The Inheritance Of Loss by Kiran Desai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
According to my Goodreads list, I read Inheritance of Loss in 2009 and a few events in the story did seem familiar as I got to them, but I couldn't remember how it would all end so enjoyed immersing myself in the tale again. Desai has a beautifully rich style of writing which really brings her views of rural Himalayan India and immigrant New York to life. No one in this book has it easy whether they are truly poverty-stricken or stuck in between Indian, Nepali or colonial worlds. For me, some of the saddest characters were those desperately clinging to remnants of a superficial British past despite its total unsuitability, and those denied a homeland by the British who didn't care who gained when they left. Desai's descriptions of the decaying house in which the Judge, Sai and the Cook exist, the barely there shacks where Gorkha families live, and the grim accommodations of illegal New York workers are heart-rending. There is a thread of careless violence that joins many of the characters, each trampling others to get ahead even when the gain is slight and, often, easily lost again. Inheritance of Loss isn't a happy book to read, but is very worthwhile to experience even though it is another book which has left me with a bitter taste at British Empire dreams - we did mess up a lot of the globe and the repercussions still ripple.
Slated by Teri Terry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I first spotted Slated on twitter a year or so ago, but didn't get around to reading it. A fantastic review on Zuzana's blog ( http://www.asecretreadinggarden.co.uk/) jogged my memory (!) and on seeing a copy in a Xabia charity shop soon afterwards, I grabbed it.
Slated is mostly a fast-paced YA thriller with sci-fi threads around the edges, a little romance and a lot of teenage paranoia. Kyla is sixteen, has had her memory wiped and reinstated into society in a new family, a new town and a new school. The totalitarian government watches everyone and dissenting voices are quickly silenced. So when Kyla begins to suspect that maybe her memory wipe wasn't totally successful, she is naturally suspicious of pretty much everyone who might be in a position to help.
Much of Slated takes place in Kyla's head so we learn her thoughts as they occur. This could have ruined the impetus by dragging the pace, but I don't think it does. Much of Kyla's experience of not belonging is true to all teenagers, slated or otherwise, so this added to the realism while her dreaming glimpses of true horror added a creeping sense of dread that I found to be very effective. I would have liked more descriptions of the society at large. We are given broad views of this dystopian UK, but little in the way of real detail. Perhaps it is being held back for the inevitable sequels allowing the reader to learn as Kyla does? I loved the frequent use of running as a way to think clearly and raise happiness levels - I do the same myself so this rang very true. Despite being a reasonably thick volume, the language is easy and the font fairly large so I zoomed through Slated in the breathless rush of a single afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed the read.
The Assistant by Bernard Malamud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'd not heard of Bernard Malamud until I picked up a Dutch edition (in English) of The Assistant from the campsite library in Xabia. Dave thinks there has been a film made of this book though and the essay at the back pins him as an important influence on the American self-viewpoint.
Set in a poor New York neighbourhood, The Assistant charts a year in the life of struggling Jewish grocer Morris Bober, his wife Ida and daughter Helen. It is possibly not the best book to read over the festive period as there is little in the way of joy in the Bobers' tale. The family live over their run-down shop and work ridiculously long hours to bring in the little they need to live. Even when their situation begins to look up, as a reader you can tell that it probably won't last and something else is waiting just around the corner to knock them back. Ida often nags Morris to sell up and leave, but he seems to bound to his struggling existence and almost views their poverty as essential to their Jewishness. Morris's insistence on his life being so much poor luck is such a strong facet of his character, but how much is really down to luck and how much, as Ida says, could have been changed if opportunities had been grasped at the right time is a constant theme of the novel. Malamud writes Ida's speech particularly in a 'Jewish style' with Morris also using her patterns when the two are together. I found it interesting that Malamud's narration also slips into the same style at these times. He gives a very real picture of the surroundings and I found it easy to imagine the dingy shop, the apartment and even the 'bright lights' of the competing grocer's shop around the corner. The character I had most trouble pinning down was Frank, the eponymous assistant. Despite his obvious personal need to make amends to Morris, his philanthropy was often double-edged and as much based in selfishness as charity. His later treatment of Helen baffled me but his final acceptance of his position fitted the story perfectly - the continuation of the eternal struggle.
I liked how The Assistant is a quiet novel made up of small occurrences. I think the style perfectly suits the subject and, although 'enjoy' isn't the right word to describe the sadness encountered throughout the book, I am glad to have read it. I recently saw the phrase 'book hangover' used to describe a novel that stays in one's thoughts long after it has been finished. I think this is an accurate moniker for the effects of The Assistant.
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