& to lighten
Lamps, to enliven
stardust & dreams
of origin of love
of purity & wishes
await his promise
sanctuary, she seeks
in random shadows
in empty sweet-nothings
in swirling still breeze
in irresistible grasp
of mirthless hope.
The setting is different too, Japan this time. And the main theme that I fathomed from the read is the Fatherhood – an initiation and journey – but under highly unconventional and melancholic circumstances.
Rich, informative descriptions of Japanese landscapes, weather, homes and culture add an authentic feel to the read.
The story begins slowly, but surely and stays steady while it builds up some suspense along the way, right till the very end. A few unexpected twists and turns pepper the emotions with sadness and loss.
Benjamin has made some mistakes in his life. He puts his glowing career and marriage with Addy at stake when he follows his heart, that takes him all the way to Japan. What happens there? Does he have a joyous reunion with his former love Hanako? Or does a new relationship blossom with her friend Tomoko? The book explores multiple layers of man-woman relationships and the complications that come with them. It also explores the challenges of fatherhood, for a clueless man in the process of re-discovering himself.
It is a display of how cultural differences play havoc with love and relationships. Further, language barriers cause heartbreak, pain and irreversible loss. The immigration challenges of fetching a loved one across international borders is showcased well. Amidst all of this, sprouts innocence and purity, in the form of a child, Aiko – Love Child – that is bound to tug at the heartstrings of readers.
Benjamin and Hanako showcase love that transcends all barriers of culture, nationality, language and race. Addy, as the wife is typically convincing. Additional characters like that of Tomoko showcase the hardships of women caught in a quagmire of lost ‘foreign’ love and societal barriers.
One’s heart goes out to the grandmother Obasan, though. It is heartbreaking how she loses her close loved ones, especially towards the end.
The smooth and flawless narrative style enhanced with the flashbacks that keep adding meat to the present. Every new chapter opens up another view into the past and either solves a piece of some puzzle or peppers the story with more suspense. It is slow and steady, a kind of style where one can relax with a glass of wine, only to back up and absorb the shock of yet another twist that arrives without warning.
The descriptions add meaning to the storyline. The bathing ritual of washing oneself while seated on a stool, before entering the bathtub – another interesting contraption with multiple seating arrangements within it – are eye-openers to the culture of the Japanese. The food descriptions are mouth-watering as well, in their healthy simplicity.
The most interesting aspect is how Japanese words and dialogues add authenticity to the confusion and misunderstanding that is crucial to the storyline.
I rate the book 4.5 out of 5. Extra points for bringing out the cultural differences and societal nuances with aplomb.
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The topic in question is love, with all its rules and demands of propriety to cater to demands of rules, drawn by society. However, there is a larger, sinister backdrop to it – a brutal senseless murder, loss, loneliness, fear and the journey towards recovery.
Most important is the powerful social message about the horrifying gun-culture rampant in America.
Sensitive, well-etched out characters seem to be this author’s forte. Bill Masters is in pain, trying to cope and the edge of his tether of sanity. The suicidal progression, where a victim of trauma kills himself without doing anything, but sleep at home, seems to have already kicked in when the entry of a girl changes everything.
It is a nice twist that the girl is an exchange student, from China, of all the places. Bill Masters and Wendy Wang, an unlikely pair with an age-difference that merits her calling him 'Daddy' in all innocence.
The protective instincts coupled with suppressed desire waging war within a middle-aged man is what the story is all about. The flashback events of Bill’s family are portrayed with smart revelations of what’s needed at any given point and yet, retain ample suspense to allow surprise as the story moves along.
As in the other books I’ve read of the author, his characters fight convention, either in a mild but assertive way or in a blatant, nonchalant way – the latter seems to be the forte of the female characters, which makes the story all the more compelling to read.
I liked how the story began right in the middle of the angst, after the killings have happened. The suspense is built up, un earthing layers little by little. The awkward situation of a middle-aged man having to host a teenage girl in his home, is brought out with finesse. The change in the equation between them is unpredictable and adds to the suspense. The angst of death and thrill of constant danger makes this story a compelling package.
I was surprised by the end, again, as in the other books. I expected something similar to the last one I read, A Beautiful Chill.
Stephen Swartz writes against convention, his stories examine the crux of what forms ‘proper’ code of behaviour and whether that code always makes sense under different, difficult circumstances, or not.
Simple straight-forward narration with impeccable vocabulary makes the book an easy read. It is amusing how the Chinese Wendy leaves out articles in her sentences and the English teacher in Bill keeps correcting her, almost to no avail.
The pun on Mister Masters, the English master is not lost on the reader. The slang of America, which makes little sense, especially for words like Daddy, is showcased with finesse. Wendy’s questions bring out the loopholes in the commonly used slang, when she tries to understand why Daddy has sinister connotations or when she asks her friends what they say when somebody is just sleeping next to someone, without making love. I am sure a lot of us would want to know, given the tricky contortions rampant in the common vocabulary.
There are bad men in the world, yes there are. There are also many psychos, even teenaged ones, who need help and aren’t getting any. There are guns, available to these psychos to go on a rampage and kill innocents, to make statements.
Amidst all this, are a few good men. Men who try and succeed in retaining their innate sense of decency and immaculate behaviour. Most important is the respect some men retain for the woman race, even when opportunity taunts their mind or while their hormones may be raging for release. Bill, who never takes advantage of the innocent (or not-so-innocent) Wendy is an eye-opener and reminder to people who are tired of the ‘dirty old men’ of society. And yes, there is a strong statement of the license to love between consenting adults, unwritten rules be damned.
And for this portrayal of the sensitive morality of the good men, I rate extra points for the book with 4.7 out of 5.
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English Literature students will have much to learn from Stephen Swartz’s books, that draw from his long expertise as an English professor.
Two protagonists immersed in their own despair discover one another in more ways than one. Their inner turmoil equals the pressure that the world around them – relatives, colleagues and friends – who wield subtle and not-so-subtle influences over them. Both of them would make highly interesting psychological studies.
All the other characters gain importance as and when they come along and add their crucial bits, into the equation brewing between the Eric and Iris. Even the minor characters assume importance in how they change or affect the processes going on within the minds of the two main characters. Each character is powerful, in the way he or she affects the thinking on one or both the key players in the story.
Eric’s self-doubts make our hearts go out to him as much as they do for Iris’s childhood trauma. How her trauma refuses to let go of her, until it becomes irreversible forms the crux of the story.
Eric’s inner struggles with respect to how people around him would perceive him are compelling. His passionate speech about the loneliness of a single middle-aged man in a hormone-challenging environment are eye-openers to the society, that is often blind to the human aspect of the male populace.
The fragile equation between a middle-aged son and his parents put to test when his carefree girlfriend meets them, is dealt with in its ridiculously humourous, yet completely serious finesse.
The Wicca rituals, witch references add a mythical touch, even as the Icelandic legends weave themselves into the story. This makes it a rare enmeshing of ancient myth into modern reality, minus any supernatural or paranormal inclusions.
It takes some psychological knowhow to comprehend the erratic (especially sexual and sometimes nudist) behaviour of a character like Iris. The various interpretations by other characters may either add new dimensions or further confuse a clueless reader, thus augmenting the depth in her character.
What remains a strong motif throughout the story is the theme of reversal or opposites – the typical dating ritual in reverse, the female, rather than male promiscuity, perceived strength or weakness of the male species, the blatant lack of secrecy of the woman in a gossip-riddled judgmental environment, and many more.
It is also interesting to read the tendency for often malicious gossip, that seems to perforate even the supposed modern, or culturally advanced university environment of America. It underlines the fact that the innate character of human beings essentially remains quite the same, irrespective of where they exist in the world.
The matter-of-fact, non-judgmental narration works well for topics that are as sensitive as this one. There is absolutely no hint of narrator’s ‘voice’ to be gleaned from even the most ludicrous behavioural/thinking processes of the characters.
I completely loved the references to Shakespeare, especially his plays. The analyses of some of the Bard’s plays woven neatly into the story’s narrative are brilliant and add a realistic turn to the University classroom setting and sequences.
I rate the book 4.6 out of 5. Extra points for the brilliant insightful analyses of English and intriguing Icelandic Literature woven into the story and narrative.
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The biggest pull of the novel is the protagonist and the fact that it is true story of a real woman, although the author admits to have fictionalized the end, which adds on to the allure of a perfect climactic finish.
Readers will totally love Wolf. She is cute and endearing, real and fun-loving, but strong and inspiring. Her unbidden humour enhances the irony of her precarious situations, even as it showcases her quick resilient spirit. Her extraordinary transformation from Anuka to ‘Anna Good’ is compelling in its honest admittance of the challenges of her journey.
Anna’s sister is a reminder of goodness in the world. Her unbending support of a newfound sister, although with tinges of selfishness, still endears readers throughout the story.
The men are interesting character studies, going by the way they are shown with ruthless honesty. Their immaturity, which stems from wanting the privileges of marriage, minus the responsibilities that come with it, is showcased well in all the key male characters in the sisters’ lives. Right from 'the man with the red beard' of her childhood to the 'husbands' she is stuck with after motherhood, the key men are shown to play crucial roles in shaping the direction of her life.
The innate throes and challenges of motherhood especially sans the support of the father(s) is portrayed to ruthless perfection.
The latter half of the book where the typical male chauvinism breeds incredulity in the male soldiers brings out amusing humourous and patient shades of Anna are enjoyable to read. It reminded me of the Bollywood movie Gunjan Saxena where the lady helicopter pilot faces the chauvinistic antagonism of her male team members.
The whole premise of the book is a journey of learning for me. Although we learn much from all reads, irrespective of whether they are fiction or non-fiction, books that are set in alien cultures and settings that are far removed from our own always hold that edge over the rest.
The setting of the novel holds the reader intrigued from the word go. The inherent danger of the surroundings with brutal weather conditions of Greenland, lack of comfort or amenities, compounded by danger of human and animal predators makes for a thrilling read.
One has an inkling about the story from the title. However, nothing prepares the reader for the sheer shock of encountering the uncomfortable truths that are unraveled layer by layer, in the story. Although the topic is not newin itself, the handling of the story-telling, is compelling. The initial chapters in the voice of a child is heart-wrenching and brings out the innate human strength and spirit that is embedded in the helpless weakness of a child.
I was flabbergasted towards the end of the novel where the very torturous childhood trauma becomes the main source of resilience, will and fighting acumen of the girl called Wolf. And the irony is that in a twisted but realistic way, the story proves that humans, especially women are capable of rising from every ordeal and convert the very damage into combat if necessary. The author has ensured that this facet is brought out brilliantly, in a totally convincing manner.
The rise of Wolf is no less than phenomenal. I absolutely loved the complete transformation – physical mental and psychological – that Wolf undergoes in the second half. The hunting scenes are absolutely brilliant and is sure to make every woman’s head rise a few notches in pride.
The novel is an insight into complicated relationships between men and women and everything in-between. This is the first book that deals with intimacy, including gay and lesbian relationships without the accompanying sleaze that we read in most books.
The first-person narration enhances the personal connect for the readers with the story. The child’s voice that is steeped in innocence, even while recounting horrors of lustful men or dangers of the wild instill fear for her safety and garners admiration for her courage.
The matter-of-fact tone in which Wolf narrates her story, including her sexual liaisons with multiple men or her boxing prowess alike make it devoid of sleazy undertones or grisly violence. There are cringe-worthy scenes during intimacy nor gory details even while describing brutal rape or extreme violence. This is where the author’s writing prowess scores over most others.
Spoiler Alert: I absolutely loved the fight scenes, be it in the ring or on the snow every one of them was enjoyable. Even to the very end, the way her mind absorbs physical pain and maintains calm is astounding.
The wolf’s hunt is breathtaking in its thrilling detail.
And I totally loved the tagline that is a powerful motif throughout the book. I’m sure all the readers would agree.
I rate the novel a clean 4.8 out of 5 (amounts to a 5/5 star Amazon rating). Call it my womanly prejudice if you may, but I totally love and devour books that showcase the Phoenix in a woman, that rises out of her ashes of hardship and despair in life.
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