Tuesday, May 29, 2007

28 Stories of AIDS in Africa by Stephanie Nolen,"Away From Her" and the winners of the booksprice.com prize.

Category: Current Affairs - International, Political;

Format: Hardcover, 416 pages

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Pub Date: April 24, 2007

Price: $34.95

Author's Website: www.28stories.com

Globe and Mail special feature on

A is for AIDS; B is for beautiful; C is for Chinua Achebe; D is for diamonds and E is for the high cheek-boned Ethiopians....Africa is known for many things, but the one issue Africa needs the world to know about right now is that there are 28 million HIV-infected people in Africa (800 people die of AIDS everyday in Africa) and unless something is done it is going to ravage the continent. Yes, I know about donor fatigue and numbing, I suffered from it too, but if you read this book of 28 Stories (one story for every million sufferers) you will change your heart and mind.

The author of these stirring 28 stories is Stephanie Nolen, the Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent and indeed perhaps the lone reporter in the world to report solely on AIDS . There are two groups of people in this book, the ones whose stories are told because they impart political, medical, social, physiological and economic information about the disease which is necessary for the reader to know and understand and the others are stories of people actually known to the author, people who are went public with their HIV diagnosis and have become activists for other sufferers in Africa.

For more information on the 28 people that inspired this book please go to Stephanie Nolen's website to read about these people, some of them even have video clips. Among my favorite stories are those of Tgist Haile Michael the 14-year old orphan from a slum in Addis Ababa who was left to take care of her 7-year old brother Johannes all by herself after both parents died from AIDS and Moleen Modimu a 31-year old wife and mother dying from AIDS in Zimbabwe even though the corner pharmaceutical store has the retro-virals she needs. Mugabe's government has made it virtually impossible for any African to afford the treatment they need.
(AIDS activists demonstrate outside South Africa's Parliament in Cape Town in a Reuters file photo)

This book will get you to ask many questions of yourself and your friends, the most important one being...what can we do to lighten Africa's AIDS burden? What is it the people need? A helping hand with the eradication of poverty will go a long way, but they also need funding for schools because, in the end, education is going to be the one big thing that will make Africans want to protect themselves against this virus. Also, women's rights need to be enforced, they need to have legal protection against risky sex forced upon them by male partners or economic depression, financial independence from men should also be encouraged. This is very important when you realize that women make up 75 percent of HIV-positive Africans aged between 15-25.

Nolen's book provides a comprehensive list of AIDS care and treatment organizations in Africa and elsewhere, contact them, learn more and make the difference you know you can!

This book is the second book of the Non-Fiction challenge.

Saw a truly delightful movie on the weekend titled
"Away From Her". Like the movie suggested in its promotional literature, it was a love story for grown ups. In this case the grown ups were the beautiful Julie Christie and the handsome Gordon Pinsent whose 44 year old marriage, or should I say love story, is put to the test when Christie succumbs to Alzheimer's. The movie was made by the young Canadian Sarah Polley and based on Alice Munro's short story, "The Bear Came Over The Mountain". For a truly splendid "not a review" allow me to direct you to Sanjay's Karmic Musings.

Last, but not least, we have the winners of the booklottery from booksprice.com
it's Bellezza from "DolceBellezza" and J from Jellyjules.com. Congratulations, do let me know which book you would like and I will e-mail you for your address either today or tomorrow. A big "Thank you" to everyone that participated and all the book purchasing options you gave me, you made it so interesting and so much fun! There will be more opportunities to win books, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Meme, Notes On A Scandal and a chance to win a book from booksprice.com!

The beautiful and talented Nancy of Bookfoolery and Babble, aka Bookfool, has tagged me for a meme titled "8 Random Things About Me". Thanks, Nancy, it always feels so special to be considered for a tag!

Firstly, here are the rules:

1: Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.
2: People who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.
3: At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names.
4: Don't forget to leave them a comment and tell them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

1. When I was around 7 years or so I developed this passion for singing Bollywood songs. It didn't take much to get me to sing and my favorites were popular tunes like ' "Dum Maaro Dum", "Dil Tera Mastaana". Since the lyrics were slightly racy (ofcourse, I didn't know that) I embarrassed my poor parents no end. In case you're wondering, no, I don't sing anymore! :)

2. When I was 8 my parents moved to Goa, a city on the west coast of India which was a mecca for hippies from Europe. I was so taken up with the lifestyle of these hippies and the fact that their children never seemed to take a bath or go to school that I harbored a secret desire to be adopted by one of them. All I could think about was the splendid life I would have frolicking on the beach in the sunshine with my parents and other hippie kids. Infact, the name lotus comes from one of the hippie kids who ended up being my best friend. Lotus and her family returned to Denmark about a year after we arrived in Goa. Lotus in Denmark, if you're reading this, please contact me, we may be long lost friends!

(this lovely image of a hummingbird and a lotus was sent to me by a reader from Brazil,Rosalvo Leomeu Vidal. He paints the lotusflower as a hobby. He is also a journalist, poet and lawyer. Thank you Rosalvo!)

3. At 10 I got my first puppy. He was a cross between a Golden Retriever and a Pomeranian. He had a black muzzle and brown like the Retriever but possessed the temperament of a pom. As he grew into a dog he was always very cross and didn't seem to like children very much, maybe it's because my sister and I would chase him around the house trying to paint his snout and nails with nail varnish?

4. When I was 18 I made my first trip abroad (to visit my grandmother in England).I didn't know it then but it was to start my long love affair with travel. At 21, I got a job with British Airways and pretty much travelled the world with them.

5. I'm left-handed.

6. A year after we got married my husband and I moved to Dubai,(United Arab Emirates) where we spent 10 long years. Living in the Middle East with a whole new culture, life and way of thinking helped us grow as people in tremendous ways and also helped make us global citizens, something that can be very useful in today's world.

7. When I was in school my friends and I went to a palm reader in India as a joke and he predicted I was going to move to Canada in my early '30's. How could he have known that? To this day I wonder about that.

8.In Dec 2004, our family planned a trip to The Maldives over Christmas, fortunately for us, we were having such a good time in Dubai (our first stop) that we postponed our Maldives trip by a week to early January. On Dec 26th, Male was hit by a deadly tsunami which caused parts of the Island to be covered by sea water. I shudder to think of what might have happened had we stuck with our original plans.

In turn I tag anyone that would like to play!

In other news:

Saw "Notes on A Scandal" today. It was ok, I have to confess I much preferred the book by Zoe Heller. Guess that's why they sometimes say, never judge a book by its movie! :)

Dame Judi Dench was absolutely AMAZING though! She gave a stellar performance and I would recommend you go see the movie just for her!

If you are interested in my book review of "Notes on a Scandal", go here.

Finally, I have a question to ask all of you booklovers out there: Where do you buy your books from and why? If you make a suggestion I will put your name in a hat and you will have the chance to win one of the following books from booksprice.com ( a free service of finding the best price on books among the major online stores in the USA, Canada and Europe):

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

The draw will be held a week from now and I will contact the winner for his/her address. Thanks in advance for participating and good luck! :)

***Update: The nice folks at booksprice.com have invited me to pick not one, but two winners, and have offered us more books to choose from. What follows is a revised list of books for the lottery :

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Storm Front: (The Dresden Files, Book 1) by Jim Butcher

So do throw your names into the hat and two lucky bloggers will get a book each!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Book # 1 for the Non-Fiction Challenge

Can you guess what activity I am describing?

Here are the clues:

The English refer to it as "to play away"

The Irish, "to play offsides"

The Japanese, "go off the path"

The French, "aller voir ailleurs" (literally, to go see elsewhere)


The Dutch refer to it as "pinching the cat in the dark"

What on earth am I describing?

Give up???

It's Infidelity, folks!

Book: Hardcover |304 pages | 19 Apr 2007 | The Penguin Press

For those of you who do not wish to read on, I'll understand, but for the rest of you, Pamela Druckerman, former foreign correspondant for the "Wall Street Journal" came upon the idea to write about infidelity when on a trip to Columbia she kept being propositioned by married men all the time. Once she got over her shock and horror, she realized that extra-marital affairs are not frowned upon everywhere in the world and she decided to explore what the rules of infidelity were in different countries resulting in this cracker of a book, "Lust in Translation: The Rules of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee".

T0 make it more interesting and readable, I've decided to share, countrywise,what Druckerman found out about infedilty in her research and trips abroad and how it contrasts with the American view:

Let's start with Finland...

For the whole review please click on "An Anthropologist Wannabe"

Also, this is book # 1 for Joy's Non-Fiction challenge. Four more to go!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill

Imprint: Perennial

Genre: Fiction

On Sale: 10/17/2006;

Format: Trade PB;

Ages: 18 and up

One month after my daughter joined High school, I got a call from the vice- principal to say somone had set N's hair on fire (for no apparent reason). The VP wanted to know if I wanted to press charges (the kid was immediately suspended) but upon further investigation it turned out that the girl had been in and out of group homes and was a generally "disturbed" child.

Ofcourse, I didn't press charges but it did create in me a desire to learn more about kids that go to group homes...the conditions that put them there, the effects of living in one, the help they receive to deal with the terrible emotional conditions they live through and so on. So when Heather O'Neill's book, "Lullabies for Little Criminals" where the protoganist, Baby, is a 12-year old girl in and out of group homes, got so much positive feedback (it also won the "Canada Reads" award for 2007) I knew I wanted to read it.

"Lullabies for Little Criminals" is the coming-of-age story of Baby, a 12-year old Montreal girl who first lands in a provincial foster home when her young (her father was only 15 years old when she was born), heroin-addicted dad has to go into rehab. Baby, who is both tough and yet childlike goes through some hellish things on the rough streets of Montreal, but her resourcefulness, her belief in herself and her eternal optimism see her through some of her toughest challenges.

While the book has a wonderfully funny, poignant narrative voice and is filled with some truly wonderful and eccentric characters like Teddy, the child sociopath with an abusive mother; Jules, Baby's endearing kid-like dad; Alphonse, the drug-addicted pimp who latches onto her and Will, the eccentric liitle kid, I found the subject matter very depressing and hard to swallow. It makes you want to rail against negligent parents, inefficient government institutions and a society that makes it easy for adults to prey on young kids...it also made me want to hug my own daughters just a little tighter and a little more often.

I have to commend the author for being able to write the book from the perspective of a young lady so effectively and for tackling some very taboo subjects (definitely a brave thing to do with one's first novel), but perhaps the fact that the author experienced some of this on the streets of Montreal as she was growing up had something to do with the convincing voice? While it's a very impressive debut, the subject matter might not appeal to everyone. One last thing..don't you just love the cover which paints such a bright and innocent picture of childhood? But, oh, it is so deceptive..definitely one those books you should not judge by the cover.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Title: "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"

Mohsin Hamid;

Publisher: Bond Street Books;



Price: $29.95;

Pub. Date: March 7, 2007

Listen to the author on NPR's "Fresh Air"

Over the past five years, bookshelves in stores are becoming increasingly heavy with titles that draw on 9/11. SOme books deal with the incident itself...what happened, how it happened and the bravery of the victims, the firefighters and the police force; others deal with the politics that may have caused the incident and still others deal with how it affected seemingly ordinary people directly or indirectly. Books in the latter category can be both, fiction or non fiction and a recent one that jumped out at me and which came highly recommended by both Laura and Sanjay is "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" by Mohsin Hamid (please click the name to find out more about this brilliant Pakistani novelist)

Written in first person it tells the story of Changez, a 22-year old Princeton graduate from Lahore in Pakistan. Months before 9/11, as an employee of an elite and reputed firm in New York, Changez seemed destined for the fast, jetsetting life of a young executive, but after the incident Changez couldn't help but notice that people (New Yorkers) treated him differently. It was subtle at first, but when he returned from a vacation in Lahore with a beard, their attitudes seemed to grow more hostile. This unfriendly reception, initially simply on account of his physical appearance, made him question his purpose in America, his goals, his loyalties, his patriotism, the cultural barriers between the east and the west and most of all, his identity. When formerly it would have been true to describe himself as a citizen of the world, he was now finding himself pulling for the people of his clan, which indicates to me that no matter how "globalised" the world gets, when it comes to the crunch many of us align with our tribal identities.

What I liked about the book:

  • Hamid employs a wicked narrative strategy...telling his story (a monologue) to an unamed American over the course of a meal at a Pakistani cafe in Lahore. The concilliatory but patronising tone that Hamid gives Changez as he talks to the American contrasts sharply with the upbeat tone gives him while Changez was pursuing the American dream. Also, by employing a first-person narrative the reader gets a wonderful insight into how a person from the east might view 9/11.

  • It had the power to make me feel uncomfortable (and I like books that will do that to me) because Changez is quite critical of the American way of life, its culture, society, values, and government...criticisms most of us would shy away from bringing up in our conversations.

  • Also, it made me look at young Muslim men more compassionately realizing that it isn't always easy to walk in their shoes in this part of the world.

  • I liked reading a Pakistani perspective on India...it helped me see the Indo-Pak situation from the "other" side.

  • On a personal level, Hamid's book caused me to think about my dual identity and what it means to me to be a citizen of two countries.

  • FInally, who can resist a love story? Yes, it is that...read and find out more!
This is a wonderfully-written novel and depending on your viewpoint you will either love it or be discomforted by it, but I can't see anyone being indifferent to it.

At the time of writing this review, The Reluctant Fundamentalist was # 13 on the NYTimes' bestsellers list.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

"Kriti 2007" South-Asian Literature Festival, Chicago

I just got back from "Kriti" the South-Asian Literature Festival held in Chicago at the University of Illinois and boy, I'm so glad I went! Kriti is a four-day event using panel discussions, readings, music, storytelling, dance,workshops, movies and more to celebrate South Asian and diaspora literature. This year's guest of honor was Anita Desai. I attended as many discussions as I could but since the program was choc-a-bloc with events it was physically impossible for me to attend them all. It would be a herculian task for me to include a full write-up on each discussion that I attended so I am just going to give you what I thought were the highlights, with an introduction to each panel taken from the official "Kriti" site.

Ok, here are some of the panels and discussions:

Contemporary South Asian Literature in the World:
How does South Asian writing shape the way in which South Asians are regarded by the world? Does it facilitate the stereotyping of individuals? Does it open up new concepts to readers? How are local South Asian and diaspora writers perceived by international (especially Western) readers?

Note: Wasn't able to attend this one but would love to hear from anyone that did. Or, if you are a Western reader and would like to talk about how Indian literature has influenced the way you think of India or the Indian people, please feel free to chime in.

Class Issues in South Asian Literature:

Authors like Hanif Kurieshi and Monica Ali deal with middle class and working class English life from an immigrant perspective, while Jhumpa Lahiri's characters live in a financially comfortable, destined-for-the-professional world. How visible are class issues in South Asian literature? Are comfortable middle-class stories more likely to be published (and celebrated)? Do immigrant upper-middle- class readers become uncomfortable when asked to admit the existence of working-class South Asians?

Note: Since one of the panelists was unable to attend, this ended up being a very informal discussion with Deepak Unnikrishnan and about 4-5 of us. We discussed how many South-Asian writers are not familiar with the working classes (or lower classes) hnece making it difficult for them to write about it. In India, very often, someone from the working class might not be educated enough to write a book and if they do it is quite possible that they will write it in a regional language which unfortunately does not have a very wide audience. A need for more translations therefore exists.

Reading: Monica Pradhan "The Hindi-Bindi Club"

Note: Felt really sorry to have missed this reading because a novel with recipes is my favorite kind of book. I definitely intend picking it up. Click on the title for more info.

Politics and Writing: A Panel and Open Discussion

Writers discuss their goals in writing about politics. (Is any writing not political?) Are they attempting to create change in the world? What changes would they like to see? What have been the visible effects of their work, if any? Should writers be political on a large-scale? What are the inherent dangers of that work? A facilitated open discussion of the ways in which writers engage political issues in their work, and the ways in which readers respond to those issues.
(facilitated by a representative from the South Asian Progressive Action Collective)

Note: Great discussion especially as the four writers, Deepak Unnikrishnan, Sita Bhaskar, Anil Menon, Sankar Roy and Archana Chowhan had very different viewpoints on what constitutes a political novel. Sci-fi lovers look out for Anil Menon's book,`The Beast With Nine Billion Feet'

Dirty Laundry:

There is a clear market in the West for a certain kind of expose/ pathos story from South Asia: child prostitutes, wife beating, widows in Brindhavan, untouchables, street kids, etc. When does exposing an evil move over into exploitation? What responsibilities does the writer have (if any)?

Note: I really wanted to attend this one, but couldn't. Here's an appeal to anyone out there that might have done...would love the salient points of this discussion because I truly believe that a lot of Indian writers are pressured to use exoticism in their books in order to make it more appealing to a Western audience.

Creative Nonfiction:

To what extent are we willing to expose ourselves? Do we have the right to expose the lives of our family and friends? Is the need to tell a true story, to be honest, more important than the need to consider the feelings of others? And what happens when you're not sure you're remembering the story right to begin with? How much freedom do you have to change the details and still call it nonfiction? Writers discuss the challenges of writing creative nonfiction.
Panelists: Hari Lamba, Sushil Nachnani, Visi Tilak and Hemant Mehta.

Notes: This was a particularly interesting discussion. Most of the panelists were in agreement that pure non-fiction can be hard to write because, 1. lots of fact checking needs to be done, 2. Memory is such a subjective thing and no two people will see the same incident in the same way (this applies mostly to a memoir) 3. non-fiction as a genre doesn't sell as well as fiction. Hence most writers and publishers are more comfortable with the genre of "creative non- fiction" where although most of the facts are true, there are certain artistic liberties that are taken with the facts, turning it into a much more entertaining read. The panelists were also in agreement that anecdotes are a necessary component of creative non-fiction.

Hemant Mehta, author of "I Sold My Soul on Ebay: Viewing Faith Through an Athiest's Eyes" was particularly interesting and I definitely intend buying his book ...it should be a lot of fun to read.

Sex and the Word:

In recent years, more and more South Asians have started writing explicitly around sexuality. Mary Anne Mohanraj, Ginu Kamani, the authors in _Desilicious_, the participants in _Yoni ki Baat_, and many performance poets all explore the sexual arena. What are the challenges of working with this material? What are the rewards? Are you willing to read an erotic story? How about in public, on a bus or train? Do you take the books off the shelves when your parents visit? Authors and readers discuss the pleasures and problems of writing and reading sex.
(Panelists:Visi Tilak, Mary Anne Mohanraj (m.), Sharmili Majmudar)

Notes: This was another eye-opener of a discussion. It made me realize that because our South-Asian society is so sexually repressive it is a very difficult road for writers of erotic fiction, especially if they are women. I also learned that when it comes accepting erotic fiction, readers are more likely to want to read stories by women rather than men and that many men have to use aliases if they want their stories published. After the discussion we got MaryAnne Mohanraj to sign our copies of her book "Bodies in Motion".

Making Cooking a Priority:

Join cookbook author Alamelu Vairavan for a discussion of how to add easy-to-prepare, flavorful dishes to your daily life, incorporating more vegetables, dals, and spices in your cooking repertoire. Hear about the history of spices, how to assemble a basic spice pantry, availability, cost, and how to prepare dishes in thirty minutes or less -- plus the story of how aromas and friendship turned into cookbooks!

Note: Really enjoyed this talk. Alamelu is a passionate foodie and it was an absolute delight to hear her talk about how she goes about introducing South Indian food to a western audience. I was very tempted to buy her book because it holds over 150 recipes with a nutritional analysis for each one; she has also managed to condense each recipe to no more than 4 steps which is perfect for our busy lives.

Recommended Children's and Young Adult Literature:

Writers and editors discuss what writers they love to read, and what makes a story stand out as exceptional children's literature.
Sandhya Nankani (m.), Rachna Vohra, Marina Budhos

Notes: A very helpful discussion although I did miss the first 30 mins of it. Found some very useful book recommendations for my 12-year old. Thank you ladies!

P.S. Sandhya, I came looking for you after the discussion but you had gone into another one so I missed meeting you...sorry!


Another highlight of my Chicago trip was being able to meet my lovely blogger friend, Laura of "Maude and Mozart" who took me on a beautiful drive past the stunning Chicago waterfront. It was great meeting her, she is such a bubbly, happy person. She very generously gifted me three books that I am eager to delve into as soon as time permits. Thank you, fabulous Laura!