say what mofos

My 1st day on booklikes !

I was going to leave joining bl, importing all my books and figuring out how things worked over here till much later, after all life seems just busy enough right now. But what the heck - with the mass exodus of friends prepping to leave a sinking ship I figured I might as well get my oars & life-jacket out :) So here I am !! At least I can enjoy the fact that I now have a blog, something I've always wanted but never quite felt ready for. A salute to good books, insightful reviews, old & new friends ! 

One Man's Initiation: 1917 - John Dos Passos,  Jeff Woodman Review to follow

The Daughters of Mars: A Novel

The Daughters of Mars: A Novel - Thomas Keneally *****SPOILER ALERT*****

I read this recently as a part of my ongoing WW1 phase and came away from the experience thinking, well that was okay. Not great, not bad..just okay. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to connect with the characters in the novel, partly due to the characters themselves and also partly due to the way in which the novel was written i.e without any dialogue tags. I felt this contributed to creating a sense of distance and passivity which I didn't appreciate. I'm used to losing myself in the story, inhabiting characters and being a fly on the wall but I couldn't do any of that here. I felt like I was left hanging, floating above everyone like a ship without a rudder..aimless.

I could appreciate the little twists and turns, the sprinkling of gallows humor, the beautiful writing to be found here and there but I was left untouched through most of it. It just failed to come together for me.

On a final note, the author ends the story with 2 possibilities, 2 alternate realities if you will. I knew before reading the book that this was how he chose to end it, what I didn't know was if it would be at the end of the main body of the story or separate like the extras on a DVD movie. As it turns out, it was the former and he did it in a very subtle and believable way, so subtle in fact that I wasn't aware of what was going on till the very end. The way he chose to end the novel seemed entirely plausible to me, and it didn't seem out of place from the overall theme of the story. If you do pick up this novel, and I'm not saying don't, this shouldn't detract from the possibility of you enjoying it.

I wish I had liked it more but sometimes a book just leaves you that way, it can't be helped. Who knows, maybe someday I might decide to give it another try.
The Guns of August - Barbara W. Tuchman,  Robert K. Massie,  John      Lee Review to follow. For now I just have to say this was a top-notch read !!
The Bastard of Istanbul - Elif Shafak **********SPOILER ALERT**********

The “Bastard of Istanbul” has been on my to-read radar for a while now partly owing to the review of a fellow gr friend who’s read it and to my own curiosity of how these characters are going to come together to tell the story of the Armenian genocide, and how I will react to the telling and the intersection of these peoples lives- the Turkish Muslim Kazancis and the Armenian American Tchakhmakhchians.

From the first few pages itself the author managed to capture my full attention with two of the main characters in this story, Zeliha and the city of Istanbul. One of the Kazanci women, she echoed certain character traits I fully sympathized with. And having been to Istanbul a couple of times, the imagery evoked just made me want to get on the 1st flight out armed with my backpack and trusty camera. But alas, that not being possible, I’m left to finish reading the rest of The Bastard to find out what the author has in store for me. Expecting only to have my reader’s spirit sustained, I’m not disappointed.

The rest of the Kazanci women are as unique as I’ve seen in a while. Without giving anything away, let me just say you will be entertained as they go about their existence in a once opulent konak in the middle of Istanbul, each so diametrically opposite to the next it’s a wonder they exist unscathed. They along with Pasha the Fifth, the family feline set the stage for the arrival of Armanoush or Amy Tchakhmakhchians as she’s known part of the time.

The Tchakhmakhchians make up the 2nd third of this story, a part of the Armenian diaspora they exist united within the larger Armenian community in their continued rememberance of their tragic past, the expulsion and genocide of their family in early 20th century Ottoman Turkey. Through the character Amy, the two families past intersect in Istanbul. Amy finds it in herself to discover more of her Armenian past mostly as relates to her beloved grandmother Shushan’s experiences during the genocide and it is her curiosity which highlights the general lack of awareness among the Kazanci family of their collective past and slowly brings forth the family’s own secrets to be revealed.

While the Kazanci women were amusing and could be irritating at times, the Tchakhmakhchian clan were frustrating and got my temper up. Their love for Armanoush felt suffocating and their behavior towards Rose, Turkish people in general and Mustafa in particular put me off early in the book. This passage I’ve taken from a conversation in a chat room between members of the Armenian diaspora, Armanoush and Asya the youngest of the Kazanci clan sums it up nicely:

“Well, the truth is, dear Madame My-Exiled-Soul and dear A Girl Named Turk ….some among the Armenians in the diaspora would never want the Turks to recognize the genocide. If they do so, they’ll put the rug out from under our feet and take the strongest bond that unites us. Just like the Turks have been in the habit of denying their wrongdoing, the Armenians have been in the habit of savouring the cocoon of victimhood. Apparently, there are some old habits that need to be changed on both sides.”

This feeling didn’t last long though as I read the chapters tracing back Shushan’s past poignantly told through her father Hovhannes Stamboulian. The abrupt break to their lives as they know it tears the family apart and as you get to know Hovhannes and little Shushan you can’t help but feel the senselessness of the whole mess.

I feel for victims of any wrongdoing and recognize that the effects of a genocide especially can reverberate down through the generations but to hold on to so much pain and suffering, to perpetuate the sentiment down the generations in the name of unity feels just as wrong as the Turkish government’s denials of this part of their history. The public’s lack of awareness, as I see it, can be excused by 2 reasons: willful ignorance during the atrocities with consequent amnesia, or partial awareness amidst government cover-ups and consequent amnesia, much like similar atrocities perpetuated since … well, forever probably. Either way, it happened and though I wish it were otherwise the pessimist in me can’t help but say it will probably happen again, if not to the Armenians or the Greeks then to someone else especially if the pain and anger of the past is carried so close to the heart.

Nevertheless, I can fully recommend this novel as an entertaining and insightful read with Istanbul completing the third of the story. As for myself, I’ll continue to read more about the Armenian and Greek expulsions and genocide during this time and look forward to trying out another book written by this author.
Birds Without Wings - Louis de Bernières *******SPOILER ALERT*******

I read this as part of a larger WW1 themed study to get a more focused perspective of the Great War from the point of view of the lives of the people of Eskibahce. I was fully aware that this was a work of historical fiction but my hope was that the author would use this fictional village in the Ottoman Empire and its fictional occupants as a mirror through which I could see the effects the Great War took on the everyday lives of these Ottoman citizens of Muslim, Greek and Armenian background.

Like most other principalities in that region the behemoth that was the Ottoman Empire had its own nationalistic issues and the war seemed only to bring the nationalistic sentiments of these various groups to the forefront, and the village of Eskibahce with its mixed population was not immune.

The book started off by introducing these charming villagers and their peaceful home; the backgammon playing gendarmerie forever stationed in the meydan, the mischievous kids trailing each while living out the unchanging country childhood, women gossiping and going about their daily chores, and men going about their individual labours or gossiping while sipping sweetened tea and smoking tobacco.

There was almost a timeless quality about it all and I enjoyed it on a superficial level but I have to admit I had a hard time in the beginning getting involved in the story, feeling connected and I’m not sure why. The prose was beautiful, the characters were interesting and quirky, the humour was wry and made me laugh out loud a lot of the time, and I appreciated the author’s use of Mustafa Kemal’s life as a timeline. If I were to hazard a guess I’d say its because I didn’t really like any of the adults until the chapters dealing with the Galipoli campaign. Once I hit that part, I couldn’t put the book down. The descriptions of what life was like for these men drew me in. I felt for them and got a tiny glimpse into the hell of trench warfare.

Charming as these people were I thought, mistakenly that I’d see a village perhaps unaffected by the ravages of the war, that maybe these people stood up for their neighbours and that the commonality of being Ottoman with its religious freedoms and other rights would outshine their various petty grievances. But as I got to know these people more, I realized that there were things I just couldn’t get past. An example of this is the enthusiastic participation of the villagers in the stoning of Tamara Hanim. For the most part, I liked the kids and the adults they grew up to be-I think the relationship that I cared for most was that of Karatavuk and Mehmetcik. The former’s friendship with his fellow soldier Fekrit and their back and forth with the Anzac troops are my favourite parts of the story.

On a wider scale, the utter wastefulness of the carnage and brutality of the troops towards the civilians in the name of religion and ethnic superiority had an almost numbing effect –here they go again This paragraph from the book sums up this sentiment :

“In the long years of those wars here were too many who learned how to make their hearts boil with hatred, how to betray their neighbours, how to violate women, how to steal and dispossess, how to call upon God when they did the Devil’s work, how to enrage and embitter themselves, an how to commit outrages even against children. Much of what was done was simply in revenge for identical atrocities..”

The book is filled with lines I could include and I wish I was more so inclined. I can say that my impression of the Armenians, Turks and Greeks was different at the end of reading this as when I started out. At the end of it all, I just ran out of sympathy for these people who seemed to go out of their way to repeat the atrocities that were done unto them so that they may be forever repeated in the vicious cycle that is history repeating itself. As far as powerful messages go, this is one of them. Another is perhaps the ludicrousness of war in general and people in particular.

David Copperfield

David Copperfield - Charles Dickens ********SPOILER ALERT********

Before I start with my review proper I just have to let you know that I’d been avoiding David Copperfield ever since watching the tv movie sometime during my childhood. I couldn’t remember the details but the feeling of sadness and abandonment that I associated with David lingered and I didn’t need any more of that in my life so there it went into the ‘to avoid-David who-no more orphan stories’ mental pile.

Then in June of this year, I felt something in me reaching out to David Copperfield saying read it, read it NOW!! So I downloaded the free Kindle version and started, I didn’t hesitate much, I have to say I’m like that. If my instincts are telling me I need to read this, then read it I will. Thank you, instincts.

What I did get from David Copperfield is a feeling of simpatico. At that point in my life I had just turned a corner on my own personal journey, about 12 years in the making, a very uncertain and rocky one characterized by Super Mario-like minefields constantly blowing up my Plan As and necessitating alternate Plans, B through E all resentfully and vaguely sketched out.

David was in a similar position I felt. We both had rocky childhoods and each time he seemed to get a solid footing onto something, the ground would crumble and he’d have to start yet again. Yeah, David and I grew to be fast friends.

This made it easy to follow him on his life’s journey from birth til adulthood. I watched over him as a baby, grinned at his cheeky inquisitiveness as a youngster, wished for him a better mother, felt grateful for the presence of his loyal Pegotty, angered at the welcoming of Mr Murdstone and his cold fish of a sister into the Copperfield household and on and on we went– from heartbreak to the fickle hints of hope, stumbling into new acquaintances, making friends, making enemies, living life amongst a cast of characters from the ludicrous to the evil, being disappointed, being overjoyed, yet remaining hopeful throughout.

This was David Copperfield’s life and at times, I felt like it was mine too. I highlighted page after page of memorable lines from the inspiring to the humorous, forever capturing my favourite characters defining moments and hoping that Betsy Trotwood’s steel backbone would remind me to stick my chin out and say ‘Donkeys, get off my lawn’ just as much as Uriah Heep’s false ‘umbleness’ would serve as a reminder to be wary of the falsity of the overly humble. Nobody is that humble.

To sum up, at 1090 pages, this was one of the longest books I’ve read but it didn’t feel like it and I can truly understand why Charles Dickens considered this his baby. David kept me company during one of those trying times we all wish would just bypass us and venture out to sea like their more elemental brethren. I’d recommend this wholeheartedly and hope that whoever picks this up next enjoys it as much as I did.

The Gift of the Magi

The Gift of the Magi - O. Henry Loved this. What a sweet read :)

Three Lives

Three Lives - Gertrude Stein I could not get into this read. It just didn't happen.
The Glass Menagerie (Modern Classics (Penguin)) - Tennessee Williams, Robert Bray I have yet to read a Tennessee Williams play that I haven't enjoyed and this latest one was no exception. I finished it yesterday morning but had to wait a while before I jotted my thoughts down in a coherent manner (let's hope) for this review because the message I got was a personal one for me. Escape. I felt this was the central pulsating theme of this short play. In every scene you feel each character's anxiety as they long to escape to somewhere.

For Amanda it was the past. That was where she shone, amidst her gentleman callers. But the Southern belle didn't marry 'up' instead she married a telephone operator who loved loved long distance. Translation he left. So twenty odd years later she still reminisces about what could have been....the hundred acre plantation, servants, mint juleps, the works.

For Tom it was the future. He heard the call of adventure, romance and more importantly freedom in the Merchant Marines and every moment he was forced to drudgery in that warehouse job, forced to his mother's 'We's' and 'dont you think you shoulds' was one more moment he wished he was somewhere else. "I'm like my father. The bastard son of a bastard! Did you notice how he's grinning in his picture in there? And he's been absent going in sixteen years!"

And finally, Laura, the deadweight that anchors them to that apartment. Laura longs to escape into a separate world somewhere in her mind surrounded by her music, forever winding up that Victrola when anxiety hits, and her fragile glass figurines. I'm not quite sure what her issue is but she's as fragile as those figurines she's always palming. I suppose her crippled leg, abandonment issues and overbearing mother played a significant part in her hyperanxiety when confronted by ... people.... and typewriters.

They go along, each hoping, dreaming and getting on each others nerves in this simmering pot until one day Amanda decides that her efforts to secure Laura some sort of an independent future, with her directing it of course, isn't working out. Instead, Laura needs a husband who'll take care of the both of them. So Tom is roped into finding said husband and in return he'll be granted his freedom. This is where things come to a head. Tom brings back Jim, Laura's high school crush and he flirts and she falls...hard. But in an emotional way. Then after he kisses her, he tells her he's engaged. Don't you just love that ?! Oh and he breaks her favourite unicorn glass figurine too. Breaks it all up along with her hopes and dreams of being swept by Jim.....sigh.

So Jim leaves to go meet Betty, his fiancee. Tom just leaves period, I think mommy dearest opened her mouth again and he just couldnt take it any more. And that leaves Amanda and Laura, shut up in that house, forever.

The End.

A Doll's House

A Doll's House - Henrik Ibsen ----------SPOILER ALERT----------

This was my first time reading anything by Henrik Ibsen. I did enjoy myself quite a bit, I felt the ending was a bit too abrupt but the build-up was excellent, I felt like I was getting to know all the main players. On the other hand, Ibsen probably thought if he was Nora he'd say fuck it and hightail it outta there at that exact point so I'm leaving that last star blank for uncertainty.

So, A Doll's House is a 3 act play featuring Nora, Torvald her husband, Mrs Linde her friend from her childhood, Dr Rank Torvald's best friend and Krogstad the much maligned lawyer/moneylender. The nurse, housekeeper and children make an appearance from time to time but they dont play much of a part.

It seemed to me that the main theme explored throughout the play was the role women played in 19th century Norway and by extension the world, really. And this role was daughter, wife and mother. There was no room for anything to interfere with that 'sacred duty' much less any sort of individual identity. A broader rcurring theme is of people, regardless of gender, being trapped in lives they do not want.

As the play begins we're introduced to Nora and my first impression was that of a dense, coy, money-obsessed yapping puppy. But as things move on and Torvald's controlling, patronising behaviour becomes evident it seems like Nora has developed a socially acceptable way of getting what she needs out of her husband. She plays the helpless idiot which fits exactly into Torvald's fantasy of the ideal woman.

As I got to know Nora more, I saw through the act, I felt sympathy for her. She had to humiliate herself every day to ask for things she should rightly have. Imagine being called 'my little twittering lark' or 'my little featherhead' on a daily basis. Of being told you're a spendthrift but in an oh so teasing way complete with wagging finger. At one point I felt like this was a prelude to a punch in the face. You know, the type of bully that starts out in that sing-song voice before he breaks your nose and kicks you while you're down. That doesn't happen, thankfully.

But back to the play, Nora has a secret which she confides to the superior and oh so irritating Mrs Linde. As it turns out, Nora has been hiding her intelligence behind all that fluff. When she's told by doctors that her husband is seriously ill and needs to go away for some rest (don't we all), she comes up with the money herself. How ? She went to Mr Krogstad and since she borrowed that $250 she's had to come up with ways of making her payments by taking whatever jobs she can do and scrounging away housekeeping money, all without her husband finding out. She says at one point to Mrs Linde, "It was a tremendous pleasure to sit there working and earning money. It was like being a man."

But circumstances come to bear when her husband finds out and all this has the potential to completely ruin them socially. Instead of thanking her, he goes on about how he's going to take the kids away from her and belittles her, the usual. At this point, Nora's 'wonderful action' of saving her husband and her hope of him showing his gratitude or appreciation disappears and she's had enough. She doesn't take a butcher knife to him or anything. Instead she says, "Our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa's doll-child; and here the children have been my dolls.I thought it great fun when you played with me, just as they thought it great fun when I played with them. That is what our marriage has been, Torvald" and "It was then it dawned upon me that for eight years I had been living here with a strange man, and had borne him three children-Oh! I cant bear to think of it! I could tear myself into little bits! "

Nora explains how she's a human being first, not just a wife and mother and that she needs to leave 'to try and educate herself.' I understand her point of view. If someone's just an empty shell of a nobody, with no opinions or thoughts or identity of their own then how can they impart anything of worth to their children. That is one of the messages I took away from the play. There are other themes I didn't talk about and multiple quotes I would have loved to put in this review but it would be just too much. I hope I did the play just a bit of justice.

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald -------SPOILER ALERT-------

I took my time reading this the 2nd time around and although my star rating for it stayed the same at 3 starts, I did enjoy it more. I lingered over the very first party where we're introduced to Gatsby, pictured the outfits they were liable to be wearing, the dancing, smoking and gossiping as the champagne flowed freely. This felt like a very mild, relaxing read. Even the hypocrisy, delusions and murder at the end didn't bring me out of my 1920s haze. I enjoyed my moment of being immersed in the 'Roaring Twenties.'
Raid - Kristen Ashley Oh gosh this book was awful. I really don't understand the appeal in having your 29 year old female lead speak, think and act like a preteen and your male lead, an ex-Marine if you can believe it, speak and behave like an idiot gangbanger. I don't think he's capable of coherent thought so i won't spend any time on that. With this rubbish as the basis of the story the rest of it didn't go very far. I highlighted many parts that i found disturbing and plain irritating on my Kindle which I plan on including below a bit later.
The Proposition - Jennifer Lyon This was an enjoyable read. I had to wade through a lot of BDSM themed books to find something different and this was it. The male lead wasn't the usual dominant, forceful a-hole (pardon my french), the story was different enough to be interesting and it was pretty well written. I liked the female lead, she came across as smart and decisive. All in all, a good way to spend a couple of hours.
The Group - Mary McCarthy, Candace Bushnell 1st attempt - I just can't get into the characters. I find myself drifting and having to read bits again. This book isn't holding my attention and so i've decided to move on.

2nd attempt - about a week later. I decided to give this book a 2nd chance mostly because i can't abide not finishing a book. I definitely didn't enjoy this book. The characters left me spitting mad especially Kay. Your husband commits you to a mental institution which is really just one in a long line of abuses her husband doles out and her response is to blame herself and go off in this nutty tangent. I think this book revolved around 5 women and not one of them exhibited any sense whatsoever. And college graduates to boot. I actually thought what a waste of oxygen these people are while i was reading this book.