Friday, August 31, 2012

Review: The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam

The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam is set in Bangladesh both in the years immediately following the Bangladesh Liberation War and ten years later.  In that span of time, we see the evolution of this nation as it copes with the aftermath of the war and its effect on its citizens.  We see that evolution primarily through the story of Maya and Sohail - a brother and sister whose lives take divergent paths following the war which parallel the divide in Bangladesh.  When they reunite ten years later, can they reconcile their beliefs for the sake of their family and remember what bound them together growing up?

Maya Haque is a doctor living in the countryside where she cares for women who wouldn't have access to healthcare if it were not for her service to this rural community. She takes a special satisfaction in caring for these women and even seems to be paying some penance with this service. She leaves the countryside, however, to return to city in which she grew up and where her mother and brother, Sohail still live.  She fled the city following the war and has since been estranged from her brother. After she returns seven years later, Maya's mother faces a health crisis and the specter of losing her mother moves Maya to question beliefs she has held to vehemently over the years:
And she thought about what Ammoo was asking for, a prayer once a day, at dusk, that holy hour. She thought about giving in, and wished somehow she had done it long ago, surrendered to the practicality of religion. If she chose it now, it would be a hollow bargain, shallow and insubstantial. No God she could respect would enter into such a pact, knowing the believer knocking at the door wanted nothing more than a genie, a single wish and that even if this wish were to be accompanied by a deeper longing, there was no saying if she would ever keep her promises.

Sohail Haque was a solider in the Liberation War and, like his sister Maya, was a revolutionary who wanted independence for Bangaldesh (then East Pakistan). Like many that have gone to war, Sohail saw the unspeakable during the war and has difficulty living with the memories of acts he himself committed.  He returns to his sister and mother changed  - the once easy-going and vibrant Sohail is now withdrawn and unreachable. He begins to move toward religion going up to the roof of their house to preach and then marries a fundamentalist and seals his commitment to his new life by burning all his books. Maya is appalled at the change she observes in her brother and cannot understand his transformation - she flees the city and doesn't return for seven years.  When she comes back, Sohail is a religious leader and has a young son, Zaid.

My thoughts
I found this book fascinating - the exploration of the impact of religious fundamentalism on Bangladesh and on the relationship between brother and sister coupled with the fact that I knew little about Bangladesh or its history kept me interested throughout. I have a brother and I felt for Maya as she struggled with the loss of the brother she knew growing up and the feeling that he had chosen religious fundamentalism over her. At the same time, there is a sanctimony to Maya's insistence that her brother has chosen the wrong path and her inability to compromise further drives her apart from her brother. As strong as her brother's beliefs may be, Maya's belief that she is right is just as strong and she pays a price and sacrifices happiness to hold onto this belief.  She is angered by her brother's rigidity and yet she is also closed-minded.

My one quibble with the book was that there were many references to customs and/or Bangladeshi words without explanation - I think providing some explanation would have added to the richness of the novel and enabled me to immerse myself more in the novel. Despite that, however, I loved the story of Maya and Sohail and their very different struggles with ideology and religion gave me much to consider.

I am a participant in the TLC Book Tour for The Good Muslim and you can read reviews of the book from others on the tour here.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher as part of the tour

Monday, August 27, 2012

Review: The Midwife's Confession by Diane Chamberlain

In The Midwife's Confession , author Diane Chamberlain weaves a complicated but very readable story that uncovers the secrets friends keep from each other. Tara, Emerson and Noelle met in college and remained close through adulthood even living near each other. When Noelle commits suicide, Tara and Emerson are shocked and they get their first clue that there is much about their friend that they didn't know. They knew she loved being a midwife and that she was eccentric but they didn't realize she was suffering. When they uncover an unsent letter Noelle left behind, the get a glimpse into the cause of her suffering but that is only the beginning of the secrets Noelle held.

 In addition to the storyline of Tara and Emerson unraveling the mystery of their friend Noelle's secret, there are a few secondary storylines that ultimately connect to the main storyline. At the book's opening, Tara has lost her husband, Sam - he was killed in a car accident and Tara and her daughter Grace are slowly adjusting to the loss and learning to have a relationship with each other. Grace was closer to Sam than to her mother; that, coupled with the typical mother/daughter teenage conflict adds another stress as they grieve. Grace struggles with feeling separate from her mother and does not see any similarities between them; without her father to buffer her relationship with her mom, Grace is filled with resentment and pulls further away from her mother. Tara is trying to move on following her husband's death but feels his loss acutely every day. She spends time with her husband's friend and partner because it makes her feel close to Sam. Through her relationship with him and the investigation she and Emerson do into Noelle's death, Tara also discovers that her husband may have held some secrets on Noelle's behalf.

Anna Knightly, the intended recipient of Noelle's letter, heads the Missing Children Network. It is an organization she became involved with when her oldest daughter, Lily, disappeared from the hospital shortly after she was born. She was never found but Anna hopes to help other parents of missing children through her work leading the network. Her second daughter, Haley, is facing a recurrence of leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. It is not lost on Anna that Haley's sister Lily would likely have been a match but she tries to put those thoughts aside as she goes public about Haley's condition in an effort to find a match in time. How are childless Noelle and Anna connected? What was Noelle confessing to Anna as she started her unfinished letter?  

My Thoughts
What I have laid out above may seem complicated but Diane Chamberlain expertly weaves it all together and I never felt lost as I read the book. As I have found in all of her novels, the characters are very well drawn and that makes it easy to identify them as the novel moves from storyline to storyline. The element of mystery created by Noelle's suicide and the discovery that she had a huge secret kept the novel moving and created just the right amount of suspense. I highly recommend this one - the author is quickly becoming a favorite of mine.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher as part of the book club hosted by Great Thoughts

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Review: Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy

In Heart and Soul, Maeve Binchy once again assembles a cast of loveable characters in her homeland - Ireland. This time the characters are all connected to Dr. Clara Casey who accepts the role of establishing a cardiac clinic in Dublin despite the fact that it means working for the miserly Frank who doesn't care about the outcomes of the patients so much as the bottom line in the accounting books. He has met his match - Clara is a force to be reckoned with both at home with her smart-mouthed teenagers and at the clinic as she tries to establish a state of the art facility focused on patient care.

Dr. Casey surrounds herself with a staff that all have their heart and concern for patients in common. There is young Dr. Declan Carroll who has recently qualified and is doing a rotation through the clinic; the Polish emigre Ania who works hard in her new country at many jobs including an assistant to Dr. Casey and the lovely Fiona Ryan - a nurse with charm to spare. Each staff member in the clinic has their own back story that gets explored as the novel progresses. In much the same way, the patients of the clinic are also a varied crew of characters. They each have their own story and many of those stories start to intersect with those of other patients or cast members. The result is the depiction of a real community where you feel you would know everyone as you passed them in the street.  

My Thoughts
 As I have said before, I am a big fan of Maeve Binchy - her novels bring me comfort and are always enjoyable reads. She charms me with her stories of Irish towns and their residents. Heart and Soul is no different and it is extra special in that it brings characters from earlier novels in for cameo appearances which brings back fond memories of those books. Clara Casey is a strong female character - she is an accomplished physician who assumes the challenging role of building the Heart Clinic while she is mother to two headstrong teenagers at home. The author, however, humanizes her by giving her a cheating ex-husband which adds interest to the story and shows the softer side to Clara. I read this book before the death of Maeve Binchy and had been looking forward to reading many more books by the author. While I am saddened to hear of the author's death, I am cheered to learn that a final book which the author finished prior to her death will be published. After that, I guess my only choice is to re-read all her novels!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Salon: August 5, 2012

The Sunday

It's been some time since I have done a Sunday Salon - my blog posting has taken second place to some major work commitments and it has been hard to keep up with reviews never mind Sunday Salon. I had a burst of productivity today and got some blog posts written so I decided to write a Sunday Salon to check in with everyone.

Despite all the craziness at work, this has been a good summer so far. Over July 4th, I went on an impromptu trip with a college friend to Mexico. It was wonderful to sit admiring the gorgeous water and to catch up on some excellent reading. While there I read Life's A Beach by Claire Cook (link to review), Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky, The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker and Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead. Not bad for 4 days! My friend also read some great books - she especially liked The Red Book by Copaken Kogan. Sarah Laurence also recommended this one on her blog so I have put it on my list.  Beautiful views, great books, excellent company and good margaritas - what a recipe for a vacation!

Review posting has been slow but I have posted the following reviews since my last Sunday Salon (titles link to my reviews):

Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Morag Prunty (which is a pen name for Kate Kerrigan) - my first Weekend Cooking post
The World We Found by Thrity Urmigar - recently out in paperback if you want to pick it up
And Laughter Fell From the Sky by Jyotsna Sreenivasan  - a great immigrant story!
Little Princes by Conor Grennan - an inspiring memoir
Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy (audio) - the news of the beloved author's death this week was very sad - she will be missed
The Queen: A Life in Brief by Robert Lacey - this is surely Britain's year between the Jubilee and the Olympics

Speaking of the Olympics, I am obsessed with the coverage and it is eating into my reading and sleeping time!  I know Olympic competition is grueling for the athletes but it is not so easy on the spectators either!  Ha - just kidding  - I am so impressed by how much these athletes have accomplished and am loving watching them make history.

How has your summer been so far?  Are you watching the Olympics?  Any favorite reads from the summer?