Skip to main content

Featured Post

Spring means Hope | Weekly Snapshot

Hello you guys! I seem to have forgotten how to blog with everything going on around here. I'm sure I'm not the only one. Hope you all are coping okay?

Last week Things finally got to some semblance of a routine this week and I've been finally feeling better and in charge of my emotional faculties. I've taken over one of the upstairs bedrooms and set it up as my office-cum-homeschool room. In other words, the room is a big mess, but both my daughter and I are able to navigate the room fine as everything in the room has a meaning in our own brains. We're both very organized that way. I've been using a sit-stand desk for my work laptop and I'm a little glad that I got to try this system finally. When I'm not working, I'm helping the girl with her letters, numbers, or fun activities. Trust me, this is difficult but we worked through the system this week, and think we have it under control. My father-in-law watches my son during the day as the little ma…

Review: A House at the Edge of Tears by Vénus Khoury-Ghata

In a city of Beirut, five shabby dwellings circle a courtyard with a pomegranate tree. One night, the residents hear screams when a boy is harassed and assaulted by his father for masturbating in his sleep. When his wife begs him not to kill the boy, he says
The thought of killing him never crossed my mind. I want to bury him alive.
The boy is sent off to a monastery and later to an insane asylum. Each time, he returns back worse than before. His father also disapproves of the poems he writes, but his sister benefits from them, by narrating this story. Over time, the boy gets lost in his own world as he becomes increasingly mentally challenged.

A House at the Edge of Tears is a daughter's means to combat her shame, a sister's means to tackle her lack of helplessness at her brother's situation. Vénus questions her father's action of throwing his wife and three daughters outside while keeping his son tied up at home. She wishes her mother had spoken up instead of crying.

I kept putting off writing this review. I had mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand - the writing. I was absolutely captivated. I couldn't put down this book, even though it is primarily written in a poetical style, which is not really my strong point. But Vénus has a style of writing that can never bore you. A House at the Edge of Tears was initially written in French, and later translated by Marilyn Hacker. I can only imagine how beautiful and lyrical the original work must be.

Vénus' narration of her brother's suffering was poignant and very vivid. I kept seeing real images in my mind's eye. Her neighbors show mostly pity. They gossip that her brother must have tried to rape his sisters. Much as the small-mindedness of her neighbors can be irritating, Vénus sketches a clear portrait of them. There's the Vinikofs, who go every Sunday to look for treasure based on the word of a sorcerer; a Contessa who loves her dog dearly and teaches tango; Aunt Rose, the landlady, who when afflicted of an ailment gives back the rent money; Renée, whose husband distrusts doctors costing her dearly; Madame Latifa, who will not unveil herself in others' presence.

In spite of the eloquence oozing out of the book, I couldn't connect too well with it. Vénus' passages are beautiful and pull at strings in your heart and mind. Her chapters chronicling her brother's condition were especially hard. I can only imagine what it is like to watch your sibling slowly get disconnected from reality, string by string. Her mother's reaction was the hardest to digest. She was so helpless she could only cry, and yet she was the only one who persisted through helping her son whenever possible, and trying to distract her husband from anything that will cause him to abuse the boy further. I wished I learnt more of what Vénus or her sisters did to defend their brother. That no one in that dwelling could stand up for a boy both shocked and despaired me.

Vénus' narration switches between second person, when she is usually addressing her brother, and third person, when we learn of what happens in the houses around the courtyard. At times though, the jumping around bothered me. Like I said, I am not a poetry person. I love the poetical writing, but the discontinuities can sometimes bother me. It took me some time to get my bearings any time the narration focus changed. Those who love reading poetry or books written in poetical prose will relish reading this one - the narration is one that holds the reader's interest.


Check out this book published by Graywolf Press @ GoodreadsBetterWorldBooksAmazonB&N.

I borrowed this book from the library.


Ash said…
This sounds like a really challenging book but the writing sounds fantastic! I haven't read very many books in translation so I might have read a few pages and see how I feel about it.
Jo-Anne said…
You have an award at my blog.
bermudaonion said…
Oh my gosh, what a sad story. I guess the fact that no one stood up to the father was a cultural thing. I'm not sure if this is for me.

Popular posts from this blog

Hell-Heaven by Jhumpa Lahiri (Short Fiction Review)

I first read Jhumpa Lahiri years ago, when her Interpreter of Maladies was making a huge buzz. At the time, I didn't catch any of the buzz, but for some reason, when I saw the book on the shelf at the store I was browsing in, I felt it just might be a decent read. Funnily, I read the entire short story collection without complaining about it, but for some reason, I cannot read any collection anymore without agonizing over its disjoint nature.

I did enjoy Interpreter of Maladies, but I did get bothered by the thread of loneliness and infidelity and distrust that laced through the stories. For that reason, I have been reluctant to read Unaccustomed Earth. However, when I came across Hell-Heaven at the NewYorker - a free short story from her book, I decided to go ahead and read it. I can't resist the pull of stories set in India or featuring Indian characters, and it is that same aspect that hooked me throughout this story.

In Hell-Heaven, the narrator contemplates the relations…

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Maybe that’s what religion is, hurling yourself off a cliff and trusting that something bigger will take care of you and carry you to the right place.
Bernadette Fox has a reputation. While her husband and her daughter Bee love her, there's barely anyone else who share the sentiment. Her neighbor Audrey loves to gossip mean things about her with her close friend, Soo-Lin. The other parents of kids at Bee's school look down on Bernadette because she doesn't involve herself in school affairs. Bernadette herself goes out of her way to avoid company.

And then one day, Bee comes home with an excellent report card and asks for her reward - a family trip to Antarctica. The very plan throws Bernadette into a panic but she has no other option. She hires a virtual assistant, based out of India to take care of all her demands, including getting prescriptions at her local pharmacy, doing her online shopping and taking care of some of the logistics of her trip. (It is ridiculous! Bern…

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (Short Fiction review)

With the Hunger Games hype that engulfed us last week, it was hard to avoid all the discussion of similar works that existed. Of the many titles that I came across, two stood out particularly - a short story called The Lottery and a Japanese novel (and movie) called Battle Royale (which I'm reading right now and just cannot put down). The novel will be fodder for another post, so for now, I just want to rave about the awesomeness that was The Lottery.

In contemporary America, villagers across the country are gathering on the 27th of June (and some a day earlier) for an annual event called the Lottery. Children, women, men, all come to the main square of their village or town, where the lottery master keeps a black box full of paper chips. One of these chips is marked has a special mark on it to identify the winner (the person who draws that chip). Not everyone draws however, but only the head of the family. Husbands are viewed as the head of their families/households, and if the …