Tag Archive | America

Go Ask Alice- Anonymous Beatrice Sparks : 6/52 ( High School)

There’s so much worse now that things have gotten better.

I’m not an American teenager nor am I a parent of one. And this is not the seventies. So I’m not moved by this. And there seems to be a lot of cynicism about the whole ‘true story’ part of it. I just picked it up to meet my ‘Book set in high school’ part of my 2015 reading challenge.

Anne Frank wrote a diary that made the whole world cry. Bridgette Jones wrote a diary that made 30 something women feel hopeful. This unnamed teenager wrote this diary that was supposed to shock the hell out of you and make the world stay away from drugs. I hope it did have some kind of effect back then and saved atleast a handful of teenagers from the addiction.

She’s just another fifteen year old schoolgirl with all the problems of a fifteen year old schoolgirl. An imagined weight problem, a crush who doesn’t reciprocate, nagging parents, irritating younger siblings. The works. And then one day at a party, someone slips her a drug laced drink. And the downward spiral begins. There’s drugs, sex, more drugs, rape, and more drugs. She runs away from home and lives the most disgusting life that a fifteen year old could ever live. But then she also starts a mildly successful business which sounded very filmy impossible. And then she reforms, gets pushed again, runs away again, does disgusting things again,  reforms again and is pushed again . And this time, she reaches breaking point. That part was disturbing, the one in the rehab center where she meets fellow teenage drug addicts.

Since it was supposed to be a ‘true story’ from an actual diary, it was written exactly how a fifteen year old high school dropout would write: Very badly.

The drug menace even today is real. And more dangerous. But I don’t think society is as ‘free’ as it was in the seventies when this book was written. So I’ll give it the benefit of the era, and let it go.

 

 

 

 

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The Colour Purple- Alice Walker : 5/52 (Colour)

Such a feel good book.

Whaat? Yes. To me, it was a feel good book. Because, read it to know why.

Celie. Young, traumatized, lost, helpless Celie writes letters to god because she has no one else to write to. She tells god about how she got big after her Pa visited her at night. She tells god about the babies she gave birth to, the babies that disappeared, the baby she saw again with the pastor’s wife. About how she was made to marry Mister___ just to look after him and his horrid kids because her father refused to let her younger and prettier sister Nettie marry him. Through these letters,she tells god the story of her life. She doesn’t complain, she doesn’t ask him for anything. She just tells him.

Her closest relative is her sister Nettie who suddenly leaves her life, and then Shug enters. Shug, her husband Mister____’s mistress. Shug who had children with Mister_____.But again, Celie just takes it in as what was meant to be. She nurses Shug back to health and the two women form a bond that is so tender, so beautiful and oh so disturbingly twisted. All the relationships in the book are so strong and beautiful. Celie and Sophia, two women at the opposite ends of the spectrum. While Celie submits to fate, Sophia punches fate in the nose, be it her husband Harpo or his new girlfriend Squeak or the mayor’s wife. The women and men are so different, but so much the same. They love, they live, they laugh, they bond. And inspite of everything, they stay together as one big happy family. There are round houses, there are pink houses and there are pretty pants. Yes, it is a happy book because not once did I lose hope. There was always something that kept telling me that things will change for everyone, and it did. Maybe it was the way Celie looked at life with no expectations. Such and attitude shames god and he feels guilty and so, he gives.

I usually don’t highlight much, but in this book, I highlighted almost an entire chapter. The one where Shug and Celie talk about god. It was such a stimulating discussion and it gave me an answer that no one has been able to give me all these years. That is god to me.

The book moves to Africa and gives you a glimpse of life in an African village through the eyes of a black American woman. Something quite the opposite of Americanah. Much of that reminded me of Things Fall Apart. How the white man makes inroads into the continent in the name of civilizing the heathen natives, bringing progress and development and taking away the little bit of life that they have.

There’s graphic sex and violence, there’s deep racism, there’s capitalism, there’s chauvinism, there’s a wide gender divide. But it also overcomes. Everything.

I really don’t understand why this book was so controversial. Maybe those who outraged about it didn’t read it till the very end.

The Rape of Nanking- Iris Chang: 57/52

The forgotten Holocaust. One of the forgotten Holocausts

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I swore off all real war book after This Divided Island. But then, the masochist-voyuer in me didn’t allow it. I wanted to read about more horrific horrors that happened  in other wars. So I Googled to find more such books. And I realised that there is no dearth of such books and such horrific horrors and such wars in this world.

This book happened in between my trips to China and Germany. It shook me up badly and I wanted my emotions to settle down a bit before I wrote about it. But then I went to Germany and visited Dachau Concentration camp. And suddenly I wasn’t too sure about which horror was more horrific. The relatively unknown WW2 horror of Japanese soldiers slaughtering Chinese civilians in killing competitions and bayonet practice or the well known WW2 horror of gas chambers and Hitler’s Hate. And again, I waited for my emotions to settle down. But now I’m actually too numb and that moment of horror has passed. One more war book and I think I’ll be vaccinated for life against Feeling. So what I write now is not what I initially felt.

When I think China, I think of only Tiananmen Square, Bamboo gulags, Inhuman Rights. The land without Twitter and Facebook and Google. Enemy country. I don’t know anything about Chinese history before 1989. And when I think of Japan, I think of hard work and perfection. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tsunamis. A country of phoenix birds rising from the ashes to greater heights each time. The victims. Our friends. But now, I can think of just one thing when I think China. Nanking. And when I think Japan, again, Nanking. (  A Tale for the Time Being had that chapter from the Kamikaze pilot’s life. I wasn’t that moved then. But now I should read it again to understand Japan’s cruelty. )

The most horrific part of the Rape of Nanking is not the cold blooded massacre of 50000…100000…300000…prisoners or war and civilians because the Japanese Imperial army didn’t know what to do next; not the rapes of women from 8 to 80; not the killing competitions or the mass burial grounds; not the mountains where the  soil turned into metallic red slush or the Yangzte river that turned red with the blood of the beheaded. The most horrific part of the Rape of Nanking to me, is the fact that most of the world is still unaware about it even now.

It is like a ten line article tucked into page 30 of the WW2 newspaper where the Jewish holocaust and Hiroshima and Nagasaki are on the headlines. More sad is that China itself has tried to forget and remove all traces of the horror and move on to other self inflicted horrors instead of throwing open their doors for the world to see. And saddest is that the USA, self appointed guardians of humankind,cared only when Pearl Harbour happened, and even afterwards only made amends for their own wrongs to Japan instead of telling the world what Japan had done to their neighbours. And Japan, Japan with its denial, false propaganda, school books with twisted history and a right wing that still intimidates anyone who wants to share the truth. Oh, Japan, you’ve fallen from that pedestal I had you on. And how.

On my next trip to China I wanted to plan a quick visit to Nanjing. But after Googling a bit, I decided against it. Even if I can make that overnight train or expensive flight for the weekend, I think I’ll be going into a city that has erased her scars and painted herself over with a new shiny gloss. A city that has buried its past and moved on to the future. But then, maybe that’s what China is all about. And to some of us here, Nanking will continue to be nothing more than that authentic Chinese restaurant.

Edit: On the anniversary of the Rape of Nanking, I got some uninvited attention on Twitter from some Japanese. Some keywords led them to my tweet about the book. I was open to discussion and they shared some photos showing the Japanese-Chinese ‘friendship’ in Nanking. Three happy propaganda photos do not erase the horror that it actually was. These were some of the links they shared to debunk the ‘myth’ of the Nanking Massacre.

This–> http://www.howitzer.jp/nanking/page01.html Seriously? If you say so.

This, obviously, is the Ginling College Safety Zone –> http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15799coll123/id/33881/rec/50

This, I don’t understand the language, but yes Chiang Kai Shek was to blame too. Although he was just a pawn in the bigger picture –>  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c66d9WKRwk

We Need to Talk About Kevin: Lionel Shriver- 52/52

My biological clock just left the building.

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There is a reason why I picked up this book. I started it a few months ago, but the first couple of chapters were a drag, so I abandoned it. Then something happened last Thursday that made me feel I just had to read this book. And I couldn’t put it down until that very last chapter, that very last line. That very last line that left me stunned.

At first, I thought Lionel Shriver was a man and that is why Eva Katchadourian came out as un-womanly as ever. No woman, I thought, can even think of writing about regretting a pregnancy just because she had to stay off wine. But then, Lionel Shriver is a woman. A woman who wrote a book so stark, so honest, so unapologetic, so bonechilling and so shockingly real.

I hated Eva. If only she had put in half the effort she put to get Kevin her surname into actually understanding and loving Kevin, Thursday may not have happened. Or would it have? Maybe she shouldn’t have wanted the answer to the Big Question. Maybe she should have just let the page be, not turned it. Turned it to reveal the horror on the next page. Maybe. And I hated Franklin. For all his denial. For all his good intentions. I hated him for just wanting to have had Kevin. But Kevin, I couldn’t hate him. I couldn’t love him. I couldn’t feel anything for him.

An unborn child can hear, it can feel, it is scientifically proven. An unborn child can learn the secrets of warfare from his mother’s womb, it has been mythologically proven. And now I believe that an unborn child can hate. A minute old Kevin shuns his mother’s breast. A four year old Kevin destroys his mother’s favourite wallpaper. A six year old Kevin plays mind games with his mother. A fourteen year old Kevin disgusts his mother. An almost sixteen year old Kevin destroys her life. And his. And eleven more.

The writing was not so great, so many digressions. Letters of confession, unsaid words, unthinkable thoughts all poured out to Dear Franklin. But those digressions were probably necessary. You need to know how much she loved her job and her company and her travels , loved those so much more than she loved her son. You need to know about her agoraphobic mother, maybe that mental condition manifested itself in another way in Eva. You need to know about her contempt towards American society, the very society she brought up her son in. You need to know how much importance she gave to her Armenian ancestry and the genocide. You need to know. Because only then you’ll understand the other genocide. That high school genocide.

Devastating. Haunting. Shocking. Mindnumbing. The book kicked me in the pit of my stomach. The book reached inside my heart and squeezed it till it clogged up. The book reached inside my mind, my soul and made me introspect. Yeah.

PS: Two things I didn’t buy. How does Kevin mention ‘flying planes into the World Trade Center’ in April 2011? How does he manage to keep that object he gives his mother in the end? Doesn’t juvi have the same squat and cough rules as in other prisons?

 

Afternote:

Now let’s get personal.

Last week I got a frantic call from a friend. Her 16 year old son had just called the child helpline number and complained about her just because she refused to buy him a laptop. No, not refused. She just didn’t buy it for him the moment he asked for it.

Five years ago, I wrote this 55 word fiction piece.

 “Half that blood is your father’s. How else do I expect you to behave?”She slapped him. “As long as that bitch’s blood runs in your body, don’t call me Appa” He shouted. The mother’s still remained inside when they found him. The father’s blood had coagulated as a pool around that eleven year old wrist.

That was when the same child had threatened to jump off the balcony.

Two years ago, I got this email from my friend. She had fractured her leg and was immobile without her crutches.

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That was when she had asked the boy to study.

And last Thursday, I took calls the whole day. From the mother, from the father, from the aunt and from the child himself. Horrible language was used, tears were shed, family was disowned, death threats were made. The rage resonated across 600+ kilometers and sent a shiver through my spine.‘ Oru savam inniku vizhum paarungo’. And I thought to myself, ‘If only this was America, this boy would have grabbed a gun and shot a dozen of his classmates’. And that is why I picked up the book from where I had abandoned it. No, he is not Kevin, she is not Eva and he is not Franklin. Thankfully, there is no Celia. This is a more complex story. But in some way, they are too.

We take it for granted in India that ‘good news’ questions are in order two months after the wedding. Why India, even George Clooney’s father-in-law wanted babies even before the wedding pictures were sold to a tabloid. And of course, no woman can not want a baby. She is either a monster, a career minded bitch or just plain hormone deficient if her uterus doesn’t skip a beat whenever she sees tiny crocheted socks or catch a whiff of Johnson’s baby powder. Maybe our society, culture and complex family network helps such monsterwomen overcome their true feelings and go on to make happy families. But you can’t deny that such women do not exist. Or that such thoughts do not cross the minds of some women, even fleetingly.

And then there’s postpartum depression. Maybe our oldwives call it something else. But another friend wept to me five years after her daughter had been born. About how she couldn’t touch the baby for a fortnight, how she hated her husband for feeling so comfortable with the baby. About how when she was alone, she slapped the week old baby. Slapped. The. Week. Old. Baby. Again, our family system complete with gushing mothers and mothers-in-law, neighbors, extended family and long paid maternity leave help tide over this kind of crisis. This child has ofcourse turned out alright.

But I’m afraid. Very afraid now. Is there a Kevin walking among us? How many?

 

52 done. And what a book to finish with!

 

Ragtime- E L Doctorow :32/52

Is it history? Is it fiction? Is it historical fiction? Fictional history? Well, it is a little bit of everything. And then some.

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The twentieth century has just been born and current events are creating history. The New World is filling up with immigrants from across the world, immigrants pouring into the streets with their hopes and shattered dreams; the lucky ones sleeping in one room houses without heat, the unlucky ones dropping dead on the streets. Socialism and anarchism are trying hard to make their mark in America,  the champions of the causes are being silenced with quick efficiency. Freud visits America and hates it. A young father ties his daughter to his waist, terrified that he will lose her, as he cuts silhouettes and sells them in street corners. Evelyn Nesbit’s husband has just killed her lover. She entertains herself with acquired motherhood, and becomes obsessed with taking care of the little girl. Emma Goldman is making fiery speeches across the country and takes a heartbroken Evelyn Nesbit under her wing, trying to make an independent woman of her.

The moving assembly line has just been discovered and and  workers with unused brains are churning out cars by the dozen. The rich and famous are getting their dose of entertainment through disfigured human beings. Harry Houdini is at his peak, insecure and disillusioned that he is not actually doing something useful for society, mourning his dead mother like a madman. J P Morgan is convinced that Henry Ford is an Egyptian god reincarnated. And in this America, in a small town called New Rochelle there lives the family of Father, Mother, the boy, Mother’s Younger Brother and ailing Grandfather.

Father’s long absence during his North Pole expedition with Peary has tilted the equations and Mother develops a newfound confidence and a taste for Egyptian furnishings. Father is confused, angry but helpless against the circumstances. Mother’s Younger Brother, as directionless as a loose kite, looks for answers in Evelyn Nesbit’s bed at first and then he discovers his true calling in fighting someone else’s battles. A brown baby is dug up from the earth, alive. The baby’s mother comes looking for the baby and the baby’s father, Coalhouse Walker, comes looking for both of them.

You know that cliched saying about terrorists not being born, but being created by you and me? That. Coalhouse Walker is this negro who doesn’t realise that he should behave like one. So when some jealous white firemen bully him and vandalise his car, he does the right thing: he goes to the authorities. But the snowball becomes an avalanche and before you know it, he is bombing firehouses across the city to be heard, to have his only demand of getting his car fixed and the vandal arrested met. And finally, he takes us back to J P Morgan’s library; but this time, instead of Henry Ford for company, there is dynamite.

And back to current events of the day, Archduke Franz Ferdinand gets assassinated. The rest, as they say, is history.

A patchwork quilt. Loved it.

Thank you The Visitor for the recommendation.

 

 

 

The Second Lady- Irving Wallace : 21/52

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I read The Second Lady long long ago, but the book was missing the last few pages. However after that initial torment for a few days, I have managed to live all this while without knowing what happened the moment the two women stepped off the plane. And somehow after all these years, something made me want to find out.
Maybe it is not cool to say that you like Irving Wallace and such authors these days, you got to be snooty and read authors like <insert Cool Author name> to be with it. But hey, I like masala and I will not lie.
A classic USA-USSR thriller. The Soviets embark on an unbelievably bizzare plan to replace the American First Lady with a look alike, an actress with a strong resemblance  and been tweaked to perfection over the past three years. The replacement happens, the impersonator embarks on her role of a lifetime and the pages turn themselves. It is a USA-USSR game, so you already know who will win. But how they win is what makes it a page turner. The Soviets are ugly, potato nosed people. Their First Lady is fat and housewife-looking. Their food is vomituous, their alcohol is bitter. Americans on the other hand are handsome and glamourous. They are sexy and clever. Well ofcourse. And then there is a half-American KGB agent whose loyalties lie with the Soviets but heart lies with the Americans. So he is the  man who has a change of heart, the goodbad guy whom you root for.  A lot of twists, turns, mind games and sex later the book ends in a nailbiting climax. And this time, I know what happened in the end. Or do I?
It was written in 1980, so you can’t read it with an internet age mindset. But the plot unravels  smoothly and there aren’t too many laughable loopholes that will make you roll your eyes.

The sore point between the Russians and Americans in this book is a small uranium rich African country called Boende. And today, when Russia and America are at it again,unfriending each other over Crimea, this book makes it seem like nothing has actually changed in the world.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist- Mohsin Hamid : 17/52

I got the book, but not quite.

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Maybe Moth Smoke made me expect more. Till the end, I kept waiting for the story to actually happen. The narration got a bit irritating at times, and so I interpreted the excessively respectful tone as sarcasm. It made it easier to read and relate.

So what exactly was ‘Fundamental’ about him, I don’t understand. To me, this was just a story about a man’s disillusionment, his homecoming and him finding his calling.  Leaving a high profile job and life in a first world country to go back home and teach. Nothing fundamental about that. What he taught apart from finance, that is left open to the reader’s interpretation. And whether it was right, wrong or whatever, is debatable.  The slow transformation of both his appearance and attitude was very well handled.   The ‘moment’ in Chile did seem a bit contrived, but it was the turning point, his Bodhi tree. (Disclaimer: I do not support terrorism or any of that jazz, but I also do not support the King of the Universe attitude that certain countries adopt. When it happened, my first reaction was ‘OMG! They were guarding their backsides and got punched in the nose’. Does that make me a fundamentalist? )

The less said about Erica the better. Screamed Naoko from the start. I read a reveiw that said that Erica was America in some symbollic sort of way. Maybe. Maybe I was too superficial to get the depth of it, but it was in-your-face Norwegian Wood.

Who exactly is this American stranger, I didn’t understand fully. Was he a journalist or someone out to arrest Changez? Was that a gun in his pocket? Was he there to kill him?
So many loose ends.

This didn’t seem complete to me. It was more of a prologue or a section of a larger book. Maybe Mohsin Hamid will come up with a sequel or a prequel someday.

PS: I haven’t watched the movie, but reading the reviews, it looks like the movie made more sense than the book.