Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Good Girl is a Great Read!

Hello everybody- readers, writers, et al. I just finished reading Chandana Roy’s debut novel, A Good Girl. It’s a wonderful story that many of us can identify with. First things first: let me give you the gist of the story (no spoilers here) so you get an idea of what it’s about.

The novel opens with the protagonist, Ellora Chatterjee, 33, attending a boring party at her sister’s friend’s house in Virginia. She feels lonely and out of place, and wonders whether the others know of her scandalous past. Aparna, her elder sister, is bent on finding her a match, a good Bengali boy. The story deftly moves from past to present, where we learn of the one incident that changed Ellora’s life, and the consequences of that scandal which always seem to follow her. But things are different in Virginia, She finally is able to leave the past behind. Should she follow her head or her heart in choosing her future mate, especially as she has been hurt so badly in the past when she followed her heart? 

This was a book I just couldn't put down until I had come to the very last page. Chandana is a born storyteller, and there is not a single moment of boredom in this novel. Right from the opening scene with its light social comedy until the exciting end, we are drawn into the action and into the character. And it is indeed Ellora Chatterjee’s character that is so human, so likeable. She’s both like the girl-next-door, yet has her own strong personality, which makes her a unique individual. And I'm sure many of us can identify with her, especially if you're from the East (as opposed to the more permissive West) in always getting unsolicited advice about how to run one’s life.

But this is no wishy-washy sentimental read. The book has many humorous moments. I had a good chuckle over the funny scenes and funnier people. People like Aparna with her mixed idioms, Vicky Bhalla and his rustic pronunciation and Leela Banerjee and her coterie of mems, and their ridiculous adherence to English mores and customs, All these characters and their antics put a smile on your face, despite the very serious theme of the book.

And it is indeed this quality that makes this book eminently readable. The author’s touch is light, but the message of the book is a thought-provoking one. What should one do in matters of the heart- follow the “nuggets of wisdom” dished out by well-meaning friends and relatives, or do what your own heart dictates?

One last word… The book makes many references to nature, and to the botanical or zoological names of birds, flowers and insects (we can see that the author here is a Zoology major) but they are so cleverly woven into the narrative that they never detract from the story, and in fact enhance our knowledge. I didn't know, for example, that Cardinals wear bright red cassocks and that’s why the brightly coloured cardinal birds are named after them!

Chandana- please don't make this your one-book wonder! I'd love to read another novel penned by you.
Chandana Roy with her debut novel. A Good Girl

Bye for now, everybody, and have a great summer! And watch out for more literary stuff on this blog! 

Chandana’s book is available in all major bookstores in India and it can also be ordered online at the following links:
  Flipkart link:
Amazon link:

Dubai readers, no worries! This book will shortly be available here too! Watch out for more details.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Book Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Written Chakra: Book Review

What’s an Americanah? In Nigerian parlance, it’s a person who’s returned from America, someone who’s taken on American mannerisms, has an American accent, and is somehow held in high esteem as well as being an object of derision, a misfit back in their own country.
This sounds familiar to many of us from “Third World” countries. I’m using quotes for “Third World” because the term itself is not only a bit insulting (imo) but also smacks of an earlier world order, coined during the “Cold War.” So, perhaps I should just say former colonies. If you are of a certain vintage, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that anything “phoren” was considered superior, and our own poor countries lagged far behind in all aspects- social, educational, cultural, political.
The story, set during Nigeria’s military dictatorship, and then post 9/11, is simple enough. It’s the story of two sweethearts, Ifemelu and Obinze, from middle-class backgrounds, who dream of leaving for America, the land where only the sky’s the limit for your ambitions. Ifemelu leaves, and confronts hard facts about race, culture and identity in the land of her dreams. Obinze is not so lucky. He is denied a visa, goes to the UK, confronts the ugliest forms of racism, and then returns to Nigeria where he makes his fortune in real estate. Circumstances force them to drift apart and not even communicate by email with each other. They meet fifteen years later, when Ifemelu returns to the land of her birth. Obinze is married with a child. Their feelings for each other are just as strong. Will they leave everything, go against the norms of society, and get back together? I don’t want to spoil the ending for you; read the book and find out for yourselves.
Now, this sounds like a typical wishy-washy kind of story, but no- it’s much much more. It was shortlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, which may just put off male readers. But it’s so much deeper than mere chick-lit in its bold and honest examination of race and identity. Here’s one of her observations, taken from the first chapter:
During her first year in America when she took the New Jersey Transit to Penn Station and then the subway….., she was struck by how mostly slim white people got off at the stops in Manhattan and as the train went further into Brooklyn the people left were mostly black and fat.
Ifemelu learns what it is like to be black in America. She becomes famous for writing an anonymous blog about racism, especially for the non-American black. (Title of one of her blog-posts: To my fellow non-American Blacks: In America You Are Black, Baby) And when she goes to an African saloon to get her hair braided, the owner says that their air conditioner had broken down yesterday. Ifemelu knew the air conditioner hadn’t broken yesterday; it had been broken for much longer…
Obinze, while living in the UK as an illegal immigrant, is invited to a party by Eminike, a Nigerian friend who had married a white woman and where they were the only two blacks. He’s struck by how Eminike had changed to pretend to be white. ”He had taken on a careful and calibrated charm. He said “Oh dear” often. When Phillip complained about the French couple building a house next to his in Cornwall, Eminike asked, “Are they between you and the sunset?”
Are they between you and the sunset? It would never occur to Obinze, or to anyone he had grown up with, to ask a question like that.
 What really held me was how many of her views and experiences are so typical of people from any developing country, not just Nigeria. The author describes how Ifemelu tries to conform (by changing the style of her hair, the kind of food she eats, the way she speaks, and so on) just to “fit in.” She confronts so many people who have a stereotypical image of “black people”, but perhaps her biggest enemies are her own people. Ifemelu finally decides to be herself, with her Afros and her accent, and although she acquires the prized American passport, decides to return to her own country.
The questions this novel asks about race and identity are bold and honest, and are worked seamlessly into the love story. I would unhesitatingly give this novel 5 stars.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Written Chakra: Book Review: Anne O'Connell's Deep DeceitHello e...

The Written Chakra:
Book Review: Anne O'Connell's Deep Deceit
Hello e...
: Book Review: Anne O'Connell's Deep Deceit Hello everybody! It’s been a rather slow week after the frenetic excitement of the...

The Written Chakra: The Written ChakraHello everybody! It’s been a r...

The Written Chakra:
The Written Chakra
Hello everybody! It’s been a r...
: The Written Chakra Hello everybody! It’s been a rather slow week after the frenetic excitement of the Dubai Lit Fest. But it was a w...

Book Review: Anne O'Connell's Deep Deceit

Hello everybody! It’s been a rather slow week after the frenetic excitement of the Dubai Lit Fest. But it was a week of reading and relaxation, what with all the books I picked up during the festival! My bookshelf is once again lined up with almost ten books, enough to keep me out of trouble for quite a while.
Well, in any case, let me present my first book review for The Written Chakra, a novel by Anne Louise O’Connell titled Deep Deceit.

Let me start at the very beginning- the cover. It shows a woman in an abaya, her face and head almost totally covered up, except for her eyes, which look down fearfully. But hold it! Those eyes are blue, not brown! And the cover is an indicator of the tale within. It is the story of a mother’s worst nightmare coming true, when her beautiful 18-year old daughter disappears. And her husband of 19 years, whom she has never really got on with, starts behaving erratically. Into this mix, throw in an unfamiliar landscape and culture, in this case the emirate of Dubai and the kingdom of Saudi, and you have all the ingredients of a thriller or a who-done-it.
The mother in this story is Celeste, whose daughter, Tamara, mysteriously disappears. The boorish husband, Ryan, pooh-poohs his wife’s fears, saying it was her overbearing protectiveness from which the daughter was fleeing. The cracks, which were already present in the marriage, widen after this event. Tamara is not Ryan’s real daughter, but his best friend and business partner, Donald’s. After Donald’s mysterious death nineteen years ago, Ryan had married his pregnant widow, Celeste.
The story unravels with remarkable skill, as one layer after another is peeled off like the skin of an onion, only to reveal an unpalatable truth. Celeste sets out to find her daughter, aided by the irrepressible Susan Morris, a former psychiatric nurse who befriends Celeste and accompanies her everywhere in her quest for her daughter.
The author, Anne O’Connell, deftly weaves the plot with mystery and suspense so that we want to keep turning the pages. And although the cities of Dubai and Riyadh have the outward visage of modernity, old ideas of justice and revenge prevail. I finished this book in two sittings, reading far into the night, so engrossed had I become in the story.
I highly recommend it to all lovers of thrillers as well as those who love women’s fiction for it is also the story of a woman’s journey from helplessness and victimhood to freedom and decisiveness.
Deep Deceit is Anne O’Connell’s second novel. Her earlier novel, Mental Pause, won a bronze medal in the 2013 Independent Publisher Book Awards. This book (in my opinion) is even better than the earlier one.
And watch out for more reviews and tips (and maybe just plain rantings) in my next blog. Until then, adios.

Deep Deceit is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback. link - the link -
Follow Deep Deceit on Facebook. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Written Chakra: Dubai Lit Fest- and what I gleaned from it

The Written Chakra: Dubai Lit Fest- and what I gleaned from it: The Written Chakra A blog for readers and writers and all who come between If you are a reader or writer, or have a literary l...

Dubai Lit Fest- and what I gleaned from it

The Written Chakra
A blog for readers and writers and all who come between

If you are a reader or writer, or have a literary leaning, a Lit Fest is a Must-Go-To event. And Dubai boasts its own Lit Fest, the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature. For those of you not in the know, this festival is held annually in the lovely month of March. (And yes, let me shout this out loud n clear, Dubai is not just about gold and petro-dollars; there’s a thriving community of readers and writers and thinking people out here). So let me give you a round-up of some of the events I attended and what I gleaned from them.

 The first, enticingly titled Shortening the Odds: Inside Secrets of a Literary Agent, had me all excited. I mean, which writer wouldn’t like to know how to make his or her novel stick out from the crowd? Caroline Sheldon, the literary agent who gave the talk, was both enlightening and encouraging. Her talk often went back to the basics- and it’s always good to be reminded of them- that a writer has to be a great story-teller and engage the reader emotionally. It seems the kind of books that really sell these days are the ones sold in SUPERMARKETS!  I mean, how many people actually read hoity-toity literary fiction, the Bookers and the Pulitzers and the what-have-yous? No, this is by no means looking down on popular writing. Ever since I decided to don the writer’s cap, I’ve become humble, and know that writing something that sells in supermarkets is not exactly easy to do and needs hard work and dedication and an understanding of current trends.
There were a few other gems for writers in this talk: give a three-line synopsis of your novel in your introductory email as this will travel with your book all the time when the agent/publisher takes it around and waves it temptingly before people with power. And after your manuscript has been rejected by the first set of agents, take a good hard look at it and change what you think is not working!
It’s not about mere luck, getting your book published. It’s about hard work and perseverance. Or so she says!

The other workshop I attended was for those who want to get their stuff on to newspapers, and was titled Writing a Weekly Column, and conducted by a famous British columnist, Heather McGregor. Here are some of the “rules” for writing these columns.
·      The column should be between 700-1000 words long
·      It should be a mix of facts and opinion
·      You must relate what you write to a personal experience
OK, Heather, you’ve really inspired me to write something on a weekly basis, whether it is publishable or not!

But the most interesting event was the authors’ talk. There were two authors, Ashwin Sanghi and PG Bhaskar, discussing whether there is such a thing as an Indian novel. (Is There Such a Thing as an Indian Novel?)
What is an “Indian” novel? A novel written by Indians? A novel written in English with many words from the vernacular thrown in? Is the novel as a form an import from the West? How are Indian readers different from Western ones?
The talk was highly entertaining, and very often the audience was in splits. Some interesting things I learnt: in this day of the Internet, the human brain has only an 8 second attention span, while a goldfish has a 9 second one; most readers stop reading a book on pg 17! Interesting facts to know, especially if you’re a writer.
Ashwin Sanghi, who has written three bestsellers to date, says he sent his first book to no less than THIRTY-SEVEN publishers, and NOT ONE of them accepted it because they said the Indian audiences were not yet ready for thrillers! He eventually self-published it and aggressively went about marketing it. All his hard work paid off, because now his books are all on the bestsellers’ lists!
PG Bhaskar is not quite a bestseller, but he too has a message for writers.  He wrote his first book during the Global Financial Crisis as an escapism. He’s gone on to write a second book after this. Why? Not for name and fame but just out of the sheer pleasure of writing!  So you don’t have to exactly aspire for fame and fortune when you write, but it can be for the sheer joy of writing.

So I come to the end of this years Lit Fest.
Dear Readers and Writers, my next blog is going to be a book review, so watch out! Oh, and do get back to me with your own personal experiences of attending book fests. Or anything else that shakes the literary world. Until then, goodbye.