Review: The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

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My Interest

India is a country I’ve long wanted to visit. It is a fascinating place. The story interested me for that reason and because the young woman is of my own kids’ generation.

The Story

Shalini is a young college grad working in a lifeless job and yearning to make a difference.  She decides to go off and look for a man who used to visit their family–a man from Kashmir, a troubled region near the dangerous boarder with Pakistan.  In alternating chapters, she tells of her time in Kashmir and the story of her trouble middle-class upbringing in Bangalore, explaining  how her family knew the man for whom she is searching why he was important to her.

My Thoughts

I sincerely doubt if one American in 1000 today could find India and Pakistan on the map, let alone the Himalayas (which Americans pronounce incorrectly) or Kashmir or Bangalore. We hear of India and Pakistan only when the word “nuclear” can be added or a disaster is perpetrated by an American chemical company. Even fewer Americans know that a minor member of the royal family, Lord Mountbatten, (Prince Philip’s Uncle and Prince Charles’ mentor) afraid to be away from his naval career too long, set an arbitrary date for full Indian Independence. To make that long story short, he divided India into two nations–Pakistan being the new country born out of a majority Muslim area. This area of the so-called “partition” has been violent almost ever since. If Americans consider the mess we have currently on the Mexican border and then add in religion, and religious extremists who are eager to kill or die or both, you can about picture the region Shalini went to in this book.

All through the story, I thought of myself and my fellow Peace Corps volunteers arriving bright-eyed, pukingly earnest and eager to “help” by telling people how to do things the American way. Shalini’s experience was so similar. The feeling of “family” created with the locals with whom you lived [although the dictator I lived under did not allow foreign volunteers to live with host families as is the norm in nearly every Peace Corps country–even 1960’s India itself where President Carter’s mother, “Miss Lillian” served in retirement], the sense of “belonging” you gain as the community becomes geographically familiar to you, and self-esteem you develop as the languages and gestures of the people start to become understandable. You feel yourself “assimilate.” You think you are a local, a real resident. A part of the community.

All of that is laughable. You are so ridiculously naive. You find this out when you go to leave at the end of service and they want your stuff. Shalini, too, found out just how naive she was and I relived every emotion along with her.

Every word of this book rang true. The emotion, the process of assimilation–it was so chillingly accurate. Yet, in the end, Shalini found out what an impact she had [no spoilers] and how naive she was.

My Verdict

4.5 Stars

The Far Field by  Madhuri Vijay

I listened to the audiobook.

I learned of this book from the Podcast “Reading Women,” episode 70.

 

Review: Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali

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First of all, thank you to The Book Satchel for bringing this book to my attention. You can read her review of the book here.

Second, how often do you get the chance to read an 80-year old novel, written in Turkish, that stands up to the test of time? Translators Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe seem to have done the perfect jobb of rendering every nuance of thought and word into English. It was so well done I had to remind myself that this was a translation!

The Story

Quiet, down-trodden Raif Efendi sits alone in an office translating bank communications into German day after dull day. After work he goes home to a house crammed with relatives who disdain him. No one seems to care or wonder about him. Yet he harbors a secret.

That secret centers around the time he spent in Berlin in the 1920s supposedly learning about the manufacting of fine, scented soap. Instead he experiences a different life. To say much more would be posting spoilers and I just cannot do this–the story is too wonderful.

This is a novella so the perfect short read for a busy holiday season.

The Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali.

This book is apparently BACK on the bestseller lists in Turkey these days, too, which makes it even more fascinating. I listened to the excellent audio version.

Reading The World

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I had trouble deciding on this book. It is writen by a Turkish author, about a Turkish man but mostly set in Berlin. Above then is a map to show the proximity of both countries. You decide.

Review: The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

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A Tiny Bit of Background

Dave Eggers captivated me with The Circle, his eery corporate management by “like” novel that resonates with me becasue of my own experience in a culture that has a similar idea-sprouting routine (happily mine is nice, not menacing). His newest book, The Monk of Mokha, is a nonfiction account of a young man, a child of immigrants, who chose success.

Choosing Success

Mokhtar Alkhanshali is a 24 year old Yemeni American, working as a doorman in San Francisco and trying to go to college, when his girl friend says “You ever looked across the street?” That simple phrase, and the iconic statute it pointed to, started a rise to riches like something from an 19th century Horatio Alger novel.

 

 

 

Hills Brother’s Coffee statute and logo

Maybe you’ve heard of Arabica coffee? Sounds a lot like….Arabic. Don’t worry, I didn’t catch that till I read the book, either! Apparently Hills Brothers Coffee had–they put a stereotypical old school Yemeni on their can and made him a statue at their old corporate head quarters–across from where Maktar and his girl friend were talking that fateful night.

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Well, it turns out coffee originates in Yemen. The same Yemen now enduring war and famine. But, coffee farmers there didn’t really know what they were growing–at least not in terms of what well-heeled San Franciscan, and Americans in general, would pay for the world’s best cup of coffee. Happily, Mokhtar had a wild idea to make Yemeni coffee known as the world’s best. Happier still, he spoke the language fluently, had a group of fellow Yemenis and others in San Francisco and elsewhere to bankroll his dream and the tenacity to stick with it.

What impressed me was that Mokhtar  grew up in a dirt poor neighborhood full of  those entertainment places whose name brings lots of spam so I won’t say it, as well as guns, an open drug market and lots of booze. The schools were pretty bad. Yemeni immigrants took the normal new-comer jobs of janitors, cab drivers, cleaning ladies, etc.  Mokhtar could easily have resigned himself to such a life–or maybe a notch or two up the immigrant ladder. Instead of wasting time on a pro sports or celebrity dream, Mokhtar, when not out goofing around with friends, read anything he could get his hands on–even Plato’s Republic. You see, Mokhtar choose to succeed.

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When he decided to go to Yemen and export coffee he did his homework with a vengeance. He sought out the best help and advisors, educated himself, took industry certification exams and more. When he landed in Yemen he was ready except for…. [No Spoilers!] But when his ship comes in….well, you’ll have to read the book to find out!

I truly hope Dave Eggers will produce a Young Person’s version of this book. Parents may not be pleased that Mokhtar put college aside to pursue his dream, but the education he gave himself, plus the industry certifications he earned, were worth as much or more, to the success of his dream. I loved this book–and I don’t even like coffee. Go figure!

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

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Here is the New York Times review link.

Here is an interview from PBS’ News Hour

 

Review: We Fed An Island by Jose Andres

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“You should never feel guilty about feeling ambitious when you are trying to help other people. If you don’t dream then reality never changes.”

The Story

After hurricane Maria leveled Puerto Rico, chef Jose Andres and others got together to feed the people of the islands while FEMA, the Red Cross and others dithered and followed standard operating procedures that left people hungry, homeless and without hope. Military MREs were given out but were barely edible.

“A plate of food is not just a few ingredients cooked and served together. It is a story of who you are, the source of your pride, the foundation of your family and community. Cooking isn’t just nourishing, it’s empowering.”

As he tells his story, Andres tells of other disasters and how groups responded to the crisis. He documents the many times that President Trump’s TWEETS were nowhere near the reality and times when the President seemingly intentionally mislead the American people on the effort in Puerto Rico. He shows how ridiculous much of the response process is, how much over-spending and under-delivering is involved and how impractical many solutions are. Then he explains how he re-wrote the rule book on feeding people after a disaster.

“The group seemed to like my energy, but that was about it….They looked at me like I was a smart ass with some crazy vision of saving the world.”

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My Thoughts

Having seen the foreign aid process first hand–the graft and corruption that eats up much of it, I know he is telling the truth. Having researched charities and the amount per dollar that actually reaches the intended “target” versus what is spent on staff, offices, transportation, etc., I know he is telling the truth.  FEMA, a name now reviled after Hurricane Katrina, gets more well-deserved criticism. STOP–standarad operating procedures really can mean STOP or stopped.

Having visited Puerto Rico, worked with educators and educational administrators there back in the early 90s, and having an uncle with a home on Vieques, I know everything he said about the kindness and generostiy of the Puerto Rican people is true. The communities pulling together is exactly what happens there.

Sadly, the legislative history of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States (Puerto Ricans ARE U.S. Citizens) was very dull even to me, a former law librarian who enjoys researching things like that.

As a librarian and historian, I loved seeing how social media is capturing history in the making. Andres made excellent use of it in documenting the story.

Some Things I Learned

I did not expect to hear the Southern Baptist Convention praised in this book! I had no idea that they provide fully staffed mobile kitchens to help in Red Cross disaster relief efforts. That was fascinating.

I may have misunderstood–I was, after all, listening while driving on my daily commute, but I did not know that the Red Cross spends only what is donated for that cause–not it’s millions in general. That shocked me. I know they are ridiculously wealthy, have horrendously high overhead, but I had thought they used the money on hand for each disaster. I knew they were a virtual government agency, but I really didn’t know the full extent of that. I had long ago stopped donating to them, but this reinforces my decision.

Regret

Why or why didn’t he include recipes!

P.S.

Jose? Please find a different word for focus. I loved your accent but I heard a very different word in your accent! (laughing)

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Review: Halsey Street by Naima Coster

Reading Around the World: The Dominican Republic

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Have You Found Your Life Yet?

The Story

Penelope Grand is the adult only child of a depressed father and a mother who couldn’t take her husband’s depression any longer. Her father, Ralph, grew up in an orphanage in New York, her mother is from “The D.R.” [Dominican Republic]. Ralph’s life was tied up in his now failed record shop. He has since had any number of trials and tribulations. Mirella, Penelope’s mother, has returned to the D.R. to make a new life. Penelope, too, has tried a new life–in Pittsburgh places. Now she is back in Brooklyn to care for her Dad and sort out her life–only….[no spoilers].

My Thoughts

I love it when I find a debut that doesn’t read like a debut. Coster has the strength and determination as a writer to pen a character who isn’t un-loveable but also isn’t very likable. Her writing is excellent–I especially enjoyed the memories of Penelope’s visits to her Grandmother in the D.R. and of her Grandmother’s early life.

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What I didn’t like, as I alluded earlier, was Penny–Penelope. She was sulky, rude, angry with a chip on her shoulder the size of Argentina. She can think of no way to describe or speak of physical intimacy being “F—” which got very, very tiresome.[Minor Spoiler alert!!!] She kept referring to her short-term lover’s wife as “the landlord” (which she was) and never as “his wife.” That was very indicative of her way of seeing the world. [End of minor spoiler]. Her bluntness was beyond rudeness–it was often savage. She nurses her hurt like it was the only way to sustain her life. She needs therapy–and fast. Maybe even a Rottweiler as a service dog–a service dog to those crossing her path so they can be safe from her!

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She finally has a small epiphany about the time her mother asks her the question at the top of this review. Sadly, she does not go on to sort it all out. I would have thought the obvious answer was staring her in the face: With all those rich white hipsters invading the neighborhood, find a new location and reopen the record shop. Hipsters LIVE for music on “Viynal” almost as much as they do for coffee. Heck, throw in a coffee bar while you are at it! Paint the place yourself–showcase your art, don’t waste that year you sulked through the Rhode Island School of Design! Let people SEE your talent instead of your nastiness for a change, Pen!

Halsey Street by Naima Coster

This book is currently on sale for Kindle for only $4.99.

Reading Around the World: Philippines My Faraway Home by Mary McKay Maynard

The Story

Before business went global after World War II, the people who were mostly sent to interesting places like the Philippines were either diplomats, bankers, mining or other engineers or missionaries.  Author Mary McKay Maynard is the daughter of an American mining engineer who was working  for a mining company in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor causing the U.S. entry into World War II.  Mary and her parents were trapped.

Even though her father had been reassured by General MacArthur personally that there was no reason to flee the islands, the family and several others were trapped. Then a child of elementary school age, who had once been a playmate of MacArthur’s young son, Arthur,  Mary tells the story of her family’s time in a remote mining facility in a true jungle. Along with several other Americans and other expatriates, the group hung on, making do, hoping they were remote enough that the Japanese would ignore them.

The story is also told thru entries in her mother’s diary.  The family’s courage and resourcefulness helped them to hold out away from Japanese internment even as others in their small community abandoned the remote location.

My Thoughts

This book is exactly why I love memoirs and first-hand accounts even more than fiction. While Mary was telling the story through a child’s eyes her mother’s diary entries revealed far more of the emotional strain and personal hardship that the family endured. This was a very compelling book.

Rating

4 stars

Interviews With the Author

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For a local newspaper’s interview, click here.

To Listen to NPR’s Bob Edward’s talk with Mary McKay Maynard about her family’s ordeal

NPR Interview

 

 

Reading Around the World: Laos: The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang

What Made Me Choose This Book

Memoirs are a staple in my reading life. I enjoy hearing how other people have lived their lives. I especially enjoy memoirs of challenges. When I discovered a memoir of a Hmong girls growing up as a refugee in the United States, I knew I’d enjoy it–how ever harrowing the tale. And, I was right.

In the mid 1980s I worked with a large number of resettled refugees from the Vietnam war–including a few Hmong. The circle of refugees came from Vietnam itself and from Cambodia and Laos. They started over. Their children, and the young adult refugees, fared best. They took the traditional path to success–math and science. Engineering in the case of most of these refugees. College spots that American students at that time weren’t eager to fill at what was then a branch campus of  a state university. Nearly all found career success.

So, I started the Latehomecomer with a small amount of first-hand exposure to this group of refugees, a few of whom I kept up with somewhat until about 2000 when the ties became too tenuous, the memories of common experiences too old. They had mostly scattered from that city by then, as I had.

The Latehomecomer Story

Kao Kalia Yang’s family was part of a group of refugees arriving a little later than my former co-workers. Like so many Hmong in America they landed in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota–a world light years from their one-time home in Laos. Part of an ethic minority in Laos, where they were badly treated, Hmong communities would be mistreated and often viewed with hostility in their new country, the USA, as well. Happily for the author, her parents tried to focus their children on the opportunities of America, instead of the short comings and out-right cruelties. In her case, after problems in school at first,  it worked well. She ended up going to prestigious Carleton College, one of nation’s most selective Liberal Arts colleges.

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In addition to the family’s own story, the book also relates a few tales from Hmong folklore told by the author’s elderly grandmother. They make it possible to understand the worldview or mindset that the family and other Hmong brought with them to America–the lens through which they viewed American life upon arrival. They also help us to understand the Hmong culture which is often viewed with mistrust by Americans.

Finally, there  is a vivid recounting of the Hmong funeral which lasts for days and involves just about anyone who wants to show up. The grocery list alone was staggering–the number of beef cattle and chickens slaughtered alone was amazing. The rights themselves were a folklorist’s dream to witness, even just in words.

Rating

3.5

I found the folklore a bit trying. Sadly, I just couldn’t get that interested in it. I was engrossed, though, in the story of their day-to-day life of trying to succeed in America. In Peace Corps, I too, had to hit the ground running with support similar to theirs. Her writing is incredibly evocative–I felt I was “there” throughout the entire book. I especially wanted to sample some of the incredible food she described here and there in the book.

I recommend this to anyone, but especially to those who may be concerned about refugees or who have a sizeable Hmong community nearby.

Interview

Here is an interesting interview with the author.

Book Trailer

Reading Around the World: Zimbabwe: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

 

 

 

In 1990, while serving in Malawi in the Peace Corps, I went with a Malawian to visit extended family in Harare, Zimbabwe. At this time, before President  Robert Mugabe went insane, Zimbabwe was right up there with South Africa as the place most Malawians wanted to move to on the African continent. I visited the relatives, both civil servants, who lived in a nice town house with washing machine, nice kitchen, t.v.–all things almost unimaginable to Malawians living in Malawi unless they were “been to-s”. That is, unless they’d been to the USA or UK or similar for an advanced degree. The relatives two girls had nice toys, went to an integrated, middle class school and spoke 3 languages. Then it all fell apart.

We Need New Names tells the story of Darling, a young girl who lives thru Zimbabwe’s coming apart. The country had survived civil war, been reborn as Zimbabwe, burying Ian Smith’s Rhodesia forever. Then Mugabe turned on his own country and made life hell for most of citizens. The remaining white population either moved to South Africa or Malawi or built barriers–compounds to protect themselves. “Their” land was again redistributed. Except for those stratospherically rich people who were pandered to by Mugabe. Like that girl friend of Prince Harry–her father, that type. For the ordinary population it came to see that

“God doesn’t live here, fool.” (p. 19)

Anyway, Darling and her family were like my friend’s relatives. Then they weren’t. They were forced to move to a “township” ( a ghetto of shacks) called Paradise. As the economy died and foreign aid became all there was, school ended, hospitals were wards for the dying, food was whatever could be found. Darling tells us about all of this in her own young voice. Tells of the violence of the destruction of her home and, later, of the retaliation by veteran’s of the war for independence who had waited too long for land they felt they were owed.

 

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Back in college I had an instructor who took part in the struggle for independence. I’ve often wondered where he fell in regards to Mugabe’s later years.  Darling, though she remembers her previous life as a decently-off child, now takes for granted going to rich neighborhoods to steal guavas and to play “Finding Bin Laden” with her friends in the streets. She dreams of going to stay with her aunt in “Destroyedmichygan.”(Ironic–my library assistant in Malawi wanted to join her sister in the same city). Meanwhile she waits for the NGO (International Aid Agencies) truck to come and hand out things and  plays the Country Game with her rag-tag group of friends:

Nobody wants to be rags of countries like Congo, like Somalia, like Iraq, like Sudan, like Haiti, like Sri Lanka, and not even this one we live in–who wants to be a terrible place of hunger and things falling apart? (p. 51).

I was reminded too, of being back in Malawi in the early 90s, for the first “real” election. I was mistaken for an UN Election Observer!  Darling experiences waiting for a relative to vote. It takes ages.

“Maybe the line is not moving, like when you are waiting for a doctor.”

Her Father rails in familiar tones–familiar to anyone whose dream has been unfairly squashed. All of this pours out of him as the other scourge–HIV/AIDs is killing him:

“Is this what I went to university for? Is this was get independence for? Does it make sense that we are living like this?”

Darling and her friends watch as rebels from within the country seek to do Mugabe’s traitorous work. They see the intentional invasion and destruction of a rich white family’s home. She cannot get over the food. She has had a real bathroom before, but the food. That is security. And the air conditioning.  But mostly the food. She and her friends stuff themselves on good food until they are ill.

“…leaving your country is like dying, and when you come back you are like a lost ghost returning to earth.” (p.162).

Later as she comes of age in Detroit and Kalamazoo, Darling finds she isn’t an American, but her relatives “back home” won’t let her claim her old country, either.

“There are times, though, that no matter how much food I eat, I find the food does nothing for me, like I am hungry for my country and nothing is going to fix that. (p. 155).

As she grapples with the immigrant experience of near constant work to support family in America and send foreign exchange back to family in Zimbabwe, she rails at both.

“…that wound that knows the texture of the pain; it’s us who stayed here feeling the real suffering, so it’s us who have a right to even say anything about that [Zimbabwe] or anything and anybody.” (p. 287).

An illegal, having come on a student visa, she is part of a silent community that works in nursing homes and in dangerous low-paying factory jobs. Exactly the sorts of jobs all the Malawian, Zambian and other students that I knew in the mid-90s in South Bend, Indiana, did for a living. (Ironically, Darling and her family go to a wedding in South Bend).

[In America knowing] they do not belong, knowing they will have to sit on one buttock because they  must not sit comfortably lest they be asked to rise and leave, knowing they will speak in dampened whispers because they must not let their voices drown those of the owners of the land.... (p. 148).

Her aunt pushes her to study for some sort of medical career, but she pushes back–she doesn’t want that.

“I’ve been getting all As in everything, even maths and science, the subjects I hate, because school is so easy in America even a donkey would pass….”

The book ends on an odd note to Americans (no spoilers) one that shows just how little value life has in Zimbabwe.

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What I Liked

My own memories, aside, I loved the language–the way she put things into terms relevant to the people in Zimbabwe in that day.

“Solid , Jericho walls of men.” (p.  78)

[The men].They have their shirts on and have combed their and just look like real people again.” (p. 60).

“What do they think they are doing yanking a lion’s tail don’t they know that there will be bones if they dare?” (p. 31)

“…a country is like a Coca-Cola bottle that can smash on the floor and disappoint you.” (p. 162).

[American corn] “I don’t even [eat it anymore] it feels like I’m insulting my teeth.” (p. 166).

“Her voice sounds far away, like maybe it was detained at the border of something.” (p. 269)

I liked her well-founded condemnation of aid workers (and whites in general who visit the country) and even local religious leaders. Their patronizing attitudes, their dehumanizing of the people–taking their photos and giving them a few coins or a trinket for “their trouble” and all the rest is just so accurate.  Taking the photo from behind of the boy whose shorts have worn totally away in the seat, or taking the photo of the child with snot and flies on his face–demeaning photos.

“They don’t care that we are embarrassed by our dirt and torn clothing, that we would prefer they didn’t do it; they just take the pictures anyway, take and take. We don’t complain because we know that after the picture-taking comes the giving of gifts.” (p. 54)

“But the NGO people are here and while are, our parents do not count.” (p. 56).

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What I Didn’t Like

Sadly, I felt the American part of  Darling’s story was lacking something. I get it that she was on the fringes at school, that her family were excluded as immigrants.  She and her friends were always at lose ends–that’s typical when parents must work multiple jobs. Their choices of entertainment were pretty typical of American kids at lose ends, too, but it seemed disconnected from the rest. I also just didn’t think this part of the book was as polished. I felt the ending was a strange jolt–like driving at night and hitting a pothole your couldn’t see.  I understood it (I think) as I mentioned above, but it still jarred. Maybe that was the real point and not the one I thought I understood?

What Amazed Me

I was pleased that this book is on the Man Booker Prize shortlist this year. I was amazed, and pleased, to learn that the author began her college education at Kalamzoo Valley Community College, continued it at branch campuses of other universities and still got into Cornell for her MFA. That is inspiring. I work with Community College level students–some immigrants even. I’d like to think one or more of my students could reach a professional level in their chosen careers if they put in as much hard work.

 

Another View of Zimbabwe

If you’d like to read more on Zimbabwe, especially on the long fight for Independence, I recommend this book–which is written from a white “Rhodesian” child’s and family’s point of view.

[Note “Rhodesian” is often a synonym for the type people protesting in Charlottesville–the ones from the right. I’m not using the term to keep from being spammed to death].

 

“There we go then,” Mum said, “I’ll just get my Uzi and we’ll be off….”

“Bullets, lipstick, sunglasses. Off we go….”
(p. 28-29).

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Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller

 

 

Review: Selection Day by Aravind Adiga: Reading Around the World: India

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Cricket is a sport no American understands unless, like the late William F. Buckley or Ted and Bobby Kennedy, they were forced to attend a British public (private) school. So, it’s no surprise that a book on cricket was hidden under a cover design that mimics other recent successful diverse or international novels while the rest of the world was given cricket on the cover.

You know, it’s often said that Indians have two real religions, the cinema – Bollywood – and cricket. It’s the equivalent of sort of baseball, basketball, football and Christmas put together. The question is not why cricket. The question is how you can escape cricket in India.                      (Aravind Adiga on NPR)

One of the strangest legacies of British colonialism is cricket. Many countries in the British Commonwealth (i.e. former Empire) play cricket–though Canada isn’t one of them. India has made cricket, as the quote above says, into a religion–a national obsession, like hockey in Canada or the NBA in America. Never mind in the bygone days of the Raj, Indians would only have been allowed into the Cricket Club as waiters or cleaners. Today it is truly their game.

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Photo source

The Good

Happily, you don’t have to understand a thing about cricket to read the book. Other than understanding that it goes on for ever and that a Century is a good thing to earn for your team, you can just lalalala thru any action. The focus isn’t so much on the game as on the behind-the-scenes.

Radha and Maju Kumar are the sons of an itinerant chutney salesman living in a poor area of Mumbai, India. Cricket is the fast track to prosperity for all of them and their father has raised them to be the best. (Think NBA straight from high school and you have an idea how this will go.) His peculiar methods of “training” his sons include examining their genitalia and regulating their diet. Both boys have done little in life except go to school and then practice cricket. “Selection Day” is like the NFL or NBA draft. Since no one has the insanity of college-to-pros that the USA has, the selection is for “junior” teams. So imagine being drafted in Middle School for, say, the Junior Detroit Pistons, or the Junior Dallas Cowboys. You get the idea.

The talent is there. Getting selected is another story–a story of corruption. (Think inner city basketball players being recruited by excellent suburban schools and helped to move). The Chutney Salesman (the father) goes all out to get his sons into sponsorship that will lead to selection. But Tommy Sir, as he’s known, isn’t the most scrupulous guy around. He sponsors the boys then, in a way, pits them against each other. The result is ugly.

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Photo source

I found the story of corruption in cricket very interesting. I’ve read a few things on cricket for one of my novels and found that not everyone likes the way televised cricket especially is going. It can be played in “pajamas” as the newly allowed bright-colored uniforms are mockingly called (like tennis, once upon a Wimbledon, cricket has historically been played in long white trousers and white shirts with team blazers, caps and tennis-style sweaters only betraying team colors). Critics say it’s being made over into baseball for television. In fact, baseball, is teased about in the story.

Oh, my Darling, my Cricket. Phixed and Phucked (p. 143)

But with two teenage boys and an odd father, you know there’s more to the story. In addition to Radha’s desire to study chemistry and be a CSI investigator like those on his favorite imported t.v. show, there are is the story of another boy. Enter wealthier, suburban cricketer, J.A. His life is worlds away from that of the brothers–in more ways than just economically. The coming-of-age part of the story centers around his homosexuality and the sexual coming-of-age of the brothers–especially Manthu.

The Bad

After about midway I found the novel disappointing in many ways. Coming-of-age stories are a favorite of mine and this one, with the added element of taboo sexual preference should have been interesting. Sadly, this part of the story didn’t go well. J.A. is not the most likable of characters. Exploration of sexuality is a normal and expected part of growing up. J.A. though was spoiled and manipulative. I disliked the boys’ father, loathed Tommy Sir and didn’t really like the way this part of the story went.

Conclusion

I enjoyed the look into Indiana life and into the country’s obsession for cricket. I love any book that shows normal, daily life in another country and this part of the book did not disappoint. I could feel, smell, taste India the way Adiga portrayed it. It makes me want to visit the country even more. I will definitely read more from this author.

Verdict: Three Stars

You can read a transcript of the author’s NPR interview here.

Reading The Globe: Dominican Republic: How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

map-of-dominican-republic

 

My Thoughts on This Book

 

This is a not-so-typical immigrant-slash-coming-of-age story aimed mostly at young adults. I did skip one story-line that bothered me. Overall, I enjoyed this one. Cross-cultural experiences always hold my attention, and immigrant stories are among the most interesting. This was very well written. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarz. [This review was originally published on my old blog on July 23, 2013.]

A few of my favorite quotes from this book:

 

“…his eyes lidded with hopefulness….”

“…how we lie to ourselves when we fall in love with the wrong man….”

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

Cover Art