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It happened in Aleppo…

Sometimes you read a book that leaves you intensely sad – it could be because of the story, like Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief or because it is not only the tale but also the history surrounding the tale. Don’t get me wrong, I am not implying in any way that the events of World War II were not tragic or traumatizing; but to me when I read The Book Thief, what stood out was the profound sadness for the character of Liesel Meminger , especially with the death of Hans Hubermann and Rudy Steiner.  On the other hand, for this book not only was  there a profound sadness for the character, but for the history as well – for the sheer number of sense less killing and destruction and for the sense of lost identity and rootlessness!

I am getting ahead of myself as usual, so let me start where I should start – I am talking about Chris Bohjalian’s The Sandcastle Girls.

I had stumbled across this book when randomly surfing through the Kindle Store and the fact that it was set in World War I was enough to get me interested. However, what made me go for it was the brief note in the synopsis about the Armenian Genocide. I had first read about Armenian Genocide, very briefly in William Dalrymple’s From The Holy Mountains, where he dedicates a couple of pages to interviewing a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. Couple of years later, while studying at the University for a Master’s degree, my professor of Israeli politics, once mentioned, that the only genocide that could bear any remote comparison to the Jewish Holocaust was the Armenian one. While I did contest with him then and still contest now, that the Rwandan and Bosnia-Herzegovina massacres were quite brutal as well, my curiosity was had begun lurking from then. Therefore when The Sandcastle Girls turned up as a recommended read for me in the Kindle Store, I was not going to pass this up!

Now for the book –

I started reading this book way back in October and since it is hardly a mammoth of epic proportions, merely 300 pages, it should not take me so long…right? Wrong. Sometimes the themes and the word pictures leave you so emotionally challenged that you need to take a break ; that’s exactly what happened; I read the first half in October and finished the remaining today! So let me state at the onset, it is an intense book and as a reader you will feel the emotional upheavals that will impact you and should you be of the more sensitive variety, it may take a toll on you.

The story begins with the landing of Elizabeth Endicott, the 21 year old daughter of a Boston Brahmin banker father on a missionary task to help the expelled Armenians who have survived the death march across the desert to Aleppo.  Most of these survivors are women and children who arrive in utter destitution and trauma. It is also here that Elizabeth meets the Armenian engineer Armen Petrosian, who is trying find out the details about the death of his wife and infant daughter during the death march. The story is told through the eyes of their granddaughter Laura Petrosian, who is attempting to piece together the history of her grandparents and in a sense discover the very history of her own people.

The book is told in simple language and moves fluidly between past and present.  The story telling is gripping and at times will actually leave you breathless with your heart in your mouth. The characters are wonderfully drawn. In Elizabeth Endicott, you find an extremely believable heroine who is good, strong, may be a little headstrong and generous to the core. Laura Petrosian is a worthy literary granddaughter – strong, brave and may a little bit stubborn. Though she does most of the story telling for her grandparent’s lives and very little of her own life comes out directly, there is no denying that in her we see a second-third generation settler who does not quite understand the past, until she reaches the very deep end of the family history! This is where I belive lies the master stroke of Chris Bohjalian; to say a lot by saying very little! Armen Petrosian was and is a difficult character to write; a man who has lost all can be all doom and gloom, but in Armen Petrosian, there is a sense of strength, purpose and understandably guilt. What was brilliantly done and here I am giving spoiler alert so please skip the remaining paragraph if you plan to read the book – though he is man who kills, there is no bawdy masochistic tones in those descriptions, something many great authors also seem to be prone to. There are hardly any stereotypes and Germans and Turks could be as kind and as cruel as any other race. All kinds of courage is displayed here – courage to survive, courage to face the most daunting fears and the quiet courage that works in the background to make everyday possible.

Most importantly the book is about some vivid word pictures that Chris Bohjalian – whether describing the horror of the death marches (these are very very intense and disturbing to read) or the sense of rootlessness to a sense of legacy that Laura finds herself being joined to. As a grandchild of émigrés who fled their homeland due to religious persecution that resulted in one of the worst communal violence ever in history, I could very closely relate to Laura’s confusion about her grandparents life and their sadness as well as her own legacy. I remember various such incidents while growing up when on a happy family gathering occasions, everything would suddenly turn silent as my grandmother or my elder aunts looked back at their past and wondered, what if we had not left? How would that person be now? How does that land look now? That senses of identity that flows from belonging to a piece of land you call your home, which when suddenly and violently taken away, is bound to create an irreplaceable sense of loss!

Read it!

All About Nothings and Somethings….

As God be my witness, this year has been super crappy; even the bubbly me hangs her head and sighs when I look back on this year and see the misses –

  • Got unceremoniously dumped! (Yay!)
  • Much awaited Promotion did not happen and in fact went to an office slacker
  • More rejections on publishing front
  • More financial strain due to some unforeseen expenditure by parents

So really, on this glorious gratuitous day, I sit back and think, well do I really have anything to be thankful for? I mean my God seems to be on vacations here…..

But then is life really that bad???? Yeah! Pretty Much!!!

However I can still hang on and that in itself is a cause for celebration! Besides, it is absolutely ungrateful as my flatmate tells me to forget all the brilliant things in my life just because some setbacks.

Therefore, here’s to being grateful –

My people – family, friends and more who stood by me and held me through some fun adventurous nights (irony intended)

My books – Oh! Such joy to just read through the night; to escape to a world where life is so much better and see things in a different light!

My blog and followers – The joy of coming home and seeing a like/comment or a follower – only a blogger would know the high of that comes of it! Besides, so many people whom I call friends, I have met thanks to blogging – could there be a better incentive than that?

My Job – I cannot believe I wrote that! But let’s face facts – there are plenty of people out there in the world who would kill for a job like mine! Comfortable, secure with a lot of job satisfactions – I mean the Project Manager me quite likes doing Projects!

My Hope – I know this is intangential, but I cannot imagine living through my life without any sense of hope! I felt like that for a couple of days and they were not good – felt like I had lost all sense of joy! As long as I have the sense of hope I know I will survive, no matter how low life gets!

On that brilliant philosophical note, I end this blog!

A very happy Thanksgiving to all of You, regardless of whether you celebrate this day or not! You have no idea how much you’re reading through this or stopping by my blog means to me. Thank You for being a part of this adventure with me!

And December Will Come Spinning ….!

No! No! I cannot and I mean I CANNOT take on more projects! The Classic Club Spin#4 is way too much for a plate that already has so much and spilling over. Besides the Classic Club spin batting rate in favor of the books I selected is only 33%. I did not like re-reading Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert, but became a re-convert to Charles Dickens after revisiting Great Expectations; but again lost my way with George Elliot’s Middlemarch! There are enough reasons to shy away from this event and I will! I have will power! I do!

Oh! Heck! No I do not have will power! The devil in my mind points out that I have to read this through November and December and that by December my plate will be practically empty. Besides I have two weeks of vacation coming up, so what the hell? Go for it says the devil and I willingly jump into the deep blue sea.

Here goeth the list –

  1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  2. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
  3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  4. Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell
  5. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
  6. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  7. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
  8. Emma by Jane Austen
  9. King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard
  10. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
  11. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  12. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope
  13. A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
  14. The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde
  15. The Moonstone by Willie Collins
  16. The War of the Worlds by H.G.Wells
  17. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott
  18. The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler
  19. The Grand Babylon by Arnold Bennett
  20. Around the World in 80 days by Jules Verne

The list is primarily more or less the same, however because it’s December and Christmas and I have had an officially a lousy 2013, I have decided to make myself a little present via the list. I have included books I want to read and have never read as well as books I read long ago and wanted to revisit but never did; but taken off all the books that I dread reading or did not like reading it the first time round – yes! I know! Like before I may lose out an opportunity to rediscover and love an author /book because of my prejudices, but there is always 2014 to set forth for new brave adventures. In the meanwhile, the holidays are coming and I will indulge myself just this time round!

The Veil and The View….

I know my plate is full and things are about to topple over, but I just could not pass up not answering The Classic Club’s November’s Meme

“A meme rewind: Pick a classic someone else in the club has read from our big review list. Link to their review and offer a quote from their post describing their reaction to the book. What about their post makes you excited to read that classic in particular?”

There was no way I was going to let this one go, there are so many who have inspired me to read so much more, expanding my horizons and making me realize that there is more so much more to read than I was viewing. As is always the case, I had more than I can possibly talk about and I was definitely not going to restrict myself to one book/post alone, but since I am short of time this month, I had to limit myself to two bloggers only.

Here goes – again, the disclaimer, the sequence in way reflects any order of preference or importance:

Stefanie reviewed EM Forster’s A Room with A View, published last year in November. Stefanie writes such amazing blogs about books anyway, that my TBR as well reading activities lists keep growing longer, way longer than I can manage. But this really stands out in my memory, is because, I do not like EM Forster. I do not relate to his writings and though his writing had a great humanitarian touch, I always felt that his attitude towards the then British colonies and the indigenous population was of kind condescension, a gentle noblesse oblige! Anyhow, what really caught my eye were these lines –

It is all light and frothy and romantic on the surface with an undertow of serious that if a reader isn’t careful will catch her up and swirl her around every which way. There are issues of class, women’s roles, relations between the sexes, the English tourist, and, most of all, personal integrity and self-actualization.

The only work of EM Forster’s I had read prior to this was A Passage to India and there was no undercurrent of color and gender politics in that. I mean it was there from the word go – no floating around and tea parties or anything. The fact that this book seemed to be multilayered and more importantly not deal with colonial politics of that time made me sit up and take notice. (Colonial politics is important, but I could not stomach the seemingly fatherly patronization of Kipling and I still say Forster). Also the way Stefanie synopsis of the characters seemed much more human – Lucy seemed to be like so many muddleheaded women I see (at times, I am among them) as well as the goodness of Emersons. This book is in my TBR pile, already bought and ready to be read, once I finish the November chores!

Fleur reviewed W Somerset MaughamThe Painted Veil” in January of this year and this among her many works, made me take notice and read it. Again one Somerset Maugham is one author I am wary of! I read his Razor’s Edge and loved it. Though I know Maugham was trying to make several statements but I simply loved the concept of a difficult path to true happiness versus the short cuts of materialism. Though I read it centuries ago, I still find the concept heartwarming and real and just as apt! On the other hand his, Of Human Bondage (Yes! I know many people swear by it! But I cannot relate to it all) The trauma of fitting in, the suicide, and the never-ending cycle of heart breaks left me gasping and I was sure as ever of never picking up another Maugham as long as I read, which practically my whole life! That was my resolution until I read Fleur’s review. She has a knack of writing things that catch my eye and when reviewing this novel, it was no different –

I must confess that, though I loved the recent film adaptation of The Painted Veil, I have been circling my copy of the book for a long, long time. Because for years Maugham lived in my box marked ‘A Great Author But Not For Me.’ Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Hey! That’s me all over again! Except I had not yet decided on the Wrong Wrong part, as yet! And of course, I had not seen the movie. But I loved how Fluer spoke about the clean precise lines of the story the non-populated (as opposed to Of Human Bondage where I was losing track of Mildreds and Sallys) tale of Walter and Kitty  and a difficult marriage with some glorious descriptions. She also described how she cared about the characters and wanted the best for them. This was in sharp contrast with my feelings with, but reclaimed memories of how I felt for Larry in Razor’s Edge and I was hooked. Of Human Bondage. I have since then read the book and have to agree with Fluer’s final assessment –

I have moved Maugham to a different box, marked ‘A Great Author And I Must Read More of His Books,’ now

Thank You Ladies, once again for introducing me to some great books!

Just a Bit More Than Usual

I thought it was a good day to sit back and think just how many things I have gotten myself into for the month of November and muse over the fact about why do I take on more than I can manage and why do I keep making myself a guinea-pig for all Sadistic Gods who take great pleasure in laughing at me – considering there is no one else to blamed for the soup I get myself into except ME!!

Therefore without further ado, let’s all sit back, put our feet up and review my projects for this month, and please feel free to choose a drink of your choice – tea, coffee or something stronger. I now am feeling a strong tendency for something stronger (wringing my hands! I think there should be a smiley for wringing hands and wordpress should have a smiley drop down!)

The list does not reflect any order of preference or importance

  1. The Project Manager side of me has to pull off two projects before month end which means minimum 16 hrs at work.
  2. I am again (woe is me!) attempting NaNoWriMo so 50,000 words in one month, 11669 words a week, 1667 words a day – piece of cake!!
  3. I have also enrolled myself for the MOOC – Plagues, Witches and War (Thank You Stefanie!!!). While I love the class and it’s a lot of intellectual gymnastics and makes the academic me very happy, It is an intensive course with exhaustive reading and fast paced courses and while Unit 3 is already posted I am struggling to finish Unit 1 (Running to catch up and do it fast; but kind of difficult when hyperventilating)
  4. Social commitments – every weekend for the next 3 weeks is booked. Plans made way earlier and committed without a thought and now we pay the price. Dinners, weekend trips and more dinners. Of course, one cannot back out of any for the fear of offending; besides I really do like most of these people whom I had made plans with and besides it’s not their fault if I DO NOT THINK BEFORE I LEAP!!
  5. The reading list – My flatmate gifted me (no reason! She is just generous) J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit. How in the world could I resist that? My sister also decided that she was fond of me and bought me Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowlands. In between, because I had no idea everybody will suddenly start gifting me, that too nearly two full months before my birthday, I bought myself Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter Trilogy, Willa Cather’s My Antonia and Arnold Bennett The Grand Babylon Hotel.  Of all the months, this month I had to win Penguin’s First to Read effort and now I have to read and then post a review for Being Josephine by Heather Webb. I am not even getting into the re-readings that I do like Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova which I do for fun or the novels I have to read for my MOOC!

There, life could not be simpler!!!! I mean really except for my day job, no body compelled me to take on all these tasks at one go…..I just decided to bring all of this on myself! All the best to me!!!

P.S. I can hear the Gods laughing as I type!

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