- ‘Infidel’ by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This true story is about Hirsi Ali’s physical journey from Somalia to Amsterdam to the United States. Emotionally, she engages the readers to experience the dust, poverty, clannish rules, political upheaval of Somalia, and her movement from one country to another. Readers heave a sigh of relief when she runs away from her marriage and instead, chooses to be a Dutch refugee eventually becoming a Dutch citizen. Her religious beliefs as a Muslim to questioning her faith to denouncing her religion, have been discoursed well by the author. There are countless videos of Ayaan Hirsi Ali on YouTube where she advocates having faith with reason.
- ‘Palace of Illusions’ by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Mahabharata retold through Draupadi’s eyes. It would be good to have some knowledge of the epic story before reading this book as it has anecdotes within anecdotes, curses, promises, unbelievable feats, divinity – basically all things of epic proportions. It is nicely excerpted from the original and given a new coat but as I said, the book may bog one down if one hasn’t been introduced to Indian mythology first.
- ‘Too Much Happiness’ and ‘Dear Life’ by Alice Munroe. If you want to read a heart, read her short stories. Not a single story written with the intention of making up a story. Seems like she lived through each story that she has created. The characters feel like they are all known to you or have come across you at some point or the other and the stories don’t all have an ending – just like some of the life’s episodes don’t.
- ‘The Book Thief’ by Marcus Zuzak. Writing that penetrates your soul, sits in your heart like a bittersweet relationship – forever, tucked in there. Told by the point of view of Death, the book tells about the lives of Liesel in Nazi Germany, talks about the accordion singing foster-father of hers’ and the extremely foul-mouthed but equally large- hearted foster-mother and how this German family hide a Jew in their basement in the war engulfed Germany. Liesel’s thievery starts with picking up a book at her brother’s funeral before she comes to Himmel Street to be with her foster parents and continues with siphoning it from the public book burnings and from the Mayor’s house. Other characters like Liesel’s friend Rudy with his lemon-colored hair and perpetual hunger leave us struck by the writer’s ability to wield the crushing power on his readers to feel every pang that he feels. He is forever asking Liesel for a kiss which he only gets when he is dead. Max, the Jew hidden in Liesel’s basement paints on the torn and recycled papers of Mein Kompf and writes a book for Liesel to read. Words are important in the book as are the other characters. A must read book!
- ‘Casual Vacancy’ by J.K. Rowlings. Before I talk about the book, I met a lady who told me that she was disappointed having read it. She said she did not want to know about what happens in the small town of Pegford. She had all the Harry Potter books to compare this one with, I didn’t. I never got tempted to read any of them but I did finish this one contrary to her suggestion and I must say, Rowlings does know how to evolve her characters. Every character goes through a transformation and I was invested emotionally in almost all the teenagers mentioned in the book. I liked the ending the most, not your usual hunky dory ending – characters face disappointment ;their well-laid plans fizzle out; their viewpoint changes and not always for the positive and they somehow can’t disentangle themselves from the web that small town casts over them. The book starts and ends with a funeral – talk about coming full circle.
- ‘The Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn is a fabulous read. The protagonist is a sociopath who is in control of the world around her even though posing to be an ingenue. The writing is crisp, the insight into the main character’s mind is absolute yet the reader is shaken when her real character comes across. The ending to some readers is controversial although not to me . I have always felt that the ending should satisfy the story not the readers. It can be positive, negative or somewhere in the middle. The entire story of Gone Girl is gripping, fast paced and insightful into human psychology and the ending is befitting the protagonist’s character. Read it before the movie comes out.
- ‘The Snow Child’, a fantastical novel about a child who comes to an older couple’s cabin in the wilderness of Alaska with the snow and goes away in Spring. These farmers who left their families behind to escape the constant reminders of their childless state, create a snow child one night and in the morning see little footprints in the snow. Eowyn Ivey beautifully expands on a Russian fairly tale similar in theme where the child comes alive and just like the fairy tale this story does not end on a happy note but a very satisfying one indeed. The couple experienced parenthood, its’ heartaches, its’ need for strictness and the realization to let go and its’ pleasures in getting her married to her love. So beautifully has Mrs. Ivey described the child’s creation and her constant retreats into the dangerous, frozen mountains that the reader oscillates between believing that the child is real and then shaking their heads at the improbability of it. The snow falls constantly in the reader’s mind as the story moves, the snow is all-encompassing, all promising, all merciless and all peaceful at the same time.
- ‘Little Bee’, a brilliant novel by Chris Cleave. Set both in Nigeria and England, it tells of a teenager’s journey as an illegal immigrant from her country to England. Quirky sentences, complex characters, interwoven stories – a very interesting read, indeed!
- ‘The Paris Wife’, a novel by Paula McLain is about the first wife of Earnest Hemingway. Hadley Richardson, the heroine of the book is decent and very much in love with the young and eccentric Hemingway. It was great to read about the various literary greats of those times like Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein and their shenanigans and how they helped boost Hemingway’s literary career. Hadley, the wife supported and tolerated his excesses in the background. She is sacrificial but a little bore too. The book is written very well but goes on and on about bull-fighting in Spain and endless rounds of drinks in Parisian cafes.
It does read interestingly if you know when to skip a few paragraphs about the gory sport and the boxing matches.