There are certain books which come out at a time when the political situations are just right for their publication. The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, written by John le Carre and published in 1963 at the height of the Cold War, was one such book. It mirrored the feelings and tensions of the spies on both sides of the war. Along similar lines, The Best We Could Do is a book written by Vietnamese-American author Thi Bui, published at the height of the campaign against immigration in America.
Written in autobiographical form, the book does not deal with immigration per se, but with the problems that the author and her siblings face in understanding the behavior of their parents. The book opens with the author giving birth to her son in a hospital in New York when midway during her labor, her mother leaves the room. The author feels let down that she left when she was needed the most. In the case of her father, the author associates him with cigarettes and grumpiness. In an effort to find the reason for such behavior of her parents, she decides to go back in time and search for the origin of their story. This search forms the crux of the book.
On retracing the steps of her parents, she finds that both of them led very different childhoods-while her father grew up in poverty and was often hungry, her mother grew up in luxury, but had an overbearing mother who she resented. But the real trouble started during the Vietnam War when the family had to flee the country to a refugee camp in Malaysia. The conditions in the camp and the hardships the family (especially her parents) had to endure after coming to America made her understand the reasons for their behavior. After giving birth to a child and having started a family, she realizes “that as a parent, we simply do the best we can do.”
Although the Vietnam War serves as a backdrop, the author chooses not to focus much on the political climate, but on the impact these situations had on the people, and on her parents in particular. The novel is poignant and makes you think about the sacrifices your parents have made for you in a whole different light, because like those of the author, they too did the best they could do.
History is in the past, but understanding it is the duty of the present.
The sun never set on the British Empire because even God didn’t trust the British in the dark.
Although colonialism is an issue of the past, people belonging to former colonies (including me) have a certain resentment towards our erstwhile colonists about the way in which they have downplayed the whole issue of imperialism. Coming from India and now studying in the Netherlands, I frequently broach the topic about colonial history with my Dutch and Spanish friends, and I am surprised to hear that they know very little about that part of their history. So along with the entire country, I got very excited when the Oxford Union debate video of Shashi Tharoor-a well known Indian author and parliamentarian- on whether Britain owes reparations to India, became viral on social media. The video received huge positive response and motivated the author to write a book on the topic, aptly titled An Era of Darkness.
In the book inspired by the reactions to a speech, the author explains in his eloquent style the systematic plunder of India by the East India Company. Not set in chronological order, the author talks about the political, economic and social impact of the British rule on India and its citizens in different chapters in the book. He gives facts to counter the view of the apologists of colonial rule saying that there are many countries in the world which had railways, democracy and the rule of law without having the need to be colonized. The book is an easy and interesting read, whereby the author takes you along a historic journey and you do not feel as if facts are merely thrown at you, as is the case many times in books dealing with this topic.
The book has left a deep impression on me and although I agree with the author that the present cannot be held accountable for the past, I believe that the one pound per year remuneration for 200 years as suggested by the author as well as the public acknowledgement by the British royalty or the parliament on the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 2019 would be atonement enough to appease the Indian public.
P.S.: The link for the debate that led to this novel can be found here: Debate
After the conclusion of the famous Harry Potter series, J.K Rowling wrote The Casual Vacancy, which was not received well by critics. Disconnect with the characters, was how Ashley Ross writing for TIME described the reason behind the novel’s debacle. So Rowling returned with another series of books, attempting a serialization like one in the Harry Potter saga. And in an effort to maintain gender neutrality (which she did in Harry Potter by writing her name as J.K. Rowling instead of Joanne Rowling), she writes the new series under the male pseudonym of Robert Galbraith.
The Silkworm is the second book of the Strike series, which first began with The Cuckoo’s Calling. The book features Cormoran Strike, a private detective and Robin, his secretary cum sidekick, who solve the case of the disappearance of an author, Owen Quine. Quine writes novels that are not too well received in the market and disappears after being told that his new book is not publishable. After being contacted by Quine’s wife over his disappearance, Strike begins the hunt for him, which culminates in him finding Quine’s body doused in acid with his entrails missing. The murder committed is gruesome and is straight out of Quine’s unpublished work. The rest of the book follows Strike and Robin as they try to find the killer.
Rowling continues in her efforts to get away from the tag of the Potter books in this work, with a more mature narrative style and the frequent use of expletives. She also mounts a veiled attack on the publishing world where books laced with goriness and pornography sell more than works of content. The book is aptly named The Silkworm detailing the traumas and the agonies that writers have to undergo to deliver the good stuff (A silkworm is boiled in its cocoon to preserve the shell in its original form). Exciting though the premise is and the treatment of characters by the author, the book does feel a tad bit long, and you feel that the story could have been told in fewer pages.
Overall, the book is a decent read and with more books due in the series, this work hopefully will not suffer the fate of The Casual Vacancy.
I first came across David Grann’s work when I was searching something about the mysteries of Amazon as part of a research project. Finding his work being listed as relevant to the topic, I read its summary in Wikipedia and decided to buy the novel titled The Lost City of Z (A review of the book can be found here on my blog: 1).
Being impressed by his style of writing and storytelling, I picked up his next book-Killers of the Flower Moon. I must admit that I was intrigued in part by the title-Flower Moon. I wondered what that meant, and its relation to being one of the first high profile cases handled by the FBI led to me to read it.
Set in the 1920s in central USA (what is now Oklahoma) during the Prohibition Era, the book’s protagonist is the Osage Indian tribe who have been living in central USA since centuries. The arrival of the white colonizers leads to their displacement when they are forced to relocate from an area in Kansas to their place in present day Oklahoma. All is peaceful and quiet, until the discovery of oil under the land of the Osages.
The discovery of oil meant that these Osages became the richest men in the world overnight because of the headright to the oil and consequently, one of the most persecuted men in the world. Members of a household began turning up dead. Some died because of slow poisoning, some of gunshot wounds. With more than 20 people dead from the community in a few months, the Osage leaders began asking the government and the law enforcement agencies for help. However, since they were Indians and considered savages, the government denied them help. But when more and more Indians began turning up dead, the pressure mounted on the government to conduct an investigation, which was handed over to the FBI. The subsequent FBI investigation and the catching of culprits forms the basis of the book.
Similar to The Lost City of Z, the author first begins with the history of the Osages-their formation, displacement and discovery of oil under their land. He then moves on to the murders, the FBI investigation and finally the author himself travels to the location to comment on the current situation of the place.
The book is an exciting read for anyone interested in historical fiction, in understanding the prosecution of minorities in the USA and how FBI solved the crime.
DayDreamer blog wishes everyone a joyous and prosperous new year.