Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary

Book cover: Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary ed. by Susan MorrisonThirty Ways of Looking at Hillary was published eight years ago, back when Hillary Clinton was first running for president. I’d wanted to read it at the time, but then election fatigue took its toll and down the TBR list it went. But now here we are again: Hillary Clinton is running for president and new election dramas are unfolding. Even with people still feeling the Bern, she’s the formidable front runner this time around. And though you still can’t exactly call her “cool,” she managed to pick up some more social currency during her stint as Secretary of State. It is with this hindsight that I dove into this book.

I’d been hoping for a more elevated conversation about Hillary. With thirty women, many of whom probably identify as feminist, you’d think that the conversation would move beyond aesthetics and wrestle with Hillary’s ideology, place in pop culture, etc. And some authors did. But mostly, the writers took the title a little too literally: Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary mostly busies itself by looking at Hillary.

Continue reading

Burial Rites

Book cover: Burial Rites by Hannah KentSet in 1829 and based on a true story, Burial Rites follows the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman who was executed in Iceland. Having been convicted of murdering her former master, Natan, Agnes is sent to an isolated farm to await her execution. The family who owns the farm is horrified by this turn of events. Jón Jónsson, the farmer, is resigned to the family’s role, but his wife, Margret, is furious at being forced to risk their daughters’ safety by housing such a woman. As Agnes awaits her execution, she has selected a young priest named Tóti to be her spiritual adviser; no one knows why she has selected such an inexperienced person for the task, especially since she has no previous ties to him.

Margret puts Agnes to work around the farm, keeping a strict and watchful eye on her every move. Agnes willingly and ably follows orders, stopping only when Tóti comes by for their sessions together. Haltingly, Agnes’s life story begins to take shape, and the truth behind her involvement in Natan’s death begins to emerge.

Continue reading

That Other Me

Greetings from Dubai! I was here last month but didn’t get to post this because I was too busy sightseeing during the few hours I had during my layover. Now I’m here again, slowly making my way back home. Today’s book is by Maha Gargash, who was born and currently lives in Dubai. This is her second book.

Book cover: That Other Me by Maha GargashMajed Naseemy is the controlling patriarch of an esteemed Emirati family living in Dubai. Years ago, he tricked his brother into signing over his share of their growing agriculture company. His brother died soon after, and many whisper that Majed’s betrayal is what killed him. Now, the family lives in great wealth. Majed has taken responsibility for his brother’s daughter, Mariam, who is studying in Cairo. He also has a daughter, Dalal, from a secret marriage. The family refuses to acknowledge her, and her recent stint on Nights of Dubai, an American Idol-type show, has infuriated her father, who sees such entertainers as low class. Dalal now lives in Cairo with her mother; she’s trying to get her music career off the ground.

Though Majed forbids them from interacting, Mariam and Dalal are close friends. Neither of them have a good relationship with Majed, but he tries to control their every move just the same, going so far as to employ goons to spy on them. The two girls are strikingly different . No matter how much she despises her uncle, Mariam is obedient and always conscious of how her image in public may be interpreted by fellow Emirati; her worst nightmare is being seen doing something improper and having people back home find out. Dalal is the complete opposite; she’s hot-headed and outgoing, and she and her mother openly defy Majed no matter how aggressive or extreme his reactions might be.

Continue reading

Love, Loss, and What We Ate

Greetings from Chennai, formerly Madras, where today’s author was partly raised. My friend and I have been here for a few days and are heading out tomorrow. It’s safe to say that the highlight of my stop in Chennai happened last night. My friends and I had a chance to take a private South Indian cooking class in a lovely Brahmin woman’s home, so we got to learn a little more about Tamil culture on a personal level. It was amazing: great food, great spices, great coffee — OMG for real, the coffee — and great conversation! To be honest, it’s been one of the highlights of my entire stay in India! I didn’t want the night to end.

Book cover: Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma LakshmiI came to know Padma Lakshmi the way a lot of people did. Lakshmi started her career as a model, has some acting and cookbook credits under her belt, and was once married to Salman Rushdie, but most people probably recognize her as the host of Top Chef on Bravo. Back then, I sometimes wondered about her connection to food, something that she admits to having second-guessed herself about as well. Any doubts about her “food cred” are put to rest in this memoir.

Lakshmi’s mother comes from a conservative Tamil culture, but after failed relationships, including the one with Padma’s father, she moved to New York to start over. Padma was left in India in the care of her grandparents, and once her mother had a stable income, Padma immigrated to the United States as well. She writes of all the new foods she was exposed to, including some interesting concoctions she and her mother came up with since they were Brahmin vegetarians in an area that was decidedly less vegetarian friendly back then.

Continue reading

A Long Way Home

Greetings from Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta! I’m actually not staying here long at all because my travel plans changed recently; I’m just here on a short layover, and I’ll probably be gone by the time you see this post. I read this book in advance of my trip, though. As you’ll see, this Saroo Brierley’s Calcutta story is so mind-boggling and extraordinary that it’s hard to believe it’s all real!

A Long Way Home by Saroo BrierleyWhen he was five years old, Saroo Brierley snuck out with his brother to tag along while his brother cleaned the local rural train station. His brother told him to stay put and wait for him to return, and Saroo fell asleep on a bench. It was night when he awoke, and here was no sign of his brother. Scared and disoriented, Saroo got on a train and fell asleep. When he woke up again, he got off the train, and not recognizing anything, jumped on the next train thinking it would take him back home.

Instead, he arrived in Calcutta and became one of the thousands of children who live on the street. He cried for help, but he didn’t know his full name or the name of his village, so there was little anyone could do to help him. He was more fortunate than most to be taken into an orphanage, and even more fortunate still to be adopted by a loving Australian couple. Still, his past and the questions about what happened to his family haunted him, and with the advent of technology, he got the idea to scour Google Earth to look for landmarks he remembered to track down his village.

Continue reading