Four Books

Since we shifted this year my reading took a beating what with the settling down and looking for a Library that dished out more than just Bestsellers.

However, thanks to Flipkart I’m on a fast track again. Last month I ordered four books -- Parul Sharma’s By the Water Cooler (BTWC) (Parul is someone who’s blog I follow and enjoy immensely), Keep the Change (KTC) by Nirupma Subramaniam, Beautiful from This Angle (BFTA) by Maha Khan Philips and Girl in Translation (GIT) by  Jean Kwok. Coincidentally all four books are by women authors and have women protagonists.

The first two proved to be quick, fun, one-time reads. They are interesting in their similarity. Both deal with girls thrown in competitive work atmospheres. BTWC’s Mini is a Brand Manager while KTC’s Damayanthi is a Chennai accountant both trying to find their feet in Mumbai. Both have mothers super anxious to get them married and settled. Both have fleeting affairs with handsome hunks only to find true love later.

I loved BTWC for its interesting characters… Tanya who obsessively plans her wedding, the anorexic Vaishali, Mumtaz the detective, Subbu the quintessential accountant, the bitchy boss Shipra. Besides, some of her lines really made me laugh. “.. her eyes were those of a Shark, not missing a single detail of my dress or appearance, assuming sharks were interested in that kind of thing." Typically Parul.

I must confess though that I enjoyed KTC more. The protagonist Damayanthi is better etched out. She and her saucy ‘Little Voice’ make for a good read.

Both books are funny, sure, yet predictable, too predictable. Like I said quick, one-time reads with simple happy endings that’s all.

BFTA is set in high society Pakistan. It is about three friends, party queen Amynah Farooqui, Mumtaz Malik daughter of a drug baron and the image conscious, conservative Henna daughter of a prominent Pakistani politician. When Amynah’s friend Monty produces a hit reality show Who Wants to Be a Terrorist, Mumtaz too decides to make a documentary on violence again women to cash in on the international trend of Pakistan bashing. Amynah agrees to help and they rope in Henna. They make a documentary with a girl called Nilofer, who is not really as much of a victim as she pretends to be.
The documentary goes on to be a superhit and from then on things get complicated driving the friends apart. I found the book engrossing if for nothing else than the Pakistani angle. It’s a country that fascinates me for obvious reasons.

Besides, I’d never read about the Pakistani elite before. Amynah the protagonist is by far the most interesting character. She’s happy writing a totally fake book on oppressed women in Pakistan. Yet, it’s not that she doesn’t have a conscience, she just doesn’t want to complicate life by thinking too much. She keeps is simple.. goes to parties, snorts coke, has some casual sex for fun and crashes at home nursing hangovers. An interesting read but I kind of expected more when I started out.

Now for the Girl in Translation. If BFTA was about the rich of a poor country, GIT is about the poor of a rich country. The book traces the journey of a young Chinese girl Kim after she migrates to the US with her mother. She knows just a smattering of English, while her mother knows none. But she has an advantage in that she’s an extraordinary student. The story traces her journey as she overcomes financial, social and emotional odds to become a surgeon.

As I read the book what struck me first was that a ‘good traditional Chinese’ girl is quite similar to an Indian one, and that’s what makes it tough for Kim to fit in.
The description of abject poverty is startling in its detail. The grueling work schedule, the low wages, the cockroaches and rats in Kim and her mother’s dilapidated apartment and above all the lack of heating … the cold that forces them to sleep with the oven switched on all night… the cold got to me the most.
What’s better GIT satisfied my penchant for happy endings. This is the one I enjoyed most.

Waiting for the next lot from Flipkart. Meanwhile the hunt for the library is still on.