesis and growth of the JKLF ( The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front), a Separitist movement,fighting for the Liberation of Kashmir from both India and Pakistan, the growth and ferocity of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (Soldiers of the Pure - one of the most feared groups fighting against Indian control in Kashmir),the banishment of the Hindu Kashmiri Pundits and so on. Rushdie does this with an impressive storyline, a fascinating cast of characters and a blend of fables, superstitions,folk tales, and legends which keeps the reader engaged in the story...don't you just love a book that educates even while it entertains?

If I do have a critique about the book it is that Rushdie tends to be very wordy and around the middle of the book the sheer weight of what I thought were long-winded passages,took its toll on me. I shut the book only picking it up again once I had agreed with myself to skip any long descriptions or anything I deemed not really contributing to the story. Having said that however, this is a powerful and "essential" story; powerful because strong emotions such as love, revenge and jealousy are the engines that drive the narrative and essential because the plight of the Kashmiri people needs a ear. Sure, the newspapers cover the crisis in Kashmir all the time, but there is nothing quite like a novel with characters a reader can come to care for and love, to really make us interested in a cause.

I'd be happy to read another Salman Rushdie soon, so write in and tell me what Salman Rushdie novels you have read and liked (or disliked) or what you plan on reading.

For a concise reading on the Kashmir dispute, go here

An update (13 Dec): Recently President Musharraf said that Pakistan would give up its claim on Kashmir if India accepts a four-point resolution, including autonomy for the region under a joint government with Indian, Pakistani, and Kashmiri more about it here

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Soong Sisters (1997)

Hubby is in China at the moment and in his honor I decided to watch a Chinese (Mandarin) movie that I spied in the "Foreign Films" section in the library. I'm not sure why I picked this particular movie, "The Soong Sisters", after all I had never heard of them before, but I am so glad I did because this movie tells the story of pre-modern China - right from the revolution that overthrew the Qin dynasty in 1911 right up until when China became a Communist Nation in 1949- through the lives of the celebrated Soong sisters, daughters of Charlie Soong, American-educated Methodist minister and one of the main financiers of the 1949 Revolution and who made a fortune selling Bibles in China. Apparently this movie won a bunch of awards at the 1997 Hong Kong Film Festival.

"Once upon a time in distant China, there were three sisters. One loved money, one loved power, and one loved her country." So opens this historical, melodramatic chronicle of the influential lives of three daughters from one of pre-Communist China's wealthiest families. Two of the Soong sisters married important figures in 20th-century Chinese history. Soong Ching-ling (played by Maggie Cheung) married Sun Yat-sen, who led the Chinese revolution that toppled the Qing dynasty in 1911 and became China's first president, while her sister Mei-ling (Vivian Wu) married Sun's successor, the famed Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang became president of China after Sun Yat-sen and had to deal with a nation thoroughly plundered by Western powers and by local Chinese warlords. His own government was corrupt and he was eventually defeated by the communists in 1949. Chiang and the Nationalists fled to Taiwan, where he remained president, a virtual dictator, till his death in 1975. The oldest daughter Ai-ling (Michelle Yeoh) married industrialist H.H. Kung, a wealthy and powerful man who eventually became Hong Kong's finance minister.

Most of my knowledge of modern China consists of Mao's rule and what came after..this little period between the end of the Qin Dynasty and Mao, with the Japanese invasion, the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists, resulting in the Nationalists fleeing to Taiwan and the Communists taking over power, was never well known to me until now. But then again, I am wary about promoting this movie because, having been through strict Chinese censorship, I am sure this movie presents a very biased look at history with Chiang Kai-Shek and the youngest Soong daugher, Mei-Ling being depicted as the bad fellas and with Ching-Ling who was married to Sun-Yat Sen being the most likeable. Her politics were Left-leaning and she remained in China after the communists took over, eventually becoming honorary chairperson of the People's Republic. Not surprisingly, Soong Ching-ling was estranged from her two capitalist sisters. IMO, Mei-Ling was definitely the most fascinating and accomplished of the Soong sisters.

Why are people, including myself, so fascinated by the Soong Sisters? I guess it's because China being the patriarchal society that it is, it seems incongruous to have women at the helm, no doubt, in part it was the women's wealth and their connections that heralded them onto the world stage, but even so it was quite an achievement. Indira Gandhi, Corazon Aquino are also to be admired. Not sure why the US, this great respecter of women's rights and achievements should have taken so long to see a Condoleeza Rice.

For more fascinating reading on the Soong Sisters, go here

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Inheritance of Loss By Kiran Desai

# Hardcover: 336 pages;

# Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (January 9, 2006);

# Language: English

So strong is the link between loss and sadness that I went into Kiran Desai's book "The Inheritance of Loss' fully expecting it to be cloaked in melancholy, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't. Sure, there was sadness, there was loss, but because she balances it with such humor and wisdom you don't come away with a sense of gloom.

Kiran Desai's story is set against the backdrop of the agitation for Gorkhaland (1986)in the north-eastern hills of Darjeeling (India) close to the border with Nepal and revolves around two main characters: 16-year old orphaned Sai and her grandfather, an emibittered, orge-like judge who seems to prefer living in the past . In flashbacks we learn that when he was a young man the judge was sent off to Cambridge by his doting family to study law , but it was a time when people of colour weren't particulary liked in Britain, he was ridiculed for his accent, young girls held their noses as he passed insisting he reeked of curry... this rejection fueled in his soul a shame and a dislike for his heritage, his culture and the colour of his skin.

"...he forgot how to laugh, could barely manage to lift his lips in a smile, and if he ever did, he held his hand over his mouth, because he couldn't bear anyone to see his gums, his teeth.They seemed too private. Infact, he could barely let any of himself peep out of his clothes for fear of giving offence. He began to wash obsessively, concerned he would be accused of smelling. To the end of his life, he would prefer shadow to light, faded days to sunny, for he was suspicious that sunlight might reveal him, in his hideousness, all too clearly." (pg 40)

Other characters in the book include, the wizened old cook and his precious son Biju whom he sent to the US to pursue the American dream; anglophile sisters Noni and Lola; Swiss national Father Booty; drunk uncle Potty and the fascinating Nepali tutor Gyan (also Sai's love interest). The book is set alternately in India and in North America and lovers of language will be fascinated to see how Desai's narration changes to reflect the part of the world her story is in.

Although the story unfolds against the background of the Gorkhaland movement, the book doesn't take political sides. The story is more about the affect this movement had on the people of Kalimpong, how they reacted to it and how it changed their lives. It's about the victims and the survivors. Many books and movies have been made on other Indian separatist movements, like the Sikh's call for a Khalistan or the Kashmir separatist movement, but to my knowledge this is the first book that talks about the call for a Gorkhaland and I am grateful for it shed some light on this cause

I happen to know a lot of blogger friends who are currently reading this book or who have plans to, so I won't reveal too much more, except to say, I really, really enjoyed the book! A big part of the enjoyment came from the fact that booklogged from A Reader's Journal, whose blog I admire so much, sent this to me as part of the BAFAB event and also, reading Kiran Desai at any time means to sit down to an ample literary feast (they don't compare her to Salman Rushdie for nothing). I found her style of writing with its compact paragraphs, lots of exclamation marks, the generous use of capital letters and some breathlessly long sentences to exude a spritliness I am not used to seeing in many books and I love it. I don't know quite how to describe the style except to say it is exhuberant! The narrative, her descriptions and the images they evoke are inspired, take this for instance (about a young boy getting dressed for school)

"...Fed he was, to surfeit. Each day, he was given a tumbler of fresh milk sequined with golden fat. His mother held the tumbler to his lips, lowering it only when empty, so he reemerged like a whale from the sea, heaving for breath. Stomach full of cream, mind full of study, camphor hung in a tiny bag about his neck to divert illness; the entire package was prayed over and thumb-printed red and yellow with tika marks. He was taken to school on the back of his father's bicycle." (pg 58)

In closing, this book has such a range of subjects to discuss - there's globalization, immigration, displacement, the aftermath of colonial rule, love across different cultures, exile, the American dream, just to name a few, but most of all, read it for its expert narration, descriptions and memorable characters . The Chicago Tribune critic predicts "you'll read it almost as Sai read her Bronte, with your heart in your chest, inside the narrative, and the narrative inside you." There is so much more I want to say about this book and hopefully I will get a chance to do so when some of us discuss this book later.

This is the first book from my "Stacks" challenge, four to go!

An Update (15 Dec) : Apparently Kiran Desai is not much loved in Kalimpong. Read about it here

Another update: My friend Sai from Sai Speak has a nice take on the novel. Read it here.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

An Early Reading Meme

Kate S. has a very interesting childhood reading meme that I decided to try. This is what Kate had to say in her introduction:

"I’ve decided to have a go at creating a meme. I’ve been re-reading some childhood favourites lately and thinking a lot about the process of becoming a reader, so I’m taking early reading experiences as my subject."

1. How old were you when you learned to read and who taught you?

I was an early reader,I think I was three when I learned to identify a few easy words. I can't remember my mom actually sitting down and reading to or with me, but I do remember my grandmother reading to me over and over (she was the owner/principal of a little nursery school in Bombay so she was very keen on getting children to read, besides she had a great assortment of books in her school library!)

2. Did you own any books as a child? If so, what’s the first one that you remember owning? If not, do you recall any of the first titles that you borrowed from the library?

Gosh, I can't seem to remember my very early books but I do remember when I was about 7 or 8 my grandmother gave me a beautifully illustrated book called "Cultures of the World for Children" and I was so hooked on that book...I read it everyday and all the time. I realize now that it was that very book that sparked my interest in anthropology . Besides that book I also remember having various fairy tale books that I loved, "Hansel and Gretel", "The Little Matchgirl" and so on, but none have stayed in my memory as much as that book on cultures. I'd love to get my hands on that book again if I could.

3. What’s the first book that you bought with your own money?

Ahhh, this I remember well. We got Rs.5/month as pocket money (25c. at today's rate exchange maybe?) and I'd rush to the bookstore to pick up an Enid Blyton ( I was hooked on the St. Claire's and Mallory Towers series). Sometimes I'd buy the "Just William" books by Richmal Crompton or something from the "Famous Five" or "Secret Seven" series. Interestingly enough, when we visited India in August this year, I was able to find some of my old copies of the St. Claire's series and my 11-year old just loves them,except she wishes the pages weren't so yellow with age!

4. Were you a re-reader as a child? If so, which book did you re-read most often?

I don't remember being a re-reader. I was always impatient to finish a book so that I could start a new one. I guess I've carried this habit with me into adulthood because I very seldom re-read a book although I am often tempted to. Maybe I should impose a re-reading challenge on myself!

5. What’s the first adult book that captured your interest and how old were you when you read it?

Good question. I must have been all of 12 0r 13 when I started exploring my dad's collection of classics. I would just thumb through the pages initially, but slowly I started wanting to read more. Soon I was totally engrossed in Maugham's "Of Human Bondage" ( I still think it was one of my best reads ever) and high on the delight that Maugham's classic provided I attempted and enjoyed "Woman in White" by Henry Wilkes and a slightly abridged "Anna Karenina". My mom loved romance novels, so ofcourse, I had to peek into the books she left around...many were historical romances which intrigued me, but there were some Jackie Collins and Harold Robbins and although I wouldn't waste my time on those books anymore, I do think it contributed to making me a good speed reader because I had to finish that novel before my mom got home and caught me red-handed! :)

6. Are there children’s books that you passed by as a child that you have learned to love as an adult? Which ones?

Oh yes, plenty! Living in India as I did, I didn't have access to "Anne of Green Gables" or to Phillip Pullman's "Dark Materials" or EB White of "Charlotte's Web" fame. I discovered these books upon coming to Canada and I love them!

Hope you enjoyed the meme. If you would like to chart your early reading experiences, consider yourselves tagged!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Omkara, India's Othello

Not being a literature major I haven't read Shakespeare in much depth, but like most people, I have my favorite plays of the Bard that I will read over and over: "The Merchant of Venice", "Hamlet", "Macbeth", "Twelfth Night" and last but definitely not least, "Othello". I first read "Othello" when I was 15 or 16 and I couldn't believe how darn tragic it was, since then I have read it often and every single time I come away feeling very melancholy, a feeling that somehow sits well on me especially on a grey,overcast windy day like yesterday, except, yesterday I didn't read "Othello" but rather watched the Bollywood adaptation of it titled "Omkara".

After watching Omkara last evening and "Black" the night before, I am convinced that Indian cinema has entered a brand new, exciting age...we now have a troupe of directors and actors that are keen to give us quality movies with brilliant storylines and passionate execution of those lines by actors committed to their craft. We are now seeing movies that make us go "wow" and we come away from them sated and yet wanting more.

(Ajay Devgan and Nasarudeen Shah)

Ajay Devgan, whom I always believe could whip the crown off Shahrukh's head in an instant if he really wanted to, has been perfectly cast as Omakara or Othello. I can't say he delivered the best performance in the movie (that honor has to go to Saif Ali) but to be fair to Ajay the role is such it only demanded a brooding presence, and with his smouldering eyes, intense stare and brooding good looks, who better to do that than the Devgan? Whereas the Bard's Othello was a Moor (dark-skinned and of a different race from the white Spaniards he commanded), Omkara is a half-caste, so while the racial angle may be missing, Bhardwaj has introduced something closer to home, our precoccupation with people's castes and our dismissal or veneration of them depending on where they are positioned on the caste ladder. .

Saif Ali Khan, another favorite of mine, is paan-chewing, chapped lipped, scruffy Langda Tyagi (Iago in Othello) and he delivers a strong and memorable performance ( his was also the meatiest role in the film). His role stays quite close to that of Iago's except, he is Omkara's bro-in-law in the film instead of his lieutenant, and Viveik Oberoi (Kesu) is Cassio or Omkara's successor.

Instead of Venice, Omkara is set against the milieu of political and gangster warfare in the dusty, rustic interiors of India's Uttar Pradesh and it follows a warlord's descent into sexual jealousy and the wreckage resulting from his amorous obsession. Set as it is in the western villages of Uttar Pradesh the language is a dialect of Hindi and although abound with "gaalis" (cuss words) of the very worst kind, it is perfectly and ably rendered by the cast of the film.

(Konkana and Ajay Devgan)

In Othello the object of Desdemonia's object of infedility is an embroidered handkerchief, but in Omkara, in keeping with Indian traditions and values, it has been replaced by the cummerband. Kareena Kapoor plays Desdemonia and while her acting is superb, I think the women in Omkara are totally overshadowed the powerful roles that the male actors possess.

(Saif Ali Khan and Ajay Devgan)

Omkara is a dark movie with fierce emotions - there's strong loyalty juxtaposed with harsh betrayal, insane jealousy with unconditional love, raw passion, undying devotion, terrible recklessness, and all of these emotions in ample measure. The cinematography is fantastic, the music will blow you away, but best of all, each of the actors has put in a performance that is worth their weight in gold. Vishal Bhardwaj has truly pulled off a marvellous feat with a very worthy, and in some ways, an even more complex, Othello in "Omakra".

But I will tell you I was disappointed that Vishal Bhardwaj chose not to end the movie in typical Indian movie style (they all lived happily ever after) but chose to remain true to the story of "Othello" to the end, because as you will know, "Othello" ends on a terribly tragic note and so does this wonderful movie.

Now I'm off to see "Maqbool" which is Vishal Bhardwaj's remake of MacBeth.

In re-reading my post I realize I haven't done much of a review so for those of you interested in knowing more, let me guide you to The Storyteller's blogspot for a more detailed one, or to my favorite reviewer, Blogical Conclusion.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I wish I'd Been There

Pick an event in history -- perhaps the day the Berlin Wall came down or the day Martin Luther made his famous "I have a Dream" speech. Take any significant, pivotal moment in history and just imagine you were there. That's the exercise several esteemed historians were asked to do in a new book titled "I Wish I'd Been There: Twenty Historians Bring to Life Dramatic Events That Changed America",edited by Byron Hollinshead

From what I read on Amazon, some of the events these historians picked were, Salem Witch Trials, the day Lincoln was shot, The Scopes "monkey" Trials, the Lewis and Clark expedition crossing the Continental Divide and so on.

What I want to ask you is this: If you could witness just one event in history, what would it be? And unlike the book, you don't need to restrict yourself to the US only. Feel free to pick any part of the world!

If I could time travel back into the past, I would like to have been there when Jawaharlal Nehru made his famous "Tyrst With Destiny" speech at the stroke of midnight on Aug 15, 1947 when India declared her independence from British rule.

At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance..... We end today a period of ill fortune, and India discovers herself again.

I still get goosebumps anytime I read or hear these words!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Friends of the Library Fall Sale

My book haul

I didn't get as many books this time as I got at last year's Library Sale. I think a lack of time has forced me to be more discerning about the books I buy (and read). I was very happy to have found Yasmina Khadra's "The Attack" for my personal collection ( I have already read and reviewed the book here) and I was equally happy to have found not one, but two, books by Jamaica Kincaid.

Now for some other news, Random House wants me to review some books for them, ofcourse, I didn't need to be asked twice! :) Two of the books are here already: Salman Rushdie's "Shalimar The Clown" and Marcello di Cintio's "Poets and Pahlevans", the two on their way are, Doreen Baingana's "Tropical Fish" and Dragan Todorovich's "The Book of Revenge".

Tomorrow I will post a list of reading challenges I have joined so stay tuned, also, for those of you reading "The Inheritance of Loss" with me or with the "Stacks Reading Challenge" (Melissa, HollyDolly and Hindu Mommy), I am pleased to say I've made a good start - I'm on page 70 and enjoying the book so far :)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faiza Guene

Language: English,Translator:Adams, Sarah

Publisher:Harvest Books

Subject:General Fiction/Immigrants/France

Publication Date: July 2006


When riots broke out in Paris in October and November of 2005, I found myself wondering, why??? What were these groups of youth upset about? What were the projects like? Who lives there? What are their living conditions? How much welfare or social assistance do these residents get? How safe is it? What does the future look like for these young men and women, and while Faiza Guene's book "Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow" about a 15-year old Moroccan girl living in an impoverished Paris suburb, does help to answer some of these questions, the book has also made me go on to ask more questions,prompting further exploration and research into the Paris ghettos - don't
you love books that do that to you?

Doria is a 15-year old Moroccan girl living with her mother in the projects in a suburb of Paris. Her father, as is fairly common among the Arab-French immigrant families living there, has left the mother to marry someone back in the village. To make ends meet, Doria's mother becomes a cleaning lady at a motel where "she flushes the toilet after rich folks, all to be paid three times zero" and where the supervisor couldn't even be bothered to learn her name (he calls all Arab women "Fatma").

Employing a narrative style which can best be described as 'stream of consiciousness', the book reads like a diary (short chapters to mimic diary entries) showing us what life is like for an isolated second -generation Arab immigrant in France thorugh the eyes of precocious Doria. With bravado, sardonic humor and a healthy dose of cyniscism and rage, she tries to maneuver her way in a world filled with social workers with an "I'm better than you" attitude, psychiatrists, unfriendly neighbors, indifferent teachers and hard-working friends.

Many reviewers have chosen to describe this book as a sweet, coming- of- age story, infact, Newsweek describes it as "a lighthearted bonbon of a book", but I disagree, there is a sharp undercurrent of anger against France's social welfare sytem that drives this book and I think the author meant for us to sit up and take notice of the situation of the immigrant youth in the suburbs of describe it as "light-hearted" simply means to dismiss their cause. However the book also notes some of the positives of the system and fortunately the novel ends on an optimisitic note.

Faiza Guene, is the daughter of Algerian immigrants who grew up in a similar public housing project outside Paris, thus her character sketches are probably based on people she knew and interacted with everyday. Writing this novel when she was only 19 she offers us a peek into a world of hopelessness and poverty only a short ride away from the chic boutiques and sidewalk cafes of uptown Paris. The book has been translated from verlan ( the language used by Arab-French people in the projects) by Sarah Walker who has done a terrific job adapting it to urban street language found in western countries.

This book will appeal to anyone over 14 I should think. I plan on giving it to my 15-year old daughter to read, i can't wait to see how it grabs her.

Thanks to Nomadica for recommeding this book!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures" wins the Giller!

Astonishing, but exciting! Of the five books shortlisted for the Giller Prize, Vincent Lam's, "Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures" was the only one I have read and to be perfectly honest I didn't think it was prize worthy, but I am perfectly willing to eat crow and do a reread. Also, I am hoping that this recognition will help boost sales of his other important book, "The Flu Pandemic and You: A Canadian Guide" that he wrote along with Colin Lee.

From the Globe and Mail:

A collection of 12 short stories about a quartet of University of Toronto medical school graduates has won the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize for excellence in English-language Canadian fiction.

Torontonian Vincent Lam, himself an emergency-room physician, received the $40,000 prize and a small bronze statue at a lavish, televised gala at Toronto's Four Seasons Hotel last night. His book, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, a debut work, beat out four other finalists -- two women and two men -- for Canada's richest literary prize. Each runner-up receives $2,500.

In their citation, the three Giller judges -- former governor-general Adrienne Clarkson, famed short-story author (and two-time Giller winner) Alice Munro, and novelist Michael Winter -- said "this series of interlinked stories is a profound and meaningful glimpse into a world which seems on the surface to be purely medical, but leads us into the metaphorical. The characters and the situations are unexpectedly bound together and make us, as readers, not just witnesses to, but participants in the world that has been created for us."

Dr. Lam's victory was a surprise. But then any other winner would have been a surprise, too, in what was easily the hardest-to-predict joust in the 13-year history of the award. Previous Giller prizes -- named after Doris Giller, the late wife of the prize's founder, Montreal-born businessman Jack Rabinovitch -- have gone to either well-established writers such as Ms. Atwood and Richard L. Wright, or to authors associated with larger publishing houses, like last year's winner, David Bergen, published by McClelland & Stewart, and the first winner, in 1994, M.J. Vassanji, also affiliated with M & S.

If any book could have been considered a "pre-game favourite" it was Mr. Hage's kinetic saga of a young man's violent struggle for survival during the Lebanese civil war. It is also up for this year's $15,000 Governor-General's Award for Fiction, to be announced Nov. 21. Dr. Lam's Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures is bound to vault on to the nation's bestseller lists. A confidential study released last month by BookNet Canada, based on a survey of 650 retailers, found that a Giller Prize nod "increases sales more than any other prize in Canada -- twice as much as winning the Governor-General's Award for Fiction."

Last night's ceremony
was hosted by Justin Trudeau, 34, the oldest son of Canada's 15th Prime Minister.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Giller Prize tonight!

Ok, so the Giller Prize (Canada's equivalent of the Booker) will be announced at 10:00pm tonight. With five dark horses in the race, it is hard to choose a winner - will it be the novel of obsessive love that some reviewers have deemed a "female love story", or will it be the "young man's book" - a fast-paced collection of stories set in the ER? Perhaps it will be a "thriller" set in Beirut during the Civil War or will the book with hyperrealism, religious symbolism, schools and the horrid things that can happen in them and other themes so remniscent of Quebecois literature win the day and, let's not forget the book that "plays it really safe" and seems to have everything the judges are looking for...

Which of these books are likely to win? I don't usually like to bet, especially when I haven't read all the books, but from the synopses, I would put my money on Rawi Hage's "De Niro's Game", however, I won't be at all surprised if Gaetan Soucy's "Imacculate Conception" takes the prize instead.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Stacks Winter Challenge

A big thank you to booklogged from "A Reader's Journal" for alerting me to this challenge and another big thank you to Overdue Books for hosting the "Stacks Winter Challenge".

According to Michelle from Overdue Books, this is how the challenge will work:

For this challenge we would be reading 5 books that we have already purchased, have been meaning to get to, have been sitting on the nightstand and haven't read before. No going out and buying new books. No getting sidetracked by the lure of the holiday bookstore displays.

The bonus would be that we would finally get to some of those titles (you know you picked them for a reason!) and we wouldn't be spending any extra money over the holidays.

The time frame would be Nov. 1st until Jan. 30 and there will be some small, fun prizes awarded to random participants and/or those with clever review posts. There will be one random drawing for a prize to those who submit their list of books in the comment section by Nov. 15th but feel free to join any time. There will be another random drawing for those who submit five reviews by Jan. 30 for a small gift certificate to Amazon.

Here is a list of 5 books that I plan to get to from my stacks:

"The Inheritance of Loss" Kiran Desai (read)

"Daaku" by Ranj Dhaliwal (read)

"The Penelopiad" Margaret Atwood (read)

"In The Country of Men" Hisham Mattar (lost my copy)

"Beasts of No Nation" Uzodinma Iweala

"Poets and Pahlevans "
Marcello Di Cintio (reading)

(Wish me luck!!!)

And can I tempt someone to join me in this challenge? Such a great incentive to start attacking those monstrous TBR piles!

An update: I'm so happy so many of you want to do the challenge - don't forget to sign up with Michelle at Overdue books, there are over 30 of us participating - it's going to be great fun!

I've replaced the "Maisie Dobbs' with "Daaku" by Ranj Dhaliwal ( I just felt it was more timely, besides, I wasn't quite getting into Maisie Dobbs).

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? by Anita Rau Badami

Category: Fiction

Format: Hardcover, 432 pages

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Sharan, or Bibi-ji as she is now called, can remember spending hours as a little girl on her father's charpoy being regaled by the story of how he and many other Sikh men boarded the ship" Komagata Maru" to Canada and how upon arrival in Canada, the authorities refused to allow the poor, tired men to disembark; not just that, they wouldn't allow them to restock food or water either. They insisted the ship turn around with its human cargo and return to India. Sharan's father never got over the insult...he had spent all his earnings to pay for this journey to Canada. He returned to Punjab, India a broken man and never left his charpuoy except for one time when he wandered off, never to be seen or heard from again. Losing her father made Sharan determined to follow her father's dream and when her older sister received a proposal of marriage from a Sardar in Vancouver, Canada, 16-year old Sharan used her youth,beauty and charm to manipulate the groom's family and became the bride instead of her sister. Later, as maturity set in, she realized she had stolen her sister,Kanwar's fate and spent the rest of her life trying to make it up to Kanwar...but was it too late?

This is Anita Rau Badami's third book and with every every book she just seems to get better and better. This particular novel is ambitious, both in scope and subject matter - it follows the lives of three women and their families for 50 years across two continents and encompasses many of the notable political events that affected both the people from the subcontinent and the Indo-Canadian population, like the Partition of India in 1947; Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her own Sikh bodyguards in 1984; the book culminates with the Air India flight that left Vancouver (23June 1985)and exploded off the coast of Ireland, killing 329 people,mostly Indo-Canadians.

According to a Canadian Press report, the impetus for the book came after the author witnessed the sickening sight of a man’s body being dumped from a bridge in the course of
the 1984 anti-Sikh riots sparked off by Indira Gandhi’s killing, while she (the author) was in Northern India on her honeymoon.

(pic. courtesy Hongkong Book Festival)

Badami's writing is just delightful and guaranteed to stir up palpable images of Indian life
both in Indian and in Vancouver . She is a wiz, both at making your mouth water with her descriptions of hot,hot syrupy jelabis and mutton curry with naan and also at capturing the mania that the assassination of Indira Gandhi inspired and the revenge killings that followed. It is easy to love her characters because she infuses a lot of warmth, humanity, flaws and compassion into them, but, and this is her strongest point as a writer, she also gets you to think how very ordinary lives can be altered, sometimes to the point of being damaged, by sentiments inspired by politics, history and religion. It is happening all around the world, Dafur, Palestine, Iraq,North Korea, even as I type this! She also makes you question what it means to be an immigrant - do you ever truly shed the history of your birth country to embrace that of your adopted country or do you carry it with you for the rest of your life even handing it down to your children?

I bought this book after hearing Anita Rau Badami read from it at the IFOA and I'm so glad I did. I was just a kid during the Emergency and I wasn't that much older when the cries for a Khalistan began to echo through the country(India). I think this book is more than just a story- with the author's impeccable research it will serve to inform a whole generation of people, especially kids of the Indian diaspora as to the political happenings of those years, using the powerful medium of fiction.

Further Reading: My
kindred spirit's (anocturne of booklogging) review.