Category Archives: Books

“Paper Wife” by Laila Ibrahim

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I was Intrigued by the title and the period it talks about. It narrates the story of a young Chinese woman who, by a turn of events, finds herself as a wife to a man she never met and a mother to a 3 year old. The title of the novel – “paper wife” – is a metaphor for the faked “documented” relationships for Chinese eager to immigrate to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century.

The author did a great deal of research, so the reader can find out about the Angel Island Immigration Detention Center, in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants received the most scrutiny. They had to study hard the documents paid by their sponsors – husbands, uncles, brothers – who wanted to bring the dear ones to the United States. Th novel also describes the life in early China towns.

The central character is a strong feminine model who overcame difficulties and used whatever means she had to protect her family. Her believes and strong moral inheritance from her mother and grand mother are depicted with respect and admiration, owned to women who relied on their ancestral roots to let new roots of their families grow in a new land.

I found the novel a light reading, perfect for quiet evenings.

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“The Red-Haired Woman” by Orhan Pamuk

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From the first pages, I realised that I missed Pamuk’s writing.

I read “My name is Red” couple of years ago and I liked it a lot.

“The red-haired women” is both surprising and unnerving. The story is build around the father-son relationship in different generations, from mythology to the story of the main character – Cem. Cem’s relationship with his father, a well digging master and later – his own son  are painted in all the shades of guilt, regret, revolt, admiration. As if unable to cope with all these emotions, fathers and sons end up with blood on their hands. It is in essence an exploration of the evolution of the meaning of fatherhood.

The end section narrated by the red-haired woman, brightens up a bit the finale. As “The Guardian” puts is “The twist in the tail isn’t perhaps quite as effective as that in My Name Is Red, but it still makes the reader feel as if they’ve emerged from the depths of a well into sudden and dazzling light.”

“Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles

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“The Gentlemen in Moscow” was such a perfect match to my reading needs, so I bought “Rules of Civility” by the same author.

It is yet another exquisite novel by Amor Towles. It is his first, published in 2011.

The novel is the story of Katey Kontent, a descendant of Russian immigrants, who establishes herself in the New York of late 30s. She transforms and lets the city transform her from a typist to the editor of a famous magasine. The character is quite my type of freedom-breathing girl:

“- Come on, sweet stuff, said a conductor.

– Sweet your own stuff, I replied.”

I enjoyed the book so much that I wanted to read it again once I turned its last page.

Bookmark – by Sofia, my daughter.

“The Royal Treatment ~ a crown jewels romantic comedy ~” by Melanie Summers

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The book filled a need for a light, unsoliciting reading. So, if you are looking for a long weekend leisurely stuff, this might be it. The novel is a romantic comedy from Crown Jewels Romantic Comedy Series by Melanie Summers.

It tells the story of a young journalist-turned blogger – Tessa Sharpe – who met a prince charming of modern times. Tessa’s keeps The Royal Watchdog blog, to monitor the lifestyle of royals and to make a living out of testing new sports related gadgets. How she manages both will bring a few moments to laugh out loud, so reading it on a train or plane is fine. Anyway, everyone has their headphones on :).

“Never let me go” by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Ishiguro is an acclaimed author and a Nobel Prize winner. Both the title of the book and his reputation determined my choice on an autumn evening’s trip to the book store.

The novel is a dystopian science fiction. It is a sad story. My suggestion is not to read it when you feel low.

The story is narrated by Kathy – the main character – who grows in a sort of boarding school. She introduces other characters, colleagues and friends, with whom she shares the daily life. It was only towards the second part of the book that the author let’s the reader understand that the group of youngsters are actually clones, created for humans heeling and transplants.

“Because somewhere underneath, a part of us stayed like that: fearful of the world around us, and no matter how much we despised ourselves for it – unable quite to let each other go” is so human, when you think of it.

“A gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles

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I bought the book in the airport in Bucharest. The title of the book sounded just right.

And so it proved. The story line, the author’ style and soft humour, the intertwining of history and human destinies made it an exquisite evenings’ companion.

The main character of the novel is a Russian aristocrat – Count Alexander Rostov – condemned by a soviet tribunal to house arrest in Metropol hotel in early 1920s. As amazing as it sounds, he managed to live his life to the fullest without setting a foot outside the building for over thirty years. That was with one exception, when he took his injured daughter to a hospital. The walls of the hotel became his allies. He put to use his intelligence, manners, character, skills and knowledge to help with grace all of staff and hotel guests on every appropriate occasion. He became a languages and West history tutor to an apparatchik. He worked as a waiter and became a headwaiter in the hotel’ s restaurant.

In his early days in the hotel he met Nina, a 8-year-old girl, who spent her days in the hotel, as his father was newly appointed to a party position in Moscow. Years later, Nina entrusted her 6-year-old daughter Sofia to Rostov, when she followed her husband to a remote camp in Siberia. Sofia grew to consider Rostov as her father… . And in mid 50s he arranged her escape to the US embassy when she was with an orchestra in Paris.

I finished the book with a sense of regret. I could have kept reading it. It is one of those books in which you read a line and close the eyes to savour the words.

My favourite lines: “…life does not proceed by leaps and bounds. It unfolds. At any given moment, it is the manifestation of a thousand transitions. Our faculties wax and wane, our experiences accumulate, and our opinions evolve – if not glacially, then at least gradually. Such that the events of an average day are as likely to transform who we are as a pinch of pepper is to transform a stew.”

A manual for cleaning women: selected stories by Lucia Berlin

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It is my first experience with Berlin. It will be memorable. I would read a line, then close the book and savor the words and the feelings they bring. A smile in the corner of the mouth. A raised brow. A look into the sky. A chin bending to my heart. Anger. Peace. Wonder. A sense of lost and found.

I found Berlin’s writing multi layered and pluri dimensional. I felt puzzled and pissed off at the same time but not in a dismissing way. It enflamed the curiosity to continue reading through the 400 pages of the Manual. I read them her life’s stories told by other characters and a manual for letting go of the past or cleaning, if you wish.