Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Love Story’ Category

The Shadow Of The Moon Read Along

Hello! Hello! Its been some time since I last posted, but as many of you already know I was traveling all over the western coast of the country and once I came back, which was only Monday, it took some time to settle in to the everyday! Anyhow I am back and I now share my long overdue post on the one of my most favorite books of all time, The Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye!

A year back I remember reading this novel as I always do as a ritual in the month of May and having a discussion with Cleo, hard-selling the book to her as a must read! A year later, May was again round the corner, I popped in to check with her if she was still interested in a Read Along and Cleo, being the awesome enthusiast she is, agreed, with the only stipulation that we begin in June as she had way too much to do in the month of May. Very soon the word got around and Helen and Yvonne also joined in the for the Read Along and we were all set to go back in time to 1857 India.

The novel is set in the events leading upto the Indian Revolt of 1857 against the British. Winter de Ballesteros, the daughter of a Spanish nobleman Marcos de Ballesteros and Sabrina, the granddaughter of Earl of Ware, is born in the house of her aunt, Juanita, the sister of Marcos who had married a Indian nobleman, the son one of the oldest friends of her father, who had settled in Oudh, the North Eastern royal state of India, as an adviser to the Nawab or the ruler of the state. Sabrina on a visit to India with her aunt and uncle had fallen in love with the dashing Marcos and married him against the wish of her doting grandfather. Sabrina however dies post giving birth to her daughter, named Winter after the winter season in her beloved Ware, and a grieving Marcos, after handing over the affairs to his sister and Winter’s uncle sets off for the ill fated Afghan campaign and is one of the many casualties. Juanita grieving for her dead brother sets about sending letters to the now very old Earl of Ware who was appointed guardian to little Winter by both her parents.  The death of his beloved granddaughter had softened the Earl and he sends for his little great granddaughter from India, but letters across oceans take time and Winter spends her formative years in India, in Gulab Mahal, Juanita’s house and only reaches the shores of England as a child of 7. Homesick and lonely, she pines for the home she ever knew, and the unkind treatment she receives from everybody except her Grandfather retreat more and more into the world she thought she truly belongs to. When she is 11, she meets Conway Barton, a distant relation who is one is way to India to take up a position in the Commissioner of Lunjore.  Conway Barton, is a unprincipled man who seeks to make his fortune in any way possible. Realizing that Winter was an heiress, he sets about trying to be pleasant to her, speaking of India, a country he detests, in the most colorful way. He approaches the now very old Earl seeking a betrothal with Winter, followed by marriage when she is older. The Earl worried about having no one to care for Winter after him and impressed by the display of affection showed by Barton, consents to the engagement. Conway Barton thus leaves for India secure in his knowledge of early wealth and Winter passes her years hoping the years would fly until she could be married to the kind man who would take her back to her true home. The years did pass, but Conway now fat, debauched drunkard feels unable to face his fiance and her august relations, for the fear that they may break of the engagement after looking at him, instead sends his assistant, Captain Alex Randall, to fetch Winter to India, so that he could coerce her into marrying him, in the absence of her friends and relations. Captain Alex Randall, a man of immense talent and integrity has very little respect for the commissioner whom he considers a fool and is irritated to be saddled with the task during his furlong. He arrives at Ware to realize that the Earl is dead and Winter’s relatives do not care for the kind of man she is marrying as long as she is out of their way. Winter herself seemed to have a glorified image of Conway Barton and refuses to listen to any description of the kind of man he truly is , that Ale wants to convey. They set off for India and thus start of a chain of events, unexpected by both, especially as the cloud of rebellion gathers on the horizon of the Indian plains, long held together by John Company.

What can I say about this wonderful book that I have not said before? Being biased, I always found the plot to be tight, with deep insights into Indian culture and traditions which is woven well with the suspenseful unfolding of the drama of the rebellion. The history is constantly and subtly interlaced with the story to give the reader an understanding of the events that led to the rebellion. The characters drawn by Kaye are very life like and real. Again being biased and having been  in love with Captain Alex Randall, since I was introduced to him at the age of 15 and all these almost 14 years, he remains to be one of the most enduring fictional heroes of all times. I love the complexity of his character, his ability to look at both sides of the arguments as well the way he was torn by what was his duty and what was his abiding love. His character showed off the very best of British India administrators, men who loved the country wholly with all her faults and worked hard to improve the condition of her people. I used to like Winter a lot more at the age of 15 than at 34, and now see her a little obsessed -India,  Conway , Alex; but she is still an insightful and gracious character and is a good predecessor to Anjuli Bai, the heroine of Kaye’s The Far Pavilions. As always, I love the supporting cast of Kaye’s books, for the complete and utter devotion of Niaz to the torn loyalties of Ameera, the daughter of Juanita, cousin to Winter and daughter of two worlds, to the fast living Lou Cotter who lives through harshest of conditions and fights off bravely, for the love of a child, not her own, by birth, but by heart! But the greatest of all characters is the character of India. MM Kaye, born and brought up in this land, brings all her knowledge understanding and love for the land into her book and India comes live in the pages as we are taken through the crowded and colorful bazaars of Lunjore, the never ending plains and jungles of North India and the glamorous balls of Calcutta,the imperial capital of British India. The country comes alive from the pages of the book and dances in all her majesty for the reader to soak in a time long gone by!

Needless to say, I LOVE this book! Several re-reading and much abused paperback has not diminished by joy of once again revisiting the people and times of Lunjore in 1857. However, the Read Along introduced me to a whole new appreciation of the book as I tried to provide some insight into the actual history of the country for my reading buddies to find references and better understanding of things, which I, an Indian, take for granted. I had some wonderful discussions along the way, which opened me to prospective I was not aware off and if possible, made the experience of reading this book even richer.  A big hearty thank you to Cleo, Helen and Yvonne for not only coming with me on a leap of faith for a ride down uncertain premises but also for bearing through not one but two of boring history lessons and the joining in for a fantastic and brilliant discussion. You read there review, here and here!

The Dutchman in 18th Century Japan

Sometime, actually, depending on your taste and choices, you come across a book, that moves you and leaves you completely and totally breathless. At the ending of the book, you feel like have to part, you know you will part and while a part of you rejoices because you can now focus on other reads, there is yet another part of you that feels like something deep has been wrenched away from you! Without getting too maudlin, it is bitter sweet to say the least!

There are very many books, that provoke such emotions in all of us and personally for me, the older I get the more I am inclined to agree with my blogging friends who to quote live by the principle of Marcel Proust that “On the whole, though, the wisest thing is to stick to dead authors.” Very few new age authors impress me and with a few exceptions like MM Kaye ( she can hardly be called new, but her books were published in 1980s, so relatively new!) JK Rowling and couple of other, most books fail to touch anything inside me. They are not bad books, in fact some of them are very good; it just that I do not feel that, they have managed to touch a chord deep within me! In fact, most new age authors while being good reads, were exactly that, good reads! I had resigned myself and happily resigned to reading the dead folks whenever I needed some enrichment of the soul; until one day causally browsing I stumbled upon and brought on a whim – The Thousand Autumn of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell.

Its 1799. a young Jacob De Zoet is crossing the ocean to reach Japan, the tiny island of Dejima to be exact, as a clerk of Dutch East India Company, to investigate the corrupt practices of the previous resident of Dejima. Jacob has a lot on his mind, he wants to distinguish himself in the service of the company and most importantly build a fortune, so that he can return home to Holland to marry his sweetheart. In the same island, there lives an old Japanese Doctor, whose disfigured daughter, Orito Aibagawa is a talented mid-wife. As a reward, for saving the life of his new born son, the Japanese Governer, had allowed Orito Aibagawa to study at Dr. Marinus’s Academy. Dr. Marinus is an European and a man, and this exception granted to Miss Aibagawa is not something she takes lightly and all her focus is on becoming more proficient to help women needing help! Jacob takes up residence next to Dr. Marinus and soon becomes acquainted with Orito Aibagawa and becomes attracted to her from the start. However there are many other matters that need to be attended to and Jacob is soon involved in unvieling the corruption of the previous resident, only to realize that he has been trapped in an compromising position by his own chief, Vorstenbosch for the latter’s own greed! In the meanwhile, Miss Aibagawa’s father dies, leaving the family in deep debt and her step mother strikes a deal with the powerful monk Enomoto to sell Orito to his monastery deep in the Japanese mountain country as a payment for him paying off her husband’s debts! Orito on realizing the kind of card has been dealt by her mother, decided to seek a life as a “Japanese wife” with Jacob, whose attraction for her, she had always been aware off. However before she can achieve her end, she is spirited away by Enomoto’s men and Jacob caught in his own problems, is unable to rescue her! Now both, must use their own wit, to fight conspiracies, threats and even war to survive and seek out and finally achieve their ultimate life aims!

What can I say about the book? Critics will say it is linear and the characters are kind of uni-dimensional and for the western reader, there is an onslaught of Japanese names and practices! Some have even called it a romance. It is perhaps, all this, but it is still beautiful and so much more. David Mitchell in this sweeping tale weaves in History, Politics and trade and human emotions/relationships of all kinds! Japan in all her beauty and grandeur comes alive in the hands of David Mitchell and all her secrets, while remaining carefully hidden, are nevertheless given a glimpse off to help readers understand, how the land must have fascinated to Western world when they sought her out from 16th century, in turns being welcomed and the shunned.The history is deeply embedded in the narrative and in one of the most well crafted marrying of fiction and history, the history prods the narrative forward, instead of just serving as an interesting background. The customs and practices are clearly laid out and exceptions clearly explained! The characters are all well rounded and they stand their in all their glory of being good and bad. Jacob de Zoet while being a quintessential hero, honest and brave, is also given to lust and mopping. Orito is honorable but rational enough to know not all can be compromised at the stake of personal suffering. Dr, Marnius, Enomoto and so many other provided a living breathing ensemble of characters that evoke all kinds of real emotions within the reader. The beauty of the book however to me was in the very end, where instead of striving in a cliched end of improbabilities, David Mitchell, writes out a practical, sensible and heartbreaking end, in an ultimate testimony of art imitating life – life being of course practical and good, nevertheless, heartbreaking!

Wonderful wonderful book…I strongly recommend at least one read by one and all!

A Knightly Tale…

I finally finished reading “Katherine” by Anya Seton as part of the Classic Club Spin #7. It took me a while to finish this book as different matters of great importance intruded and I can’t quite believe how much my life has changed between the time I began the book and now when I have finished it! But enough about remembrance of the past, onward to the book!

“Katherine” is a historical novel based on the true life of Lady Katherine Swynford and her love for John of Gaunt which spanned nearly 40 decades. I had resisted reading up on Wikipedia because I did not want my novel to be colored by historical details, at least until I actually finished the book and then went in search of the “real story’ (Do you ever read up on the real events that surrounds the historical novel…I always do!!!) The book begins with a penniless 15-year-old Katherine finally returning to her sister, who is one of the waiting women for Queen of England and it is on the behest of the Queen herself, that she returns to London from the Convent of Sheppey. Her unique beauty soon rouses the interest among the Lords and Knights of the Court; Hugh Swynford one of the landed knights falls in love with her immediately; however his lack of ability to express his feelings leads him to practically molest Katherine until she is rescued by Duke of Lancaster, the magnificent John of Gaunt. Hugh confesses his feelings for Katherine and proposes marriage to her which is looked on favorably by all including her sister Philippa who herself is engaged to Geoffrey Chaucer. John of Gaunt is at this 26-year-old and one of the popular Princes of the kingdom and his marriage the Blanche , the beautiful and generous daughter of Duke of Lancaster has made him the richest man in England, even richer than his own father, the King. Hugh Swynford is one his knight and through this relation springs forth the kindness that Blanche shows to Katherine and of whom she is truly fond off, that the latter’s years of marriage is made bearable to her. However the Plague epidemic soon sweeps through England again and Katherine on her way to visit Blanche discovers that the Duchess herself had caught the dreaded illness and is left alone. Katherine nurses her through her last days and sees to the Duchess religious comfort before she dies. The Duke slowly recovering from his Duchess’s death begins to realize his feelings for Katherine and when in France where Hugh is wounded, has Katherine called to have Hugh nursed. Despite the Duke open declaration of love for Katherine, who returns his love, she refuses to become his mistress as she cannot bring shame to her husband. However Hugh would soon die and John and Katherine are united and continue to live together despite John marrying the Infanta Constance of Castile for political reasons. Their life together is wonderful but soon like all good things, it comes to end, by a secret of the past , pulling the two lives apart leading to an almost tragic end.

The story begins a bit slowly, but soon picks up the pace and practically never lets up. Ms. Seton did not spend too many words to describe her characters; instead she got on with her story, which brought out the depth and the beauty of all her actors. The character of Katherine never flags – she is beautiful and she is noble and she is generous. Her only flaw is her blind love for John which makes her oblivious to everyone and everything especially the bumbling, but absolutely sincere and equally heartfelt love of Hugh. John of Gaunt is , well John of Gaunt, Prince of the Kingdom, the foremost knight of a chivalric era, loyal, kind with a tinge of vulnerability that makes him well, stereotypical hero. You love him, but then he is exactly like heroes especially Dukes and Earls are in books. Just wrong enough to be very right. It’s the minor characters that shine – Hugh, the wonderful Blanche, the ever loyal friend Hawsie, Richard III and other such historical persona like John Wycliffe, John Ball and Wat Taylor. In writing these historical figures, Ms. Seaton showed her true potential – they are all wonderful, colorful and like I have said so many times, like humans, carry an equal measure of good and bad. It is these characters that bring this story to life and add depth in what would otherwise have been a linear and very simple even maudlin love story. The book meanders a bit in terms of religion and spirituality, but one must remember that 14th century England was as religious as it was political and both these factors made it a buzzing bubbling melting pot. The historical battles and civil strives though described minimalistically, make a strong impression of the disturbance that surrounded the life and times of John of Gaunt that make this book a page turner. Finally the book’s descriptions of palaces, churches and the land is beautiful and dazzling– there was enough research done, especially considering the author was no historian and writing in 1950, when information was not easily accessible;  to assure the reader of authenticity of 1300s with those brushes of realism – the squalor and smell among the awe-inspiring splendors of 14th century England, that makes this book a living, breathing, vibrating tale!

Definitely, most definitely a book that should be read at least once; now it makes perfect sense why its part of BBC’s 100 Big Reads!

All About Gs

I know I have stated this many a times, but one of my biggest inspirations for blogging and reading is Stephanie. Like a younger sibling, looking up to her elder sister, I look up to Stephanie for all great books (including books I would have never read had it not been for her review), blogging discipline (though I am nowhere as diligent as her) and of course adventure (online courses and carrot soup to name a few!) Naturally when she posted this, I had to give it go, only I did not realize just how difficult the alphabet G was!!

The task and I quote verbatim from her post is –

Say your favorite book, author, song, film, and object beginning with a particular letter. And that letter will be randomly assigned to you by me, via random.org. If you’d like to join in, comment in the comment section and I’ll tell you your letter! (And then, of course, the chain can keep going on your blog.)

Here goes, my love affair with finding the right “G”s –

Favorite Book – I racked my brains and racked it all through the week before I concluded on this one. It’s off beat but perhaps one of the most sensitively written novels on racial discrimination, equality and traditions. It’s a novel by Rabindranath Tagore and it’s called “Gora” literally meaning someone who is white, i.e. of European descent. The story of “Gora” an orphan adopted by an orthodox Brahmin family and his journey of self-discovery set in the late 19th century Bengal, India, transcends borders, time and cultures to make one question the common understanding of religion, caste and patriotism

Favorite Author – I was not sure if “G” had to be the alphabet in the first name, middle name or last name; so like always, I choose three with “G” being placed in different places in the names:

  • Gaskell, Elizabeth – Well, what can one say about this brilliant and sensitive author from Victorian England. Whether it is her sensitive portrayal of the trails of the factory workers in “North and South” or her humorous take on the “genteel” lives of a small Victorian town in “Cranford” or her bone chilling “Gothic Tales”, she was a mistress of all that she wrote, infusing all her works with a succinct understanding of those with lesser fortunes and abilities
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Nobel Prize winner, author extraordinaire and humanitarian. I cannot think of anyone who wrote with such imagination or depth of understanding of human feelings and relationships than this great man; the man who wrote about a beautiful love affair in the golden years of ones lives or decried the violence and mourned about the loss of freedom of his fellow countryman in the aftermath of the Columbian Civil War that affected so many lives
  • G.K. Chesterton – Humorous, contradictory and witticism personified, G.K. Chesterton was an author of wide ranges, whether he wrote about Father Brown stories or satires about modern materialistic lives like The Man who was Thursday, he was a modernist who understood traditions and mocked it, while capturing the gentleness of the lost era

Favorite Song – This was easy! My grandmother used to play this on the loop – Ella Fitzgerald was her favorite artist and the ever optimistic person that’s she was, this naturally appealed to her, though the religious aspects of the song she ignored, being one true blooded agnostic that ever was there ….(yes! Optimism and a love for Ella Fitzgerald run in the family and are DNA type of things, passes on from one generation to another!)

Favorite Film – Sigh!! I know this is clichéd and god knows, I am not really fond of the book, but I do love the movie – Clarke Gable, brilliant period costumes and sets, some lovely shots, awesome music and of course, did I mention Clarke Gable? Of course, I am talking about Gone with the Wind

Favorite Object – Dang!! Most of my favorite objects start with a B (Books) or F (Food and Friends), but finally, I came up with this one – God!! I know this one is not an object, and I have probably committed 989 blasphemy by quoting the Great one as an object, but here’s the thing – I am not particularly religious, (not with agnostic grandmother and father DNAs) and I am not at all into pious rituals or orthodoxy, but I do believe there is a greater force at play. Like I always say, I will never have the luck I want but I will always have the luck I need, and someone somewhere is taking care to make sure that I get the luck I need. It’s good to have someone to be thankful to and of course rant and rave and blame at when things do not go right and I think, selfish being that I am its more for the latter than the former, I keep “the great one” close to my heart!! The other “G” related object very close to my heart right after “God” would be my girlfriends – where would I be without their crazy adventures, disastrous love lives, existential crisis, all night gossips, ice cream binge sessions and shoulders to cry on – thank god for the crazy, lunatic, brilliant and lovable bunch of girls, I have the privilege to call friends, life is so much more worthy and wonderful, because I have them in my life!!

Phew! Finally all done; kind of exhausting but oodles of fun, especially vis-à-vis making those choices to select “the final one”…try it and do let me know if you need an alphabet to help you around!!

Turf Wars and more in Victorian England

I am still very ill so I will make this post short and sweet. While I have some pending reviews,  let me review what I have just finished reading and fresh in my mind so that I do not labor myself too much (Yes! I am reduced to dithering hypochondriac except I really cannot seem to take on too many tasks!)

Therefore without further ado, I present to you Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. I had bought this one way back but for some reason or other I did not get around to it; recently this book came back into view and seemed like a perfect staple for my Century in Books project.

Framley Parsonage is the fourth instalment in Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire and was published in 1861. I do not know why I took so long in getting round to this book, because I had so far read three of the Chronicles and loved them – The Warden, Barchester Towers and my personal favorite Dr. Thorne.

Framley Parsonage continues the saga of the Cathedral Town of Barchester and follows the life of Mark Roberts – a young Vicar who is blessed in every possible way when our story opens.  Mark Roberts is a son of country physician who had done well and had sent his son to a private tutor; as luck would have it the only other pupil at that time was the young Ludovic, Lord Lufton. The dowager Lady Lufton impressed by young Mark Roberts and encourages the friendship with her son as a fitting companion including convincing Dr. Roberts to send his son to Harrows and then Oxford and upon graduation, presenting Mark Roberts with a valuable living in the rectory of Framley Parsonage. Furthermore, Lady Lufton also finds him a suitable wife in Fanny Mosell who is the closest friend of her daughter Lady Justinia Meredith. Fortune smiles on Mark Roberts and things are looking up when Mark decides to increase his hold and place in Church of England by interacting with such Nathaniel Sowerby a Member of Parliament in serious financial trouble and Duke of Omnium, an unprincipled libertine and a staunch Whig supporter and an opponent of Lady Lufton. As Mark is taken away from his home and rectory and is implicated in Nathaniel Sowerby’s debt, he also incurs Lady Lufton’s displeasure by consorting with a worldy group whom she violently opposes. In the meanwhile, Dr Roberts dies, and his youngest daughter Lucy Roberts comes to stay with Mark and Fanny. It is here that the young Lord Lufton meets and falls in love with her and though she also feels the same way, she refuses to marry him unless Lady Lufton consents, which everybody agrees will not happen, since she has decided to make a match of her son with the beautiful and wealthy Griselda Grantly, the only daughter of daughter of Archdeacon Grantly. What ruin does Mark’s future hold and what happens to the star-crossed lovers is the core of the novel. Other staple characters of Barchester intermingle with these new entrants including the Proudies, Dr .Thorne, Miss Dunstable and the Arabins.

I am told by Wikipedia, that Anthony Trollope said that Framley Parsonage is a “thoroughly English”. I think this is the perfect description of the novel with only a footnote – thoroughly Victorian English! This novel is Victorian at its best – there are church wars and there are wars raging in the Parliament on India policies and French diplomacy. There is as Mr. Trollope rightly points out fox-hunting and I add seasons in London. It is a beautiful vibrant picture of the golden age of the British Empire in all its grandeur and all its folly. There is never any pedantic voice on the follies but a gentle mocking humor underlining the need that is clear even today of a great nations that stops itself from greater glory because of the pettiness’s of its people. The narration is linear and very straightforward and the plot line though simple touches upon some of the everyday facts of life and the challenges we all face ins resolving them. There is a lot of humor and a subtle irony.

The real show stealers of this novel are its characters. They are wonderfully drawn as usual and like life there are really no black and no real white characters. Mark Roberts is not the hero, though he shows heroic tendencies in the end nor is Lord Lufton the hero, though there is much virtue in his conduct. The heroines and I do say the heroines because that’s what they are; and are an absolute pleasure to read. Fanny Roberts is intelligent bright and sensitive and though not blind to her husband’s faults, defends his character with as much gusto as possible.  She has thoroughly developed sense of propriety and can see the rightness of Lady Lufton’s actions, even if they are against her husband and is a complete champion to Lucy Roberts. Lucy Roberts is one those remarkably fine characters – though to world in general and in terms of Lady Lufton seems insignificant; she had depth, principles and courage of the bravest kind – the courage that requires you live knowing you have sacrificed every happiness of your life for the sake of another. She is a marvelous character and her episodes are a joy to read; I especially enjoyed her interactions with the Crawleys.  Lady Lufton while masterful  is a wonderful woman, capable of great love and it is love in the end that always steers her actions in the right directions despite her pride and her constant urge to take charge. Nathaniel Sowerby though he comes through as dyed in the wool villain is also shown to be capable of honor and even sensitivity. The Arbins, Dr. Thorne and Miss Dunstable are as always delightful to be reacquainted with; with their sense of integrity, delicacy of mind and in Miss Dunstable‘s case a brilliant sense of fun!

I know I promised this to be short and sweet, but remember this is Victorian novel and it is long. Judging by current standards, this novel could have been a 100 pages less; but I am not complaining. This is one of those books that you read and immerse yourself slowly and bit by bit.

I had mentioned earlier that Dr. Thorne is my favorite among the Barchester Chronicles – here’s the postscript – it’s just been replaced by Framley Parsonage. Like a fine wine, Mr. Trollope keeps getting better and better!

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!

The End….

I know I was away yet again and I did contemplate a lot before writing this post – but since I have shared all almost all the highs and lows of my life – this one seems proper, though as God be my witness, the idea is not to wash dirty laundry in public or seek sympathy, but to explain that while I will try to be my bouncy, bright, chirpy self – but there might be some days when I falter and I ask you all to bear with me!
I have so often read about such things, heard it happen to other and knew that stuff like this was part of life, but the reality and the fact that it has happened to you or can happen to you, does not really occur until it actually does happen! Then you go from disbelief, to rage to complete numbness! (And yes! Insomnia and writing random blogs in the middle of the night!)
So what has happened, so cataclysmic in nature to make me spew all this bizarre thoughts – oh! the oft repeated, tried and tested sordid ending of a relationship – I have been left at the altar, not practically but metaphorically for another woman. Mr Soulmate has decided that he found another soul better suited to him and was apparently with her for the last couple of months. He told me last week Monday, at work – calling me and saying lets meet for coffee and then “Well I want you to know – yada yada yada!”
I think I spent the next 48 hrs thinking it’s a bad joke that he will come and laugh it off or a bad dream that my flatmate will wake me up from. Apparently it’s not – it’s a reality and he is marrying her in December!
We worked together and that’s how the whole thing started – but I cannot seem to understand the hows/whats/when! He was promoted about 10 days ago and within 3 days after that, it was goodbye to me and hello to someone else! I am still grappling with what hit me/us?
I can’t seem to rant or rage and I do not wish for any scenes or any drama – I just feel very tired and numb and the only thing that keeps playing on my mind is –

How do I live without you
I want to know
How do I breathe without you
If you ever go
How do I ever, ever survive
How do I, how do I, Oh how do I live

If you ever leave
Baby you would take away everything
Need you with me
Baby ’cause you know
That you’re everything good in my life
And tell me now
Ms.Twain really hit the nail there! But I will be back, sooner than you think, but bear with me until then!

%d bloggers like this: