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Book Nook - 16-07-2018

Monday, July 16, 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

The Women’s Network
Meg Wolitzer’s new novel The Female Persuasion—her eleventh-- goes into a story of two generations of feminism, that is particularly apt in these times. Rules of ‘fourth wave’ feminism are being rewritten by the #MeToo movement, perhaps without giving adequate credit to the women who fought for the rights the millennial generation takes for granted.

Greer Kadetsky is a shy, studious girl with stoner parents who pay no attention to her. She sees education and an Ivy League college as a way out of her misery. She shares her academic brilliance and ambition with a poor Latino boy, Cory Pinto, whose family is warm and loving.

Greer and Cory gravitate towards each other with a passionate intensity, and are only separated by her parents’ failure to follow up with a college of her choice. He goes to Yale, while she ends up in the not-so-desirable local college Ryland, keeping in touch over the computer and brief weekend visits, dreaming of a life together. In college, Greer befriends the firebrand gay activist Zee Eisenstat, who is of a totally opposite temperament to the reserved Greer. When a creepy collegemate gropes her at a party, Greer is enraged enough to take action, and this indirectly leads to an encounter with leading feminist writer Faith Frank, who is described as “a couple of steps down from Gloria Steinem in fame,” and has been invited for a guest lecture at Ryland.

Faith has written a seminal book The Female Persuasion and edits a feminist magazine, Bloomer. She is as generous towards women as she is influential in a cause that is clearly losing its sheen. In her youth, Faith had issues like sexual liberation and the right to abortion to fight about, which are no longer at the top of the feminist agenda, and her voice is being somewhat drowned by the shrill rhetoric of the younger magazines and websites like Fem Fatale.  Still, Greer and Zee are dazzled by Faith and dream of working with her.

Bloomer shuts down suddenly, when Greer is due to be interviewed by Faith, but the older woman remembers the brief meeting with the earnest student, and hires her for a new initiative called Loci that she is starting, as a means to give women a platform to be heard and be helped. Loci is funded by the shadowy venture capitalist, Emmett Shrader, who has a history with Faith. For reasons she cannot quite justify even to herself, Greer prevents Zee from also working with Loci, mainly because she does not want to share Faith even with her best friend. She sees Faith as a mother figure, as a harbinger of change in a world that needs a healing touch. Faith gives Greer’s life direction and purpose.

While the novel is essentially a coming of age story that sweeps through a history of feminism in the US, Wolitzer also satirises the ‘rich white female’ idea of feminism, where women pay large sums of money to be seen as supporting the right causes, go back with manicure and a goodie bag. Of course, the ones who attract the attention of the media are donors are celebrities. As Greer immerses herself in her work, Cory’s life goes spectacularly off the rails, and he has to give up a boring but well-paid finance career and make choices about which Greer’s mother in a moment of lucidity says, look a lot like feminism.

The bitterness between the two, leads to a split neither really wants or is able to get through without much heartburn. But the book focuses more on the disillusionment Greer goes through when her idol turns out to be superficial and opportunistic.  It is only when she is forced to confront her own mistakes and misconceptions that Greer’s life finally comes together.

 The Female Persuasion is written with warmth and affection for the characters, and has something significant to say, if the reader wishes to engage with the politics of the book as well as the emotions.
 
The Female Persuasion
By Meg Wolitzer
Publisher: Riverhead
Pages: 464

 

Excerpt of The Female Persuasion
Greer Kadetsky met Faith Frank in October of 2006 at Ryland College, where Faith had come to deliver the Edmund and Wilhelmina Ryland Memorial Lecture; and though that night the chapel was full of students, some of them boiling over with loudmouthed commentary, it seemed astonishing but true that out of everyone there, Greer was the one to interest Faith. Greer, a freshman then at this undistinguished school in southern Connecticut, was selectively and furiously shy. She could give answers easily, but rarely opinions. “Which makes no sense, because I am stuffed with opinions. I am a piñata of opinions,” she’d said to Cory during one of their nightly Skype sessions since college had separated them. She’d always been a tireless student and a constant reader, but she found it impossible to speak in the wild and free ways that other people did. For most of her life it hadn’t mattered, but now it did.So what was it about her that Faith Frank recognized and liked? Maybe, Greer thought, it was the possibility of boldness, lightly suggested in the streak of electric blue that zagged across one side of her otherwise ordinary furniture‑brown hair. But plenty of college girls had hair partially dipped the colors of frozen and spun treats found at county fairs. Maybe it was just that Faith, at  sixty‑three a person of influence and a certain level of fame who had been traveling the country for decades speaking ardently about women’s lives, felt sorry for eighteen‑year‑old Greer, who was  hot‑faced and inarticulate that night. Or maybe Faith was automatically generous and attentive around young people who were uncomfortable in the world.Greer didn’t really know why Faith took an interest. But what she knew for sure, eventually, was that meeting Faith Frank was the thrilling beginning of everything. It would be a very long time before the unspeakable end.She had been at college for seven weeks before Faith appeared. Much of that time, that excruciating buildup, had been spent absorbed in her own unhappiness, practically curating it. On Greer’s first Friday night at Ryland, from along the dormitory halls came the grinding sounds of a collective social life forming.  It soon became an ambient roar, as if there were a generator somewhere deep in the building. The class of 2010 was starting college in a time of supposed coed assertiveness—a time of female soccer stars and condoms zipped confidently inside the pocket of a purse, the ring shape pressing itself into the wrapper like a gravestone rubbing. As everyone on the third‑floor of Woolley Hall got ready to go out, Greer, who had planned on going nowhere, but instead staying in and doing the Kafka reading for her freshman literature colloquium, watched. She watched the girls standing with heads tilted and elbows jutted, pushing in earrings, and the boys aerosolizing themselves with a body spray called Stadium, which seemed to be half pine sap, half A.1. sauce. Then, overstimulated, they all fled the dorm and spread out across campus, heading toward various darkish parties that vibrated with identically shattering bass.Woolley was old and decrepit, one of the original buildings, and the walls of Greer’s room, as she’d described them to Cory the day she arrived, were “the disturbing color of hearing aids.” The only people who remained there after the exodus that night were an assortment of lost, unclaimed souls. There was a boy from Iran who appeared very sad, his eyelashes clustered together in little wet starbursts. He sat in a chair in a corner of the first‑floor lounge with his computer on his lap, gazing at it mournfully. When Greer entered the lounge—her room, a rare single, was too depressing to stay in all evening, and she’d been unable to concentrate on her book—she was startled to realize that he was merely looking at his screen saver, which was a picture of his parents and sister, all of them smiling at him from far away. The family image swept across the computer screen and gently bounced against one side, before slowly heading back.How long would he watch his bouncing family? Greer wondered, and though she didn’t miss her own parents at all—she was still angry with them for what they had done to her, which had resulted in her ending up at Ryland—she felt sorry for this boy. He was away from home on another continent, at a place that perhaps someone had mistakenly told him was a first‑rate American college, a center of learning and discovery, practically a School of Athens nestled on the East Coast of the US. After managing the complicated feat of getting here, he was now alone and quickly becoming aware that this place actually wasn’t so great. And besides that, he was also pining for his family. She knew what it was like to miss someone, for she missed Cory so continually and pressingly that the feeling was like its own shattering bass vibrating through her, and he was only 110 miles away at Princeton, not across the world.

 

SHORT TAKES
Bhaskar Chattopadhyay has written another thriller after Patang. The synopsis of The Disappearance Of Sally Sequeira reads, “The waves still crashed against the rocks.The moon still bathed the sandy beach with its light.And the piano still played on.But, amidst all this, just like that, Sally Sequeira had disappeared.“With its pristine beaches and clear turquoise waters, the picturesque hamlet of Movim in Goa seems like the perfect holiday spot for detective Janardan Maity and his friend Prakash Ray. But when the father of a local teenage girl receives a letter asking for a large sum of money in exchange for his daughter, Maity and Prakash find themselves in the thick of an unlikely mystery. For, they discover, the girl has not been kidnapped at all, and is safe and sound in her house.

“As they begin to investigate, the duo encounter the mysterious characters who inhabit the tiny village, each hiding a secret of their own – not least the frail and shy Sally Sequeira, who keeps to herself but steps out at night to dance to the notes of a piano.

What truth does Movim hide? And how will Janardan Maity solve a crime that has not yet been committed?”
 
The Disappearance Of Sally Sequeira
By Bhaskar Chattopadhyay
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 252

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