Interpreter of Maladies

Book description

From Amazon webpage –
Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations.

Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant. She is an important and powerful new voice.

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Invincible Summer

Book description

From the Amazon webpage –

Four friends. Twenty years. One unexpected journey.
Eva, Benedict, Sylvie, and Lucien graduate in 1997, into an exhilarating world on the brink of the new millennium. Hopelessly in love with playboy Lucien and keen to shrug off the socialist politics of her childhood, Eva breaks away to work for a big bank. Benedict, a budding scientist who’s pined for Eva for years, embarks on a physics PhD, and siblings Sylvie and Lucien pursue more freewheeling existences–she as an aspiring artist and he as a professional partier. But as their dizzying twenties evaporate into their thirties, the once close-knit friends, now scattered and struggling to navigate thwarted dreams, lost jobs, and broken hearts, find themselves drawn together once again in stunning and unexpected ways. A dazzling depiction of the highs and lows of adulthood, INVINCIBLE SUMMER is a story about finding the courage to carry on in the wake of disappointment and a powerful testament to love and friendship as the constants in an ever-changing world.

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The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds

Book description

Lifted from the Amazon webpage:

Facing challenges in an increasingly colonial world, Chye Hoon, a rebellious young girl, must learn to embrace her mixed Malayan-Chinese identity as a Nyonya—and her destiny as a cook, rather than following her first dream of attending school like her brother.

Amidst the smells of chillies and garlic frying, Chye Hoon begins to appreciate the richness of her traditions, eventually marrying Wong Peng Choon, a Chinese man. Together, they have ten children. At last, she can pass on the stories she has heard—magical tales of men from the sea—and her warrior’s courage, along with her wonderful kueh (cakes).

But the cultural shift towards the West has begun. Chye Hoon finds herself afraid of losing the heritage she so prizes as her children move more and more into the modernising Western world.

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For One More Day

Book description

Snippets from “About the Book” by Amazon:
This is the story of Charley, a child of divorce who is always forced to choose between his mother and his father. A choice he made haunted him for years that led to family problems, depression and drunkenness.

One night, he decides to take his life. But somewhere between this world and the next, he encounters his mother again, in their hometown, and gets to spend one last day with her–the day he missed and always wished he’d had. By the end of this magical day, Charley discovers how little he really knew about his mother, the secret of how her love saved their family, and how deeply he wants the second chance to save his own.

Full description in the Amazon webpage.

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Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Book description

Snippets from “About the Book” by Amazon:

Based on the true story of a forgotten hero, Beneath a Scarlet Sky is the triumphant, epic tale of one young man’s incredible courage and resilience during one of history’s darkest hours.

Pino Lella wants nothing to do with the war or the Nazis. He’s a normal Italian teenager but his days of innocence are numbered. He joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps. Then, at the tender age of eighteen, he is recruited to become the personal driver of Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy. With the opportunity to spy for the Allies, he endures the horrors of the war and the Nazi occupation bolstered by his love for Anna, a beautiful widow six years her senior, and the dream of the life they will share.

Full description in the Amazon webpage.

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Strange the Dreamer

Strange the Dreamer is a beautifully written and well thought of book. Its narrative was brilliantly constructed such that I was able to empathise with the characters, both main and secondary, as the story progressed. And, this is the first time where I truly felt that there is no real villain in the story; rather, I see all the competing forces as a result of the past – as if all the characters are victims of monsters and horrors of the past. As tidbits of information slowly unfold in the narrative, actions and mentality of the characters felt more realistic and reasonable. There is so much pain in it (in various forms), it bounces off the pages.

But of course, there was hope. That hope is in the form of Lazlo Strange with the help of Sarai. Lazlo is such a lovable character. I am unsure what superlative to use but suffice to say he is now on my list of favorite male characters in any book I have read. The first few chapters were enough for me to relate to him.

Lazlo owned nothing, not one single thing, but from the first, the stories felt like his own hoard of gold.

He believed in magic, like a child, and in ghosts, like a peasant. His nose was broken by a falling volume of fairy tales his first day on the job, and that, they said, told you everything you needed to know about strange Lazlo Strange: head in the clouds, world of his own, fairy tales and fancy.

He was like a caged bird waiting for his moment to fly.

These visions of freedom and plenty bewitched him. Certainly, they distracted from spiritual contemplation, but in the same way that the sight of a shooting star distracts from the ache of an empty belly. They marked his first consideration that there might be other ways of living than the one he knew. Better, sweeter ways.

Throughout the book, I could not really help but wish him well… and I was happy and inspired when he really took the initiative to be part of his dreams even if the odds or the situation were against him. The wisdom from his head Librarian spoke volumes and I am glad Lazlo was able to find the courage to really speak up when it mattered.

“Do you want to end your days a half-blind troglodyte hobbling through the bowels of the library?” the old man demanded. “Get out of doors, Strange. Breathe air, see things. A man should have squint lines from looking at the horizon, not just from reading in dim light.”

“Life won’t just happen to you, boy,” he said. “You have to happen to it. Remember: The spirit grows sluggish when you neglect the passions.”

I am trying my best to not include spoilers. So, to put it simply, Lazlo’s growth throughout the book, including the people he meets along the way – Sarai, Erik-Fane, Azareen, etc -, produced a very heartwarming story.

My favorite scene remains Lazlo and Sarai’s dreamworld sequence, which is best read to fully appreciate how beautifully written and magical it was.

Honestly, I am curious how the 2nd book would go. But as it is, this was an amazing read. The words were able to capture the emotions – pain, happiness, sadness, longing – and magic of the various moments and experiences. The setting was also something new, which was a good exercise for the imagination. I would gladly read this again.

They Both Die at the End

In an alternate reality where you get a call on the day you are about to die… how would you spend your last day? Who do you spend it with?
…this book told the story of how Rufus and Mateo spent theirs.

This book had the same structure with one of the books I read this year (The Sun is also a Star), which was an alternating point of view between the two leads sprinkled with point of view from some of the characters they have or will encounter along the narrative. It also had the same timeframe, which is just one day. Both leads were also strangers to each other prior to this one day.

But, the stories were definitely different. In this book, Rufus and Mateo will die at the end, that is pretty much set. This element, in itself, added a lot of interesting points to tackle. There is an interesting mix of realizations throughout the book cognizant of the suddent finiteness of the time they have to keep living.

About goodbyes –

goodbyes are “the most possible impossible” ’cause you never wanna say them, but you’d be stupid not to when given the shot.

About our stories –

He once told me that stories can make someone immortal as long as someone else is willing to listen.

About doing good things –

“This isn’t about karma. I’m not trying to rack up I’m-a-Good-Person points.” You shouldn’t donate to charity, help the elderly cross the street, or rescue puppies in the hopes you’ll be repaid later. I may not be able to cure cancer or end world hunger, but small kindnesses go a long way. Not that I’m saying any of this to Rufus, since all my classmates used to mock me for saying things like that, and no one should feel bad for trying to be good.

About fear –

Yes, we live, or we’re given the chance to, at least, but sometimes living is hard and complicated because of fear.

About our relationships –

You may be born into a family, but you walk into friendships. Some you’ll discover you should put behind you. Others are worth every risk.

Throughout the book, Mateo and Rufus’ walls and defenses, including fears and insecurities, were slowly breaking down with the help of each other. They were actually quite a match and it is a pain that they met too late… late in the sense that death it upon both of them in less than 24 hours that they met.

But they made their last day count – they were able to properly say goodbye to people that mattered in their lives and they made a lot of experiences together. They did not hold back on living even when they knew their time was up.

Again, I knew how the story would end. But the day was so magical and can be pretty much summarized by this line from Mateo:

“I would’ve loved you if we had more time.” I spit it out because it’s what I’m feeling in this moment and was feeling the many moments, minutes, and hours before. “Maybe I already do. I hope you don’t hate me for saying that, but I know I’m happy.”

“People have their time stamps on how long you should know someone before earning the right to say it, but I wouldn’t lie to you no matter how little time we have. People waste time and wait for the right moment and we don’t have that luxury. If we had our entire lives ahead of us I bet you’d get tired of me telling you how much I love you because I’m positive that’s the path we were heading on. But because we’re about to die, I want to say it as many times as I want—I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Loving and feeling loved (for Mateo, it was Lidia and Rufus; for Rufus, it was the Plutos and Mateo) on your last day is such a gift. Really not a bad way to go for both of them.