Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Other Hand -- by Chris Cleave

As my usual habit I turned the book around to read about the plot. And this is what it said : “We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it.”  So intrigued was I to immediately open the book and start reading. (Curiosity always got the better of me. ALWAYS!!) Anyways, the first thought after reading that line was, ‘so much ego and pride in your story that you just don't want to reveal even one bit of it or is it that bad that you had to use this cheap marketing gimmick to at least sell the book, now that it’s published!!’ So with the hurt ego of the reader I started reading. And trust me, the publisher meant every word when he said that this book is magical. It kept me awake and engrossed till the very last sentence.

Every reader has been particularly requested by the publisher not to tell the story, as it would take out the essence of the story. But I believe it wasn't the story that was very different but the narration of the story that did the trick. The book is a perfect narration of a scary gripping world seen through the eyes of an African immigrant who tries to learn British ways and her innocent interpretations of the world seen by her, a scared black teen on the run; and through the eyes of a well to-do British working woman who has skeletons in her closet which she has to deal with on a daily basis.
This is a book which proves that grass may not always be greener on the other side. Chris has so cleverly alternated, in an unbiased manner, the story of the two women. It’s a very simple story with an even yet simple but mystifying topic-- the good and the bad. Good and bad that is present in the world. Also the good or bad that thrives within every person. A variety of views of different people of different age groups with different situations to handle. Whatever the views and situations, in the end everyone is one the same journey, journey which includes fighting the 'baddies' (in the words of Sarah’s son). The 4 year old Charlie’s only mission in life that time is to fight all those whom he thinks is a 'baddie' and he gathers the strength to do so from the batman suits he wears.
Respecting the publisher’s wish to keep the plot a secret I’ll only reveal the basic idea of what the book is about. It’s about Little Bee who is detained in UK due to illegal immigration. Her side of the story highlights how she plans to deal if someone tries to hurt her, search 4 a British couple whom she met on a beautiful beach on a horrific day. She thinks the key to her happy life lies with that couple. How she meets that couple and what happens after is what is best left for the readers to find out. On the other hand, (as aptly suggested by the title) is the story of Sarah, the fairer sex of the couple whom Little Bee is in search of. For the world she might be the hot shot professional who’s happily married and blessed with an adorable son. Scratch the 'picture perfect' image and you’ll find an equally hassled woman whose very trouble is how to save her marriage and protect her son from the bad world. She’s trying to erase one certain memory of the day where she met two beautiful black sisters on a beautiful beach on a horrific day. What is she guilty of and what completely changed her life and what she does to amend her mistakes makes up Sarah’s side of the story.
The book grips you from the first line where Little Bee wishes to be a British pound coin instead of an African girl, till the climax where she's just thankful for what she had in her short horror-filled life. There are times you will find yourself (un)comfortably entangled in the story. I wondered why only one word had been used by various readers to describe this fine book .Now I understood why. I seem to have forgotten all the vocabulary I somehow managed to accumulate all these years. It’s just impossible to form a decent sentence or put together a suitable collection of words to describe what I felt after reading this book. The fact that this might be a true story (Chris said in an interview that the character of Little Bee was inspired from the many African girls he met and saw when he was gathering facts for this book) disturbed me so much that I actually felt like joining Sarah in her endeavour to help Little Bee.  The book doesn’t disappoint you at all. It has its own share of surprises. It has a perfect blend of horror (beach scene), innocence (Little Bee's interpretations of British culture and way of living), cuteness (Charlie), hatred (soldiers, government which is sometimes synonymous with hatred, deceit, and false organization), humanity (farmers in the initial chapters and later on Sarah), fear, helplessness, desperation and love. U can feel all of this and live every emotion through this book. It’s not a very complicated story with complicated characters and lives. It’s a story with regular characters. Story of a difficult life. Of death. Of wanting to be a part of some ‘other side’. It’s a heart-wrenching story of how each character i.e., Little Bee, Sarah, Charlie deal with these issues. Three people. Three age groups. Three perspectives. This is a story you don't want to see yourself in or even want to relate to but it’s a story you would want to read and do something about it. You don't want the story to end. The story of, I don’t know how many girls, who's only wish is to live and we as common people can't help but just be spectators as we watch that innocent wish being mercilessly stamped by the selfish and silly motives of people with power. So disturbing and disgusting to see money taking place of lives.
There are some very powerful lines cleverly thrown in between. (I’ve been trying to write what effect these lines have on the reader but in vain. I guess the readers will find out on their own. All I can say is these lines will leave you with goose bumps.) The last few pages are mind-blowing. It is where the action is. If u find it a little boring and slow initially, just have a little patience. You won’t regret.  The climax will surely leave you with so many thoughts and emotions. Mixed feelings will grip you tight and leave you wondering about a lot of things which otherwise conveniently escape our minds. Chris deceptively got into the skin of both the ladies and weaved an amazing tragic tale. The ironic ending perfectly seals off this appalling yet delicate story.
All in all it’s a book you just can't afford to miss.

P.S : This book is known as Little Bee is the US.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Thousand Splendid Suns -- By Khaled Hosseini

Two words to perfectly describe this novel -- disturbingly marvellous or painfully beautiful. It disturbs you to the
highest degree but at the same time you can't help but notice at the marvel that this book turns out to be. It takes you through the traumatic journey of the two protagonists Mariam and Laila. The story is based in Afghanistan and covers 50years of the troubled nation's political history. One might wonder why is the political angle important  in a story about two women but as the book progresses it is gradually revealed how the political system moulds the lives and personalities of these two strong and beautiful characters of Mariam and Laila.

The book has been neatly demarcated into four parts.
First is Mariam's story. It etches a life of an illegitimate child of a rich father and a poor mother who initially worked as a servant in her father's place. It beautifully portrays the love of a child towards her father in spite of the father's unwillingness to let her in his life completely. All the time he can spare for her is one day in a week. The anticipation and excitement of a little girl meeting her father is palpable in the pages. One can easily relate to the emotion being essayed. How her life changes drastically when she sees the other side of her father and after her mother's death provides fodder for this part of the book.

Second part is about a girl called Laila who is what you call 'daddy's girl'. She leads a normal girl's life of being pampered,having friends, attending school and doing homework with nothing else to worry about. She has a faint memory of her brothers who left home to become 'jihadis' when she was a kid. She grows up to be a regular teenager who faces the usual angst of handling relationships with family,friends and the opposite sex, raging hormones and responsibilities. All she wished for, was becoming something big in life, marry the guy she loves and lead a simple life. But snatch away that simple dream from her and you get your second part of the book. The extraordinary journey which this ordinary gal embarks,ensures that you are in awe of her.

The third part is where the main drama unfolds at an unforgiving pace. What can one expect when such bipolar characters are forced to share a roof following undesirable circumstances. What starts as rivalry between two completely opposite people, blossoms into unimaginable and unparalleled friendship which can put anyone to shame. The author took his time to write about each woman's entire life in details. This can get a little dragged up in between but it is necessary as it justifies the image either portrays in this part. How and why each woman reacted to the same situation differently is defined by the the kind of life they had been subjected to as described in parts 1 and 2. By the time they meet Mariam has a family but is a subdued dutiful wife who silently bears her husbands tantrums and anger pangs. Laila who was once a free-spirited youngster with just countable worries is left alone to grow up overnight and play along the game that life was challenging her with. You can witness each protagonists' life in detail all through her childhood, teenage, as a wife, a mother, a friend and as a well-wisher.

The fourth part is where you'll find yourself dealing with mixed emotions. It's a very bittersweet ending to what started as a simple story about two small girls.

Khaled waved his wand and out came a delightful collage of pain, loss, longingness, love, sacrifice, innocence, anger and hatred. All these emotions are personified in a larger than life manner. It is so real that the two protagonists will almost feel like your acquaintances and there would be a strong urge to somehow get into the pages and help them out. One can list out all the positives reasons as why this book should be read. The only con being that one cannot read this book in one go. Its so heavy a read with so much violence and pain thrown in between. I personally had to put down the book many times to shake off the insane queasy feeling that was in the pit of my tummy. But otherwise no other reason stops me from taking this book and read all
over again, the endearing tale about Mariam and Laila who are portrayed as the ultimate guides of how to endure the unendurable. They are the epitome of a woman's strength and show how easily they can transcend all limits to do absolutely anything required for the people they love. The impact of the story lingers on and is hard 2 shake off for a looooong time.