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Book Nook - 15-05-2017

Monday, May 15, 2017
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 [email protected]

Maze Of Secrets
Dahlia Waller remembers being called Pet by her mother. But her memories are possibly muddled, because she did not have a normal childhood. She was dragged by her mother Memphis, from one place to another, usually at night, packing meager belongings into a car and heading for the next motel, trailer, or cheap rental, that did not require identification papers.

Alexandra Burt’s The Good Daughter, is a maze of Dahlia’s hazy memories of being poor, friendless and home- schooled; her mother working at menial jobs for cash, because of the lack of “paperwork.” After some years of this, they land up at the town of Aurora, which, unknown to Dahlia, is her mother’s hometown.

When she grows up and leaves home, Dahlia’s life is a miserable chain of dead end jobs, because of the same missing “paperwork.” She returns a few years later, and the two women form an uneasy bond. Dahlia is haunted by visions and snatches of memory she cannot place.

Her already troubled life is shattered further when, resting after a jog, she discovers the half-buried body of a woman in the forest. The woman is taken to hospital in a coma, and becomes headline news in the town. The case forces a reconnection with a childhood friend Bobby, now a cop.

A befuddled Memphis is found wandering around a deserted farm, and Dahlia discovers that it belongs to her mother. She is furious about having lived like a vagabond all those years, when her mother always owned a large property in Aurora.

Memphis seems to be getting frailer by the day and losing her memory; she starts to tell Dahlia the story of her past that has brought them to this pass. She starts with the story of the owners of the farm, the woman’s life marred by a horrific incident in her youth, that has scarred her for life.  As Dahlia tries to make sense of what is going on, the past and present converge, with Alexandra Burt trying up all loose ends. Even with some ghoulish goings on, the core of the book is about love, longing for the unattainable, and the search for an elusive peace.

The book is focused on the remarkably strong Memphis and Dahlia, with the men in their lives playing catalysts in the tragedy, and final redemption of the women.  After some point, the suspense can be guessed at but that does not take away from the page-turner quality of the novel.
The Good Daughter
By Alexandra Burt
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 400

Excerpt of The Good Daughter
The ER waiting room is quiet but for the hypnotic tick of an old plastic clock hanging on the wall. A whiff of latex and disinfectant hangs in the air.

Bobby’s uniform is tidy, his blue button down shirt and navy colored slacks are pressed immaculately. His hair is short, his face freshly shaven. A lifetime ago Bobby and I went to high school together, but he stuck around and I left Aurora days after graduation. We haven’t spoken since I’ve been back in town.

“I can’t believe this,” I say and struggle to line up the events. My clothes are wet, so is my hair.

Bobby smiles at me. “You’ve been back in town for what… a few months, and I see you’re still the same old trouble maker.”

For a split second I’m a teenager again, remembering how we’d roam through town, wandering around in abandoned buildings, acquiring cuts and bruises and sprained ankles along the way. “Seems that way, doesn’t it?” I finally say.

“You waved at me the other day, at the gas station. I was going to follow you and pull you over.”

I feel some sort of way about his words, following me, pulling me over. That’s how we met a long time ago; his father pulled my mother over by the side of the road.  Bobby sat in the backseat of his father’s cruiser, I was in the backseat of my mother’s car, and we stared at one another.

I ignored Bobby at the gas station because of the way I’d left fifteen years ago. That and the fact that my life is nothing to be proud of. I have been dreading having to make small talk with him, catch up, swap stories about our lives.

“How long has it been?” Bobby asks. “Just about fifteen years?” he says as if he’s kept track of time.

I do the math. I arrived in Aurora just shy of thirteen, I did one year in middle school, then went to high school. In high school, I had saved every dollar I made; I bagged groceries, worked at the car wash, even put away my allowance. There wasn’t any money for college, and I didn’t have any motivation or big dreams short of getting out of town—but Bobby was going through something then. His mother had cancer, had been well for years but then it returned. There seemed to have been something else; he was preoccupied with things I knew nothing about, things he was reluctant to share. I left Aurora at eighteen. Fifteen years exactly.

The last time we spoke was the night I left.

“If you think about it, why not go to Colorado, or California? If we’re going to leave, might as well go far,” I had said but he had remained quiet. We had talked about leaving Aurora for years, leaving Texas altogether, we had imagined it many times.

“You want to hear what I think?” he finally asked.

I sensed sarcasm. He started talking about having a different perspective and maybe I should be thankful for what I have instead of griping about what I didn’t. That night, he made his way through a six-pack in no time and by the time he was on the last beer, he didn’t make a whole lot of sense. He went on and on about choices some people have that others don’t. Had we not talked about leaving Aurora since tenth grade, had we not imagined what life could be like somewhere else?—but suddenly there was no more I vent and you listen. He was judgmental and mean and not what I needed that night. We parted ways then, he was drunk and I was angry.

At home, I saw my mother hadn’t lifted a finger to fill out the paperwork I needed to apply for financial aid. I threw my clothes and a few books in a duffle bag, waited for the sun to come up. When I heard my mother rummage around in the kitchen, I went downstairs.

“You still haven’t filled out the forms,” it came out sharply, just as I intended. All my life there had been paperwork, missing and incomplete forms. “Are we still doing this? We still don’t have the right paperwork?” I asked. There were the missing papers when I was a kid—what I now know to be shot records and residency documentation— and school was the mother of all wounds. She would never let me leave, wanted to attach an eternal tether to me, making sure I’d never be more than she was.

We argued. I told her I’d leave. She said she’d pay for a community college close by. I told her I wanted to go out of state. We argued some more. Eventually she turned silent and ignored me.

I left that night. I drove down the highway leaving Aurora behind me. I had about five-hundred dollars, a fifteen year old car, and my high school diploma—a pretty meek start for a life on my own. I left fighting with my mother, and I had never said goodbye to Bobby.

I felt panic rise up. The streets felt alien to me, yet I drove on until I reached Amarillo. The city was depressing with nothing but dust and yellow grass, far away from everywhere and close to nowhere. I found work the very next day and a place to stay. Wanted signs at motels were plenty along the two major highways running through town and my mother had taught me well: the right motel and the right owner, and you can offer free work for a week in exchange for a room. One week’s worth of work for the room each month, cash for the next three weeks of work. I knew that many employers didn’t mind turning a blind eye to the fact that I insisted on getting paid under the table. 

I got a second job at a nearby motel and after a year of saving every penny, I felt confident I was in a good place. One day, on my way to my second job, a tapping and slapping sound under the hood made me pull over. The car, by then sixteen years old, was no longer fixable. The next day I went to apply for a car loan, a used older model Subaru—though still better than what I had—but I needed my social security number.

“I’m sorry we can’t process the application,” the car salesman said. “Do you have your card on you?”

“I think I lost it,” I lied.

He scrambled through the papers. “You might want go to the social security administration office downtown.”

“How about I pay you cash for the car?” I hated to use every penny I had saved up but I needed transportation. I haggled some, paid for the car. I never went to the local social security office. It was just like it had always been, the old and familiar hurdle that was paperwork.

There are two kinds of Kashmir in the minds of people, the idyllic one where Bollywood romances were shot, and the sadly politicized and violence-ridden state it has now become. Picking up the thread from Muzaffar Ali’s abandoned film Zooni, Selina Sen weaves her own engaging story, “According to the synopsis, “Acclaimed Bollywood director Shantanu Rai is eager to begin shooting his magnum opus, Zoon, a film on the 16th century Kashmiri queen, poet and musician, Habba Khatoon. Joya, fresh from film school, joins the production team to work alongside young Kashmiri historian Rashid.

“The filming progreses well; the romantic landscape unfolding in picture-postcard vistas forms an irresistible backdrop for the film—as well as for Joya and Rashid to fall in love. But this is Kashmir at the onset of a crippling insurgency. A shocking incident of terrorism halts the shoot, and lives descend into interlocking spirals of loss and betrayal. Ten years on, Joya returns to Kashmir to complete Zoon and reach out to a lost love. She struggles in a strife-torn Valley, marred by curfews and barricades, despair and anger, until she finally discards Bollywood’s rose-tinted lenses in a quest to face the truth.

“Will Zoon the film ever be released? A powerful mingling of real and reel, past and present, played out against the violence and volatility of Kashmir.”

By Selina Sen Publisher: Tranquebar
Pages: 374

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