Apr 22, 2013

Roy's Picks for May

For our consideration in May, Roy offers us the following titles, all thematically linked (in various ways) to the colonial legacy still connecting South Asia and Africa.

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese (667 pages), 2010.  

Verghese turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences in a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations. Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a devout young nun, leaves the south Indian state of Kerala in 1947 for a missionary post in Yemen. During the arduous sea voyage, she saves the life of an English doctor bound for Ethiopia, Thomas Stone, who becomes a key player in her destiny when they meet up again at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa. Seven years later, Sister Praise dies birthing twin boys: Shiva and Marion, the latter narrating his own and his brothers long, dramatic, biblical story set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ethiopia, the life of the hospital compound in which they grow up and the love story of their adopted parents, both doctors at Missing. The boys become doctors as well and Vergheses weaving of the practice of medicine into the narrative is fascinating even as the story bobs and weaves with the power and coincidences of the best 19th-century novel.  (Publisher’s Weekly)

The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje (290 pages), 2011. 

Michael Ondaatje's finely wrought new novel chronicles a young boy's passage from Sri Lanka to London onboard the Oronsay, both as it unfolds and in hindsight. Glancing off the author's own biography, the story follows 11-year-old Michael as he immerses himself in the hidden corners and relationships of a temporary floating world, overcoming its physical boundaries with the expanse of his imagination. The boy's companions at the so-called cat's table, where the ship’s unconnected strays dine together, become his friends and teachers, each leading him closer to the key that unlocks the Oronsay's mystery decades later. Elegantly structured and completely absorbing, The Cat's Table is a quiet masterpiece by a writer at the height of his craft.  (Amazon Review)

A Bend In the River, V.S. Naipaul (288 pages), 1989.   

A Bend in the River tells the story of an Indian man whose family has lived on the coast of Africa for three generations. He travels to an unnamed country in the interior to open a store, at the bend of the river. The town there has been a thriving European-run city, but is now largely ruins after a revolution, which put "The Big Man" in power. The protagonist's life there is a cycle of fairly stable times with rebuilding, and times of fear and dread, as counter-revolutions and government crack-downs repeatedly threaten the area. He encounters other Indian businessmen, young Africans trying to find a place in their new world, Europeans trying to adapt themselves to the new order. It is basically a story told through the eyes of an outsider of a country trying to find a balance between the modern world and the past and traditions of Africa, where tribal warfare is an inescapable fact of life.  (Amazon Review)

Life of Pi, Yann Martel (326 pages), 2003.   

Piscine Molitor Patel, named after a French swimming pool, grew up in a Zoo in India. One would think that would be enough to make him unique, but there is more, much more.  He survives the sinking of a ship that killed his entire family and most of the zoo animals, he lived for 227 days in the company of a bengal tiger named Richard Parker, discovers a carnivorous island populated by meerkats. Eventually he lands in Mexico. Sounds insane? Pure fiction? Read the book, then you decide. A beautiful, terrible story, a glimpse inside the mind of a truly unique person, richly detailed, you will have difficulty putting it down.  (Amazon Review)

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