Shamsie, Kamila. Burnt Shadows. New York: Picador, 2009.
Reason read: Confessional: this was supposed to be read in August for a myriad of reasons: Shamsie’s birth month, the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, and the anniversary of India’s independence from British rule. Somehow I missed it in August but wanted it read before 2021.
Burnt Shadows spans 56 years, from 1945 to 2001 moving from Nagasaki, Japan to Delhi, India to Pakistan and New York, all the while addressing the political geography of the time. India’s independence from British rule serves as a subtle character in Burnt Shadows as it changes the identity of others. At the heart of the story is the necessity of identity: human culture based on the desire to belong somewhere. Every character in Burnt Shadows struggles with a spiritual homelessness and drifting identity. Consider main protagonist Hiroko Tanaka: she fled Nagasaki, Japan after the bombing. Right before the attack she was engaged to a German, but ends up marrying an Indian she meets at the home of her deceased fiancé’s sister in Delhi, India. A misunderstanding leads the couple to Pakistan where they have a son, Raza.
The story opens with the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka loses her fiancé in the blast. How ironic is it she only agreed to marry him that same day? How tragic! In time she makes her way to India and lands on the doorstep of Konrad’s half sister, Elizabeth Burton and Elizabeth’s husband, James. Reluctantly, they take in Hiroko. Sajjad Ashraf, from the province of Dilli, works as a translator for James and Elizabeth Burton and agreed to tutor Hiroko. A beautiful relationship develops between them.
Burnt Shadows is also about the unspoken observation of marriage; the relationships that fail and those that stand the test of time “until death do us part.” Elizabeth and James had small, invisible cracks in their relationship before Hiroko arrived. Hiroko and Sajjad barely knew each other before their hasty marriage and yet it endured.
The last third of the book is difficult to read in that the story moves from one of interpersonal relationships to one of political unrest. The events of September 11th, 2001 play an enormous part in the narrative. It is as if Shamsie has another message, one that she has been waiting for 200 pages to deliver.
Quotes to quote, “There was no moment at which things went wrong, just a steady accumulation of hurt and misunderstanding” (p 109), “She felt she had been waiting all her life to arrive here” (p 295),
Author fact: Shamsie has ties to the Northeast, having gone to Hamilton College in New York and University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Burnt Shadows but it is the last book mentioned in the chapter.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: Pakistan” (p 212).
Alexander, Meena. Nampally Road. San Francisco: Mercury House, 1991.
Reason read: In honor of the International Flower Festival, held in the month of May.
While barely one hundred pages long, Nampally Road shouts a clear message of India. Protagonist and poet, Mira Kannadical returns to Hyderabad, India after four years studying in England. She has come home to teach poetry, but finds her neighborhood in a constant state of civil unrest; a battle field where violence and tear gas clouds are everyday occurrences. Police brutality and political corruption hold the community in paralyzed fear, especially after a woman is gang-raped by police officers and left for dead in a prison cell. Not many are willing to rock the boat after a group of orange sellers are attacked for protesting taxes. Mira is dating an activist who thinks differently. This suspends Mira in conflict as she tries to reconcile her beliefs with the changes of modern India.
Quotes to quote, “It was if the bloodshed in the afternoon already belonged in another country” (p 9) “I suffered from dislocation” (p 29), and “He died a safe death, in another country, under the gentle shade of the tamarind tree” (p 96).
Author fact: Alexander has written a great deal of poetry, but Nampally Road was her first novel. She died in 2018.
Book trivia: Illustrations are by Pablo Haz.
Nancy said: Pearl included Nampally Road as a book “by Indian writers (many of whom now live in England, Canada, or the United States” (p 127).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “India: A Reader’s Itinerary (Fiction)” (p 125).
Forster, E.M. Passage to India. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Janovich, 1924.
Reason read: Forster was born and died in January, the first and seventh, respectively.
Much has been written about Passage to India. Hundreds of writers had offered up their opinion on the classic. I won’t bore you with the plot except to say India is at odds with British rule in every sense. It clouds judgement beyond reason, as most prejudices do. Indian-born Aziz is curious about the English and offers to take two British women to see the infamous caves of Marabar. My comment is Aziz acts oddly enough for me to question what exactly did happen in those isolated and mysterious caves?…which is exactly what Mr. Forster wanted me to do.
Every relationship in Passage to India suffers from the affects of rumor, doubt, ulterior motive, class, and racism. Friends become enemies and back again as stories and perceptions change and change again.
Quotes to quote, “One tip can buy too much as well as too little; indeed the coin that buys the exact truth has not yet been minted” (p 10), “Any man can travel light until he has a wife and children” (p 106), and “The racist problem can take subtle forms” (p 141).
Author fact: E. M. stands for Edward Morgan. Everyone knows that. But, did you know E.M. spent six months in India?
Book trivia: Passage to India was made into a movie starring Alec Guinness in 1984. It won two Oscars. Passage to India was also adapted to the stage twice and to television for the BBC.
Nancy said: Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade” (p 176).
January is a month of great indecision. I can’t decide if I want to say more…
If there is one thing I can say for the January books, it is that most all of the fiction made mention of great music. Some musicians I knew, some I didn’t. Some songs I knew, some I didn’t. I had fun looking it all up though.
- Sanctuary by Ken Bruen (EB & print). Music: Philip Fogarty, Anne Lardi, Rolling Stones, Snow Patrol, Johnny Duhan.
- The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (EB & print).
- Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland (EB & print). Music: Lucinda Williams, Slim Dusty, Nick Cave, The Warumpi Band, Ry Cooder.
- The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett (EB & print). Music: Charles Tenet.
- Graced Land by Laura Kalpakian (EB & print). Music: Elvis, Elvis, and more Elvis.
- The Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel (print). Music: Leonard Cohen, Beethoven, and the fictional heavy metal band, Panda Bear Soup.
- The Passage to India by E.M. Forster (EB & print).
- Barcardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten (EB & print).
- Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset (EB & print).
- The Persuader by Lee Child (EB & AB).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Fine, Thanks by Mary Dunnewold (EB). Music: Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, Mose Allison, Talking Heads, Aaron Copeland (can you tell, Dunnewold really likes music!).
King, Laurie R. The Game. New York: Bantam Books, 2001.
Reason read: to finish the series started in January in honor of Female Mystery Month.
In the last installment of the Mary Russell series, King included real life character, Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (who dies early in The Game). This time King takes a well-known character from a fictional story and gives him a larger than life persona. From Rudyard Kipling’s Kim Kimball O’Hara comes alive as a player in the Great Game of espionage in India as a spy for the Crown. After three years of being missing Holmes’s brother Mycroft announces it is up to Holmes and Russell to find him. What follows is a wild adventure through India. Holmes goes undercover as a magician while Mary bends the roles of gender…all for the sake of the Game.
One of the best elements of The Game is Mary’s connection to Holmes. Her keen sense of observation coupled with her intimate familiarity with his personality extends to his habits so that she is able to discern mood and energy levels. Never is this more apparent than in The Game.
Another added bonus of The Game is the education on India’s extensive caste system and colorful history.
Author fact: King has written a plethora of other books, including one titled, Beekeeping for Beginners. Too bad it isn’t on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: The Game is the last Mary Russell mystery I am reading. I move on to one Kate Martinelli book but not for a few years.
Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Mary and Sherlock being man and wife in The Game. In reality, they were married much earlier in the series.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 170).
What can I say about September? It sucked. There. I did have something to say after all. It sucked because I didn’t diverge or divulge. I like epiphanies that flash like light bulbs and bring about great catapults of change. None of that happened. I barely did anything worth mentioning except a great trip to Colorado. Then Jones died. That really sucked. What else? I didn’t run at all. That also sucked. My uncle started hospice care and do I dare mention September is the anniversary month for my grandmother, father, and high school friend’s passings. An ugly and sucky month all the way around. Silver linings: my 14th wedding anniversary and two opportunities to hear Natalie Merchant sing. Then! And then there were the books. I can’t forget the books! Here they are:
- Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden (EB & print)
- Most Offending Soul Alive by Judith Heimann (EB & print)
- Life and Times of Miami Beach by Amy Armbruster (print)
- The Workshop: Seven Decades of ther Iowa Writers’ Workshop edited by Tom Grimes (print)
- Fuzz by Ed McBain (print and EB)
- Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall (AB & print)
- The Spring of the Ram by Dorothy Dunnett (print)
- Holding the Dream by Nora Roberts (EB)
- Tandia by Bryce Courtenay (print & EB)
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Where Eagles Dare Not Perch by Peter Bridgford (EB) – finally, finally finished it!
Hall, Tarquin. The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing. Read by Sam Dastor.
Reason read: to finish the series started in August in honor of Rajiv Ratna Gandgi being born in August.
Vish Puri is India’s most Private Investigator. Confidentiality is his watchword. His bread and butter cases mostly consist of background and character checks for betrothed couples. In a culture where prearranged marriages are the norm it is critical for parents to know they have chosen wisely for their offspring. Other cases involve revealing hoaxes or frauds, but every once in awhile a case with more significance comes along. Such is the case of the man who died laughing. A prominent scientist while in a laughing class was seemingly murdered by the Hindu goddess Kali. She appeared to be floating above the crowd brandishing a huge sword. Many thought it was a supernatural occurrence because Kali was devoid of strings or wires. She really seemed to be hovering above the crowd. Lucky for India that Puri retained a kernel of skepticism. Along with his trusty team, Facecream, Tubelight and Flush, Puri is on the case.
Author fact: I love with when people or places connect. One of the most influential books I read earlier this year was by Emmanuel Jal who was mentored by Emma McCune. Tarquin Hall did a profile on Emma when he was a news reporter.
Book trivia: Hall started writing the Puri series in 2008. There are two others after The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, but I’m not reading them.
Lines I liked: none enough to quote this time.
Nancy said: nothing special.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia” (p 212). Here’s what happens when the title of a book is incorrectly indexed in Book Lust To Go: Somehow The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing was indexed as The Man Who Died Laughing. Alphabetically under M instead of C which meant that I had to change four different spreadsheets.
I don’t post a lot of personal stuff on this side of the writing. Not usually. Typically, I leave all that other blathering on JustCauseICan. I may write about the run or the island, a brief sentence here or there, but of little else…except for today. When you lose someone you adore it is hard to focus. That is precisely my problem today. I am shattered by grief and only put back together again by words. So, I must read. Here are the books planned for September. I hope they heal:
- Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden – to remember Hurricane Ivan as it wreaked havoc on my 2004 September wedding.
- The Most Offending Soul Alive: Tom Harrisson and His Remarkable Life by Judith M. Heinmann – in honor of Harrisson’s birth month being in September.
- Life and Times of Miami Beach by Ann Armbruster – in honor of Hurricane Irma.
- Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop: 43 Stories, Recollections, and Essays on Iowa’s Place in Twentieth Century American Literature edited by Tom Grimes – in honor of Grimes’ birth month being in September.
- Fuzz by Ed McBain – to end the series started in July in memory of McBain’s passing.
- Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall – to end the series started in August in honor of Rajiv Ratna Ganghi, India’s youngest Prime Minister’s birth month.
- Spring of the Ram by Dorothy Dunnett – to continue the series started in honor of Dunnett’s birth month (August).
- Holding the Dream by Nora Roberts – to continue the series started in honor of August being Dream Month.
- Tandia by Bryce Courtenay – to end the series started in August in honor of Courtenay’s birth month.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
Confessional: I am still reading Where Eagles Dare Not Perch by Peter Bridgford.
So. I’ve done a few short runs here and there. Nothing crazy, but at least I’m back in it somewhat. Spent more time with the books. Speaking of which, here they are:
- Under the Snow by Kerstin Ekman (EB/print)
- The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
- The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall (AB)
- Crazy Jack by Donna Jo Napoli (EB)
- Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (EB)
- Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett (EB/print)
- Daring to Dream by Nora Roberts (EB)
- A Season in Red: My Great Leap Forward into the New China by Kirsty Needham
- A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella L. Bird
- Eurydice Street by Sofka Zinovieff
- Arctic Chill by Arnuldur Indridason (EB/print) – which I forgot to mention when I was plotting the month. It’s the last book of the series -that I’m reading. (There are others.)
- Big Bad City by Ed McBain
LibraryThing Early Review:
- Where Eagles Dare Not Perch by Peter Bridgford (EB) – which came after I plotted the month of reading so it wasn’t mentioned before.
Hall, Tarquin. The Case of the Missing Servant. Read by Sam Dastor. North Kingston, RI: BBC Audiobooks America, 2009.
Hall, Tarquin. The Case of the Missing Servant. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.
Reason read: Rajir Ratna Ganghi, the youngest Indian Prime Minister was born in August.
Vish Puri is India’s Most Private Investigator. Confidentiality is his game. His bread and butter cases consist mostly of scoping out potential partners in a culture where prearranged marriages are the norm. Fathers consider the services Puri and his team provides a deeper background check of eligible mates for their daughters. Then one day a servant girl goes missing. Rumor has it, her own employer (a wealthy lawyer) murdered her. All the evidence points to him so this should be an easy case…
Interesting tidbit – Puri doesn’t like being compared to Sherlock Holmes. “Sherlock is a fictional character” he sniffs.
As an aside, I loved the nicknames of Puri’s Most Private investigation team. Tubelight and Facecream were my favorites.
Book trivia: The Case of the Missing Servant is the first in a series featuring Vish Puri. But, as a reader you feel as though you were dropped in the middle of Vish’s life as he remembers other, earlier cases.
Author fact: The Case of the Missing Servant is Hall’s first book.
Nancy said: nothing specific about The Case of the Missing Servant.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: India” (p 212).
Since the Run for Nancy was only a few days ago I am still on a high from not only running four miles, but running four miles without pain. No pain whatsoever. The pain is so gone it’s as if I imagined the whole thing. Weird. Weird. Weird. As for books, since I don’t have any other running plans in the near future:
- The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe – in honor of August being Chick Lit month.
- The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay – in honor of Courtenay’s birth month being in August.
- Daring to Dream by Nora Roberts – in honor of August being Dream Month (hey, I read it somewhere).
- Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett – in honor of Dunnett’s birth month being in August.
- The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall – in honor of Rajir Ratna Gandhi’s birth in August.
- A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird – in honor of Colorado becoming a state in August.
- Eurydice Street: a Place in Athens by Sofka Zinovieff – in honor of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin.
- A Season in Red by Kirsty Needham – in honor of the Double Seven festival in China.
- The Big Bad City by Ed McBain – to continue the series started in July.
If there is time:
- Under the Snow by Kerstin Ekman – in honor of Ekman’s birth month.
- Crazy Jack by Donna Jo Napoli – in honor of Fairy Tale Month.
I opted out of the cutesy title for this blog because…well…I simply wasn’t in the mood to come up with anything clever. What was December all about? For the run it was a 5k that I finished in “about 30 minutes” as my running partner put it. I also ran a mile every day (from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day). I think I’m satisfied with that accomplishment the most because I ran even when we were traveling, even when we were completely swamped with other things going on, even when I didn’t feel like lifting a finger. Despite it all, I still ran at least one mile.
Enough of that. In addition to running I read. Here are the books finished in the month of December. For some reason I surrounded myself with some of the most depressing books imaginable:
- Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild – read in two lazy afternoons
- Fay by Larry Brown – devoured in a week (super sad).
- Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (AB/print) – confessional: I started this the last week of November fearing I wouldn’t conquer all 600 pages before 12/31/17 but I did. (again, super sad book).
- Wanting by Richard Flanagan (really, really sad when you consider Mathinna’s fate).
- Between the Assassinations by Avarind Adiga (sad).
- The Beach by Alex Garland (again, sad in a weird way).
- God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories by Tom Bissell (the last of the sad books).
- Nero Wolf of West Thirty-fifth Street: the Life and Times of America’s Largest Detective by William Stuart Baring-Gould.
- Iron & Silk by Mark Salzman – read in three days. The only real funny book read this month.
- Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha by Dorothy Gilman – read in the same weekend as Ballet Shoes.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Brain Food: the Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power by Lisa Mosconi (started).
- Hit Reset: Revolutionary Yoga for Athletes by Erin Taylor.
Adiga, Aravind. Between the Assassinations. New York: Free Press, 2008.
Reason read: in celebration of the Vivah Panchami festival (usually takes place in November or December).
Between the Assassinations is a series of connected short stories that take place over the course of one week in Kittur, India. The stories focus mainly on the poor of Kittur, their perceptions of the caste system and how they survive their lot in life. Some face it with hatred and revenge, as does Shankara in “Day Two (Afternoon): St. Alfonso’s Boys’ High School and Junior College” (49). Some recognize family and the act of sticking together as being the only option like Keshava and Vittal in the beginning of “Day Two (Evening: Market and Maidan” (p 107). Others are constantly scheming like George in “Day Five (Evening): The Cathedral of Our Lady of Valencia” ( p 243). Every character has a deep personality and even deeper desires. Be forewarned, most of the stories are desperate and all leave a chill in the air.
Quotes I liked, “A man might be stabbed in daylight, but never at night, and never while sipping tea” (p 31) and “His caste seemed to be common knowledge to people who had no business knowing it” (p 63).
Author fact: Adiga also wrote The White Tiger which is on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: At the end of Between the Assassinations there is a chronology of events occuring in Kittur between October 31st, 1984 and May 21st, 1991. It begins and end with assassinations, hence the title of the book.
Nancy said: nothing in particular except to say it is Indian fiction to be included in the India chapter (p 214).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: India” (p 212).
What happened in November? I finished physical therapy. But really, PT is not finished with me. I signed up for a 5k in order to keep the running alive. As soon as I did that I needed x-rays for the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my hip and groin. Like stabbing, electrocuting pains. Diagnosis? More sclerosis and fusing. Yay, me! In defiance of that diagnosis I then signed up for a 21k. I am officially crazy.
Here are the books finished for the month of November:
- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (AB/print)
- The Edge of the Crazies by Jamie Harrison
- Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
- Beaufort by Ron Leshem
- Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher
- No Villain Need Be by Vardis Fisher (finally finished!)
- Mrs. Pollifax on Safari by Dorothy Gilman
- Henry James: the Master by Leon Edel
- I Will Bear Witness: the Nazi Years, 1942 – 1945 by Victor Klemperer
Early Review for LibraryThing: nothing. I jinxed myself by mentioning the book I was supposed to receive. Needless to say, it never arrived. So I never finished it. Ugh.
Mistry, Rohinton. A Fine Balance.New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
Mistry, Rohinton. A Fine Balance. Read by John Lee. Santa Ana, CA: Books on Tape, Inc., 2001.
Reason read: in honor of India celebrating Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s birth month as Children’s Day in November. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Originally, I chose this book to read in November because supposedly November is a good month to visit India. Since I have never been to India in November or at any time, I couldn’t really say when is the best time to visit.
I could tell I was going to like A Fine Balance when I got to this line early in the the novel, “How much gratitude for a little sherbet…how starved they seemed for ordinary kindness” (p 8). The writing is so graceful and honest. This is the story of the daily lives of four people in an unnamed seaside town in India, thrown together by a housing shortage after the government has declared a state of emergency. At the center is Dina Dalal, a widowed seamstress. As a matter of pride she will not remarry just to be supported by a man. In order to stay self sufficient she takes in borders. One such border is Manek Kohlah, a student attending college in the city. He is studying refrigeration. Ishvar Darji and Omprakash, two other borders, are tailors fleeing caste-centric brutalities in their village. There is no doubt in my mind most people find this story incredibly tragic, considering its ending. I found it sad but with a thin thread of optimism. When a once bitter character can laugh by the end of it, you know the human spirit has not been broken.
The word that comes up time and time again when describing Mistry’s work is depth. Depth of characters, depth of plot, and of human emotion. That being said, pay attention to Dina. Her transformation is the best part of the book.
Author fact: Mistry also wrote Such a Long Journey in 1991. It’s also on my list.
Favorite line, “If there was an abundance of misery in the world, there was also sufficient joy, yes – as long as one knew where to look for it” (p 588.)
Book trivia: On November 30th, 2001 A Fine Balance was chosen as an “Oprah book” for her book club. As an aside, I went to her website to see how such a book is talked about, promoted, marketed, and so on. I was surprised to see her website would have such a crappy cover shot. The image is super blurry so my guess is the file is too big. I guess I expected Oprah’s website to be just like her magazine, big and glossy.
Nancy said: not much. Just described the plot, which is surprising considering Mistry’s masterful writing. I would have thought Pearl would want to say more.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. First, in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade (1990)s” (p 179) and again in “Passage to India” (p 181).