The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami

2/5 stars.
ebook, 310 pages.
Read from March 07 to 21, 2016.

So let me get this straight, I’m actually supposed to like and sympathize with the characters in this book? Because that didn’t happen.

Sripathi is a middle aged man living a life of regret. He has a wife and two children; his son, Arun, is an environmentalist and protester who doesn’t work, while his daughter Maya, is accepted into a prestigious school in Canada. Unfortunately for Sripathi, Maya ends up breaking off an arranged engagement in order to marry a Canadian she falls in love with. Sripathi disowns his daughter after she breaks off her engagement, which brought him and his family shame, and has not talked to her since. Sadly, Maya and her husband die in car crash leaving their only child Nandana behind, and with Sripathi listed has her caregiver in the couples will. Having never met his granddaughter and having to deal with the death and guilt he feels about his own daughters death, Sripathi must try to deal with his feelings and do what is best for the child.

I understand that aspects of the Indian culture don’t do favors to either men and women in terms of what is expected of them but I still couldn’t sympathize with the characters and their choices. Sripathi failed to live up to the unattainable expectations, social standings and dreams that his mother, Ammayya set out for him. Ammayya is an extremely bitter and skeptical woman who was cheated on by her husband before he died and left her and her family with no money. When Sripathi didn’t become a doctor, her resentments transferred to him. She is a horrible person who manipulates her family and never lets go or forgives. Sripathi, never gets over the expectations laid on him and never learns to deal it so he lives a shallow and disconnected life.  His unwillingness to let go resulted in him not being able to forgive Maya before she died. Maya appeared to be the only person in the book that lived her own life and made her own choices successfully and admirably. Let me break this down:

Arun: Son of Sripathi. He spends his time at rallies and protests and doesn’t do a thing to help support the home he lives in. Sripathi is annoyed with him over this and I completely understand. Sripathi doesn’t understand his son until the end of the book and Arun doesn’t understand Sripathi’s frustration until the end of the book.

Putti: Sripathi’s unmarried sister and daughter to Ammayya. Probably the only character I sympathized with. She is in her 40s and is unmarried, which in this culture, means she is still living with her family as she is unable to support herself. The reason is because of her horrible and selfish mother refuses all suitors so that she can keep Putti to herself and have her take care of her. Putti is secretly in love with the milk man but he is of a lower caste than her so Ammayya would never allow it.

Ammayya: Mother to Sripathi and Putti. Bitter and ancient old, she has never forgiven her deceased husband or Sripathi for failing her. There is sympathy to be had for how her husband treated her, but her choices and actions after his death are disgusting. She over-dramatizes everything and pretty much makes Putti her personal slave. She snoops through her family’s belongings for money to steal and items worth selling. I wanted her to die the entire book.

Nirmala: Is Sripathi’s wife. While she is initially portrayed as the typical passive Indian wife, after the death of Maya she finally decides to start taking charge and doing things for herself. She grieves immensely for Maya and blames Sripathi for everything. She puts all of her energy into caring for Nandana when she arrives.

Sripathi: Son of Ammayya. Never met the ridiculously high expectations of his mother. He dropped out of medical school to become a copywriter. He enjoys writing snarky opinion letters to the editor in his own time and is responsible financially for all of the above characters on his modest income. He is angry and distant from his family.

Lovely cast of characters right? Not. While each of them have moments of growth and softness it was still a challenge to get involved in their stories. I believe the point of this novel is to focus on the failures and triumphs of everyday people and everyday lives but it just didn’t work for me. I just couldn’t connect to culture or the characters. I did enjoy the chapters in which Sripathi was recollecting on his strict childhood as it gave me a better understanding about why he and his family acted the way that they did, but some how it wasn’t a good enough excuse.

In our own lives, we experience setbacks, failures and regrets but ultimately they make us stronger, that is, if we are making choices in our own best interest and not in the interest of others. Which, appears to be the failing of the culture where this book is set unfortunately. To me, this book is exactly what not to do. Sripathi waited until his mid-fifties to forgive and start living! You could say that it’s never too late to do that, but I don’t believe that: Ammayya died not forgiving anyone and lived a miserable life and Sripathi lost his daughter before he had a chance to forgive.

Additionally, I felt that the author missed some pinnacle emotional moments. The time that Sripathi spent in Vancouver is short and void of emotion. I also felt that Nandana’s side of the story was lacking but perhaps it’s because she is truly the only one to feel sorry for in this book. The book’s climax and related title, I also felt, were weak.

I suppose for those that understand some of traditions and difficulties of Indian culture, they may have a better time relating and sympathizing with this book but for me, the detached characters and lack of certain emotional elements made it too challenging for me to fully engage with.

In terms of Canada Reads, each of the character did start over. Well except for Ammayya, as she died, but that’s okay. If you read the book, you’ll hate her too. So I guess in terms of the theme this book checks all the right boxes but I don’t believe this book is the best candidate so far.

 

 

Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time, Volume 1 by Marcel Proust

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Originally published on February 28, 2014. 

2/5 stars.
(ARC) ebook, 512 pages.
Read from November 14, 2013 to February 04, 2014.

Well, I finally finished it. It took me, what felt like ages to do so, but I finished it. Yale University Press has published this edition in celebration of it’s hundredth year in publication. This book is the first of seven volumes of Proust’s masterpiece In Search of Lost Time, which took Proust thirteen years to write. The volumes are meant to be read as one I believe but at over five hundred pages a book, I going to have to pass on that…

In regards to this specific edition, while I understand that this was an ARC, how this book appeared in my ereader was less than flattering and added to the difficulty of this read. For one, the formatting of the pages was off, no matter what size I set them to. I ended up having a full page and then when I would go to the next the content would only fill half of it. Additionally because of this the footnotes were never in the right place and I found myself back tracking to look something.

Proust opens this book with some early memories of childhood and gets into the specifics of his relationship with his mother (let’s all admit it here, Proust was a momma’s boy) and how he yearned and obsessed for more affection than he was given. From there, Proust then talks about the social realm his family keeps, to his hypochondriac Aunt (who was rather entertaining), he then goes into extreme details on the areas Proust and his family used to get home, the gardens, the flowers within them, oh, and few people they encounter along the way. At this point you’re about half way through the book when Proust start talking in detail about poor Mr. Swann. Mr. Swann is an unfortunate fellow who ends up falling in love with a woman named Odette. Odette is a woman of leisure that ends up having multiple relationships with men for their money. How this woman manages to keep a social circle and isn’t ever disgraced in this book I will never know. In the beginning, Mr. Swann doesn’t think much of Odette, he thinks that she is rather plain in the beginning actually, but after a romantic encounter with her involving some cattleya flowers and a car ride Mr. Swann has a change of heart. Mr. Swann’s relationship with Odette is by far the most intricate and interesting part of the story in my opinion. Proust takes you through the emotional turmoil and circle of jealously, love and fear and why Mr.Swann who, cannot for the life of him leave Odette despite her cruelty and obvious fidelity. I found myself wondering why Mr. Swann never did ask Odette to marry him. That would have been one way to secure something for him, and really solidify finances for Odette but it never came around.

In his younger days a man dreams of possessing the heart of the woman whom he loves; later, the feeling that he possesses the heart of a woman may be enough to make him fall in love with her.”

Now that, is the plot in it’s most bare form. What makes this book difficult is that the plot itself is not really the focal point. It’s the philosophical statements that Proust makes in relation to the plot where the masterpiece appears. His writing is truly beautiful and poignant but because of this it is also innately boring. In order to appreciate this book the reader needs to fully invest time into it, focusing on individual passages, reading every footnote and analyzing what appears to be a strange drawn out diary of a Frenchman. This novel is in itself a testament to its own time frame, which was one of leisure and art. Proust was a bold man to write out everything as he did.

Even in the most insignificant details of our daily life, none of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account-book or the record of a will; our social personality is created by the thoughts of other people.”

In our world, that is so fast paced, to settle and take time to fully appreciate and relate to a novel like this is immensely hard. But not impossible. This novel is the kind of piece I wish I had the pleasure of reading in University when I was surrounded by other peers and could engage in discussion. I can already foresee some students loathing the novel and not seeing the point, viewing it as just another piece of outdated literature.

Tell me, does this quote not speak to you on some level?

The places we have known do not belong solely to the world of space in which we situate them for our greater convenience. They were only a thin slice among contiguous impressions which formed our life at that time; the memory of a certain image is but regret for a certain moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fleeting, alas, as the years

What University student or person in general has not questioned their own position in life? If they should pursue their said education or if the timing of it was right? Or getting nostalgic when looking at a particular building or street that reminds them of a past memory? As Proust puts it so nicely, the places that we visit and choose to go don’t belong in just our own space and reality. It’s a creation of the realities and physical things and places of every thing surrounding us which is what forms our impressions and memories. What may be an image of regret for one person may not be for another and these memories, as the physical items that are associated with them, are brief moments in the terms of time and space.

Deep huh? This is just one of the many examples and reflections that exist in Swann’s Way. This piece is still immensely relevant if you are able to take the time to divulge in it. Now, the reason I’ve give this book two out of five stars is that despite the beauty of the writing and the reflections that it makes, it is for the most part, not an enjoyable read. I decided to stick with this rating because I am a reader in the 21st century and I do expect some amount of pleasure when I’m reading a book. I do no live a life of leisure in which I can notice an appreciate every detail of the surrounding in my life (despite that potentially being a negative thing). I want characters that I can invest in and a moderately relate-able plot. I enjoyed Proust as a boy, his strange Aunt and the troubles of Mr. Swann as those were specific areas in the book that get involved in. So when Proust spends so much of the novel, for example, going off about the specifics of a certain flower, my focus, is going to waiver. I think even them most scholarly reader will have to admit that.

With all that aside, I feel that anyone who is interested in amazing literature/philosophy or is looking for some perspective, insight and wisdom should take some time out of their busy life to read at least one of the books from this set. I know that I’m glad that I did.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

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2/5 stars.
Paperback, 351 pages.
Read from July 14 to August 06, 2015.

I wanted to like this book, I really did. I  was excited to read this book as I had never read anything by McCarthy prior to this. I had heard so many great things about him so I’m a bit disappointed I didn’t enjoy this book more. I haven’t given up on McCarthy yet though! I will read The Road, his most notorious publication before I make my final opinion on him.  

The book takes place around the Texan and Mexican border in the US during the 1850’s.  The book follows a runaway teenage boy, known only as, the kid and after getting arrested in Mexico he is acquainted with some men and works his way into joining their gang in order to get out of prison. The gang is a depiction of the historically notorious Glanton gang, who hunt for the scalps of Native American’s for profit and pleasure. After terrorizing and taking scalps the gang comes up with an idea to rob a bank, which ultimately doesn’t go well. Wounded and taking heavy losses, the remaining gang works their way through the desert where tensions within the group begin to show themselves.

I did appreciate McCarthy’s style, or lack there of in a way. McCarthy is one of the few authors that can get away without using practically any punctuation. This lack of punctuation worked really with the characters and their Texan slang but as a reader, you’re left to determine who is speaking because McCarthy never uses quotation marks. I definitely had to re-read a few pages just to follow some conversations. McCarthy also uses a substantial amount of Spanish, which he did not translate. So if you’re not familiar with Spanish, you’ll most likely have to do some translations yourself to understand what’s going on. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever looked up so many words in the dictionary before. McCarthy is a well-versed man.

I felt the most interesting parts of the book were all about the kid’s rough childhood. After he joined up with the group of men to start scalping native heads, is where I started to lose interest. Not because the book lacked for violence or because the characters were uninteresting but because I couldn’t keep track of the plot. The scenes all seemed to resemble each other in that the group of men would scalp some heads, get in trouble with the natives or the locals, then meet some new people during their journey’s through the desert and as a result a lot of people died. I know that I was guilty of skimming a few pages out of frustration with this strange plot.

I wish that this novel was more focused on the inner workings of the kid rather than the intricacies of the plot and its philosophies. This approach would make the book more pleasurable to read but it would also take away some of its ingenuity. I would recommend this book to those who are familiar with the history of the US at this time and for those who are familiar with McCarthy’s work.