On my bookshelf

I often find myself with nothing to blog about. Today happens to be one of those days so I thought I’ll just write about the books I have been reading these past few weeks.

Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee

Mukherjee follows the diverging paths taken by three extraordinary Calcutta-born sisters as they come of age in a changing world. Moving effortlessly between generations, she weaves together fascinating stories of the sisters’ ancestors, childhood memories, and dramatic scenes from India’s history.

I had never read anything by Bharati Mukherjee before so I didn’t really know what to expect. The first half just blew me over – it’s one of those unputdownable pageturners without being a thriller. The thing is Mukherjee’s prose is so amazingingly evocative that I clearly saw this young Bengali bride circling around a tree in the 19th century.

But just when I thought I was going through the best Indian novel ever, the pace slackened. The second half of the novel seemed tedious in comparison to the first and Mukherjee’s puppetmaster hands lost control of the characters in America, letting them roam free as the novel draws towards its implausible end — with an arsonist on the loose.

Of course, you should read it. And tell me what you thought of it. Believe me, I would like to read other works by this University of California professor. I just wish the second half of ‘Desirable Daughters’ had been better.

The Coast of Good Intentions: Stories by Michael Byers

Michael Byers’ award-winning collection tells graceful tales of achingly unresolved lives on the Pacific Northwest coast. Byers captures the lives of ferry workers, carpenters, park rangers, and adolescents leaving home, against a backdrop of crab factories, cranberry bogs, the fog-shrouded shore, and the Seattle skyline.

My favourite story was “Shipmates Down Under” in which the daughter of two doctors falls sick with an unrelenting fever and the family is forced to cancel a vacation in Australia. Byers is shockingly mature (he was only 28 when he wrote this) for his age and it’s amazing how he chooses to write about sadness, disappointment and loneliness.

Byers writes beautiful prose and it kind of rolls with imagery and metaphors. The characters are mostly people you might meet in the street and not give a second glance.

Go give it a read

My Father, Dancing by Bliss Broyard

The daughter of the late author and critic Anatole Broyard has written a collection that is partly about fathers and daughters, partly about the many difficult choices facing young women trying to find their place in life.

Though not as good as Byers’ collection, Broyard’s stories do have their moments. I have two favourites — “At the Bottom of the Lake” is about a girl trying to maintain her relationship with her father, a task hindered by her wicked stepmother.

And in “Mr. Sweetly Indecent,” a woman confronts her adulterous father. Broyard’s men are almost always insensitive and selfish oafs – but I am not sure if the stories are feminist pieces. Because the women are no saints either.

Certainly worth a try

Diamond Dust: Stories by Anita Desai

In this richly diverse collection, Desai trains her luminous spotlight on private universes, stretching from India to New England, from Cornwall to Mexico. Skillfully navigating the fault lines between social obligation and personal loyalties, the men and women in these nine tales set out on journeys that suddenly go beyond the pale –or surprisingly lead them back to where they started from.

I don’t really like short stories as a genre. I like novels which last for ever, keeping my interest alive in the characters. But what can I say about Desai – everybody knows that she’s brilliant. In these stories, I was amazed to find protagonists who are not Indians or non-resident Indians — there’s even one about a Mexican town. But my favourite story was one set in India, about an Indian woman who rents a barsati in New Delhi. “The Rooftop Dwellers” is Desai at her wittiest.

Don’t be put off by the first story in the collection — I found it boring and meaningless. But all the other stories are gems.

I am currently engrossed in Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music – Seth is another author I have been meaning to read for a long time. This novel — the tale of an English violinist in love with a pianist he abandoned ten years ago — is engrossing despite the fact I am tone-deaf and cannot tell a Beethoven from a Bach. If I bypass all the musical references and still find it interesting, then Seth is talented indeed.

I wondered if the film rights to this novel had been snapped up because I keep visualising Hugh Grant rushing out of a bus and running down London streets in pursuit of his beloved.

It turns out there is indeed a movie in the offing but I couldn’t find any more details.

This entry was posted in anita desai, bharati mukherjee, bliss broyard, michael byers, vikram seth. Bookmark the permalink.

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