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In Other Words in my words

I recently finished the book In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri and I’m left still processing my feelings and thoughts on it.

I have been a fan of Lahiri’s work for years. I have read and own all her other books and loved reading all of them. I think the obvious reason I’m so pulled into her writing is because much of what she writes about is relatable to me. In The Namesake I felt exactly as the protagonist, Gogol.

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Her latest book, In Other Words, is a short book that’s autobiographical (her first) and translated from Italian. Lahiri learned Italian and the book shares her journey in learning this language and being able to speak it fluently without losing who she already is.  She learned Italian here in the States, took lessons, recalls her love of the language from her past (even doing her doctoral on Italian architecture and its influence on English playwright) and then she traveled to Italy and decided to write in Italian.

She reflects on how hard it is to learn a new language and then still hold true to your mother tongue and this resonated with me throughout the entire book.

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My sister and I in India before we moved to the States

Some of you may know that I wasn’t born here in the US. I was born in New Delhi and moved to America when I was 3 years old. At the time it didn’t really mean anything, but as I grew up here, it was hard!

I spoke Hindi and Telugu apparently all the time. My parents spoke Telugu at home, but my mom told me that she and my dad were told by teachers that if I had any chance of “succeeding” in this country, I would need to learn English. The school encouraged them to speak English at home so I was exposed to it, and in turn, and unfortunately, I lost my ability to speak it. I still understand it 100%, but I can’t speak a word of it or conjugate a sentence.

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Me, age 5 or 6, when visiting our uncle in Seattle

Imagine seeing family and not being able to communicate with them in that language. Sure, everyone speaks English, but it’s a part of me I totally get discouraged about and makes me feel like a total outsider. Even at work. There are many people who speak Telugu at my office, and with each other, but when I’m there, they switch to English. I’ve told them they can continue speaking it if they want, since I understand, but I think that makes them feel awkward and they just nervously laugh and continue in English.

I took a class in college where I learned about W.E.B. Du Bois and his idea of double consciousness. It’s an idea where you are aware of who you are, but you sometimes still feel disenfranchised from two communities.

One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife – this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa.

Growing up, I felt like this. I didn’t quite fit in with the American kids since it was new and something my parents and I had to learn, and at home and with family, I felt like an outsider within the Indian community too.

I sometimes still do. I try to immerse myself within my culture because I’m proud of it and my heritage, but I totally have this fear for when REB and I visit India (which we hope to do within the next few years). I know things are totally different in India now, but I’m almost scared to go just us because I can’t speak a lick of Hindi anymore and feel like this will be a language barrier. Maybe it won’t be, but if I go to India, I don’t want to only see the big tourist cities and what not. I want to see my family, have him meet them, and it would be pretty cool if I could speak with them, and not just in English. I know they won’t be offended if that’s all I speak, since again, India is totally different not. Almost everyone speaks English, but maybe part of me feels like it would be “self worth” to be able to speak in Telegu or even Hindi with them.

At our wedding, which was a south Indian ceremony

At our wedding, which was a south Indian ceremony

My sister and I were talking about this and she said something that really stood out: “we’re all trying so hard to stay in touch with our ‘roots’, but what does that mean anymore?” She said we live in America where it’s all about being a melting pot and embrace unity, but we’re still so focused on ourselves. It’s scary to feel lost in a crowd so you’re holding onto those roots so we know who we were because we’re looking for meaning.

I know she’s right, but I also know I don’t want to let it go. I’ve even thought about re-learning HIndi, as if I’m a toddler learning to speak, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. That’s not an excuse, I realize, but I maybe I should try. So how do I identify myself? I’m an American, but I was born in India. I’m happy to have two cultures in my life and even though I want to try to be better at being in touch with my “roots”, I’m setting up new roots here in America and that’s more than OK. I won’t ever forget where I’ve come from, and I will embrace it as best I can.

Yikes – I got off on a terrible tangent – I hope you’re all still with me!

Regardless, I highly recommend reading In Other Words and all of Lahiri’s other books. She’s an amazing writer and has a beautiful way with words! Even if you can’t relate to what she’s writing, she has the ability to make you stop and think about what you’re reading. Even if it’s a work of fiction. So definitely add this to your reading list this year!

Have any books ever stood out to you on a personal level?

 

Book Reviews Part 4

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I have to apologize a million times for my lack of blogging in the past few weeks. I had made a goal to try to blog at least once a month and I’m not exactly living up to that very well. I’ve made so many recipes and had so much to say and yet, simply did not have time to just share it with everyone. But, for those of you who follow me on social media, you’re in the know of what’s been up in my world!

The more important thing to task right now, though, is the next installment of book reviews! As of today I have read 16/30 books and it’s not even the summer yet! At this rate, I could wait until June to read the next book and still make my reading goal. I had thought about increasing my goal to 50, but I feel like I’d just be kicking myself in the ass if I do that, so we’ll leave it at 30 for now. On to the reviews!

  • Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Three words: OH. MY. GOD. I have been wanting to share my thoughts and review on this book for about a month now. This book was recommended to me by my bookworm friend Amber and I’m so glad she did. I could not put this book down. It’s in the thriller/mystery/suspense genre and you know me: I like trying to solve the case! This book follows journalist Scott McGrath as he tries to uncover the mystery behind the death of Ashley Cordova. She’s the daughter of the legendary, reclusive horror movie director Stanislas Cordova. No one knows what Cordova looks like, where he lives or anything about his overly private life. What we do know is that he has a huge fan base and people anxiously await the next film he makes. So when his daughter is found dead, we’re on the case! We encounter some very interesting characters the protagonist McGrath finds along the way who help him on his case, and we follow their journey as they try to find out what happened to her.

This story is absolutely fantastic and so creatively written and put together. It’s also very descriptive and haunting. There are actual newspaper clippings, interviews, photos, etc. to make it seem like you’re looking through case files like this incident actually happened and you’re right there with McGrath as he’s trying to figure out what happened to this girl. I have nothing bad to say about this book except that I wish we could have maybe read it from Ashley’s perspective too. Like, what was going through her head before her death. But maybe that would give away too much. Either way definitely pick this one up. You won’t regret it.

  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Soooo…yeah. Red Rising. Remember how I was, like, obsessed with reading this book because it was the first book in my and Amber’s book club? It was reviewed as being similar to Game of Thrones or The Hunger Games Series. Uh yeah, please scrap everything great you heard me say about it. Such a bummer. This book is the first in the Red Rising trilogy and follows the story of Darrow, a guy who works the mines (helldrivers, they’re called) on Mars. Except it’s Mars in the future! He’s a Red, which is a type of caste or class in the entire society they’ve built there. He and his wife Eo are so in love, but when they leave the boundaries of their village, they are caught and convicted of going against their class and being “curious”. So naturally they’re sentenced to death. Then the revolution begins.

This book had so much promise. It really did. It was deemed in our library’s (and other book websites) hot list for best books of February. It’s already a New York Times Bestseller (but I never pay attention to that because some truly awful books make that list). Within a week of his book releasing, the author, Pierce Brown, announced a movie was already in the works. This book isn’t similar to The Hunger Games ….IT IS THE HUNGER GAMES. I totally get that people will take inspiration from other SciFi/Fantasy books, but you have to wait more than the three years a really successful series has been out to do this. The writing is barely tolerable. Because. He writes really. Really. Short sentences. To be dramatic maybe. I don’t know. Annoying. It’s not all that descriptive because he repeats the same things over and over again and we’re introduced to characters out of the blue and with no background or context. Some parts make absolute no sense because he will talk about a certain event that seems interesting, and then it’s never mentioned again. It’s just sort of all over the place. He takes way too much “inspiration” from Game of Thrones plot lines and settings, that it’s surprising he’s not being sued for plagiarism. This book got two stars from me on Goodreads. I also don’t think I will be reading the rest of the trilogy. I just don’t see how it can get any more exciting because this first one fell short.

  • The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

This book was another “meh” book for me. I had added it to my “to read” list because it was another book based on an Indian family and I like to show my people major love. It follows the story of Hassan Haji as he recounts his life growing up in Mumbai when a tragedy forces he and his family to move to France. They start a small restaurant in the mountainside there and quickly it becomes successful as many French people there had never eaten Indian food before. However, across the street is a very fancy French restaurant and the woman who owns that restaurant is not happy when Indians inhabit the small village where she lives. She’s also not overly thrilled to have them as competition in the restaurant world because they are becoming so successful. But to her horror, she finds out that Hassan, a then-skinny-awkward teenager, can cook like a pro. It’s a cute story, a very easy read, but it didn’t keep me interested and excited. It was kind of linear. No real “oh my god” moments or gotcha’s or anything like that. It’s a sweet read about a guy looking back on his life and how he got to where he is. It makes me want to go back to France, but other than that, meh. It’s not a bad read, but only three stars from me.

  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

This is another one of those typical YA books where two kids in high school who have nothing in common somehow become friends and something more. Eleanor is the heavier-set, uncontrollable-curly-haired more-impoverished girl who gets teased a lot in school for her lack of high-end clothing and minimal social circle. Park is the skinny, stereotypical smart half-Korean kid who likes to read comic books, has a lot of friends, listens to 80s British rock bands and comes from a pretty typical middle class family. He and Eleanor ride the same bus to school and one day, she has to sit down next to him and their friendship forms…in a strange, but cute way. The story takes a weird, unexpected turn in the middle-to-end, but it was a quick, easy read about two “star-crossed lovers” who are in the midst of young love, but experience challenges. It’s not the most revolutionary book I’ve read, but if you want a quick read to finish in 1 or 2 days, or if you like books like Spectacular Now, then pick this up!

  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

I love, love love Jhumpa Lahiri. One of my favorite books of all time is The Namesake, which was written by her. It was a book I could relate to about coming to America and not feeling like you’re part of your Indian heritage anymore, but you don’t quite fit into American life either. So given my response to that book and given I loved her book of short stories/essays, I was super excited to read her newest book The Lowland. However, I was a little disappointed, I have to say! I hate saying that, but in comparison to her other writings, this didn’t surpass them. This story is about two brothers who are 15 months apart, Udayan and Subhash. They are caught in the Naxalite, a communist guerilla event that took place in India in the 1950s/60s. Subhash ends up leaving India and heads to America, while Udayan stays to be part of the revolution. When Subhash hears some tragic news, he returns to India and that’s where the story truly unfolds. It’s a very haunting book with some dark turns and moments. It’s emotional, but again, it didn’t wow me. Compared to something like The Namesake, this sort of fell short for me. However, I love Jhumpa so much; she’s one of my favorite authors. She is a beautiful writer that’s for sure. Fans of hers should definitely read this book!

So there we have it! I have to be honest: there were two books I got from the library that I ended up returning and nixed off my list (for now). There were other books I received that I felt would be better to read now over the others. The ones that were nixed, will make it back to my list eventually this year, I’m sure! So what I’m currently reading now is This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathon Tropper. I believe this book is being made into a movie, which will star the ever wonderful Jason Bateman. Anyway, following that I will be reading Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining from Stephen King. Then after that, I hope to start Cujo, also by Stephen Knig, which will be the next book in my and Amber’s reading club.

Happy reading!

What books are you currently reading?

Book Reviews Part 3

Here’s the next installment of book reviews! According to Goodreads, I’m 9 books ahead of my 2014 goal, which is 37% done. I have a feeling I’ll exceed the 30-book challenge, which is A-OK with me. That just means I’ll need to up my game and increase my reading goal next year. So since the last book reviews post I have read 4 more books, and currently reading one as well. So let’s do this!

  • Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon

This book was recommended to me by Amber. She had said it was one of her favorite books of all time, and since I was in a lull waiting for books at the library to become available, I decided to read this in the interim. My friend Jackie’s husband was also reading it at the time! The book takes place in 1945 Barcelona and follows the story of Daniel, who, after the recent death of his mother, finds a book with the same title tucked away in a bookstore. He finds out that this book is a bit “controversial” because he finds out there is a man who goes around burning every copy of the book, which has Daniel wondering why. So he goes on an epic journey around Barcelona to find out about the author of the book, and what the mystery is behind the man wanting to burn each copy. It wasn’t a bad book, but it didn’t get more than 3/5 stars from me on Goodreads. It just didn’t have me reeled in until some where in the middle. It was a bit slow moving, but the descriptions of the city of Barcelona are absolutely fantastic. I felt like I was there, with Daniel, on this epic exploration of the city. The back of the book also had a map tracing where Daniel went in Barcelona, which I guess fans of the book do! Note to self: When I go to Barcelona, walk Daniel’s steps!

  • I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

I wanted to read this book ever since I saw her as a guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and she made him speechless with her words. At only 16 years old, she is the youngest person ever nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, too. When she was 15 years old, she was shot by the Taliban because she did a lot of speeches in her home country of Pakistan encouraging people to support a girls’ right to an education, which of course did not sit well with some folks who believed a woman’s place was not in school. This book was captivating and honest. I know many countries still oppress their women (India is still a country that does this in some parts), but to read the way young girls were viewed at the height of the Taliban and post-9/11 made me so angry. I would seriously shout at the book while reading. The book has a co-author, Christina Lamb, who I think helped translate the book if Malala dictated parts to her. I felt some of that got lost in translation so at times, the book was kind of dull. With such a title like standing up for education and getting shot, I expected her inspiring talks about peace and a women’s right to education to be immediate in the story line, but there was a lot of back story — some of which I felt was unnecessary. However, I know why there is back story, of course. Regardless, give this book a read. For being twice her age, all I kept thinking was, “Why couldn’t I be this wise and smart at 16?”

  • Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

I have many friends, myself included, who are huge fans of the show, so I knew this was on my must-read book. I probably should have read this before watching the show though. The show almost makes a mockery of what happened and is completely campy in comparison to the novel. I guess they can’t have the show be like the book, because it wouldn’t be that interesting. My brother-in-law was skeptical that this woman actually got tried for her crime in money laundering or drug money trafficking, but it’s actually true. She did get indicted and then had to go to court 5 years later, and then was sentenced almost 10 years after the crime happened. It was interesting to read about her time in prison, and how the prison system works, but again, I shouldn’t have watched the show before reading. In comparison it was kind of boring to read. Like OK, she was in prison for 15 months and the prison she went to was actually pretty nice in comparison to other women’s facilities in the country and hardly anyone is mean to her, so…ta-da…? But I will say this: it’s still worth a read because it does give you an inside look at what goes on, which was the interesting part to read. And to read how she got into her situation. It’s a quick read (under 300 pages), but unfortunately, I didn’t give it 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads.

  • Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

This was another interim book while waiting for a book at the library. I had heard about this book from many folks. It’s the story of a girl living in Paris, Sarah, during WWII and one night in 1942 she and her parents are taken away by the French police in an event called Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Basically Jewish family’s were rounded up by French police, brought together, and then sent off to concentration camps. Before leaving, she makes her little brother hide in their apartment and promises to come back for him. Meanwhile in the present (well, 2002) Julia, an American journalist living in Paris is writing about this horrible event. She starts uncovering the mystery of the girl, the story behind what happened and how she is connected to this girl. It was a very easy book to read and I loved the different perspectives, reading about what Sarah was going through in 1942 and what Julia is going through in the present. It was very sad to read and made me once again question why this horrible, tragic event ever happened in the world. It’s heartbreaking really. Definitely pick it up.

And that brings us to what I’m currently reading which is Red Rising by Pierce Brown. It’s on the February hot-list of must-read books and is the first in the Red Rising Trilogy. I haven’t read anything by this author, but both Amber and I are reading this together, like a mini book club. Since we’re both into Sci-Fi and it’s been said to be like Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, it has me intrigued. Check back in a few weeks for that review and I’m sure more!