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Book Nook - 12-03-2018

Monday, March 12, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Fate’s Cruel Joke
Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage comes with Oprah Winfrey’s recommendation, which will undoubtedly help the wonderful novel get a wider readership.

The title sounds dull, but Jones has written a very moving book about a love triangle between three people, whose lives are devastated by a cruel twist of fate.

Roy is an ambitious black man, who rose to corporate success from an impoverished background; his unwed mother was offered love and a name for her child by the kind Roy Sr. Roy Jr. falls in love with and marries Celestial, a rich black woman and artist on her way to success. Celestial has a childhood friend, Andre, who was heartbroken when she married another man, but stood by her regardless.

The 18-month-old marriage is shattered when Roy is arrested for a rape he did not commit and sentenced to twelve years in prison. Because of the inherent racism in the system, Celestial’s testimony is not even taken seriously and neither is DNA analysis sought. Celestial’s Uncle Banks, a lawyer, pursues an appeal, but warns the two that it will take time and money.

For some time, Celestial visits and writes to Roy—their letters form a large section of the book-- but her despair slowly eats into her, and she turns to Andre for support.  Her career takes off, and Roy is saddened to note that she never mentions him; it is as if she is ashamed that her husband is incarcerated, even though she knows he is innocent.

Roy’s cellmate Walter (and there’s a surprise here) becomes his friend and protector, as he tries to keep his spirits up and wait for Banks’s efforts to come through. He does not know what to believe of the existence of his marriage when Celestial stops visiting, but does not initiate divorce proceedings. Then, five years later, he is suddenly released and now comes the dreadful price all three have to pay for their love, hope and patience.

Roy had his life wrecked by a racist justice system, and even though he is was wrongly convicted, no man comes out of the prison hellhole mentally or physically intact. Celestial had not been prepared for the emotional turmoil caused by the incident, and Andre makes up for losing her to Roy by being there for her, and for him like a true friend. But when Roy is released, he does not know what is expected of him.  Their story is full of anguish, but also unexpected love.  Celestial’s imperious father, who had not quite approved of Roy, pays his legal fees and chooses to stand by him, berating his daughter for letting down her husband.  Roy meets a woman who unselfishly helps him heal. There can be no happy ending when a man has suffered such a senseless tragedy, but there is acceptance and recovery. A story about romance-separation-infidelity could have been banal, but Tayari Jones writes with empathy and without moral judgment, giving reader all three points of view to let them decide right and wrong. This is a book that will remain with the reader for a very long time.

An American Marriage
By Tayari Jones
Publisher: Algonquin
Pages: 306


Excerpt of An American Marriage
Memory is a queer creature, an eccentric curator. I still look back on that night, although not as often as I once did. How long can you live with your face twisted over your shoulder? No matter what people may say, this was not a failure to remember. I’m not sure it is a failure at all.

When I say that I visit the Piney Woods Inn in my waking dreams, I’m not being defensive. It’s merely the truth. Like Aretha said, A woman’s only human... She’s flesh and blood, just like her man. No more, no less.

My regret is how hard we argued that night, over his parents, of all things. We had fought harder even before we married, when we were playing at love, but those were tussles about our relationship. At the Piney Woods, we tangled about history, and there is no fair fight to be waged about the past. Knowing something I didn’t, Roy called out “November 17,” stopping time. When he left with the ice bucket, I was glad for him to go.

I called Andre, and after three rings he picked up and talked me down, sane and civil as always. “Ease up on Roy,” he said. “If you lose it every time he tries to come clean, you’re encouraging him to lie.”

“But,” I said, not ready to let go. “He didn’t even — ”

“You know I’m right,” he said without being smug. “But what you don’t know is that I’m entertaining a young lady this evening.”

 “Pardon moi,” I said, happy for him.

“Gigolos get lonely, too,” he said.

I was still grinning when I hung up the phone.

And I was still smiling when Roy appeared at the door with the ice bucket extended in his arms like a bouquet of roses, and by then my anger had cooled like a forgotten cup of coffee.

“I’m sorry,” he said, taking the drink from my hand. “This has been burning a hole in my pocket. Think how I feel. You have this perfect family. Your father is a millionaire.”

“He didn’t always have money,” I said, something that I seemed to say at least once a week. Before my father sold his orange juice solution to Minute Maid, we were like any other family in Cascade Heights, what the rest of America thinks of as middle-middle class and what black America calls upper-middle class. No maid. No private school. No trust fund. Just two parents, each with two degrees and, between them, two decent jobs.

“Well, as long as I’ve known you, you have been a rich man’s daughter.”

“A million dollars doesn’t make you rich-rich,” I said. “Real rich people don’t have to earn their money.”

“Rich-rich, nouveau rich . . . any kind of rich looks rich from where I’m sitting. There is no way I was going to roll up on your father in his mansion and tell him that I’ve never met my daddy.”

He took a step toward me and I moved toward him.

 

ALSO RECEIVED
Ajay Kamalakaran's collection of stories is set in the island of Sakhalin, the place where Russia meets Japan. The summary states, “A cleaning lady frustrated with the lack of manners of the occupants of the building sets out to teach them a lesson or two. Philandering ways and addiction to alcohol force a marriage to flounder and the wife to seek divorce. In Sakhalin, the land of opportunities, a girl from the Russian hinterland flits from one man to another before settling down. A group of friends becomes victim to street hooliganism in the capital city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, while a young British girl succumbs to the vile machinations of a local Russian, jealous of her success, leading to her deportation. Tragic fate awaits a Russian girl who leaves her boyfriend for a seaman. Globetrotting for Love and Other Stories from Sakhalin Island is a brutal, yet honest compilation of stories told in a style that not only pounds on the reader’s sensibilities and emotions but claws at the soul. The place is as much a character as the people who inhabit this collection. These are tales of love, lust, greed, hope, ambition and confusion resulting from the oil boom and its aftermath on the island and subsequent coming together of many worlds.”
 
Globetrotting For Love And Other Stories From Sakhalin Island
By Ajay Kamalakaran
Publisher: Times Group Books
Pages: 135

 

Hamid Baig’s Little Maryam is an emotional love story. According to the synopsis, ”While giving an acceptance speech for his Nobel Prize nomination, Dr. Saadiq Haider, a renowned gene therapist and professor at Stanford University, receives a phone call that changes his life. Abandoning his duties and responsibilities, Saadiq hurriedly boards a flight bound for India, embarking on a journey that spans thousands of miles and pulls him back into a past Saadiq thought long-buried. Seated next to him on the flight, Anne Miller, an intrepid journalist with a nose for headline news, senses the reclusive genius has a story to tell. During the flight, Anne manages to break through Saadiq's hard exterior and listens, rapt, as he unfurls a tale fraught with love and heartbreak. His story transports Anne back in time to a small, sleepy town nestled in the mountains of northern India, where Saadiq spent his childhood. Through Saadiq's narrative, Anne meets Maryam and witnesses the friendship between Maryam and Saadiq mature into an intense love; a love that is tested when tragedy strikes and the lovers are separated. Try as they might, their devotion is no match against the workings of fate, and the tighter Saadiq and Maryam cling to one another, the faster they slip apart. Now, after two decades of trying to forget his past with alcohol and drug abuse, Saadiq tells Anne that fate has acted again; Maryam is in the hospital, her condition critical. When their plane lands in India, the newfound friends part ways and while Saadiq rushes to Maryam's side, Anne returns to her life, grateful to have met the enigmatic man. Months later, Anne learns that after wrenching Maryam from the indomitable grip of death, Saadiq took her back to America, where they finally get married. But, her assumption that the greatest love story she had ever known would end happily is shattered when Anne receives devastating news”
 
Little Maryam
By Hamid Baig
Publisher: Notion Press
Pages: 265

 

The Children’s Book Of Truths is a delightful anthology for kids, written by well-known contributors. Says the summary, “Why do people fight? What’s the use of education? Is India rich or poor? Why are stories important? Can anyone be a leader? Is science only about exams? Will planting trees save the earth? Growing up throws up a lot of questions – about people, events and the world around us. Sometimes the answers are in simple black and white, wrong and right, but mostly they are not. In this book, ten truth-explorers and idea-shapers share with you their thought-provoking views on important topics close to your heart and mind. Drawing on their experiences, they help you see many different sides of a question and arrive at the most important truth – your own conclusion, your own interpretation, your own answer. Subroto Bagchi on Leadership, Shaheen Mistri on Education, Vivek Menon on Nature, Meeta Kumar on the Economy, Manjula Padmanabhan on Gender Bias, Omair Ahmad on Conflict Bibek Debroy on God and Religion, Roopa Pai on Stories, Hartosh Singh Bal on Science and Maths, Kapil Dev on Sports.”
 
The Children’s Book Of Truths
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 204

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