Tag Archives: indian fiction

Blog Tour: And Laughter Fell from the Sky by Jyotsna Sreenivasan

 “Still living at home despite a good career and financial independence, beautiful and sophisticated Rasika has always been the dutiful daughter. With her twenty-sixth birthday fast approaching, she agrees to an arranged marriage, all while trying to hide from her family her occasional dalliances with other men.

Abhay is everything an Indian-American son shouldn’t be. Having spent his postcollege years living in a commune, he now hops from one dead-end job to another, brooding over what he really wants to do with his life.

Old family friends, Rasika and Abhay seem to have nothing in common, yet when the two reconnect by chance, sparks immediately fly. Abhay loves Rasika, but he knows her family would never approve. Rasika reluctantly accepts she has feelings for Abhay, but can she turn her back on the family rules she has always tried so hard to live by? The search to find answers takes Abhay and Rasika out of their native Ohio to Oregon and India, where they find that what they have together might just be something worth fighting for.”

Indian fiction is one of my favorite genres. Readers of Stiletto Storytime usually catch on to this addiction pretty quickly as my love of books inspired by or relating to India is displayed on a regular basis. I’m always searching for the next read and it’s naturally become harder and harder over the years to feed my hunger as I have already devoured most of what’s available. It’s no wonder I was so excited to dive into And Laughter Fell from the Sky.

Within it’s pages readers are introduced to two young Indian-American characters trying to navigate the difficult waters of marriage in modern day America while still staying true to the beliefs and traditions of their families and their mother country. No two individuals could be more different than Rasika and Abhay but in many ways they are still united in this cultural pressure to appease their families with their major life choices. Although we learn quickly that they handle and view this responsibility very differently as shown by the way in which they live their lives.

What I found most interesting was the illusion that either character was really embracing a typical modern American lifestyle. Rasika, to me represented a character of extremes in many ways. While on one hand she is a successful banker, she also lives at home with her parents letting them monitor her every move as if she were a child and yet she has this side of her life where she makes rash decisions when it comes to men often leading to promiscuous behavior but sustaining no real relationships of any kind. Often coming across vain, materialistic and selfish- at times it was hard to even like Rasika much less root for her and her view of the world was very difficult to relate to. She almost used her culture’s strictness and traditional practices as a crutch to get what she wanted and what she haw herself as deserving without having to make those tough decisions or work things out for herself.

Abhay on the other hand seems to abhor many of the characteristics of modern society, he is always actively searching for a more simplistic way of life such as the one he sought out within the commune. While he seems unfazed by the demands made by his family in relation to status and career, we still find him limited by his culture when it comes to marriage because of his love for Rasika and how important this approval is for her. Abhay to me represented a very free individual making his own choices but that quickly changed once his feelings for Rasika developed. I often questioned what this man who sought natural beauty and believed so strongly in truth and simplicity saw in Rasika?

The whole work created a very intriguing paradox of this desire for the “American dream” and it’s financial stability and status while also still so strongly believing in the merit of such an outdated practice such as arranged marriage. The very characters themselves were a kind of off-setting paradox as well. Such extremes coming together in so many ways, it was very intriguing to say the least.

The characters of Rasika and Abhay were very interesting to me and only proved more so…the more I thought them though. I still question them and the novel. It still has me thinking. The novel kept me thinking throughout and on my toes while also questioning even after the last page was read. The work is also said to be inspired by Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth and I look forward to a re-read of that classic in the near future to compare and try to further my understanding of this work. 

Sound interesting? You can follow the official TLC Book Tour here. And make sure to tune in to Book Club Girl On Air on July 18th at 7pm EST to hear author Jyotsna Sreenivasan discuss And Laughter Fell from the Sky. You can also connect with the author on Facebook and Twitter.

7 Comments

Filed under Adult Books, Blog Tour, New Books

Blog Tour: Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

     “Bombay, which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero or heroin of this story…

Jeet Thayil’s luminous debut novel completely subverts and challenges the literary traditions for which the Indian novel is celebrated. This is a book about drugs, sex, death, perversion, addiction, love, and god, and has more in common in its subject matter with the work of William S. Burroughs or Baudelaire than with the subcontinent’s familiar literary lights. Above all, it is a fantastical portrait of a beautiful and damned generation in a nation about to sell its soul. Written in Thayil’s poetic and affecting prose, Narcopolis charts the evolution of a great and broken metropolis.

Narcopolis opens in Bombay in the late 1970s, as its narrator first arrives from New York to find himself entranced with the city’s underworld, in particular an opium den and attached brothel. A cast of unforgettably degenerate and magnetic characters works and patronizes the venue, including Dimple, the eunuch who makes pipes in the den; Rumi, the salaryman and husband whose addiction is violence; Newton Xavier, the celebrated painter who both rejects and craves adulation; Mr. Lee, the Chinese refugee and businessman; and a cast of poets, prostitutes, pimps, and gangsters.

Decades pass to reveal a changing Bombay, where opium has given way to heroin from Pakistan and the city’s underbelly has become ever rawer. Those in their circle still use sex for their primary release and recreation, but the violence of the city on the nod and its purveyors have moved from the fringes to the center of their lives. Yet Dimple, despite the bleakness of her surroundings, continues to search for beauty-at the movies, in pulp magazines, at church, and in a new burka-wearing identity.

After a long absence, the narrator returns to find a very different Bombay in 2004. Those he knew are almost all gone, but the heights of the passion he feels for them and for the city is revealed.”

  Evocative, gritty, at times shocking and yet undeniably poetic at the same time Narcopolis is unlike any novel of India in existence that I am aware of and I have personally read a large number of what is available to readers (however limited  by my need of English translations). It’s one of my favorite areas of literature and has produced some of my most beloved books of all time.  Thrity Umrigar for example is one of my absolute most coveted authors and I wait patiently for each of her books and devour them again and again. Her writing is achingly honest and incontestable in it’s beauty…it’s truly magical and captures India in all it’s allure and undeniable anguish. For me there’s just something about the culture of India that keeps me coming back and perhaps one reason is that stark contrast of grace and tragedy that makes for such an adverse muse for so many talented writers. My travels there created an interest and hunger that I am still to this day trying to feed with my reading habits.

My love affair with India and Indian literature blossomed soon after my trip there in the summer of 2001. While most novels and authors of India at least touch on it’s poverty (it’s nearly impossibly not to since it’s such an open and heartbreaking part of everyday existence) and often troubling caste system very few focus almost exclusively on it’s true underbelly like this work. Drugs, prostitution, crime, lust and multiple religions- Thayil leaves very little untouched and delves deeper than any author I have ever encountered especially into the realm of drug use and addiction. The novel itself is enveloped in a smoky haze that creates an almost dream-like quality to the writing at times. Racing thoughts, dreams of the extraordinarily bizarre and the symptoms of addiction-all make themselves ever present in the narrative.

Spanning three decades of life in the city of Bombay (now modern day Mumbai) the novel focuses on the city’s darker side exploring various characters and their lives and experiences on the city streets and within the “wrong” side of Indian culture. One of Thayil’s main characters is that of the eunuch prostitute Dimple, a perfect example of an individual of both tragic and beautiful elements which the author so well explores in his writing. Bringing together the shadowy history of one of India’s largest cities with the intensely personal lives of a number of unique and unconventional characters Narcopolis is a book that will entrance some while repelling others. In most cases I think those readers drawn in by it’s description will be those that will enjoy it and become lost within it’s pages. It’s not for all but it will find a appreciative audience within which it will be applauded for it’s stark honesty and unerring ability to take a world of pain and tragedy and still show pure beauty no matter how fleeting and tiny- a talent only achievable by truly gifted writers.

Interested readers can follow the Blog Tour for this distinctive work here.

5 Comments

Filed under Adult Books, Blog Tour, New Books

Blog Tour: The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair

 “The redemptive journey of a young woman unsure of her engagement, who revisits in memory the events of one scorching childhood summer when her beautiful yet troubled mother spirits her away from her home to an Indian village untouched by time, where she discovers in the jungle behind her ancestral house a spellbinding garden that harbors a terrifying secret.”

  Some books you don’t read….you experience.

In 2000 I spent weeks traveling through India. It was the end of my first year of college and it was the biggest step I had yet taken in life as an adult, the farthest I had been from home and both the most terrifying and most wonderful journey imaginable. For me India was beauty with a hint of danger and uncertainty at all times much like in this beautiful novel.

At one point we stayed at an old ancestral home in Rajasthan that was an Inn run by the original family. It was large and rambling, made mostly from stone with a wall that encompassed the entire area and a large stone gate that let cars in and out from the busy city street. Inside was an oasis of sorts from the busy streets of India…there was greenery and birds. The family had just had a litter of puppies from one of their dogs so some mornings would be spent on the lawn playing in a mass of little dogs with the colorfully dressed children.

Good writing can take you back to a moment. Great writing can transport you. The Girl in the Garden took me back to my time in that home with it’s descriptive style almost as though I were looking in an album of pictures. Kamala Nair has a rare talent only a  few writers can claim, she can write things in a manner that makes them real to the reader. When she describes a scene…it is enchanting, detailed and just enough information. Her writing is full of visual moments that keep readers satisfied and reflective. She uses the most original metaphors I’ve seen that somehow seem to capture exactly what something is like: “the wisps of hair that gathered around her forehead quivering in the wind like insect legs.”

From the moment I picked up The Girl in the Garden I could not put it down. The dark fairy tale, family drama and sights and sounds of India enthralled me. Her story is intricately layered and yet simple. It’s modern and yet old world. It’s simply stunning.

Kamala Nair will now no doubt be on my top list of authors to watch and read. You can reader other review on this book’s blog tour here.

9 Comments

Filed under Adult Books, Blog Tour, New Books

Review: The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

   The Space Between Us is a harrowing and yet poignantly beautiful tale of the everyday hardships, joys and true tragedies life can offer at any moment. In the city of Bombay resides an old woman named Bhima. Once she had a bright future but now she finds herself living in a slum, working as a domestic servant and taking care of her granddaughter Maya. Torn between her love for her grandchild and the shame Maya has brought to the family, Bhima seems to sit on a precipice of life and death.

Serabai is Bhima’s employer and in some ways her friend. Bhima has worked for Serabai for years but do to the caste system of  no matter how close they have become-distance must be kept. However as Serabai reflects on the hardships in her life it is clear how important Bhima has been not only to herself but also to her daughter Dinaz. Although Sera is a wealthy Parsi, her life has not been without its own pain and suffering. However even a woman who has meant so much in her life must still drink from her own cup in the kitchen and never sit on the furniture. For no matter her love for the family and theirs for her…Bhima is still an inferior individual and servant.

The Space Between Us is a novel of emotion and at times is almost philosophical in its prose. Thrity Umrigar is a writer who weaves words into magic that reflects true reality like a mirror. Her characters become real people right before your eyes as do their hearts, secrets and minds. India as well comes to life in all its vivid colorful beauty and heartbreaking poverty. As a reader who has spent time in India, I have to say that Umrigar brought the country to life in a way that I have rarely seen in words. The sights, sounds, smells and sorrows all came to life right on the page as I read of the lives of these two women. The story of Bhima and Serabai is not a happy one…but it is one of reality. And yet Umrigar manages to make the book a thing of truthful beauty with her amazing talent. This book left me speechless. I did not want it to end and now fully plan on reading all of Umrigar’s books in the future.

8 Comments

Filed under Adult Books, New Books

Indian Fiction

Recently I have been struck by the amazing amount and quality of Indian fiction for readers of all ages. I myself have always loved fiction including characters of Indian descent or stories set in India itself and around that region. I spent a few weeks in India in 2001 and feel in love with the culture and people, reading about it takes me back to my days spent there. While traveling around Rhajistan I read Raj by Gita Mehta. I still have the copy I picked up in a booth in Delhi. Since then I have actively made the genre part of my personal reading on all levels. Whether for adults, teens or children there are some really wonderful works on the shelves. I recently finished There is Room for You and Bitter Sweets both of which are wonderful examples of fictional titles with Indian influences that have arrived in the last year. Both are stellar titles by the way that you must try! I have also done a story time for my preschool group that focused on India and I used many of the picture books that I have listed below.

Adults

There is Room For You by Charlotte Bacon

Bitter Sweets by Roopa Farooki

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Raj by Gita Mehta

Teens

Mango Dark, Koyal Sweet by Kashmira Sheth

Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth

Children

Bhindi Babes, Bhangra Babes and Bollywood Babes by Narinder Dhami

To Market, To Market by Anushka Ravishankar

My Mother’s Sari by Sandhya Rao

Mama’s Sari by Pooja Makhijani

Baya, Baya Lulla-by-a by Megan McDonald

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Adult Books, Children's Picture Books, Young Adult Books