Thursday, September 30, 2010

Revelry Review: The Weight of Heaven

South Asian Author Challenge: Book 4/5

When I first read the synopsis of The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar, I have to admit I wasn't all that excited. I had heard she writes beautiful fiction about Indians and Indian culture, but a book about two Americans who go to live in India? I was skeptical at best.

Turns out Umrigar can do it all. The story opens after Frank amd Ellie's young son has passed away. Their fragile state and complex emotions have been slowly eating away at their marriage. Then Frank accepts a job offer to go run an American company in rural India and they both see this as a chance to start over. While Ellie falls in love with the country and the locals, Frank's job continues to provide obstacles and frustration as the workers complain about low wages and the townspeople become enraged that the company is taking their trees for its own profit. Frank spends his free time with the son of their housekeepers, Ramesh, who fills the hole that the loss of their son left. However, it isn't long before Ramesh's own parents are unhappy that Frank and Ellie are treating him like their own child.

The plot has several twists and turns (with a final sucker punch of an ending). The reader is led into a world that is driven by misunderstandings, both cultural and personal. Overall, this is a beautiful novel with complex and dynamic characters who will linger in your mind long after you've read the last page. I can't wait to get my hands on Umrigar's other works.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Revelry Review: Room

When you are a book addict like me, it is not often that you come across something completely unlike anything else you've ever read. Room by Emma Donoghue is such a book.

I've seen many reviews of this book. Not only has it appeared in the fall book preview section of nearly every magazine I read, it has also been written up in the New York Times and The Washington Post, not to mention just about every other national paper. Donoghue herself has been interviewed all over the web, including here and here. Needless to say, the hype surrounding this book left me a little wary. Could it really live up to the expectations I had?

Yes, yes it could.

This is the story of "Ma" and her son, Jack. They are both being held hostage by their captor in a small room. In fact, Jack, who celebrates his 5th birthday in the beginning of the novel and whose voice is used to tell this story, was born there and considers it his home. With a small skylight as their only window to the area that Jack simply calls "Outside", they have created their own world inside "Room". Jack sleeps in "Wardrobe" at night, in case a man known only as Old Nick comes. His Ma goes to great pain to give Jack what she can given her circumstances, but little by little the reader is exposed to just how small their world really is. Without giving much away, their lives suddenly expand beyond the confines of "Room" and they are forced to leave familiarity behind and deal with "Outside" head on.

I admit it took me awhile (at least 40 pages) to adjust to reading a book that is narrated by a five year old who has only ever interacted with his mother in a tiny room. In fact, I nearly stopped reading. However, Jack's voice is this novel's genius. Even given that this sort of crime has appeared more and more in the news in recent years, I had never even considered many of the psychological and child development issues of people who have experienced what Jack and Ma have. The mental scars of their experience linger long after they have become physically free.

Audrey Niffeneger, the author of The Time Traveler's Wife, said, "Emma Donoghue's writing is superb alchemy, changing innocence to horror and horror into innocence. Room is a book to read in one sitting. When it's over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days." I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fall Book Preview

One of my favorite things about fall is that the book industry seems to pump out all of its big, juicy reads just in time for purchasing for the holidays (or, in my case, pre-ordering every last one of them!) Here is a preview of some of the books coming out between now and December that I am oh-so-very-much looking forward to:

Room by Emma Donoghue. This one actually comes out today and yes, it has already been delivered to my Kindle. This novel was seemingly inspired by the Josef Fritzl case, where he kept his daughter locked up in their home. A summary of the review: Jack, a 5 year old boy, has lived his entire life in a single room with his mother, visited only a nighttime by a man known as Old Nick. It is the only world he has known, but it is a prison for his mother. When their world suddenly becomes larger than the four walls they are used to, the consequences are "piercing and extraordinary".

I am very excited not only for this one to be released (October 12th) because also I will be hearing Nicole Krauss talk about her new novel, The Great House, at 6th and I Synagogue on October 18th. I adored The History of Love so I have been anxiously awaiting her next book. From the review: "The novel consists of four stories divided among eight chapters,
all touching on themes of loss and recovery, and anchored to a massive writing desk that resurfaces among numerous households, much to the bewilderment and existential tension of those in its orbit, among them a lovely American novelist clinging to the memory of a poet who has mysteriously vanished in Chile, an old man in Israel facing the imminent death of his wife of 51 tears and an esteemed antiques dealer tracking down the things stolen from his father by the Nazis."

David Sedaris writing animal-themed stories. Need I say more? Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary is due out on September 28th.

The Poets Laureate Anthology is the first anthology to gather the works of all 43 poets laureate. I will be attending a reading from this book that will include Billy Collins and Kay Ryan on October 6th. The English major dork in me has been overjoyed since I first heard about this book and the event!

You didn't think I would forget to include some cookbooks, did you?? Baked Explorations, the sister cookbook to Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito's first cookbook, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, is headed to a bookstore near you on October. Both cookbooks provide new takes on classic desserts. I loved the first one-what's not to love about a root beer bundt cake and black forrest cookies??--so I am hoping that this one will prove to be equally as delicious.

Appetite for Reduction: 100 Fast and Filling Lowfat Recipes by Isa Chandra Moskowitz is due out in early December. Every recipe she writes has turned out to be utterly delicious, so my kitchen and I are awaiting this one's release.

I love Colleen. I love her podcasts. I love her outlook. I hope I also love her new cookbook, Color Me Vegan, which is also due out in December.

Monday, September 13, 2010

DC Vegfest 2010

Jesse and I headed over to DC Vegfest this weekend, which was held at our alma mater, George Washington University. It was a lot of fun last year, so we looked forward to experiencing it again. I managed to score one of the last tote bags they had filled with some trials of veggie-friendly food and other products. Then we immediately got in line to get ourselves some of what Vegan Treats brought to the event. I got a peanut butter bomb and Jesse got a berry cheesecake. Take a look at these babies:

We had a delicious lunch of Ethiopian food from Dama Ethiopian Restaurant. Then we found a spot in the shade to see Chef Tal Ronnen's cooking demonstration.

After lunch I got coconut water to drink. Check out the coconut man machete-ing my coconut!

Mmmm, coconut water.

We got some new cookbooks and Jesse got a shirt that says, "Eat Like You Give a Damn". Amen. What a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Falafel "burgers" with a cucumber yogurt sauce from Veggie Burgers Every Which Way by Lukas Volger. SO good! This is a smaller sized cookbook but, based on this recipe, I think I am going to give every single recipe a try!