Letters from Skye … a review

The title of this book contains two favourite words, so even before I began reading it, I knew I would like it. The entire book is written in the form of letters – between a poetess Elspeth from Skye and her pen pal David from America, and parallely Elspeth’s daughter Margaret’s letters to various people. Elspeth and David correspond during World War I and Margaret’s letters are based around the Second World War. It all begins when, upon the publication of a book of poems, Elspeth receives a rather sweet letter from a ‘fan’ in America. The story spans two generations, about two decades, two wars, and two continents – finally reaching culmination at the St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh (it’s on Palmerston place on the West end, it’s beautiful).

The book is very well written. There isn’t much surprise in the way of the plot because the letters alternate between the two women’s stories and Margaret’s story fills us in on the gaps left in Elspeth’s. So, no surprises, really, but I enjoyed the concept and the backdrop of the war and of life on Skye. Skye is stunning and the idea of a poetess penning her thoughts as poems and letters and slowly but surely falling in love with a man she’d never met is just my type of thing. Let me warn you, however, it might not be everybody’s cup of tea; which is possibly why this book has got mixed reviews on websites etc

But like I said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It brought scenes from Skye, Edinburgh, and London quite vividly in my head. The writing is atmospheric and evocative; the emotions expressed are very natural and believable. I’d recommend it.


Sylvia Plath

Today is Sylvia Plath‘s death anniversary. Somehow, it seems more appropriate to remember her on this day than on the day of her birth. today was the day when she decided to take life and matters into her own hands and leave this world of her own free will. I love her poetry. I think it is deep, and beautiful, and touching. It is also, in my opinion, slightly gendered. In the sense that, I think women would relate and feel more from it than men. But that’s just me, I’m sure many men understand her just as well. I like how she used to write of things that constrained her, and constrained her demons too. Imagine leading a life with such talent and such a lot of pressure for it. Giving up her entire life in a country and moving to foreign shores, composing new poems, making new friends… what a life led! What a life…
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

I re-read The Bell Jar again, the story of the deep downward spiral into depression and nervous breakdown. It is such a dark book. And in the light of darker female protagonists dominnating the Hollywood movie scenes of late, Sylvia’s words put even more spice into the mix. I have always recommended her writing – for the sense of universal tragedy evoked as an extension of personal pain. Read ‘Colossus’… see how the loss of her father figure is extended into the falling of a giant statue… beautiful!

A blue sky out of the Oresteia
Arches above us. O father, all by yourself
You are pithy and historical as the Roman Forum.
I open my lunch on a hill of black cypress.
Your fluted bones and acanthine hair are littered

In their old anarchy to the horizon-line.
It would take more than a lightning-stroke
To create such a ruin.
Nights, I squat in the cornucopia
Of your left ear, out of the wind,

Counting the red stars and those of plum-color.
The sun rises under the pillar of your tongue.
My hours are married to shadow.
No longer do I listen for the scrape of a keel
On the blank stones of the landing.

Monsieur … a review

Lolita is one of my favourite books of all time. It is thought-provoking, jarring, and extremely well-written. Heck, it is one of the best works of 20th century literature. Now, I picked up this book because reviews described it as ‘Lolita-esque’. And man, did this book have that potential! The author writes about the erotic relationship between Ellie Becker, in her 20s, and Monsieur, a married man with five sons in his mid-40s. Although Ellie is technically an adult, the difference in age means that she is considered a ‘nymphette’ by her lover.

This book, funnily enough, was titled Mister when written originally in French. Anyway, the two characters bond over erotic poetry and as winter creeps in on France, they become involved in clandestine sessions in a hotel room. By this point of the book, I was loving it. It was very lyrical, the sexting kept it relevant to modern times, and I was quite warming up to it. Some of the lines are beautiful:

Even the fingers lingering on the back of my neck felt clothed, elegant, and relaxed. For a few minutes they fluttered all the way down to my spine, caresses I had never experienced before, disturbingly reaching for the depths of my soul.
Paris held its breath.

At some point, however, the narrative kept going steadily downhill. The emotions were repetitive; the characters were not feeling enough to warrant all the pages and it just got dragging. For a while, when the man disappears and Ellie becomes obsessed with his wife, I thought something interesting was going to happen, but nothing did.

And finally, they ended their relationship and I was quite relieved. The erotic bits of the novel started out wonderful as well, and then just became annoying and kind of gross. If you do read the book, you’ll know why I say that. And it was pointless gross, it added nothing to the narrative. The author is Emma Becker and the protagonist is Ellie Becker, I did find that slightly odd as well.

Anyway, towards the end, I was definitely annoyed because the book was being compared by people (idiots) to Lolita, and this book doesn’t hold a candle to that masterpiece, I tell you. Clearly, not a lot of people understand Humbert, or Nabokov.

My Kaleidoscope … a review

There are many reasons to read books based on the holocaust. Most importantly, it is a piece of very important world history. Nothing before it was as we know it, nothing that came after will ever be the same. How can we as humanity, choose to shut out parts of history that are unpalatable? No one shuts out men landing on the moon… Why then, would you shut out genocide? Is it too unpleasant? Perhaps too far removed? I think we understand ourselves best by understanding where our surrounding came from. Right, now that was good to have that rant. It was a result of me finding out that apparently reviewers turn down books about the holocaust.
Anyway, Shari has merely retold her great grandmother Emma’s story. So as an author, her contribution is minimal, she is just the messenger, which is how a memoir should be. Sort of like Otto Frank’s publishing of Anne’s diary. Now, Emma was not a little girl so obviously this book is from an adult perspective. Which is good in a way that it makes it easier to read because the author is on the same plane or even the same place in life. However, it is even more horrific because the author, the victim, truly understands what’s going on around them. There’s no childhood filter, no blissful ignorance, and no father/mother figure to look up to. Emma Fuchs was a truly inspiring woman, back in the day she was a good businesswoman, and back in the day she also watched as it was taken away from her, along with her husband.
I will not try to process in words what people had to go through in concentration camps and the like. I cannot even imagine the cruelty that man can mete out to man. But it is through these real tests of absolute hardship that heroes like Emma emerge. She survived, and what’s more, gave up everything to forge a better future for her daughter by emigrating. It is a beautifully written book. I would recommend it as a new year read, for it will serve you well in a time of some retrospection and introspection.

I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust … a review

The first book by Mathias B. Freese that I reviewed was last year, it too, like this one, was short stories. So, naturally, I approached this latest book with a certain set of preconceived notions about his style of writing and the overall content. It was however, quite a different experience. Freese is a gifted writer. I say this because I have read quite a few books about the holocaust and this has such a different approach to the whole issue. Each story involves a folk tale, or a fable, from Jewish folklore. And creatures, both good and bad, come alive to take the characters of the book through bizarre journeys.

One of the stories that touched me most was one that involved a ‘golem’ . “In Jewish folklore, a golem is an animated anthropomorphic being, magically created entirely from inanimate matter.” Mothers tell children stories of the golem as a creature that must be summoned when no hope remains and the world is dark. A Jew who is escaping from a camp has the golem in his head and conversations follow. The story is bone-chilling. I have always marvelled at the cruelty of man to man but never have I come across such raw rendering of emotions. Even the story about Hitler’s relationship with Eva seems true.

Needless to say, it is a most depressing read. Do approach with caution. This book affected me almost as much as Anne Frank’s work, and that is the highest praise I can give it.


My Life In A Nutshell … a review



Tanya J Peterson was kind to invite me to be part of her blog tour and I was more than happy to take her up on the offer. After over a year since I reviewed Leave of Absence, I was prepared to be sucked into another tale of agonising and debilitating mental illness. ‘Nutshell’ is the state in which our central characters live – Brian and Abigail. Brian in in his early thirties and suffers from a chronic anxiety disorder He stays away from everyone and everything and has an ordinary job as a handyman at a local school. On the outside, he is a normal young man, who loved cycling to work, hiking in the woods, gardening and growing fresh produce, and animals. But on the inside, Brian is troubled and lost. Everyday actions like picking out a set of clothes, grocery shopping, and pleasant interaction pushes him towards severe panic attacks.

Life conspires and he meets Abigail Harris at school. A little girl of seven, she throws tantrums, behaves badly, and brings hell down if anyone tries to cross her. She lives with her Aunt and Uncle, who are at their wits’ end already. Brian and Abigail strike up a very likely friendship. It was clear to me as a reader that they both were dealing with similar issues. I also felt that Brian was the unfortunate result of an Abigail growing up in neglect.

This is the story of a beautiful friendship and a careful clutch of people who make this possible. One of the nice things about this book is that all the secondary characters are very well thought-out. They’re each indispensible to the story. The Harrises, Brian’s colleague Roger, the principal of the school, Brian’s counsellor, and Abigail’s teachers. Each of the characters is heartwarming in their efforts to ensure that both flourish.

While I enjoyed this book thoroughly, I felt, at times, that Brian’s ‘episodes’ were long drawn out and seemingly endless. But when I came to the bits where he was on the verge of receiving help, it made me want it so bad too, on his behalf. The author has managed to instill that yearning in the reader as well, which is pretty impressive! Worth a read!

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories … a review

This is a book of fairytales, yes, the real kind! I picked it up at the book fair this year judging by it’s beautiful hardback cover. Yes, I am guilty! Anyway, apparently the author Susanna Clarke is quite famous from having written another series of such tales, but I must confess I had never heard of her. So the book has short stories set in strange and mysterious villages, where women weave magic or are woven into it, from time to time. As another reviewer on Goodreads puts it better “She is so good at making a whole world out of hints and references. Notice that she never has to get out of character and explain anything to the reader, she is always able to make the dialogue and the situations do the work for her, letting the action of her scenes reveal everything. This not only creates a strong, confident authorial voice, it also means that she is never obliged to break her pacing to ‘catch us up’, and so the thick, vibrant tone of her stories is never interrupted or betrayed.”

The scenes are usually commonplace and ordinary, but magic, like we all know, lurks behind every other corner. My personal opinion is – read the book if you are fond of fantasy. The style of writing is a bit strange. Not to say that it isn’t good, it is just a little unusual. The plot travels sloooowwwly, and then something quite exciting happens and the pattern is the same for all the stories and that was the thing that kept me going. But the illustrations are beautiful, so beautiful!


Happy Birthday, Robert Louis Stevenson!

He was an alumni of my University, I didn’t know it was going to be that way when I voraciously read his works as a child. I think he is a writer of extraordinary merit and literary genius. I think it is a priviledge to have lived in his country. Here is one of my favourites and one of his littler known works.

The Lamplighter

My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky.
It’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by;
For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,
With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.

Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea,
And my papa’s a banker and as rich as he can be;
But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I’m to do,
O Leerie, I’ll go round at night and light the lamps with you!

For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And oh! before you hurry by with ladder and with light;
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night!

-Robert Louis Stevenson


Taken on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh

The Book Thief … a review

I have heard so so much about this book since the longest time and so, when I picked it up, I was sure I’d love it. I didn’t know then that the book had been on the New York Times Bestseller list, not did I know that there was a movie, due to hit screens on 15th November. All of this I found out while I was reading the book. All I knew was that it had received rave reviews, that it was narrated by Death, and it was Nazi Germany.

Liesel Meminger, the book thief, is taken in by the Hubermanns who live on Himmel Street. In a novel that symbolises everyday objects, books, an accordion, a window, a street, different characters come alive. All of them battling a fear – fear of the world, fear of getting caught, fear of showing compassion, and fear of living and loving. As Liesel adjusts to life on Himmel Street, she must slowly grow up, she must face up to a cruel world, that will eventually take everything away from her.

Google the book for reasons why it is a must read. However, read on to find out why i didn’t like it. This is not to say that I wouldn’t recommend it; I would, but it is not one of the best ever books as people have made it out to be.

1. It is narrated by Death. Okay, innovative, I agree. But it is only ‘cool’ for the first ten chapters or so, after that, it just becomes normal narration. The Death signature sort of disappears through large parts of the book and then reappears in other bits.

2. I do not like the amount of swearing in the book. It is a way for Rosa Hubermann to demonstrate her acceptance, affection, fear, grief, everything. It put me off. It made me want to skip scenes where she was speaking any sentences riddled with abuses and slangs. She is a brilliant woman, kind and caring, but her verbosity was just annoying.

3. It felt like a very long book. For a large part in the middle, I felt like nothing was happening. I loved the bits where the family hides a Jew, but anything surrounding it was just faff.

For a lovely father-daughter relationship book, read it. For a general everyday life during the war account, read it. So, as far as Nazi Germany themed books are concerned, I will stick to Anne Frank or even Between Shades of Grey.