Do you remember your first crush? The thrill? The madness? The excitement? Do you remember the anxiety?
I remember. I was 14 and so was he. He was a geek, (how I loved those glasses!) Had an overbite. ( Isn't that better than saying he had buck teeth a la Dharmendra in Ghazab?) He spoke with a slight South Indian accent. ( I found it super cool....would have used another word but my daughters read this blog.) In other words, I was totally mesmerized.
I remember talking about it with my friends. I remember writing down my name on a sheet of paper, A-P-A-R-N-A and then writing down his below mine , V-I-, well never mind, my husband reads my blog too. I remember striking off the letters that were common to both our names and softly counting the ones that were left. Love, Like , Hate, Adore...ticking off the remaining letters one by one till I arrived at the conclusion. It was such an innocent, silly game.
Two of the books that I read last week dealt with first loves. In Alice Munro's collection of short stories, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage; Johanna, the protagonist of the title story is a strong yet vulnerable woman. The story centres around a deception two school girls play on her and the unusual turn her life takes due to this childish prank. Incidentally, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship Marriage is also the childish game the two preteen girls play to determine the fate of Johanna's love, something very similar to my own Love Like Hate, Adore. Interesting, isn't it?
The book has 9 stories in the collection. Alice Munro, a Canadian author, sets the stories in provincial towns of Canada. The stories are of ordinary women and their ordinary lives. Their dreams, love, fate and aspirations. Nettles, a story that I particularly liked, dealt with a girl's chance meeting with her first love after many years. The story is poignant, reminding us nothing remains the same forever and fate can be cruel at times. Some stories in the collection are simple, some are more complex. The author, the 2009 Man Booker International Prize winner for her lifetime work and a contender for the Nobel Prize, deftly unwraps the lives of women in small town Canada and moves you with her simple and powerful narration.
I do not know whether I should recommend the book. Authors like Chekhov, Saki, O Henry or Edgar Allen Poe, to name a few short story writers, have impressed me more than Alice Munro. But you can try out her books, they are definitely worth a read.
The other book that I read was South Of The Border, West Of The Sun by Haruki Murakami, a Japanese author, now settled in the USA. This 186 page novel, which you can finish in 2 days, is a somewhat touching tale of Hajime and Shimamoto who were classmates in an elementary school. They have similar taste in music ( the title of the book is taken from a song by Nat King Cole) and spend hours listening to songs in the girl's house.They are perhaps in love but are too young to know for sure.Years later, Hajime, now a successful owner of a jazz bar, married with a pair of kids, meets Shimamoto again and they begin their clandestine love story.
This book is about wrong choices we often make in our lives. A flawed man, Hajime is not your typical hero. He is selfish and insecure and he ultimately does something that causes his almost perfect life to come crashing down around him. A lot of people would perhaps identify with his character. His lady-love Shimamoto on the contrary is a mystery woman. Till the end the reader has no idea about her true nature. All we get are some small glimpses into her life. Sometimes sappy, sometimes touching, the book left a lasting impression on me, though I admit I really hated Hajime at times. I loved Murakami's style. I now know why there are some people who swear by him and I would definitely love to read more of his work. His language is soft and rich and each word dazzles. He creates a strong imagery in your mind and you can see his characters right in front of you. Although, this perhaps is not the best work by Murakami, it still is a highly enjoyable read.
There was a delightful book that I picked up called In The Pond by Ha Jin, a Chinese writer, settled in, you guessed it, USA. The literature students would be familiar with the Picaresque novels of Europe in the 17th and 18th century. In The Pond reminded me of those novels.The protagonist, Shao Bin, works as a pipe fitter in a fertilizer factory in a small village in Northern China. He is a senior worker and deserves an apartment in the Worker's Park Apartment Compound. But he gets passed over for the corrupt officials of the Communist Party and their cronies. The episodic novel tells the story of how Shao Bin, with the help of his art (he is a calligrapher) and a few journalist friends, takes on the commune's Party Secretary and fights for his rights. I loved the book. The book (only 178 pages) made me realize how similar the Indian Babus are and how the common Indians, waiting for a telephone connection, a house, a gas connection are harassed every day by these corrupt bureaucrats of our country. The Indians and the Chinese are not so different after all. The Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai slogan may actually mean more than we ever thought! Who else will know better than the officials who coin such terms! I highly recommend the book. It is funny and entertaining. You will not be disappointed.
The other book that I finished was The Bookseller Of Kabul, by Asne Seierstad, a Norwegian journalist. The story is an account of her stay with an Afghan family in Kabul. It is yet another tale of Afghanistan's tyrannical male dominated society and the brutal treatment of Afghani women. Apart from making me happy about the country of my birth, the book did not do any thing for me. It lacked the raw emotions of A Thousand Splendid Suns or the poignancy of The Kite Runner. This was nothing new and can be completely avoided. Those who have not read Khaled Hosseini's books on Afghanistan however should definitely pick up his books. I simply adore them.
I am thoroughly enjoying my journey of the world through books. The next few books on my list are
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I love her poetry and I did not know she also wrote novels. This apparently is the only novel she wrote.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, in fact I have already finished this one. It is a superb read.
In The Country Of Men by Hisham Matar.
I hope you will keep on recommending books for me to read. This is such a wonderful world, this world of books...