Saturday, April 30, 2011

Remember Me? - Book Review

Another lively and funny story from Sophie Kinsella, author of "Confessions of a Shopaholic". The best part of the book is the plot - a young woman wakes from in a hospital after a car accident and cannot remember 3 years of her life. Significant three years in which she has undergone many changes, from purely physical - like now having perfect teeth and a slim figure to financial - she has crashed her Mercedes and finally the most significant, marital - she is now married to Eric, a drop-dead gorgeous and rich man.

This unbelievable scenario where Lexi, the middle class low level department store worker gets transformed into a beautiful and wealthy woman, a modern day Cinderella tale come true, offers many laughs. In her breezy style, we struggle with Lexi as she tries to remember how she has got herself into this "dream" situation. While there are many benefits of this lifestyle, with a housekeeper and a luxurious home, there is a dark side as well. Husband Eric professes a "low carb" household where Lexi craves for the simple joy of eating buttery toast and finds that her perfect and humongous wardrobe has no comfy clothes or shoes. Taking a swipe at the snobbishness and superficiality of the lives of the wealthy, Kinsella shows how a "regular" person like what Lexi used be, can be miserable in their picture-perfect life.

There many other characters who are endearing with their quirks, like Lexi's old friends Fi, Debs, Carolyn, her spacey mother and delinquent younger sister. And then there is Jon, Eric's architect who adds to Lexi's confusion as she tries to reconcile with the cold, hard person she has become in those three missing years. She feels like a regular girl but the public persona she has created to move up in life clashes against her memory of who she still considers herself to be.

It's a funny, silly book that brings up important issues about money, fame, power and makes you wonder what you would choose if you woke up one day to find out that you have it all.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Girl Like Me - Book Review

I picked up this gem of a book on a whim. The introduction clearly mentioned that the main character was a 16 year old girl transplanted from USA to India and it seemed like a transatlantic coming of age story. A little too simplistic for my taste, I felt. But I needed a light read and it seemed harmless enough. Once I started reading it, I just kept turning page after page and finished reading the 300-odd pages in a span of 24 hours.

Sixteen year-old Annie (Anisha) Rai moves to Gurgaon with her mother Isha and they start a new life almost three years after the death of Anisha's father. Author Swati Kaushal gives an authentic first-person account of life in a new school, NPS, in Class XI where Anisha makes friends with Richa, Somes, Nikki and of course with her childhood friend Keds who eases her transition. Descriptions of Gurgaon, including the fickle Delhi weather are truthfully described but the poignant passages are the ones where Anisha remembers her Dad, with beautiful descriptions of Minnesota.

The story begins with Isha's social circle consisting of old friends, parents of Keds, but grows with other characters including the mysterious neighbor JD, and the Bajaj family upstairs and their poor cousin Rani whom Anisha befriends. For typical teenage drama, there are couples like Nikki and Keds, Richa with an ever-changing boyfriend until heart-throb Kunal enters the mix. The parts describing their school lives are realistic and easy going. The interactions between the amazing but workaholic Mom Isha whom Anisha seems to adore seems genuine. When the story takes a turn, that is when Anisha's angst at her mother's preoccupation with work and other distractions bring to light real-life situations which are extremely significant in the life of a teenager seeking support as she navigates the treacherous years.

I enjoyed the book immensely because I loved all the well-etched characters, Keds, Rani, JD, Anisha and Isha. I frankly cannot choose a favorite between Isha and Anisha. The dialog is crisp and the descriptions are outstanding. Here is an example:"The beads of rain that lengthen and drip off the curved rim of the parapet glisten in the crevices of the latticework. They are shot through with pinpricks of light: one moment they are a queen's necklace, the next a shimmering crown. I lie back in my chair and watch them shift shapes, watch the dance of the droplets that collect and swell at the undulating edge of the awning above my head, as they dive down to the puddles in the red brick below them, as they shatter and shimmer and regroup into countless miniature pools."

While the book covers the unlikely (but possible) situation of an American-born Indian teenager coming to live in India, it is an extremely balanced view of what India offers to those who come back "home". In the span of a few months in Anisha's life, we see India through new eyes and grow wiser with her as she looks back with a new perspective on her own past. The book ends well, not all neatly tied up as in the movies, but with hope for a future where everyone can make better choices.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nine on Nine - Book Review

Perhaps the best way to get back onto the reading wagon is by picking up a book of short stories. It is not as taxing as a novel which requires investment of energy in the lives of the characters over a long period of our time as we watch their lives through the author's lens. Short stories are easier, to read and digest. Nine on Nine, a collection of short stories by Nandita C. Puri is a quick and easy read. As the title suggests, nine stories set in various locations in India shed light on the lives of ordinary people.

The best one is the first titled "An Arranged Marriage" with an unexpected twist, featuring love marriages in two generations of a Maharashtrian family and the consequences of these decisions. The next one where the comings and goings of a group of affluent women at Jenny's beauty parlour reveals secrets that are obvious to the reader but not the main characters. Similarly, the plot twist of "Flashback" is revealed prematurely in an unfortunate sentence that perhaps an astute editor could have suggested to be removed. The most poignant story is "The Piano Teacher" which depicts the humane aspects of kind old people that the young consider a burden. "Bhabhiji" reads like any other TV soap opera and one wishes that the main character had more nuances instead of being a victim.

The book is a good attempt and the stories highlight the layers of history behind the monochrome lives of regular people. But as a reader I hoped for more depth and insights. I would rate the book a seven on ten.