A Month in Books: April

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

I love traveling but I think I love being an armchair traveler through books even more.  This book took me on a journey into the “Darkness”, which is anywhere in India where millions of people exist in poverty.  The story is told from the point of view of a “half-baked” man who was born the son of a rickshaw puller in the Darkness and it follows him on an incredible journey as he rises from the bottom to become a successful entrepreneur.  After the first few chapters, it was hard for me to put this book down until the end.  It’s such a riveting tale and an even more fascinating peek into the rotten layers of corruption in India and how it creates a trap that the poor cannot escape from unless they go to extreme measures, like the main character of the book did.  I think this book would be categorized as what is called “realistic fiction” in that it is based on true stories from real people that the author has collected from the time he has lived and traveled in India.  This is definitely an eye-opening book and taught me that behind the beautiful Taj Mahal there is another very real and very dark side of India.

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

You know how when someone explains something to you in a radically different way, you suddenly feel as if the scales have fallen from your eyes and you can see things for what they really are?  Well, Vonnegut illustrates the dark side of American society in this weirdly blunt and simplistic way, almost as if they are the observations of aliens visiting Earth.  I think we are all a bit numbed to a lot of issues in our society because we’ve somehow normalized it all, but when things like racism, mental illness, sex, drugs are taken out of their usual context, it has shock value and you suddenly see them in a new light, maybe for what they actually are.  I do appreciate his dark humor and experimental way of writing about tough issues in America, complete with his own wacky illustrations, but I do feel that a lot of impact is lost on me due to his over-simplifications.  I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot of more if I was in a book club and have someone to discuss this with, because it’s definitely one of those books that leaves you with more questions than answers.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Ove is an extremely unlikable character and I was ready to dismiss him as a cliche after the first chapter.  But I’m so glad I got on with the book because he really started to grow on me.  What’s at the heart of this story is really the backstory.  Somehow out of this most unlikely to be loved main character grew a love story that squeezed tears out of my eyes and made my heart ache.  I also liked how this book is like a gentle social commentary on the value that old people have in our society.  I know I am guilty of feeling that there is such a huge chasm of time between me and the older generation that I can’t find anything in common with them, or worse–that I can’t find anything worth learning from them.  This book is a great reminder to treasure the older people in our lives.  They’ve dealt with more blows from life than we can possibly imagine and they surely have a thing or two to teach us about life.

Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

Karen is a mother in the grips of cancer who decides to write a series of letters to her six year old son Jake to read when he is older and when she might no longer be there.  She records her present life with her son with unflinching honesty while interspersing it with stories from her past.  The mysterious man who is Jake’s father shows up in their lives and while it was everything Jake could hope for and more, it was nothing but heartache for Karen.

At first glance the premise of the book can seem pretty depressing, but you’ll soon realize the story is not built around cancer but around the relationship of a mom and her son, and the book in its entirety is not that sad.  The tender, honest voice of the main character really opened up my heart to all the emotions that a mother would feel when she realizes that her time with her child is not infinite.  Sometimes I allow myself to believe that I’ll always be by Ellie’s side.  But then time does that trick where the flash of her teeth when she laughs or the sight of her already too-long legs and I jolt out of my dream and realize just how fast she is growing up.  This book so wonderfully puts into words the love a mother has for her child, and even more poignantly describes the imperfect, complicated, fragile, and beautiful relationships between people who love each other.  I wanted to hug Ellie for hours straight after reading this book, but it wasn’t out of sadness, it was out of overwhelming love.

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