Sunday, September 19, 2021

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

Burnt SugarBurnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just read the Booker nominee Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi in which the narrator describes her fraught love-hate relationship with her mother who is sliding into dementia, and retraces the mother's neglect of her daughter growing up in an ashram in Pune, and the lover the two shared after the daughter grew up. The girl's American-born husband, Dilip, "was handsome and tall in a way that let everyone know he'd grown up abroad. Baseball caps, good manners and years of consuming American dairy," struggles to accommodate her foibles, her inexplicable repetitive art, her relationships with her family. The writing is lively and interesting. Much attention is devoted to smells (the bakery, the smoking rickshaw engine, fried cumin and garlic, armpits, food (dal, pakoras, samosas, koftas), memories and anger, and time in the book is askew. I read it with interest, occasional amusement, and a longing to revisit India. The character of the daughter is not sympathetic, but she is not dull and her reactions and thoughts are insightful as she struggles to do her duty by her mother.
"The habit of waiting has already been instilled...deeply ingrained. I wonder if, when I'm old and frail and can see the shape of my end in front of me, I will still be waiting for the future to roll in."

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Monday, September 13, 2021

A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion

A Crooked TreeA Crooked Tree by Una Mannion

I read A Crooked Tree last night. The writing is good, and even better is her characterizations of teens. Told by a fifteen-year-old, one of five siblings growing up outside of Philadelphia in the Seventies, the tale is authentic and each of the kids is distinct. The widowed mother is not responsible as a parent, engaged in an affair, working too much, and letting her anger get the best of her so Libby is forced to make her own decisions. An evil character has them all cowed in fear, but they are reluctant to share info with parental or civic authorities. The suspense accelerates and the last quarter of the book is an unputdownable mystery after some slowness in the middle.

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Saturday, September 11, 2021

A Ghost in the Throat

A Ghost in the ThroatA Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Ghost in the Throat stunned me with the beauty of its writing and its passion. The author/narrator is a young wife with four children under the age of six consumed by her exploration of an 18C Irish Gaelic poet named Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill. The book is a paean to research as she scours the archives for information almost impossible to find on women of that era, on the "female text." She has to look at the men around Eibhlín Dubh to imagine what was happening with the poet as she tragically faced the murder of her husband. Much of the book is Ní Ghríofa's fantasies of the poet's life alternating with her own memoir of the last decade, another female text composed while sleepless, nursing and performing innumerable chores, "a dirge and a drudge-song, an anthem of praise, a chant and a keen, a lament and an echo, a chorus and a hymn."
"O my belovèd, steadfast and true!
The day I first saw you
by the market's thatched roof,
how my eye took a shine to you,
how my heart took delight in you,
I fled my companions with you,
to soar far from home with you.
And never did I regret it..."

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