Friday, August 31, 2007

Outlaw by Lisa Jackson

Title: Outlaw
Author: Lisa Jackson
ISBN: 1416517235
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group/1995
Pages: 359
*Update: St in Wales in 1295-97

"Outlaw" is a stirring historical romance that absorbing with its evocative prose, and has an eternal feel to it.

Wolf is an outlaw. Years earlier, his future was brutally stolen from him as the woman he loved was raped and she killed herself. He vows never to love again and to achieve his revenge at any cost. He plans that for very long. When his enemy, Holt marries he puts his plan into motion. He kidnaps the lovely Megan of Dwyrain after the wedding is conducted while the feast is going on.

On the other hand, Megan wants nothing to do with her marriage to Holt. Her life has been a tragedy since her run in with a sorcerer's prediction. Sadly her wedding day arrives and she is wed to a man she detests. Unknown to her she is about to be captured in more ways then one. She tries to hate Wolf for what he is done but she cannot deny the attraction that burns between them. Wolf is too honourable for an outlaw. Megan is married but she is falling in love with her captor.

Megan and Wolf are strong and complex characters and their relationship is not an easy one. The chemistry between them is very sizzling so the reader will feel truly connected. This is written in such way that is neither trite nor predictable. It has twists and turns which give the romance a life.

This novel shows that a woman who is considered weak can grow in strength to save the one she loves and for what she thinks is right. Holt is portrayed as evil. Father Timothy, who had supported him, finally realises his folly and helps Cayley, Megan’s sister, to escape. There are a few gang members of Wolf’s who are very brave and valiant and are ever ready to lay their lives rather than betray their leader.

Not bad for an occasional romantic read! One of my in between reads!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

Title: Frankenstein
Author: Mary Shelly
1967/ Bantam paperback
206 pages

Set in 19th century Europe, the book tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young and upcoming scientist with great proficiency in the life sciences and a gifted engineer. Whilst his colleagues spend time enjoying the social life of Europe, Victor devours books and speculates on life itself. Soon he begins secret experimentations on life, and concludes that it is nothing more than organic material energized by electricity. He follows this by creating life, in the form of a human made from spare parts that he obtains from grave robbers. The moment he brings his creation to life, both freak out and are separated.

Frankenstein's creation, the monster, wanders the cities and countryside of Europe, trying to piece together his origin, his whereabouts, and his identity. All the while, his horrific looks, made up of human spare parts, makes him so ugly as to be unacceptable to society and he spends his days in hiding. The experiences break his heart on an hourly basis. He realizes he can never be accepted into human society, so he contacts his maker and asks for a female mate. The maker accepts at first, but at the last moment, negates on his promise. In addition, so starts the hatred between maker and master, for the monster is truly the master since he is not bound by human laws or human relationships. The monster proceeds to kill all those loved by Victor Frankenstein. In turn, Victor begins a lifelong chase of the monster to kill it.

Mary Shelley wrote this book in response to a challenge issued by Lord Byron, during a vacation at Lake Geneva.

The basic fear of what evil technology may bring along with the good is a central theme, as is the warning against playing God. So is the implicit admonition to be responsible in all things, be it during innovation or being a parent. We cannot control our creations and should be more careful in what we create. This theme has since been echoed on the topics of nuclear weapons, automobiles, fire, and now nanotechnology.

In the book, the creature is really a child that is neglected, but with the strength and intelligence has the ability to strike back without restraints. The monster is born innocent, and his sufferings at the hands of humans make him into a true monster.

The creation, the "Monster," represents humankind. The creation is constantly questioning why he was created, especially created with such deformities and faults. Anyone who has ever cursed God would relate to the creation. Eventually, the creation meets his creator and demands to have what the creator has; here, a wife. However, doesn't that represent our wish as people to overcome our hardships and have what our creator has? We humans yearn to be so much more than human!

Dr. Frankenstein represents God, but unlike God, has neglected his responsibility to his creation. He created the creation just because he could, then could not follow through. The Doctor is, after all, only a man and not up the challenge of being a creator.

It is a moving, disturbing, depressing, but also a touching and beautiful tale throughout. Those qualities have withstood the test of time. While it is not always a rollicking adventure, it is a rewarding read. All in all this is a great book. It is a great commentary on human society, and it is a wonderful examination on the needs of all humans.


If it gets too much, do visit my other blog, rooted for my creative writings...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandeya

Title: Nectar in a Sieve
Author: Kamala Markandaya
ISBN: 9780451528230
Publisher: Signet Classics
Pages: 208

Written around India’s Independence, Nectar in a Sieve portrays some of the problems faced by the Indian people as they dealt with the changing times. There is no mention of a specific time or place, which gives the story universality. Some of the struggles that the main character, Rukmani, faces are the result of the changing times, but they are the kinds of struggles (poverty, death, loss of tradition) that are experienced by many people for many reasons.

Nectar in a Sieve is a first-person narrative as told by Rukmani, the widow of a poor tenant farmer in India during the early 1950s. She begins her story with her marriage to Nathan. Because Rukmani is the fourth daughter and there is very little dowry, her best match is to a poor rice farmer. She begins her life with him and finds him to be very kind and loving. He is very understanding and he is not threatened by her ability to read and write.

Soon, she gives birth to their first child, a daughter. She is worried, when many years pass and she has no other children. Just before her mother dies, Rukmani meets the man caring for her mother, a Western doctor named Kennington. She talks to him about her inability to conceive, and he helps her.

Misfortune seems to have a tight foothold in Rukmani and Nathan. The monsoon submerges the rice paddies where Rukmani works side by side with Nathan for the survival of a household of eight. No sooner, the monsoon peters out than a drought damages the harvest.

Poverty-stricken Rukmani sees her daughter Ira become a prostitute, her 4-year-old grandson, Kuti die from hunger, and her teenage son, Raja caught stealing and beaten to death, her oldest sons Thambi and Arjun setting off to Ceylon to work in a tea plantation. The opening of a tannery had spread like weeds and strangles whatever life grows in its way, changing the village beyond recognition. Yet, Rukmani survives.

A recurring theme of the book is the importance of land that fosters life, spirits, happiness and family. Rukmani often finds consolation in the land on which her husband built a home for her with his own hands. She reminisces about the very home to which Nathan had brought her with pride. The land becomes her life:

"I looked about me at the land and it was life to my starving spirit. I felt the earth beneath my feet and wept for happiness."

The following passage sums up the book:

". . . We have no money. My husband can till, sow, and reap with skill, but here there is no land. I can weave and spin, or plait matting, but there is no money for spindle, cotton or fibre. For where shall a man turn who has no money? Where can he go? Wide, wide world, but as narrow as the coins in your hand. Like a tethered goat, so far and not farther. Only money can make the rope stretch, only money."

The writing is powerful, taut, and moving. The living conditions, life struggles, poverty, fragility and abasement of life depicted are beyond imaginations to those who live in the first world and have never stretched a single meal portion to three meals.

Even though the ending of the story is sad in the physical sense, in contrast to The Good Earth, it ends with optimism, hope and with the remnants of the family who support each other by sticking together.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Death Of A Salesman by Arthur Miller

Title: Death of a Salesman
Author: Arthur Miller
ISBN: 0141180978
Publisher: Penguin classics/May 1998
Pages: 144

Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," is an overwhelmingly crafted play that takes drama to the next level. It asks the big question: When it comes time to take our own life's account, as Willy has, will we look back with pride and a sense of accomplishment? Alternatively, will we find ourselves sidestepped and alone, lost in despair? Arthur Miller asks some of life's crucial questions in this powerful play.

The story is about a broken-hearted sales man, Willy Loman. He is a man who is no longer living in the real world but trapped in his own delusional world. He cannot let go of the past no matter how hard he tries, and it is eating him up inside.

Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman contends that even if an individual is determined enough to chase a dream to the ends of the earth by any means, his social status remains unchanged and perhaps even diminished. Willy Loman dreams big in order to gain monetary success. Because of societal pressures, he is compelled to think of a way to succeed, and the best way is gain a financial fortune to gain respect. However, he thinks of himself as a self-important individual who makes himself feed on his own ego. His confidence grows, until it becomes overpowering for both his family and himself. As he becomes greedier, his dreams become more exaggerated. The illusion he creates of his world actually sets him up for a catastrophic collapse. Finally, he admits that he has never achieved anything at all in his life. He notices he has nothing else to do but to give up, as he has actually wasted his whole life chasing after an impossible goal.

Miller's depiction of Willy and his underachieving sons imparts a potent warning to those who advocate popularity over hard work and diligence. In the end, though, Willy proves to be a sympathetic character. He views himself as a martyr, as his death will provide a financial handout to his family and the only meaning to his failed life.

Miller uses a simplistic diction and engaging imagery, along with an overlap of reality and phantasm to provide a tale that entertains as well as imparts a lesson in life. Miller's style of flashing back and forth in time with no transitions may be confusing at times for some. However, it still manages to impart a punch in the gut to all those who view the pursuit of material wealth as the ultimate goal in life.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Title: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Author: James Joyce

ISBN: 9780553214048

Publisher: Bantam Classics

Pages: 240

This is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story of Stephen Dedalus. The story, which is told mainly in the third person, recounts several stages of Stephen's youth.
He has become increasingly alienated from society and emotionally withdrawn. He also begins visiting prostitutes, which leaves him feeling disgusted with his sinful nature. The most amazing part of the book is in chapter three, which details Stephen's religious conversion and subsequent renunciation of his faith. While Stephen, shaken with guilt and terror after this sermon, tries to immerse himself in the rites of the church, he continues to be assailed by doubts and scepticism, which ultimately lead him to renounce his faith. Joyce vividly describes the joy and freedom that Stephen feels upon freeing himself from the reins of religious doctrine and proclaiming his independence from all such confining systems of thought.

In "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" Joyce outlines some important ideas that have since become prominent in literature, notably non-conformity, self-expression, coming of age, and the nature of religious belief. One might ask, what is so special about the 20th century artist? Why not artists from other ages, or all ages? The answer lies in the anti-religious and contra-religious themes and overtones, which have developed at an exponential rate in the literature of the past 200 years. One finds this motif in nearly all of the major writers of late, Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Camus, Hemingway and Mann, to name a few.

From this milieu emerges the artist. His task is to transform this painful revelation into something beautiful: art. We are introduced to young Stephen at that crossroads in life where he must decide whether to blindly follow the traditional beliefs of his ancestors, or to use his rational mind to cut himself loose from those bonds. Stephen's name is symbolic, for he chooses to take flight from the labyrinth of religion, as well as all of the dogmatic rites, rituals and institutions of Catholicism.

The stream-of-consciousness style pioneered by Joyce in this book is remarkable, both in its originality to the literary world, and in its ability to give us the events of the story not just through the eyes of Stephen Dedalus, but also almost through his subconscious.

The narrative of the book has a surreal flavour to it. There are many phrases in the novel that are pure poetry; Joyce's mastery of unique metaphors comes to the fore early on in the book. Joyce reminds one of Nabokov in the sense that, although he is often longwinded, one can forgive him his verbosity because it is simply a pleasure to read his beautiful prose which is rarely lacking in elegance. The language throughout is beautiful, many times a form of prose poetry.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Leave it to Psmith by P G Wodehouse

Title: Leave It to Psmith
Author: P G Wodehouse
ISBN: 1400079608
Publisher: Vintage books/April 2005

Written at the request of his daughter Leonora, this is the best and most popular book by P.G. Wodehouse. Psmith was one of his greatest creations and it is very touching and funny to see him fall in love and make the ultimate sacrifice: masquerading as a sensitive poet and a jewel thief, all at once.

The peculiar and affable self-centered hero of this novel is Psmith - pronounced with a silent P. Although he holds a membership to London's six most exclusive clubs and always immaculately attired, he is in dire financial straits. To make it worse, while lounging in the smoking-room window of the Drones Club, he falls in love with a passing young female but he has no idea how to introduce himself into her society.

There might be a solution to his problems, through the ad, that he recently placed in the Morning Globe. In the heading, he puts across the sentiment that he will take on any job including assassinating Aunts, except anything relating to fish. You have a problem? "Leave it to Psmith!"

“Leave It to Psmith” is the first P.G. Wodehouse novel about Blandings Castle and its inmates, Clarence, ninth earl of Emsworth, his daunting sister, Lady Constance Keeble and Beach, the butler. Clarence is obsessed with flowers and gardening rather than pigs. Although this is not the best of the Blandings Castle tales, it has one of the best plots and has an effectual way of introducing the ongoing characters and jokes. The flower pot has an important place in the plot. The story kind of revolves around it.

This novel, like most of Wodehouse's works, depicts the foibles of the British upper class. There is no moral in Leave It to Psmith. There are only giggles and grins, guffaws, chortles, titters, and an occasional smirk; and Wodehouse's understated style, as always, leaves the humour, wry and dry.

The ending is predictable, but that is hardly the point. Wodehouse connoisseurs would have their own favourite phrases, or particular sections of books that strike them as humorous from the inexhaustible collection of Wodehouse's works. Psmith is as endearing a character as Bertie Wooster and Jeeves.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Title: tuesdays with Morrie
Author: Mitch Albom
ISBN-10: 0307275639
Publisher: Anchor Books/192 pages

The book is about Morrie Schwartz, a history professor at Brandeis University, who has been diagnosed with ALS and is dying. A former student, Mitch Albom, who had become a fairly well known sports writer, hears about his teacher from an interview in ‘Nightline’ and decides to pay a visit. This visit soon turns into regular meetings - on Tuesdays. Albom chronicles Morrie's declining health, but at the same time imparts Morrie's wisdom. Morrie is expressive and is dignified to the end. It takes the wisdom of a dying man to make us realize that human relationships and health are more important than anything else is.

Tuesdays spent with Morrie are filled with simple platitudes. He lives his life well though he is dying. Morrie does not dwell on the dying aspect. He has a wonderful support system. His family consists of his wife and friends. He shows his love and gratitude to them everyday. Morrie does not speak out new words of wisdom. He talks about living one’s life with simplicity and connecting with those one loves. Words we should all live by, but in our busy worlds, we tend to forget.

Morrie teaches Mitch the values of life, the world, regrets, emotions, aging, money, love, culture, forgiveness, and most important of all, death. In each chapter, as Morrie grows weaker, faster and faster, the author finds a new way to jerk tears out of ones eyes, with simple descriptions that make one choke.

When Morrie chooses to be buried under an oak tree, asks Mitch "You'll come and visit me, right? Every Tuesday, and this time, you can do the talking, and I'll do the listening."

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough

Title: The Thorn Birds
Author: Colleen McCullough
ISBN: 0060129565 / 9780060129569
Publication: Harpercollins (1977)
Hardcover, 533 pages

The book opens with the famous legend of the thorn bird. A bird that searches all his life for a thorn bush. Finally, when he finds it, he impales himself on the thorn. While doing so, the thorn bird sings the most beautiful of songs.

‘The Thorn birds’ is the story of the Cleary family, and their journey from their humble roots in New Zealand where they worked as sheep shearers, to the huge Australian sheep farm Drogheda, owned by Paddy Cleary’s autocratic sister. The family being Irish, the land is in their blood and from the time they arrive on Drogheda, the land plays a definite part in their fortunes and destinies. The story covers three generations from Paddy Cleary and his wife Fiona, their sons and only daughter Meggie and the Catholic priest Ralph De Bricassart, to Meggie’s children - the actress Justine and priest Dane. Though the story is about all the Cleary family, it mainly dwells on Meggie and her relationships with her parents, brothers, Father Ralph and children.

The three extraordinary generations of Cleary's live through joy and sadness, defeat and triumph, determined by their dreams, sustained by great strength of character, torn apart by dark passions, violence and forbidden love between an extraordinary woman and an ambitious priest.

Colleen McCullough has an expressive style of writing. The dry dust, heat and flies of the Australian Outback, the unyielding forces of nature like storms, drought, wildfires, the power-hungry corridors of the Vatican, all these and are brought to life in this book. The element of pain and love is dealt very well. There is Fiona who endures disappointments in love, understands too late, after Paddy’s death, that she loves him dearly. Meggie marries Luke O’Neill when she realizes that the man she truly wants, Father Ralph De Bricassart is beyond her reach, and has chosen God over her. Pain and love intermingle with Meggie’s interactions with her children, Justine and Dane.

McCullough's prose is outstanding, at times marvellously poetic and beautiful, but at some places, it does becomes dreary. At certain points, her focus on Meggie and Ralph is irritating and one-sided, despite the fact they are the main characters.

Nevertheless, this is a brilliantly tale that draws the reader into life in the Australian outback where it took almost six weeks for the mail wagon to complete its rounds. It also hits hard into the workings of the Catholic Church and the trauma of celibacy.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

To Sir, with Love by E. R.Braithwaite

Title: To Sir, with Love
Author: E. R.Braithwaite
First publisher: 1959

I first read this book when I was in high school. I re-read it recently and liked it just as much if not more.

To Sir, with Love is an incredibly inspirational story. E. R. Braithwaite, the author of this memoir, encapsulates the shame and hatred of prejudices and racism. The journey begins in the East End of London, during the 1940's. Mr. Braithwaite teaches at Greenslade Secondary School, which is surrounded by poor neighbourhoods crammed with social vermin. Rick Braithwaite is a young black man, born in South America, who just got out of the Air Force. Now in Britain, Braithwaite is looking for a career, mainly to pay for food, but things do not work out as planned. He comes to know the malady of prejudice very well, as he is turned down from job after job. Braithwaite describes feeling "caught like an insect in the tweezers grip of prejudice." Teaching becomes the therapy to set him free.

When Mr. Braithwaite took the job as a teacher, he did not expect his students to be barbaric savages. It is uphill all the way for Braithwaite as he counters the cynicism of his impressionable students and, now and then, that of his colleagues also. The difficulties in he faces in getting students to focus on aspirations in the future than the upcoming weekend are painfully true. The need for inventive and genuine approaches to these educational challenges is abundantly clear. Gradually, he wins over the minds of his students as he tries to wipe clean their minds of prejudices (racial or otherwise). With hard work and dedication, he turned this class of delinquents into a class of young men and women with class.

In the beginning, he described that he wanted this job, "but it would be a job, not a labour of love." Then, after spending time with the students, Mr. Braithwaite began "learning from them as well as teaching them." The class may have problems in their home lives, but when they enter the classroom, Mr. Braithwaite joins them on a journey to adulthood. The students ask many questions, which allow them to acquire the knowledge they deserve. From time to time, the question touch upon people of different races, and Mr. Braithwaite gives mature answers, and speaks to them as adults. Braithwaite's theory is to treat his students older than they are so they will behave more responsible. With a teacher who respects his students, they, in return, accept him and honour him with the courtesy of "Sir".

The whole time, Mr. Braithwaite realizes that it is not his skin colour that is holding him back, but his attitude. He reflects that, "At first it was terrible, but gradually I'm learning what it means to live with dignity inside my black skin."

To Sir, with Love is definitely a book I recommend to be read at least once, by all of us. Anyone who reads this story will walk away with a broader view on life and how to live it. The quotes Braithwaite uses will really makes one think, and his words stay engraved in mind. The most memorable and thought-provoking concept E. R. Braithwaite wrote was "I realized at that moment that I was British, but evidently not a Briton, that fine differentiation was now very important". It is a must-read book for any teacher worth her/his classroom.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Title: The Namesake
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
ISBN: 0618485228
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company/2004
Rating: **1/2

'The Namesake' takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world.

Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd name. Gogol's parents choose a formal name for him just in time for him to go to kindergarten, but he refuses to answer to it. His teachers are on his side, instead of his parents', and they refuse to call him by the good name. Thus, Gogol's fate is sealed when he is five.

Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves.

When Gogol graduates from high school and is about to go to college, he legally changes his name to Nikhil, the name his parents tried to get him to accept in kindergarten. He thinks a fresh start is all he needs to be happy and well adjusted. Instead, though, Gogol finds himself floundering, feeling not only new at college and away from his parents for the first time ever, but also feeling as though he is a stranger to himself. Throughout the next twelve years, through college and relationships and entering the adult world of work, Gogol continues to struggle with his identity and with accepting the life and choices of his parents.

To be honest, I felt the main flaw of this entire book was the author's style of writing. It is boring. It is not driven. It tends to ramble on tediously, making even the tragic and touching moments of the book very dry and dispassionate. Overall, the book has an elitist feel to it. No one watched TV, everyone read. No one ate fast food; everyone made reservations at fancy restaurants.

The book uses a great many flashbacks, which stifles what little narrative drive there is. Very emotional scenes tend to be avoided in the present and discussed only in the past tense in a rather flat way. I read this book without difficulty but without much real feeling.