The Dog by Joseph O’Neill

Find in catalogWith morbid fascination and some pleasure in the dark humor, I plowed through this story of a rich lawyer who becomes “the dog” of a super rich Dubai family empire. He is used by the family to handle all sorts of questionable and legally iffy matters and spends copious and funny time finding legal ways to lessen his own liability. On the run from a ferocious and hurt ex-girlfriend, he seeks only the company of a man servant, a high end brothel, and some old buddies in various stages of the big ride up or down this disgusting social structure.

Mistaken Identity by Nayantara Sahgal

Kin in spirit to both Evelyn Waugh and Salman Rushdie, Sahgal focuses on a young rich playboy in 1920s India. He is an apolitical poet who is mistakenly arrested and spends years in prison in British held India charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government. It is a black humored story, but not quite satire, more a fairy tale in which other Indians arrested for trying to raise consciousness are large hearted fools who will die to make a small point in an overwhelmingly bad situation. The tone is very secular: Whether you are surrounded by Colonials, Muslims, or Hindus, you are in trouble if you even inadvertently stir their stagnant waters.

Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

Find in catalogRebel Queen is a historical novel narrating the fight of Queen Lakshmi, Jhansi’s ruler in North India.  It’s the beginning of the British Raj.  All types of depredations are taking place as the British attempt to take land and wealth from the small, independent Indian states.

The heroine, a warrior like her namesake Sita, faces a life as temple harlot or training for the Durga Dal, Queen Lakshmi’s personal guard.  That includes ability to ride, shoot bow and arrow and a gun as well as entertain the Queen.  Fortunately, Sita’s father has a love of Shakespeare, and he has taught his bright daughter to read and speak English.

The issues of unwanted girl children, still a problem among lower classes in India because of dowries, complicates Sita’s life when her mother dies giving birth to a second girl.

Because Michelle Moran [Nefertitit and Cleopatra’s Daughter] writes so well, this book is a treasure.  I returned a book about Amazon women because the writing was so haphazard and spotty.  Moran’s prose embellishes rather than detracting from the storyline.

The issue of the homosexual Raja, Lakshmi’s husband, is dismissed at his death when he tells Queen Lakshmi, “I should have been you.”  Queen Lakshmi dismisses their marital troubles, “Next time.”  There’s a lot to be said about belief in reincarnation in that reply.

Love, love, love this novel.  Hope you will, too.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful ForeversNot for the faint of heart. By the time I got to this book at the bottom of my pile, I had forgotten it was nonfiction and kept waiting for the story to begin…..I was dismayed to look again and see that this work is the product of real interviews of the residents of Annawaddi, a slum in Mumbai, India, built next to an airport (and a row of western style hotels separated from the ugliness of the slum by a wall papered with ‘beautiful forever beautiful forever beautiful forever’ slogans). The reality and brutality that the people here live with on a daily basis was shocking, discouraging, and faith-in-humans-or-any-justice shaking. Even the charitable efforts by those attempting to assist children, minorities, and women are spoiled and taken over by rampant corruption throughout all the classes and government/private factions. Very discouraging book.

Reviewed by Laura R.

Homework by Suneeta Peres da Costa

HomeworkThe story of a young girl from an Indian family growing up in Australia, it is also about clashing worlds — childhood vs. adolescent independence, Indian traditions at home vs. Australian neighbors and culture, the increasingly chaotic behavior of her parents vs. the predictable world of math or physics homework. Mina (the narrator) is especially sensitive as she also has a set of antennae arising from the top of her head. Her mother’s manic actions make it difficult for her to be nurtured at home.

The tone of the book is very matter-of-fact, though the events are far from ordinary. I did stay interested as the wildness progressed, but was somewhat unsatisfied toward the later part of the book. I wanted more. This is the author’s first novel.

Reviewed by Sue

These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach

These Foolish ThingsThis is the book that the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” was based on. But one must be prepared to have a very different experience with this lovely story. The book has 13 or more main characters and begins with the backstories of many of them…so doesn’t really get to the “hotel” (a retirement home for mainly Britishers) in India until about a third of the way in to the story. It’s full of more insight about the sights, smells, temperature, people, and culture of India than the movie had, so for that reason I found it enlightening. But I think you’d have to be in the right mood to hang in there with so much of the streams of consciousness of elderly people who feel abandoned by their loved ones and are wondering what is left for them in life and going through normal human difficulties in making new friends and adapting to a new country. Full of humor, sadness, discomfort, and love, I think it really could have taken place almost anywhere there is a group home for the oldest among us.

Reviewed by Laura R.