The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Title:  The Namesake

Author:  Jhumpa Lahiri

Paperback:  291 pages

ISBN:  9780618485222

For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy - a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts.  It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding.  Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect.

-The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, pages 49-50

My first experience with the Ganguli family happened two years ago when I brought the DVD copy of the movie home from the library.  I thought then that it was a beautiful and rich story, and was excited to find out it was also a book.  After a few months of picking it up and putting it back, I finally bought a paperback of it from Waldenbooks about a year or so ago, but it sat on the shelf since then… calling to me whenever I looked in the general area of the bookshelf where it sat.  And after reading Confessions of a Shopaholic, I decided it was time for something a little more lasting and meaningful, so I finally began the journey and story of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, and their children Gogol and Sonia.

When thinking about how to describe The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, the word that keeps coming to mind is “quiet”.  Lahiri slowly weaves a beautiful tapestry of the love and living and feelings of being an immigrant family.  The different customs and how the culture of the land in which you live can so overtake you and change you in ways you can’t even realize.  First and foremost, it is a love story:  The love of a man and wife, the love of parents for their children, the love for one’s family, and the love of one’s homeland.  It’s also a story of the journey we all must take of self-acceptance, and, after that, the acceptance of others.  Of course, the “Indian-ness” of it is also beautiful and intriguing.

One of the things I find fascinating from this book is the realization that all people everywhere share the burden of growing up, of culture, and of the hopes and expectations of their parents.  For the majority of us, we caring these burdens among our own people… fellow humans who share similar experiences in this and this helps us not feel so alone.  However, for those who have left their native lands, there can be a constant ache and isolation as they endure the struggles of life without the ability to lean on someone who can understand how they feel.  What’s more, the first generation born in another land are even more isolated, having one foot in the old and new country, they can neither relate to their parents who have no understanding of the way things are in their adopted homeland, nor can they fully relate to their peers who either don’t have any concept of their home life or they find it a curiosity.

Interestingly, after reading this book, it has made me take a second look and given me a deeper respect for Maggie’s dad, who left his own homeland of Vietnam more than ten years ago and has recently become a naturalized US citizen.  Not that I didn’t have respect for him before, but rather gained a bit more empathy for him.  It’s also given me another perspective with Maggie, who made a passing comment recently how she sometimes wishes she was either all Vietnamese or all white, as being both sometimes makes her feel outside of either culture.

For it’s quiet beauty and it’s lasting effect, I give The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri 4 and a 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Title:  Haunted

Author:  Chuck Palahniuk

Paperback:  412 pages

Date Published:  2006

Publisher:  Vintage

ISBN:  9780099497172

Looking back, it was Mr. Whittier’s stand that we’re always right.

“It’s not a matter of right and wrong,” Mr. Whittier would say.

Really, there is no wrong.  Not in our own minds.  Our own Reality.

…In your own mind, you are always right.  Every action you take – what you do or say or how you choose to appear – is automatically right the moment you act.

…We’re all condemned to be right.  About everything we can consider.

In this shifting, liquid world where everyone is right and any idea is right the moment you act on it, Mr. Whitier would say, the only sure thing is what you promise.

“Three months, you promised,” Mr. Whittier says through the steam of his coffe.

It’s then something happens, but not much.

In that next look, you feel your asshole get tight.  Your fingers fly to cover your mouth.

Miss America is holding a knife in one hand.  With her other hand, she grips the knot of Mr. Whittier’s necktie, pulling his face up toward her own.  Mr. Whittier’s coffee, dropped, spilled steaming-hot on the floor.  His hands hang, shaking, swirling the dusty air at ech side.

Saint Gut-Free’s silver bag of instant crepe Suzette drops, spilled out on the cornflower-blue carpet, the sticky red cherries and reconstituted whipped cream.

And the cat runs over for a taste.

Her eyes almost touching Mr. Whittier’s, Miss America says, “So I’m right if I kill you?”

-Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk, pages 60-61

Hauntedby Chuck Palahniuk is the stories and poems within a bigger story that is the shadow of the truth.  It is the camera behind the camera behind the camera, as is often said in the book.  It’s the story of a collection of strangers who have all answered an ad about a writer’s retreat, but find it’s a lot more than they bargained for.  Mr. Whittier, the operator of the “retreat” tells them that they’ve promised to write and, for the  next three months, he intends to hold them to that promise.  However, there is an unfortunate hiccup in the plan when Whittier dies from a busted gut after eating the equivalent of 10 freeze-dried turkey dinners.  Now the strangers are on their own, locked in an abandoned hotel/theater, each with their own guilt and story to haunt them.

From a psychological/sociological point of view, this book is fascinating.  It’s  a bit like Lord of the Fliesin that it is the witness of the de-evolution of society.  How depraved can people get?  How little humanity will be left at the end of the three month period?  When food runs out (because they’ve all sabotaged the supplies) what will they eat?  That they are all there as writers and artists, what will they do with this time they are given?

It is a dark look into the human soul.  The Missing Link states that it is how we treat the animals around us that shows our humanity… the cat disappears shortly after he says this.  Director Denial makes a statement again and again that people turn each other into objects, then turn objects into people.  Points are made that humans have  a low threshhold of tolerance to boredom, that we seek out a villain to blame all our troubles on, and that we thrive on chaos, drama and disaster.  There’s no joy like the joy found in another’s suffering.  That all this drama and difficulty is to prepare us for our final act, our own death.

While these are the concepts that drew me to this book, I found the book itself a bit on the boring side.  I kept falling asleep… though, that may have been because I couldn’t nibble while reading due to the nauseatingly disgusting content.  Haunted has more canabalism in it that the Donner Party was ever accused of.  The graphic descriptions of the toilets backing up, the cooking of a baby, and decomposition were enough to make me gag. 

This is only my second Palahniuk book, Rant being my first, and I’m aware he can be a bit disgusting and warped.  One review I read said that Hauntedwas for the true Palahniuk fans.  I’ve got a few more of his books on Mt. TBR, but I think I’m going to wait for a while before reading another by him… let my stomach settle.  It’s definitely NOT for the faint of heart.

Even though it was gut-churningly gross, the intellectual appeal was enough to keep me reading on.  I give Hauntedby Chuck Palahniuk 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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One of my favorite parts of my Border’s newsletters is the shortlist.  When Palahniuk’s book Snuff came out, the following video was his shortlist offering.  I think it was this vid that made me want to read more Palahniuk (as well as pick up Clown Girl)

TSS -Mad Dash for the Finish Line!

The Sunday Salon.com

Happy Sunday! and Merry (almost) Christmas :-)

I have been a readin’ fool this week; I’m trying to reach my goal of 75 books by December 31st. I’ve really made progress this past week, but I’ve also been busy on Second Life, as well. I could probablyget more read if I stayed off SL, but I need balance between the two loves. At any rate, the following books were read and reviewed on Mt. TBR this week:

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil GaimanI am blown away by Gaiman’s ability to weave magic throughout his writing. A master at creating art, the pages of a book are his canvas and words his medium. I will definitely be reading more Gaiman in the new year!

Robot Dreamsby Sara Varon A very cute and touching graphic novel that tells a story of Dog and Robot without words. Great for a family of all ages to share, Robot Dreams shows the fragile and organic nature of friendships and relationships.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Unionby Michael Chabon  In this murder mystery, Chabon uses an alternate timeline to mix Jewish culture with the Arctic setting of Sitka, Alaska. Landsman is a maverick detective with personality failings and quirks, i.e. an alcoholic afraid of the dark. Yiddish Policemen’s is a story of the love children have for their fathers, and how age never dims their desire for their fathers’ acceptance and love.

The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis  Last of the Narnias to be written, Lewis intended The Magician’s Nephew to be read first. It gives the background of the events to take place in the most widely known Narnia book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. However, I think I enjoyed reading it better having read the latter first.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis  The most widely known and read of all the Narnia tales, this book is one of my all-time favorites. This is the fourth time I’ve read it, not to mention having watched both the BBC TV production and the Disney movie version several times. Written as a Christian allegory of the work of Salvation, this story is still enjoyable without that as a reader’s focus.

Besides reading these books, I’ve also launched a second BookBucks Giveaway. After receiving a disconcerting email from Joshua Henkin about the potential narrowing of new book selection due to the decline in publishing profits, I wondered what I could do to bring this concern to more people. And what brings more people in than free money? Don’t forget to sign up for your chance to win a $25, $15, $10, and $5 gift card to your choice of Borders, Amazon or Barnes & Nobles!

In the coming week my plans for reading are: The remaining five Narnia books, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling, Brisingr(the third book in The Inheritance cycle) by Christopher Paolini, The Book Thiefby Markus Zusak, and Visions of Sugar Plums(Stephanie Plum Christmas novel) by Janet Evanovich. I also plan on finishing the books I’ve started but not completed this year: A Wrinkle in Timeby Madeline l’Engle, Bed, Bath and Beyond by J. D. Warren, and How to Be a Villianby Neil Zawacki. Okay, even without the kids here, this may be an ambitious list… lol.

As to Second Life, my vampire clan has split again and this time I’ve gone with the new family. Chosen Immortal is everything Treasured Vamps was suppose to be but has lost their way and become more about numbers, titles and politics. I’ve also moved from my old apartment to a floor in a friend’s castle. I’ve gained more space at about a tenth of the cost. I’m also going to be selling pictures and other things at a friend’s store, C&C’s Designs.

AND… due to an accidental purchase of a pregnancy pack, my avatar is now expecting. A $1500L mistake, I figured I’d just go ahead and use it… hate to spend the money and then throw it away. Currently, the little one’s name is “Mommy’s li’l Oops!”. It’s a boy (I have three girls in real life, by golly I’m having a boy this time ;-) ), and I’m not sure what to name him. Since BF is a werewolf, I had a half a thought to name him “Wolf”… lol… last name “Blitzstein”… That’s funny, because, unthinking, I made a comment the name “Wolf” worked well for the newsman Wolf Blitzer. Hahaha!

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