Thursday, 25 November 2010

Pigs in Heaven. By Barbara Kingsolver

Pigs in Heaven

Barbara Kingsolver

Published in 1993 by HarperCollins

Nice book! Well written story, set I think in the late 80s (Oprah Winfrey and her show are prominently featured at the start of the story), that deals with a serious moral issue. A child is adopted at the age of say three, when it's old enough to remember its pre-adoption life. Several years later, when it is completely integrated and loved in its new life, people from the past want to reclaim it - they are also decent people, and the child has some loving memories of them too. In this book, further complications arise because the child is from the American Indian Cherokee tribe, the adoptive single mother is white, and there are laws which say that the Indian tribe has a decisive say in matters of adoption of Indian children - this in order that Indian culture be preserved and that the Indian tribes don't loose children to whites - also of course, the well being of the child itself will be linked to a clear understanding by it of its identity, especially because of its facial features and skin colour. The argument is not fully convincing -  yes, adopted children would have these kinds of problems, but no more that natural children have other types of problems. Every child has some problem, some lack of privilege or the other, and this particular burden would be that of the adopted child.  Anyway, Kingsolver doesn't spend too much time or effort arguing back and forth, but goes ahead with the story. There are some interesting characters throughout the book, some important, some peripheral, some nice, and a few nasty. There is some description of Cherokee customs, but I would get the feeling now and then that she was writing about blacks - not Indians. Maybe the two groups had/have similar experiences and reacted in similar ways. The book resolves all these issues in a kind of movie style ending, with the child's adoptive grandmother and natural grandfather falling in love and marrying. The writing is terrific, very readable, though slightly uneven. Oh yes, it's completely in the present tense, but though I usually don't like that, in this case I did not mind, and most of the time did not notice it. Some quotes --
" But the kids don't stay with you if you do it [bringing them up] right. It's one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won't be needed in the long run"
" Everybody else on the plane is behaving as though they are simply sitting in chairs a little too close together. But Turtle [the adopted 7 year-old girl on her first flight] is a child in a winged tin box seven miles above Planet earth."
" 'I don't have children,' she says finally. 'I suppose I don't know that kind of love.' 'I suppose I don't either,[he says.] To put yourself second, every  time,  no questions  asked?  Sounds  like  holy communion.' "
"[And a man is] somebody that won't go out of his way for you. I bet it says that in the dictionary"

Nightmare in Pink. By John D. MacDonald

Nightmare in Pink

John D. MacDonald

Published in 1964 by Gold Medal Books, Fawcett Publications.

Bad Book! I remembered the two or three Travis McGee books I had read earlier as being  suspenseful and full of action for at least the second half. This one isn't like that. There is some tepid action - but not satisfying. The rest of the book is taken up with some shallow social comment. No more John D. for me! But I got this one for just Rs 10.00, so no big loss, at least not money!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

God's Pauper. By Nikos Kazantzakis

God's Pauper
St. Francis of Assisi

Nikos Kazantzakis
Translated from the Greek by P.A. Bien

Faber and Faber, 1999; First published 1962

  From the blurb: '... an imaginative retelling of the life of St. Francis'. Wikipedia has a less imaginative brief 'history' of this saint, but even that piece gives enough indication that this was a good man out of the ordinary. Kanzantzakis' retelling makes him saint in the same mould as people like Purandara Dasa/ Manickvasagar/ Kabir/ Ramana Maharishi and many many others in many other religious traditions, perhaps ALL other religious traditions. The book is not simply hagiography - it is a sympathetic rendering of Francis' life, and Kazantzakis has obviously projected many of his own tortured questionings on to Francis. For example, Francis starts off by emphasizing poverty as the way to God, but then is told by the local Bishop that the small town of Assisi cannot support, with alms, so many of his followers. Francis then has to modify his rules somewhat to allow the brothers to work and earn enough to look after themselves. Absolute poverty then is possible only for a few - a kind of inverse Pareto effect! There are several such encounters between the flesh and the spirit, and repeatedly we are shown that  a life of purely the spirit is not possible or even desirable for all. As a counterpoint, almost, Kazantzakis makes the narrator one Frate Leone (Brother Leo) who clearly loves Francis and respects him immensely but cannot understand all that he does, and cannot of course offer that kind of renunciation himself. The book is lovely to read. It could potentially make  profound impact, but in an understated, natural kind of way that cannot easily be intellectualized. It's effects, if any, on my thinking (and feeling) will be known only later - or not at all. Anyway I want to read other books by Kazantzakis, but not just yet. 

 A quote: Once he said to me 'As long as there are flowers and children and birds in the world, have no fears, Brother Leo; everything will be fine'.  (Page 191)

The Doomsters. By Ross Macdonald

The Doomsters

Ross Macdonald

Bantam Books, 1983; First Published 1958.

   A Lew Archer novel. Archer is one version of the California detective, whose prototype is Dashiell Hammet's Sam Spade, and whose best example, in my opinion, is Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. This particular story is about a family whose members keep dying violently, suicide accident or murder? That's what Archer finds out. Not a great read, but OK. No Marlowe style nifties, though a few sentences come close. 

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

A Man of Means. By P.G. Wodehouse

A Man of Means:
A Series of Six Stories

P. G. Wodehouse (and C.H. Bovill)

First published in 'The Pictorial Review' May-October 1916
Published as Project Gutenberg E Book #8713

   The stories trace the rise and the subsequent adventures of Roland Bleke. He is a small time clerk to begin with, and then by sheer luck, becomes a man of means (with a fortune of about 250,000 pounds - a huge amount when as a clerk he made 140 pounds per year). Lottery tickets and unexpected gold strikes play a role in his ascent. Rather boring, excepting for the language, which, while not as great as vintage PGW, is still good. I suspect the storyline is Bovill's and the writing is PGW, though the latter could have done both, and good-naturedly could have just accommodated CHB out of charity.