Kathleen O’Dell‘s book titled The Aviary is yet another treasure in my book collection courtesy Amazon. At first glance, the cover art gave the impression of a mystery possibly abound with horror which turned me off until I managed to loan a hardcopy from the library. It then became one of the few unputdownable books afterwards, to the point I purchased a kindle version.
The first 5 pages posed a minor challenge in terms of setting the interest and the reading pace, but past that it was a smooth sail. O’Dell presents the beautiful beginnings of a friendship between 2 girls, in addition to exploring the strength of a mother-daughter relationship in this YA novel through her protagonist Clara Dooley. Aged 12 at the beginning of the novel, Clara’s world consists of 3 women in a crumbling mansion – Harriet her often busy mother, Ruby the housekeeper and finally Mrs. Glendoveer, the old ailing mistress of the mansion.
The mystery of the mansion is heightened by the presence of an Aviary which houses a motley set of birds – a mynah, a cockatoo, a honeycreeper, a grackle and a chickadee whose presence fills Clara with dread. Clara’s longing to escape the confines of the mansion marks the beginning of her friendship with the kind-hearted Daphne whose curiosity and sense of adventure matches that of Clara’s. The sudden death of Mrs. Glendoveer sets off a series of unusual events that challenges Clara and Daphne’s wits not to mention their survival instincts. It also has Clara questioning the wisdom of Harriet’s decisions.
As far as characters go, Clara is a likable character owing to her tenacious and well-balanced personality. Clara doesn’t let the emotions rule her, manages to retain sense in the face of adversity and isn’t overly rebellious, romantic or untrusting of people around her. Daphne compliments Clara’s personality presenting a similar front while displaying the rare qualities of faith and loyalty, both of which are key to sustaining a relationship/friendship. O’Dell efficiently uses the Harriet, Ruby and the other adults as supporting characters to establish the story backdrop and for providing crucial clues to the mystery. The narrative itself is a concise and cohesive blend of all the elements of storytelling culminating in a bittersweet ending while providing the much anticipated closure to all the parties concerned. This in itself became one of the novelties of this YA fantasy fiction.
I discovered Swallows of Kabul in one of my random browsings at the library. This lyrical story with tragedy and hopelessness was surprisingly quite engaging…in the sense, it helped me count my blessings. Khadra’s writings on life in Afghanistan reflect both the bygone era of relative peace and tranquility and the existing state of constant turmoil often fraught with brutalities of unimaginable magnitude.
The story opens with a scene of public execution of a woman and is described through the eyes of the reluctant prison warden and an unemployed literate. The unemployed literate even participates in the execution, if only in the hopes of pacifying his restless soul. The tragic moments leading to the woman’s death echoes through their minds forcing each man to reconcile with the reality of their environment while highlighting their helplessness in the face of grim uncertainty.
The story doesn’t end with these men but it soon encompasses the souls of their wives, one who is ailing and longs for release while the other resents her circumstances, for being forced to endure life behind a veil. Khadra creates a synergy between the couples by unfolding the women’s sufferings through the eyes of their hapless husbands, hinting that they had experienced better times and are now forced to endure humiliation while mourning for their lost freedom. The conclusion to this heart-wrenching tale comes through the women whose fates become interlinked through a series of bizarre circumstances.
I enjoyed Khadra’s writing for his lyrical portrayal of human sufferings and emotions, for the way he effortlessly portrays a woman’s pain and endurance in the face of unspeakable atrocities. He mastery over prose ensnared me into the story turning me into a helpless by-stander who can only watch in horror as the events unfold but do nothing to change the situation. Khadra is definitely an author not to be missed. Hope to add more of his works to my TBR pile for next year.
When 21st Century Fox released the film titled The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in 2013, R & I could scarcely contain our excitement to watch this one of a kind film featuring the creme de creme not to mention Dev Patel whose rise to fame rests on The Slumdog Millionaire. I wasn’t aware that this film might be based on a book that is so little known. While surfing Amazon recently, I discovered the book version written by Deborah Moggach and thanks to the lovely local library, was able to reserve this book instantly.
As is common with any films based on books, the characters, their background stories and relationships differed a lot between the book and the screen. For instance, Sunny the energetic and ever optimistic hotel owner portrayed by Dev Patel is described as a corpulent and energetic personality whose enterprising schemes often come across as ruthless to the parties concerned. The book also features plenty of ancillary characters to support the plot and remind the readers of the protagonists’ travails in their home country. Though enjoyable, there were often times when monotony would set in and I had to force myself to plod through the uninteresting details just to get through the book.
What Fox did was create an energetic gala romantic drama out of an otherwise quiet and contemplative story, while retaining the essence of the characters. One character that quickly became my favorite was Evelyn, for her tenacity and patience in the face of an adversity. The optimism she displays at such a ripe old age while striving to create a niche for herself is incredible. The sequel which was released early this year in March, was equally entertaining if somewhat predictable. An amusing coincidence was that we watched both the films in the week of our wedding anniversary.