Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dear Life - Alice Munro

Alice Munro builds her stories the way Jackson in her story Train renovates the barn and the farmhouse. She finds a good foundation and then repairs and builds the walls and then works on a sound ceiling. You are willingly trapped in the story, and yet you are free to go. There are no doors. At times, there is no foundation, she just waves her hands and behold, there is a house!

I just finished reading Dear Life (Penguin 2012).

The stories are snippets from, before and soon after the Second World War, and of the mid twentieth century - my favourite era.

Her characters are real- from day to day life. At times, they look like me, like you and you wonder if you had ever met her, if she had seen you inside out – from up close, close enough to know you and to write about you. 

Some of the male characters you hate but you love. Harris is the poet Greta’s longing who surprises her by reaching Union Station. Howard is the crafty architect who eats his cake, has it, and stashes some for the future too.  Uncle Jasper is the expert doctor and the imposing husband. Another doctor decides to marry the young teacher, and chickens out at the last moment to abandon her, eventually bumping into her years later on a Toronto street.
For me, it was the same as when I left Amundsen, the train dragging me still dazed and full of disbelief.
Nothing changes really about love.” (Amundsen)

Her women are marvelous. Lilian - the supposed blackmailer, Corrie - the blackmailed, Greta - the passionate poet married to an engineer, Aunt Dawn- the repressed housewife – I love the scope of Munro’s vision. Leah, the shy girl who somehow unexpectedly transforms as the scandal maker, a villain and the temptress; and ‘my mother’ who with her two children, leaves her loving but boring husband to go to live in a trailer for an exciting life with Neal, the theatre artist who eventually abandons her with a new born baby – both are unrepentant but lonely.  Belle, the lonely farm girl, amazes you when she reveals that she has been an alumnus of Bishop Strachan School, and her father had been a reporter for The Toronto Evening Telegram and an unpublished novelist.  

And I have not talked about many others. Somehow her women emerge stronger than her male characters. Is she biased?

For four days, my house did remain unkempt, food was hurriedly cooked, shower postponed with excuses of ‘just another story and then I am going,’ and kids not yelled at for watching endless episodes of Pokemon or staying on Facebook well past their curfew time – that is what your pen does in my life, Ms Munro.

Its all about -
“She was a certain kind of woman, he a certain kind of man”.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The English Patient

The novel had been on my reading wish list for a long long time. Finally finished reading it. And I loved it - in parts. The part on bombs, while very comprehensive, frankly did not interest me. I devoured the passages about human relationships and love. Loved Kip, got intrigued by Almasy and Caravaggio, adored Hana and admired Katherine. I wanted to post many many small bits from the novel. But somehow after some time, I forgot to put markings in the novel and lost the pages. Here are a few of the selections - in random order.


“She had always wanted words, she loved them, grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape. Whereas I thought words bent emotions like sticks in water.” (238)

“Women want everything of a lover. And too often I would sink below the surface.  So armies disappear under sand, and there was her fear of her husband, her belief in her honour, my old desire for self-sufficiency, my disappearances, her suspicions of men, by disbelief that she loved me. The paranoia and claustrophobia of hidden love. (238)

Death means you are in the third person.” (247)

“If I gave you my life, you would drop it. Wouldn’t you?” (145)

“- the old guy upstairs is asleep. Hana’s obsessed with him. I am obsessed with the sanity of Hana, I’m obsessed with my ‘balance,’ and Kip will probably get blown up one of these days.” (121)

“I’ll rewire him in the morning.” He puts his left hand on her shoulder. (115)

“… Could you fall in love with her if she wasn’t smarter than you? I mean, she may not be smarter than you. But isn’t it important for you to think she is smarter than you in order to fall in love? Think now. She can be obsessed by the Englishman because he knows more. We’re in a huge field when we talk to that guy. We don’t even know if he’s English. He’s probably not. You see, I think it is easier to fall in love with him than with you. Why is that? Because we want to know things, how the pieces fit. Talkers seduce, words direct us into corners. We want more than anything to grow and change. Brave new world.” (120-21)

Words, Caravaggio. They have a power. (234)

“This alcohol will probably kill me.”
“Nothing will kill you, my friend. You are pure carbon.” (109)

“You have to protect yourself from sadness. Sadness is very close to hate… if you take in someone else’s poison -  thinking you can cure them by sharing it – you will instead store it within you.” (45)

How did you hate me? She whispered. You killed almost everything in me. (257)


The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
Vintage Books Canada Edition, 1993

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

on the acquittal

I am ashamed 
of living in a country
which rejoices in meting
injustice to my people
which justifies blood
that I am, till today, washing away from those cool marble tiles
with my tears
ever since those tanks crushed the delicate vines
on the floor
ever since the guns thundered inside an epitome of peace
and much before.

I am ashamed
of growing up in times
when I didnt know 
if that random bullet
would strike me
or my turbaned father
or his unturbaned friend
or my conscientious mother
or a random stranger going to his fields.

I am perhaps ashamed 
of growing up at all.

yes, these words make no sense.
Dear Facebook, I wish you hadn't asked again 
what is on my mind.