Passage to India

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).


Fine, Thanks

Dunnewold, Mary. Fine, Thanks: Stories from the Cancerland Jungle. Texas: Black Rose Writing, 2019.
Release date: 10/24/19.

Reason read: this was a November pick for the Early Review Program from LibraryThing. I haven’t posted one of these in awhile (didn’t get chosen for October, forgot to make a selection for December, and November – this one -only came just recently).

My very first surprise takeaway from reading Fine, Thanks is how calm and pragmatic Mary is while describing her relationship with breast cancer. How is this possible when she went went a healthy mammogram to a “cancer everywhere” magnetic resonance image less than a year later? From discovery, treatment, and recovery there is a smattering of humor, a touch of sarcasm, more than a healthy strain of emotional bravery, and yes, to be expected, anger. For the most part, she is detailed and detached in such a way that a reader can relate in the abstract if he or she has never experienced breast cancer, or nod knowingly if it has been a nightmare reality. I have to wonder how many people diagnosed with any stage of breast cancer have whispered a sage yesyesyes at every truthful, clear-headed, powerful sentence Dunnewold wrote? Even when she points out the obvious I found myself making note of my emphatic agreement. For example, it is common sense that people would pay more attention to something when it relates to them directly. The greater the relationship the more one is willing and apt to sit up and take notice. But when Dunnewold points that out it becomes something different. Yes. She writes like a storytelling river; at times a crashing torrent of yelling words and roiling feelings. At other times her words are a gentle trickle of quiet and graceful acceptance.
Confessional: My favorite moment was not the height of her bravery during diagnosis or even treatment, but rather when she ended her search for religion. Odd as that may seem, it’s true. Her viewpoint awoke something deep within me. Not in the jolting sense of an abrupt aha moment. there was no visible lightning strike. But rather in the slow dawning of discovery; the way that a patch of sunlight plods across the carpet illuminating a slight discoloration in the pile never noticed before. A subtle stain. Oh. Ohhhh…now I see. There were a few of those moments.
Second favorite part – the laugh out loud moment or as I call it, the “snort coffee out the nose” moment was when Dunnewold described the “unanticipated side effect of cancer” in conjunction with pie crust. She owes me a cup of coffee.
As an aside, what is it about animals? I was f.i.n.e. with the ending of Fine, Thanks. I could close the book with a sigh of satisfaction…until I got to the epilogue. Having just helped my sister adopt a dog named Rubie…ugh.


Beijing of Possibilities

Te, Jonathan. The Beijing of Possibilities: Stories. New York: Other Press, 2009.

Reason read: Okay, so I have a confession. I wanted to read this in honor of January being the month for the Chinese New Year (on the 25th), but as the loan was coming from the east coast, it took an inordinate amount of time to arrive. I didn’t think I would have time to read it before January 31st, so I changed the reason to China’s Lantern Festival, which is in February. Well, to make a long story short, I finished Beijing before January 31st, so I’m back to the original reason, the new year.

Beijing of Possibilities is comprised of twelve witty, sharp, and compelling stories all taking place in contradictory Beijing. Many of the stories address the conflict between old and new. Ancient tradition clashing with modern ambition. Beijing is a hotbed of contradictions. Each character exemplifies and amplifies what happens when cultural norm meets current forward trajectory of capitalism.
The brilliant thread running through most all stories: the ancient Monkey King and the modern Olympic pride of the city.

Author fact: Tel has written other collections of short stories, none of which are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Quite unexpectedly I found black and white photographs in each story. What a nice surprise!

Nancy said: Pearl described the stories in Beijing of Possibilities as surreal with “Italo Calvinoist tendencies” (Book Lust To Go p 62).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “China: the Middle Kingdom” (p 60).


Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba

Gjelten, Tom. Bacardi and the Long fight for Cuba: the Biography of a Cause. New York: Viking Press, 2008.

Reason read: January 1st is Triumph of the Revolution Day in Cuba.

Think about this for a second. The Bacardi business started in 1862. When you think “rum” what brand comes to mind first? Exactly.
My favorite takeaway from Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba is how brilliant the Bacardi Moreau family has been at business marketing and self promotion. Early on they knew how to tap into supply and demand during Prohibition. They understood the importance of moral advertising in Puerto Rico, removing women from their posters, for example They knew when to exploit the World’s Fairs happening around the world in places such as Charleston, St. Louis and as far away as Paris. They were involved in any major event that would draw attention. [As an aside, I just finished watching the Tim Burton movie, “Big Eyes” and I couldn’t help but think of mastermind Walter Keane as he exploited his wife’s artwork anyway that he could.] Bacardi treated their employees well with profit sharing as early as 1916. When they couldn’t go to the marketing, the marketing came to them in the form of public figures, such as Ernest Hemingway who put the name Bacardi in his book, Islands in the Stream.
Deeply tied to the Cuban cause, as patriots the Bacardi struggled to make a real difference, but as producers of high quality libations, they flourished. Their drink, the daiquiri was a nod to Cuba Libre. But Cuba was not its own. In 1898 it was either Spain or U.S. flags that were flown. When Spain was no longer in control it was like making deals with devil. The U.S. swoops in and changes everything. Infrastructure is improved but the locals are confused. Then along comes Castro…even he cannot ignore the Bacardi name which causes major trouble for the Bacardi name. Let me stop there. Read the rest of this biography of a beverage.

Last comment: my favorite trivia is the fact that Emilio and Elvira wanted to bring back a mummy from Egypt for the Bacardi museum. It needed to be taxed as “dried meat” in order to make the journey back to Cuba.

Line I liked, “Then he would be left alone with his own soul” (p 79), “the people of Santiago had never before seen a Cuban flag flying over their own city hall” (p 91).

Author fact: Gjelten, at the time of Book Lust To Go’s publication was a reporter for NPR. According to NPR’s website, he’s still there.

Book trivia: I always love it when an author can include the pictures they describe in the text. Gjelten does this a few times and it is always wonderful to see what he captures his attention, to see the pictures through his eyes. Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba includes a good number of black and white photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl called Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba “fascinating.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean” (p 52).


Moonlight Downs

Hyland, Adrian. Moonlight Downs. New York: Soho Press, 2008.

Reason read: Believe it or not, I have no idea why I started reading this in January.

Emily Tempest is finally home after a long twelve-year absence. Half white and half Aboriginal, she must relearn her place in the landscape; to re-establish old relationships with the community and people she used to love. But, at the same time she is a pesky armchair detective, always poking her nose where it shouldn’t be. When a beloved member of the Moonlight Downs mob is murdered, Emily goes on the hunt to find his killer. It’s personal because Emily has an extra special relationship with the victim’s daughter.
Confessional: all throughout the book, when Emily was fearing for her life I thought it was an exaggeration until a few more people die. The amount of violence towards the end of the book was surprising.
Another confessional: you will appreciate Hyland’s glossary of Aboriginal words in the beginning of the book.

As an aside, I love it when there are little tiny overlaps in my books. I am reading about the Bacardi family in Cuba in another book. In Moonlight Downs a Cuban shows up in Australia.

Confessional: I kept a running list of all the characters I met in Moonlight Downs.

Best and only quote of the book, “As the fury subsided it made room for questions” (p 142).

Author fact: Hyland has lived and worked among the Indigenous people of Australia.

Book trivia: Moonlight Downs is the first Emily Tempest mystery in the series. It was published as Diamond Dove in Australia. As an aside, I am also reading Gunshot Road for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl included Moonlight Downs in a list of more Australian fiction that “absolutely shouldn’t be missed” (Book Lust To Go p 30).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Australia, the Land of Oz: Fiction” (p 29).


Catastrophist

Bennett, Ronan. The Catastrophist: a Novel. New york: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Reason read: Bennett celebrates a birthday in January.

The underlying theme of this political thriller is the mistiming of love. One is already more ready than the other to give into the insecurities of love…until they are not. Compared over and over to Graham Greene, Bennett’s Catastrophist is character driven and full of political intrigue. Irish novelist James Gillespie tells the story of his journey to the Belgian Congo to follow his Italian girlfriend, Ines. As an ambitious journalist, she is covering the Congolese struggle for independence. Once the passion of her life, now she has little time or patience for James. Meanwhile, his romantic pendulum has swung in the other direction, clinging to a newfound adoration obsession for Ines. I found their relationship to be shallow and self-serving. But, no matter. James gets caught up in the politics and befriends all the wrong people, pushing Ines further away. When she takes up with another man, it appears all hope is lost for reconciliation with James…and yet, James is blindly willing to go to unbelievably remarkable lengths to show his devotion.

Line I really, really liked and just had to quote, “The apartment reeked of our estrangement” (p 160). One more, “He was too absorbed in disguising his own failure, from me, from himself” (p 206).

Author fact: Bennett has written a plethora of other books, but I am only reading The Catastrophist for the Challenge. Additionally, I read somewhere that Bennett had trouble with the law throughout his life, including accusations of murder, armed robbery, and conspiracy.

Book trivia: this should be a movie. There is certainly enough sex and violence to make it a thriller. There was talk of making a movie, but I’m not sure it ever got off the ground.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Catastrophist a “political thriller” and suggested it should be read with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African Colonialism (fiction)” (p 15).


Graced Land

Kalpakian, Laura. Graced Land. New York: Grove Press, 1992.

Reason read: Elvis Presley was born in the month of January and if you couldn’t tell by the title of the book, Graced Land has an Elvis slant…big time. Read in his honor.

Emily Shaw, fresh out of college with a degree in social work, thinks she can heal the world Candy Striper style with her notes from her final Sociology class. Elvis has died five years prior and Emily’s first welfare client, Joyce Jackson of St. Elmo, California, is obsessed-obsessed-obsessed with the fallen idol. Joyce doesn’t need a Candy Striper. She needs to spread the work of Elvis. As she sits on her porch-turned-shrine to the king with her two daughters, Priscilla and Lisa Marie (of course), Joyce tells anyone who will listen how Elvis’s job was to sing, entertain, and look pretty, but his life’s work was to spread love, charity, and compassion. To make the world see Elvis as a humanitarian is a tall order considering many see his final years as a drug-addled, overweight has-been. Emily, instead of spending the prerequisite twenty minutes with Joyce on the first visit, ends up listening to Joyce and drinking the tea for three hours.
Later we learn how Joyce came to be such an Elvis fanatic. We leave Emily’s little life and follow Cilla’s childhood, describing how her mom was obsessed with Elvis since forever. I think the story would have held up better if Kalpakian had stuck with the story from Emily’s point of view, rather than brief first person narratives from Cilla. They didn’t serve much purpose other than to fill out Joyce’s personality as a mother. There is one critical scene that Cilla had to narrate, but I think Kalpakian could have found a different way.
But, back to the plot. Along the way, Emily learns Joyce is scamming the government by making money on the side. As a new social worker she needs to make a decision, turn Joyce in or give in to Elvis.

As an aside, I don’t know if Kalpakian did it on purpose, but a lot of the characters have alliterate names: Penny Pitzer, Marge Mason, Joyce Jackson…

Confessional: I had never heard of the Old Maid’s prayer before this book.

Author fact: Kalpakian also wrote Educating Waverly, also on my challenge list.

Book trivia: Real people and events from Kalpakian’s life make cameo appearances in Graced Land. Another interesting tidbit is that Graced Land was also published under the title Graceland.

Nancy said: Pearl said Graced Land is an example of a novelist using the facts of Elvis’s life to “explore themes of love, family, relationships, and even religious and socioeconomic issues” (Book Lust p 79).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Elvis On My Mind” (p 78).