Tag Archives: book review

Review: The Watch by Joydeep Bhattacharya

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 Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya tackles the uncomfortable topic of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. In telling the story of a young Afghani woman who only wants to claim her slain’s brother’s body so she can give him a proper burial, he draws out the real heart of the conflict: who is the enemy and just who is the defender? I like this book, despite the heavy Antigone references (which, I’ll admit, I had to look up) because it feels real. Not just in terms of dialogue- which is peppered with Army slang, American slang and, of course, those long passages where Lt. Nick Frobenius quotes directly from Antigone; but also, in the way that the soldiers, both American and Afghani, deal with ethical and moral dilemmas. We see, for instance, how the Americans mistrust the Afghani soldiers, the cultural complexity that is Afghanistan, the difficulty of telling the Taliban from other Afghani fighters.

Actually, now that I’m writing about it, I’d really like to read a story from the Afghani perspective. If you have any recommendations, let me know. 🙂

The Watch will make you dizzy with a narrative that circles a central event but spirals off every now and the into these hallucinatory nightmares, dreams and fantasies of the characters who are suffering in their own way. There is loss of life, love and limb- and in the end, we are still no closer to understanding the war or the events that are taking place inside it but what we do get a glimpse of is the humanity that survives even in the desert.

Below is an excerpt, click here to read the full review at Hyphen Magazine:

“When Nizam, a crippled Afghani woman, arrives at an American military base looking for her brother Yusuf’s body, she sets off a chain of events that tests the convictions of the soldiers. As they speculate over whether she’s a Trojan horse, a spy sent by the Taliban, or whether she is simply what she says she is — a sister who wants to bury her brother’s body — Nizam holds her ground, refusing to leave without Yusuf’s body. Meanwhile, the war, or rather, the waiting and watching that characterizes the war in Afghanistan, is taking its toll on the soldiers. In many ways, The Watch is a classic anti-war narrative. Bhattacharya takes great pains to paint a realistic portrayal of war, the camaraderie between the men, and the emotional support that they so badly need from one another.”

Here is the book trailer, because it’s a thing people do these days. I may be the last person left on earth who’d rather skim a written review than watch a trailer unfold second by second… ha.

Review: ‘The Newlyweds’ by Nell Freudenberger

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Nell Freudenberger was 28 when she was published at The New Yorker. Since then, her rise to the top (she made Granta’s ‘Best Young American Authors’ in 2008 and The New Yorker’s own ‘20 Under 40‘ list in 2010) has been inspiring and, to use the oft-abused metaphor, “meteoric”. (It’s late. I’ve been reading psychology texts all day. Metaphorically, I’m not very good this night.)

Anyway. I have not read her debut publication- a collection of short stories titled Lucky Girls but I DID get to read her utterly enchanting second novel, ‘The Newlyweds‘. I reviewed it for Hyphen Magazine.

‘The Newlyweds’ was inspired by a Bangladeshi woman that Freudenberger met on a plane to Rochester. The narrative follows a young Bangla woman named Amina who meets her American beau through on online dating service and consequently flies to Rochester to marry him. Expectedly, this cross cultural romance is about culture shock, love across borders and all that. But what I liked most about the book was that it was a pretty realistic portrayal of an immigrant woman’s experience in the U.S.A. I guess, I could say, that I identified with Amina’s story- especially her struggle with finding employment and the fact that it didn’t matter how educated she was, she still ended up with a minimum wage job at Starbucks.

Such is life.

Below is an excerpt of my review. Click here or on the picture to read the full review at Hyphen Magazine.

“On a surface level, Freudenberger is literally telling someone else’s story: that of Farah, a Bangla woman whom she met on a flight to Rochester, with whose consent and approval she developed the narrative. On a deeper level, Freudenberger places herself in an alien context. As a white, Jewish, American woman she is writing about a brown, Bangla, Muslim woman’s immigrant experience in America. Does she have the right to do this? More importantly, does she succeed?”

Review: American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar

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Image: Hyphen Magazine

For some odd reason (read: school!), I forgot to post this review of Ayad Akhtar’s debut novel American Dervish. Akhtar is primarily a screenwriter and this influence is especially visible in how he handles plot and plot twists but sometimes, it seeps into the writing itself, which I wish it didn’t.

Despite its flaws, American Dervish is a strong debut and tells the story of growing up Muslim in mid-western America. It’s a coming-of-age story that is complicated by forbidden love, religious tension and a clash of cultural values. Below is an excerpt and click here for full review.

“Ayad Akhtar’s first novel, American Dervish, is a coming-of-age story about a young American Muslim, Hayat Shah, who grows up in 1980s Milwaukee. Raised by secular Muslim parents, Hayat’s first real encounter with Islam begins when his mother’s best friend from Pakistan, Mina, arrives with her five-year old son, Imran, to live with the Shahs. For years, Mina has been nothing but a photograph to Hayat and a character in his mother’s romantic reminiscences of her childhood in Pakistan. Upon entering his life, Mina not only captures Hayat’s heart but also his soul, acting as his teacher as she navigates him through the world of Islam. Through their nightly readings of the Quran, Hayat — who is captivated by Mina’s beauty — also falls in love with the religion. His religious awakening is thus painfully and often confusingly enmeshed with his sexual awakening. When Mina begins dating a Jewish doctor, Nathan, Hayat’s jealousy rears its ugly head. At the same time, Hayat is exposed to anti-semitic sentiments from within his own community, and soon he begins to regard Nathan not just as a competitor but also as an unfit human being. Determined to save his beloved Mina, Hayat embarks on a path of destruction that will not only tear their love apart but also leave him emotionally scarred for the rest of his life.”

Review: The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

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New Review! This time, it’s not a graphic novel. It’s a regular book with no pictures even! O_0

This time, I reviewed Thrity Umrigar‘s The World We Found. Umrigar teaches Creative Writing at Case Western University and has written six books so far. The World We Found was just released. I’ve never read any of her other books, so if any of you have- let me know which ones you liked best.

 

Below is an excerpt and click here for the full review.

In late 1970, Armaiti, Nishta, Laleh and Kavita were best friends in college. They were rebellious, free spirited young women with a taste for political activism. Fast forward thirty years and they have all drifted apart. Laleh and Nishta marry their college sweethearts, Armaiti moves to America and marries an American, while Kavita, a successful architect, is a closeted lesbian. Once inseparable, they now live lives dominated not by political activism, but by the more urgent and delicate responsibilities of marriage, family and work. Yet Armaiti notes in her internal dialogue, “The four years of college now seemed to have gone by too quickly. There was no real explanation for why she had not stayed in closer touch after leaving for the US. Unless it was this: coming to America itself was a kind of defeat — the inaudible admission that their days as young radicals had drawn to a close.”

Review: ‘Herzog’ by Saul Bellow

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Herzog; Img from: http://www.towerbooks.com

A couple of months ago, I was asked to write a review of Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow’s book ‘Herzog’ for a Jewish website. The book is ridiculously funny and sad and deep. I absolutely recommend it if you haven’t read it. However, I will warn you that it’s a bit of a slog simply because it’s heavy with philosophy.

Click here to read my review and below is a short excerpt:

“Herzog, a 1964 novel for which Saul Bellow won the National Book Prize, is possibly the funniest book about the saddest man: Moses E. Herzog. An academic by profession and a philosopher at heart, Herzog finds himself suddenly in limbo when his wife Madeline, who unbeknownst to Herzog has been having an affair with his best friend Gersbach, throws him out of their new Chicago home and estranges him from their daughter, June. This is Herzog’s second divorce and one that leaves him in a considerable amount of pain. Daisy, his first wife with whom he has a son Marco, appears benign in contrast to the manipulative and demanding Madeline. It is for Madeline that he quits his position as a lecturer in New York and it is for her that he spends his entire inheritance on a cottage in the Berkshires in an attempt to return to his more intellectual pursuits. The crumbling Berkshire cottage mirrors at first Herzog’s crumbling marriage and then his crumbling psyche. Facing financial ruin, Herzog flits between New York, Chicago and the Berkshires, often borrowing money from his wealthy brothers even as Madeline continues to send him her credit card bills.”