Category Archives: Romance

On Eulogies and ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ by John Green

faultWhat you heard is true, this is a cliched story. A star crossed pair of teenagers, both of them terminally ill, wishes coming true, devoted parents, adoring sisters, video games of guns and gore, precocious dialogues,  the story has all the ingredients of a block buster young adult movie. No surprises here, a movie is indeed slated for release.

Hazel Grace, or ‘Just’ Hazel as she calls herself, is terminally ill. Her cancer seem to be temporarily stalled by a new medication, but she knows her days are numbered. As expected, she meets the gorgeous, precocious, tongue in cheek Augustus Waters in a support group meeting. Once a talented basketball player, the dreaded illness has left him with a prosthetic leg in place of a real one. And he falls in love, not the least because she resembles his girl friend who, no surprises here again, died of cancer. Too much cancer, you think? Wait, there is Isaac, who is waiting to lose his eye so that he can be certified NEC – No Evidence of Cancer.

Ready to run off? Not so fast. If you are still wondering what the hype and hoopla is all about, open that copy of yours and read.  We tend to dismiss such books saying the kids sound smart beyond their years, they speak words far suited to people much older, if not wiser and so on and so forth. Think for a minute, though. Aren’t our kids exactly the same? And we listen to them with a proud smile and an indulgent look. It is quite obvious as you read that the author knows young adults and ill ones at that. He seem to read their minds quite well and can really relate to the insecurities that rage their hearts. So it came as no surprise when I read somewhere that at twenty two, he worked as a student chaplain in a children’s hospital.

If the strength of the story is the realistic manner in which it is portrayed, its huge success among the young ones could very well be the ideal love that  they long for at that very impressionable age. The growth hormones on overdrive, peer pressure on one side, parental do’s , don’ts and expectations on the other side, it is a period of conflict for them – of emotions, soul and body. It is only natural that they yearn for that one true love, who understands you inside out, who stands by you come what may and who is ready to lay down even his life for you. And that is the connect that the author is able to tap effortlessly. For, here is someone who is willing to give up his last wish for his love. What more could an idealistic teenage heart ask for?

The parents are mostly in the background, especially Gus’s. Both sets of parents seem to be similar, maybe because of the almost identical backgrounds all three characters seem to come from. Hazel’s parents are a little more deeply etched – the mother who stays strong and the father who breaks – again seem to follow an expected pattern. What I loved here is Hazel’s concerns for her parents. She has read up on how a kid’s death might affect the parents , ‘studies say more than 50% end up in divorce.’ She has overheard her mother ‘cannot be a mother’ anymore. We give kids far less credit than they actually deserve and Green has beautifully brought out this point. Their fears are as real as a grown up’s and it is much more similar to ours that we would actually admit.

I will leave the details of the wish, what happens in between and how it all ends for the reader in you to find out for yourself. As I moved the book into the ‘read’ folder, two thoughts refused to leave me. The first one was Hazel’s thoughts on how illness defines her life and the person that she is now. As parents and elders, we tend to treat children with kid’s gloves many a time, more so when they are ill. It might be fine with them when it is an occasional illness. But it could be shattering to them when the illness is something that they are forced to be reminded of whether they want to or not, like Hazel’s oxygen tank. The ultimate fear of a young girl or boy is to be different from their peers. It is so well brought out when Hazel’s father tries to force a curfew on her. The teenager in her wants to act like a typical one, but she is almost always restricted by the thought of how she might hurt them. For a typical girl her age, that might very well be the last of concerns. You can only try to imagine the emotional trauma she must be going through, understanding and acting accordingly would be an impossible task for a parent.

The second is something that has been in my mind ever since I read a Reader’s Digest article years ago. There was this story about a terminally ill guy who decides to celebrate his own wake. Along with his wife, he plans it elaborately, with his favorite food and drinks, all his close friends and family present and each one reading out their eulogy for him. What a beautiful way to go, isn’t it? I am all for this. Why are we so reluctant to say good things about people directly to them when they are alive and then eulogize about them when they are no more? A simple ‘I love you’ said with feeling fills our hearts with joy, imagine the abundance of happiness it would mean to us if our loved ones took time out to really say what we mean to them. Isn’t that what is so charming about kids? They live for the moment and tell us what they feel in that instant. So, why not eulogize someone each day, while they are still in your life?

Going back to  the book, these lines from ‘Desiderata’ keeps playing in my mind,

“Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.”

 

Verdict – If you are a parent to a teenager, read it. If you are a parent of a teenager who swears by this book, read it, now. If you are not a parent to a teenager, but is someone who believes in and tries to live by the above quoted lines, read it.

4/5

 

Francesca and Robert – some random thoughts

bridges

I first read ‘The Bridges of Madison County‘ at an age when one believes love is only for the young. Anyone above forty would  have been done and dusted with romance and got lost in the mundane things of life. It was no wonder that the book left a kind of disbelief in my mind. Really? A fifty something house wife, somewhere in the wild falling in love with a wandering photographer? Not just that, plunging headlong into a full blown affair? And then, celebrating their anniversary? The feeling was of a mild disgust – how could she do this to her husband – and total disbelief.

Well, at times, with age comes wisdom and acceptance. So does a gradual change in the definition of romance. It is really difficult to remember when the change starts taking over you. The sudden surge in hormones that brings forth a luminous glow in your eyes, that makes your heart rate go at the rate of a super bike and turns your bones into jelly, slowly transitions to something deeper.  Looks doesn’t seem to matter much anymore. You are more interested  in what comes out of a mouth guarded by those sensuous lips rather than imagining a scorching kiss on them. Along with family and kids came a better understanding of Francesca, but questions remain aplenty.

Few days ago, a friend of mine shared this beautiful love story. It’s about a night that Sir Isiah Berlin spent in Leningrad in 1945. Through a friend, he met the famous Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, twenty years older to him and about whom he did not know much. The article goes on about how as the night progressed, they went from one topic to another, discovering more and more about themselves, the books, thoughts and philosophies they had in common, “They had read all the same things, knew what the other knew, understood each other’s longings,” is what Berlin’s biographer says about the meeting. That night was something the two of them would never forget in their lives and probably influenced many a story and poem that the two brought out. A rare connection of heart and intellect.

Reading the story, my mind automatically went back to Robert Kincaid, the ‘peregrine’ photographer who had come to Iowa to capture the covered bridges of the county. He meets Francesca, wife of a country farmer and the next few days define the rest of their lives. They would have never imagined or even had the wildest dream  about such a confluence souls.

“It’s clear to me now that  I have been moving toward you and you toward me for a long time. Though neither of us was aware of the other before we met, there was a kind of mindless certainty humming blithely along beneath our ignorance that ensured we would come together. Like two solitary birds flying the great prairies by celestial reckoning, all of these years and lifetimes we have been moving toward one another.”

Call it destiny, fate, luck, serendipity or whatever you may, the essential feeling is the same, that this was bound to happen. All is well as long as the two of you are unattached and you know no one is going to get hurt. The power of recognition and love is so strong, it is just not possible to find fault in their relationship. Yet, a question keeps gnawing at the corners of my heart, “what if it was me? Would  I have jumped at the chance?”

Francesca was a free and passionate spirit and wanted to see the world. She had jumped at the chance to get out of her small Italian village, so got married to the dashing American soldier, only to live the rest of her life in a remote farm land in Iowa, miles away from civilization. Into her conventional life comes this leopard-like handsome creature, upsetting her plcaid existence and pulling out all that she had pushed down into the deepest recesses of her heart. She realizes that at her age, there could never be another chance. And she decides to give that gift to herself.

Not surprisingly, I haven’t given much thought to Robert, except as the handsome Clint Eastwood. He is free to do anything he wants without too many repercussions. It is Francesca that kept stealing silently into my thoughts, “why didn’t she take the chance of a lifetime? she could have had the life that she always dreamed of, why did she let go?” And then that nagging question again, “what would I have done, in her place?”

More often than not, we want more than what we already have. Especially so, if you are a dreamer. We are in constant search of that someone or something that would make you whole and complete. Someone who fits into the contours of your soul, mind, body and intellect with perfect ease, as if you were parts of the same puzzle. Alas, the imperfect mortals that we are, with all the associated faults and foibles, perfection turns out to be a mere chimera. So what would you do, if you are one of those rarest ones, who is lucky enough to find that elusive mate, even if it is only for sometime, irrespective of whether you are young or old? Would you grab that chance with everything that you have and let go of all else? Would  you just ignore it or would you do as Francesca did – fill her soul to the brim and feed from it for the rest of her life?

It was Francesca who gave me my answer,

“The paradox is this: If it hadn’t been for Robert Kincaid, I’m not sure I could have stayed on the farm all these years. In four days, he gave me a lifetime, a universe, and made the separate parts of me into whole. I have never stopped thinking of him, not for a moment. Even when he was not in my conscious mind, I could feel him somewhere, always he was there.

But it never took away from anything I felt for the two of you or your father. Thinking only of myself for a moment, I’m not sure I made the right decision. But taking the family into account, I’m pretty sure I did.”

‘The Homing Pigeons’ by Sid Bahri

I was grinning with glee as I read Margaret Atwood echoing my sentiments in her ‘Curious Pursuits‘  (sounds quite pompous, I know, but then what the heck!)

“I don’t review books I don’t like, although to do so would doubtless be amusing for the Ms Hyde side of me and entertaining for the more malicious class of reader. But either the book is really bad, in which case no one should review it, or it’s good but not my cup of tea, in which case someone else should review it.”

But then, when you have willingly agreed to review a book, one has to set aside certain principles and go ahead and do what you are supposed to.

The Homing Pigeons Cover okReaders Cosmos  reached out sometime back and asked whether I would be interested in reviewing this book by new author Sid Bahri. As usual, I jumped at the offer, anything…well, almost anything, for a free book is my motto. Little did I know this would be the second disappointment in a row.

Aditya and Radhika are childhood sweethearts who meet , greet and separate at different points in their lives. As the curtains go up, its been a year since Aditya has lost his job to recession and he has just drunk his last rupee down his drains.  Radhika, who is just 31 (or is it 33, anyway),  is found marrying off her step daughter so that she can finally be free of  her super rich dead husband’s ‘will’ful diktats. The story goes up and down between the two lover’s lives, from childhood, school, work , (college part is negligible since the two aren’t anywhere nearby during that phase), two marriages, a miscarriage, a divorce, a widowhood  and so on and so forth. The title obviously tells you how this is all going to end.

 The story line sounded interesting and the most of the reviews said ‘fabulous’, so I was expecting a riveting tale that would just not hold but grip my attention. The reality, was another story altogether.

The chapters alternated between the two protagonist’s lives. To give the author credit where it is due, the book held my interest till about the first one third part.  Then , chapters started getting shorter and stopping like the episodes of a saas bahu serial – nothing much and a feeling of what the heck!

Radhika’s life especially sounded too far fetched, what with being born after two boys, then being adopted, returned back, loved, married, divorced, jilted, married again, widowed, massaged… 😉

Verdict – Will not recommend to those who love lovely tales told beautifully, even if they are my enemies

2/5

‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ by Mary Ann Schaffer

guernseyWhen you are tired from a sojourn in the deserts among gun fights, armed men and dilapidated monasteries and then having a ‘A Spot of Bother,‘ there comes a ray of sunlight through the gloominess that had started to cloud your mind. Wit, warmth, nice people and beautiful places, with the right amount of mushiness thrown in, this was exactly what the book doctor ordered. You see, the right time for the right book 🙂

There is something about letters , the long forgotten long hand types, that brings out the essence of your soul. As you put your thoughts out in ink, you are actually pouring yourself out onto that piece of paper. The war is just over and  writer Juliet Ashton is on the search for a topic for her new book. Out of the blue she gets a letter from one Dawsey Adams from a farm in Guernsey, Channel Islands. An old book of Juliet’s has somehow reached his hands –

‘The Selected Essays of Elia’ by an author whose real name was Charles Lamb.

Dawsey wants to read more of the author’s books. Since there are no book shops in Guernsey,  asks Juliet  for the name and address of one in London that he can contact. And thus begins a correspondence between the two that slowly spreads to the members of ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.’ As Juliet gets to know the people of Guernsey and how the society came into being and got its funny name, the other letters to and from her best friend Sophie and Sidney her publisher and Sophie’s brother, gives us a glimpse of her growing years and of her as a person. Then there is the quintessential handsome American, Mark, who is trying to woo Juliet and will do anything to make her his wife.

The story takes a predictable turn as Juliet travels to Guernsey, meets the orphaned Kit, decides to base her next book on the incidents and people there, in the background of the German occupation. You know how the story is going to end. In spite of that, what makes it so delightful is the essential goodness in all the characters. Most of them, including the Germans, seem too good to be true and all of them write witty letters.  What makes it even more charming and makes a lover of books absolutely love this book is the humorous references to various books, literary characters and the joy of reading. Sample a few,

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”

“Because there is nothing I would rather do than rummage through bookshops, I went at once to Hastings & Sons Bookshop upon receiving your letter. I have gone to them for years, always finding the one book I wanted – and then three more I hadn’t known I wanted.”

“What on earth did you say to Isola? She stopped in on her way to pick up Pride and Prejudice and to berate me for never telling her about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Why hadn’t she known there were better love stories around? Stories not riddled with ill-adjusted men, anguish, death and graveyards!” 

I have to thank this girl for recommending this absolutely delightful read that is entirely in the form of letters. Apparently, this is the only book from Mary Ann Schaffer. In fact, she passed away before the book was published and her niece Annie Barrows completed it based on the manuscript.

Verdict : Don’t even touch it if you are someone who looks down upon mushiness and things that are too sweet. As for ordinary souls like me, who love simple pleasures in life and believe that there is an innate goodness in most everyone, grab it. Those of you who love witty dialogues and humorous takes on life, do take the chance and peep in, I would say.

4/5