Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's My Nine Lives

I am not even done with this book and I'm blogging about it! I'm just so thrilled with this one that I am reading it as slowly as possible just to savor every word in every story.

My Nine Lives is a collection of stories -- neither fiction nor non- -- as each story depicts a character Jhabvala may have been, a life she may have led. "Even when something didn't actually happen to me, it might have done so," she explains in a foreword she titles "Apologia." "Every situation was one I could have been in myself, and sometimes, to some extent, was." The "I" may have been her; she may be trying out alternative destinies.

In other words, she really doesn't want to disclose what -- affairs with married men (usually old), back-alley abortions and a wide variety of embarassing or absent parents -- may be autobiographical. The stories are set in New York or New Delhi, both cities inhabited by Jhabvala for dozens of years.

I also discovered that Jhabvala isn't Parsi, like I'd assumed several years ago when reading "Heat and Dust." Her ancestry is German-Jewish; she and her parents emigrated to London during the Hitler years, where she met and married Cyrus Jhabvala.

The common theme in these stories is a quest, Jhabvala writes, for a person. "A person I have looked up to, or been in love with, maybe even for some sort of guru or guide. Someone better, stronger, wiser, altogether other...Does such a person exist, and if so, does one ever find him?"

So ultimately, these are nine delicious love stories, tender, passionate, heart-breaking ... worth savoring, then reading over.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go

Just finished this novel. I find Ishiguro unputdownable, usually, and this book was no different. Not in the whodunnit kind of way -- but he's master at creating suspense in the most ordinary everyday events, so you can't wait to turn the page and see what happens next.

In this novel, though, the world that Ishiguro creates is only deceptively ordinary and straightforward. It's the world of a private English school, Hailsham, described by the remniscences of Kathy H., now 31 years old. Her memories mostly focus on her friendships with Tommy and Ruth, starting from the time they were about 6.

As the story unfolds, the bizarreness and horror of Kathy's world is gradually exposed. Ishiguro's skill lies in presenting these horrific details so matter-of-factly, that when the true story of Hailsham comes out, the reader doesn't even experience a jolt. Through Kathy, we always know that something about Hailsham -- and about its students -- is not "normal." And like Kathy, the horror of her situation dawns on the reader only gradually.

But because of Ishiguro's deft handling, this story becomes about so much more than Hailsham. By questioning the very qualities that make us human, he underscores the frailties and strengths of relationships, of friends and lovers. The only thing that bothers me about Ishiguro's characters is how often I feel like shaking them out of sheer frustration. There are conversations that are left incomplete, significant words left unsaid, choices that the characters make, maybe out of timidity or uncertainty. Like the butler in "The Remains of the Day," Kathy chooses not to take risks, so that we, like her, experience a sense of sadness and loss as the book comes to an end.

Joyce Carol Oates has called Ishiguro "one of our most eloquent poets of loss." I would agree, adding that he's master of speculation on that favorite nostalgic pastime of most people: the road not taken.


War has officially been declared by my pint-sized 2-year-old. A war on naps, i.e. Until a couple of weeks ago, Raina was a napper. She didn't just docilely go for her afternoon nap, she'd look forward to it. And if she didn't go down as scheduled, she'd be one cranky, scowly little girl.

Then one fine day, completely out of the blue, she took up arms. Just like her napping used to be so scheduled, her war follows a definite pattern. Here's the scenario enacted every afternoon: First, she'll try the Delay Tactic -- "Mom, I need to go poop!" she'll holler, and proceeds to do the deed. After washing her hands, drinking a glass of water and jumping down from her stool, she'll be led to bed. Twenty minutes later, I'll hear her bedroom door opening. "I slept so well!" the fibber'll exclaim. I hold her hand firmly and lead her back to bed. Fifteen minutes pass. The door opens, Raina toddles out to the top of the stairs, sheepishly holding her nap buddy Prisha The Tiger before her face. Then, while I drag her to bed yet again, the bawling starts.

A couple of times, I just gave way, simply because by then it was 2:30 p.m. and close to the end of naptime anyway. Then I'd threaten her, "You're going to bed an hour early because you didn't take a nap." This was not a good idea. Turns out, Madam was only too thrilled to continue forgoing her naps and going to bed at 6:15 p.m. So I had to dig in my heels.

Yesterday, I tucked her in bed at 1 p.m. After dragging her back for the umpteenth time, at 3:20 p.m she finally slept. This afternoon, she went down like a lamb. But I've a dirty feeling this war is far from won.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Isn't she lovely?

Just wanted to share a picture of my black cat Pilcrow aka Pikey, The Black Monster and Meow Cat (because of the length and variations in her meows). Pikey'll be 6 years old this May. She's a SoCal cat, found roaming in a friend's colleague's apartment complex more than 5 years ago. Our first impression of her was a black blurry bullet that whistled around our legs chasing something, someone, whatever. That set the pattern for the rest of her year as a kitten. I fondly remember how after one of those chases, she'd just collapse on us like a tired newborn babe, curl up in a ball or just splay out so her claws would be gently immersed in our clothes. Then she'd proceed to sleep. Woe betide the person who'd try to get up -- as at some point in our lives, we all must do. I have not so fond memories of numerous bloody scratches. We contemplated having her declawed to save our skin and our furniture. That's before we knew what declawing would involve. She used to be such a child. She'd meow a host of complaints when I'd leave the house to go grocery shopping. Then she'd meow a storm when I got back. She'd only be appeased if you spent the next 30 minutes petting her. Then she'd purr like a train.
After Raina was born, poor Pikey had to grow up and be the Big Sister. She'd watch over my shoulder during those midnight feedings, checking out the enemy. My parents were worried that she may harm the baby, but we were more worried about Pikey. She'd run terrified from the room when the baby would cry -- Raina has quite a set of lungs. Suddenly no one had that much free time to pet the cat or scratch underneath her chin or play flashlight with her.
Now things have evened out a bit. Now Pikey just enters a room after Raina exits it. She just wakes up after Raina goes down for a nap. And once Raina's down for the night, it's Pikey time, folks...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Been feeling blue the past few days. A friend was telling me she'd read a study or something that the second or third week of January is the most depressing time of the year. So I know why.

Or maybe it has to do with the Chargers losing. Our home's football season officially ended last weekend when our pro team lost to the Patriots. It was a sad, sad day. After the Buckeyes lost the National Championship, our hopes had been pinned on the promising Chargers.

Or maybe it's because work's going so slow. I know this time next week I'll be running around like a chick with her head cut off, so I should appreciate the down time. I've been reading some improving books. Just finished Gertrude Stein's "Three Lives" -- three not-so-short stories about three women. But the last one I read "Melanctha" really got me down.

To combat all these combined blahs, I began reading "An Autobiography of a Yogi" by Yogananda Paramhansa. Y.P. founded The Self Realization Fellowship housed in a veddy nice building fronting the Pacific here in SoCal, so I'd wanted to read him for a while. Plus, I heard that his brother was my buddy Bikram's guru. Plus, the book is up for discussion at my next book club meet.

It's turning out to be pretty entertaining reading. So far not very philosophical, but it's clipping along at a fair pace. Which is more than I expected. Some surprises are really nice.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Sackcloth & Ashes (The Buckeyes Lose)

Our house is in mourning. Last night, the Florida Gators not only trounced the Ohio State Buckeyes to become the national champions in college football -- they decimated us. They squashed our players like so many miniscule bugs in a football field. The score? 41-14.

The game began spectacularly, with Ted Ginn Jr. returning the starting kickoff for a touchdown. But he was injured in the second play of the game, and after that, it was like QB Troy Smith just lost it. The first quarter was ghastly, and by half-time, the score was already 34-14, and we were all covering our eyes and hanging our heads in despair.

The rest of the game was such a farce, it was comical. We could count the number of first-downs we made in one hand. The idea of scoring one touchdown -- let alone 3 to catch up -- was a joke.

All in all, it was a blowout. Because it was so bad, we actually weren't as gloomy as we would have been had it been a close game. I guess we had more time to resign ourselves to our fate.

Ah well. The best team won and all that. There's next season. Even though there won't be Smith or Ginn. Go Buckeyes.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy 2007 (And More NY Resolutions)

Woohoo! I feel super-relaxed and blissed out and ready to take on anything and everything a new year will shove on me. I loved this vacation -- lots of warm, sunny days in neighboring parks and beaches, day trips to Palm Desert and Coronado, visiting and having visitors, and parties with good food and singing and dancing, wine-tasting and wine-chugging, reading and napping... lovely!

More new year resolutions (surely one can make them all January?):

1. Have Baby No. 2. The procreation plan's been on since last year, but I had a miscarriage, so it was temporarily shelved. We're all hoping 2007 will be more fruitful.

2. Brush Pikey The Cat's teeth. I know, I know, it's not even close in importance to Res. 1, but it really, really needs to be done. It's crazy how much we pay in health insurance for that monster, just because it includes dental cleaning under general anesthesia twice a year. I kid you not. We actually began bathing her once a month in 2006 -- once a seemingly impossible task -- so it's important to have a can-do attitude towards cleaning her teeth. I will it, so it shall be done.

3. Encourage the husband in growing a goatee. I've been urging him to have some facial hair for years and years, and now it's actually happening! Very exciting to see this new man emerge. OK, I am easily pleased.

A more immediate resolution: Coddle Pikey, so we win the national championship! Go Buckeyes, blow off the Gators! A happy new year to all!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

2006 in Books

Yeah it's 2007! A whole new year of halcyon days where I am curled up with a goodish pile of great reads and a few (very few) dark chocolate bars -- that's the sum of my new year resolution and ambition. :) Hmm, maybe I am the bookworm the husband calls me. Maybe.

But before one moves on to a new and exciting literary year, I'd really like to note down my Top 3 favorite reads of 2006. All fiction, of course, though I have begun making some rather gradual forays into non -- which was my 2006 new year resolution. (I really liked "Under the Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer on Mormon fundamentalism.)

OK. Without further ado, here they are:

1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Yikes, I just checked the copyright page and realized that this book was first published in hardcover in 2003! So this is hardly a new book. The story is Amir's divided in three parts: his childhood in pre-Taliban Afghanistan; his coming-of-age in America, where he fled with his father after the Russians occupied Kabul; and finally, Amir's middle age in 2001 in California and Taliban-ruled Kabul. Hosseini imparts a freshness to the age-old themes of love and betrayal and redemption by setting them in the backdrop of a Kabul that's unfamiliar to most of us. A timeless tale poetically wrought that rends your heart. This one squeezed out quite a few tears.

2. Ravan and Eddie by Kiran Nagarkar
This one came out in 1995. Sigh, I know, late discovery. But I absolutely LOVED this book and am sold on Nagarkar. Can't wait to see what else he's written before and since. Found this one during my last Mumbai trip, but I am sure I can find more on Amazon. Cutting to the chase: this is a satirical take on the bawdy crazy chawl life of Mumbai and mostly focuses on the adventures of prepubescent Ravan, a Maratha Hindu, and Eddie, a Catholic. The tale commences when 1-year-old Ram falls from a chawl balcony. Eddie's dad, Victor, who was busy checking out Ram's mom's bosom, catches the little boy, but dies instantly, thereby causing Ram's name change to Ravan. Watching the scenario enfold, Victor's heavily pregnant wife goes into labor and Eddie's born. Fun start, hah? Unputdownable.

3. five point someone by Chetan Bhagat.
I swear I read a lot of nondesi authors last year. Guess I just liked the desi ones better. This is another fun book that I picked up in India reciting the trials and tribulations of three students trying to survive the experience that's IIT. Hostel life, friendship, love, cafeteria food, all comes under hilarious scrutiny. But the book also spotlights an academic culture that prizes cramming and unquestioning obedience above originality and curiosity.