I am battling the flu, and a couple of days ago I sat in bed and read Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni’s AMAZING new book “Before We Visit the Goddess at one sitting. It’s an incredible book about the love that exists between mothers and daughters, the challenges of love, the vulnerability, fierceness and resilience of women, the challenges and solitude of immigration and the legacies we inherit from our mothers, grandmothers and greatgrandparents. It’s a magnificent book and one I highly highly recommend reading. Below are my #booktube reflections on the read.
“Did I want to go back? Back to a city without glens, without places to sit in public with my arms around his neck, without the luxury of wandering among indistinguishable trees unmindful of the repercussions of getting lost. Back to a city that was feasting on its own blood, the violence so crazy now that all the previous violence felt like mere pinpricks. Back to a city where I’d have to face my father. Why would I want to back to any of that?
And yet. When I read the Dawn on-line and then looked around me at the pristine conditions of campus life, I knew that every other city only showed me its surface, but when I looked at Karachi I saw the blood running in and out of its veins; I knew that I understood the unspoken as much as the articulated among its inhabitants; I knew that there were as many reasons to fail to love it, to cease to love it, to be unable to love it, that it made love a fierce and unfathomable thing; I knew that I couldn’t think of Karachi and find any easy answers, and I didn’t know how to decide if that was reason to go back or reason to stay away. ‘Because Karim, you’ve shown me it’s not so simple to leave a city behind.” (Kamila Shamsie, Kartography, p.297)
Prior to last week I had never read a novel set in Karachi before. Last week however that changed during a visit to the Mayfair Library in Joburg when I found “Kartography” by Kamila Shamsie on the shelf. It’s an old book (it was published in 2002) but I’ve never read Kamila Shamsie before, and the book’s description as a “love song to Karachi” intrigued me. It delivered on its promise to be a good read. Kartography is a book that takes you by surprise with its beauty, humour and grace, and whether or not you are familiar with Karachi, it is a book that is definitely worth reading.
The book is about two friends named Raheen and Karim who grow up together in Karachi, and whose parents make up an inseparable quartet. Karim and Raheen have been inseparable from childhood and have their own special language and jokes (a lot of their jokes revolve around anagrams). They are more than best friends; an incredible connection exists between the two of them.
Once upon a time, Karim and Raheen’s parents were engaged to one another. Karim’s mum Maheen and Raheen’s dad Zafar are the first couple to separate and their engagement breaks after the civil war in Pakistan. That war resulted in the creation of Bangladesh, and before the war, during the war and after the war, Bengali people in Pakistan experienced severe discrimination and prejudice. Maheen is Bengali and experiences prejudice as well, and when they are engaged Zafar is ostracized because of their engagement. What happens to end their engagement is unclear, but at the beginning of the book, during a summer holiday with Karim away from Karachi, Raheen starts asking questions about why the pairings of their parents’ marriages ended up the way that they did. She stops asking questions when she overhears her parents arguing about the best time to tell her the truth about the past, and she decides to let the secrets of their parents remain unknown.
Soon after their holidays, Karim moves to London with his parents and Karim and Raheen only see each other several years later when they are twenty-one. When they meet again, four years have passed since they have last spoken or written to each other because of a fight that takes place four years previously that severs their friendship. This book is about their friendship, their relationship with each other, their relationship with their parents, their relationship with Karachi and how and why the history of Pakistan and the history of their families impacts today.
There is so much to say about this remarkable read. Here are some of the things that struck me about the book.
I’ve been reading Brene’s Brown’s stunning new book “Rising Strong” over the last few weeks (blog post/audio story/video/interpretative dance/all of the above about my thoughts coming soon) but in the meantime, I wanted to share some of her thoughts about talking through our emotions at home, with those closest to us. Reading this book has been transformative for me because it’s helped me find language and ways to sort through my feelings when I’m upset and about to either shut down or have a fight with my husband, and I’m really looking forward to sharing some of our learnings soon. Before that though, I wanted to share some of her concluding thoughts about rumbling with emotions and stories at home. We’ve been reading this book this book from the library (we’ve already signed the book out twice) but we’ve taken a lot of notes along the way to help keep our learnings alive. Have you read this book? What are your key takeaways? We’d love to hear from you.
I’ve been reading “When Breath Becomes Air” over the last several days, and this morning over breakfast, I finished the book. My husband looked up from his breakfast and I was in tears, unable to control my emotions over the ending of this book, and in particular its last paragraph. (After this paragraph there is a final chapter written by his wife Lucy, but it is his last words that reduced me to tears). This is a book that I hope everyone reads – it’s powerful and beautiful and just full of lessons and strength and honesty. It is an extraordinary read, and it was an incredible act of generosity for Paul Kalanithi to have written it. Below are my audio reflections about this wonderful wonderful book.
(Side note: I say in the audio story that he did his philosophy of education, what I meant to say is that he did a Masters in the philosophy of medicine)
I’ve been living in 50s and 60s Naples over the past few days and my trip has left me unsettled and restless. This week I read the first two books of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels (it’s a four book series) called “My Brilliant Friend” and “The Story of a New Name”. I’ve wanted to read these books for a long time. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about the series and have heard friends rave about how beautiful and unusual the books are, and so I was really looking forward experiencing them for myself.
The first book “My Brilliant Friend” is the May selection for the Seriously Planning bookclub. The books follow the lives of two friends Elena and Lila from childhood to their early twenties and chronicles their friendship, deep love, loyalty and hatred for each other. Lila is brilliant but stops her studies after elementary school because her father refuses to let her continue. She studies Latin and Greek on her own regardless and has a natural aptitude for learning and a quickness of mind that far surpasses Elena. Elena on the other hand, completes elementary school, middle school, high school and university by studying relentlessly and through feeling keenly the difference between herself and her friend. Whether it is in beauty, in intelligence, in love, in marriage, or any other sphere, to Elena it constantly feels like Lila is better and luckier than her, and the series is about their lives and how they influence one another.
My Brilliant Friend is an incredible book, and the author paints a detailed picture of Elena and Lila’s neighbourhood that makes it alive and real. She makes you feel like you can see, smell, taste Naples in the 50s and because you care about the characters, you willingly immerse yourself in their terrifying world.
About a month ago, I discovered a magical community on YouTube called BookTube. “BookTubers” make videos where they review books they’ve read, display their latest “book hauls” of the books they’ve recently purchased or received from publishers, give tours of their personal bookshelves and and generally discuss topics that are literary related. Not all of this appeals to me – it’s far less interesting to hear about the books you own/have recently bought than hearing what you’ve recently actually read and what you gained from the read, and a lot of existing BookTube content is YA related, which is not really my thing, but still, the premise about books on YouTube fascinates me.
When I first discovered BookTube I found a few people I really liked, and hearing enthusiastic people talking about books they’ve just read felt almost as nice as having a conversation with a wonderful friend who has read something amazing and wants to tell you about it. But at the same time, when I discovered BookTube one of the first thing I noticed is that it’s not a very racially and geographically diverse community – the vast majority of the people making videos about books are white, female and from North America or the UK. Though this surprised me I wasn’t sure if it mattered so much, after all, good books are good books no matter who you are right?
A year ago, I was in a bookshop in the Vancouver International Airport trying to pick a good read for my journey to South Africa to get married to my best friend. As I browsed the shelves, I came across a book called “Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject with the help of 50,00 strangers” by Daniel Jones, who has been the editor of the New York Times Modern Love column for the last ten years. As I stood in front of the shelf debating whether I wanted to spend $20 on the book and whether the book would help me in my new married life, an announcement came on the PA system making a last call for the flight I was waiting to board, and so I dropped the book and ran. Since then, I’ve wondered about the book. Reading “Modern Love” is a weekly personal ritual and since I always benefit from reading the column’s stories, I was interested to know what reading thousands of essays from strangers worldwide over the course of a decade had taught Jones about love.
To pursue this question, a few days ago I borrowed the book from the public library and have been reading it steadily over the past few nights. Last night I finished it, and although I enjoyed the read, I’m glad this is not a book that I own. Despite the subtitle of the book (which uses the word exploration rather than lessons) I thought the book would be about love lessons and practical advice one could apply to their own relationship. Instead, the book is organized into ten chapters with each chapter title/subject being one of ten topics related to love. Because the book’s chapters are not structured very clearly though, at times it was not clear where the book was going and the lack of clear direction interfered with my enjoyment of the book.
The ten principles/topics are pursuit/finding the person for you, destiny, vulnerability, connection, trust, practicality, monotony, infidelity, loyalty and wisdom. Each chapter talks about the principle in question but the majority of each chapter is about the flip side of the principle; the things that take place in relationships when things go wrong. The chapter about pursuit for instance, talks about the rise of online dating and the people we miss meeting because we exclude entire categories of people in our preferences and matching algorithms.
The chapter following pursuit discusses vulnerability and explores how many modern relationships (at least those that make it across his desk) strive to avoid vulnerability and are about acting aloof, both behaviours Jones says are aided by technological tools of today. If being aloof is something you are interested in learning how to do, “Love Illuminated” takes a “tongue in cheek” approach and delves into strategies to avoid openness and vulnerability and to maintain your distance from romantic partners. If you’re interested in real connection, the book and specifically the chapter has advice on how to be vulnerable too (Hint: real, grand gestures are good, gestures that are filmed, aimed at viral YouTube popularity or will likely embarrass the recipient are the kind of gestures to stay clear away from).
Building on this discussion, the chapter on connection looks extensively on online relationships and the rise of relationships in which communication through WhatsApp and Gchat and various social media platforms is commonplace, but real, in person communication is rare or nonexistent. For some people who have written their stories for Modern Love, the act of meeting killed their feelings and their love story. Chapter 5, the chapter on Trust, gives advice on how to avoid being conned (avoid someone too normal, or not normal at all) to say that it is impossible to protect yourself against betrayals of trust. As you continue to read, it feels like the book is telling you, there is no way to armour yourself against love, but regardless of the risks, fall in love anyway.
These reminders are important, but the book feels less than a book about love and improving love than a description of the very strange things people do in relationships. Having said that, there are some gems to be had.