Friday, October 16, 2009

Book 75: The Namesake

TITLE: The Namesake

AUTHOR: Jhumpa Lahiri
STARTED: September 24, 2009
FINISHED: October 4, 2009
PAGES: 304
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: On a sticky August evening two weeks before her due date, Ashima Ganguli stands in the kitchen of her Central Square apartment, combing Rice Crispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl.

SUMMARY: [From] Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies established this young writer as one the most brilliant of her generation. Her stories are one of the very few debut works -- and only a handful of collections -- to have won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Among the many other awards and honors the book received were the New Yorker Debut of the Year, the PEN/Hemingway Award, and the highest critical praise for its grace, acuity, and compassion in detailing lives transported from India to America. In The Namesake, Lahiri enriches the themes that made her collection an international bestseller: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation, and, most poignantly, the tangled ties between generations. Here again Lahiri displays her deft touch for the perfect detail -- the fleeting moment, the turn of phrase -- that opens whole worlds of emotion. The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged marriage, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name. Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along a first-generation path strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves. The New York Times has praised Lahiri as "a writer of uncommon elegance and poise." The Namesake is a fine-tuned, intimate, and deeply felt novel of identity.

THOUGHTS: I still don't know what to make of this book. My book club met last night and we discussed The Namesake and, even then, I still don't know how I feel. Nothing terribly good or terribly bad jumps out at me. Also, nothing about this books screams about it being mediocre or a middling text. I enjoyed reading it, but only in the way that one likes a book while they are reading it and sees no reason to put it down.

The pacing of this text is very deliberate. There are long pauses and the story moves slowly, but I never felt like I had to slog through the work. In some ways, it felt like I was reading a British play or movie. Something about it just said to me that the work moved at a set pace and I should be happy.

Also, the text felt very passive. The characters just let things happen, they never seem to act. Gogol is the subject of the story and he seems inert. There are no real dramatic upswings in the story even when emotional and life changing events are occurring.

Only one scene sticks out in my mind. In that scene Gogol is dealing with a death in the family, and I cried. My grandmother passed away earlier this year and something about the emotion in that particular part of the book touched me. So, I cried. At the same time, I knew my tears were more about me than they were connected to the book.

I guess, in the end, it's hard to feel a connection one way or another with a book when the characters therein do not connect with each other. They felt like set pieces, not communicative and emotional human beings.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Book 74: A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge

TITLE: A.D.: New Orleans After The Deluge

AUTHOR: Josh Neufeld
STARTED: September 24, 2009
FINISHED: September 24, 2009
PAGES: 208
GENRE: Graphic Novel

FIRST SENTENCE: [I returned the book to the library before I remembered to grab the first sentence. Whoops!]

SUMMARY: [From] A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge is a masterful portrait of a city under siege. Cartoonist Josh Neufeld depicts seven extraordinary true stories of survival in the days leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina.

Here we meet Denise, a counselor and social worker, and a sixth-generation New Orleanian; “The Doctor,” a proud fixture of the French Quarter; Abbas and Darnell, two friends who face the storm from Abbas’s family-run market; Kwame, a pastor's son just entering his senior year of high school; and the young couple Leo and Michelle, who both grew up in the city. Each is forced to confront the same wrenching decision–whether to stay or to flee.

As beautiful as it is poignant, A.D. presents a city in chaos and shines a bright, profoundly human light on the tragedies and triumphs that took place within it.

THOUGHTS: This book is quite stark - their was anger and fear and overly saturated colors, but the work never came across as melodramatic. The stories are real and, instead of feeling narrated, the characters feel as if they are reliving the horrors of what they went through in Katrina. Neufeld does a particularly good job about making the story about what happened and not just dumping on what went wrong. He set out to capture what people lived through, and he succeeded magnificently.

The images in this book are not complicated - the art itself is nothing to write home about. The colors, however, help to tell the story. Images are saturated and, on many pages, are monochromatic. Each color on the page helps to shape the mood of the story. Neufeld also includes just enough recognizable images that were prevalent in the news to make this story connect with all readers.

Neufeld has created the insider's story without turning it into a Dateline investigation.

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Book 73: The Virgin's Lover

TITLE: The Virgin's Lover
AUTHOR: Philippa Gregory
STARTED: September 8, 2009
FINISHED: September 23, 2009
PAGES: 442
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: All the bells in Norfolk were ringing for Elizabeth, pounding the peal into Amy's head, first the treble bell screaming out like a mad woman, and then the whole agonizing, jangling sob till the great bell boomed a warning that the whole discordant carillon was about to shriek out again.

SUMMARY: [From] As a new queen, Elizabeth faces two great dangers: the French invasion of Scotland, which threatens to put Mary Queen of Scots on her throne, and her passion for the convicted traitor Robert Dudley.

But Dudley is already married, and his devoted wife Amy will never give him up, least of all to an upstart Protestant Princess. She refuses to set her beloved husband free to marry the queen; but she cannot prevent him from becoming the favorite and the focus of the feverishly plotting, pleasure seeking court.

Others too oppose the marriage, but for very different reasons. William Cecil, the queen's wisest counselor, knows she must marry for policy; her uncle hates Dudley and swears he will be murder him first. Behind the triangle of lovers, the factions take up their places: the Protestants, the priests, the assassins, the diplomats and the moneymakers. The very coin of England is shaved and clipped to nothing as Elizabeth uncertainly leads her bankrupt country into a war that no-one thinks can be won.

Then someone acts in secret, and for Elizabeth, Dudley and the emerging kingdom, nothing will be as planned.

Blending historical fact with contemporary rumor, Philippa Gregory has created a dark and tense novel of Tudor times, which casts Elizabeth I in a light no one has suggested before. Passionate, fearful, emotionally needy, this is a queen who will stop at nothing.

THOUGHTS: I did not like any of the characters in this book because they were all plain whiny. Dudley is selfish, arrogant, and pouts when he does not get his way. Elizabeth is an idiot, lacks a backbone, and as no regard for her actions. Dudley's wife just broods and pouts. It was all very annoying.

This period in English history is full of interesting characters and drama - Gregory turned all of that into a melodramatic soap opera. The only reason I'm rating this book a 3 is because I enjoyed the writing. There were some prettily described scenes and I do so love description.

RATING: 3/10 [Poor, Lost Interest]

Monday, October 05, 2009


"Cataloging can normally be overcome by some combination of chocolate, angry grunting, and sending things back to Technical Services."
A friend and fellow librarian giving me valuable advice.