And so another year zips by in the blink of an eye – at least that’s how it was for me. 2013 was a year full of surprises and new friendships. I started the year by promising myself that I would do something different and by resurrecting my blog, I unknowingly opened up a world of opportunities. Boo and I also had a very busy social calendar this year by making a whole bunch of friends in our neighbourhood. We joined a family nature club and got to do a lot of stuff outdoors – something that the three of us never do. I travelled a bit this year – some ‘me time’ with my mother and sister in the form of a weekend away in Bangkok and a couple of vacations with our extended families. I wish we had done a few road trips this year but there is always 2014 for that 🙂 On the books front, I read a lot of interesting books this year thanks to GoodReads and of course my book club. Without much faffing about, here is the list of books that the nine of us pored over and discussed to our hearts’ content every month.
1. Frangipani by Celestine Vaite: We wanted a light, frothy book to start the new year off and this was the perfect choice. This was my selection since it was my turn to host and it is one of my favourite books in my collection. It’s a book that I keep going back to and if you have a daughter and/or a mother that you are close to, you will enjoy this book. It is set in beautiful Tahiti and the mother-daughter relationship which is the core of the book will make you laugh out loud at times and at other times, give your heartstrings a wrench. Being a woman and a mother at the same time, can be hard and the author’s portrayal of it will resonate with most of its readers. A good tea time read!
2. The Illicit Happiness of Other People
by Manu Joseph: This year, our list took on a distinct South Asian flavour with many of the chosen authors from the Indian subcontinent. Manu Joseph’s was the first such book on the list and it did not disappoint. Right from the title (isn’t that how we sometimes feel when we are down and look at other people around us), we were hooked. The story is about a family that is shattered by the apparent suicide of the first-born son but on closer look, one realises that an already broken family cannot be broken again but the fissures will run deeper. The father is obsessed with finding out why and in doing so, discovers a whole other world that his son occupied. The family is a Syrian Christian one living in an orthodox Chennai neighbourhood in relative poverty and the plight and suffering of the parents and the brother are gut-wrenching. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is another sob-story – it is a very interesting look into the world of psychiatry and at the heart of it, the book’s mysterious characters and their philosophy will reel you in. Definitely one of the most interesting books of the year.
3. The Extras by Kiran Nagarkar: This is the second book of the author and is a sequel to the first one and it follows the escapades of Ravan and Eddie and their foray into Bollywood. Both residents of the ‘City of Dreams’ that we know as Mumbai, Ravan and Eddie yearn for their time in the sun. Through various pitfalls, love triangles and a motley crew of characters, the book unravels slowly. Frankly it wasn’t my cup of tea but if you are looking for a light and funny book set in Bollywood, this might just be the thing for you.
4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer: Another light read but oh, what a funny one – easily one of the club’s favourites of the year. Set in Channel Islands during the German Occupation in WW2, the story is about a mixed bag of people who start a ‘book club’ in a bid to survive their island’s new occupants. The book is funny and sad at times and one of the principal characters in the book isn’t even present in the book but comes alive through the narratives of her friends. The book’s most interesting feature is that it comprises only of letters mainly between the main protagonist and various other people she comes in contact with on the island. It reminds one of the Italian film that won the Best Foreign Film Oscar “Life is Beautiful’ which takes a humorous yet whimsical outlook on one of the darkest periods of world history. Do get your hands on this book – you won’t be sorry!
5. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne: Two back-to-back WW2 books wasn’t intentional but both are unique all the same. This book is written from the point of view of a little boy who is the son of a Nazi commander in charge of a death camp but who has been shielded from his father’s work. Amazingly, he has no idea what the buildings next to his house are and he actually envies the people that he sees over there without knowing why. Life is so simple through a child’s eyes and even something as horrific as this, takes on new meaning. The book has been criticised heavily for its simplistic telling but it leaves you with many questions, and that I think, is a feature of a good book.
6. The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes: We had read another of Barnes’ books last year (Arthur and George) and that wasn’t received too well so when this book landed in our laps, none of us were sure about it. But what a different book it was! The remarkable thing to us was the same author wrote these 2 books that are completely different from each other. While we didn’t enjoy the earlier book, we all liked this one. The book’s main character has led a perfectly ordinary life – marriage, divorce, kids but a letter from a lawyer takes him down memory lane to a time that he had put out of his mind. Interesting characters and a story that will keep you involved as you go on. The question we often ask ourselves “What if we had done it differently” comes alive in this book and the answers (yes, there are many) are difficult.
7. Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto: Another book with a lovely title – it kind of reminds you of some big West End musical! This book also has an interesting outlook on psychiatry more specifically schizophrenia. The author has been open in saying that the book is partly autobiographical and his central character “Em” is based on his mother. The story talks about the extraordinary love affair between the narrator’s parents and how the entire family struggles with the mother’s mental illness. The book is largely humorous but the sadness of the narrator’s father and sister and of course, his own, isn’t lost to us.
8. Mistress by Anita Nair: The heart of this book is about a retired kathakali dancer. As many of you may know, kathakali is a unique dance-drama form that originates from Kerala. The performers take years to master their craft with plenty of discipline. Kathakali is known for the elaborate make-up and costumes and the complex facial expressions and hand gestures. While the artiste has an assistant to help with his costume, he is responsible for his own make-up and if one could take the time to look at pictures of kathakali dancers, one would know that it is not an easy task. The book has a couple of storylines running parallel to each other but it’s not worth mentioning. The most interesting part of the book is the kathakali dancer and his reminiscing about his life. The book’s chapters are divided into the nine ‘feelings’ or ‘expressions’ that a kathakali dancer displays during his performance. It certainly gives the reader an insight into the mysterious world of this unique dance form.
9. Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif: The author is known for his extremely clever and witty book “A Case of Exploding Mangoes”. Unfortunately this book is not in the same league. I am sorry to say that I couldn’t go past 20 pages of the book but for those of you who might want to know more about it, please check this out.
10. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: This was my book club selection and I went for a book with a slightly different flavour. It is set in a fictional world 50 years from now when women have lost all their rights and are only viewed as birthing machines. A large part of the US is now run by a Christian fundamentalist group who use biblical references to justify their barbaric practices. This book doesn’t leave you with a pleasant feeling and in fact many of the book club members didn’t like the book much because of the negative energy that it aroused. To my mind, it raised a lot of uncomfortable questions and also the nagging doubt that this could happen in the future. The Handmaid’s Tale features prominently on many lists by various publications and publishing houses as one of the books to be read in one’s lifetime. If for only that reason, please do pick up a copy of the book. You won’t be disappointed.
11. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain: The book is about the marriage between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson. The author did a lot of extensive research for this book and it is largely true. It is set in 1920s’ Paris and showcases the hedonistic but fun life of both aspiring as well as established authors such as Hemingway himself, Ezra Pound, F Scott Fitzgerald to name a few. I think most book enthusiasts have a book waiting to be written in them and they would enjoy the parts of the book that describe Hemingway’s efforts to build up his material. As anyone who writes even a little bit will tell you, writing is very hard and more often than not, the words don’t come easily. The same is true for Hemingway but the core of the story lies with Hadley and you grow to understand her conservative views on marriage and empathize with her situation. Living with creative people even one as mercurial as Hemingway must be very hard. A wonderful book if you are a fan of Hemingway and his contemporary writing peers and of course, Paris which to me is another character in the book.
12. Cinnamon Gardens by Shyam Selvadurai: Set in 1920’s Colombo during the last few years of colonial rule, the author takes you into the hidden world of an aristocratic Tamil family. Multiple storylines are woven into the book and that was my problem with it because it didn’t leave me with enough emotion for any of the characters, however interesting they were. A young girl trying to break away from her conservative family’s traditions and work as a teacher; a prominent member of an old family struggling to accept his life as a father and husband while remembering his gay lover when he was a young student in far away London; a family patriarch whose pride and ego has been wounded when his first-born son runs away with a servant. All in all, it makes for light reading and if you are stumped for a book in the middle of the week, this could be a good choice.
So this is it, my list for 2013. In addition to the above, I read a whole lot of other books and here are some of my favorites (in no apparent order):
1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (a thriller that has just been confirmed as a film to be directed by David Fincher) – it’s also our book club read for this month.
2. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand – its is non-fiction which is a genre I never read but I loved this book and couldn’t put it down for 3 days.
3. Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
4. The Marrying of Chani Kauffman by Eve Harris
5. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Dr Aben Alexander – A book that profoundly shook me to my core. Quite a few people close to me will be getting copies of this book. It will change the way you look at God and death.
6. Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
7. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
8. Americanah by Chimanda Ngozi Adiche
9. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
10. Dear Life by Alice Munroe
In case you would like to see last year’s book club list then please click here.