The book has been on my desk for a few weeks now. I follow the author and her agent on Twitter and won an autographed copy in a giveaway. Waiting for my laptop to finish updating, I picked it up and started reading.
Getting to bed well past midnight, the thing that struck me about the book was how well crafted it was. On the surface, it is about theimmigrant dilemma. It uses many of the same tropes that we see related to Indian American authors. There is the nod to family, to complex sibling relationships, to past loves. What I loved about the book is how well Gowda strings those threads. The characters are optimally used, and when you think the events are tending towards the stereotypical, she uses them to explore feelings and move the story. Most importantly the book does not linger where we would expect it to. The writing is fresh and real. Gowda paints the semi rural India well and I put the book down thinking this will translate to the screen well.
In the mood for a narrative that spans cultures, touches upon immigrant dilemmas and is refreshingly real? Pick this book.
A book club I am part of picked this book for our next meeting. I was thrilled as it was on my TBR pile. Also, I follow @CelesteNg and love her take on most things related to race and diversity.
I read the blurbs, the front and back cover synopsis and settled myself comfortably with a throw on me. The first chapter reeled me in and kept me hooked until I turned the last page around midnight. The one word that kept repeating in my head as I went to bed was powerful.
The book is powerful in many ways. On the surface it is about teen suicide. On the surface it is about standing out in a world that demands integration. On the surface it is about a dysfunctional family bound by fragile threads of which their daughter is the center. But that is not all.
The characters have lived in my head for a day now. Lydia, Nath, Hannah, Marilyn, James. They are now placeholders for the many things in my life. Perhaps I related to the book so much because I am Asian too. Perhaps it is because our family stands out as transracial. Maybe. Maybe not.
The book is as much about aspirations and pressures to live up to another person’s dreams as much as it is about assimilation and wanting to be like others. Most of all the book is about being othered and othering.
Specially in the times in which we live now, where words like diversity are bandied about as appeasement, this book takes a family, rips them apart and lays their heart and soul on a platter. It is raw, gripping and definitely a book that will haunt you for days.
Read it if you are a person of color. Read it especially if you are not.
A powerful, powerful debut.
I stumbled on Avasthi’s book by chance. Browsing my library’s YA literature, this came up as available. I checked it out and read it over two days. The story starts well enough but by the time I was mid way, my heart was racing and I was as jumpy as Jace and Christian. The pace of the story, the minimal but well fleshed out characters, the attention to detail, the simple prose all of it come together and make the book shine.
As much as the story follows predictable turns, the storytelling is taut and the language crisp to keep you hooked.
Domestic abuse lends itself to dramatic storytelling but Avasthi has kept it understated, bald and stark. When you finish reading the last page, you lean back in your chair, close your eyes and imagine that Jace and Christian make it after all. You are invested in the characters and they linger long after you are done reading the book.
In the mood for literary YA? Pick Split by Swati Avasthi. You will not be disappointed. Definitely an author to watch for.
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.
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 clichéd 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.
I pick my books the way I browse the grocery aisle. I scan, double back and pick things that call my name. I also scan the ingredient list carefully looking for markers that signal ‘that’s not for you’. I also hate to go shopping so I make sure I load my cart up when I do head out. Why am I talking groceries in lieu of books? Well! every once in a while I trawl through best seller lists and check out the library’s recommended reads. I read reviews on amazon and then look for the books on my library’s online portal. More often than not, the books have a waitlist and I end up putting the maximum number of books on hold possible.
Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive was one such book. I saw the comparisons to Gone Girl and I read the reviews that screamed that the book did not match up. Yet, I felt compelled and I am glad I did. The book starts out innocently enough. I was starting to tire of the name dropping and the obsession with brands when it hooked me. It was 11:30 PM on a weeknight. One more chapter I plead to myself. It was 2:30 AM when I was done leaning against the vanity of my daughter’s bathroom, the over head fixture providing mellow lighting. When I closed my eyes, the tiny screen of the phone was outlined against my eyelids.
The story traces a suburban teenager through a horrific school experience and how she makes it through the cutthroat world of online publishing. On first read, the story is gripping enough for you to keep turning the pages. But it is two days after that I keep going back to the plot. The things left unsaid. I wonder about the back stories. I wonder why her parents were distant. I wonder why her mother pushed her into a school that was clearly outside their league. I love that there are hints of stories in the background and the author lets us imagine the underlying tensions without spelling them out.
The protagonist’s actions seem forceful and out of character till you are near the end and then they seem to make sense with startling clarity. This was a character I could not relate to. Her background, her upbringing, her reactions to what happened to her were all so far away from the life I inhabit, yet I was invested. Invested enough to plough through the book overnight. It helped that the book was set practically in my backyard. I have traveled in the trains she rides. I have passed the landmarks she mentions several times. It perhaps helped bring the book to life and reminded me that the setting is a powerful a character in a book as the characters themselves.
In the mood for some great writing and an uncharacteristic plotline? Pick Luckiest Girl Alive. You will not be disappointed.
It is not often that you read a book and feel like you have been witness to a piece of art. Island of a Thousand Mirrors is like art on canvas. Bold strokes, intricate detailing, vivid imagery and a pathos that grips you. By the time I was done reading, I felt awash in emotion. Grief, horror, wonder hit me in waves. Then I slowed down and savored it again.
It reads like a memoir though it isn’t one, making you want to go back and re-read chapters in order to get the family tree right in your head. As the stories of women alternate and intersect, you feel your heart race and brace for the eventual outcome.
The description of Sri Lanka, the aromas the food evoke, the dialect, the names of the characters all speak of careful detail. Of a story told from the heart. It delves into the Sinhala – Tamil conflict in a way that is an eye opener for someone who has but passing knowledge of the area or the civil war that has consumed the island nation.
Pick it up if you enjoy the language as much as the story, if you want to read a story that will haunt you for weeks afterwards.
Brilliant debut novel.