Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
Reason read: Vasant Panchami is a holiday celebrated in India to mark the coming of spring. I also needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of “a PPL Book of the Week pick.”
While this is the story of Gogol Ganguli, first we must start from the beginning. Perspective must be established. Before Gogol’s birth and as a Bengali Indian keeping with her culture, Ashima Ganguli comes to the United State to partake in an arranged marriage. By 1968, Ashima has only been in Cambridge, Massachusetts for eighteen months before becoming pregnant with her first child. This is where Lahiri first draws attention to the many differences between American and Indian practices and this is where Gogol’s life begins; in this state of conflicting cultures. But back to Ashima. The first evidence of cultural confusion: the fact women in Bengali do not give birth in a cold, sterile hospital. They birth in the warm and comforting home their parents. Gogol is out of place even before he has been born. Then a subtle example of cultural ignorance: once Ashima is in labor the nurse cannot figure out how to fold Ashima’s six yards of silk sari. Most importantly (and the crux of the story), Indian parents do not choose the name of their child on a whim. It is this last detail that sets the stage for Gogol’s life story: the importance of identity; the necessity of belonging; the eventual learning to compromise in order to belong in harmony. We follow Gogol through childhood into manhood as he navigates relationships with his family, love interests, and homeland.
As an aside, when Lahiri mentions the Boston Globe story about Andrew Wyeth and his Helga paintings it grounded me to time and place.
Lines I really liked, “American seconds tick on top of her pulse point” (p 4) and “If there is nothing decent on television she leafs through books she has taken out of out the library, books that occupy the space Ashoke normally does on the bed” (p 163). This last quote struck me because I do the same thing when my partner is away.
Author fact: Lahiri is American, but her parents are Indian immigrants from West Bengal.
Book trivia: The Namesake, New York Times bestseller, was made into a movie. Of course I have not seen it. Yet.
Nancy said: Pearl said The Namesake is slightly less depressing than Mukherjee’s Jasmine.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Immigrant Experience” (p 123).
Urrea, Luis Alberto. The Devil’s Highway: a True Story. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 2004.
Reason read: Read in honor of Arizona becoming a state in February even though Arizona is the bad guy in this story. I also needed a book with the topic of a group working towards a common goal for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.
Southern Arizona is an unforgiving territory but ask those in the know. The people of Veracruz would say Mexico is even more so. The risk of traversing southern Arizona’s blazing desert is worth it if it means getting out of a dead-end life in a violent country. As Natalie Merchant sings in ‘San Andreas Fault,’ “Go west. Paradise is there. You’ll have all that you can eat of milk and honey over there…it’s rags to riches over there.” The trick is to survive the journey. Enemies abound. Double-crossing smugglers. Keen-eyed border patrol. Camouflaged poisonous snakes. Lightning fast scorpions. None of these can hold a candle to the dangers of desert’s unrelenting heat. In May the temperature never dips below ninety degrees. In the daytime the sun gets so hot human bodies dry out and brains begin to boil. Through barely controlled rage, as if gritting his teeth, Urrea tells the harrowing story of twenty-six men who, in May of 2001, risk everything to make it to points north. The Devil’s Highway (or Path), as this stretch of southern Arizona desert is known, is notorious for being so dangerous even Border Patrol stays clear. Other reviews of Urrea’s book state that twelve of the twenty-six succeeded in making it to safety. I have an issue with this. To say that twelve made it to safety implies that they succeeded in arriving at their various U.S. destinations. They succeeding in disappearing into the fabric of nameless and faceless working-class communities across the country. Instead, they survived the desert, were nursed back to health and only to be regarded as witnesses for a criminal trial against their coyote and ultimately sent back to Mexico. There is more but I will leave it at that.
There were a lot of great lines to quote. Here are some of my favorites, “It was a forest of eldridge bones” (p 5), “As if the desert felt it hadn’t made its point, it added killer bees” (p 6), and “A magus can sit in his pickup and summon the Beast while eating a teriyaki bowl and Diet Coke” (p 13). Harsh realities.
Author fact: Urrea also wrote The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Into the North. Both titles are on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: The Devil’s Highway is a best seller and came close to winning a Pulitzer.
Nancy said: Pearl mentions The Devil’s Highway would be a good read for a book group. She also said it has been “well reviewed.” Interestingly enough, Devil’s Highway is an aside in both chapters.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “AZ You Like It” (p 30), and again in the chapter called “Postcards From Mexico” (p 185)
I don’t know where to begin with trying to explain October. From the beginning, I guess. It started with a trip home; a lovely week off with lots of reading accomplished. Then it was a New England Patriots football game followed by two Phish shows and a political rally for a state in which I do not live. If that wasn’t weird enough, I hung out with a person who could have raped or killed or loved me to death. Take your pick. Any one of those scenarios was more than possible. It was a truly bizarre month.
But, enough of that. Here are the books:
- Playing for Pizza by John Grisham. Quick but cute read.
- Call It Sleep by Henry Roth (AB/print). Sad.
- The Chronoliths by Robert C. Wilson. Interesting.
- Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (EB). Boring.
- Oxford Book of Oxford edited by Jan Morris (EB/print). Only slightly less boring than Bridge.
- Always a Distant Anchorage by Hal Roth. Really interesting.
- African Laughter by Doris Lessing. Okay.
- The Race of Scorpions by Dorothy Dunnett (EB/print). Detailed.
- Finding the Dream by Nora Roberts (EB). Cute but glad the series is over.
- We Inspire Me by Andrea Pippins. Cute.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Gardening Under Lights by Leslie F. Halleck. When I set up the reads for October I didn’t include this because it hadn’t arrived yet.
I should add that October was a really frustrating month for books. I never really liked anything I was reading.
- The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson – in honor of October being Star Man month.
- Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (EB) – in memory of Mehmed Pasa Sokollu’s passing. He designed the bridge over the Drina river.
- Playing for Pizza by John Grisham (EB) – in honor of the Verdi Fest in Parma that takes place every October.
- Call It Sleep by Henry Roth (AB) – to remember the Tom Kippur War.
- Oxford Book of Oxford edited by Jan Morris – in honor of Morris’s birth month.
- African Laughter by Doris Lessing – in honor of Lessing’s birth month.
- Always a Distant Anchorage by Hal Roth – October is Library Friend Month & I had to borrow this from a distant library.
- Tandia by Bryce Courtenay – to finish the series started in September in honor of Courtenay’s birth month.
- The Race of the Scorpion by Dorothy Dunnett (EB) – to continue the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
- Finding the Dream by Nora Roberts (EB) – to finish the series started in August in honor of Dream Month.
- Joey Goes to Sea by Alan Villiers – a gift from my aunt Jennifer.
Early Review for LibraryThing: nada. I have the promise of three different books but they haven’t arrived yet.
Salgado, Sebastiao. Migrations: Humanity in Transition. New York: Aperture, 2000.
Confessional: this is not on any challenge list. Less than a month ago I swore I would no longer stray from “the List” but here I am, reviewing something leisure.
Here’s why: it’s a photojournalistic account of humanity on the move. More pictures than words. I was inspired by an interview given by Natalie Merchant to look up Sebastiao Salgado’s work and I don’t regret it.I picked up two different books, the first being Migrations.
Migrations first hits you as a stark, sad and seemingly hopeless photo essay of human suffering brought on by starvation, natural disaster, religious persecution, and outright war. Scratching the surface, it is the story of people fleeing one situation straight into the arms of another. The faces are in turmoil. Fear casts a shadow over impoverished communities across Latin America, Asia and Africa. But, dear reader look closer. Amid the sick, the dying, the afraid. Look with open eyes. There is a glimmer of hope. See the sly shy smile of a child, the defiant stare of a proud mother, the hopeful grin of a gritty farmer. Salgado wants you to peer into these faces and see yourself looking back with strength and optimism. He stresses we are all one human race. Underneath it all, we all want the same things. I’m reminded of Shel Silverstein’s poem, “No Difference” for he said the very same thing.
Favorite line, “But while information is the most obvious bridge between cause and effect, it is not the only one” (p 10).
Segal, Lore. Her First American. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985.
Reason read: my college celebrated “Immigrant Awareness Week” in February.
Ilka Weissnix is a twenty one year old immigrant from Vienna. Arriving in New York City for the very first time, she is hungry to learn everything she can about America. Her cousin, Litvak, arranges for her to travel cross country by train to the wild, wild west. It’s in Nevada where Ilka meets her “first American”, Carter Bayoux. This is the 1950s so meeting Carter is blessing and a curse. Being an intellectual he is eager to show Ilka the world of artists and scholars. Being a heavy drinker and a reckless romantic he also exposes her to jokes that aren’t always funny and a world that sometimes is unfair and unpredictable. Needless to say she is confused a lot of the time. But, it’s his drinking that really hit home for me. I live on the fringe of other people’s addiction and Segal does an amazing job bringing that harsh reality into the spotlight with subtle grace. Carter’s bouts of loneliness and helplessness are amplified through his constant summoning of Ilka to his hotel room as if there is a dire emergency. His brother’s inability to be around him is an indication of the shame Carter has brought to his family. And yet, Carter is surrounded by friends who obviously adore him.
I found this to be a fascinating read. At times I caught myself pondering American slang and thinking how strange it must sound in the ears of a foreigner.
As an aside, I have no idea why Lore wanted Ilka to travel all the way to Nevada to meet Carter. They both live in New York City so wouldn’t it have been easier to have them bump into each other there? The trip out west is just an odd blip in an otherwise mostly New York-centric story.
Most profound quote, “Like the series of points that make a line, the moments in which Carter did not pick up the glass made half a minute, a minute, five minutes, half an hour – became the morning Carter Bayoux stopped drinking” (p 82).
More quotes, “She was moved by the delicacy of his enormous sleep” (p 106) and “The prospect of sending her voice out among so many strangers made her heart beat and strangled her breath” (p 171).
Author fact: Segal was born in Vienna. Could Her First American be somewhat autobiographical in nature? Does she have a “first” American?
Book trivia: The cover of Her First American is from a painting called “City Activities with Subway” by Thomas Hart Benton (1930). Even though the story takes place twenty years later, the scene still works.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter simply called “The Immigrant Experience” (p 124).
Cahan, Abraham. The Rise of David Levinsky. Glouster: Peter Smith, 1969.
Written in 1917 The Rise of David Levinsky is the story of Russian born immigrant David Levinsky and his rise to riches in the garment industry in New York City. Cahan’s depiction of Levinsky remains one of the best accounts of not only immigrants seeking opportunity and fortune in America at the turn of the century, but also the Jewish experience on New York’s East Side as well. Cahan illustrates social attitudes towards poverty, religion, ethnicity and economic status through David’s character. Using his situation as an orphan, David accepts pity from those with means. He has an uncanny ability to sense the heart of others and use it to his advantage. It is interesting to watch his rise to wealth over the course of David’s lifetime.
Good lines: “I had a notion that a married woman, no matter how young, must have a married face, something quite distinct from the countenance of a maiden, while this married woman did not begin to look married” (p 67), and “Shall I turn my heart out to show you how hard it is to live without you?” (p 301). Both of these quotes evoke so much psychology!
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter, “The Jewish American Experience” (p 132).
Baker, Kevin. Dreamland. New York: Harper Collins, 1999.
It makes sense that a historian like Kevin Baker would write something as epic and sweeping as Dreamland. It is a beautifully blended tale of fiction and reality. Events like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and people like Sigmund Freud and politics like Tammany Hall exist in harmony with fictional Coney Island gangsters and seedy carnival performers. It’s a world of underground rat fights, prostitution, gambling, and the sheer violent will to survive. It’s dirty and tragic. A love story hidden behind the grime, the colorful lights, the tricks, and the chaotic noise of New York.
Favorite lines that moved me: “That is always the thing with depravity: just when you think you’ve plumbed the very depths, there is always someplece lower to fall” (p 26).
“I sat behind the left ear of Satan, and watched the sun come up over Sheepshead Bay, and dreamed of an empire of little men and little women, ruled by a mad queen” (p 34).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “American History: Fiction” (p 21). I think Pearl’s description says it all, ” Dreamlandvividly describes the lives of poor immigrants families on the Lower East Side of New York City, circa 1910, who find their lives somewhat more bearable by the promise of excitement of Coney Island” (p 21).
Why is it that I can see some poems as mini movies? “The Mercy” paints a picture of Levine’s mother and her immigration to New York. It’s simple and short, but loaded with imagery. I can see the boat, waiting off-shore (quarantined until all illness had passed), or the sailor who teaches the eight year old girl how to say “orange” as she enjoys the juice-laden fruit.
There is respect and love woven into the words. Levine’s entire book of poetry is dedicated to his mother and the cover of the book depicts immigrants waiting to come ashore. Who knows? Maybe his mother is in the picture? I do not know.
BookLust Twist:From More Book Lust in the chapter, “Poetry Pleasers” (p 189).