Thursday, April 26, 2007

Red Earth and Pouring Rain

Title: Red Earth and Pouring Rain
Author: Vikram Chandra
Year: 1995
Country: India
Rating: B+
Pages: 520 Book From: Personal library (used book sale)

Woohoo! Another Chunkster down the hatch! This is a book in which I truly feel accomplished after finishing, as it had previously been so daunting.

Interesting fact: The title of Vikram Chandra's first novel is taken from a Tamil poem that is amongst the oldest available, dating to approximately 200CE. 'Red Earth and Pouring Rain' refers to the first monsoon rains of the season falling on the dry, parched soil of the red-earthed hills.

Red Earth and Pouring Rain
What could my mother be
to yours? What kin is my father
to yours anyway? And how
Did you and I meet ever?
But in love
our hearts have mingled
as red earth and pouring rain

I first heard of Red Earth and Pouring Rain about three ago, when I spotted it on a friend's bookshelf. A few months later, I nabbed a copy for myself at a used book sale, but since then it has been lingering on my bookshelf. I'm so glad I added it to the Chunkster Challenge, as it is a wonderful book.

Red Earth and Pouring Rain bursts with stories in a language that is powerful and emotional. You are quickly introduced to a dizzying array of characters whose stories are slowly woven together as the novel progresses. At the center of this is Sanjay Paraher, for it is he, once a 19th century Brahmin poet, who has been reincarnated as the typing monkey that is relaying these tales to a captive audience. (Yes, you read that correctly--a typing monkey.)

Rounding out the tales, but not necessarily enhancing the storyline, are the adventures of a young Indian's journey across modern-day America. Many of the characters making an appearance in the novel are based on real historical figures that played a part in the colonizing of India. In the fashion of a true storyteller, you never quite know where you're going to end up. But ultimately, Red Earth and Pouring Rain is a story about redemption.

What brought this novel down a notch is the stories of Abhay, the Indian who went to college in America. It was hard on the senses to be transported from epic battles, Rajput chidren born of magic laddoos, and immortality, to somewhat annoying college students that drive while intoxicated and high on cocaine. I assume there is some sort of symbolic connection between the two stories, but I didn't quite catch it.

How to tell a story properly:
A calm storyteller must tell the story to an audience of educated, discriminating listeners, in a setting of sylvan beauty and silence. Thus the story is perfect in itself, complete and whole. So it has always been, so it must be.
All stories have in them the seed of all other stories; any story, if continued long enough, becomes other stories, and she is no true storyteller who would keep this from you.

The beginning of colonization in India:
Though cities are often destroyed, sometimes they do not vanish, sometimes they become invisible and invade the hearts and minds of the destroyers, who then live forever changed. So the newcomers and the old ones collided and metamorphosed into a thing wholly new and unutterably old, fell into new orbits around new centres of gravity.

The endurance of hope:
Then they were both quiet, and they walked on, their faces set towards the sunrise, night their sanctuary: in this fragile darkness, delivered of the malignant judgements of reason, the past and present are the same, and the future is lit by the radiant light of hope, and the spirits of your ancestors walk beside you; in the trembling of the earth underneath and the movements of indistinct animals is all the pain of the mother, who loves the universe and makes it well.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Non-fiction 5 Challenge Final Selection

I have changed around a few of my picks for the Non-fiction Five. I realized that I did not have any pregnancy books on my list. I know that I will be reading some anyway, so I might as well have them count for the challenge!

So, here is my final list:

1. Nickel and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich
2. Survival in Auschwitz - Primo Levi
3. Birthing From Within - Pam England
4. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth - Ina May Gaskin
5. Human Cargo - Caroline Moorehead

I'll keep the two books that got booted off the list, The Great Influenza and Jihad vs McWorld, as alternates.

And a third alternate for the pregnancy books is The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Southern Reading Challenge

June 1 - August 31

One of my favorite genres, joining this challenge hosted by Maggie over at Maggie Reads was a no brainer.
Here is my selection of three southern books:
1. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
2. The Optimist's Daughter - Eudora Welty
3. The Mermaid Chair - Sue Monk Kidd

I figured it was about time I got around to reading To Kill A Mockingbird. It is long, long, long overdue! Eudora Welty's The Optimist's Daughter has been sitting on my bookshelf for one year now. I had decided to delve into her writings, and picked up this book at a used book store...and then never got around to reading it. Now's the time! The third book is more of a fluff read, and may change before the challenge starts. I will be going down to Hilton Head Island for a vacation in June, and was hoping to find a novel whose setting is Hilton Head Island (prior to all of the upscale development), or Savannah, Georgia. No luck however, in finding a book that I haven't already read.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I, Rigoberta Menchu

Title: I, Rigoberta Menchu
Author: as told to Elizabeth Burgos-Debray
Year: 1983
Country: Guatemala
Pages: 251pgs
Rating: A- Book From: Personal collection (obtained from Freecycle)

I read I, Rigoberta Menchu for a few challenges. Technically, I have read this book before. Some may consider that cheating, but I don't, and here's why. I first read about Rigoberta Menchu for a South American anthropology class when I was 18 and a freshman undergrad. I read the story at a time when I couldn't really concentrate on it, as my father was critically ill in the hospital, and he was not expected to survive (he did, and he's still going strong). Her story struck me at the time, and I meant to come back to it someday when I could give it the attention that it deserves. Ten years later, I am a completely different person than that 18 year old, with more life experiences. Although I have not yet been to Guatemala, I have travelled to both Central and South America. I have worked with refugees, asylum seekers, including many political and human rights activists that have been persecuted. I have a much firmer grasp on the turmoil of Central America in light of the Cold War and American foreign policy during that time. And now, I have delved into Rigoberta's story once more.

When I first read about her in 1997, the controversy over fabrications in her story had not yet broke. Although I am aware of the controversy, it is not worth the time to delve into that here. Yes, she admits that she included the stories of other peasants in her own life story. But that does not detract from her goal of highlighting the struggle of the Guatemala resistance movement. As the subtitle says, her story is truly one about An Indian Woman in Guatemala. It is ironic and powerful to note that most of David Stoll's research into Rigoberta's life validated all of the main parts of her story.

I, Rigoberta Menchu, told orally to Elizabeth Burgos-Debray, tells the story of Rigoberta's childhood and early adulthood, in which her family divided their time between working in the fincas (plantations) as peons, and harvesting maize, beans, and other plants in their village in the Altiplano (highlands area in which the residents are mainly from indigenous ethnic groups). Rigoberta grew up during Guatemala's civil war, which spanned from 1960-1996, with the story largely taking place from the 60's-early 80's. Interspersed with chapters about indigenous traditions: marriage ceremonies, coming of age rites, village life, and subsistence farming; is a harrowing story of the persecution and oppression of hundreds of thousands of people. Some of the most explicit and terrible torture scenes I have ever read or heard about occur to her family members. Yet, in this tale of brutal repression, stems a story of hope and survival, a demonstration of the power of unity and working together to make a difference. Some of the most poignant parts of her story show the comraderie of the people in her village.

On preserving her culture and preventing cultural exploitation:
This is part of the reserve that we've maintained to defend our customs and our culture. Indians have been very careful not to disclose any details of their communities, and the community does not allow them to talk about Indian things. I too must abide by this. This is because many religious people have come among us and drawn a false impression of the Indian world.
This is what hurts Indians most. It means that, yes, they think our costumes are beautiful because it brings in money, but it's as if the person wearing it doesn't exist.

Life working in the finca:
After my first day picking cotton, I woke up at midnight and lit a candle. I saw the faces of my brothers and sisters covered with mosquitos. I touched my own face, and I was covered too. They were everywhere; in people's mouths and everywhere. That was our world. I felt that it would always be the same. It hadn't ever changed.
When my parents came back from work, they were very tired...Even more so with the noise of all those people living together, thousands of people we don't know all living together. So it's a very difficult atmosphere to live in and children are often not looked after very well. Mothers are very tired and just can't do it. This is where you see the situation of women in Guatemala very clearly.

A girl's marriage vows:
The girl says: "I will bea mother, I will suffer, my children will suffer, many of my children will die young because of the circumstances created for us by white men. It will be hard for me to accept my children's death but I will bear it because our ancestors bore it without giving up. We will not give up either." This is the girl's promise.

Living under oppression:
What do they know about hunger when they suck the blood of our people every day?
I didn't know then the same system which tries to isolate us Indians also puts up barriers between Indians and ladinos. I knew that all ladinos rejected us but I didn't know why. Soon afterwards, I was with the nuns and we went to a village in Uspantan where mostly ladinos live. The nun asked a little boy if they were poor and he said: 'Yes, we're poor but we're not Indians.' That stayed with me.

Rigoberta Menchu announced in February 2007 that she plans to stand as a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. If elected, she will be the first Guatemalan indigenous president.

History Meme

I couldn't resist, after unofficially being tagged after reading Caribousmom's blog.

I. Go to Wikipedia and type in your month and day of birth (no year):

March 3

II. List three events:

1991 - A bystander captures on video the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles Police Department (the acquittal of the police officers sparked the 1992 LA riots)
1938 - Oil is discovered in Saudi Arabia.
1857 - France and the UK declare war on China in the Second Opium War.

III. List two births:

1455 - King John II of Portugal
1911 - Jean Harlow, American actress

IV. List one death:

1706 - Johann Pachelbel, German Composer (on a side note, I walked down the aisle at my wedding to the only canon he ever wrote, Canon in D, one of his most famous pieces)

V. List one holiday:

Bulgaria - Liberation Day

I'm supposed to "tag" five other people - but instead consider yourself "tagged" if you read this and want to play! Just leave me a comment with a link to your blog so I can come read your answers.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Digging to America - Anne Tyler

Title: Digging to America
Author: Anne Tyler
Year: 2006
Pages: 277pgs
Rating: B Book From: Public Library

Digging to America is the story of two families, the Yazdans and Donaldsons, who meet at the airport when they are both adopting babies from Korea. But this is where the similarities end. The Donaldson's are "very American" (whatever that means!), with Bitsy Donaldson staying home to raise her daughter, cooking largely vegetarian food, and embracing her daughter's Korean roots. The Yazdans, are an assimilated Iranian-American couple who are determined to raise their daughter as American as can be.

The story is a quick and easy read. I believe I enjoyed this story more because it literally took place a few blocks from where I live. (I live in the Mt Washington neighborhood in Baltimore where the Donaldsons reside, and the Yazdan's eventually move to). I've never read a book before by such a well known author that takes place virtually in my backyard! Her potrayal of the Iranian American family I felt was largely adequate, but was lacking depth. For a story mainly about the clash of cultures, something seemed a bit out of sync, or missing, from her story.

I wasn't looking for a deep, fulfilling read, but something entertaining. Digging to America fits that niche pretty well. (Much in the same way as this review is not very deep and thought-provoking!)

I just started reading Rigoberta Menchu, and can't wait to write about that story.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Challenges update

I was starting to lose track of all the challenges I am participatin in, so I thought it would be time to do an update.

TBR Challenge:
1. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe (finished 1/07)
2. A Short History of Progress - Ronald Wright
3. Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco
4. Nickel and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich
5. I, Rigoberta Menchu (finished 4/07)
6. On the Road - Jack Kerouac
7. Under The Banner of Heaven - Jon Krakauer (finished 1/07)
8. The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand (DNF 02/07)
9. Survival in Auschwitz - Primo Levi
10. Orlando - Virginia Woolf
11. Bee Season - Myla Goldberg (finished 03/07)
12. Fall On Your Knees - Ann-Marie MacDonald

Lies My Teacher Told Me - James Loewen
Castro's Final Hour - Andres Oppenheimer
Untangling My Chopsticks - Victoria Riccardi
Hilda and Pearl - Alice Mattison

Chunkster Challenge:
1. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami (finished 1/07)
2. Red Earth and Pouring Rain - Vikram Chandra
3. Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco
4. The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand (DNF 1/07)
5. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (finished 03/07)

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke
Don Quixote - Cervantes (HA! I don't think this is going to get read by summer!)
East of Eden - John Steinbeck

Reading Across Borders Challenge:
1. Like Water for Chocolate - Laura Esquival
2. Veronika Decides to Die - Paulo Coelho
3. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Independent People - Haldor Laxness
5. Kaddish for a Child Not Born - Imre Kertesz (put on hold-I decided now is not the time for me to read a book about why a person does not want to have a child)
6. Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka (finished 1/07)
7. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress - Dai Sijie
8. The Cairo Trilogy - Naguib Mahfouz
9. Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (finished 02/07)
10. The Bone People - Keri Hulme

NYT Notables:
I did not set up a specific number of books for this challenge, so I will just list the 2006 NYT Notables I have finished.
1. Half of A Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (finished 02/07)
2. Digging to America - Anne Tyler (finished 04/07 - review to come soon)
3. The Inheritance of Loss - Kiran Desai (finished 03/07)

Spring Reading Thing:
1. Digging to America by Anne Tyler (finished 04/07)
2. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
3. Red Earth and Pouring Rain - Vikram Chandra
4. I, Rigoberta Menchu (finished 04/07)
5. The Bone People - Keri Hulme

Non-Fiction 5:Thankfully, this challenge hasn't started yet.
1. Nickel and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich
2. Survival in Auschwitz - Primo Levi
3. Jihad vs McWorld by Benjamin Barber
4. The Great Influenza by John Barry
5. Human Cargo by Caroline Moorehead

Thinking Blogger Award!

It's great to see someone out there that enjoys what I write about! Thanks, Michelle from 3M Reviews for nominating me! Although I'm not always the best at commenting back, I enjoy reading your reviews too!

In keeping with the award, I will have to nominate 5 other bloggers. I may have to get back to you on that one, it will be hard to narrow it down!

The Inheritance of Loss

Title: The Inheritance of Loss
Author: Kiran Desai
Year: 2006
Pages: 357pgs Rating: B-
Book From: Public library

I have been going through a bit of a reading slump lately, which is why things have been quiet on the blog front. Unfortunately, this book is one of the reasons for that slump. It took me ages to finish reading.

The Inheritance of Loss is set mainly in 1980's India, in the state of West Bengal. With stunning imagery, Desai describes a group of people who, while dwelling in their own personal issues, get caught up in the political turmoil of the region. There is the retired judge, a grumpy man who only seems to have affection of his dog; Sai, the granddaughter who comes to live in the judge's crumbling home after she is killed; Gyan, her tutor and love; and Biju, the son of the cook who makes a go at living illegally in America.

Desai is a beautiful writer, her words jump off the page at you. Yet, somehow, everytime I put the book down, the story quickly became forgettable. After finishing the book, I still don't feel as if I know the characters all that well. I almost felt as if the characters themselves were acting out some part in a play, not their true selves. Their innate psyche remained hidden to me. I honestly can't think of another book I've read that evoked such strong polarities: beautifully written, yet utterly boring (although Saul Bellow's Herzog does come to mind). However, the book did spur some personal research about a part of India I thought I knew a little bit about, and realized I didn't. India is such a large and complex country, I am continually finding new aspects of it. I would love to go back and visit some day, as I have only been to the Tamil Nadu region. I also feel her commentary on post-colonialism was spot on.

On post-colonialism:
"I won't last the month," said Lola. "Almost through," she thumped Bend in the River, "uphill task--"
"Superb writer," said Noni. "First-class. One of the best books I've ever read."
"Oh, I don't know," Lola said, "I think he's strange. Stuck in the past...he has not progressed. Colonial neurosis, he's never freed himself from it. Quite a different thing now. In fact," she said, "chicken tikka masala has replaced fish and chips as the number one take-out in Britain. It was just reported in the Indian Express."

"These white people!" said Achootan, a fellow dishwasher, to Biju in the kitchen. "Sh*t! But at least this country is better than England," he said. "At least they have some hypocrisy here. They believe they are good people and you get some relief. There they shout at you openly in the street, 'Go back to where you came from.'" He had spent eight years in Canterbury, and he had responded by shouting a line Bijue was to hear many times over, for he repeated it several times a week: "Your father came to my country and took my bread and now I have to come to your country to get my bread back."

On prejudice:
This habit of hate had accompanied Biju, and he found that he possessed an awe of white people, who arguably had done India great harm, and a lack of generosity regarding almost everyone else, who had never done a single harmful thing to India.

The first person to climb Mt Everest (and again, commentary on colonialism):
Tenzing was certainly first, or else he was made to wait with the bags so Hilary could take the first step on behalf of that colonial enterprise of sticking your flag on what was not yours...Sherpas went up and down, ten times, fifteen times in some cases, without glory, without claim of ownership, adn there were those who said it was sacred adn shouldn' be sullied at all.