My 2020 in books
MY YEAR IN BOOKS
1.Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance by Jennieke Cohen
Who doesn’t like Jane Austen. Cohen calls this an austentacious romance, modelling it on Austen’s works. I love period books and it’s been a while since I read one of those. Was nice to start the year with a mindless, period romance. And she liberally quotes from Austen, which makes me want to reread the books. The protagonist models herself on various heroines like Fanny Price and Elisabeth Bennett and is searching for her Mr Darcy. The story is ok and not one I resonated with, but it works for that period. Cohen has a long explanation at the end to substantiate claims she makes in the book regarding divorces and other beliefs of people during that time in the UK. It’s a fun read.
2.The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
It’s a hardcover, biggish book but I raced through it. I had planned to skim through The Handmaid’s Tale but forgot. Having said that, while it would have helped me remember, it’s not necessary. I managed and Atwood does help with past stuff. Her writing device is interesting because it’s like a post mortem. That made me relaxed because I knew all’s well would end well. So my curiosity was mainly about how they managed to escape/ bring down Gilead. It’s a clever book. And from my perspective, it’s about superiority of women. Initially I was confused because she never tells us who is speaking, just a number or a title. It took me a while to figure out who was who. The story is about testaments given from the viewpoint of three main protagonists. Given today’s scenario and the rise of fundamentalism, this book is scary. I enjoyed it. Did I have a favourite character? Maybe. It’s a toss-up between the more obvious Canadian or the big bad aunt.
3.Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
A new version of the movie has just been released, which galvanized me into getting the book and all the sequels. I must have last read the books when I was 16 or younger. This book focusses on the March girls as they’re growing up. My favourite character has always been Jo. Alcott paints a lovely tableau of the family and their trials and tribulations. It does feel dated because the role of women has changed so much. Maybe that’s also why I like the feisty Jo.The men seem so secondary in this, though Laurie aka Teddy shows spirit. I love Marmee. Her advice and attitude to the girls is what makes the little women in fine young women. Mr March is also admirable but is absent for most of the book.
4.Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott
Continuing the sage of the March girls, Good wives is about them growing up, finding love, setting up home and we even lose one of them to illness. Beth’s passing is dealt in a tender and mature way. I was not happy when Jo turned Teddy down but it was good to see how well she knew her mind and unusual for one so young. Her brush with the German professor warms the cockles of the heart. Marmee yet again wades in with advice to Meg on how not to neglect her husband. To Jo on controlling her temper. And is her dayghters’ biggest support. The novel ends with Bhaer proposing and being accepted by Jo.
5. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
And now the March women are no longer girlsbut wives and mothers. At the end of Good Wives, Jo inherited Plumfield from Aunt March. This book is how she and her German husband turn it into a school for boys. It dwells on the boys, their adventures and how well Jo and Bhaer handle them with a lot of help from her sisters and their benefactor, Teddy, or Laurie, who is married to Amy. There are not all boys because Jo’s nieces, Daisy and Bess and one more girl, Nan are added to the mix. The Bhaers are unconventional and egalitarian. There are ups and downs. Joyous moments and miserable times like when Meg’s husband dies. It ends with a glorious thanksgiving with Jo musing about her boys and where their adventures will take them. Many relationships are established both future ones and dysfunctional ones.
6. Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott
This is the last in the tale of the March family. There are more deaths like Marmee and Grandfather Laurence.Plumfield has grown from a school into Laurence university, endowed by the generous Teddy. Jo’s boys have become young men and venture out into the world. She loses some from death and some who don’t care to stay in touch. But the core still returns to her periodically. Meg’s youngest girl,Josie and Jo’s sons, Ted and Rob are still at school. Jo helps the boys through tough times and through their romances. She guides some of them towards their loves and some away from a bad match. And all the while the quiet steady presence of Bhaer, her sisters and Teddy.It ends with closure on all the main characters. I have to say it was enjoyable to read all four novels but it is so dated. Women seem to be good for darning, cooking and looking after their men, who are the ones to go out and show their mettle and make a living. This is also why characters like Jo and Nan are so good because they shy away from convention and insist on standing up for women’s rights. Nan remains a spinster.
8. Ghost Fire by Wilbur Smith
I love Wilbur Smith and his sweeping stories. I also learn a lot about history since his books are historical fiction. This book starts off in India and ends in the US. It’s another branch of the Courtneys and seems to be set up for a sequel. I didn’t enjoy it as much as his Africa books but it was still fascinating. The action revolves around British French battles in India and the US in the 1700’s.The black hole in Calcutta. The extreme religious beliefs of Midwest America. The life of the American Indians. Life in Paris, Calcutta, the barracks in Kerala. Its all there. And he doesn’t fail in the magnitude of his story. Theo was amazing but I wasn’t satisfied with explanations for some of Connie’s actions. Its a page turner and though I skimmed some of the battle details, on the whole it kept me gripped and I hope there’s a sequel. Smith is also great about building relationships and showing loyalty. There’s a lot of it in this book.
9. Purple Hibiscus by Chimananda Ngozo Adiche
I enjoyed her book, Americanah so was keen on reading something different. This is a book that is both uplifting and upsetting. It’s deep on many levels but took me a while to get into the story.Once I did, I finished it in a day. Adiche shows how dysfunctional relationships can keep you bound in a weird way. Her love hate relationship with her father a case in point. It also shows how money need not buy you happiness. The protagonist’s budding awareness of womanhood with her interest in the priest. Her striving to overcome shyness, her maturity in the face of adversity are other factors adding depth to the narrative. Adiche also describes Nigerian life and neighbourhood in a vivid manner making them come alive. Americanah focussed a lot on the difficulty with hair and there is an underlying ‘hair’ narrative in this book too. It also is a telling account of economic disparity and political turmoil.The twist at the end was unexpected. It was not what I hoped the outcome would be but it was certainly more realistic. At the end of the day, it is also about making compromises in life.
10.The Vault Of Vishnu by Ashwin Sanghi
Another Sanghi thriller. I am always amazed at the depth of his research and the breadth of his stories. The line between fact and fiction is so blurred it makes you believe what he writes. Ofcourse, some of it is so fantastical but then again, why not? Since I am immersed in the world of Hindu mythology, I feel a lot of what he writes could actually be true. In any case, he always takes you on a journey through ancient times and modern day India with twists and thrills and tender love angles thrown in. Sanghi fans will love it. Non Sanghi fans will also enjoy the narrative. And I travelled far and wide from my couch. Through ancient China and the treacherous route to India. Through ancient and modern India. I learnt amazing details about the connection between Cambodia and India, the Pallavas and the Khmer.
11. Broken Verses by Kamila Shamshie
What a book. Both uplifting and depressing. It’s a poignant coming of age story told in Shamsie’s unique voice. She writes so evocatively. You picture situations and in this book, you enter a realm of literature and poetry, activism and idealism and relationships. The protagonist has lost her beloved mother who walked out of her life after the death of the mother’s long-time lover. Sounds prosaic but Shamsie weaves a beautiful narrative. She draws us in so completely that we are caught in the web. In fact the twist at the end was shocking and I felt so let down. Because I wanted to believe just as much as the daughter wanted to. Her realization at the end felt anti-climactic and necessary. And she’ll be fine so we heave a sigh of relief mingled with sadness at lost love. She takes us into a Pakistan where religion and atheism jostle for space. Where women speak up for their rights and politics jails those who make their voice heard. Given today’s world, it makes you question the effectiveness. Just as the protagonist’s mother did. That’s so distressing. And so real.It took me a while to read it without stopping because I wanted to savour the words. However I did a marathon session to finish it at the end. Jetlag assisted. Do read this book.
12. The Hindu Way by Shashi Tharoor
I love how Shashi writes and he is so articulate so it’s a pleasure to read his writing. This book was of particular interest because of my work and the current situation in India. He does not disappoint even though the first 3/4th of the book was focussed on explaining Hinduism from a more philosophical point of view. I agree with his views but I also feel a lot of our principles and philosophies are based on scientific facts of nature etc and that was missing. Anyway, it’s also good to reiterate the inclusiveness, pluralism and tolerance of Hinduism, which he does to good effect. He quotes great masters and proponents of the Hindu faith such as Vivekananda, Radhakrishnan and even Gandhiji. All religions are worthy of respect. Follow your faith because the ultimate goal of everyone is the same. These are underlying messages. The last one fourth of the book focussed on the difference between Hindutva and Hinduism. India is reeling only because people are misinterpreting this difference and focussing on their narrow minded, bigoted beliefs. It’s like how Muslims are misinterpreting the meaning of Jihad. If only these messages can get through. It is India’s strength that majority of the people are Hindus but they need to follow the tenets closely otherwise this anarchic situation will implode. Building a temple is so illogical.Some nuggets from the book: Faith is about hearts and minds not bricks and stones. Thats so true because Hinduism didn’t even have temples until the Buddhists began building them and after the Greek invasions.Also Hindus need to stop the politics of division because we are all Indians. We are a secular India not a Hindu Pakistan. Tharoor remind us how Kofi Annan has said the problem is not with faith but with the faithful.And if God is in your heart as the Hindu faith believes, then does it matter where else he resides. If only the powers that be would take a stand and encourage the proper understanding of the scriptures.Then only will people move from untruth to truth, darkness to light and death to immortality as per the Upanishads.
13. The Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
This one’s for book club. It’s a gripping story though the cast of characters is so long, it’s a bit confusing. The writer built the story month by month introducing new people each month. It begins with the kidnapping of two girls and their disappearance is a topic revisited throughout the novel. Everyone has an opinion, some are involved in the search, one was a witness. They all seem to be disconnected from each other but gradually and in a clever way, Phillips shows how they are all connected. Some have a vague connection, some connections are more important. And the plot finally comes to a climax where the most important connections are together and get ready to solve the mystery. Not to give away the plot, but I did not believe the girls were killed and knew somewhere in the story, the kidnapper has been revealed. When we do find out who it is, it’s interesting because he was so well camouflaged but also such an obvious choice. At another level, the book is interesting because of the glimpse into life in a remote Russian province. I googled all the places because I’d never even heard of them. I can’t even imagine living somewhere so distant from the world. Many of the people never leave that peninsula. To them Moscow is like an aspiration. It’s also a great insight into Russian culture and prejudices. There is sexual freedom but women are still seeking freedom from the dull lives they lead. The discrimination of colour is surprising between the indigenous people and the ‘white’ Russians. It’s a book worth reading if you don’t mind a long cast of characters and a plot that’s established in the beginning but takes a while to unravel.
14. Gratitude and Pasta Sauce by Chris Schembra
This is a book written from the heart. It’s obvious he cares and wants to share his emotions with everyone. It is candid with no holds barred. He talks about his issues, his good and bad deeds and what finally led him down the path of planning and hosting these dinner parties.As someone who has attended one of these early dinners, I know how they work and I vouch for the bonds we form at the end. Chris has given details on how to plan these dinners, what to do and his website has more details.It’s obvious he wants the model to work and it’s not the monetary aspect that he cares about. The book is an easy read and written in a simple manner. We need more Chris Schembras in this world to spread the message of empathy and connection.
15. Ka by Roberto Calasso
What a book. I don’t know what to make of it. Some parts confused me. Some parts horrified me. Some were intriguing and I learnt a lot. Devout Hindus would actually take umbrage to this book if they actually read it. If Wendy Doniger can be banned, why not him? I am amazed at how a non Hindu has studied the scriptures so minutely. Many names are different from what I remember. And there is so much I didn’t know. Like the sexual act between the chief queen and the sacrificed horse during the Ashwamedha ceremony. Its glossed over now. And the sapta rishis and how they interacted with creation. Even the life of Buddha. That too was interesting.I didn’t realize shesh nag means that which remains, aka residue until I read in in Ka. Calasso says Buddha is an avatar of Vishnu though many are on the bench about that.He also indicates Buddha’s servant, Ananda, is actually Shesh Nag. And interestingly in the book, there is no mention whatsoever of Rama. I love how the story begins and ends with Garuda.The link between Garuda and Shesh Nag of cousins who served Vishnu is noteworthy. Meanwhile the question remains, who came first and who was always there? After all it is said the world is in the mind and it began when the eyelid blinked and observed what’s outside. Hindu philosophy can be crystal clear but still so confusing. If consciousness perceives existence, only then does it exist and is there a consciousness within that consciousness that perceives what consciousness perceives.
Mull on that and if this intrigues you, get the book.
16. Normal People by Sally Rooney
It’s a strange time to have read this book, while the world is impacted by the corona virus. There were so many other distractions. I couldn’t get into the rhythm of the book. It was ho hum initially. Two people playing a game of cat and mouse. And so confusing, the back and forth. The time leaps and jumps backwards. And then after page 190, I sat up. Aha, something touched a nerve. Is it because I know people dealing with depression? I resonated with the protagonists and lived their fears and desires and angsts and successes. Sally Rooney has written a book about normal people. Because all of us go through this. Some less dramatic. Some more. But we all have our secret lives and fears. We all have our secret loves and desires. And at the end, I clamoured for more. Some parts that stayed with me. “The outside world touches against her outside skin, but not the other part of herself, inside.” How profound is that. Just understanding this changes reactions to the world at large. And an aha insight into how people with depression feel, “Somehow he was expressing more emotion than at any time in his life before, while simultaneously feeling less, feeling nothing.”
17. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
What an amazing book. It took me a while to get into only because the pace seems so slow even though it isn’t. Two doctors working for a pharma firm. One dies when he is checking on a drug being developed in Brazil and his colleague goes to recover his body and check the drug status. Simple enough but Patchett takes you into minds into relationships, back stories, unsaid feelings and uncomplicated social behaviour.The idea of a fertility drug, the idea of a malaria cure, the concept of eating tree bark and tripping on mushrooms. Everything is so plausible and as you read you truly believe all her theories. And as you read, you take a trip through the rainforest. You live the mud, squelch and incessant rain. You get lost on the river and in its tributaries. You forge a relationship with the indigenous tribes and develop a new found respect for researchers and doctors battling life at the front line. And she has a twist at the end that I did not expect so no spoiler alert here because you need to read this book to discover it yourself.
18.My Year of Rest And Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
This was one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. Maybe because it was so difficult to imagine such a situation. The utter hopelessness, the emptiness, the pointlessness. The protagonist has lost both parents, who had raised her without any love, something she probably craved all her life. She’s an heiress and gorgeous but it’s not enough for her so she decided to take a year off her life and rewire by sleeping the whole year. That’s where it gets weird. She finds a doctor who freely prescribes all sorts of sleeping drugs and she embarks on an experiment, mixing various cocktails to keep her in sleep heaven. Some work. Some don’t until one works in strange ways. She blacks out and does things out of character under the influence. She used that to get an artist to keep her locked in her apartment for four months and bring her essentials, in return she agreed to pose for his art in whatever way he deemed fit.The experiment works and she finally emerges like a butterfly and rediscovers life. There is a side story of a friend who is also cracking up with all sorts of personal life dilemmas. The protagonist despises her neediness but sympathizes with her predicament too. She tolerates the friendship and even finds herself doing things for the ‘friend’ in her drug induced stupor. Her friend has always envied her and she donates all her designer articles to her before going into hibernation. It’s almost like that ends their friendship because its all her friend wanted! It shows the superficiality of humans. When she is whole again she finally decides to make amends with her friend, with all her flaws, only to lose the friend to 9/11. I found the book tedious.
19. Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak
I read this book many years ago, and enjoyed it even more the second time around. It’s a book that needs to be read over and over again, at different times in life to get different meanings out of it. It is profound at so many levels. The story is engaging. The life lessons are eye-opening. It is a process of rethinking prejudice. It expands the mind. And above all it asks you to follow your heart. There are two parallel stories. Ella, a dissatisfied housewife allows love to enter and change her orderly world. The other story is about the Sufi mystic Rumi and how Shams of Tabriz, a wandering dervish, changed his world. Its about unconditional love and just being. Ella is reviewing a book about Shams and Rumi, written by a Sufi called Aziz. Her correspondence with him changes her life. The story has many uplifting moments and many sad moments too. But the sadness is poignant and strangely uplifting. And most of us will end this book with a crush on Shams. Sit with a marker or a diary to jot down some of the gems in this book. And never forgot one of Sham’s rules, ‘It is never too late to ask if you are ready to change the life you are living?” You have to just be ready within.
20.A Fiery Love for The Reluctant Duchess by Fanny Finch
After a spate of more serious and heavy novels, I felt the need to switch off and reading something light-hearted and frivolous. This book fitted the bill. Finch is not a great story teller and I speed read a fair bit. I’ve read better regency novelists but it was still fun to slip into a world of Dukes and Duchesses and unrequited love being fulfilled.
21. The Redemption of The Puzzling Governess by Fanny Finch
As like the last novel, I just needed some fun, light, romantic nonsense to read. Finch follows the saga of the second Caulfield sister in this book. I’ve always enjoyed how families dip in and out of the book, so it was interesting to see that. The suspense etc seems silly. But then again, Finch is fine but not amazing.
22.The Portrait of A Rebellious Lady by Fanny Finch
The third of the Caulfield sisters finds her own Comte in this novel set between Italy and England. Finch writes a sweet love story but one never feels fully engaged. Having said that, it would have been interesting to see how the two Caulfield boys would have fared. Since they aren’t royalty, they’ve just been mentioned but not seen in any of the three novels. It was a nice aberration for my Easter weekend.
23.The Mirror And The Light by Hilary Mantel
I read Wolf Hall and bring up the bodies when they were released and found them very difficult reads. Nevertheless, I had to complete the trilogy and so ordered this book too. It was as expected, a tedious and difficult read. I love historical fiction especially since I hadn’t studied global history. While reading them, I copiously google and found myself doing that with this book too. I found my googling way more interesting. I don’t know what it is about Mantel’s style. She is confusing. We jump around. I struggled to keep my eyes open so often. I keep wondering who’s speaking, where we are, context etc. Its beyond me how she won the award not once but twice. I find Henry the 8th and Cromwell very interesting characters. The most interesting part was towards the end and I wonder if it was more psychological knowing its almost the end. Her fictional characters were an interesting part and actually gave Cromwell’s character depth. It’s a tome and I don’t recommend this as light reading. But for people who like a challenge, go ahead and pick it up. It is accurate for the most part.
24. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and actually gave up watching Netflix at nights to finish it in three days! On the whole I have enjoyed most of Gilbert’s books. It’s a great mix of a story and historical facts. This book begins in the America’s of the 40’s and a large part of it is focussed in this era. It was fascinating to read about life and times of that generation, the war time problems and then the rebuilding of America. The last half went by quickly and was actually an important part since the book is written in the form of a letter and the protagonist introduces an important character at that stage. It was interesting to read but the pace felt too fast. She does admit she was going to rush through it. The book is an eye-opener on how people lived and the choices they made. Her characters are fascinating and she adds weft and waft to all of them. There is no judgement. You love the ‘bad’ ones and empathize with all. Everyone is trying to survive. Do read this book.
25. Weight of the Heart by Susana Aikin
I read and reread the last chapter. She is an awesome writer and her language, her descriptions…she puts other writers to shame. The book itself gave me mixed reactions. I loved loved loved the interactions between the sisters, dad. lovers etc. and the trips, various cities, worklife, home life, nanny life etc. But I couldn’t connect with the ‘cleanser’ Delia and her assistant Constantine and the utter destruction of the house. As beautifully as the story is written, I cringed. It’s probably because I’m an ocd. Having said that the technique of weaving in the past and current was catchy. The first few times I found it confusing but then I looked forward to how the recollections were introduced. It was tough to slot the Dad. I wanted to hate him but there was a caring side that kept me from becoming too judgemental. The end was great. The sisters and the moment instead of happily ever after with Marcus. Brilliant. Allowing us to imagine whatever is to come. Bravo
26. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
I was almost at the end of the book and it struck me. But it only became obvious then. I couldn’t wait to continue reading and ascertain my assumption was correct. And it was. But I won’t be a spoiler and reveal my aha moment. In any case, it’s not such a big deal.The book is not a whodunit. In fact, it is a poignant and disturbing account of the events that took place on Jeju Island spanning the 1930’s to 2008. There are two main protagonists, Young Sook and Min-Ja, from different backgrounds who became inseparable friends/sisters. But fate intervened. The story follows their lives, misfortunes, their good luck, their loves, their relationships, families and their work. See has done an incredible job of capturing their angst, their joys, their dilemmas and their victories, against the backdrop not only of political upheaval but the beauty of nature. Whatever else happens in their life, the sea is a balm. Young Sook equates it to a coffin but also a natal mother. And you see it in the narrative. All through the book I kept googling incidents, events and the sea women themselves. What a phenomena, that humans can dive like that. They exist. And they are still around. And even if they faced hardships, what a feeling to be the ones in charge, as women, running their homes. There is the underlying issues of lazy husbands still being the head of the house because of ancestor worship. Of domestic violence and an inability to walk out. Of preconceived notions and stubborn attitudes. There is the tug between the old way of life and the new. Old way of worship and ancestral ways. And See weaves it all into a beautiful narrative that seems part fiction and part fact. It is based on true incidents. I recommend the book and encourage you to persevere till the end. Her writing style is easy to read and the trick of going back and forth in time works very well. Even the different voices she uses in both time periods.
27. The Veins of The Ocean by Patricia Engel
It was a difficult book mainly because of the slow pace. For more than half the book, I felt I was meandering aimlessly. The writing is beautiful especially when she describes nature and the sea creatures. And even the different paces she visits like Cartagena, Cuba, Miami and the Keys. But I guess I was uncomfortable with the hopelessness throughout the book. The sadness. The angst. The closed doors. I read to learn more and I sure did about creatures and cities and even immigrant lives. But I also read as an escape. Considering I read this book during a pandemic, it just emphasized a lack of hope and humans turning against humans. True, there is a ray of hope at the end. And it’s up to us to imagine how it will go forward. But it’s not a must read book for me.
28. The Confusion Of Languages by Siobhan Fallon
The book hits you out of nowhere. At first it meandered making me wonder if it was a mistake but all at once it picked up and I finished the bulk of it in a day. It’s a complicated book. No one is bad and no is perfect. All humans have foibles. There are underlying issues, mixed messaging, cultural confusion, relationship woes and misunderstood friendships. Since she lived in Jordan, Fallon has a great sense of the region, The novel is set during the Aran Spring, so she aptly captures the tensions. And from her descriptions of Jerash, visiting a hamam, Petra and floating in the dead sea, we can see the beauty and appeal of the area too. Her writing style is intriguing. Initially her chapters were based on passing time on the same day. And then it began leaping into different months. Its only after I began reading that I realized it’s from pages of a diary. It’s an interesting perspective of the protagonists versions of a similar story based on two points of view. I won’t reveal the end. But its unexpected. The title is so appropriate because it literally is a confusion of languages; spoken, unspoken and body language. Worth a read.
29. The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
I needed a lighter read, which is why I chose this book. It was just as I expected. Light, no brainer but rooted in a universe I understand and could immerse myself into. Joshi’s characterizations are spot on. Her glimpse into caste differences in society is telling. She is an expert in describing and drawing out scenes and people. Her plot is almost predictable and I knew quite early on, a possible trajectory of the book, so don’t read it to be surprised. Read it for the colour, the descriptions, the euphoric thrill about all’s well that ends well. The protagonist, Lakshmi, affected me. She was gritty but with a heart of gold. She was limited by her intelligence and poverty but overall by her ambition. That’s why the end worked for me. Looking to find out about India just as the British left. Looking at seeing a society torn between culture and westernization. Looking to understand caste differences without any judgement. It’s a book that can throw light on everything without overwhelming you.
30. Apeirogon by Colum McCann
This was one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read. Maybe because of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Maybe because the structure is not easy. Maybe because I didn’t read a physical copy. The book is so multi-layered, one reading is not enough to wrap the head around the different chapters. And they’re not even chapters. Each chapter can be a separate vignette. Complete in and of itself. It’s a lyrical book. About music, and birds, about war and peace. About fathers and daughters, about bullets and candy. Each offering is sacred. Each chapter to be relished on its own. But as a whole I struggled. It took me ages to read. I wanted to go back to a point but on kindle its difficult. I kept forgetting situations because there is so much packed in, my brain was going into atrophy. What should I take away? What could I leave behind in the book? A simple and real life tale of two fathers struggling to come to terms with the death of their daughters, a decade apart. One Israeli, one Palestinian. That in itself is a revelation. How can they come together on the same page. Yet they do. To make meaning out of the meaningless. And hope to change how people think and react. It seems like an endless cycle. Relevant across time. So much of the book resonated with our situation today. With lockdown. With discrimination. With humanity. And maybe that’s why the book is a must read and still not an easy read. Apeirogon, boundless, endless, just like the book. Just like the world. Apeirogon, infinite number of sides, like infinite possibilities.
31. A Burning by Megha Mazumdar
When I began this book, I was not impressed by her skills as a writer. Later I realized, each point of view was written from that person’s English language skills and not the writers’. Then I got the rhythm. It’s a familiar story in India but Mazumdar unfolds it so the reader understands how the situation arose. Each character is well-defined. Each one with his or her own baggage. The end is haunting. You hope against hope to no avail but understand the reasons that motivate every one, whether the protagonist, her parents, the PT teacher, the hijra, the jail inmates, politicians and other smaller characters. I struggled with the book mainly because I couldn’t identify and maybe deep down didn’t want to reflect on the injustices of society. It’s an eye-opener and steeped in realism.
32. How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi
This book unnerved me. I claim not to be a racist but I see how I’m not antiracist. I had to read, wrap my head, reread, bang my head and am still unclear if I got the whole picture. There are so many points like the curse of welfare, the plague of standardized testing, failed strategies and solutions, the mirage of race and other eye-openers. But the basic point is to stop painting a community whether by race, colour, gender, class etc. View individuals for who they are. Just let them be them. Let me be me.
It’s a book we should all read to understand and evolve. And still we may not be wholly successful. It needs a whole lot of work and a whole bunch of undoing.
33.The Room Where It Happened by John Bolton
Bolton comes across as an awful man. Maybe my personal bias but I initially feel he was sucking up to Trump. He really wanted the job. Sure he has examples of times Trump acted like a total idiot but often I sensed covert praise for Trump that gets lost in the rhetoric. In fact, He maligns and criticises Obama multiple times. He is also racist which is noticeable when he challenges the reader to pronounce the name of a hotel in Helsinki. Very noticeable is how deeply involved Jared Kushner with Trump relying heavily on his and Ivanka’s opinions. When Republicans voted for Trump, they didn’t realize it was a triumvirate they were getting. Three for the price of one. In all honesty, Bolton comes across as someone I didn’t much care for. He’s an egomaniac and thinks he knows best. As for Trump. There’s no doubt the man is a raving lunatic, erratic and makes international decisions based on a perceived ‘personal’ relationship. This is not an easy read. It’s got too many facts and figures. I’d have preferred less details or else a double-spaced font. It’s too dense and tedious to read, especially on a pdf document. At the end, Bolton actually makes a pitch for Democrats to vote for Trump saying a second term would please them more than Republicans. Bottom line, don’t really bother with the book. Most of it is in the public domain. We all know Trump is an awful, belligerent, spoilt, attention seeking showman. And Bolton was complicit until he wasn’t.
34. Too Much And Never Enough by Mary Trump
I devoured this book in two days. After slogging through Bolton’s book, I didn’t think I wanted to read another Trump reveal all, but Mary Trump’s book is actually engaging. And most importantly everyone can breathe easy about blaming themselves for electing a monster to the White House. Poor Donald is just an innocent boy too scared of his father so he did whatever it took to make sure ‘daddy doesn’t get angry at him.’ The real villain is Fred Trump Senior. The book reveals the story of a toxic family that was unleashed on an unsuspecting American audience. There is much in the book that’s salacious but coming from the source of an insider, it is scary and sad that a man could create such discord within his own family. If there is one space most people consider a safe haven, it’s within the walls of their family unit. Fred Trump Senior dismantled that security blanket. Mary Trump’s more bizarre revelations have been bandied about in the press like Trump paying someone to take his SAT’s and his comment to his niece about her being so ‘stacked’ as well as the fact he went to the movies while his brother was dying. What I found tragic is when Fred Trump Senior died, none of his children stayed the night with their mum and left her alone in ‘The House’. But what about poor old ‘Gam’. She was a suppressed women who could not protect her kids and turned against her grand-daughter when it mattered most. There will be justification for her actions because ‘Toots’ was emotionally abused. But there’s no excuse for how she enabled and disabled her sons. Ofcourse Mary Trump has an axe to grind and she uses the book to berate her family about being unsupportive to her father and pushing him down the path of destruction. But she admits she’s upset. Her clear message to readers is of an incapable and dangerous man who should resign. The book should be required reading for Trump’s base.
35. The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom
The books ends on a positive note but reading it was actually depressing. New Orleans always brings a vision of a vibrant, fun city of music, great food and hordes of tourists. Instead Broom paints a picture of neglect, crime, mistreatment and giving people the run around. Anchorless people trying to find their place in a city of many layers. All cities have their underbelly, but somehow that story of New Orleans has been lost in the narrative of the city. It’s an interesting insight into how black people were side-lined and ostracized over time. They started as free people of colour ensconced in the French Quarters and gradually reached the fringes of society in New Orleans East and beyond. It’s a story of hope and losing hope given stories like Road Home. It shows how a lack of education and other necessities forces black kids to turn to a life of crime. How pride makes them present a different face to the world than what their reality is as in the way the Brooms didn’t let anyone visit their house. And the main protagonist all through is a crumbling house, which long after it ceases to exist, continues its grip on the family. I didn’t enjoy the narrative style. It was a bit confusing written in the present about the past and we keep hopping around. The photographs were also badly places not matching the context. It would’ve helped if they’d been labelled at source rather than at the end credits. From a historical perspective, this is an important work because as the author points out, that part of New Orleans is so new, it does not merit a mention and her story lays out how it evolved, flourished and was demolished.
36. The Forest of Enchantment by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The strangest thing is I’d read this book in February and not written my review. Since I don’t have my copy with me, I got another on Kindle, reread it and enjoyed it all over again. My introduction to Divakaruni was over a decade ago when I read Palace of Illusions. I was hooked and have made it a point read most of her books since then. Forest of Enchantments (FoE) took me back to the Divakaruni who narrated Draupadi’s story. It tells us the story of Ram and Sita from Sita’s point of view: a retelling of the Ramayana but cleverly renamed, Sitayana. As someone who writes about Hinduism for work and aims to demystify mythology for our readers, I am particularly drawn to this type of work. Divakaruni has an unerring knack for telling a moving story. I actually teared up so many times even though I know this is just a narrative and there is no truth to it. This is not a simple story of boy meets girls, they face much disaster, then try to live happily ever after. There are so many layers. And I love how she weaves in the female perspective. No person is born bad. Circumstances make people behave a certain way. So all the women characters have shades of grey, including Sita, who candidly evaluates herself too and the mistakes she made to bring her into certain situations. People we label as bad such as Kaikeyi and Surpanakha also have their vulnerabilities. Similarly Ahalya, Mandodari, Urmila and other women. I remember after reading Palace of Illusions, the concept of Maya became so clear especially on the final trek towards heaven. In the same way, the final chapter or more like the epilogue is the most powerful chapter in this narrative. Divakaruni talks about unfair situations faced by women and stakes a claim for justice. Does Ram even deserve the title of ideal man? He was a coward in his treatment of his wife. Didn’t he do wrong by Sita? If he believed in equality, why didn’t he make Sita a part of the solution rather than a victim when he banished her? He didn’t trust her enough and when trust breaks between a man and wife, there is no hope for a marriage. And why was it always on Sita to prove her innocence? How fair was that? Through the book, Sita ask questions. Did Kaikeyi hurt Sita any less than Ram did? Did Ram even understand complex female emotions? Would her husband ever open his heart to her again? When her mum finds her with Shiva’s sword, Sita admits, ‘to see awe in a parents eyes is a strange feeling’. How true her words. Divakaruni has cleverly woven many threads of the story in dream sequences because everything does not happen to Sita. And a lot of what happens takes place in another realm. The way Divakaruni plots her tale, it seems so natural, we don’t doubt her. Ravan is Jaya. Mandodari and Ravan are Sita’s parents. Sita and Ram are aware of their divine status but helpless to change destiny. Yoga Nidra taking over Urmila. As a women, Sita imparts many messages. Like the fact no one can take away your dignity. When Ram wants her to go through another fire test, she shelves anger and pity as useless emotions and uses calm and reason. And above all, as a mother, this story is a beautiful tale of motherhood. The relationship of Sita and her boys tugs at the heartstrings. She raises her boys to do balance duty with love. And she leaves us with the realization that the purest form of love is that between a mother and her young children because all they want is to make each other happy. This book is a must read. One typo on page 294 is amusing and was surprisingly not caught; using ‘pubic’ instead of ‘public’!
37.Prodigals by Sumit Deshpande
This book was written by the son of someone I know and I like supporting people so ordered the book. It’s an easy read and I finished in in less than two hours. I don’t know much about the Bible or about the Abrahamic faith so the book was an interesting insight into one of the stories about Ezra and his sons Asher and Shimon. The story is something that can cut across cultures. It’s about a father with two sons, one is ideal and the other is the prodigal son. It’s interesting to note, prodigal does not necessarily mean someone who has lost his way but stresses on wasteful and extravagant expenditure. It was well written, not a literary work but simple prose. The only quibble I have is that for people like me, unaware of the story, the prologue tells me the outcome and so the tension is sapped knowing that everything is going to work out at the end.
38. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
This was a difficult book to read. Not because its written badly or conveys something that’s not easy to grasp, but more because I have mental fatigue while trying to wrap my head around all this content I’ve been consuming. There’s so much and I feel so handicapped at my inability to do much as well as at my ignorance from not having grown up here. And it applies to so much else too. Discrimination across the board. At so many places, I could have said Hindu fragility or Gender fragility etc. It fits. This book may be about white people and how often they do not even recognize when they are racist. But the same applies to others. I read in horror at the number of times I’ve harboured racist feelings while I pride myself on not being racist. But most of us talk. Many white folks don’t discuss it much or live in denial. There is a need to break the apathy and understand this is an ongoing process of learning. Racial inferiority was created as a way of justifying unequal treatment but now that needs to be addressed. White people can no longer be held up as the standard or norm for judging others. That’s the crux of the issue. And it’s not for people of colour to teach them otherwise. They need to read, understand and discover for themselves. They need to realize their unspoken guilt about racism and face it head on, interrupt its spread.White people feel battered by racism and they aren’t even at the receiving end. They need to acknowledge and then catch themselves each time they find themselves behaving in a discriminatory way. It is so deeply ingrained, but needs to be erased. And for that white people need to step up because they created this inequality.
39. Three wishes by Liane Moriarty
After much heavy reading, I figured its time to take a break and read this chick lit. I vacuumed it up in two days. It is a fun light-hearted look at triplet women and issues plaguing their lives. Its about love, relationships, infidelity, twist of fate, having babies and finally blood being thicker than water so there is an alls well that ends well when we shut the book. Moriarty tells a good story, has twists and turns so it becomes a page-turner.
41. Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman
What a powerful but disturbing book. As we bumble along in life with our perceived slights, there are people like her who navigate such sticky waters.I’d heard about the book but not really paid attention until a Netflix series based on the book became popular. I haven’t watched it because I prefer books but decided to read the memoir. It’s based on the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community that the author belongs to and their ‘mistreatment’ of women. I googled her and read many interviews and articles on her. She explains how this particular community was begun by a rabbi for Holocaust survivors who come from the Satmar region of Hungary. They believed they were persecuted because they had lost their way and so adapt a stricter form of Judaism, which is anti-Zion, anti-Israel and is extremely orthodox. It is based on the fear of God and paints Germans as the devil incarnate. Feldmans story shows her life from childhood, through school and teenage years, marriage and motherhood until she escapes her life. It shows her struggle to accept the strict code and her minor rebellions until she finally breaks free. This is a must read book, an eye-opener into an alternate reality set in modern times. There are many Hasids who have chastised her version but at the root of it, it is her experience and no matter what, there is no smoke without fire.
42.The Truths We Hold, an American Journey by Kamala Harris
I’m a fan girl so obviously I loved the book. It’s exactly why I believe her to be the right VP pick. She was my choice for President all the way back in 2019. To me, Kamala Harris embodies someone who is accomplished, intelligent, articulate and capable. And to top it all she’s a woman and of colour. And partly South Asian Its all of this but after reading the book, you know there’s so much more. She is candid and ofcourse she shines the torch on herself. Why not? She worked hard for her success. Sure she has her bad moments and some unpleasant choices but everyone has skeletons. Why air them? That will happen anyway. Her personal stories makes her real. Her relationships, joy of cooking for her family and pride in her friends and family and her relentless crusading reveals her to be a woman of substance. The book is an inspiration for immigrant women to dream and hope and show that anything is possible. To me the real hero of the book is her mum Shyamala Harris. Everyone is rushing to claim Kamala Harris as desi, but not me. I feel it’s a bit contrived to push that.Her mum was keenly aware she was raising two black girls. But she is definitely her mum’s daughter. Shyamala and her girls has a good ring and that girl sure did her mum proud. Read this and be as proud of someone who I hope, wish and pray will become the future VPOTUS. Every orifice crossed.
43. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan Sendker
I first read this book in 2014 and loved it so recommended it to my Book club. I still love it. It’s such a beautiful story, heartfelt and poignant. I had forgotten a lot of the details though I knew the main story line. It does not end as one would hope, but it still brings closure and in a good way. Whats wonderful is that the book is so positive and even the characters with grey shades aren’t ogres like you see in today’s world. And the protagonists do not fight and question. Their acceptance of fate is a lesson. There are so many learning moments in the book. The Buddhist monk. Su-Kyi. Mimi’s mother and in fact her family. U Ba. And of course for the narrator, Julia, its like an awakening. It’s also a book about nature’s wonders. A book about opening all our senses. I’d rather not say much because the book needs to be read to be enjoyed.
44.The Tenant by Katrine Engberg
North Europeans really write gripping murder mysteries. Every one I’ve read has been a page turner. This, one set in Copenhagen, is no exception. Endberg also gives you a virtual tour of the city and othe parts of Denmark like the Faro Islands. The book was a nice weekend read, quick and easy and a good break from the other, more intense books I’ve been reading. A quick google search shows the author has written two more crime novels with the same detectives. Very Tana Frenchesque. I must try and read the others too.
45. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet
In as much as this book is captivating and even shocking, it is profoundly sad. That black people aspire to be white. That fair is considered to be better. That an entire family and generation was separated in this pursuit. The story keeps you gripped. Even the jumping back and forth between times and people. The coincidental meetings. The unveiling of ties. It’s all interesting. And each character is amazing in his or her complexity. There are so many story lines. Of twins. Of family love. Of cousins. Of aunts and nieces. Of similarities and disparities. Like a niece more like her aunt. And the men are amazing in their selfless love for the Vignes women. And the need to let people pursue their passion whether its academics, art or escaping into alternate realities. The end dismayed me and yet it shouldn’t. Stella had decided the course of her life at 18 and never looked back. Even during her brief flirtation of friendship with a black woman. Why would she have ever felt the need to change the status quo? Bennet has said you can be who you want to be. You can lose yourself. You can build your own life. You decide.
46. The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason
This is a beautifully written story. It sort of lulls you. I think the setting in Burma lends itself to the story and I’m a sucker for historical fiction. I even caught myself planning to google the characters to check the authenticity until I reached the end and was slapped in the face with the total volte face. I felt cheated and still don’t want to believe what happens. In fact I shut the book saying, ‘what a sad story.’ I won’t say more because the book is definitely worth a read. For the descriptions. For the lyricism. For love and longing. For the nature. For the Shan area. For music lovers. For lovers of the Erard piano. Even for the incomplete stories. On the face of it, this is the story of a piano tuner in London, recruited by the war office to go to Burma and tune the piano of an important Surgeon-Major. And so the story begins.
47.My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
This book surprised me. As I began reading it, I was stunned at the devious couple. I wondered how they’d get out of their deadly escapades. I had my doubts about Holly and Millicent from the get go. While the revelation towards the end was not that surprising, some aspects were. It made the book more interesting because I started conjecturing the exit method. And for the most part, it was engaging and intriguing however, the end parts were too compressed. At the beginning, the story meandered to the point I wondered when the story would be knocked into high gear.And when it finally did, it ended too quickly. And in a sense convenient too. As expected. No more shockers. Unless the last line was a twist of the knife. But, somehow I don’t think so. Interesting read.
48.How to Judge a Book by it’s Lover by Jessica Jiji
This was recommended by my creative writing coach, since its written by his wife. It is a light-hearted novel about finding love and meaning. If you are travelling or need a break from something intense, it’s worth a read. The book is the chronology of a young girl who wants to be an author and find love. A Vassar graduate, she is part of a creative writing workshop and earns a living from walking dogs. Some of the premises of the books in her workshops are hilarious, including hers; life of Napoleon seen through the eyes of his hairdresser. There are some astute insights about friendships, relationships, siblings. The book has a number of aha moments as far as learning new things. About music. About hair products. About the writing and publishing process. There were a few incidents that I called from the get go, so some of the stuff is kind of predictable. Nevertheless, it’s a fun read.
49. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyaasi
I really enjoyed Homegoing by Gyaasi and was looking forward to this book, even buying the hardback, which I try to avoid usually. But the book disappointed me. It is an intensely exploratory novel and at its crux is mental illness. But I just couldn’t get into her story. It was disjointed and I needed to refer back so many times. It could just be that I was too busy with work, I was away from NYC and my usual routine had been disrupted so I was not in the right mindset. I generally read very fast and this book took me a month to struggle through. It’s a book about an immigrant Ghanaaian family trying to settle into mainstream Alabama life. However, I didn’t feel any angst in their assimilation. There were a few instances of black bias but it was more about addiction, depression and trying to find a balance and an answer. Running like a thread is a deep faith that the protagonist initially embraced, then escaped and later returned to in a different way. It’s how faith can help but also can be a noose. There is also the case of how America saps the soul with the return of the father to Ghana. The opioid crisis is addressed and it is shocking how quickly a normal person can spiral into addiction. It’s a real fear and was an eye-opener. I might re-read the book to get more from it. The topics are relevant and important. But the plot is slow and the book plods along.
50. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
I managed to finish the book but I didn’t love it. Bryson writes well and is entertaining. I may even read some other travel journals. Maybe its just as someone who isn’t a hiker, the book didn’t captivate me. And I felt cheated because he didn’t complete the trail. He only did ,like 37%. He has researched an incredible amount. I learnt so much from the book. But there was so much information packed in, it fell through my mind like sieve. Hopefully I will regurgitate it when needed. Like I answered a trivia question on wind speed because of his book. I also enjoyed that bit about how parkways got their names originally. Katz was a hoot but I liked him. There were many characters. It kind of gives you a glimpse of different types of Americans in a nutshell. But it certainly hasn’t motivated me to go hiking especially on the AT. Weather issues. Insects, yikes. Fording rivers. Lugging backpacks. No loos. Stinking. He doesn’t make a good case. I’m glad I finished it before my bookclub.
51. Breath from Salt by Bijal Trivedi
The year 2020 has had a lot of firsts for me and one of the things on my list is the number of non-fiction books I’ve read. I bought this book because of Bijal and didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. I wanted to keep reading and was not bored. There was a lot of technical jargon and so many names I kept forgetting but Bijal has such an easy to read writing style. It felt like fiction but everything is pure fact. And I learnt so much from the book. About Cystic Fibrosis, a disease I knew nothing about, but also how scientists, doctors, government, pharmaceutical companies, everyone works together to find cures, fund raise, stay relevant. The number of times I had tears in my eyes, of sadness and happiness. The book resonated on so many levels. I identified with the work of my paediatrician and research scientist friends. I think this book needs to be read. It does not have to be finished cover to cover at one go. Its written so you can dip into it and still make sense of it. Awesome job by the writer and what an ode to the hard work and patience of so many people.
52. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This was a quick and enjoyable read. It seems like it would be flippant but there are so many throwaway sentences that make you stop and think. An actress who has married seven times would seem so shallow but Evelyn Hugo is anything but that. She has her usual female vanities but she turns out to be a solid and loyal person. Saying anything will spoil the surprise element of the book but it is a nice vacation read so pick it up.
53. Legend of Suheldev: The King who Saved Indiaby Amish
I’ve loved all Amish’s books so was very excited to read this one but it was disappointing.The writing was not gripping. It was repetitive. The story was uninspiring.There was a minor twist at the end but it was not good enough. The only thing that was of interest is the historical perspective of the war against Mahmud of Ghazni. While we studied it in school, this was a different take. We had never heard of Suheldev but he was a minor king who did kill Ghazni’s regent in India. There is an element of fiction with his popularity and the assist from the Chola kingdom as well as a love story. And Amish also leaves some intrigue about the Somnath attack that leaves me wondering if there is another book in the offing. I hope it’s better than this one, which was underwhelming. Unusual for Amish. He does preface the book saying much of it was researched and written by people who worked for him. Maybe that’s why?
54.The Promised Land by Barack Obama
The former President is such a powerful story teller. I stayed the course of this 902 page tome though its probably 700 odd written words, many photographs and almost a hundred page alphabetical summary of names at the end. Full disclosure. I wept in the last chapter. It’s his memoir so obviously Obama is going to ‘justify’ his time as President. And it’s not the full term. The book is only two years into his Presidency so there’s a sequel. However, it is so obvious from the book, how partisan politics tied his hands and how frustrating it was for him. And to think Biden will face the same. The Republicans are evil. Obama does admit places where he goofed up, or mistakes he made. And it’s nice to see him write about small incidents that refreshed him as well as his moments with his family. But you do get a sense of the isolation as a President. And the overwhelming responsibility. As an Indian, it was nice to read hi stake on the first India visit. He also praised Manmohan Singh as a decent man. And above its amazing to see his relationship with Michelle. She keeps him level headed. A must read. I need to read the previous two books while I wait for Book two of this one.
55. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
This is our last bookclub book for 2020 and we decided to make it an ode to Brooklyn. In a strange way, the book is about that. The protagonist loves Brooklyn despite the flaws. On the surface it’s the coming of age story of a poor girl living in a poor neighbourhood of Brooklyn. At first I was underwhelmed, but as I read one, the story pulled me in. There’s nothing much in terms of the story. There is not even that much tension. It meanders through life and there seems to be an easy solution to every problem. If only 2020 was like that! It is a different kind of America even and even at war time, our protagonist and her kin seem to sail through life. But it’s been written so as to be believable. And in some ways it is also predictable. There are subtle life lessons peppered through the book and also interesting ways to circumvent a system. Its readable and stand the test of time.
57. Joe Saves Florida and Other Adventures by Ashna Dua
Ashna is just fourteen and started this book when she was eight. It’s pretty impressive for someone so young and she’d going to go on to become a consummate storyteller, with her vivid imagination and ability with words. It’s refreshing to look at the world from the eyes of a kid. The problems. The solutions. The simplicity of it all. Dua skillfully weaves various narratives together and also imparts some common sense advice as she writes. It’s a charming tale and great for young readers. Some edits could have been tighter, some detailing could have been included and some Indian English could have been avoided but on the whole, an amazing first novel from one so young.
58. Destination Wedding by Diksha Basu
I had to read this book because it hits close to home for me. It was so weird to read it and find how many character names resonated either with my characters or my life!! Almost like it was meant to be. The book was entertaining and I finished it in two days. Did I enjoy it? Yes. But I wasn’t enamoured of the writing style. The switching back and forth between POV’s had me so confused initially. Ofcourse eventually I got used to it. I also didn’t feel any tension and pretty much knew from the beginning who’d end with whom. There were a few interesting twists but nothing out of the ordinary. It was nicely gift wrapped by the end. But it fun. And a nice little vignette into Delhi life. It’s a fun holiday read.
59. Koh-I-Noor by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand
I finished this book in a day. It is a fascinating account of a diamond that is still shrouded in mystery. Dalrymple and Anand try to piece together the origin and journey of this jewel from its first outing to its current home in the Tower of London. While reading this book, I had bouts of anger and profound sadness. India was such a rich country. Infighting, invasions, intrigue and ineptness laid ruin to its promise. What could have been and what is. And the unfair machinations ruined so many lives. The writing style is engaging and though it is part fiction, part fact, it kept me turning the pages to learn more. We’ve all heard the stories and many have visited the Tower to see the famed diamond but reading the entire account in the 200 odd pages makes it more real. I also ended the book with a sense of resignation. Whoever has it, has it. Why continue with the desire to bring it back. We lost it. Why are people always on a mission of recovery, regurgitating the past and bringing up history. Why can we not look ahead. Focus on humanity and relationships. And stop perpetuating discord. Can the Koh-i-noor not teach us this?
60. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
I finished this in two days. It’s such an amazing book. So well-written. I didn’t know much about Trevor Noah except he’s South African. The book can be shocking but the way he writes it, there’s no judgement. It’s stark but he makes you understand the situation and repercussions. His mum is the second protagonist in the novel and from whatever he has written, she was one hell of a brave woman. He was lucky to be raised by her because it shaped who he became. And he makes sure the reader knows that too. His accounts of living in utter poverty, of hustling, of jail, violence, the struggle before and after apartheid, family and friends, love and respect and even the attempt at dating are poignant, funny and honest. His descriptive writing brings the scenes alive. I felt like I was in the hood with him. Or in the jail. Or at the Jewish school as they encouraged their friend, Hitler, to dance, totally unconscious of what the name meant to the people in the school.The contrast between black, white and coloured is so vital in understanding how people interacted in South Africa. The worlds are so distinct and different.This is a must read book.
61.Your Perfect Year by Charlotte Lucas
This was an entertaining and light-hearted book about two souls in search of answers. There are many moments to reflect but the story is written in an easy to read way so those heartfelt and profound moments are not overwhelming. The reader is invested in the story and the near misses of the two missing. The protagonists are Germans living in Hamburg. Very different people who have had life-changing moments leading them on a self-discovery journey that eventually leads to each other. Many interesting characters make up the rest of the people.Its a good holiday read. And will make everyone want to a plan for a year to follow through.
62. Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
This was a difficult book to read. The intense situations made me want to veer away from the narrative and just change tracks. The story draws from the author’s experiences so the fact its personal makes it more tragic. The story of an alcoholic woman and her three kids, would seem like any other sad story but this story sinks to the depths of despair to rises to the pinnacle of hope. It drags you with it, up, down and around. And no one is a villain. They’re all victims of circumstances. The utter poverty and the fight for survival is so well bright up. This is not light reading. You struggle along with the protagonists, rejoice with them and angst too. Shuggie is one of those old souls, he never gave up until he had no choice. I chugged through the last quarter of the book, because it somehow became easier to read. Maybe the pace quickened. Maybe my mind was numb already. I’m on the fence about how the end, but one thing for sure, it is not utopia.