Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Marriage Bureau For Rich People by Farahad Zama



I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this novel. It was on my to read list as I had heard that Farahad Zama was a new author to watch with this being his debut novel.  For some reason I expected it to be more literary than the gentle read it turned out to be. I do not use the word ‘gentle’ in a derogatory manner but that is how the story comes across. A modern day social commentary about family relationships in India told through the everyday occurrences at Mr Ali’s ‘Marriage Bureau For Rich People’ At times it is very funny and at others tender and touching.

Mr Ali is retired but in search of something to keep him occupied hence the opening of a bureau for setting up arranged marriages. The matchmaking works and his days are soon full, offering advice to people seeking their life partners. Besides the various tales of his clients we also learn about the life of Mr and Mrs Ali’s son who causes them great distress as he is involved in social protests and gets himself arrested. The other protagonist is Aruna, Mr Ali’s assistant, a young girl whose circumstances mean she is unable to afford to marry!

Ok the story is nothing stunning and fairly predictable but I was drawn in by the interesting details about not only the various characters but about Indian life in general and how things are changing there.  It was also fascinating for me to learn about both Muslim and Hindu marriages and how they are arranged with love marriages discouraged.

An opportunity to learn about a different culture and way of life, which is something I enjoy in a novel, being transported to another world.

Photo courtesy ofFarahad ZamaLittle Brown

Farahad Zama was born in 1966 in Vizag on the east coast of India. After finishing his studies as an electrical engineer he moved to Mumbai where he worked in an investment bank, an arranged marriage to a girl from Vizag soon followed. He has travelled the world for his career working in Zurich, New York and has lived and worked in London since 1993.

As I have already mentioned The Marriage Bureau For Rich People is Farahad’s first novel. It is being translated into eight languages, and I believe there is a possibility it may be made into a film. If you are interested in reading the first chapter of the book you can do so on the the author’s Official Website which is also where I gleaned the biographical information from for this post.

There is also a video available on YouTube with the author in India to promote his book which he reads an extract from, unfortunately I did not feel the sound was good enough to include here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger




I read Niffenegger's first novel The Time Traveler’s Wife before I started LindyLouMac’s Book Reviews and although it became one of my favourite novels, I never wrote more than a paragraph about it Bookcrossing Journal Entry.I was not used to writing reviews then and found it impossible to write anything worthwhile without it containing spoilers. However I did comment that you need to read it with an open mind and it is the same case with Her Fearful Symmetry.

Lets hope that I can do better this time. This is another very imaginative storyline but surrounded by reality and I think I enjoyed it. An odd thing to say but I did find some of the story difficult to cope with, due to the unethical behaviour of one of the characters which I found disturbing! I obviously cannot say more, if you have read this you will probably guess what I am referring to, if you haven’t well read the book to find out. Let me know what your thoughts were, I am interested, would you behave like that given the unlikely opportunity?

A haunting love story centred around two sets of Noblin family twins, Edie and Elspeth and the younger generation Julia and Valentina. Elspeth is estranged from her twin so when she dies she leaves her estate to the young girls. The main condition of the will is that they leave there home the other side of the Atlantic and live in the London flat for a year. Julia and Valentina much to their parents dismay were keen to take up this opportunity. The move to the apartment in Vautravers a house with direct access to Highgate Cemetery brings them into contact with not only Elspeth’s neighbours, Robert and Martin but the ‘afterlife’. Robert was Elspeth’s lover and he at first finds the twins resemblance to her very difficult to cope with. The other resident is Martin who suffers so badly from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that he no longer leaves his flat. The girls learn to find their way around London, explore Highgate Cemetery and both befriend one of the neighbours each as one of them starts to want independence from the other one. Highgate Cemetery features strongly in the novel and the facts you learn about it are very interesting, so I guess this has increased tourist visits there.

Highgate Cemetery . Photo courtesy of savidgereads from his review.

The afterlife aspect of the story is the central theme as we discover the history of this family of twin identities and it is dealt with by the author in the same matter of fact way that she wrote about ‘time travel’. Unfortunately like so many other reviewers I was rather disappointed with the ending, but I suppose it was difficult to end it other way when you think about it.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not I recommend you read this, if you can cope with the ‘afterlife’ aspect as Audrey Niffenegger has once again produced a novel that is unique (I think, unless you know differently) in its storyline.

Also did anyone else appreciate where the title comes from? The novel's title is inspired by The Tyger by William Blake which begins "Tiger, tiger, burning bright In the forests of the night,  What immortal hand or eye  Could frame thy fearful symmetry?". The poem is mentioned along with a full synopsis of the novel on Wikipedia.

This interview that I found on YouTube is also interesting as Audrey Niffengger explains how the theme of loss and making the most of what we have appears in her novels.

Courtesy of beyondbooks

If you are interested in learning more about Audrey Niffenegger and the book she is currently working on visit her Official Website .

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

December by Elizabeth H. Winthrop




December is Elizabeth H. Winthrop’s second novel but this is the first novel by her that I have read. I cannot actually recall how the title made it on to my Wish List but it did and I subsequently obtained this copy via Bookmooch a few months ago.  Surprisingly little happens in this novel and although well written there is not much to say about it. Although I did not find it boring I did find it at times a little slow because of the amount of trivial detail that is included about the everyday activities of the family, not sure if this much detail was necessary, but it did show how much Isabella’s silence effected family life.

How would any parent feel if their child had not spoken to them for 286 days? Isabella Carter is eleven years old and has not spoken to her parents or uttered a word to anyone in fact for so many months that specialists are at their wits end with her not being able to diagnose anything specific. Her school has been providing work for her to do at home, but are no longer prepared to have her on the list of pupils unless she returns speaking within the next few weeks. 

Ruth and Wilson Carters marriage is beginning to show the signs of strain as they struggle to discover where they have gone wrong with parenting, if this is even their fault. The three protagonists narrate the story which means we really get to feel the tension this situation is causing for all three of them. The parents are experiencing vast mood swings from anger with themselves, anger with their daughter, to being scared of what exactly the future holds for them all.  Isabella starts her silence because she feels she has no control over her life in any other way. She is struggling with the confusing world of an adolescent, so not speaking seems to her a way of gaining some control. The problem is that the longer her silence goes on, the less in control she actually feels. The control changes to an inner fear that she might not actually be able to speak if she tried to. Without writing a spoiler it takes someone outside the family plus a desperate need to communicate to make Isabella realise that the silence does not have to control her for ever, but how will she respond to this insight. To find out you will have to read the book.


Elizabeth Winthrop © Julia Bishop

Elizabeth Winthrop © Julia Bishop

To find out more about this young author visit her Official Website

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

French Fried by Chris Dolley


Unfortunately this felt very dated because it has taken much too long for this memoir to be published. What a surprise it was to learn this all happened in 1995, that’s fifteen years ago, come on ex-pat life has moved on so much since then! It read to me far more like a diary than a novel which I feel means it would have been far better to have been published at the time either  in a magazine or newspaper. In fact I think this would have made perfect blog reading, but I am not sure how many were around then? Looking into this I did discover an earlier online presence, see details at the end of this review.

I was really pleased when Chris Dolley approached me asking if I would like to review French Fried for two reasons. Firstly it was to be sent to me in eBook form giving me the opportunity to use my  Sony E-Reader and it is an ex-pat adventure. Although not set in Italy but France I felt there would be much that I could relate to. While there certainly was including escapades with fireplaces and tradesman, I was very disappointed as already mentioned by the era it happened in.  So much of the bureaucracy written about was way out of date and it still referred to French Francs. I assume this means that Chris Dolley has been trying for many years to get this memoir published and finally has succumbed to the e-book route. I searched for the availability of a hard copy but there does not seem to be one.

Normally a slim volume such as this would only take me a few days to read but it took me five days unheard of. I struggled because of the what felt to me like forced hilarity at times about the unfortunate situations they found themselves in, it was just too much at once. A chapter or two at a time was enough with this almost facetious style of writing, surely at the time they did not find so much humour in what was happening. I also found at times the naivety of the couple rather strange especially as they already had family living in France when they arrived.

As for the identity fraud that the couple suffered well you could not help but feel sympathetic and impressed that they solved the case themselves, but I have to say the result was rather obvious from fairly early on. I guessed who it was anyway, but that of course was easy with all the clues I had been given, not so easy for the Dolleys one realises. It is this story though within the book that makes it different from every other ex-pat memoir as it is almost (but not quite) a detective story.

I honestly think that as Chris Dolley was already an author when he wrote this that he would have been far better using the identity theft plot and writing a thriller. In fact I discovered he did in fact have this very idea himself but changed tack when he found it becoming too funny. What a shame he did not stick to his original idea. I feel badly as the author so kindly asked me to review his book and sent me the eBook gratis, however one has to be honest. I am sure his day to day life if written in the here and now, not tales from the last century maybe as a blog he would have a following.

Learn more about Chris Dolley here or on his Official Website where you will learn he is also  a science fiction author and designer of computer games. I also discovered during my research that from 2007, maybe earlier until as recently as August 2010 Chris Dolley was writing at LiveJournal about these and other experiences.

Update November 3rd, Chris Dolley has taken the time to comment here and I think the link he suggests reading is relevant and interesting so am including it as a link here