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Book Nook - 26-03-2019

Tuesday, March 26, 2019
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

Fight For Life
A woman’s right to safe and legal medical termination of pregnancy gets the religious-minded into a funk. Even in a progressive country like America, the Catholic and far right lobbies use their pro-life beliefs to attack and shut down abortion clinics. Ironically, their idea of life is an unborn foetus, not the well-being of the mother, or the medical practitioners they kill to uphold their misguided cause.

Jodi Picoult, whose books take up issues of the day, has written A Spark Of Light about this contentious subject, and structured it like a thriller. Interestingly, the narrative moves backward, which may take away the suspense, but is otherwise a gripping way of going into gradual flashback to determine what brings a disparate bunch of women together in one place.

A large part of the action and drama takes place in and around The Centre, the only women’s health clinic in Mississippi—which is a factual detail—where women can get legal abortions. The clinic is constantly surrounded by anti-abortion activists, who heckle the staff and patients, but do not resort to violence like protestors in other places. The kindly Dr Louis Ward, who performs the abortions, risks his life to help women, because, as a child, he witnessed the horrifying sight of his mother bleeding to death after an unsafe procedure.

Fifteen-year-old Wren, trying to be a responsible grown-up, has come with her aunt Bex to the clinic to get birth control pills. An older woman Olive, has come for a check up, Joy and Izzy have come for abortions for heartbreaking reasons of their own and Janine pretending to be a patient to spy on the centre.

A gunman, George Goddard breaks into The Centre, shoots dead the owner and a nurse, wounds Bex and Dr Ward, and takes the others hostage.  Outside, Wren’s father Hugh McElroy breaks rules to serve as hostage negotiator, keeping the impatient SWAT team at bay. There is a regular media circus going on outside, as Picoult cuts to the tragedy of Beth, a young woman hospitalized when she nearly loses her life after taking illegal abortion pills, and to the back stories of all the people caught inside the clinic.

Since the reader already knows how it ends, what keeps the page turning is the compassion with which the stories of the desperate women unfold.  Picoult is clearly on the side of the pro-abortion group, but she also tries to get into the mind of Goddard, who, like McElroy, is the single father of a teenage girl.

Women’s reproductive rights have always been under threat; as Dr Ward observes, “this was indeed some crazy world, the waiting period to get an abortion was longer than the waiting period to get a gun.”  Beth’s misfortune underlines this with a sense of mounting horror as a frightened young girl gets embroiled in a legal tug-of-war, which could lead her to jail, while the boy who cheated her gets away.

Race, class, religion and politics complicate what should ideally be a matter of a woman’s choice, after she has been informed of the risks. Dr Ward does this with clinical precision and lack of judgment.  There may be a surfeit of information and some cringe-worthy bits about how the procedure is carried out, but this is undoubtedly a story that needed to be told.

A Spark Of Light
By Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 384

 

Excerpt of A Spark Of Light
The Center squatted on the corner of Juniper and Montfort behind a wrought-iron gate, like an old bulldog used to guarding its territory. At one point, there had been many like it in Mississippi— nondescript, unassuming buildings where services were provided and needs were met. Then came the restrictions that were designed to make these places go away: The halls had to be wide enough to accommodate two passing gurneys; any clinic where that wasn’t the case had to shut down or spend thousands on reconstruction. The doctors had to have admitting privileges at local hospitals—even though most were from out of state and couldn’t secure them—or the clinics where they practiced risked closing, too. One by one the clinics shuttered their windows and boarded up their doors. Now, the Center was a unicorn—a small rectangle of a structure painted a fluorescent, flagrant orange, like a flag to those who had traveled hundreds of miles to find it. It was the color of safety; the color of warning. It said: I’m here if you need me. It said, Do what you want to me; I’m not going.

The Center had suffered scars from the cuts of politicians and the barbs of protesters. It had licked its wounds and healed. At one point it had been called the Center for Women and Reproductive Health. But there were those who believed if you do not name a thing, it ceases to exist, and so its title was amputated, like a war injury. But still, it survived. First it became the Center for Women. And then, just: the Center.

The label fit. The Center was the calm in the middle of a storm of ideology. It was the sun of a universe of women who had run out of time and had run out of choices, who needed a beacon to look up to.

And like other things that shine so hot, it had a magnetic pull. Those in need found it the lodestone for their navigation. Those who despised it could not look away.
Today, Wren McElroy thought, was not a good day to die. She knew that other fifteen-year-old girls romanticized the idea of dying for love, but Wren had read Romeo and Juliet last year in eighth-grade English and didn’t see the magic in waking up in a crypt beside your boyfriend, and then plunging his dagger into your own ribs. And Twilight—forget it. She had listened to teachers paint the stories of heroes whose tragic deaths somehow enlarged their lives rather than shrinking them.
When Wren was six, her grandmother had died in her sleep. Strangers had said over and over that dying in your sleep was a blessing, but as she stared at her nana, waxen white in the open coffin, she didn’t understand why it was a gift. What if her grandmother had gone to bed the night before thinking, In the morning, I’ll water that orchid. In the morning, I’ll read the rest of that novel. I’ll call my son. So much left unfinished. No, there was just no way dying could be spun into a good thing.

Her grandmother was the only dead person Wren had ever seen, until two hours ago. Now, she could tell you what dying looked like, as opposed to just dead. One minute, Olive had been there, staring so fierce at Wren—as if she could hold on to the world if her eyes stayed open—and then, in a beat, those eyes stopped being windows and became mirrors, and Wren saw only a reflection of her own panic.

She didn’t want to look at Olive anymore, but she did. The dead woman was lying down like she was taking a nap, a couch cushion under her head. Olive’s shirt was soaked with blood, but had ridden up on the side, revealing her ribs and waist. Her skin was pale on top and then lavender, with a thin line of deep violet where her back met the floor. Wren realized that was because Olive’s blood was settling inside, just two hours after she’d passed. For a second, Wren thought she was going to throw up.

 

SHORT TAKES
Vasant Kallola’s Chiranjivi—The Beginning is “set in the backdrop of War of Mahabharata, and tells an interesting story of a sage who had been living through the curse of Shri Krishna. He was living a miserable life with a permanent wound on his forehead that constantly oozed blood and pus. Life was hell for him.
“Walkers would change their paths if they saw sage coming their way. The pain and the sufferings were unbearable for him. But, still, he was living with it, somehow, till one day when an insult unleashed gave way to his suppressed pain and agony. The rage was so high that, he decided to annihilate the earth.”

Chiranjivi—The Beginning
By Vasant Kallola
Publisher: Times Group Books
Pages: 344



The synopsis of Major Vijai Singh Mankotia Upheaval reads, “From the rugged hills and the blood-soaked sands of Afghanistan and the Frontier region to the political drama that is being played out in the corridors of power of India and Pakistan, the novel delves deep into the conspiracies, conflicts and crisis that plague the sub continent plunging it into a state of unimaginable turmoil. This novel, a work of fiction, confronts us all with some very vital and disturbing questions. Has India's political canvas been so smeared by the blackest of indelible paint representing an all time low of our moral, ethical and spiritual fabric!  Can there be an awakening to collectively combat the monster of terrorism, jehad and Islamic fundamentalism!”

Upheaval
By Major Vijai Singh Mankotia
Publisher: Haranand
Pages: 229


 
The Reason Is You by Nikita Singh is a love story about Siddhant and Akriti who meet during their medical residency in Delhi. “Their connection is instant, blossoming from the many similarities between them. So, when Akriti faces a devastating loss, she leans on Siddhant for support. In the heat of an emotional moment, the two decide that this must be love. But as Akriti's depression begins to take a stronger hold over her, she spirals out of control, sinking deeper into an abyss of fear, insecurity and rage. And while Siddhant struggles to help her, it seems like everything he does is only making things worse. Meanwhile, Siddhant's life gets further complicated when Maahi, his ex-girlfriend whom he never stopped loving, re-enters his life. Nikita Singh returns with a stirring story - exploring emotional health, the boundaries of traditional relationships and second chances.”

The Reason Is You
By Nikita Singh
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 244

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