Talking Books

Book Review of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

espwI can’t remember where I read something positive about this book, but when it came time to binge on audiobooks over the school holidays, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows popped up on my list. And it was delightful.

Much of the story surrounds Nikki – a thoroughly modern Punjabi woman living in London who is largely sceptical and disregarding of many traditional elements of her culture, which she sees as behind the times and irrelevant to her own life. After dropping out of her law degree, she takes a job teaching what’s she thinks will be creative writing to women at the local temple … but it turns out few are able to read and write in English. Nikki resigns herself to the idea of teaching basic literacy to the older women – mainly widows – until serendipitously the women are accidentally presented with a book of erotic stories mixed in with the basic texts she bought for them.

This leads to the sharing of unexpected longings, experiences and desires. Nikki is forced to rethink all of her ideas about the lives of traditional Indian women. While shy and reserved, many possess deep wells of feeling and sexuality she never expected. Eventually the whole class comes to embrace the idea of documenting erotic stories and the women of the local community become quietly fascinated too.

But behind all this is the darker side that was responsible for many of Nikki’s preconceived ideas. There are definitely pockets of the community stuck in incredibly traditional and conservative thinking – and who will bully mentally and physically any woman who looks to step outside her place. In places, the story takes a sinister undertone when exploring this.

But ultimately this is a heartwarming story of self-discovery and liberation for many of the characters. I challenge you not to enjoy this.

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Book Review of The Immortalists

immortalistsHow would you live if you knew the day you were going to die?

This is the premise of Chloe Benjamin’s very clever novel, The Immortalists.  When a travelling gypsy promises to tell you the day of your death, the four Gold children are intrigued, and pool their pocket money to hear their fortunes.  But Benjamin’s novel suggests there are some things best left unknown as each of their lives are shaped by the news they receive that night.  Three of the four will die long before their time. But they don’t reveal their dates to each other – not until it is almost staring them in the face.

From this point, each sibling takes over the narrative in order of their death (great strategy by the way!).  Simon, the youngest and with the least time lives passionately, but dangerously.  A gay man in the seventies, he seeks the freedom of the emerging gay scene in San Francisco – but falls foul of the “gay cancer” that is puzzling the medical community.  His closest companion and sister Klara is tormented by his loss – a loss she seeks to understand through the occult.  Already a magician, her belief in the afterlife and her continued belief in a connection to Simon lead to her downfall.

Second oldest Daniel is the rock – the son who looks after the mother and attempt to be all he should.  But even as his date comes, he cannot ignore the gypsy prophecy and cannot stop wondering about his two deceased siblings… so on his fated day he seeks the gypsy out.

The surviving sibling lives the smallest life, studying longevity and living a controlled and safe existence, perhaps in the guilt of being the lone survivor.  But the gypsy promised Varya things would “turn out alright” in the end, and the narrative leaves us warm in the hope that she may have been right about this too.

Although each of the four stories is interesting in it’s own right, some are obviously more compelling that others.  But this is a wonderfully crafted novel and I really admire how Benjamin structured it.  A fascinating premise and a very worthwhile read.

Book Review of The Tattooist of Auschwitz

TTOA_BookThis has been getting quite a bit of press lately, largely because it cannot be simply written off as ‘just another Holocaust novel’ (and heaven forfend we every do that, and stop trying to understand this dark chapter in human history).

The most amazing thing about this quite powerful story – is that it is actually true. Through years of interviewing Heather Morris was able to extract the story of a young man who was saved from the Gas Chambers of Auschwitz by becoming the tattooist responsible for marking every individual who entered those infamous gates.  While Lale feels guilt for every mark he makes, he tries to make amends by sharing his good fortune – from extra food to access to confiscated goods – with those who need them.  Central to his plight to is an unlikely love story with a woman he meets as she enters the camp.  For years their romance nourishes them, and losing each other becomes their greatest fear.  Until of course, Auschwitz reveals more horrors.  Lale is taken to the torture chambers when his actions are discovered, and other characters unfortunately attract the attention of Dr Mengele, whose menacing presence looms over aspects of the story, and whose evil is even felt by the guards.

Resourcefulness and love win out here, even in the darkest of times.  At times I questioned how all this could be true – but once again, it is proven that truth is stranger than fiction.  Definitely one I would recommend.

Book Review of The Fates Divide

fates divideI was a fan of the first book in this series – the one that followed Veronica Roth’s immensely popular Divergent series.

The Fates Divide continues the love story of Cyra and Akos, although this narrative tears them apart – for a while at least.  Now that Cyra has overthrown her brother, there is nothing that forces Akos to stay with her.  Confused and hurt by their responses to this freedom, the pair separate, only to be told that their fates are even more intertwined than they thought.  In fact, a twisted secret at their births ensures the two were destined to meet.

In the background, war is stirring.  While Cyra does not condone the actions and traditions of her people, she cannot see them conquered.  Not can she see them come under the power of Lazmet Noavek – the father she thought long dead.

There is tremendous character development for Cyra in this novel.  Now she is no longer ruled by fear of her family, her true character comes to the forefront.  She finds that she has a lot more to love for that she once thought.  There is also some interesting sub-plotting around Eijeh – the next Oracle who was servant to the Noavek family and questionably loyal to the family that has tried to re-embrace him after his captivity.

I’m not sure why this hasn’t been more popular – I think it’s a well-realised science fiction world with intriguing characters and the promise of more mysteries to unfold. Worth a try.

Book Review of Everything I Never Told You

Everything+I+Never+Told+You+-+Celeste+NgRecently I read – and loved- Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Burning.  What a wonderful book, full of intriguing characters and situations that keep you interested for the entirety of the narrative.  If you too loved this book, and are looking for a repeat in Everything I Never Told You, you wont find it. It’s a very different book – difficult, challenging and painful to read sometimes.

It starts with a family is crisis. Middle child Lydia has gone missing.  When her body is found in the lake, the police conclude that it is suicide.  Her parents are astonished – isn’t Lydia their smart, pretty girl?  With plenty of friends?  A whole, bright future ahead of her? But her brother is less surprised.. and when he begins to share his memories of Lydia with the reader, we see a family that has been deluding itself for some time.

This is an incredibly sad story – of parents whose expectations became too much for their daughter to bear.  Nit because they didn’t love her – but because they loved her so much they wanted her to have every opportunity that they didn’t.  In this way, they began to play out their own missed opportunities through her.  And her love was so great she did everything she could to be that person they wanted – even hiding her own solitude and growing desperation for freedom. It’s hard to read stories of love gone so wrong, reminding us that even the best of intentions don’t always produce the best of outcomes. But it is a story worth telling – and probably one worth reading.  But outside of the focus on family and family secrets, very different to her other book.

Book Review of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

subtleHard to resist picking up this title at some stage, just to see what it was about.

And it was completely different to what I had expected.  There was a whole heap of completely awesome advice in this book packaged cleverly as the anti-self-help book.

“What problem do you want to have?”

This is probably the most poignant part of the book.  We can’t escape issues in life, so Manson instead suggests we think really carefully about what we “give a fuck” about.  If it’s not important, he suggests we stop giving a fuck about it.  Only spend time on the things that matter and the things you are willing to work on and well, suffer for.  Since he is telling us that suffering is inevitable too.  Asking ourselves what we are willing to go through the ringer for is actually surprisingly revealing.   And if not, we let it go.

Letting go can be harder than it seems – but also surprisingly liberating.  Manson also suggests we liberate ourselves from a whole bunch of other things including the need to be positive all the time.  Don’t judge your emotions, he suggests.  Just decide how much time you need to be devoting to them.

An interesting read – and one that certainly kept me hooked.

 

Book Review of The Good Girl

thegoodgirl.jpgNothing is quite as it appears in Mary Kubica’s The Good Girl – and this is probably why I found it on a list of unexpected mysteries.  I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews since, but I thought this was a really interesting, light but entertaining read.

The story moves between the kidnapping of a young woman and the aftermath of her  return.  Mia Dennett is the privileged but disgruntled daughter of a prominent lawyer.  But instead of following in her father and sister’s footsteps, she becomes an art teacher.  But somehow – she is also a target.  Down on his luck Colin stalks and kidnaps her for a mere $5000 payment.  But the two form a connection, and Colin finds he cannot hand her over to the dark characters who want her – but nor can he let her go.  And as months pass and the two hide in a remote and cold cabin, something strange begins to happen.  The girl who returns home is not the girl who left.

Interesting characters with complex backstories make this better than average – although it is firmly in that pile of fiction that you read lightning-fast on your holidays.  I listened to it on audio, and found myself looking for excuses to put it on.  My house got cleaned extra this week!