Thursday 26 May 2016

Secret Daughter

Secret Daughter
Secret Daughter  

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda interweaves the stories of Kavita and Somer, two mothers connected by one daughter. 

When Somer, in America, realizes she cannot have a child of her own, she and her husband, Krishnan, decide to adopt. Kavita, having already lost one daughter in a country that favours boys, decides to save her second daughter’s life by taking her away to an orphanage in Mumbai. Although she eventually gives birth to a son, which her and her husband, Jasu, are able to keep, her daughter is always on her mind. 

Kavita’s story is one of a mother’s choice to do what is best for her daughter, when she has no choice herself. Leaving her baby, Usha, at the orphanage is a risky trip for Kavita, but is the only way the baby girl can live. 

Usha is one of the fortunate babies to be adopted from the orphanage, as Somer and Krishnan take her home to California, naming her Asha. 

What follows is the side by side tales of each of the women’s lives. The difficulties Somer faces as a new mother of a daughter who does not resemble her, and of a daughter who challenges her Indian roots, is something Somer feels threatened by, and affects her abilities as Asha’s mother.

Meanwhile, Kavita faces her own challenges as she and Jasu try to make a living in India. Moving from the farm, to the slums, to the city, they struggle to support themselves and their son. 

This book is an enjoyable read, and does not gloss over the subjects of infanticide and extreme poverty in India; it paints a vivid picture through the characters and their interaction. This intense description is contrasted by Gowda’s frustrating portrayal of Somer as dismissive of her husband- and her daughter’s Indian heritage; it contributes to her tumultuous relationship with her daughter, and makes it hard to sympathize with Somer’s troubles. 

I recommend this book for anyone who wants a read that tugs at the heart strings, and is a good thought provoking story.


Friday 20 May 2016


By Dominique Fortier

Dominique Fortier’s novel Wonder links three different stories connected by time, fate and family… and volcanoes.

We begin with “Monsters and Marvels”.  Set in 1902, the story centres around Baptiste, a working-class black man from the island of Martinique who has never known a real family.  The elites of the island persist in ignoring the warning signs of the bubbling Mount Pelee which soon erupts, leaving Baptiste truly alone as no other survivors are found. His unique position gets him a job with the Barnum & Bailey Circus where he and the other “Phenomena” (the bearded lady, conjoined twins) are the objects of pity and astonishment.  His loneliness is assuaged somewhat when he finally finds a family – as well as a passion which ends in tragedy.  Throughout his journey, Baptiste cannot shake the feeling that he is still the solitary man who wanders the island.

“Monsters” is followed by “Harmony of the Spheres”, in which the intellectually self-absorbed Edward Love finds happiness when he meets Garance, a musician gifted with the ability to hear every sound in her environment.  Edward is obsessed with mathematical formulas, while Garance can often be found with her ear to the earth, listening.  When they visit the ancient city of Pompeii, they immerse themselves in understanding the tragedy that incinerated a vibrant town in the midst going about its daily business. 

Set a century later, “Love Waves” depicts a modern-day romance between a Montreal dog walker and former circus performer, and the grave digger she meets on Mont Royal.  Fascinated by volcanoes himself, her nameless friend is also planning a trip to Pompeii.  Does her history with the circus and his interest in volcanoes connect these lovers to the first two stories?

At times each story is absorbing and Fortier is adept at describing growing romance and passion.  However, very wordy descriptions abound and get somewhat tiresome.  For example, high-society life figures prominently in “Monsters” although it has little to do with Baptiste. Intellectual ramblings make up a big part of Edward’s life in “Spheres”, often slowing the story to a crawl.  And Fortier paints a vivid picture of the forest in “Waves”; but when will the two characters fall in love already?!?

Still, Wonder is worth reading as the heart of each story makes it worthwhile.

Thursday 12 May 2016

To Rise Again At a Decent Hour

by Joshua Ferris

Healthy teeth are much more important to one’s overall constitution than I ever gave them credit for. It all ties in, as I learned from reading Joshua Ferris’ To Rise Again at a Decent Hour- not a dentistry textbook but an offbeat novel about a dentist who becomes the victim of an elaborate stolen-identity mishap.

Paul O’Rourke is an anxious character and that feeling of anxiety, that on-the-edge-mental-game between suppression and collapse, permeates the novel from the first to last. Paul is coddled by his routines and hampered by his inability to hope for anything better- a sort of secret nihilist (“Of course I alienate myself from society. It's the only way I know of not being constantly reminded of all the ways I'm alienated from society”). The twist occurs when our hapless dentist discovers that someone has created a website on behalf of his dental practice-in the guise of O’Rourke himself. He has previously refused to create one, staying away from the internet and social media full stop, and his initial thought is that the website has been hoisted upon him by one of his three employees- which includes former girlfriend Connie. Then comes an unasked-for Twitter account, with someone tweeting about religion under Paul’s name, and emails on a mysterious religious group called the Ulms. Paul’s distress mounts as he attempts to uncover who is this other Paul O’Rourke and what is he doing.

There are moments in the novel when the history of the Ulms bog down the story, taking on such breadth and detail that it feels more like Ferris was having too much fun to rein it in. Nevertheless, the writing is so impressive that I genuinely mourned the end of the novel’s characters, world, and idea. There are quotable lines to be enjoyed, such as: “…the minute he takes up the floss, says to himself, What’s the point? In the end, the heart stops, the cells die, the neurons go dark, bacteria consumes the pancreas, flies lay their eggs, beetles chew through tendons and ligaments, the skin turns to cottage cheese, the bones dissolve, and the teeth float away with the tide”.

For a book that so often delves deep into the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety, this is nevertheless a hopeful and often hilarious novel.