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Book Review: The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai

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Book Review:

The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai

06.06.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

hungry ghosts

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Category: Fiction

Author: Shyam Selvadurai

Format: Hardcover, 378 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67066-1

Pub Date: April 2, 2013

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Summary from publisher:

In Buddhist myth, the dead may be reborn as “hungry ghosts”-spirits with stomach so large they can never be full-if they have desired too much during their lives. It is the duty of the living relatives to free those doomed to this fate by doing kind deeds and creating good karma. In Shyam Selvadurai’s sweeping new novel, his first in more than a decade, he creates an unforgettable ghost, a powerful Sri Lankan matriarch whose wily ways, insatiable longing for land, houses, money and control, and tragic blindness to the human needs of those around her parallels the volatile political situation of her war-torn country.

The novel centres around Shivan Rassiah, the beloved grandson, who is of mixed Tamil and Sinhalese lineage, and who also-to his grandmother’s dismay-grows from beautiful boy to striking gay man. As the novel opens in the present day, Shivan, now living in Canada, is preparing to travel back to Colombo, Sri Lanka, to rescue his elderly and ailing grandmother, to remove her from the home-now fallen into disrepair-that is her pride, and bring her to Toronto to live our her final days. But throughout the night and into the early morning hours of his departure, Shivan grapples with his own insatiable hunger and is haunted by unrelenting ghosts of his own creation.

The Hungry Ghosts is a beautifully written, dazzling story of family, wealth and the long reach of the past. It shows how racial, political and sexual differences can tear apart both a country and the human heart-not just once, but many times, until the ghosts are fed and freed.

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Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai is an exquisitely rich story about Shivan Rassiah, a young boy born from poverty and the weight of a burdened past that originally stems from an abrasive grandmother that poisons her lineage to create a wilful and eventually rebellious daughter—and the fate of her belief in her own terrible karma.

Amidst the turmoil of a divided Sri Lanka where the tensions between the Tamils and Sinhalese people are a vivid and violent backdrop to the tensions between Shivan’s estranged grandmother and mother and the sides he is forced to choose from in order for his family to survive—Shivan also grows, discovers, and explores his own sexuality as a gay man and battles against the intolerance of his homosexuality by his Sri Lankan culture and community.

Between his grandmother’s controlling dominance and astute ambition for power and money; his mother’s depression and devastation at the failure of a western country, Canada, whose expectations she held towards were far too high in estimation compared to her real immigrant experience; and his sister’s radical extremism in feminist theory and racial equality—Shivan is often a victim of emotional liminality and displacement, marginalized in his culture and experience not only by being both Tamil and Sinhalese, but more importantly a Sri Lankan-born boy who immigrates to Toronto, Canada as a refugee and eventually becomes a westernized Torontonian and later, a Vancouver resident, open and active in the LGBT community.

The richness in this novel is found in the author’s ability to write with an eloquence and ease that give his characters resounding depth, authenticity, and a vulnerability, which readers can eagerly connect to and appreciate.

And the emotional landscape of the novel’s characters are not static, nor linear, but like life, mimic the fluctuation of people who change their minds over time and over a number of experiences.

The cultural translations of Buddhists stories also enrich the novel in metaphor and Sri Lankan culture, as well as intensify the substance of the novel’s characters.

But, the novel is not just entirely character-driven. The plot, too, is rich as it is turbulent and engaging. The capacity in which characters can love is just as passionate as their ability to hate and condemn, which drive them to illogical and unthinkable acts of cruelty.

The plot, filled with the torment of conflict and anguish, create an emotionally charged and gripping tale that will move readers to empathy and reflection about the importance of resisting exclusivity, answering the issues of cultural displacement, and advocating racial and gender equality, while defining the ideas of love and home.

Overall, The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai is a beautifully written book, full of substance and dichotomy, tenderness and heartache, tension and cruelty—a book that is so gloriously good, I couldn’t put it down—and still mourn the loss I feel in turning its very last pages.

A book like this is one is one in which you befriend its fictional characters in your reading and then miss them severely, feeling a loss at having to accept that though the story does not end, the book itself, has to. The Hungry Ghosts by this gifted and mature writer will inevitably leave its readers hungering for more.

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Characters:  5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

Plot: 5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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 A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Doubleday Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.

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About the Author:

shyam selvadurai

From the Shyam Selvadurai Official Website.

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Shyam Selvadurai was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1965. He  came to Canada  with his family at the age of nineteen. He has studied creative writing and  theatre and has a BFA from York   University, as well as an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.

Funny Boy, his first novel, was published to acclaim in 1994 and won the WH Smith/Books  in Canada First Novel Award and in the US the Lambda Literary Award. It was also named a Notable Book by the American Library Association, and was translated into 8 languages.

His second novel, Cinnamon Gardens, was published in Canada, the  UK, the US and translated into 9 languages. It was shortlisted for Canada’s Trillium Award, as well as  the Aloa Literary Award in Denmark  and the Premio Internazionale Riccardo Bacchelli in Italy.

Shyam is the  editor of an anthology, Story-Wallah: A  Celebration of South Asian Fiction, published in Canada and the US, and his  novel for young adults, Swimming in the  Monsoon Sea, was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award and is the  winner of the Lambda Literary Award in the US, the Canadian Library  Association Book of the Year Award and Silver Winner in the Young Adult  Category of ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award.

His articles have  appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Time Magazine, Toronto Life, Walrus Magazine, Enroute Magazine, The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. He served as Festival Curator for the Galle Literary Festival for  2 years. His fourth novel, The Hungry  Ghosts, was  published   April 2, 2013 in Canada, India and  Sri Lanka.

– From the Shyam Selvadurai Official Website

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Links:

Shyam Selvadurai’s Official Website

Connect with Shyam on Facebook

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Have you ever faced cultural displacement before? Where and how?

What unfulfilled desire do you “hunger” for the most?

Have you read Shyam Selvadurai’s book, “The Hungry Ghosts” yet? If so, what did you think of it?

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A Review: Red House by Mark Haddon

A Review:

The Red House by Mark Haddon

08.22.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Fiction

Author: Mark Haddon

Format: Hardcover, 264 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67692-2

Pub Date: June 12, 2012

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The Red House by Mark Haddon is a wonderful microcosm of two estranged American families brought together by a holiday in a rented house on the Welsh border, near Hay-on-Wye.

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Though the reader must read actively to connect the story together between the interchanging narrators from one paragraph to the next, the narrative itself is like discordant, yet free-flowing snippets of recollection, intimate thought, and vibrant memory.

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And while the tone of the characters’ personalities ring with a raw angst at the beginning of the novel, the reader is able to step back and take an honest look into a well-written mosaic that makes up the complicated nature of very real personalities and their fluctuating dynamic with one another.

From Richard’s stiff awkwardness towards his estranged and bitter sister, Angela, and his unintentional vanity and pride birthed from privilege and success to Angela’s religious prejudice and emotional absence especially towards her daughter, Daisy.

Louisa, Richard’s second wife must muster the courage to step out of her husband’s shadow and her daughter’s manipulation to not only find a new form of self-assertion, but the beginning of an authentic happiness.

Dominic, Angela’s “man-child” of a husband must rectify his pacified relationship with his family, discover his inner strength, and define his manhood by making a logical and moral choice.

Alex, Dominic and Angela’s emotionally prepubescent son must learn beyond his libidinal urges and preoccupation with girls, sex, and his interest in sports and history to become a more empathetic character in answer to his family’s needs especially those of his younger brother, Benjy, to grow into the man he periodically rushes to become.

Daisy, Dominic and Angela’s newly liberated and pious daughter must come to terms with her newfound identity in the Christian church and beyond with the realization of a facet of herself in her true desires.

Benjy, their youngest, though extremely gifted and innocent beyond his years, must grapple with shyness, isolation, and the disappointment found in peeking inside the sometimes hypocritical and cruel, adult world.

And Melissa, Louisa’s disgruntled daughter manipulates and instills fear in those around her to mask the insatiable emptiness, resentment, and insecurity that plagues her as a privileged teenager of divorced parents. She is steely, mean-spirited, and hard at the fault of her immaturity and distrust, and what I think readers can assume to be severe loneliness.

Together these characters create a very real story amidst absurd and sometimes awkward circumstances. While I found the interchanging narrators somewhat confusing and difficult to read, it was only a matter of time needed to anticipate it and realign my reading style to Mark Haddon’s sometimes brash, yet honest and comedic narrative.

What I found most refreshing about the book is its treatment of its characters. They are importantly neither one-dimensional, nor do they fit the cliché of our assumptions by meeting a usually expected resolution in the story. Their issues continue throughout and most likely beyond the ending of the book. They fluctuate in what they reveal to us as characters, signifying at its very best, the innate complexity and nature of personality—and the turmoil, politic, and resignation to and from the inextinguishable ties of family.

The key to The Red House is a haunting promise of an open door.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thank you to Doubleday Canada, an imprint of Random House of Canada for providing me with a media copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid and honest review.

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A lot can happen during a holiday. What’s your most memorable holiday or vacation?

Family is both a burden and an assurance. How has your family shaped who you are?

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Book Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Book Review:

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

08.10.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Fiction

Author: Rachel Joyce

Format: Hardcover, 326 pages

Publisher: Bond Street Books, Doubleday Canada, imprint of Random House of Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67769-1

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is a clearly written book of effortless prose about a man who spontaneously decides to walk cross-country from Kingsbridge, England, his home, to the northern town of Berwick-upon-Tweed at the border of Scotland, after receiving a devastating letter from his friend, Queenie Hennessy, who is bedridden at a hospice having been diagnosed with Cancer.

Kingsbridge, England

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Berwick-upon-Tweed

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Harold’s original plan to walk to the corner post office to mail is penned response slowly unravels as he forgoes mailing his letter, passes the post, and then another, only to walk with what first begins as an unexpected and new curiosity of his surroundings to a full-fledged emotional and spiritual “pilgrimage.”

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The writing is phenomenal in its simplicity and clarity, which eases the reader into the depth and revelation of the story as inevitably and continuously as Harold Fry’s personal walk.

The narrative is filled with thoughtful and philosophical optimism about the beauty and grandeur found in nature and its self-sufficiency, reward, and lack of complication when one discovers how to harness it, appreciate it, and cooperate within its means.

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But, this book is more than a topographical nature walk. It not only becomes a lifeline of hope to a dying character found in Queenie Hennessy, but a lifeline of recollection and reconciliation for the timid and reclusive character if Harold Fry as he must confront the emotional demons and scars of his past.

While a number of other characters are sprinkled throughout the book—those he meets in passing during his walk—they form a diverse collective that creates help or obstacle on his quest to reach Berwick-upon-Tweed.

But, it is the secondary characters that root him to his cause:

Maureen, his nagging, anal-retentive wife who finds repressive control and coping in incessant keep and cleaning of her household amidst an anesthetized and almost dead marriage.

Rex, his widowed, yet friendly, and concerned neighbour.

And the Girl from the Garage, who provides Harold with his first taste of a microwaved burger and the key advice that inspires him to recklessly take risk to action, one that is the catalyst that propels him on what becomes a physical and more importantly, an emotional six-hundred-mile-walk towards Berwick-upon-Tweed and a deeply personal, internal journey.

But, like every quest, each step is not necessarily optimistic, but a deep and dark unconsoling delve into private fears and unrelenting personal challenges that Harold Fry must fight to overcome or concede to in failure.

Harold Fry’s openness and acceptance of others at risk to his own self-sacrifice is both his challenge and his gift, one that will not only inspire the nation of fictional characters he meets until he is convoluted into a sensationalized hero—but also inspire the readers of the book to reflect upon the importance of acceptance, change, and the willingness to try.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thank you to Doubleday Canada and Random House of Canada for providing me with a media copy of the book in exchange for an unpaid and honest review.

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How far would you be willing to travel by foot to reach a personal goal?

Do you think the character Harold Fry is a fool or a hero for walking a six-hundred-mile pilgrimage?

Have you ever gone on a pilgrimage of your own, religious or non-religious?

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A Review: Thirst by Shree Ghatage

 

A Review:

Thirst by Shree Ghatage

07.18.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Shree Ghatage

Format: Hardcover, 284 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-66665-7

Pub Date: June 5, 2012

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Thirst by Shree Ghatage begins as a mysterious narrative about a man whose head injury has inflicted him with amnesia and incited the compassion of a Mr. Owens who decides to take him into his home to provide him with food and lodging until he is well enough to regain his strength and perhaps his memory.

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After a few months of living with Mr. Owens and Mr. Owens’ mentally ill daughter, Catherine, he venture back towards London in hope that the city will somehow reveal clues about himself.

What he does discover about himself is a wife by the name of Vasanti, he left behind in India to pursue his ambition to become a barrister of law in England as well as put distance between himself and his estranged father, Nanasahib.

The book at its root is a love story between a couple of an arranged marriage, how one must restrain himself in pursuing a growing affection for the wife he plans to leave in pursuit of his ambition and his pride, and how the other must restrain herself in proper alliance of tradition and propriety.

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The narrative is well-written and effortless in its prose, realistic in its descriptions and dialogue, and encourages a tender empathy especially for the character, Visanti who represents an ideal and traditional Indian wife and essentially an innocent, blameless character who becomes a victim to her husband’s foolish pride and poor choices.

Alongside one of the main themes of relationship within marriage, the book is also about the parental relationship: Mr. Owens’ over-extended care for his ill daughter; Vijay’s closeness with his mother and father; and Visanti’s deep loss with the death of her father.

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It is also a book about the different forms of thirst: the one found in unrequited love; another in love sheathed in taboo; and yet another that grows out of mutual compatibility and companionship. It is also a story of thirst for acknowledgement as it is about revenge and the burden of responsibility.

Overall, the book is enjoyable to read and the evolution of the relationship between Vijay and Visanti, touching and real. The ending, however, was only disappointing in that I had hoped for a far better outcome than the one that was chosen by Vijay.

At its heart, aside from love is its hurtful pride, which compels the main character Vijay, to make not only poor choices, but becomes the cause of grief to those around him. The loss for the characters in the books becomes an extended form of grief, too, for the reader in his or her empathy for those who could have been saved from disappointment and distraught if it were only for proper insight, humility, and wisdom.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Doubleday Canada and Random House of Canada for providing me with a media copy in exchange for an unpaid and honest review.

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If you had to choose between love and responsibility, what would you choose?

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A Review: Every Day, Every Hour by Natasa Dragnic

 

A Review:

Every Day, Every Hour by Natasa Dragnic

07.09.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Fiction

Author: Natasa Dragnic

Format: Trade Paperback, 266 pages

Publisher: Bond Street Books, Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67189-7

Pub Date: June 5, 2012

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Every Day, Every Hour by Natasa Dragnic is a hyperbolic romance in a small town called Makarska in Croatia that begins from childhood between a shy boy named Luka whose own anxiety causes him to have fainting spells and an extroverted, exuberant girl named Dora whose beauty and demands cause both drama and awe.

The narrative begins in a juvenile tone most probably because the voices speak as young children. But, even as the story progresses and the children grow into young men and women, the language remains for the most part, juvenile. It is difficult to decipher whether this is a hindrance on behalf of the author’s inability to write better, if omissions were made in context by its translation, or if it was indeed intentional in order to emphasize the over-sweeping indulgences of romance?

While the story is centred around the two characters, Luka and Dora, they are surrounded by a cast of characters who are mildly amused, if not curious or adamantly vehement and bewildered by their passion and connection to one another.

Zoran, Luka’s father understands the weight of love and the burden of responsibility. Ana, Luka’s sister, whose impatience with the fluttering of romance far outweighs the need to support it due to her firm belief in responsibility and obligation. And Klara, whose blinding love and desperation moves her to succumb to a cold and lifeless marriage.

While the premise of the story is an admirable one—an overpowering love that surpasses other forms of passion, even time itself—the writing fails itself in its over-simplification and cliché, which, rather than fully evoke the empathy of its readers towards the passion of the characters’ romance, may indeed deter them from it due to the tone of its exaggerated melodrama.

The characters themselves are deeply flawed, Luka, more than Dora, in his inability to fester courage to speak, stand for, and affirm his professions of love through a simple act that would undoubtedly free him to do so.

As for Dora, though a much braver spirit than Luka in her ability to go after what she wants with a voracity and fervour, does not, in her desire to claim the love that rightfully belongs to her, ever directly face the obstacle that hinders her freedom from being with her lover.

What could have been a simple solution made from first, common sense and an inner courage to do what is correct based on such strong emotions, is instead wrongly amplified into a convulsion of unnecessary complication.

Nevertheless, it makes for a dramatic story that will either make you want to strangle Luka in his cowardice and ineptitude or smugly renounce his romance as an over-indulgent frolic and fancy that supports his need to escape into the creative art of his painting and imagination. Or it may also coerce you into turning the page so that you, like its characters, can finally be put out of anxiety, if not misery, by clinging to the last ember of hope in discovering the outcome of this professed, voluptuous romance.

Perhaps the moral of the story lies in the dangers found in all-consuming love without the reigns of logic, self-control, and temperance to ground its bearing.

Though the story is a light to its impossibility, I’d like to think of its potential in the real world as one that would succeed should lovers involved ever use a morsel of intelligence, practicality, and a fervent spirit to battle and stand firm for what is valued most: true and pure love against the uncomfortable, if not difficult circumstances that it finds itself.

How can circumstances be that difficult, if for love?

The crux of that question will be one you may answer in reading this book—even if it is one that its own characters cannot.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thank you to Bond Street Books, Doubleday Canada, and Random House of Canada publishers for providing me with a media copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.

This book was read as part of The Random Reading Challenge: Debut Novels from July to August, 2012.

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How far would you go and what would you do in fighting for true love?

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The Headmaster’s Wager: A Review

Book Review:

The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam

05.30.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Fiction

Author: Vincent Lam

Format: Hardcover, 393 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-66145-5

Pub Date: April 24, 2012

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Here is a video clip of the author, Vincent Lam, speaking a little about his book, The Headmaster’s Wager:

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Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam is a plot-driven, cultural, and generational story of the father-and-son relationship as represented in the characters Chen Kai and Chen Pie Sou (or as he is better known by his English name in the novel, Percival Chen); and Percival Chen and Dai Jai.

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And amidst the father-and-son archetypal quest for vulnerable and honest communication, understanding, and connection, is the ambition for wealth and success, and the competitive obstacles and vices of gambling, womanizing, and drug addiction.

Mahjong tiles

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The violent backdrop of the Vietnam War is the pathetic fallacy that accompanies the repression of turbulent feelings found in the main character of Percival Chen, respectfully, affectionately, and sometimes mockingly referred to as hou jeungHeadmaster.

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There is the yearning that began as a young boy for physical and emotional closeness to his father, Chen Kai, who leaves both his mother and himself in pursuit of wealth promised in the distant land of Indochina.

That continues in his wrongly placed affection for the cruel and wealthy socialite, Cecilia, with whom he is both unloved and abused.

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What unravels is a life as headmaster to Chen Hap Sing, a prestigious school, The Percival Chen English Academy, as originally housed by the house his father built, which grew from the laborious determination of a man’s will to prosper in the business of rice mills.

This position continued its survival through his most trusted confidant and friend, Mak, an influential teacher and administrator at the school.

This survival continues even after his son, Dai Jai, is forced to leave the country after political entanglement with the Vietnamese authorities, which is assured by Mak’s myriad of contacts and connections and the power of the headmaster’s desperation and large sums of piastres-turned-gold.

Still, it is only with Jacqueline, a beautiful Annamese girl that Percival Chen finds solace and short-lived redemption.

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The tension in the book originates from Percival Chen’s competing desire to share his honest feelings and vulnerability to those he loves and the difficult resignation he finds in following what is deemed appropriate, cultural decorum and propriety. This tension first reveals itself in the restraint of Percival Chen’s emotional landscape.

The enjoyment of the book is found in the tension that explodes as further truths are revealed by the surprising plot. And as significant it is that the characters are flawed, the success of The Headmaster’s Wager as a book is that it is a richly, plot-driven story.

And Percival Chen’s compulsion to play his stakes at the mahjong table is both his curse and his gift, as the skills he uses to read his opponents along with the luck housed in the belief and faith he has in the gold nugget heirloom that was passed down to him from his father—are the very same gifts he uses to survive not only the Vietnam War, but the tumultuous betrayals and sacrifices of his love—which is of course, the headmaster’s true and highest wager of all.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thank you to Doubleday Canada and Random House for providing me with a media copy in exchange for an honest and unpaid review.

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My name is Vietnamese.

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Book Review:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

02.05.2012

By Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Author: Erin Morgenstern
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Pub Date: September 13, 2011

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The Night Circus is an intricate tale of creativity with a rich cast of characters who, with their specific gifts and talents help showcase the magical realism that moves throughout the book.

It is about Le Cirque des Rêves aptly translated as The Circus of Dreams not only because of its hours of operation that only takes place nocturnally in the evening until dawn, but also because of its dreamlike and fantastical effect on its patrons.

A circus is usually attributed to magic and feats of wonder as a form of entertainment. This circus, rather than only a collection of good showmanship skills of deception and tricks that audiences can enjoy simply as voyeurs, instead becomes an organic house of multiple tents, pathways, and magic that invites and seduces its patrons to not only visit, but also participate in and experience.

Image from:     http://matchbookclub.blogspot.com/2011/10/enchanted.html

So much so, there are those avid followers of the circus in the book who themselves become a cultist group of lifetime worshippers, a secret society that dubbed its name from the whisperings of rumour later known as the réveurs. The réveurs, a fanatical, creative group reveal themselves to each other by a colour coded uniform: black, white, grey, and a “splash of red” in honour of Le Cirque des Rêves’ own colour theme throughout its grounds: black, white, and black and white stripes.

Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/b-randy/6327494925/

But the story goes further than providing simple entertainment to its patrons or to its readers. The true premise of the night circus as a venue is its stage for a duel competition between two gifted adversaries, Celia Bowen, daughter of famous and renowned illusionist, Prospero the Enchanter, and Marco, orphan-turned-student to The Man in the Grey Suit, Alexander H.

Together, they simultaneously study under the tutelage of their magician masters, honing in on strengthening their natural gifts—Celia, who is able to move, dismantle, and return objects to their natural form, and Marco, who is able to create illusions within the minds of his chosen audience—until each in turn must learn to outdo the other in the competition of their lives.

Though I found the romantic dialogue and narrative to be somewhat exaggerated, I believe the author was attempting to showcase the lovers’ passion and strong connection to one another through their magic. It is highly unrealistic, but then what story of deep, passionate love ever is? The two lovers are intrinsically a different type of breed altogether.

Image from: http://manbehindthecurtain.ie/2012/01/22/carnival-of-fear/

As the gifts of the competitors strengthen and expand, so does the complication of the circus. The characters that belong to or are involved with the circus are:

  •  Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre, a wealthy eccentric gifted in hosting elaborate parties called Midnight Dinners, who also has an inherent talent with knife-throwing.
  • Mme. Ana Padva, a retired Romanian prima ballerina with an impeccable sense of style who is revered for her fashion design and seamstress skills.
  • Mr. Ethan W. Barris, a gifted engineer and architect.
  • The Burgess twins, Tara and Lainie, dancers, actresses, who provide consultation on various subjects due to their keen sense of observation.
  • Alexander H., the man in the grey suit who is best known to wear a top hat and carry a cane.
  • Tsukiko, the tattooed contortionist.
  • Herr Friedrick Thiessen, a gifted artisan and clockmaker commissioned to create a showcase piece for the circus.
  • Isobel Martin, tarot reader and fortuneteller.
  • Bailey Alden Clarke, a young circus enthusiast.
  • Winston Aiden Murray nicknamed Widget, a twin born on the opening night of Le Cirque des Rêves.
  • Penelope Aislin Murray called Poppet, the second of the twins to be born on opening night.

As these characters become more deeply embedded in the circus’ magic and its danger, the effects on its members and its patrons, as well as its own magic, slowly becomes darker.

As fantastical and wondrous as magic can be, there is always an undercurrent of dark that runs within it because its mysteries are not readily understood, accepted, revealed, nor practiced. An array of magical practice is showcased in the book as homage to the art of the occult.

Image from: http://pinterest.com/wovendumpster/the-night-circus/

Yet, they far stretch the limits of what we normally understand as magic. Erin Morgenstern has moved beyond the boundaries of what we are familiar with and has created a new world of richly, imaginative ideas.

The beauty of this book is in the literal magic that takes place within its pages. Where our imagination has failed to carry us further than what we yearn to experience and understand, Morgenstern has supplied a richly imaginative story, plot, and magical realism that inspires us to believe not only in her authoritative writing powers, but also her fantastic and creative imagination.

Image from: http://pinterest.com/pin/18577417182599118/

Reprinned by Morgan Koch

If Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is deemed a rich classic, Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus is its modern and magical counterpart.

Image from: http://geoffarcher.wordpress.com/

The cover design is intelligently made to match the colour themes found in the book from its starlit front cover, to its black and white striped first pages, right down to its red stitched hardcover binding.

It’s a wondrous, intoxicating book that needs to be thoroughly read more than once, over and over. A naturally born skeptic myself, Erin Morgenstern has been able to magically convert me to becoming one of her night circus’ devoted rèveurs. The mysterious pages of the book continue to be turned in Friedrick Thiessen’s clock: tick, tock, tick, tock…and poof!

Image from: http://homeiswheretheboatis.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/the-night-circus/

For the addicted réveur, it will always become dawn too soon.

Where will you be when Le Cirque des Rêves comes to the outskirts of your town?

As for me, I’ll be in the black and white striped tent wearing my blood-red scarf, looking out for The Man in the Grey Suit in the shadows, Prospero the Enchanter amongst the stain-glass windows, and Celia and Marco in the Ice Garden, bound by magic and love. 

Image from: http://pinterest.com/pin/18577417182602219/

Pinned by Linda D.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thank you to Random House Canada for providing me with a signed copy of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for review.

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A Review: Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

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A Review:

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

12/11/2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Fiction

Author: Margaret Atwood

Format: Hardcover, 446 pages, First ed.

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0385260077

Pub Date: March 26, 1999

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To decide to enter the fictional world created by Atwood is to willingly submerge yourself into the psyche of her protagonist – because that’s the power of her work. Regardless, of how unwilling you think you may be in becoming drawn into her story and/or stories—I pluralize this because she usually has more layers than one—you will have no choice, but become hypnotized or embodied by the world she creates in her fiction because the voice of her narrative is always so strong.

When I say strong, I’m not referring to the tone of voice or the strength of the characters themselves—though this may very well be true of them—I’m referring to the power of her narrative because the voice she writes in—this inner dialogue—is able to excavate marvellous truths with such clarity, originality, and precision.

Atwood is able to write with not only keen insight and provocative subject matter, she isn’t afraid to offend you with jarring, raw imagery, language, or context. It’s intentional in so far as she deliberately resists being conformed by stereotypical ideas or dogmas. What you expect to happen in novels in how characters are meant to evolve does not happen in the same way in Atwood’s work. The rest comes from a well of either brutal honesty and truth on the part of the writer or the complete professional wizardry performed in the “magic” that Atwood creates with the written word – or both, except there are no tricks with Atwood.

Magic denotes supernatural forces that flow out from nowhere, giving neither its master control nor credit. Atwood’s artistry is magical in that she cannot be duplicated. But her manipulation of the language, her word power and passion for it, and story writing and “showing” – not “telling” is accurately and expertly devised. It is without a doubt, a natural, gifted, and crafted talent. And a dedication to doing the work.

And I think that’s part of the reason why she’s just as resented superficially on a global scale as she is worshipped – the fact that she has been reigned as an iconic, Canadian, female writer and artist. The irony here, is that her ambition, drive, and self-confidence is what probably brought her to the iconic stratosphere, and no doubt, her natural talent as well—but this exact kind of attention and glorification is what Atwood, I think, abhors—and yet at the same time, on some atomic level, demands.

But this inner requirement is not her focal point – it’s not the driving force in her writing or why I think she writes. It’s the compulsion. Writing, for any good writer—for any writer worthy of being acclaimed as having one ounce or more of talent—is driven by it.

The words must come out. The story must be written down. There are no extravagant plans or blueprints. There is no trickery or shortcuts. There is only always: the writer, the compulsion, and the white page – and then the writing itself.

A writer need not have “good” muses or even “many” muses. A good writer need only a supersonic ear to listen to the inner rhythm of language – but most importantly, a “seeing” eye that understands something others know, but cannot articulate. A good writer cannot be taught or bred, but be born of an instinctive talent – and then in ruthless dedication, work in solitude for many hours at a time and finally in years to sharpen his or her: 1) craft, 2) pencils, and 3) ego.

You cannot teach talent. You cannot imitate authenticity. You cannot counterfeit gold and expect to get your dollars’ worth. A bad writer cannot impersonate good writing. You cannot be a fraud. You either have it or you don’t. And if you do, then it’s not a matter of luck or literary providence – it’s a matter of tenacity, 10-inch-thick skin, a great agent, and a receptive audience. Anything else is fluff and trimmings.

Atwood is one of the privileged few who seem have “it” all. But, give her credit, too. She’s worked hard to climb the iconic ladder with an albatross of work – 51 titles in total (I know, I counted) that as a list spans a full two pages over a number of years. Many writers are born with this elusive “it,” but don’t have the confidence or the stamina needed to create the work required to be recognized by both the literary community and by those outside of it. Atwood just turned 72.

And she’s resisted the stereotype that writers – that artists, especially female writers, require self-deprecation, dramatic mental or physical illnesses, a man, or a manic disposition that inevitably leads to suicide or mysterious death. Atwood is no Plath.

So kudos to you, Atwood. Have another glass of red wine. You’ve heard it all before. Yes, so your stories and your characters are dark, sombre, and cynical. I’ve even heard from other people, that your work is “downright depressing.” Damn right, it is! But it is also intelligent, poetic, stark, and dead-on.

Maybe you are, too: dark, sombre, cynical, downright depressed. But, maybe you continually re-invent yourself and shape shift into who you need to be depending on the weather, your mood, or who is interviewing or critiquing your work. Maybe you re-invent yourself not only in your stories, but in order to cover your scent from public reviewers and critics, like myself, who hunt you down with pigeon holes. I get it – I think.

Writing is the most vulnerable art available. There is a miniscule divide between the writer and the work. Good fiction is at its heart a microcosmic truth. Somewhere hidden behind commas, periods, and exhilarated exclamation points, it’ll hammer you on the head. That is, if you can read. (Sorry, my internal literary snob just gave me a drop-kick.)

You either love Atwood’s work or hate it. For some of you, you won’t even tolerate trying to understand it. But there is no in-between, no grey area, no fence to sit on. Atwood makes you choose.

And she does so, in her novel, “Cat’s Eye.”

(I’d go into slight detail “about” the story, but that’s what I believe inside flaps are for. Okay, okay…I’ll give you a hint: Elaine Risley.)

Go out, borrow or buy the book. Borrow or buy all her books.

Be dazzled.

Be star struck.

Be jealous.

I am.

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Zara’s Rating

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Book Review: Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam

Book Review:

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam

12.10.2011

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Fiction

Author: Vincent Lam

Format: Hardcover, 368 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0385661447

Pub Date: September 26, 2006

Winner of the Giller Prize in 2006.

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The book is an easy, engaging read (it took me a few days). I didn’t realize the chapters were meant to be interrelated short stories until much further down the work.

It’s an excellent “insider view” from a doctor’s perspective, the dilemmas of those in the medical profession: the body politic of the health system, the de-sensitized conditioning necessary to meet high volume and demand, the inevitability of sickness and death, and the tension between remaining professional, yet compassionate, while retaining a sense of one’s own boundaries and needs.

It speaks of the undeniable need to address more than the physiological, but also the breadth and scope of the fragility of the human condition—be it physical or otherwise—for both doctors and patients.

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Zara’s Rating

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