Tag Archives: family bonds

Review: The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose

The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose, by Alice Munro, is a compelling book, filled with amazing stories that this reader enveloped herself in, from the first page until the last page.

The stories are connected by both Flo and Rose, two main characters the reader sees depicted throughout the pages. Their lives are depicted with masterful imagery, and with detailed visuals into their thoughts and feelings.

Flo is Rose’s stepmother, a determined, somewhat brash and arrogant woman. She is seen in the first story as a woman who has a love/hate relationship with Rose. One minute she is verbally forcing Rose’s father to physically punish her, the next minute she is showing extreme compassion, and stating that the punishment went a bit overboard. She is in an awkward situation, yet one she has created herself.

Rose, in the same first story, is very aware of Flo’s mindset. She is also a determined young girl, and even with all of her insecurities, is emotionally strong when it comes to her dreams, and filled with goals that don’t necessarily meet Flo’s expectations. Flo doesn’t value education, and prefers the comfort and security of her small-town life, where she can gossip about everyone, and where she fits in like a glove.

As he matures, her life takes on new forms, and she becomes experimental with sexual trysts. These often feel as if she is in control, yet she is not, and becomes confused regarding love and sex, often mixing up the differences. She is unsure of herself, although she seems to be a woman of strength, with no conflicting issues. Inside of her is a woman struggling with interacting with men, with the differences in social class/stratum, and with herself and identity.

The stories take place over four decades, and we see each one grow into their own, especially Rose. They become friends, and have a strong bond, one that accepts the other, flaws and all. There is no judging. Towards the end of Flo’s life, Rose becomes her caretaker.

I can not stress enough the brilliance with which Munro writes a story, and these stories are incredible jewels. Like diamonds, the stories’ facets illuminate life, life in a small town, life that is often stifling, and life that contains both the hardships, goal oriented cravings, sad moments, and joys that occur in the lives of not only Flo and Rose, but those within their life.

Small town life is depicted with sensitivity yet conciseness. The fact that Munro exhibits minute details, details that at first seem micro in concept, actually are a necessary part of the whole, the entirety. Without them the lives within the exceptional short stories would not blend together with perfect precision. The fact that they do is a tribute to Munro’s brilliant display within the stories. In fact, the stories connect in such a fashion that they could almost be defined as a novel, instead of linked or joined stories.

I recommend The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose, by Alice Munro to those who like to read in depth perspectives of ordinary individuals living ordinary lives. Yet, within the ordinariness lies the extraordinary perceptions and illuminations the reader is shown, quite vividly.

Brava!

As an aside-I can totally comprehend whey Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize Prize in Literature, in October 2013.

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Review: Brick Lane

Brick Lane, by Monica Ali, is a story that depicts immigrant life in London’s East End, with flavor and flair. From the first page to the last, this reader inhaled her prose, and her defining of community assimilation so effectively.

Not only are the immigrants a part of the whole, in relation to community, but they are also a part of familial dreams, traditions and expectations. And, they are also individuals, who try to grasp the enormity of what it is to survive in another culture, and survive in their own cultural world, within the confines of the East End.

Two sisters, each married with different perspectives on life, love and domesticity. Nazneen’s marriage to Chanu is an arranged one, and she finds herself in the midst of life in London, a life with restrictions and cultural mores and traditions of the Bangladesh she left behind. Her sister, Hasina, remains in Bangladesh, and married for love. Through Nanzeen’s loneliness, her letters from her sister become a source of comfort, in a world where there is little to comfort her.

She is the dutiful wife and mother, takes care of household issues, and takes care of her husband and fulfills his desires within the poverty-stricken environment they live in. Chanu, ever the dreamer, is a life-long student, always taking some type of course in which he hopes to improve their lifestyle. He feels the key to success is education. He doesn’t quite understand that is education will get him nowhere, due to the cultural divide.

His educational efforts do not come to fruition as far as a promotion on his job, and he eventually has to resort to driving cabs. He sees the light, and has to acknowledge to himself the failure of his situation. His learning has gotten him nowhere, nowhere except a demeaning job forced upon him in order to survive and feed his family.

Nanzeen and Chanu’s children are handfuls. They are arrogant and do not agree with the old customs and traditions. They show a facade, as far as their Islamic religion and culture, within the realm of their neighborhood.

Nanzeen, herself, demonstrates growth potential. She eventually gains a sense of independence, and sense of self. She begins to wander from her neighborhood, and begins to realize there are other aspects to life, aside from the strictness forced on her within her marriage and familial traditions.

Some of what she experiences are fostered in part by her correspondence with her sister, Hasina. Hasina speaks of marriage with love, marriage as an ideal. Yet, as time goes by, Nanzeen realizes the fallacy of her sister’s life.

Monica Ali has created a novel that speaks to the heart and soul, one that brings emotional levels that rise up and decline. Yet, through it all, Nanzeen matures in ways that are realistic, especially her growth being a slow process within the Bangladesh community of London’s East End. Step by step, she advances through the years, and becomes a more self-assured person within the world of intense tradition and expectations.

Ali’s writing is a bit drawn out, in my opinion. The book could have been shortened, but aside from that, her prose is intense, vivid and filled with excellent word-imagery. The imagery is so astute and sharp that this reader could almost see, taste, smell and inhale the London, East End, and all of its Bangladesh flavors and community aspects.

I could go on and on, but you must read this book yourself in order to grasp the seriousness of the socialization, deprivation, integration, and assimilation aspects of Brick Lane.

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Book Diva Review: Life After Life

life after life Life After Life: A Novel, by Kate Atkinson is a book with an interesting take on immortality.

Not that reincarnations or parallel lives are an unusual subject for a novel, but in the aspect of Atkinson’s depiction of it through the lives of Ursula Todd, it can infer so much more. Ursula comes to life on many occasions, and at first it took me a three chapters to understand just what was occurring. That realization, in itself, was not a negative thing, but the constant reinforcement of Ursula’s situation/s left me wanting more than reiterations.

I felt as if I was in the midst of an offshoot version of the film, Groundhog Day. Ursula’s life begins and ends, only to begin again in continual renewal cycles. For me, that about sums it up. Life after life, Ursula is recycled, again and again. Parallel lives, reincarnation, metaphysics, whatever you wish to call it, it is there, unending.

The repetition became boring after a while for me, and the book is a long one with over 500 pages. I felt it tedious and to be challenging for me to finish the book. I became tired of the jumping back and forth in time, place, life, and situational occurrences. Finish it, I did, though.

With that said, the word imagery was excellently written, as well as the historical events. Kate Atkinson accomplishes that with clarity and strength. Atkinson’s writing depicting twists of fate and time bring unusual actions that Ursula involves herself in. She does weave the decades into the pages with a lot of history, which breaks up some of the repetition. I get it, I really do, but totally enjoy it, I did not.

Did I enjoy the book, overall? Not really. I was disappointed, and thought all of the hype surrounding the book was overrated. That is just my opinion. Yours might differ, and therefore we can agree to disagree.

Life after life after life after life…

On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest rating, I rate this a 3.

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Two Lives, by Vikram Seth

Two Lives, by Vikram Seth…I give it Five Stars!!

This beautifully written memoir is one that you will remember, long after you have finished the last word, on the last page. It is one of those memoirs that stay in your heart, in your mind, for a long time.

“When I was seventeen I went to live with my great-uncle and great-aunt in England. He was an Indian by origin, she German. They were both sixty. I hardly knew them at the time.”

And, with these opening lines begins the journey through the lives of Shanti Behari Seth, Helga Gerda Karo, and, the author, Vikram Seth, which culminates in an emotional ending. Vikram Seth, chronicles the lives of his great-uncle and great-aunt, with exacting details, which some might find over-reacting, or over-zealous in his endeavors. But, we must remember, this is a memoir, a factual story of lives, and all the details need to be relayed and interwoven into the family fabric, the family quilt of their lifespans. This is not a novel, or fictionalized account, but, rather an actual documentation of their lives.
We watch the friendship and love grow between Shanti, who was born in India, and studied dentistry and medicine in Berlin; and Helga, a German Jew. Two very different cultures, and two lives, lives which receded and ebbed within The Holocaust, Auschwitz and Israel, in an ocean of torment, hate, persecution, and, love. From 1908 India, to 1908 Germany, and the years that follow, in a Germany ruled by Hitler, we follow the journey of Shanti and Helga, to England, and also the journey of the author, Vikram Seth, into the lives of this childless couple.

These two lives couldn’t have been more different, yet more alike, than either of them could have imagined…overcoming racial and ethnic hatred, and genocide, their lives become fulfilled and realized, with the inclusion of Vikram Seth into their family. This is a memoir weaved from cultural threads, threads of understanding and love, woven into a quilt of unconditional love, compassion and the overcoming of adversity.

It is a must read for everyone who is interested in World War II, The Holocaust, India, England, and a love that crosses all the cultural boundaries. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down.

~~Book Diva

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