17
Feb
08

mysteries

mike, blessed be his little cotton socks, teaches me things. one thing he’s taught me is to read mystery fiction as if it’s something that matters. except, now, i don’t know why it matters. i’ve crawled almost to the end of dennis lahane’s gone, baby, gone. i chose him because he’s explicitly quoted by the wire, which many of us revere, and this particular book of his because mike gave it five stars on goodreads. but now i’m not sure what i’m reading. why cops and PIs chasing bad people matter. what they are telling me about this world and its representations.

and i think they must matter, because you, mike, are reading all this south african detective fiction, and the implication is that it will tell you something about south african culture and south african literature that other kinds of fiction might not.

there is pleasure, of course, in reading detective stories. there was a time when i was living in san luis obispo in which i read a ton of detective fiction. i was a bit worried at the time because i was totally addicted to it, stayed up every night till all hours devouring novels, couldn’t stop. i weened myself from what i thought was a totally guilty pleasure by overdosing on it. one day i couldn’t read one more word.

i read mostly: sara paretsky, laurie king, patricia cornwell. i read other stuff, too: kate wilhelm, j.m. redmann. redmann and paretsky were my favorites. since i didn’t know that reading mystery fiction was a Good And Intelligent Thing To Do (i don’t know anything; i feel i’m always learning to walk on new kinds of terrain; really), i haven’t read these two women in years. a few months ago the redoubtable john leonard wrote a rave review of sara paretsky’s memoir writing in an age of silence (which i haven’t read) in which he highly praised her mystery fiction too, and i thought with pleased amazement: “really? it’s okay to like sara paretsky?!” fortunately, i always knew walter mosley was okay, so i have kept up with reading him.

even then, though, even with the obviously literary mosley, some emptiness creeps into my… soul? when i read mystery novels. it’s as if my teeth were sinking in pudding rather than meat. i like my pudding like the next person, but one’s gotta eat meat to keep on one’s feet.

gone, baby, gone, which i just discovered has recently come out on dvd (i.e. a recent movie has been made of it: who knew?) spends a good amount of time with two police detectives and two PIs who are also a man/woman romantic couple (the man of the couple is the narrator) while they ruin their physical and mental health obsessing over the disappearance of a little girl from a boston neighborhood that may be significant to bostonites but is meaningless to me. i haven’t gotten to the end so don’t spoil it for me, but, now that we are nearing it, the novel is clearly pointing in the direction of seriously sick child exploitation rings. this was not the case for most of it, which followed our four people around in wild goose chases in which the novelistic interest was mainly in showing how much they had personally invested in finding the girl.

which little girl has all but been abandoned by her junkie mother, and although her aunt and uncle clearly love and miss her tremendously, it is not their loss the novel is concerned with. hardened detectives poole and broussard and hardened PIs patrick kenzie and angie gennaro is all we care about.

since, for some reason having to do with my undoubtedly sick nature, i couldn’t care less about the abduction and exploitation of little amanda (or the book’s occasional other little children), the obsession and pain of our four heroes has kept me less than riveted. in particular, i fail to be gripped by kenzie, who comes across to me as an unconvincing mixture of the PI gentleman and the rogue PI. really, though, the torturing of children doesn’t speak to me, as it does to the author and the characters of this book, of the Meaningless of All Things Human. i don’t find it any worse than the torturing of women and men. this makes the narrative pathos feel flimsy to me.

just a few thoughts, fresh from my mind.

10
Feb
08

Another new post

But first go read Gio’s–I loved that Alexie novel she writes about below.

I’m gonna cheat, and pull over what I also wrote on goodreads–but while my post is complete there, I’m putting it here to open dialogue–and/or just to keep writing myself. I’m trying to get my head around South African detective fiction, … and unfortunately this is a bad example. (But I’m 80 pages into a good one; more on that soon.)

James McClure’s The Blood of an Englishman:

I’ve been reading my way around a burst of new crime writing in South Africa, trying to get a bead on the movement (if a movement, how a movement, why this genre, etc.)? So I thought I’d stretch out, see what ancestry exists… and, as Deon Meyer pointed out in an essay (re)posted at http://720plan.ovh.net/~villagil/article.php3?id_article=279, crime fiction of any stripe hadn’t blossomed much. But the last fifteen years the genre(s) blew up (see http://crimebeat.book.co.za/2008/02/05/setting-up-a-hit-list-of-sa-crime-writers/), and there are probably any number of good reasons. (I say hopefully, trying to think through some of them myself.)

James McClure is probably the first, and for a long stretch the only, writer in English tackling crime in a post-puzzle, procedural/sociological fashion. And I’d heard all this stuff about how effective his works were at delineating a rich sense of South African society, its (as one reviewer puts it) “racial and sexual tensions.”

Well… judging from this novel, no.

McClure is tediously flat as a crime writer. “Banter” from every character, all the time; an annoyingly conventional stretch of exposition, bad guy laying out his or her motives, actions, to close the book; a reliance on easy stereotypes and a too-neat, too-easy resolution of social order at novel’s end.

That last flaw is exacerbated by a sense of what was actually happening in South Africa in 1980, when the novel was written and set. The novel studiously sidesteps political disturbances or unrest, depicts a black underclass fairly content to shuffle along for the “bosses” and shake their heads at white eccentricity. It’s patronizing in the worst liberal sense, seeing some kind of acceptance and order in the social system–reminiscent of those novels of the late nineteenth century in America, nostalgically reminiscing about the generally positive interrelationships of masters and slaves on the good old plantation. And aside from the occasional mention of Zulus or “coloured,” a profligate use of the term “kaffir,” and a keen eye–the book’s one strong suit–for the class tensions between Afrikaaner and English citizens, it could have been set anywhere …. One of those “exotic” mysteries, for the armchair traveler, with the illusory whiff of otherness perfuming a pretty damn standard bit of fare. Bleah.

Not good.

10
Feb
08

pain of the latter day

okay. let me try. first i’ll explain my feelings about goodreads. i like goodreads. i love lists. i’m a list freak. there are some people who are like this. i am like this. it’s a visceral pleasure that cannot bear the burden of an explanation. it’s the way i am.

but also i like a way of keeping track of the books i read. because i have no capacity whatsoever for remembering. i have never kept a journal in my life — i can’t, it’s an impossibility — but a few years ago i started keeping a book journal in which i’d write only the books i read and the books simon read, so i would know. now i can do it online. i love leaving all my documents online, because my paper documents litter my house in piles i don’t have the courage to begin to look at. they are everywhere, fossilizing, transforming themselves into different objects, maybe bones, maybe rocks.

i enjoy the vast online community less than mike does. i love exchanging thoughts on the books i read with my friends, but strangers, eh. and i do stress about the fact that we are leaving so many traces of ourselves in a totally searchable cyberworld. i stress about the fact that “online” offers such fake privacy and we are so thirsty for exchange with other humans that sometimes we forget this privacy is incredibly fragile.

but these are random personal thoughts.

blogs feel sometimes like a lot of responsibility. i have abandoned this for a long while because i didn’t feel very good at bearing that responsibility. apologies to my fellow bloggers, in particular to michael, who hates goodreads and lists and ratings.

i just finished sherman alexie’s flight and am knocked senseless and also incredibly exhilarated by how a YA book can be so simple and so incredibly complex at the same time. as mike points out in his goodreads review, which you can read somewhere here, the moral of the book as the narrator states it (and he does state it, in words not much dissimilar from we all hurt, we are all falling, we all carry terrible burdens, we should be kind to one another) couldn’t be more commonplace, but, well, is there any other, really? does any writer who engages with the problem of pain and suffering and the way people can either succor or damn each other to earthly hell have another message to convey?* it is a sign of alexie’s tremendous power as a writer that he can say it and not make us cringe. i, for one, did not cringe. this simple message is put on top of such a harrowing cumulative display of the horrors of history that, frankly, it seems quite inevitable, and stating it simply and straight seems the only way to state it without being coy or silly or pretentious.

* there is always “this sucks ass where is the booze,” but i guess i was thinking of a slightly more cheery approach.

flight uses the word “beautiful” a lot. i like writers who can pull that off. the language is very guileless, in some ways, direct and forthright and perfect for a kid narrator (maybe a younger kid narrator than a 15-year-old), but the astonishment at the pain humans pile on each other, at the forgetfulness of history, at the (seemingly inevitable) misery of adults’ personal interactions, and the hope that things might be different, maybe, a little, are far from guileless. they are clear-eyed and heartbreaking and make you want to put your face in your hands and cry (which i would have done, if i weren’t frozen into tearlessness by all the news that comes out of our american torture chambers and our american wars, and by feeling submerged by the untold human pain caused by centuries of out-of-control political, economical, and environmental imperialism: but let’s not go there because there isn’t anything good there).

i also read porochista khakpour’s astounding debut novel sons and other flammable objects, which also deals with the terrible pain life puts on the shoulders of kids (and parents), in this case a first-generation iranian-born called xerxes (pronounced zercsis). the magic of this particular book is partly in the exuberant, uncontainable language (khakpour is not afraid of very long paragraphs: good for her), and partly in its refusal (till the very end, but that’s a minor slip for a first novel) to name the origin of the pain. i love that, like other recent not-quite-from-here writers — i am thinking of kiran desai’s the inheritance of loss, but also, strangely, of james baldwin’s the fire next time, which i just finished teaching — khakpour spends a lot of time and a lot of thought and heart on the generational and hard-to-pin-down pain of dislocation. i’ll come right out and confess that, as someone who knows dislocation first-hand, i melt inside whenever writers find words for the pain of those who leave their countries and come to This Very Strange Place. i love it when they describe the coldness of suburbia, the aridity of fake community life, the insipidity of the food, the plastic entertainment, the cement and neon cities, the maddening freeways, the soul-destroying loneliness. i love it because i feel understood. but it’s more than that: i feel that someone is drawing attention to the fact that, here, and maybe somewhere else too, but here, all of us, almost all 300 million of us, live deeply inhuman lives. we live deeply traumatized lives. the fire next time talks to this with a soulfulness and sorrow that i haven’t seen anywhere else. our traumatized lives are the direct result of our power and the immense daily efforts we make to maintain it. in order to maintain in, in order to forget the price of maintaining it, we cut ourselves off both from pain and from pleasure (not that we could cut ourselves off from one but not the other), we numb ourselves totally and then, and then, put so much damn effort into pretending to be fine.

which we are not.

khakpour is no baldwin, but maybe desai is a little baldwin, and in any case all these people are trying very hard to talk about the deadly malaise of our late late days, and make you wish for some sort of cleansing apocalypse, because, if you feel like me, you feel that nothing short of that can give us — all of us, not only those of us who can afford expensive therapists and organic food, as if that changed anything — our lives back.

hey michael, you asked.

24
Sep
07

michael chabon!

i just finished the yiddish policemen union and i have some thoughts to unload.

noir: i love noir like the next person (who loves noir), but i must say that it plays a number on my psyche. the number is 8 — the only number that reads the same upside down and means something different on its side. whichever way you turn it, it means something. i’m buying time while i try to figure out what it is about noir that upsets me. because it does, upset me. noir is deep while being flippant. that bothers me. noir is about aloneness. noir is about the pain of men. noir plays on existential dejection. noir is about failure — most notably, the failure of love. noir is about the rottenness of the city. noir is about institutionalized, un-rectifiable injustice. noir is about defeat.

all this i could handle. what i cannot handle is this together with the fast reading pace, the quick humor, the banter, the sassiness, the light-heartedness, the well-disguised cynicism, the brilliance and shininess of the language.

noir forces me to read fast when i should read slow and weep. noir forces me to laugh when i should reflect and take action. noir forces me to taste the bitter juices while whispering in my ear “all resistance is futile.” noir makes me want to drink and smoke instead of taking to the streets. noir kills my hope with a grin and a wink.

this said, this is a superb noir. this is as good as the best easy rollins and the best philip marlowe. i hope we’ll get to see landsman again, though, sadly, i doubt it.

fathers: like many Male Authors, chabon is obsessed with bad fathers. i had a bad father myself, but am more obsessed with the failings of my more-than-okay mother. i wonder why that is. are women writers more obsessed with their mothers and men writers more obsessed with their fathers?

politics: in his reading at books & books in miami chabon said that he is totally uninterested in politics and that TYPU’s got nothing to do with politics. there’s a passage in the book (i wish it were easy to find it now) in which someone expatiates upon the concept that telling a person not to think about x makes the person immediately think about x. i take that chabon knows that his readers can make connections and draw inferences. the Thesis of this book, if i read it correctly, is that when there are one of more jews united in the pursuit of a homeland, all hell is bound to break loose in the middle east, whether the aforementioned jews live in eastern europe, north africa, or alaska. it is part of this thesis that americans would rather have friendly jews than friendly arabs in palestine. another part of this thesis is that americans are second-coming fanatics and evil nutjobs.

abortion: funnily for a book that, one assumes, comes from the ideological left, TYPU’s protagonist’s existential disintegration hangs on a regretted abortion. that landsman perceives himself as a Bad Father can be explained with the fact that his story is rife with bad fathers. that his Bad Fatherhood should take the form of a possibly misguided abortion is really interesting.

there certainly are other things, but i’ll stop here while i get my thoughts in order.

01
Sep
07

muriel spark!

i have been very impressed, lately, by muriel spark’s the mandelbaum gate, written in the mid-60s, and by the 2007 novel by helena maria viramontes, their dogs came with them. on the other hand, i just finished hisham matar’s in the country of men and i found it to be nothing to write home about.

the mandelbaum gate is a thriller-pastiche that in setting (israel and palestine), plot intricacy and playfulness, and some very specific details (keep on reading), reminds me so much of a. b. yehoshua i feel innerly certain he was inspired by it. i am thinking of the fabulous the liberated bride, a book i heartily recommend to anyone who loves da literature and de books. spark’s protagonist is freddy hamilton, a middle-aged, bland english diplomat stationed in jerusalem. every week or so he goes thorugh the gate into palestine to spend time with some friends who live “on the other side.” since jerusalem is split, these trips are within the same city, yet at the same time they seem fraught with momentum and even a degree of peril. this is emphasized by the fact that while travel back and forth is easy for freddy, it is close to impossible for jews or arabs living on either side of the border.

the novel is set more than ten years after the end of the british mandate, but the british influence still seems to carry some weight. clearly, there’s a lot of intelligence and counter-intelligence going on on the part of the brits, but the greatest sense of their lasting influence shows in the assuredness and sense of easy belonging displayed by the english characters who live there, both as diplomats and not. it also shows in the way the locals, arab and jews, treat them — which is not exactly deferential, but rather contains a sense of their being a factor to be seriously reckoned with. about deference: well, it is there, but it’s a sort of manipulative deference, of ex-subjects now on good terms with their ex-rulers but also aware that those ex-rulers have lots of power and money. it’s a bit of a game of cat and mouse, with both the cat and the mouse feeling they are getting the better of the other, while in fact they seem to be pretty evenly matched. it is interesting, by the way, that the issue of language should be so prominent. all the locals freddy deals with speak english, but he himself is working hard, and failing, at learning arabic: the young man who’s teaching him cannot be convinced to teach him anything he can actually use, rather than highfalutin literary phrases that belong more in a poetry book than on the street. so poor freddy knows all sorts of useless arabic but couldn’t order a coffee in a shop if his life depended on it.

equally prominent, strangely, is the issue of age, everyone being older than they should be or than they look. age is discussed quite a bit, both by the narrator and by the characters themselves. this is also yehoshuan, not necessarily in the sense that he devotes much time to age in his books (though he does, in the liberated bride and other books too, mostly in terms of aging and sexuality), but because it is so yehoshuan for a novel to become fixated with something that serves no apparent thematic purpose whatsoever.

besides being proper and bland (though not, it turns out, as bland as one would have thought), freddy is also bacheloresquerly tethered to his elderly mother and her also elderly live-in companion/maid, both living in england, who write to him almost daily about their little problems and conflicts, and to whom he replies with equal regularity trying to smooth things over and keep everyone on good terms and happy (they are all “there there” kind of letters).

the second english protagonist is a teacher in her late thirties (i think) who is in israel because a) she wants to have a pilgrimage in the holy land and b) her boyfriend, an archaeologist, is working at the dead sea scrolls site and she’s going to meet him there. barbara vaughn, the woman, had a jewish mother and a gentile father, so she’s technically jewish. she has however converted to catholicism, and her insights into catholic doctrine and practice are among the most interesting, deep, and intelligent parts of this extraordinary book (to me, they seem to be its palpitating heart, but i may be partial here — and by the way, muriel spark is also a catholic convert). since she’s been single so long, everyone around her perceives her as rather spinsterly, while she doesn’t feel herself to be anything of the sort. at first she’s presented as ungainly in looks and curt in personality, but, like everyone else, grows later in the book to become a really strong and totally fetching character.

it is a strength of this book that its characters (there are many more, but i can’t give away too much) should be all so interesting, complex, and, also, that they should reveal themselves as different from what we at first and other people who know them superficially or who pigeonholed them should perceive them to be. in this sense, the book is permeated with great generosity and compassion — with an attitude towards people that one feels one should have oneself, in real life — and is, in this way, rather eye-opening and inspiring.

the same openness and generosity operate not only at the individual level, but also with respect to people as members of ethnic, political, or religious communities. in their respective, comically intersecting adventures on “the other side” of the border (a world that seems to be as complicated, bizarre, devious, and mischievous as the world on the other side of the glass in alice in wonderland), freddy and barbara meet quite a number of amazing characters who encompass jews, arabs, muslims, christians, spies, traditional people, and modern people. the depiction of the micro-world of the holy sepulcher in the old city is wholly indicative of the hodgepodge of peoples and purposes that is jerusalem and the combined (and everchangingly reconfigured) states of israel and palestine (the latter, of course, is not a state, but it will be soon, in my lifetime if i’m lucky). if you have been to the holy sepulcher, with its mosaic of faiths and uneasy partitionings, you know what i mean. but if you haven’t been, no worries. spark does an excellent job of describing it. (a small fact that is not in the book: there are several christian denominations sharing the large and sprawling church of the holy sepulcher, but the key to the church’s door is in the hands of a muslim, to keep the christians from fighting with each other: a perfect metaphor for the middle east).

on the “other side” there is intrigue, espionage, shady business, flight, dissembling, impersonating, and a healthy amount of sex. the part of the novel that takes place on the other side (about two thirds, if i’m not wrong) is absolutely delicious. people part and reconvene in the strangest, most unexpected combinations. like in yehoshua’s novels, they fall asleep in strange beds and sleep the best sleep they ever slept. they wear strange clothes and pass for people they are not. they have conversations they couldn’t have had on “this side” and then remember nothing of them. they fall in love unpredictably and get married when marriage seemed impossible. women get crushes on women and men establish tender bonds with men. family bonds are dissolved and recreated anew in different configurations.

but i’m saying too much. spark portrays old jerusalem as a site of happy carnivalesque misrule, but this is a 60s english book, so everything is mostly plausible and coherent and well laid-out. the plot is really excellent and the writing as crisp as freshly fried falafel. spark plays with a different idea of civilization, with what we’d now call the very fact of the postcolonial, but, because she does it in the sixties, this alternative, crazy, happily mixed and mixed-up postcolonial world is viewed with a levity and optimism that would not be possible nowadays. this is a most def. recommendation.

i’m going to talk about the other books later.

15
Jul
07

not a particularly good reading stretch

on mike’s suggestion i read david mitchell ghostwritten, a really exceptional book, all the more so if one thinks that it is a first novel. dazzling and original and whimsical and perfectly written. a joy. but then i fell into a bad reading spell, with book after book being a disappointment and me feeling restless and unhappy, as i do when i’m not reading a book that anchors my day in looking-forwarding-to-going-back-to-itness.

i was intrigued some time ago to find that subcomandante marcos and renowned mexican mystery writer paco ignacio taibo II had teamed up to write a novel. but i found the novel, the uncomfortable dead, a disappointment and didn’t finish it. among other things, the translation is below par. anyone else?

after that i thought i’d return to the tried and true and read me a carol shields novel i hadn’t yet read, the box garden. now, carol shields is in many ways a really spectacular writer, but, really, the only book by her that has totally grabbed me is unless. the other ones leave me pleased, impressed, but a bit cold. it’s as if they failed to congeal in my imagination into compelling, forceful stories. too much set up, maybe? the fault, if fault is the right word, is, i feel, in me, not her. i do love her take on life, which is gentle and easy and wry. life is this big unruly blob and you do best by smiling and going along as easily as you can, avoiding the knots and most certainly not trying to untie them. a box garden, too, adds religion to the mix, and it’s, as everything in shields, with a sweetly skeptical take that leaves one quite impressed with her intelligence and the depth of her soul. then maybe what doesn’t talk to me is her canadian gothic. like all anglo gothic (american, english, australian/new zealand), i don’t get it. very alien.

which brings me to richard flanagan’s gould’s book of fish, which looks amazing, reads amazing, but i had to abandon after a few chapters. i can’t stand the relentless abuse of antipodean literature. when i put myself through her work, janet frame just about finished me. i’m sure some of you have read gould and know what i’m talking about. what’s interesting about it, i find, is its look at colonialism and imperialism from the point of view of the terrible abuse it brought, not only to indigenous people, but also to the colonizers themselves. kind of like a modern version of the scarlet letter. the conditions to which the prisoners that became australia/new zealand’s founding fathers are subjected, the arbitrariness of the violence, are really beyond words. read janet frame’s astounding faces in the water if this stuff talks to you. i had knots in my stomach and on occasion i felt nauseous, not because of squeamishness, but because i don’t want to believe we can be so terribly brutal to one another. i’ll admit with not a small amount of shame that the fact that the violence was white-on-white might have made it worse. it’s not that i think it’s better to abuse non-white people, godforbid. it’s that we are just not habituated to seeing such terrible abuse perpetrated on white people, and it hit very close home. evidently, i draw comfort in those other stories from thinking that it won’t happen to me.

talking of things that might happen to me, check out this story. a “little-known but common practice?” REALLY???? so now the state of virginia has a law against it. how about the rest of us? and why isn’t this widely discussed? and: why not proctological exams on men, dental exams on children, etc? i am confused, bewildered, shocked, and scared.

i then started chris abani’s latest, the virgin of flames, but at this point i needed plain and solid writing, not abani’s weird stuff. i’ll certainly return to it, though i’ve got to say that abani confounds my belief that one has to be a good stylist to write good novels. his graceland is a fabulous book, in spite of the less-than-clean writing. still, i look forward to this book, some other time.

same with muriel spark’s the mandelbaum gate. fine book, but i really, really need some honest-to-goodness, dyed-in-the-wool americana right now to clean my palate and settle my stomach. terrible image. i don’t mean it that way.

26
Jun
07

queen of dreams and a coming-out novel

the coming-out novel is among other things, i’ve taken up smoking, by a writer called aoibheann sweeney (first name pronounced like the word “even”). that i remember, i have read exactly three coming-out novels: rubyfruit jungle, oranges are not the only fruit, and fun home. it’s not a genre i am particularly drawn to. in general, i find teenage identity crises fairly boring and teenage love stories excruciatingly boring, so you see how coming-out novels, which combine both, wouldn’t be my cup of tea. but among other things is a nice book, oddly similar to fun home even though the author apparently didn’t read fun home until after finishing the book. it’s the story of a standoffish gay father with his nose stuck in books (he’s busy translating ovid’s metamorphoses for the duration of the novel, which means more than a decade) and a sweet young girl living together on an island in maine. the father is repressed (though the story changes a bit later), undemonstrative, and neglectful, but you are meant to understand (again, later) that he loves his daughter very much. the daughter brings herself up while craving for her father’s attention, yet she turns out to be remarkably strong and assured. i’m not doing it justice. it’s a nice book, especially the first section, about living on a island entirely your own and being brought up by your father’s secret lover whom you refer to only as mr. blackwell yet love so very much (then, later, stop caring about altogether). the story could be a lot tighter. but it’s a first book, and the writing is good. in fact, the writing is the best thing, and the comparisons between the girl’s life and the stories from metamorphoses are beguiling even when they teeter on the brink of preciousness. mostly, though, i liked the old-fashioned tone, the way this book feels as if it had been written twenty years ago, the slow, foggy, north-englandy, old-timey prose.

queen of dreams is written by veteran indian writer chitra banerjee divakaruni and is quite impressive. at first i didn’t want to like it, because on the surface it’s such a woman’s book, you know, about mothering and making a go at owning a coffee shop with your best friend in the bay area and hating your ex-husband. but i had to succumb to the skill and beauty of the narrative. it starts off as a story about a woman who can see and understand other people’s dreams. this skill, though, is not the focus of the novel in itself, but in the impact it has on the woman’s life and the lives of her husband and daughter. the book’s protagonist is the daughter, rakhi, now an adult (and cafè owner etc.). rakhi’s emotional life has been damaged by the fact that her mother spent so much time on her dream work and so little time on her family. divakaruni moves the focus away from the metaphysical stuff to paint the drama of these three people who loved each other but whose needs and desires were so incompatible that they ended up experiencing abandonment, anger, loneliness, and mutual alienation. i loved the way divakaruni conveys the anguish of love and life in common, the difficulty of being oneself and the member of a family at the same time, the disappointment we are bound to inflict on those we love.

it seems to me that this book is about failure: failure of mothering, failure of loving (chidlren, parents, lovers), failure of functioning in the capitalistic society (the girls have trouble keeping their cafè open against the power of corporations), failure of doing art (rakhi is a painter), failure of following one’s vocation without hurting others. ultimately, rakhi has to grow from feeling wronged and bitter to being person of her own who can take it in the teeth and roll with the punches. divakaruni, though, definitely eschews pat solutions and easy answers, and the book doesn’t end very far from where i started. she also throws in anti-dark-skinned-people sentiment in the aftermath of 9/11. not very clear what that’s doing here, but, at the same time, this is such a brilliantly wandering novel that it doesn’t really matter.