Over at Postcards from Asia

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

While I spend a good chunk of this week getting ready for my five-day long weekend - Woohoo!! - I'm over at Delia's blog, Postcards from Asia. If you're not familiar with Delia, you need head out to her blog there right away. She is a reader, a blogger, and a writer, and her posts are always fun to read.

The Sunday Salon: On true equality and perceived equality

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Sunday 

This has been quite an interesting week for the US. First, the Confederate flags have started coming down and then the pride flags went up. I had taken the day off from work on Friday when the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Honestly, I didn't see that one coming. I did believe that some day in the future, same-sex marriage was not going to be a big deal at all, like it is now. But to me, that future appeared to be way out there. After all, (loosely condensing several decades of US history) slavery was abolished in 1865, there was still racial segregation and discrimination in the 1960s when the Civil Rights movement gained traction, and we are still seeing racially motivated attacks today. The Stonewall riots happened in 1969 and same-sex marriage got legalized only this week. Women won the right to vote in 1920, and even today, they are often passed up for promotions or raises in favor of men, they don't get decent maternity leave, and god forbid if a woman tries to find a job while carrying a babe in her belly.

My point is that granting of legal rights, while the most important thing that should happen because it gives victims the power to present their case and fight it in a court of law, does not make the world equal. As excited and emotional and thrilled as I was after Friday's ruling, I realized the irony of it - that we are celebrating the fact that a group of people have just been granted equal rights - to marry whomever they wanted to. Stephen King summed this up so perfectly:

It is important to remember that while the US law now sees (almost?) everyone as equals, there will still be subtle discrimination in this country, just as there still is both blatant and subtle discrimination in the rest of the world. There are countries where LGBT people are viewed as ungodly, where women are stoned to death, where news about rapes are shrugged off as commonplace, where a different-looking face or name is cause enough for people to shun that person, where mental issues are considered a stigma, where honor killings are encouraged, and where people are murdered just because they think differently or oppose their government's stand.

Yes, for all these acts of intolerance, there are people out there doing good things too. But it's not enough. And not enough people are doing those good things. We need to stop making excuses that because I am not a woman/gay/colored/white/ill, I don't know what it feels like to be persecuted and therefore I am not qualified to do anything. When people around us suffer, it is already our problem. We are long past the stage where we could stay away from others' battles. How did we become immune to some kinds of discrimination? Why should the court have to legalize same-sex marriage? Why did Malala have to get shot before people sat up and took notice? Why are shootings still happening today - haven't we lost enough of our kids and loved ones? Why does the press glaze over news about wars and discrimination because hey, it's old news that isn't sensational anymore. Yes, a horrible event is usually how awareness comes about. But who are we kidding - we all knew about every one of these tragedies long before it even happened.

I am a strong believer of the idea that tolerance begins in schools. Both responsible and intolerant adults are created there. Yes, in their own homes too, and as long as some parents remain discriminating (and we know these kinds exist), their kids will likely get directed towards the same beliefs. But there is still hope as long as there is diversity in books and curriculum. There is a chance today's kids will look back and ridicule the fact that we (their past) had some crazy beliefs.

I am very well aware that this isn't an issue with a straightforward answer. I am also aware that there are a lot of viewpoints missing from my post. And that the solution isn't as simple as writing a post about it. I also feel that I am probably preaching to the choir as most people believe in the idea of equality - we just have different ways to apply it. If I went that deep in to this topic (and I do feel that we all should), I could write a book about it. But then, we will be dangerously guilty of talking a lot and doing nothing. Which is exactly the status quo today. We are talking a LOT. We are doing very little.

Ultimately, my point is this - we should make every problem in this world our problem. We should hold accountable the people we vote to power. We should not sit back and act helpless when we feel powerless. We should not just talk but also act. We should teach our kids to respect differences right from the time they start exploring the world, even before they have started going to elementary school. This is going to be their problem tomorrow. For every blessing we are thankful for, we need to be aware that there are kids out there who cannot go to school, who live in the streets or are enslaved. We need to learn to not judge people for the choices they make, as long as those choices aren't discriminatory or terrorist or hurtful. A country doesn't become free because its law declares everyone equal. That happens only when a woman can walk alone in the streets (in any country) at 3 am without worrying about being raped, or a student isn't treated differently because of the color of his/her skin, or each person can marry his or her love without a bakery refusing to cater at their wedding because their marriage is ungodly or unconstitutional.

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Truth According to Us
I have since wondered, of course, how my life would have been different if I'd decided to stay home that morning. This is what's called the enigma of history, and it can drive you out of your mind if you let it.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was one of my favorite reads in 2012, so when I heard about Annie Barrows' new book, The Truth According to Us, I was sure I wanted to read it. Even though Annie Barrows completed Guernsey Literary after her aunt, Mary Shaffer, the original author, passed away, The Truth According to Us appeared to have the same quaint feel as the other book, from the synopsis alone.

The Truth According to Us is set in the summer of 1938, while the US was recovering from the Depression. Layla Beck has just been banished by her senator father because she refused to marry the man he chose for her. Instead, he coaxed his brother to give her a job that took her to a little town called Macedonia in West Virginia, where she has been tasked with writing a book about the history of Macedonia in time for its sesquicentennial celebrations. While in Macedonia, she boards with the Romeyns, a formerly privileged family that has hit some hard times recently. There also seems to be some dark secret in this family's past that everyone is trying hard to conceal. Willa, the 12-year old daughter of Felix Romeyn, is determined to dig this secret out, even if it means spying on her family or neighbors or stalking her father. Jottie Romeyn, Felix's sister, is nursing a broken heart after the boy she loved stole money from her father and burnt down his factory. Felix, a playboy character, has been romancing Layla Beck with no intention of having a committed relationship.

The Romeyns, for all their faults, form a wonderful family that paints great on paper. They knew how to have fun and stood up for each other. Willa and her sister Bird make a charming pair that many siblings will relate to. Macedonia, the fictional town where this book is set, almost makes you wish it was real. But the town's character mirrors that of many West Virginian towns. The town's main source of employment was a hosiery factory that is also seeing mild trouble. Everyone in this town seems to know everyone else, and the small town culture is very much in effect in this book.

I loved the format of the book. While most of the chapters were written in narrative prose, there were also plenty of letters scattered throughout the book, giving it a very informal feel. Occasionally, Layla's chapters from her book about Macedonia interspersed with the plot.

Unlike Guernsey Literary, The Truth According to Us is a chunkster. At almost 500 pages, I found it very hard to keep coming back to this book. It should almost be a rule that cozy books should be short - they don't usually have enough of a suspense to compel one to return to it. Moreover, the fact that this is Annie Barrows' first book for adults becomes very obvious through the prose. None of her characters have enough maturity or even act like adults, despite being in their 30s. The younger characters, however, feel much well-written.

Even though I had issues with this book and just wanted to finish it the more I read it, it was still charming enough to be a delightful read - that is, when I actually got around to it. It has the same feel of delight that Guernsey Literary had, and it was filled with characters just as wonderful, but it was too long and the characters could have been developed better.

I received this book for free for review from the publisher.

The Sunday Salon: One of the better weeks in a long time

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Sunday 

This has been one of those better weeks, busy yes, but good busy with several silver linings.

  • Family arrived on Friday night amid some flight delays that got them home later than planned. My brother-in-law and his wife were also visiting us this weekend (their first time here after their wedding in April) and they just left a couple of hours ago.
  • They brought so many delicacies from India that I'll have to watch my waistline for a good while. Not that I have a waistline anymore.
  • We also had so much fun this weekend. Last night, we went for bowling, where everyone but me bowled. Fine by me though, I'm not that good at bowling and would have just sulked all evening while everyone else racked up scores in triple digits. I can be very competitive even when I am not good at something.
  • We also spent this morning at the Smith Mountain Lake. Yours Truly stayed on the pontoon but almost everyone else rode the jet ski occasionally. Despite staying less than an hour from the lake, this was the first time we did any kind of boat rides there. Surprising, because everyone had so much fun today and want to do this more often.
  • Over this week, we finished painting and setting up the baby room, assembled the crib, washed all the baby clothes, and are now more or less ready for the baby to arrive. I am shocked at how huge the crib is. I know the baby is supposed to grow into it but it doesn't help make it feel smaller. Our family also gifted us plenty of baby clothes and I've been beside myself thinking how cute they look. Definitely hard to hunt for them in the laundry though.
  • Now that family has arrived to help with the baby, I have begun to feel some anxiety (okay, a lot of anxiety) about how our lives are going to change soon. Until now, the idea of our expanding family has been just that - an idea. I had completely romanticized versions of how I will be occupied with the baby - despite reading and hearing very different stories. Now though, those possibly fake visions have faded and for the first time, I'm beginning to realize that nothing is going to be the same again - of course, not in a bad way. I almost wished I had done more... stuff... before now, like traveled, seen the world, done more pet projects, read more, written more, achieved more at work, etc. I'm sure this is the anxiety speaking though.
  • I will be finishing 37 weeks on Wednesday - yet another milestone that had at one time felt so far away. At my last appointment, I hadn't dilated at all so the doctor thinks there's still plenty of time. But we know this kind of thing can change status at any time. From here on out, I'll be having a check-up every week.
  • On Thursday, the husband and I had a nice dinner date. Calling it a dinner date seems somewhat silly because we have such dinner dates a few times a week. What made this one special was that it was probably our last date alone - just the two of us before the family and the baby arrived.
  • Work-wise, I am beginning to offload my responsibilities next week and am looking forward to that. I've always loved staying busy at work and I love what I do, so it's not going to be easy stepping down. On the other hand, I am looking forward to some quiet time at work. Pregnancy hasn't been a difficult factor at work yet but overall, it has been a bit tiring and trying lately that being able to downsize at work is probably what I need.
  • Last night, we started watching episodes of The Strain. In case you are not aware, The Strain is a trilogy written by Guillermo Del Toro and has been adapted for the small screen. The second season starts next month but I had learnt of the TV show only last night. This book/show has one of the most dramatic openings I have ever read/watched - a plane lands at an airport with everyone on board dead. (Now that I think of it, even Nelson Demille's The Lion's Game has a similar beginning but has an entirely different cause.) So far, this show has been addicting and not super scary yet.
  • I finished The Truth According to Us last night (yay, finally!) and also started reading Intisar Khanani's Sunbolt which has one of the easiest-to-read beginnings ever in the fantasy genre. Usually, I have to read the first few pages of fantasy books a few times before I can get a foothold in the story's universe.
After the tiring but wonderful weekend, I'm all ready to call it a night. How has your week been?

Quick Short Thoughts - Anatomy of a Disappearance and Family

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar

Anatomy of a Disappearance I finished Anatomy of a Disappearance months ago but have been super reluctant to review it. Part of the reason is because I wanted to enjoy this book but it didn't quite appeal to me much. Anatomy of a Disappearance is told from Nuri's perspective. His father had just gone missing - apparently kidnapped for being a political dissident of the state. Nuri and Mona, his father's second wife deal with the tragedy in their own ways.

Anatomy of a Disappearance is semi-autobiographical. Hisham Matar's father was kidnapped in 1990 and has been missing ever since. I cannot begin to imagine that kind of tragedy - unresolved and lacking closure. So, I feel bad to even admit that I didn't enjoy Anatomy of a Disappearance. I found it very detached and unemotional. It is obvious that Nuri is suffering but that emotion didn't quite come through. He was more obsessed with Mona, whom he fell for from the very instant he set his eyes on her. But it was his father who marries her.

The book is very atmospheric. It was hard not to be transported to Geneva, Paris, Cairo, and London, as Nuri visited these places. The writing was also beautiful and made up for the detachment of the prose. Although I didn't quite enjoy the book much, I am glad I read it because Hisham Matar has been on my list for a while.

Family by J. California Cooper

Family was an ingenious book. The format was unlike any I had read before. Family follows the story of a slave woman, Clora, her daughter, Always, and some members of a few generations of her family lineage. Clora is the narrator but she does die very early in the story. Most of the story focuses on Always, her struggles, and her successes.

Clora wanted to escape her life of slavery by killing herself. Unfortunately, her plan to kill her children didn't quite work, so Clora followed their lives from wherever she was, now that she is dead. There is so much to love in this book and I don't really have too much to say about it. It's one of those family sagas that take you on a ride. Always is a character to root for. It's amazing to see how much she learns and changes during the course of the book. This is not to say that this is a light read. There is a ton of stuff in this book that is very disappointing and tragic but there is also plenty that makes you believe in the human spirit. Strongly recommended - this is also a quick read so it can be easily read in one or two sittings.