MOUNTAIN OF LIGHT by Indu Sundaresan. Published by Washington Square Press, a Division of Simon & Shuster. October 8, 2013. $16.00. 352 pages. (Available: PB, D, AB, A) The Kohinoor, once a stunning 186-carat diamond and still impressive at a truncated 105 carats, is an object over which empires, countries, and people fought, shed blood, and died. The novel begins in 1817, when Afghanistan’s deposed Shah Shuja Durrani is duped by Maharajah Ranjit Singh and loses the diamond to him. From that point on, Sundaresan provides a thought-provoking hopscotch history of the diamond’s travels through a turbulent time of change and subterfuge. This must-read is a gem in Sundaresan’s bibliography. I AM MALALA: THE GIRL WHO STOOD UP FOR EDUCATION AND WAS SHOT BY THE TALIBAN by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb. Published by Little, Brown and Company. October 8, 2013. $26.00. 352 pages. (Available: HC, PB, D, AB, A) Fifteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai rejected the notion that females are meant to remain in the home and illiterate. Reared in a rural Pakistani family that encouraged her dreams as if she were a son, she fought for the right to an education. The Taliban, enraged by her conviction and hoping to make their point, shot her in the head at close range. The result? This young girl has become a worldwide symbol of fearless strength and peaceful protest. Her autobiography is a remarkable story of inspiration and empowerment. n Availability key: HC=hardcover | PB=paperback | D=digital | AB=Audiobook CD | A=Audible download | MP3 = MP3 CD Jeanne E. Fredriksen reads and writes from Wake Forest, North Carolina, where she is happily at work on her young adult novel.
Brothers Beyond Boundaries By Rajesh C. Oza THE LOWLAND: A NOVEL by Jhumpa Lahiri. September 24, 2013. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, a Division of Random House. $27.95. 352 pages. (Available in Hardcover)
reader is blessed when finding a writer who speaks to him or her. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, this reader was quatro-blessed with four fabulous authors: Saul Bellow, R. K. Narayan, V. S. Naipaul, and Salman Rushdie. And in this century, with Jhumpa Lahiri, my literary “Fab Four” has evolved into my “Fav Five.” Without exception, I will read most anything that these favored writers publish. As is common within epistolary families or between friends who stay in touch by email, the relationship between a reader and his cherished writer is remarkable in its ability to pick up a conversation after a long gap; this is a connection that neither distance nor death (of the writer) can fracture. Bellow was my first literary love. Not only did he write knowingly about the great Midwestern city in which we both grew up, but he also graduated from the same university I went to, and his fourth wife was my Calculus professor. Perhaps what clinched the affection was a simple passage in Herzog, one of Bellow’s finest novels: “Recently I saw Pather Panchali. I assume you know it, since the subject is rural India. Two things affected me greatly—the old crone scooping the mush with her fingers and later going into the weeds to die; and the death of the young girl in the rains.” It is altogether possible that I married my Calcuttan wife of nearly three decades because I had seen Pather Panchali; so it is not surprising that Bellow has a special place in my heart. My fondness for Narayan, Naipaul and Rushdie has been well-chronicled in these pages, so I won’t go on and on like a schoolboy with a crush on his English, Anthropology, and History teachers. These literary brothers—Bellow, Narayan, Naipaul, and Rushdie—have informed my worldview in an avuncular way. Through the years, they allowed me to sit at their feet and listen to their stories about Chicago, Malgudi, Trinidad, Bombay, and beyond; without judgment, they enabled me to make my own way in the world. And just as I was easing into middle-
age, content that I was fully formed with my hard-earned knowledge of the ways of the world, along came a gift from the centenarian mother of my friend, Steve. Without expectations, I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, amused and bemused that a 100-year-old Californian would be gifting me a 32-year-old Indian American woman’s short stories. Suddenly, I had a “kid sister,” but would she have anything to say to me? Long before the Pulitzer committee awarded Lahiri’s debut work with America’s most prestigious literary prize, my answer was a resounding, “Yes!” And my response to Lahiri’s latest novel, The Lowland, is “Yes. And how!” Like Bellow’s Herzog, The Lowland also has a reference to Satyajit Ray’s masterpiece film, Pather Panchali, suggesting a concern with family, change, and death. Both novels masterfully explore the belief in enduring family life while acknowledging that part of growing up is finding one’s own way. Writing metaphorically about her fraternal protagonists, Subhash and Udayan, Lahiri, in the first page of her novel, foreshadows both plot and character development: “Certain creatures laid eggs that were able to endure the dry season. Others survived by burying themselves in mud, simulating death, waiting for the return of rain.” It is not long before we know which of the brothers will endure the dry season and which will bury himself in mud. In her introduction to Narayan’s Malgudi Days collection of short stories, Lahiri, comparing Narayan and Maupassant, may just as well have been writing about herself and Narayan: “Both explore the frustrations of the middle class, the precariousness of fate, the inevitable longings that so often lead to ruin. Both create portraits of everyday life, and share a vision that is unyielding and unpitying.” As Narayan did with the townsfolk confronting change in Malgudi, Lahiri explores the evolving lives of people in a middle-class Calcutta neighborhood, an evolution that spans the birth of modern India (and births of the two brothers after World War II) to a 21st-century avatar of an India replete with “high-rise apartment buildings, glass-fronted offices.” In the middle of these decades, the novel’s critical inflection point is the death of Dec ‘13—Jan ‘14 | www.indiacurrents.com | 21
Published on Nov 27, 2013