Somer’s life is everything she imagined it would be—she’s newly married and has started her career as a physician in San Francisco—until she makes the devastating discovery she never will be able to have children.
The same year in India, a poor mother makes the heartbreaking choice to save her newborn daughter’s life by giving her away. It is a decision that will haunt Kavita for the rest of her life, and cause a ripple effect that travels across the world and back again.
Asha, adopted out of a Mumbai orphanage, is the child that binds the destinies of these two women. We follow both families, invisibly connected until Asha’s journey of self-discovery leads her back to India.
Pages: 358 (paperback)
Publisher: April 5th 2011 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published March 9th 2010)
Rating: 10 out of 10
Source: Recommended by one of my neighbors who thought I would enjoy and she was absolutely right!
Date Completed: May 10, 2013
When I first met my neighbor L, we discovered a shared passion for reading. When we were on the same commuter rail coming home from the city, we would often talk about what we were reading, exchange books, and add to our ever growing to-read lists. Last fall when she told me about a book she purchased that she thought I would like and asked if I would like to borrow it, I did not hesitate to say yes. While I took awhile to get started, once I began could not read Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda fast enough!
I am South Asian and grew up in an Indian-American community; one of the stereotypes about Indian culture is that there is a lot of preference for sons. During my fellowship in DC, a big part of my professional time was consumed with it to as I worked on advocating against sex selection abortion bans. The narrative in the book captured the importance and need for culture change in terms of creating options for women and valuing the lives of girls. While I was not surprised to read about the difference in treatment of women and girls between those in higher economic brackets with those in lower ones, I was surprised that I felt empathy and understanding with all the characters. I even felt compassion for Kavita's husband as he was trying to explain why they could not keep their daughter.
I also appreciated that the story of sexism, in particular expectations of women as mothers and spouses, was not limited to talking about India. The story of Somer in the United States touched on so many universal themes-- the challenging of longing for and wanting a marriage, children, and a career. The fear that your link to your child will diminish as she goes out into the world and the constant worry and wonder about her well being is universal. Somer's description of the change in her career focus, and the shifts in dynamic with her husband illustrate the ways in which shifting priorities can manifest themselves in ways that build resentment and cause a lose of identity. I loved the part of the story line where Somer rediscovers some of her passions and reflects on why she did not even question the change in career direction and make couple time with her husband.
Finally, I loved following the journey of Asha. Her search for identity and longing to feel like she belonged was beautifully illustrated. Her connection with her family in India and search for her birth family was so moving to read. One of my favorite parts of the book is realizing how much she is loved by her birth mother, grandmother, and mom. I had tears in my eyes as she reflecting on the time her mom took to make it easier for her to swallow medicine or make birthday cake. I also cried when she used her knowledge of the status of girls in India to realize that her birth mother loved her enough to give her a bangle.
I am counting this book for the following challenge:
2013 South Asian Reading Challenge: The book is written by an Indian-American author, has South Asian characters, and part of the story takes place in India.
From TLC book tours:
Enchanted by the movies she watched while growing up in affluent Tehran in the 1950s and ’60s, Shohreh Aghdashloo dreamed of becoming an actress despite her parents’ more practical plans. When she fell in love and married her husband, Aydin, a painter twelve years her senior, she made him promise he’d allow her to follow her passion.
The first years of her marriage were magical. As Shohreh began to build a promising career, Aydin worked at the royal offices as an art director while exhibiting his paintings in Tehran. But in 1979 revolution swept Iran, toppling the Shah and installing an Islamic republic under the Ayatollah Khomeini. Alarmed by the stifling new restrictions on women and art, Shohreh made the bold and dangerous decision to escape the new regime and her home country. Leaving her family and the man she loved behind, she fled in a covert journey to Europe and eventually to Los Angeles.
In this moving, deeply personal memoir, Shohreh shares her story: it is a tale of privilege and affluence, pain and prejudice, tenacity and success. She writes poignantly about her struggles as an outsider in a for- eign culture—as a woman, a Muslim, and an Iranian—adapting to a new land and a new language. She shares behind-the-scenes stories about what it’s really like to be a Hollywood actress—including being snubbed by two of Tinseltown’s biggest names on Oscar night.
Pages: 288 Hardcover
Publisher: Harper (June 4, 2013)
Rating: 7 out of 10
Source: Received copy for participation in TLC book tour
Date Completed: July 10, 2013
When I was asked to read and review Shohreh Aghdashloo's memoir, The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines, I was very excited. In particular, I was looking forward to reading an account of an actress of color who is also an immigrant managing the American film industry. I first remember seeing her in the movie House of Sand and Fog which I enjoyed.
The first chapter of the book drew me in; reading about the Oscar night prep and experience was fun. Her experience with Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger showed that not everyone can be gracious at all times. In spite of that knowledge, I was annoyed that they did not even smile or nod at Aghdashloo. For the record, I did not enjoy Cold Mountain and would have preferred if Aghdashloo had won.
Anyway, I loved the lyrical descriptions of Iran and her childhood. The description of her family and the ways she tried to hide her modeling from her dad made me smile. Her courtship and marriage to her first husband was sweet. Some of the political events in Iran made my jaw drop. Some of the chapters were choppy and I found myself wanting more details of the specifics of how she became involved in the demonstrations. The pace of the book made it seem like her decision to leave Iran was sudden. The way she came to her decision to divorce her husband was also surprising and sad.
I also wanted more details on her breaking into the Hollywood scene. In particular, I wanted to learn more about her transition from performing to mostly Iranian audience to a broader base. From other things I have read and heard, I know that there is a tendency to type cast women of color. I was hoping to get more of Aghdashloo's perspective on finding substantive roles and balancing acting with her passion for politics.
More tour information can be found here.
Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women's lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from the riot of adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother. With rapier wit, Moran slices right to the truth—whether it's about the workplace, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, popular entertainment, or children—to jump-start a new conversation about feminism. With humor, insight, and verve, How To Be a Woman lays bare the reasons why female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but also for society itself
Pages: 301 pages (Paperback)
Publisher: Published July 17th 2012 by Harper Perennial (first published June 16th 2011)
Rating: 7 out of 10
Source: Checked out of the library multiple times
Date Completed: May 10, 2013
Everything I heard about How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran indicated that I would enjoy the book: funny, strong feminist perspective, and a quick read. The book was picked for a book club that is no longer in existence, but I still wanted to finish the selection. When I read the prologue, I was immediately struck by the line "zero tolerance on all patriarchal bullshit." As I dove into the first chapters, I started to struggle. The references to pornography started to bore me. The framework felt crass and forced. I was annoyed.
I liked the last part of the book much better. The chapters on sexism, marriage, fashion, why you should have children, and why you should not have children were all very good. In those, I felt the connection between her personal observation that was filled with wit and insight to a larger structural problem. The abortion chapter was a bit bumpy, but I appreciate the attempt to reduce stigma.
When I first finished the book, I had more things I intended to write in my review. As with most things these days, the details spilled from my memory and I want to check something off my never-ending to-do list.
From TLC book tours:
Yael Azoulay does the United Nations’ dirty work by cutting deals that most of us never hear about. Equally at home in the caves of Afghanistan, the slums of Gaza, or corporate boardrooms all across the world, Yael believes the ends justify the means…until she’s pushed way beyond her breaking point.
When Yael is assigned to eastern Congo to negotiate with Jean-Pierre Hakizimani, a Hutu warlord wanted for genocide, she offers him a generous plea bargain. Thanks to Congo’s abundance of a valuable mineral used in computer and cell phone production, her number one priority is maintaining regional stability. But when she discovers that Hakizimani is linked to the death of the person she loved the most—and that the UN is prepared to sanction mass murder—Yael soon realizes that salvation means not just saving others’ lives but confronting her own inner demons.
Spanning New York City, Africa, and Switzerland, The Geneva Option is the first in a series of gripping conspiracy thrillers, a tour de force of international espionage and intrigue.
Pages: 368 pages (Paperback)
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; Original edition (May 28, 2013)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Source: Received copy for participation in TLC Book Tour
Date Completed: June 3, 2013
I was looking for a change of reading pace, so I was very excited to pick up The Geneva Option by Adam LeBor. As promised from the description, the plot was fast paced and intriguing. The power struggle, politics, and corruption in the UN was especially interesting. I liked that the challenges of international development were illustrated. In the midst of noble undertakings, such as bringing peace to a region, monetary interests can complicate things. Reading about the work of the reporters, Yael, and other characters was like getting a back stage pass into how things really work at the UN.
While I enjoyed the book overall, I was challenged with the pace and plot twists. The abrupt changes in location and viewpoint were confusing. While I liked all the attention to detail, some of the small things got lost in the bigger picture. In spite of these issues, I am excited to read the next installments.
More tour information can be found here.
In addition to the book tour, I am counting this book for the 2013 Global Reading Challenge.
Hildy Good is a townie. A lifelong resident of an historic community on the rocky coast of Boston’s North Shore, she knows pretty much everything about everyone. Hildy is a descendant of one of the witches hung in nearby Salem, and is believed, by some, to have inherited psychic gifts. Not true, of course; she’s just good at reading people. Hildy is good at lots of things. A successful real-estate broker, mother and grandmother, her days are full. But her nights have become lonely ever since her daughters, convinced their mother was drinking too much, staged an intervention and sent her off to rehab. Now she’s in recovery—more or less.
Alone and feeling unjustly persecuted, Hildy needs a friend. She finds one in Rebecca McCallister, a beautiful young mother and one of the town’s wealthy newcomers. Rebecca feels out-of-step in her new surroundings and is grateful for the friendship. And Hildy feels like a person of the world again, as she and Rebecca escape their worries with some harmless gossip, and a bottle of wine by the fire—just one of their secrets.
But not everyone takes to Rebecca, who is herself the subject of town gossip. When Frank Getchell, an eccentric local who shares a complicated history with Hildy, tries to warn her away from Rebecca, Hildy attempts to protect her friend from a potential scandal. Soon, however, Hildy is busy trying to cover her own tracks and protect her reputation. When a cluster of secrets become dangerously entwined, the reckless behavior of one threatens to expose the other, and this darkly comic novel takes a chilling turn.
Pages: 288 (ebook)
Publisher: Published January 15th 2013 by St. Martin's Press
Rating: 7 out of 10
Source: Purchased for Nook
Date Completed: April 25, 2013
When the Partners, Professors, and Pals book club selected The Good House by Ann Leary I was excited to read about the connection to witches and enjoy the New England setting. The story that unfolded was not what I expected; however, I still enjoyed the book. The perspective of Hildy was so engaging. Initially, I agreed that her children had over reacted. As the story unfolded, I changed my mind.
From Hildy's perspective, we get to know other characters and see events unfold. At several points, I wondered how things looked from the other characters' viewpoints. Based on the description, I was expecting a very twisted, intense, surprising ending. There were some surprises, but I felt like the story kind of puttered out. After all the build up, things finished very weakly.