Considering that most people are familiar with Vermeer’s work – Girl with a Pearl Earring, I will refrain from delving much into the actual story. Set in the 17th century Delft, Holland, this historical novel features a girl’s transition from a simple, sheltered life to the harsh and unforgiving reality which is adulthood. Griet knows that her life is in for a change when she is told of her employment at the Vermeer household. The expectations and her place are defined clearly at the outset and Griet quickly separates friends from foes. As the time passes by, she often finds herself at cross-roads be it her work or her feelings for Vermeer or her future.
Although understated, the 8 point star upon at the town center forms the focal point of Griet’s life in a figurative manner as each point of the star represents her past, the present and the future. It also adds a touch of magical realism. Griet’s hitherto unknown love for colors and art in general come to the fore, when Vermeer takes on Griet as his assistant noting her observational skills. It also throws open the question, could Griet if educated and more aware could have become a good artist? Perhaps she might in the present day circumstances, but Chevalier leaves the question open for her readers. Although this thought didn’t occur to me when I first read the book, the opportunity to view Vermeer’s original painting at close quarters and having re-read the book has given me a newer perspective on Griet.
It also took me two readings to get a measure of the extent of complexity in Griet’s character. While she displays a shy, plain and quiet demeanor outside, her inner feelings are abound with a hint of stubbornness, a love for order over chaos, a longing for independence and of course, romance. These emotions manifest when Griet experiences a feeling of longing for her Master while being repulsed by the attentions shown by a local butcher. However, Griet is cautious to hide her thoughts and opinions from others and it is this aspect that made me wonder whether Chevalier was hinting at a hint of rebellion from Griet against the established order…a rather quiet rebellion. As for the backdrop, you get glimpses into the stark contrasts between Protestants and Catholics, be it in the churches or the households of the 17th century. A truly entertaining book that demands re-reads!
In an attempt to catch up with my pending posts, I’ve tried to condense my thoughts on some books while detailing a few in order for them to qualify for the Reading Challenges I signed up this year:
For those who need an introduction, Madhur Jaffrey is a renowned Indian actress, food writer and a chef. Her claim to fame came from the Merchant Ivory films such as Shakespeare Wallah, Six Degrees of Separation and through her travel shows featuring Indian and Asian food. Given all this, I was naturally excited to find some of her books at the Parsippany library. I did try a couple of her recipes for dal/lentils and raita and they did come out tasty. Ms. Jaffrey presents her recipes in a simple tone with practical tips, and also adds a glossary of ingredients which makes following the recipes a bit easy.
Elizabeth Alston’s book on afternoon tea looks delectable from the descriptions but the ingredients might not appeal to all as she uses a lot of whole wheat and oat bran in her recipes. The recipes are divided into sections of cakes and breads, and come with elaborate descriptions and plenty of tips. I’ve read through the recipes in order to take notes but am yet to try one.
I came across The House of Blue Mangoes while searching for books by Indian authors on goodreads. Set in the pre-independence years in Chevathar, a small oceanside village located in Kerala, one of the states in South India, the family chronicle tracks a family’s struggles against caste wars, changing political climate while coping with the family travails and changes in family structures in general. This 420+ page book is divided into 4 parts each focusing on lives of the Dorais, in particular on the patriarch and village headman Solomon Dorai and his descendants.
Tying the different generations are the fabled mangoes of Chevathar, popularly known as the Chevathar Neelam owing to their bluish hued skins and juicy yellow pulps. Woven into this intricate plot is the backdrop on the events leading up to the Indian Independence with a brief background on the WWII as well. The story also marks the transition of the British attitude towards India starting with contempt and greed that softens over time into something resembling generosity but ultimately wariness and distrust. The other predominant themes explored include the caste wars and the Indian traditions that govern every family. The powerful narrative combined with elements of magical realism made this a totally unputdownable book.
Jane Austen’s popular works are in the process of being retold in the modern day settings. Sense & Sensibility was re-written by Joanna Trollope while Pride & Prejudice re-written by Curtis Sittenfeld is due for release later this year. I was lucky to find a copy at the Parsippany library at short notice and it was well worth the wait for the story was as entrancing as the original. Trollope does an excellent job of recreating the endearing but hopelessly innocent Dashwood sisters – Elinor, Marianne and Margaret not to mention the emotive Mrs. Dashwood (named Belle Dashwood), their haughty relatives Mrs. Ferrars and her children with the exception of Edward of course and the quiet but extremely helpful Colonel Brandon who continues to wear his hold a candle for Marianne from the beginning of the story.
Trollope remains true to Austen’s script but does leave her signature through establishing the characters quite at home in a modern day United Kingdom. So when I re-read Sense & Sensibility I found myself applauding Elinor’s level-headedness while criticizing her quietness which is often mistaken for being mousy. I also realized that I couldn’t really warm up to Marianne for most part except when she tries to make Elinor see sense where Edward was concerned. Trollope certainly made the journey an engaging read and I for one turned the last page with a sigh of content yet sadness that I’ve completed the book. It was perhaps one of the best Spring reads this year.
I discovered Ismail Kadare in my search for books to read for the European Reading Challenge. While best known for his works “Chronicle in Stone” and “The Palace of Dreams”, I chose “Spring Flowers, Spring Frost” purely because I was captivated by the legends that Kadare chose to weave into this novel, to showcase the fearsome laws that his countrymen seem to set store by.
Set in the backdrop of a mountainous small town in Northern Albania, the novel revolves around a young and famous Albanian artist Mark Gurabardhi who lives a good life, in a relationship and for most part treated with respect by his fellow townsmen. Forming the backdrop for this story are snippets of life during the Dictatorship, changes that are brewing in the capital city of Tirana including rise of corruption and unleashing of the obscure but the fearful law of blood feud.
What sets this book apart is Kadare’s use of nested narratives and analogous structures as envisioned from Mark’s morbid musings of the blood feud and its association with the fable of the Girl and the Snake wherein a girl is forcibly married to a snake, a mark of the highest form of humiliation for the girl’s family forced to pay a blood feud. Often times the blood feuds have no meaning other than the ones created by its human inventors. Mark’s similar musing on RMS Titanic and other events are a reflection of the political events that transpired in Albania as do his own secrets which are revealed in a surprising turn of events. A definite must read title!