Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dreaming new worlds

In the last month or so I've read:
  • Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee. A richly-textured cross between a suspenseful thriller and an evocative Bengali family epic, set in San Francisco, New Jersey, New York, Bombay, Calcutta and East Bengal. Not a single one of Mukherjee's characters, from native Brahmin Bengali to second-generation Indian, was a stereotype. Truly gripping.

  • Interpreter Of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Uncluttered, sparing, elegant, poignant. These stories of Indians, expatriates and first-generation Indians are astonishingly insightful - the elderly stairwell sweeper in Calcutta, the Bangladeshi lecturer in Boston fearing for the lives of his wife and children caught up in the civil war against Pakistan, the dizzy young newly-wed bride Twinkle in Connecticut collecting Christian bric-a-brac to the despair of her new husband, the long and lonely journey of a young man from Bengal to London to Massachusetts. I shed quite a few tears reading this collection.

  • The Colour Of Love by Preethi Nair. Delightful, frothy, light-hearted Indian chick-lit based in London. Laugh-out-loud hilarious. It's a cliche, but I really couldn't put this one down. I never realised there was so much Indian chick-lit out there - Preethi Nair, Mitali Perkins, Kavita Daswani, Nisha Minhas... as well as more serious female Indian writers such as Bharati Mukherjee, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Manju Kapur. So much to read and enjoy!

  • Waiting by Ha Jin. A doctor has been passionately in love with an educated, modern woman for seventeen years, while his loyal village wife back home resolutely refuses to grant him a divorce. This funny, subtle Chinese tale has the aura of a modern folktale.

  • Ghostwritten by David Mitchell. This cyber-mystical thriller in nine parts hurtles us from Okinawa and Tokyo to Petersburg and London. The intersecting narratives lost me many times along the way, but Mitchell's Haruki Murakami-style prose successfully drew me back into the tumult.

  • Veronica by Mary Gaitskill. At first I was skipping entire paragraphs, reluctant to dwell too much on these grotesque, insular, narcissistic characters torching through arty NYC in the 1980s. But then Gaitskill's compassion, tenderness and love for her characters filtered through and by the end I was burning hot, jagged tears. A devastating look at exploitation, selfishness, love and death.
Reading is a wonderful route back into dreaming after a day immersed only in rationality. I love snuggling into the couch or duvet with a book after a long day at work, but another of my favourite parts of the day is reading on the morning and evening underground commute. I rarely read work documents on the train. M is the same. He'll often be checking his Blackberry waiting for the train, but once he's on, it's out with a novel. Reading in this way helps transition into and out of two very different worlds - home and work life.

And reading facilitates writing. I keep a small notebook for ideas and a larger one for a current project. As an aside, I also keep a journal which I dip my pen into from time to time with thoughts I want to keep to myself. After a few years, I am dreaming new worlds into being again. I was at university when I last wrote intensively. My time these days is far less flexible and I have to fit in chunks of dreaming and writing time here and there, but I'm in no hurry. The story and character incubation is simply wonderful - like luxuriating fully immersed in a warm and scented bath...

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