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Book Nook - 23-04-2018

Monday, April 23, 2018

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Healed By Love

Isabel Allende’s latest novel gets it title from an Albert Camus quote: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

This beautiful line evoking hope, and maybe love, becomes the foundation of Allende’s In The Midst Of Winter (translated by Nick Calstor and Amanda Hopkinson), about three people damaged by their past, but coping with their despair in their own way.  A freak snowstorm brings them together, and the innate decency of two of them propels the story forward.

After her powerful debut, The House Of The Sprits, Allende keeps returning to the political turmoil in Latin America, particularly Chile where she was born and witnessed Pinochet’s reign of terror. In this book, the suffering of Lucia Maraz in Chile and Evelyn Ortega in Guatemala and the chronic guilt of Richard Bowmaster caused by a personal tragedy, sit uneasily between the noir adventure that they get involved in.

Lucia is a professor who had escaped the political pogrom in Chile, and after a miserable marriage that produced a lovely daughter, she divorced her uncaring husband; she now teaches in Richard Bowmaster’s department at NYU and lives as a tenant in his dank basement. In her early sixties, Lucia still “misses sex, romance, and love. The first of these she could obtain every so often, the second was a matter of luck, and the third was a gift from the gods that would probably never happen,” Allende writes of her situation.

Her colleague and landlord, Richard, lives like a hermit and rebuffs all of Lucia’s offers of friendship and food. One day, when Brooklyn is hit by an awful snowstorm that brings the city to a halt, Richard is out driving in the snow because one of his cats is sick, when he hits the back of a car driven by Evelyn, a Guatemalan nanny, who works for a New York gangster, with false papers. Richard gives her his card so that he can pay for repairs later. However, the girl turns up his apartments, terrified and incoherent, because there is a corpse in the trunk of the car, which she was not permitted to drive in the first place. Now that car is damaged and she has seen the body, she is afraid of her boss’s wrath.

Richard is unable to understand what Evelyn is saying, so he calls Lucia to help translate. While they decide what to do, they share their stories—which is a bit of a clumsy device. Evelyn’s brothers were brutally killed and she was raped, before her grandmother makes arrangements to send her to the US, with a “coyote” or agent who helps illegal migrants cross the border to the US. Feeling sorry for her, Lucia decides they must help Evelyn by dumping the car and the body—the harebrained enterprise made easier with the snow all around, but also tough, because it is madness to get out and drive in poor visibility and biting cold.

Allende tries to blend black comedy with horrific tragedy and strong emotions, which can be disconcerting for the reader; but she also manages to somehow ennoble the crime of the characters, because of what they have been through.  Allende’s writing, even in translation, has passages of lyricism that makes this book readable, though it cannot be counted among her best.

In The Midst Of Winter
By Isabel Allende
Publisher: Atria
Pages: 336

Excerpt of In The Midst Of Winter
Traffic was restricted except for emergencies, which was exactly what this was. He looked up the address of the nearest veterinary hospital, which he remembered passing by at some point. He wrapped the cat in a blanket and put him in his car. He was glad he had brushed the snow off that morning, and relieved the disaster had not occurred the day before while the blizzard was raging. Brooklyn had become a Nordic city, white on white, the angles softened by the snow, empty streets, and a strange peace, as if nature were yawning. "Don't you dare get the idea of dying, Três, please. You're a proletarian cat, you've got steel guts, a bit of antifreeze is nothing, hang in there," Richard encouraged him as he drove with painful slowness through the snow, conscious that each extra minute could prove fatal for Três. "Stay calm, pal, hang on. I can't go any quicker because if we skid we're done for. We're almost there. I'm sorry I can't go any faster...”

A journey that would normally have taken twenty minutes took twice as long. By the time he finally arrived at the clinic, it was snowing again and Três was being shaken with fresh convulsions, bringing up more pink froth. The cat was seen by an efficient veterinarian of few gestures or words. She showed no optimism about the cat or sympathy for his owner. His negligence had caused the accident, she told her assistant in a low voice, although not so low that Richard did not hear. On another occasion he would have reacted to this sarcastic comment, but a powerful wave of bad memories caught him off guard, and he remained silent, humiliated. This was not the first time that his negligence had proved fatal. From that terrible moment on, he had become so careful and had taken so many precautions that he often felt he went through life walking on eggshells. The vet explained that there was little she could do. The blood and urine tests would show whether the damage to the kidneys was irreversible, in which case the cat was going to suffer and it would be better to give it a dignified end. It had to stay at the clinic; there would be a definitive diagnosis in a couple of days, but he should prepare himself for bad news. Richard nodded, on the verge of tears. He said goodbye to Três with his heart in a knot, feeling the vet's hard look from behind: an accusation and a sentence rolled into one.

He handed his credit card for the initial deposit to the receptionist, a young woman with carrot-colored hair and a ring in her nose. When she saw how he was shaking, she took pity on him, reassuring him that his pet would be very well looked after, and pointed out the coffee machine. Faced with this gesture of minimal kindness, Richard was overwhelmed by a disproportionate sense of gratitude and let out a deep sob. If anyone had asked him his feelings toward his four pets, he would have answered that he fulfilled his duty by feeding them and cleaning their litter tray. His relationship with the cats was no more than polite, excepting with Dois, who demanded affection. That was all. Never had he imagined he would come to appreciate those aloof felines as part of the family he did not have. He sat on a chair in the waiting room and drank a cup of watery, bitter coffee while the receptionist looked on sympathetically. After taking two of the green pills for his nerves, and a pink one for his stomach acidity, he gradually regained control. He had to get home.

ALSO RECEIVED
The summary of Gaurav Kumar’s Keeping Up With Kaneda reads, “Canada – the land of beautiful lakes, opportunities and umm... scores of desis (aren't we just everywhere?). What happens when a young man gets a one-way ticket to the hallowed country? When you're saat samundar paar, even a modest course at a community college becomes a gateway for merriment and learning... of a totally different kind. And so it did, with Gaurav. An Australian flatmate, fellow students from Nigeria and Bangladesh and an employer from Kazakhstan lead him on a journey of epic escapades and much self-discovery. And when you're looking to earn some pocket money, odd jobs just have to do. From a curious DJing gig that turns out slightly different than expected to becoming a walking salesman clad in a sandwich board, there's no dearth of drama. Jump right in, for Keeping Up With Kaneda is an adventure in itself.”
Keeping Up With Kaneda
By Gaurav Kumar
Publisher: Srishti
Pages: 136

According to the synopsis of Anjali Kirpalani’s 19 Till I Die, “For Zaid from Durban, it was heartbreak. For Fiona, who loves New Delhi, it had always been a dream. Rachna needs this chance to step out of Australia and her comfort zone. Tia from Mumbai sees it as a ticket away from her over-protective parents. The four find themselves at the University of Guelph in Canada. Adventure awaits, and a chance at love lingers amidst the crowds – in the halls, at the bars, on the dancefloor. Some of them will find it. But, as with such powerful life-altering things as love, it’s not going to be easy. It’s too late to turn back to the drab, safe and predictable lives they left behind. Might as well buckle up and hold on tight as they brace themselves for the ride of their lives.”
19 Till I Die
By Anjali Kirpalani
Publisher:  HarperCollins
Pages: 216

Preeti Vayada writes about Ilaben from Ahmedabad, who declares, “All mothers dream of their sons getting married, having children in a couple of years, and living happily ever after. But my dream was shattered into pieces, not to mention that it was because of a reason I cannot talk about in public.“Well, after much thought and careful consideration, I have come to the realisation that it is not all over. Varun will get married. This time I will double check. Sameer told me that staying 'Active' on Facebook can help.“The only problem is that I don't know how to use Facebook. But how difficult can it be? If I can operate the washing machine and the smart TV, Facebook cannot be much harder. After all, Varun's future at stake - and my name in society. Now come on, buy the book!  What do you expect?  For me to tell you the whole story for free?”
Ila Is Online
By Preeti Vayada
Publisher: The Write Place
Pages: 172

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