A good read

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Lucia Lucia by Adriana Trigiani

Lucia Lucia is the story of Lucia Sartori, an Italian-American living in the '50s in New York's Greenwich village. The story is told in flashback as Lucia recounts two tumultous years from her youth when she gets engaged twice and breaks off one of them, gets jilted at the altar, suffers bereavements, is made redundant due to obsolescence and grows up from the cosy comforts of being an only daughter, the youngest sister to four brothers in a close-knit family to her own woman. She also goes through much conflict when she tries to reconcile her two diametrically-opposite roles - one as an ambitious career woman working in one of New York's fashionable department stores and the other, a more traditional role of being a wife who gives up her career to stay at home. How she resolves her conflict or to be more precise, how the conflict gets resolved forms the rest of the 300-odd page narrative.
There's plenty of cliches - the close-knit Italian family, protective brothers, lavish weddings, innocent sister-in-law and so on. The situations often seemed forced. Like when Lucia's brother blurts out about a curse uttered many years ago at the family dinner table. It seemed such an unnatural construct. Something put there so that the reader may 'know'.
Neither the eponymous character nor any of the other people who populate this novel endear themselves. It was a quick read, mercifully. So I didn't have to wince for long. If you're in New York or have lived in the city, this book may give you insights into life in the city from the '50s. As for the rest of us, why bother?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith

In Morality for Beautiful Girls, Mma Ramotswe is called in to investigate a case where a woman is suspected of poisoning her own husband. As this case takes her out of Gaborone, Mma Makutsi, the Assistant Detective at Botswana's No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency is left to take charge. She also ends up running the garage owned by Mr J L B Matekoni, Mma Ramotswe's fiance, when he falls ill. Mma Makutsi solves a case on her own involving a beauty pagent and proves her worthiness as a Manager at the garage. There's also the affair involving a small boy who smells of a lion which solves itself satisfactorily.

In Morality.. as with every other book in this series, the author skilfully sketches Mma Ramotswe's character as a person full of conviction in the old Botswana morality and a healthy disdain for modern way of doing things. She resorts to her intuition more than any conventional sleuthing methods to solve the cases entrusted to her.

Botswana plays an important role in all the books and with every additional read, the reader adds another image to his growing collection of this colourful African country. Delightful read.

Please click here and then click on Tuesday's play to listen to a dramatised version of one of Mma Ramotswe's cases. Quick, this is not available online for long.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith

One more from the stable of Alexander McCall Smith and the delightful Mma Ramotse of Botswana's No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency. In the Kalahari Typing School for Men, Mma Ramotswe is faced with competition from Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency (ex-CID, ex-Johannesburg, ex-New York, Ex-cellent! boasts their name board). She has to resolve the problems of clients who wish to set right their conscience about past misdoings and clients who suspect their husbands of philandering. In this book, Mma Makutsi, Mma Ramotswe's secretary starts the eponymous Kalahari Typing School for Men and gets romantically involved with one of her students. An involvement which puts Mma Ramotswe in a quandary. But as always, Mma Ramotswe's intuitive intelligence ensures that all situations are negotiated delicately and conclusions arrived at satisfactorily.

The book is strewn with simple home truths. Mma Ramotswe's legendary views on men, books, Africa and the old-Botswana way of life make you hanker for more from this straight-talking, no-nonsense lady. And if you read really carefully, you'll even notice the author in a walk-on part.

I raise my cup of bush tea to you, Mma! One-derful!

Please click here and then click on Tuesday's play to listen to a dramatised version of one of Mma Ramotswe's cases. Quick, this is not available online for long.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

I loved Everything’s Illuminated. I was so head-over-heels in love with Jonathan Safran Foer's screw-all-rules style that I would have willingly lapped up anything he dished out in his second offering. So when I saw ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ in the ‘newly arrived’ shelf in my library, I launched head first to grab my copy. I wish I had not got myself into such a frenzy. For, Extremely.. disappoints. It has a number of gimmicks that have come to typify Jonathan’s writing style. Like two pages written entirely in numerals, several illustrations, photographs, misspellings circled and so on. However, instead of amusing you or drawing you in to the narrative, they feel tired. Like an oft-repeated joke that makes you wonder what you found funny in the first place.

Extremely.. is the story of 9-year old Oskar Schell who sets out to find the lock that would open with the key that belongs to his father who was killed in the attack on World Trade Centre. Oskar is a precocious young man (with Asperger’s?) who is everything from a vegan, inventor, pacifist, tambourine player to an amateur-detective and more. His quest to find the lock takes him around New York and his adventures are told in his endearing voice. This has to be the best part of the book. Because, the part about his grandparents who survived the Dresden bombing can be skipped without missing a beat.

This is a sharply-observed, often-poignant, whimsical tale of love, loss and suffering. But it would have endeared itself more had it been told with fewer frills.

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