Category Archives: belonging

Nine Days, Toni Jordan

downloadSo reading friends, I have discovered the awesomeness of overdrive and my local library. It’s not actually a new discovery, I’ve had the overdrive app on my iPad for the longest time. For some reason, I’ve just never used it. But lo and behold, the other night I was bored and found myself cruising the Randwick Library e-shelves and look what I found – miles and miles and miles of virtual books which are just waiting to be plucked and devoured by little old me. Who knew! It is like heaven, only better… and because I have multiple children, I have multiple cards which means no limit to the amount of books I can download at any one time … it’s overwhelming and dangerous and positively intoxicating for a reading fiend like me. So I downloaded some books for my kids – it’s their card after all – and then began browsing … ah the bliss! But before I succumbed to random book borrowing, I forced myself to consult my trusty and ever-growing Evernote list entitled “Books to Read”. I am too scared to count how many books there are on this list and I very rarely actually read these books. I simply add to the list. Often. Only occasionally erasing the odd book which I actually read. But somehow just having the list is enough to bring me the comfort of knowing that I won’t ‘lose’ the titles of those books which I just know I HAVE to read.

Anyway, back to business. Toni Jordan. One of the few Australian authors who can count me as their number one fan. She is simply stellar. A true genius, crafting softly worded tales about complex characters which punch you in the stomach, leaving you winded and on the verge of tears. She has a wonderful ability to truly capture a very Australian spirit without being cliche or kitsch. And while I generally loathe Australian fiction, Jordan does something that really grabs me – it is as though she brings to life the esse of a slippery Australian identity which is fraught with angst and loneliness and beauty.

Not only does Jordan weave a masterful story, but she does it so tenderly over generations. In this novel each of the central characters is given a chapter of their own which unfolds their role in the larger narrative. The Sydney Morning Herald calls Nine Days a “sprawling family drama” but I didn’t feel this sense of vastness or distance in Jordan’s telling. Quite the opposite, I felt a closeness that I see in many families; my own included. I found Jordan’s book to be sensitive, shocking at times and definitely loaded with a wonderful empathy that only became evident once the struggles of the individual characters had cleared to make way for the depth that hovers in this text. I loved that each character was so separated, described as having their own lives, their own problems and quirks, yet at the same time was so invested in the extended family – past and present – and so much a product of the influences of all these family members. “Like so many things that shape us, it’s the smallest actions that add up to leave the deepest marks.”

There are too many subtle themes in this book to convey them all in a short book review – family, love, friendship, honesty, belonging. One which resonated to me was exposed toward the novel’s end:

“‘Alec. You must know this. People disappear. They just go puff. Thin air. Every time you see someone, you never know if you’re seeing them for the last time. Drink them in, Alec. Kiss them. It’s very important. Never let anyone say goodbye, even for a little while, without kissing them. Press your lips against the people you love. Hands, they can touch anything. Open doors, hold cameras, hang clothes on the line. It’s lips that matter.”

I could share so many sections of this book that I have underlined for posterity but that would only give away the magic of this prose and ruin the dignity of the story which you have to discover for yourselves. Instead, I will leave you just with the last line of Jordan’s novel Nine Days:

“I can hardly believe my good fortune. Everything will be alright.”

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11/22/63, Stephen King

As a young reader I ploughed through all of Stephen King’s work. I can’t quite recall what grabbed me at the time … Most probably it was just that his work was just so readable and gripping. It has been a long time since I read any of King’s work and I have to confess that I only picked this one up because of a high school history project that I once did on JFK. I couldn’t resist seeing what King had done with this era and how he had resolved some of the controversies surrounding Kennedy’s assassination.

In hindsight, this book had some interesting elements. I was intrigued by King’s description of time travel and the implications of changing the past. At times I felt that this part of the book was too drawn out and at times meaningless. But I did find myself considering his notion of the “butterfly effect” and the waves of change that ripple from any one moment in time …

It was clear that King had done considerable research in constructing this narrative – reconstructing the events around Kennedy’s last moments and building Lee Harvey Oswald’s persona seductively in the background. I found all of this very well crafted. The insights that King provided were intriguing and certainly provided much food for thought. Who was Oswald? Was he a patsy? King’s time travel enables him to envisage multiple endings or resolutions to this situation and I found that quite liberating in some way.

As to be expected, King’s characters were wonderful and layered and there was sufficient thrill in each of them to provide action to sustain the flow of the book and to carry King’s underlying interest in the Kennedy story.

Despite all these intriguing elements, I found reading this book somewhat slow and at times tedious. While I appreciate King’s desire to properly explore his context, there were times when I felt that he had done so in a manner that was too long winded and that detracted from the flow and speed of his narrative. I don’t think I would recommend this book to anyone … If you have an interest in Kennedy then it is a must read, or, if you are a history buff and appreciate some of the deeper nuances of the passing of time and the impact of all events on the evolution of society and the world, then I expect you will find this book well worth the time.

Secret Daughter, Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Loved this book, loved this book, loved this book! What a great story, intriguing characters and endearing moments. A pleasure to read. I thoroughly enjoyed the juxtaposition of cultures, the clash between America and India and the challenges of trying to balance the influences of each place.

Somer, a high achieving American woman meets and marries Kris, an Indian who is studying in America. They have the picture perfect relationship. Both graduate as doctors and they begin their lives living the American Dream. But, Somer can’t seem to have children and despite everything that they try she is unable to carry to term and suffers two miscarriages. Somer is devastated and cannot get past her inability to realise her potential as a mother.

Somer and Kris’ story is balanced with equal attention and tension with the story of Mr and Mrs Merchant, a couple living in rural India. They live at the mercy of the seasons and are subject to the cultural preference of sons over daughters.  The story that unfolds is somewhat predictable: Mr and Mrs Merchant have a daughter that they surrender for adoption and Somer and Kris land up adopting that daughter.Where this novel excels is in the development of these five very different characters. Each is wonderfully unique and multi-dimensional. Their personal growth and journey is well worth the read and often inspiring. Kris’ Indian mother was particularly fascinating and delightful.

I highly recommend this book!

 

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