The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair – Book Review

The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair
Published by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette

At some level, Rakhee knew her mother wasn’t happy in their home in the Midwest; at some level she may have even known that her mother’s heart did not truly belong to her father. Safe at home, however, these facts are (mostly) easy to ignore. To children parents are parents, they are not unique people. When Rahkee’s mother takes her to visit India, she is pulled unwillingly into the realization that her mother is a real person, with real desires that may not involve either Rakhee or her father. In the midst of these adolescent realizations, Rakhee finds a secret garden out behind her family’s house and what may be her family’s greatest secret.

The Girl in the Garden is a beautiful coming of age novel, an immediately engaging story. Rakhee is a likeable narrator, but appropriately flawed. As any adolescent she can be demanding and obnoxious, but she is also trying to hold her family together the  best that she can. Certainly she is willful, but it is that very willfulness that leads her to the garden and gives her the knowledge to either break her family apart or bring it back together.

Nair’s lush writing pulled me right in, and the emotional depth she imparted upon her young narrator kept me turning the pages. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: publisher, for an episode of What’s Old is New.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi – Book Review

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi, translated by Sarah Maguire and Yama Yari
Published by Other Press

Kabul, 1979. It is the early days of the Soviet invasion, but for Farhad life does not yet seem particularly different. This happy naivete does not last long, however. Something happens while Farhad is out carousing with a friend preparing to flee to Pakistan, and the young man is severely beaten. When Farhad finally awakes, grievously  injured, he finds himself in the house of a young widow – a woman whose life has already been greatly impacted by the presence of the Soviet soldiers.

Typically when I read, I like big meaty paragraphs, with lots of words to latch onto. Spare pages make me a bit nervous; “can this author really impart enough in these few words?” I wonder. Oftentimes, the answer is no. However, with “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear,” the answer is yes. Some rudimentary knowledge of the situation in Afghanistan in the late 1970s is necessary to understand what is going on, but even knowing something so simple as the fact the Soviets invaded is, really, sufficient. With that firmly in mind, the atmosphere of a country at war is incredibly evident as Farhad drifts in and out of consciousness, as well as the reality he finds in the young widow’s house when he wakes up.

The prose is simply gorgeous, and incredibly evocative. This is all the more stunning as “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear” is a translation. Maguire and Yari are very skilled indeed, to take Rahimi’s stark, poetic prose and render it lovely in English, without losing the sense of place and import.

This may not be a book for every reader, but for those who revel in writing and the power of language to evoke emotion, as well as those interested in feeling what it might be like to live in an occupied country, I highly recommend “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear.”

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Publisher, for BOOK CLUB.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
http://www.powells.com/biblio/9781590513613?&PID=34002

Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush by Luis Alberto Urrea – Book Review

Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush by Luis Alberto Urrea, illustrated by Christopher Cardinale
Published by Cinco Puntos Press

The small town of Rosario, Mexico is like so many other towns and cities across the world. Although most of the citizens are more or less good people, Rosario suffers from the hypocrisy and poor judgment that so often afflicts people living in close proximity to one another. Luckily – depending on your point of view – Rosario is also the home of Mr. Mendoza, the self-proclaimed Graffiti King of Mexico. Mr. Mendoza’s graffiti is not the normal, destructive kind that you might think, but instead he uses his paintbrush to attempt to goad the town into behaving more morally. When Mr. Mendoza finds the unnamed narrator, a young man, and his friend spying on a group of girls bathing in the river, he forces the boys to strip and run through the town, with messages about their perversity written on their bodies.

I found “Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush” to be a lovely tale of a small town in Mexico, made special by the edge of magical realism which Urrea brings to the work. The story was simple, but all the more powerful as a tale of human nature for its simplicity.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the lovely illustrations provided by Christopher Cardinale. I tend to have a problem actually paying attention to the illustrations in graphic novels, since when I am reading I tend to be so focused on the words. Not this time. Page after page I simply lost myself in Cardinale’s illustrations, spending minutes on end taking in the gorgeous detail in each picture.

I’m so happy that I broke from my usual routine and picked up “Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush.” Highly recommended for fans for magical realism or graphic novels.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Luis Alberto Urrea’s website

Other Books by Luis Alberto Urrea:
The Devil’s Highway
“The Hummingbird’s Daughter”
“Into the Beautiful North”
“By the Lake of Sleeping Children”
“Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border”
“Nobody’s Son: Notes from an American Life”
“In Search of Snow”
“Six Kinds of Sky”
“Wandering Time: Western Notebooks”
“Vatos”
“Ghost Sickness”

This review was done with a book I purchased myself.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley – Book Review

The Tricking of Freya by Christine Sunley
Published by Picador, an imprint of Macmillan

Over one hundred years ago, Freya’s grandfather left Iceland, because of the disruption caused by volcanic ash, and moved to Canada, his family eventually settling with other Icelandic families in Gimli. Now, it is Freya’s turn to move away from her past. After the deaths of her aunt and mother, she has not been able to bring herself to return to Gimli and the only family she has left. Instead she lives a lonely, uprooted life in New York City. Until her grandmother’s 100th birthday, when Freya finds herself back in Gimli, if not exactly by choice. This will turn out to be a fortuitous visit, however, as Freya overhears mention at the party of her aunt’s baby, a child she had no idea existed, one who was take away from his or her unwed mother and given to a ‘good family.’ Freya’s resulting search for this long-lost cousin forces her to reexamine both her personal past, and the history of her family.

Dear “The Tricking of Freya,” I just wanted to let you know that I love you. I mean, I really love you, a lot. And, to  be honest, I’m not sure that this will be a very coherent review, or really do you justice, so I’m just going to mention some of the things that I love about you.

First, and most evident throughout the book, was the language. I absolutely reveled in both the writing and the integration of Icelandic terms. Sometimes when foreign languages are woven into a story they feel forced, but this was always authentic and added depth, reality, and a sort of coziness to the story. Related to this, was the heavy emphasis on the subject of reading and language throughout the book. I loved the celebration of literature that was such a cultural issue for both the people of Iceland and those who had emigrated from Iceland. Books where everyone loves reading and literature just give me the warm fuzzies.

Next, I think that the way Sunley wove Icelandic history, cultural, and lore into “The Tricking of Freya” is a textbook example of how to do it right. Never did I feel that I was being treated to an info dump, Sunley simply needing to get out everything she had learned while researching her own past. Instead, I learned absolutely scads about the physicality and psychology of Iceland and Icelanders in ways that were absolutely natural to within the context of the story. Since I love learning new things, particularly about cultures with which I am not particularly familiar and hate overly expository writing, this was a big selling point for me.

Mostly, though, I just adored Freya’s voice. It didn’t matter whether she was directly addressing her cousin – the vast majority of the novel is meant to be read as a letter that Freya is writing to Birdie’s unknown child – or reminiscing about her childhood and time in Gimli. Everything about her voice just absolutely resonated with me, enough so that it didn’t matter that I found her a somewhat unsympathetic adult initially. Some people will have issues with this part, I think, since she occasionally addresses “you,” as in her cousin, but also as in the reader. This didn’t bother me at all, since the entire thing is meant to be her letter, and I thought it added a certain heartfelt quality to the whole thing.

Oh, and the plot was great too. So many things came together so well, without making any of it too neat and tidy.

This is getting a place on my permanent shelf, and perhaps in my re-read rotation, and I highly recommend that you read it, because I did not want to put it down, so great for it was my love.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

This review was done with a book received from the author’s publicist.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin – Book Review

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
Published by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins

When Bolanle becomes Baba Segi’s fourth wife, she has no idea what she is in for. A college graduate who finds escape from her life in this polygamous Nigerian household, Bolanle’s education and beauty inspires jealousy and hatred in Baba Segi’s other wives, particularly Iya Segi and Iya Femi. When Baba Segi decides to take Bolanle to the hospital for tests to find out why she has been unable to conceive, however, she becomes a threat not only to Iya Segi and Iya Femi’s positions in the household, but possibly even to the very basis of their life together.

“The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s is told in a very interesting manner. The book opens with a chapter in third person and has at least one more chapter structured like this, but most of the book is told in first person. The thing is, it is not always the first person of Bolanle, the protagonist. Each of the wives – and even Baba Segi – gets to narrate at least one chapter. Surprisingly, Shoneyin did quite a good job of helping the reader figure out who was narrating each chapter very quickly. Bolanle’s chapters had actual chapter titles, but the other chapters were titled with the name of the person narrating. Of course, I rarely look at chatper titles, so I didn’t realize this until well over halfway through the book, but I was still able to figure out with minimal confusion who was narrating.

Although Shoneyin definitely had the skills to make it work, I found the use of multiple first person narrators to be an odd choice, and one that distracted a bit from my enjoyment of the book. The story is very engaging, but the execution probably took me from loving this book to simply liking it.

Note: Lola Shoneyin stopped by and explained her reasons for using multiple first person narrators, so scroll down and check out her comment, her reasoning makes a lot of sense.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

This review was done with a book received from the publisher for review.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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