The Restaurant of Love Regained #BookReview

Book Title: The Restaurant of Love Regained
Author: Ito Ogava
Translated by: David Karashima

I bought this one off Amazon despite my self-imposed book ban, in a paperback edition despite struggling with shelf space. That’s how much I wanted to like this book. The premise is absolutely enchanting.

The story

Rinko comes home one day from her job at a restaurant to find that her boyfriend has walked out on her. As he goes he empties out their shared home including all her possessions as well as her life savings, which they were putting together to start a place of their own.

In shock, Rinko loses her voice. She decides to go home to her mother. The two have never got along but she has little choice now. She discovers  her mom has replaced her with a pig, Hermes, whom she loves more than she ever loved Rinko. With a loan from her mom and help from a childhood friend, Rinko starts a small restaurant. She calls it The Snail and serves only one exclusive customer a day. Her restaurant becomes successful and her food is believed to have magical qualities. Thereafter certain events occur and secrets come tumbling out that impact not just her restaurant, but also her relationship with her mom.

What I thought

Fiction centred on food is absolute comfort read for me. The Restaurant of Love Regained promised exactly that. Though the book begins on a melancholic note, it brightens up soon enough. It was delightful to follow Rinko as she set up her restaurant. I loved how things came together. The quaint door, the yellow orange walls, the handmade chandelier, the large old wood table, the hand sewn table covers, the thick rug and even a futon for someone who wants a post-meal nap. It was a dream.

Although built on a budget it seemed warm, spacious, elegant and cosy all at the same time.

Then there’s Rinko’s love for food. It comes shining through on every page. She has an endearing sense of pride in her cooking. When Hermes refuses to eat bread baked by her she is bothered and she experiments with ingredients to come up with something he likes.

It was disheartening to see something I’d made being left uneaten. The fact that the disgruntled customer was a pig didn’t help either.

I loved her dedication and her commitment to all things fresh and local. She treks through mountains and climbs trees to get to the best fruits and vegetables. She picks wild mushrooms and creates magic out of them. She plants herbs and watches them grow. She marinates and mixes, roasts and fries, stirs and sautés to cook up amazing creations.

What I didn’t like

I don’t want to put in spoilers but something happens towards the last bit of the book that completely spoilt it for me. Let me just say that if you do not like graphic descriptions of meat, stay away from this one. It is gory and insensitive and absolutely turned my stomach.

Perhaps it was a cultural thing or perhaps it was just me. I have been a vegetarian for over a decade, however, everyone around me is not and I’m okay with dinner-table conversations that discuss meat but this was something way beyond that.

I skipped through almost the last fifty pages which would otherwise have been poignant and sweet, filled with reconciliations and tender moments.

Last Thought: I leave you to make up your own mind about this one.

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Last Train to Istanbul #Review

Book Title: Last Train to Istanbul
Author: Ayse Kulin
Translated from Turkish by: John W. Baker

Stories of the second World War hold a very special place in the hearts of most bibliophiles. These are stories of heartbreak, of atrocities and of cruelty beyond imagination and also stories of friendship and love and bravery beyond reason.

If like me, WWII stories fascinate you, then The Last Train to Istanbul is a must read. Each time I stumble upon a book like this I realise just how many countries and how many lives were part of the War.

I had no idea Turkey was home to so many jews. Way back in 1492 Don Ferdinand, the King of Spain, commanded all Jews to leave the country (giving up all their material possessions) because they were considered non-believers. The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey at that time, Beyazid II made them welcome in his country and that’s how a large number of them made it their home.

That’s just a side-story of course. But isn’t it interesting? The history of the Jews is so full of struggle. It’s amazing how they manage to pick themselves, and by sheer acumen, rise up again and again.

Getting on with the story..

The Last Train to Istanbul tells the story of two sisters Sabiha and Selva, daughters of a well-to-do Pasa in the Turkish Government. While Sabiha falls in love and marries a diplomat Macit, Selva falls for a Jew, Rafael Alfandari. The Jews had lived for centuries in Turkey, but marriages between the two communities were not accepted. In order to get away from parental disapproval Selva and Rafael move to Paris which is already home to a thriving community of Turkish Jews. When War arrives in France and the Nazis take over, Jewish families are no longer safe.

The Turkish government, then negotiates a safe passage for its people from Paris to Turkey, to get as many of them as possible on that last  train to Istanbul. In doing so it saves not just Turkish Jews but as many people as it possible could.

What I loved

Most of the WWII stories I’ve read have had to do with the lives of ordinary people – how they hid from the Nazis or survived the concentration camps. I had little idea of what went on in the diplomatic circles. The Last Train to Istanbul gives a glimpse of talks and negotiations across the table through Macit’s eyes, who is a high-ranking diplomat.

What a delicate line it must have been for neutral counties to tread! In the end of course no one remained neutral but there were countries like Turkey that only wanted to save their people Jews or not, without giving in either to all-powerful Germany or to Britain and Russia; countries which did not have a big enough army yet did not want to the compromise their freedom.

The political intrigue is wrapped up with Sabiha and Selava’s individual stories and that made it more interesting.

I loved the early bits in the book about life in Turkey. Come to think of it, Turkey is a rather unique country positioned as it is between Asia and Europe. It mixes up a variety of cultures to come up with something quite its own.

The book also tells stories of people like David, a carefree young man who steps out for an evening with his friends only to be rounded up by the Nazis and sent to camp. There’s Siegfried a brilliant scientist who disguises himself to escape the Germans and there’s Ferit an active member of the secret service that helps the Jews.

What could have been better

Sabiha suffers from depression and there’s a whole episode with her psychologist that I thought was completely irrelevant to the story.

Also, the final train journey turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. While I did understand the danger the people were in as they passed through Germany from right under the noses of the Nazis, much of it was built up without help from the author, simply because I had so much WWII background. The book itself threw up few surprises and the climax was not developed at all leaving me disappointed.

Yet, I will say, this is a book that should be read.

Last Thought: A must read for behind-the-scenes intrigue that goes on between world leaders during war.

To buy the book click the image below.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you buy the book on Amazon through this link, I will get a referral fee, at no additional cost to you.

How I Became a Farmer’s Wife #Review

Book Title: How I Became a Farmer’s Wife
Author: Yashodhara Lal

Fictionalised memoirs are definitely Yashodhara Lal’s forte. After her debut book Just Married Please Excuse, we meet her again, along with her husband Vijay and the triple bonus of her three kids.

The story

Vijay, an engineer with a full-time job, decides to take up farming. We follow his story as he struggles to set up his farm right from planting vegetables (because he loves the idea of apne khet ki gobhi), to buying cows, and handling the motley crew that makes up the help. The farm hiccups along solely on Vijay’s passion and his determination to realise a dream. It is hard work, full of hreatbreak and yet comes with immeasurable rewards.

What I loved

Lal handles the story with her characteristic humour. It isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious (like her first) but it still is a fun read. Her writing is realistic, too realistic sometimes. The first few pages that described the chaos with the children, were so close to the truth, like a mirror to my own anarchic home, that I felt my blood pressure rise and almost put away the book in fright.

However, there are plenty of good bits too.

She weaves in a host of characters, good, bad and ugly. The wily Shukla ji, the endearing Mobeen and his family, Akshata the yoga teacher (I want one like her) as also the familiar Kajal didi. The story of the farm is interwoven with her own internal complexes and struggles as well as tales of grappling with a pair of twins and a fast-growing tween.

My biggest takeaway from the book was that it never is easy to step out of one’s comfort zone but that is exactly what one has to do if one wants to follow a dream. I loved Vijay’s doggedness and I have to hand it to him for the ploughing on ahead (pun intended) despite the thousand set-backs.

Also, as a mom, the book reminded me that children are more than willing to give up their gadgets if we show them the fun they can have outdoors. I loved how Peanut, Pickle and Papad connected with the farm and farm animals.

What could have been better

On the flip side the book gets tiresome in parts, the struggles too many and too long and I’m not just talking about the farm. Pickle and Papad seem too hung up on technology and Peanut is in a whole different world – they all are kind of scattered and disconnected. I didn’t get as much of a warm family vibe as I expected from the book. So that was a bit of a disappointment.

A little more humour might have done the trick, or maybe a greater focus on what kept the family together during those crazy days. But then maybe that’s all meant to happen in Madhya Pradesh.

Last thought: Pick it up if you’re looking for a fun slice-of-life read.

The Liberation of Sita – #Review

Book Title: The Liberation of Sita
Author: Volga

The Liberation of Sita is a collection of four short stories picked from Sita’s life. I’d like to say these are imaginary interactions but then this is mythology and real and imaginary aren’t really pertinent. It is all about how the story is told. This here is a whole new take.

In Volga’s stories Sita meets Surpanaka, Ahalya, Renuka and Urmila – all powerful women from the Ramayan, all wronged by men in different ways, often in the name of dharma, always as a result of patriarchy.

Sita meets them during the course of her sojourn in the jungles, where she spent most of her life.

When she hears her sons Luv and Kush talking about an ugly woman (with no nose and ears) who has a beautiful garden in the forest, she knows it is Surpanakha. She wonders in regret if Ram and Lakshman would have done the same had Surpanakha not been who she was, had they not wanted to provoke Ravana. She goes to meet the demon princess who raises questions on the identity of women, ‘Do women exist only to be used by men to settle they scores?’ she asks.

Then there is Ahalya who refuses to give anyone the right to judge her. ‘Never agree to a trial Sita’, she advises her for trust does not need proof.

There’s Renuka, whose son, Parashuram chopped off her head when her husband, suspected her of infidelity. She tells Sita to free herself from her husband and sons. ‘A woman thinks giving birth to sons is the ultimate goal of her life… but one day they begin to legislate our lives. Why bear such sons?’

Lastly there’s Urmila who shuts herself up after Lakshman leaves to accompany Ram and Sita to the forest. Not in loneliness, she says but in solitude. And in solitude she launches on a journey of self discovery.

These are women who refuse to wallow in self-pity or shed tears for men (or society) who have ostracised them. They choose to remain strong, to give up their families – husband and sons – to not bow down to the expectations of a patriarchal society. Instead they carve out a life of their own choosing and inspire Sita to do the same.

This is a powerful book, although the language isn’t perfect – some bit of it is bound to get lost in translation. However just this once, I was willing to overlook all of that. To truly enjoy this book you need to be familiar with some bit of Indian Mythology. If you do have that background this is a perfect read. The original work in Telugu, must have been better. Even the translation very effectively manages to say what it has to, and so remains a book that must be read.

Last Thought: A must read for those familiar with Indian Mythology, specifically the Ramayan.

 

 

 

A Spot of Bother #Review

Book Title: A Spot of Bother
Author: Mark Haddon

First things first – this Haddon book is nothing like the first one – The Curious Case of a Dog in the Nighttime (which you must read if you haven’t already). I needed to get that out of the way because if you go into it thinking about that one, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. That said, this is a decent enough read.

The story

It tells the story of 57-year-old George Hall and his family. George is a hypochondriac. He is plagued with a spot of eczema and he decides right away that it is life threatening. Meanwhile his wife is having an affair, his daughter Katie, (who has a son from a first marriage) is set to marry a man who the entire family dislikes because he just isn’t classy enough. His son Jamie is gay but he doesn’t want to come out to his family just yet. He is in the middle of a tiff with his boyfriend because Jamie is reluctant to get him to the wedding.

The Review

Haddon has the uncanny ability of getting into the minds of people who are different. He writes about them with amazing clarity. That’s what makes his stories interesting. Because Haddon’s characters are not ‘normal’ – an autistic teen or a hypochondriac, in this case – their worldview is a difficult to comprehend and that’s what makes his books refreshing. During the course of the story one needs to pull oneself out of the narrative periodically, to try to NOT feel like the character in order to understand the character because what he is saying or thinking may not be reliable from what we consider a normal perspective.

Does that make sense?

That’s what I loved about A Spot of Bother. Also the fact that it tells the story from multiple perspectives with George’s being the main voice. The  host of characters, each with their own quirks, their own stories and their own relationships give the book a sweeping family saga kind of feel. Many times through the book you re-evaluate people, change your mind about them, grow to like them or dislike them through the pages.

The narrative flags in bits but the end made up for everything. It left me with a warm feeling and a smile on my face.

Last thought: This one is meant to be read over a vacation at leisure. Don’t be in a hurry to get through it and you might enjoy it.

In Search of the Self #BookBytes -2

For #BookBytes this week, I have here an excerpt from The Liberation of Sita by Volga. This short read, packs quite a feminist punch. In this passage Ahilya talks to Sita, telling her to find her own self.

You means you, nothing else. You are not just the wife of Rama. There is something more in you, something that is your own. No one counsels women to find out what that something more is. If men’s pride is in wealth, or valour, or education, or caste-sect, for women it lies in fidelity, motherhood. No one advises women to transcend that pride. Most often, women don’t realise that they are part of the wider world. They limit themselves to an individual, to a household, to a family’s honour. Conquering the ego becomes the goal of spirituality for men. For women, to nourish that ego and to burn themselves to ashes in it becomes the goal.

#BookBytes

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Leave a link to your blogpost in the comments and I’ll drop by and also share it in my next week’s post.

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Mom’s life #Write Bravely

pictures

The Municipality officers had been at work all day pumping the water out of her basement and it was only now that she could go down there. It was a mess, a sad sorry mess. She’d take days to clean this out. She sat down on a stool and pulled the cardboard carton towards her. It came away in a soggy mess. Letters, photographs, slam books  tumbled out.

She picked up a photograph: It was hers, as a teen with her sister, she on her tiptoes because somehow the sister, though, younger had managed to shoot up an inch more than her. Another one at the school Sports Day captured by her dad – she was about 8, a butterfly with blue and pink butter-paper wings. She reached out for another one – she and her best friend at the farewell social at school, barely 15, in their mom’s saris, dressed awkwardly but posing like pros, ‘The world is our runway’, she had captioned it. Those were the days…, she smiled.

Her reverie was broken by a cry of ‘Look what I found!’.

She glanced up reluctantly, unwilling to let go of the memories just yet, to see her six-year-old holding up something dripping wet covered with mud and bits of cardboard. One armed Barbies, half-legged astronauts, cotton oozing teddy bears and assorted crayons and colour pencils lay spilt around.

Her son was holding up something, ‘My favourite dart gun!’ he said wiping it lovingly on his shirt.

Oh Lord no – not that one thought she, putting down her photographs and rushing over to him. That gun had been the cause of a million fights, till one day she had hidden it away among the discarded toys and forgotten about it. And now here it was… again.

Predictably enough his twin jumped at it, ’It’s mine,’
‘No it’s mine, I found it.’
‘But Aunty got it for me.’
‘Yes but then you gave it to me.’
‘So I take it back now.’
‘You cannot take something back once you give it away.’
‘Yes I can,’

She glanced at her photographs then sighed and geared up once again for some serious refreeing. No time for mush in a mom’s life!

 *************

Written for the Write Tribe Festival of Words June 2018 for the last day of the Challenge – Day 7. The prompt for the day was:
A dark and heavy storm suddenly takes over your neighbourhood, dropping 6 feet of water so quickly that the storm drains can’t handle it. The water flooded your street and your basement, ruining many of your things. As you rummage through your stuff, you are filled with memories. Think about your…


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