The Sleepwalker’s Guide To Dancing – Hypnotic and Brilliant

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I stumbled across a book recco on Twitter that suggested The Sleepwalker’s Guide To Dancing. The title was intriguing enough for me to pull the Amazon listing. That the author’s name sounded Indian was enough to make me read the blurb and the reviews. I hopped over to my library’s online portal to place a hold and was surprised when it said I was next in line.

The book begins with a prologue that takes you right into the Eapen’s home. The characters are introduced in turn and before you know it, you are traveling with Amina as her mind takes her on journeys to her father’s homeland and back. You sit back and enjoy as she paints the arid earth of New Mexico and the moisture laden Seattle. Even as you settle in and think you know where the book is taking you, you are shaken as she is as life hands out one blow after another. Yet, you journey through it all because you want to.

You are part of the family as they grapple with the unknown. You are sitting there with Amina, Akhil and Dimple smoking as Sanji Auntie bears in. You wince as Jamie shows up unannounced at Amina’s home. You sit with bated breath in the doctor’s office as the test results come in. You hold your breath and weep unabashedly when it is all over.

The power of her writing is such that you do not read the story. You are a part of it. I am not sure if it is because I am Indian that the nuances of sibling relationships so fraught with angst, envy and emotion hit me square in my gut, but every situation she paints rings with authenticity.

Long after I finished reading the book, the characters stayed in my mind. Most times after I finish a book, I remember passages, I relish the writing, I go back and look at the construct of the story arc. With this book, the story is all that remains in my head. Mira Jacob is an author to watch out for.

This book is a keeper.

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Gifted – Poignant and strangely haunting

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I grabbed Nikita Lalwani’s Gifted from my local library’s fall sale. The cover appealed to me and I checked the blurb at the back and it resonated. I added it to my list of books to read as I research setting my story partly in India and partly in the US. I read the book over two days. The story starts promising with our typical Indian parents finding out that their child is gifted. As I read and followed along Rumika Vasi’s journey into adulthood, I ached for the childhood gone missing. I ached with her as she battles her demons alone. I ache for her parents who pour everything into her. As Mahesh ponders how to celebrate a momentous occasion and comes up short, I paused and nodded. This was a feeling I could relate to.

The prose is haunting. It is reminiscent of the lush, verdant prose of God of Small Things. I love how Lalwani weaves her tale juxtaposing elements of nature and the inner desolation Rumi feels. The description of journeys literal and metaphorical are beautiful. Certain parts feel like they drag and you are not sure why certain characters are introduced only to disappear. But those are minor irritants in what is otherwise a poignant coming of age tale.

Looking to read something a little bit offbeat. Wonder what it is like to be the child of driven immigrant parents? Pick Gifted. Solid, satisfying read.

What She Left Behind – Cross generational tale well told

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I started What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman after dinner. I settled in, a throw over my lap, the baby monitor humming by my side. The story hooked me, reeled me in and kept the pace up. When the monitor awoke with angry cries, I pleaded with my spouse to pick her up. When even breathing sounded minutes later, I went back to the book and checked the time. 10:17 PM read the clock. I leaned back and got caught up with Clara and Izzy. The story reminded me of train wrecks and accident scenes. The kind you cannot look away from. You watch and absorb every gory detail because you are fascinated and repelled by it. Wiseman’s portrayal of Willard and the treatment of inmates is akin to that. You read, fear snaking through you. You read, knowing she is going to be broken again and again. You read, fearful that you may never get the ending you are hoping for.

With Izzy, you know she is walking into a trap and yet there is nothing you can do about it. You are locked in with her, straining and reliving her nightmare. Relief when it appears towards the end of the book is sweet and a little too late. You close the book, shut your eyes and think. You head to bed, bleary eyed at a half past midnight and lie. Sleep eludes you because you are still in Willard and Ithaca as you wait for the darkness to claim you.

The writing is powerful. It is clich├ęd in many places. It is lush and thick and vibrant, assaulting you with more than you can handle. Yet, it works. It works because of the interweaving of stories, the juxtaposition of the old and the new. It is strangely reminiscent of the Orphan Train. Both stories follow a similar arc. One traces the horrors of orphans while the other deals with ‘homes’ for the mentally ill. Both are about people who are marginalized and how our society treats them. Both feature a young girl looking for answers to her past in the memories of a generation before. Both are touched by adoption and reunion. Yet, both stand alone as distinct pieces because of the way they tell the story.

If you are in the mood for a good read, pick What She Left Behind and have a box of tissues handy.