(4.5 out of 5)
"It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realised, somehow, through the screaming of my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it’s all you’ve got, that freedom is an universe of possibility. And the choice you make between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.”
And so Shantaram begins. The novel is told by Lin, an escaped convict of a maximum security prison in Australia, who runs off to India with a fake passport and starts a new life in Bombay. With the help of his guide Prabakar, Lin quickly becomes a Bombay local, living in the slums and even running a free clinic. Lin later becomes incorporated into the Indian mafia through his relationship with its leader, Khader Khan. If that’s not enough plot for you, here’s the kicker: the book is based loosely on the life of its author. ….Yes, my thoughts exactly!
(back cover of Shantaram)
On to my review - There are two words that come to mind when I think of Gregory David Roberts’ novel Shantaram. The first is “epic”. Shantaram is a truly epic novel that incorporates a multitude of themes - love, friendship, family, freedom, death, philosophy, war, drugs, violence… and there’s more, believe me, there’s more. It’s strange, I feel like many years have passed since I started Shantaram. I started aging with the characters and the author’s passage of time became my own. Relationships were started and ended, friends were made and lost, money - the same, fights began, riots began, people were hurt, people fell in love, and the world kept on turning.
The second word that comes to my mind is “India”. A pure, unadulterated love of India. The way Roberts’ describes Bombay - from the slums to the markets, the people, the culture, the dancing and singing, the mannerisms, the many languages - it is clear that he is in love with the city. And how easily he seduces readers to feel the same!
I loved the book, please don’t be scared away by its size. Those 900 pages go by much faster than you would expect!
“Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we’ve loved them, left them, or fought them.”
“One of the reasons why we crave love, and seek it so desperately, is that love is the only cure for loneliness, and shame, and sorrow. But some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again. Some truths about yourself are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. And some things are just so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you.”
“At first, when we truly love someone, our greatest fear is that the loved one will stop loving us. What we should fear and dread, of course, is that we won’t stop loving them, even after they’re dead and gone.”
And my favorite in the book:
“The truth is that there are no good men, or bad men,’ he said. ‘It is the deeds that have goodness or badness in them. There are good deeds, and bad deeds. Men are just men - it is what they do, or refuse to do, that links them to good and evil. The truth is that an instant of real love, in the heart of anyone - the noblest man alive or the most wicked - has the whole purpose and process and meaning of life within the lotus-folds of its passion. The truth is that we are all, every one of us, every atom, every galaxy, and every particle of matter in the universe, moving toward God.”
(3.5 out of 5)
“We’re all in the end-of-your-life book-club, whether we acknowledge it or not; each book we read may well be the last, each conversation the final one.”
The End of Your Life Book Club is a non-fiction piece written by Will Schwalbe about the book club that he and his mother, Maryanne, unknowingly start after she is diagnosed with a form of advanced pancreatic cancer. Will accompanies his mother to numerous chemotherapy appointments, and it is during these quiet moments together that the duo discuss the books that they are reading. Through these discussions, the mother-son pair talk about their values and beliefs, and grow closer through their shared love of reading, even as Maryanne’s days become outnumbered.
It took me a long time to figure out whether I liked The End of Your Life Book Club. For the majority of the book, I felt that the pace was slow and the author, distant; I was ready to finish it and start something new. By the end of the book, however, I was much more engaged, and after finishing the book and reflecting on it, I had a newfound appreciation for what Schwalbe was trying to accomplish. Schwalbe was not only writing the book in order to celebrate his mother, Schwalbe was hoping that The End of Your Life Book Club would demonstrate to readers the power of books to teach us what we need to do with our lives. I think what ultimately changed my mind was watching this video of Schwalbe speak.
Also a great list of recs from the book based on what Will Schwalbe and his mother Maryanne read together. Don’t mind if I do…
- Russell Banks, Continental Drift
- Patricia Highsmith The Price of Salt
- J.R. Moehringer, The Tender Bar
- John O’Hara, Appointment in Samara
- Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety
“One of the many things I love about bound books is their sheer physicality. Electronic books live out of sight and out of mind. But printed books have body, presence. … I often seek electronic books, but they never come after me. They may make me feel, but I can’t feel them. They are all soul with no flesh, no texture, and no weight.”
“I was learning that when you’re with someone who is dying, you may need to celebrate the past, live the present, and mourn the future all at the same time.”
(1.5 stars out of 5 stars)
Not worth your time if you have any other reading material available. Perhaps a slight overstatement, but I’d have been much happier if I had spent the hours it took reading the novel playing the Map Quiz game on my phone instead. Just sayin’ (Rev Run anyone?)
The thing is, The Casual Vacancy wasn’t ALL terrible. If it was really that bad, it might’ve provided me an out before finishing the novel. It just wasn’t special, and I expected more. The Casual Vacancy is about the residents who live in the small (fictional) English town of Pagford and what develops when a seat on the Parish council unexpectedly opens up as a result of a death. The novel is Rowling’s attempt to show the world that she can do more than write junior fiction. She can write adult books with adult language and adult topics too. Unfortunately, that’s exactly how her attempt came off - like a child trying so hard to be seen as an adult by swearing, doing drugs and committing adultery. Okay, scratch that “committing adultery” part but you get the picture.
My friend Shaochen was at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport recently and snapped some photos of a mini library she saw in the waiting area. Thanks for sharing with us, Shaochen!
(4.5 out of 5 stars)
Calling Me Home was such a pleasant surprise. I was originally turned off by the cover, which seemed to emphatically state: This book is for children (and P.S., if you haven’t figured it out, detective, it’s also about race). Not to say that there’s anything wrong with that, but aren’t these sorts of direct and literal illustrations generally reserved for books targeting younger audiences? Especially with topics that tend be sensitive, such as race, I would have expected something more subtle, a la the birds in The Help, versus the faces in The Skin You Live In. Regardless, I was very happy to discover this little gem in my stack of to-reads from the library.
The novel starts off with eighty-nine-year-old Isabel McAllister asking her hairdresser, Dorrie Curtis, a single black mom in her thirties, to drop everything and drive her from her home in Arlington, Texas to a funeral in Cincinnati. Tomorrow. With no explanation. And for some unknown reason, Dorrie finds herself agreeing to it. What unravels is a heartbreaking love story from Isabel’s past. As Dorrie and Isabel drive the almost 1,000 miles to Cincinnati, isabel confesses that as a teenager living in the 1930s in Kentucky, she had fallen in love with a to-be black doctor, the son of her family’s housekeeper. At that time, blacks were not even allowed to be out after dark in Kentucky. A bad start to a young romance.
A wonderful debut novel from Julie Kibler that I could not recommend more. Sweet, sentimental and unbelievably heartbreaking, Calling Me Home is calling you home.