I know this will sound strange, but Thrity Umrigar is an author whose work I love yet I often forget about her. On the on hand, I am ashamed of this, but on the other it makes me that much more excited when I hear she has a new novel! I was therefore thrilled to be given the opportunity to participate in the tour for Umrigar’s newest release, The Story Hour.
The novel is set in an unnamed American college town and is about the relationship between Lakshmi, an Indian immigrant who has attempted suicide, and Maggie, the psychologist charged with her care in the hospital. As Lakshmi is released and continues treatment with Maggie in her private practice, the lines between their professional and personal relationships begin to blur. And as they do, secrets that each woman keeps hold a deeper significance to the state of their relationship.
I really enjoyed reading this novel, and I especially enjoyed the evolution of Lakshmi’s character as the story progressed. She tells her side of the story in alternating chapters, and makes very honest observations on how she sees things (in describing the activities of an older woman for whom she cleans house, Lakshmi says “All white hair but she swim and go jog, which means to run for no reason.” Ain’t that the truth? :-) ).
I still can’t decide how I feel about Maggie, though; she certainly helped Lakshmi through a difficult time, but without spoiling the plot I can’t explain any further.
For other opinions about The Story Hour, make sure to visit the other stops on this tour.
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo is an interesting novel set in a world few in the West are familiar with. Set in 1893 in the Malaysian port city of Malacca, it is a story about Chinese traditions both in the earthly world and in the afterlife.
Li Lan is the daughter of a once-prosperous businessman. To settle his many outstanding debts, Li Lan has been offered in marriage to the deceased son of the Lim family- a ghost bride. Li Lan does not agree to the match, but she is attracted to the new Lim heir, Tian Bai. The son comes to Li Lan in her dreams, however, pressuring her to marry him; and in the attempt to rid herself of these dreams Li Lan inadvertently enters the spirit world, where she tries to uncover the mysteries of the Lin family and of her own, and to decide how she wants to continue her life in the earth-bound world.
I found this novel fascinating for its descriptions of Chinese culture and spiritual traditions. I lived in Malaysia for six months after university and remember being amazed with the shrines just about everywhere that always seemed to have fresh food offerings. I only spent a few days in Malacca, but this novel took me back to wandering the old and (to me) quaintly narrow streets and to the Chinese cemetery on a hill (perhaps the one mentioned in the novel?).
I had a problem with the way the novel ended, (which says more about me than the book) but otherwise I enjoyed the story and it brought back some nice personal memories.
For more thoughts about The Ghost Bride, please be sure to visit the other stops on the tour.
The Readers’ Workouts meme is hosted at Joy’s Book Blog. This is a place to share exercise successes and challenges.
This is how I felt after my workout with the Marine last night:
I felt like I was back at day one. Of course I’m getting stronger and the workouts need to reflect that, but oh my lord was it tough. Even the Marine commented that I was sweating more than usual.
(He also said that I’m looking much different – in a good way! – since we’ve been working together. He knows how to make an old lady’s day just as he is trying to kill me.)
But it didn’t kill me, so I press on, though I am moving a bit slower than normal today – I had to do a lot of squats.
I managed to fill three more squares on my bingo card in July:
Middle Grade Book: Wonder by R.J. Palacio, which was amazing and which I reviewed here.
By an author of a different gender: The Assault by Harry Mulisch. I enjoyed this book a lot. It is about a boy whose family was murdered in WWII under confusing circumstances and how he deals with this into adulthood and learns piece by piece what happened and why.
Historical Fiction: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo, set in 1893 Malaysia. I will be reviewing this later this week for a blog tour, and coincidentally the book group I just joined at the library will also be discussing this book this week. Another book I enjoyed.
So it looks like I only need a book with only words on the cover to get at least one bingo for the summer. I pulled two books off my shelf — one short, one long — so I have options.
August is one of my favorite months, not only because it includes my birthday but because it is back to school season. All of the school supplies are in the stores and even though I don’t need any of it I still find myself wandering through the aisles of pens and notebooks with a wistful longing.
I picked up A Tale for The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki based on recommendations of a few bookish friends with whom I generally share reading tastes, but honestly I wasn’t sure about how I’d like it. I’m don’t know why I had that feeling, but I am glad I disregarded my intuition, because I enjoyed this book a lot.
The novel is told in alternating narratives, sort of. Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of the British Columbian island where she lives with her husband. In the lunchbox are a collection of letters and a diary of a young Japanese girl, Naoko (Nao), and as Ruth begins reading the diary we read along with her.
Nao begins the diary out of a desire to tell the story of her 104 year-old great-grandmother Jiko, a Zen Buddhist nun, but it becomes a heartbreaking account of her struggles with being bullied at school and with her suicidal father. As Ruth reads further along in the diary, and as she uncovers the meaning of the other items found in the lunchbox, she is taken over by Nao’s unknown fate. As the lunchbox washed ashore about a year after the horrible tsunami hit Japan, she needs to know if she is still alive and if she can be rescued.
Frankly, I didn’t see much in Ruth’s story but I loved reading Nao’s diary. I had obviously wrong preconceived notions about Japanese schoolgirls being nice and obedient, and reading about what Nao had to endure at the hands of her classmates was awful. I had some other preconceived notions of Japanese culture as well that were negated after reading this book, but they are minor spoilers so I will not go into those.
The ending gets into some quantum physics which went way over my head but it didn’t hinder my overall enjoyment of the novel. I’m glad I read it.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio is a book about middle-school kids, probably written for middle-school kids, but is one that everyone should read.
Wonder is about August (Auggie) Pullman, who is 10 years old and is about to start school for the first time in his life. Auggie was born with severe facial deformities, and he and his family are justifiably anxious about how he will be received at school. The novel is told from alternating perspectives – Auggie especially; but also Jack, one of the kids asked to show him around the school before the first day; Summer, the only one who came to sit with Auggie at lunch his first day; Via, Auggie’s protective older sister who is struggling with her own entry into high school; and Justin, Via’s boyfriend.
It is a simply told story of Auggie’s first year at school, but it so well done. Auggie’s attempt to be strong in the face of how he is treated at school is so admirable and yet so heartbreaking when he can’t be brave all of the time. I kept thinking back to my own school days and though I don’t remember any kids with the physical challenges Auggie has I do remember that there were kids who for whatever petty reason were singled out to be avoided or picked on and I feel guilty for participating in any of that.
I have a 10 year-old nephew who is very much a rough and tumble boy but is also amazingly sweet and sensitive (yes, I do have some auntie bias) and I think I will give him this book because I know he will appreciate what it says.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is about Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner, a young German soldier, in the besieged town of Saint-Malo in 1944 as the Allies are liberating it. In alternating narratives, we learn how these two arrive in the town and how their lives connect.
A novel set in France during World War II will always spark my interest, but add an original story and absolutely beautiful writing and you have a winner in my eyes. We all know the big picture bad guys and good guys of the war, but this novel creates a greyer level of players on both sides. Morality is not always clear in life and death situations — some act for the greater good of everyone, others do only what is best for them; and who is to say what is right or wrong without being there?
This is not a short book (530 pages in hardcover) but it is one that is worth the time invested.