Book Review: The Blue Bath by Mary Waters-Sayer

From the back cover:

Kat Lind, an American expatriate living in London with her entrepreneur husband and their young son, attends an opening at a prestigious Mayfair art gallery and is astonished to find her own face on the walls. The portraits are evidence of a long-ago love affair with the artist, Daniel Blake. Unbeknownst to her, he has continued to paint her ever since. Kat is seduced by her reflection on canvas and when Daniel appears in London, she finds herself drawn back into the sins and solace of a past that suddenly no longer seems so far away.

When the portraits catch the attention of the public, threatening to reveal not only her identity, but all that lies beyond the edges of the canvases, Kat comes face to face with the true price of their beauty and with all that she now could lose.

Moving between the glamour of the London art world and the sensuous days of a love affair in a dusty Paris studio, life and art bleed together as Daniel and Kat’s lives spin out of control, leading to a conclusion that is anything but inevitable.


My thoughts:

This is a finely wrought novel of love and second chances, of choices and sacrifices. 

Daniel and Kat are the main protagonists of the story – everyone else is just in the backdrop propping them up, and it works wonderfully. But even though everyone else feels like supporting characters, they are well-defined and you can understand their impulses and motivations. 

Waters-Sayer tackles the fragility of relationships and the compelling pull of love with a beauty that settles into your heart. The artistry of the painter (Daniel) and of the storytelling come together to create a masterpiece. 

This is a truly beautiful book that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Highly recommended! 

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publishers via NetGalley, but the review and opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: Our Moon has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita

Rahul Pandita was fourteen years old in 1990 when he was forced to leave his home in Srinagar along with his family, who were Kashmiri Pandits: the Hindu minority within a Muslim-majority Kashmir that was becoming increasingly agitated with the cries of ‘Azadi’ from India. The heartbreaking story of Kashmir has so far been told through the prism of the brutality of the Indian state, and the pro-independence demands of separatists. But there is another part of the story that has remained unrecorded and buried. Our Moon Has Blood Clots is the unspoken chapter in the story of Kashmir, in which it was purged of the Kashmiri Pandit community in a violent ethnic cleansing backed by Islamist militants. Hundreds of people were tortured and killed, and about 3,50,000 Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave their homes and spend the rest of their lives in exile in their own country. Rahul Pandita has written a deeply personal, powerful and unforgettable story of history, home and loss.

our-moon-has-blood-clotsI was around 9 or 10 years old in the 1990s when I overheard my parents talking about Kashmir, about people leaving their orchards and homes and fleeing from the valley. There was nostalgia in their tones as they spoke about the idyllic beauty of the Kashmiri countryside, mixed with something I now recognize as horror and sorrow over the events unfolding in that beautiful valley. I didn’t quite understand then why anyone would want to get up and leave their beautiful orchards, what was the meaning of curfew, or why the Kashmiris would be asking for azaadi (freedom).

Fast forward to the present day. I now have a slightly better understanding of the Kashmir situation. And I say slightly because it is a complex web of politics and border incursions, with varying points of views and a lot of things that are still left unsaid and unrecorded. Which is why I was keen to read this first person account of an exiled Kashmiri Pandit.

The book, however, disappointed on many levels.

Pandita starts by explaining the history and culture of his people, which is interesting, and then moves to detailing the atrocities that have been committed against the Pandits down the ages. He focuses the bulk of his ire on the Mughal rulers, squeezing the more than hundred years of genocide perpetrated by the Sikh and Hindu-Dogra regimes in the pre-1947 era into a few measly sentences. And that skewed perspective is just a taste of things to come. Because in Pandita’s story, every Muslim in the valley was baying for Pandit blood, including Pandita’s own young, school-going Muslim friends.

One of them looked at me and then all of them ran away suddenly, throwing a bunch of papers onto the floor…I picked one up, and recoiled in disgust – the paper was covered with snot. I threw it away. It was then that my eyes fell on another, particularly crumpled paper. A shiver ran through my body. It was a page torn from the school magazine – it was a portrait of the Goddess Saraswati. It was covered with snot too.

According to Pandita, neighbors turned on one another and Muslims pointed out Pandit families to the mujahideen just to settle petty scores or take over Pandit farms. In the entire saga, not one Muslim came forth to help Pandits – or if they did, it was just to warn them to escape or they would be killed. This I find impossible to believe. When you can find examples of Germans who helped Jews in the midst of the Holocaust it defies logic to believe that not a single Muslim came forward to help the Pandits. More so when I have heard first hand stories of Kashmiri Muslim families who tried to help their Pandit neighbors for as long as they could.

The next part of his rant is against Jammu, where a refugee camp was set up for Kashmiri Pandit families. Everyone knows that it isn’t pleasant to live at a refugee camp – the shelter is inadequate, there is a total lack of comfort, food is often scarce, and when there is a large influx of refugees, employment is almost non-existent. By presenting this as yet another instance of injustice against Pandits in particular, rather than as a problem faced by refugees the world over, Pandita shows just how deluded and misguided he is.

He then goes into a statistician mode – detailing the Pandita families that were killed and chronicling the supposed abject fear in which the few Pandit families in the valley live today. I would take these claims with a pinch of salt considering how biased the book is – perhaps it’s 100% true, perhaps just 50% of it is true, I can’t say with any certainty. But if there is even the slightest truth in these stories of continued fear, Pandita has done grave injustice to his community by creating skepticism in the minds of rational readers.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the book is the story of his feelings as an exile – the longing for home, for news of friends and family, and his mother’s constant refrain of “Our home in Kashmir had 21 rooms”. If only he could have been less biased and more objective, his book would have been a landmark achievement in explaining the Kashmir situation to youngsters and people who are not too familiar with the happenings in the valley.

Overall, I would give this book a big thumbs down. If you want to read an unbiased book on Kashmir, I would highly recommend Curfewed Nights by Basharat Peer – beautifully written, poignant, and rather unbiased.

Purchase on Amazon

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from Random House India, but the review and opinions expressed are my own.
Note: This post has affiliate links.

Of Epilogues & Sequels

ep·i·logue
ˈepəˌlôɡ,ˈepəˌläɡ/
noun
noun: epilogue; plural noun: epilogues; noun: epilog; plural noun: epilogs
  1. a section or speech at the end of a book or play that serves as a comment on or a conclusion to what has happened.

There are a lot of books that pull us into their world, and when they end, we wish there was a sequel.  Or something more. We long to know what happened next.

One example is the Harry Potter series. Seven books later, and the internet still breaks every time J.K. Rowling gives us another little snippet from that world. Or Erin Morgenstern‘s Night Circus – where is the circus now? Whatever happened to Celia and Marco?

One book that’s been haunting me recently is Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Djinni. This is my epilogue to the story.

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t read the book yet, you may not want to read the rest of this post!


 

After handing over Ibn-malik’s flask to his fellow djinis in Syria, Ahmed returns to the desert, to the spot where he had built his castle. As he looks upon the crumbling edifice, he reflects on his past mistakes, on his long imprisonment, and on his stay in New York. But burning at the back of his mind is the golem.

Back in New York, Chavva and Anna get together and open a bakery and cafe. Years pass by – Anna’s child is now grown up, the cafe has blossomed into a small oasis of peace and beauty in the bustling heart of New York. Meanwhile, Chavva waits, patiently, for Ahmed – she’s sure he will return once he has forgiven himself. She can wait for an eternity.

And finally, years later, after Ahmed cannot stay away from the golem any more, he returns to New York, where he gets together with Arbeely to undertake fine, commissioned metalwork projects. But as they will never age, every couple of decades they settle down in a different city, a different country. Who knows where they may be today? Perhaps that delectable, freshly baked salted caramel muffin is Chavva’s creation. Maybe that gorgeous filigree gate or delightful little intricate animal is Ahmed’s creation. They could be living among us – hidden in plain sight. Or maybe the Djini has taken the Golem back to his land, and they both are spending their days in Ahmed’s fascinating castle in the Syrian desert.


 

If you loved the book as much as I did, you’d be delighted to know that there’s going to a sequel! Squee!! But we have a long wait ahead, because it will only be out in 2018!

FINALLY I can share the official news: There will be a sequel to THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI! Mark your calendars (if…

Posted by Helene Wecker on Friday, October 9, 2015

Best books of 2015

I read over 50 books across a variety of genres  – literary fiction, fantasy, YA, memoirs and more – in 2015. Here’s a round-up of 8 of my absolute favorites. Please enjoy.

Seahorse Janice Pariat

sehorse-k4r-310x465livemintNem was not like his college classmates. Instead of crowding around a TV set, Nem opted for lonely walks where he could indulge his passion for photography, until the night he saw Nicholas, a young professor from London, with another male student. The affair is passionate and brief. When Nicholas returns to London, Nem must move on. He graduates and soon finds success as a critic in New Delhi’s burgeoning art world. Then comes an invitation to speak to artists in London, and the past is suddenly resurrected. As London’s cosmopolitan art scene envelops Nem, he is haunted by the possibilities of a life with Nicholas. But Nicholas eludes Nem, avoiding a reunion with his old student, but leaving clues that lead to someone else: Myra, a woman Nem thought was Nicholas’s sister. Brought together by their love for Nicholas, Nem and Myra embark on a surprising friendship.

This book simply took my breath away! Pariat is one of the few Indian authors that I absolutely love. The language, the cadence – it’s almost like prose poetry at times. If you’ve never read any of her novels, do yourself a favour and add this one to your shopping list now! You can read the full review here.

A Strangeness in My Mind – Orhan Pamuk

21bookparmuk-master180Since his boyhood in a poor village in Central Anatolia, Mevlut Karataş has fantasized about what his life would become. Not getting as far in school as he’d hoped, at the age of twelve he comes to Istanbul—“the center of the world”—and is immediately enthralled by both the old city that is disappearing and the new one that is fast being built. He follows his father’s trade, selling boza (a traditional mildly alcoholic Turkish drink) on the street, and hoping to become rich, like other villagers who have settled the desolate hills outside the booming metropolis. But luck never seems to be on Mevlut’s side. As he watches his relations settle down and make their fortunes, he spends three years writing love letters to a girl he saw just once at a wedding, only to elope by mistake with her sister. And though he grows to cherish his wife and the family they have, he stumbles toward middle age in a series of jobs leading nowhere. His sense of missing something leads him sometimes to the politics of his friends and intermittently to the teachings of a charismatic religious guide. But every evening, without fail, Mevlut still wanders the streets of Istanbul, selling boza and wondering at the “strangeness” in his mind, the sensation that makes him feel different from everyone else, until fortune conspires once more to let him understand at last what it is he has always yearned for.

I read this novel soon after I returned from Turkey, which made me fall in love with it just that little bit more. But regardless of whether or not you’ve been to Istanbul, this is a beautiful book that chronicles the growth of a city through the eyes of boza seller Mevlut (and a whole host of charming characters) and the trials and travails of his incredibly hard – yet beautiful – life. This is a must-read for Pamuk fans and newcomers to his work alike.

The Golem and the Djinni – Helene Wecker

IMG_1606In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York. Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free. Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

This entirely beguiling novel pulls you into its world from the very first page and doesn’t let you go until long after you’ve put the book down. An absolute delight and a definite must-read. You can read the full review here.

Time for Tanechka – N.A. Millington

There are two very special ‘egg timers’ in the world, both capable of transporting their handlers to any specific time they wish to visit… or that the timer wishes them to visit. Down-and-out suicidal loner Arthur Benjamin discovers one of these timers and unwittingly transports Tatiana Nicolaivna, a Grand Duchess of 1918 Imperial Russia confined to the Ipatiev House with her family, to his sanctuary by the sea in present-day South Africa. On a mission to uncover the truth behind certain historical events, Arthur and Tatiana begin to experience the timer’s power as they discover what isn’t recorded in today’s history books. But they aren’t the only ones with a mysterious egg timer – the unscrupulous Winston Peabody, a master jewel thief from 1912, has stolen the other timer and won’t stop until Tatiana tells him where the most valuable of the Fabergé eggs is hidden…
Millington takes a light-hearted gander at clearing away some of the mystery surrounding the murder of Czar Nicholas and his entire family in Imperial Russia in 1918. Not really – because this is pure fiction – but he’s penned a thrilling journey that explores the ties of family, the bonds of love, and pure human greed. Imaginative and engaging, this novel by an author I’d never heard of before was an absolute delight!

Lips Touch Three Times Laini Taylor

  • 6369113Everyone dreams of getting the kiss of a lifetime… but what if that kiss carried some unexpected consequences? A girl who’s always been in the shadows finds herself pursued by the unbelievably attractive new boy at school, who may or may not be the death of her. Another girl grows up mute because of a curse placed on her by a vindictive spirit, and later must decide whether to utter her first words to the boy she loves and risk killing everyone who hears her if the curse is real. And a third girl discovers that the real reason for her transient life with her mother has to do with belonging – literally belonging – to anther world entirely, full of dreaded creatures who can transform into animals, and whose queen keeps little girls as personal pets until they grow to child-bearing age. From a writer of unparalleled imagination and emotional insight, three stories about the deliciousness of wanting and waiting for that moment when lips touch.

This delightful collection of three novellas by fantasy author Laini Taylor captivated my imagination. She’s woven three incredibly beautiful stories of longing and loss that will leave you wanting more!

Windhorse – Kaushik Barua

windhorse1Windhorse follows the lives of a group of Tibetan rebels who set up an armed resistance movement against the Chinese. Lhasang grows up in Eastern Tibet but is forced to flee after the Chinese occupation, making the death-defying trek across the Himalayas with his family. In forced exile, he realizes his only option is to fight to return home. Norbu is from an affluent Tibetan expatriate family based in Delhi. As he befriends Dolma, a young college student, and interacts with the newly arrived refugees from Tibet, he is drawn towards the resistance. They join a motley group of fighters: an ex-monk who has renounced his vows of non-violence; a former serf who is scarred by his past; a trader who joins the resistance for profit but stays on for his beliefs. But in taking up arms, they have to defy the instructions of their spiritual head, the Dalai Lama. To restore their religion in its home, they have to first relinquish their faith.

This is the first novel I’ve read that’s set in Tibet and that tackles their culture, their flight from an increasingly intolerant Chinese invasion, and their plight on fleeing their homes and being forced to settle in a foreign land. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Barua’s novel, and would recommend it without reservations. You can read the full review here.

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding – Jackie Copleton

51setprhlhl-_sy344_bo1204203200_When Amaterasu Takahashi opens the door of her Philadelphia home to a badly scarred man claiming to be her grandson, she doesn’t believe him. Her grandson and her daughter, Yuko, perished nearly forty years ago during the bombing of Nagasaki. But the man carries with him a collection of sealed private letters that open a Pandora’s Box of family secrets Ama had sworn to leave behind when she fled Japan. She is forced to confront her memories of the years before the war: of the daughter she tried too hard to protect and the love affair that would drive them apart, and even further back, to the long, sake-pouring nights at a hostess bar where Ama first learned that a soft heart was a dangerous thing. Will Ama allow herself to believe in a miracle?

You’d think a book where the Nagasaki bombing plays a central role in the lives of the central characters would be depressing and unbearably sad. Yet that isn’t so. This is a book about love – unrequited, unresolved, smothering, liberating, cut short, lost, found – love in all its beautiful and terrible glory. Love between lovers, between mothers and daughters, between grandmothers and grandchildren, between a doctor and his young patients. This is a story that needs to be read and savoured and re-read and remembered. I especially loved the meanings of the different Japanese words and traditions that headed each chapter.

Love Stories – Annie Zaidi

16180033A woman who won’t let the shadow of death disrupt her love life, another who falls irrevocably in love with a dead police officer, a devoted wife who steps out twice a week for Narcotics Anonymous meetings, friends who should have been lovers, the woman who offers all her pent-up love to a railway announcer’s voice … Annie Zaidi’s stories are at once warm and distant, violent and gentle – and, above all, untroubled by cynicism. This is a look at love, straight in the eye, to understand the alluring nature of the beast.

I admit I left this one on my bookshelf for a really long time after I read some less than complimentary reviews. But I’m so glad I finally decided to give this one a chance. As in all short story collections, you won’t love all of the stories. Some are really a bit silly – after all, who falls in love with a voice? – but all of the stories take a hard, unflinching look at love in all its avatars. It’s a beautiful collection; I’ll be looking out for more of her work.

Book review: The Golem and The Djinni by Helene Wecker

  
What is it that makes us human? Is it blood, bones and skin? What then of a woman made of clay, or a man made of fire?

Is it our thoughts, our actions, our hopes, dreams and sorrows that make us human?

What then of the wizard who only wanted fame, power and life eternal? What of the Djinni who only hoped he hadn’t harmed anyone while he was enslaved? Or of the masterless golem, who had to fight against her nature to make sure she didn’t scare the people around her?

Or is it our actions that make us human?

The wizard, who came back life after life, searching desperately, fearfully, for the secret to immortality.

The Djinni, who worked marvels in metal, explored the city, had a romantic dalliance, thought he was better than the humans and their small miserable lives, and came to befriend Chava.

The golem, who learnt how to control her actions, ignore the thoughts, wishes and desires of all the people around her, worked diligently at the Radzin’s bakery, and was forever changed by Ahmed.

This is the story of their unlikely friendship. That blossomed into love. That changed them subtly, even when they shouldn’t have been changed. For they were not human. They were Chava and Ahmed. The Golem and the Djinni.