Marian Caldwell is a busy-bee TV producer, with the CEO of the network her boyfriend. Her world suddenly comes apart, when her daughter, who she had given up for adoption when she had her at the age of eighteen, comes looking for her. It is an interesting premise but the book never takes off after the first thirty pages. It takes the predictable route of Marian breaking-up with her boyfriend, and getting back with her first love, the father of her daughter. Predictability is not the only problem with the story. The characters brood over minor issues and midway the book turns completely chic lit – with proms, dresses and boys. Giffin does a particularly poor job writing from the daughter’s point of view. Her take on teenage thinking is not particularly insightful.
The third of the much-awaited Ibis trilogy (and absolutely worth the wait), multiple storylines that started years ago come together in a fitting culmination in Flood of Fire. It is an amazingly fast read – the pages practically turn themselves. The stories and the struggles of the characters are vivid and the setting and the context of the opium wars captivating. Above all, it’s Ghosh’s language which is really engaging. Mrs. Burnham’s repeated English-Hindi mix, the pid-gin of China, the Bhojpuri of Kesar Singh and Neel’s Bengali – all colorful that add a unique charm to the book. For the third book, Ghosh has been kind to the non-Indian readers and produces translations of Hindi/Bhojpuri sentences. My only disappointment: Ghosh doesn’t take us to Mauritius to Deeti and the French-Indian culture. The Sea of Poppies was based in India, The River of Smoke in China and the Flood of Fire remains between these two places. But that doesn’t take away anything from the satisfactory conclusion of the intricately woven stories. A memorable trilogy indeed. Though, I won’t have minded a fourth book!
Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the perpetrators of Columbine High School shooting – which ranks as one of the worst high school tragedies in US – presents her side of the story. How in a perfectly normal household of loving, caring parents, her son Dylan, defying all the teachings of his growing up years, participated in a massacre that left fifteen kids dead and twenty four injured. At a very fundamental level, it is a wake up alarm for all parents with teenage kids. It is a chilling account of deceiving abilities of kids – that what they want to hide from their parents – they will. Klebold’s struggle to accept the reality and her son’s accountability for the death of many children is engaging. Her tale of the shock she felt, the guilt with which she lived and how she turned it around to support suicide survivors is a heart-rending story. The writing is a bit circular and the book could have been shorter but the book scores with its content.
The Booker Award winner of 2015, ‘A brief History of Seven Killings’, at 687 pages, is anything but brief. It is an intense account of Jamaican ghettos, drug lords and politics there including America’s meddling at the height of the communist era. It is a bit difficult to follow – particularly in the beginning – but then so many of the greatest books didn’t make any sense in the first thirty pages (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Midnight’s Children) but where this one goes wrong is being obscure in the middle, where there are parts where you don’t really know what’s going on. However, on the whole, it is an engrossing book and captures Jamaica really well.
An interesting book on how six drinks – beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca Cola have contributed in shaping the world history. It is an interesting premise and the narration convincing. The accident birth of beer and then wine in grape-growing areas – and its contribution to Greek and Roman cultures, the discovery of science of distillation in Arab world and birth of hard liquor, Arab world’s response of coffee to intoxicating drinks not allowed in Islam and coffee houses serving as social settings of like minded people – businessmen, artists and scientists. The politics of tea, its popularity in Britain and the opium wars (that could easily have been called tea wars) with China and identification of Coca Cola with American values. The book is an easy read, full of fun facts and anecdotes, and tells a captivating story.
An American classic. Johnny Wheelwright tells us the first person account of his best friend Owen Meany, a boy so small in size that his classmates passed him around in Sunday school, from adolescence to adulthood. Besides many other oddities, Owen Meany foresaw his own death. It’s an ok story – in parts not completely believable. The bit about Johnny’s real father, an unexpected turn. The writing is terrific, however. Adolescent boys in their super-confused state of mind and the Vietnam war and how it divided the nation are particularly captured beautifully. The humor – both in Gravesend Academy and the church works. Owen Meany’s unbearably irritating voice that speaks in capital letters is interesting.
After ‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins, a top best-seller, comes ‘Girl on a Train’. A journalist meets a troubled young woman on a train who is later found to have committed suicide. Our protagonist is certain that it is not suicide and sets out to investigate. The story proceeds at a reasonable pace till the middle of the book but then starts going around in circles. The worst part is the end – that has a poor rationale and is difficult to believe. In fact, believability is an issue with other parts of the book too. Doesn’t quite add to the pace and suspense of Hawkins’ book.
Recommendation: Stick with the original best-seller.