Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

What a brilliant novel. I read it through the night in two sittings. The characters are so real, never once did I question how the writer Tsitsi Dangarembga thought up their personalities. They are very well written, in-depth with much back bone. In my mind Nyasha and Tambu are as real as the laptop in front of me and what strong unique characters they are like any great novel, I will often think back on them.

The novel is semi-autobiographical told through the eyes of fourteen year old Tambudzai who is brought up in a rural area of 1960’s colonised Rhodesia. Her family is poor and her siblings are described as semi-naked and wearing rags. Her father lives in the shadow of her successful uncle Babamukuru who saves Tambu from her destined path as described by her mother:

’This business of womanhood is a heavy burden,’ she said. ‘How could it not be? Aren’t we the ones who bear children? When it is like that you can’t just decide today I want to do this, tomorrow I want to do that, the next day I want to be educated! When there are sacrifices to be made, you are the one who has to make them. And these things are not easy; you have to start learning them early, from a very early age…And these days it is worse, with the poverty of blackness on one side and the weight of womanhood on the other. Aiwa! What will help you, my child, is to learn to carry your burdens with strength.’

Tambu is caught in a heavily patriarchal society, education is only chosen for her oldest brother as is his right being the oldest male in the family. Being the strong character that she is, she fights to go to school, as fortune has it, her brother passes away and being the next oldest sibling in line she goes with her uncle – the principle of a Christian school to live with his family and receive an education.

Nyasha, her cousin was my favourite character, a precocious fourteen year old who is spirited and an independent thinker. One of those rare people who do not care what other people think, she has her own ideas about things. She stands up to her controlling old-fashioned father throughout the book. She is described by some critics as a “hybrid character”- having been schooled in London but coming from a Shona-African culture, she is torn between two worlds and struggles to identify with her fellow peers and even her own family. “‘They’ve trapped us. But I won’t be trapped. I’m not a good girl. I won’t be trapped.’ Then as suddenly as the rage passed. ‘I don’t hate you, Daddy,’ she said softly. ‘They want me to, but I won’t.’…’Look what they’ve done to us,’ she said softly. ‘I’m not one of them and not one of you.’ She fell asleep.”

There are many delicious powerful female characters symbolising the struggle of previous generations as well as the triumph and individuality of what it means to be female and living in a colonised country as a black person. This is an important novel. A classic. It opened my eyes to another world.

A Death in the Family ‘My Struggle’ – Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

A Death in the Family

A Death in the Family

‘It’s unbelievable…It’s completely blown my mind.’ – Zadie Smith

‘Why would you read a six-volume, 3,600-page Norwegian novel about a man writing a six-volume, 3,600-page Norwegian novel? The short answer is that it is breathtakingly good, and so you cannot stop yourself, and not want to’ – New York Times

Exactly! Kark Ove Knausgaard writes exquisitely well. A Death in the Family My Struggle Book 1 is about the difficult relationship he has with his father through childhood as this God-like figure, when they lived alone together in their family house after his parents divorced during his teenage years and when he gets news of his father’s death as a young adult after his father goes through an identity metamorphosis from the man he knew as a child. This is about the complexities of family relationships and just about life – the ups and downs.

Knausgaard writes in such a way, that scenes from his childhood make one notice the feel of the sun on the back of his neck and notice the intense atmosphere as his father enters the house. He has a knack of reminding us what childhood was like, the extreme fascinations, fears and joys as a sensitive child, seeing the world for the first time.

He has the habit of writing about the mundane of life as if we are witnessing life lived through someone else’s eyes. So simple, yet we cannot stop reading. He is brutally honest as he describes the world revealing his thoughts uncensored. A beautiful novel. He was born to write. The first in the six-volume series.

Everything I know about Love by Dolly Alderton

Everything I know about Love

I loved this book, I could easily read it again, the kind of book you want to read because it makes your day feel complete – like a friend you need to speak to at the end of the day. Loved Dolly! I could relate a lot to her, definitely a voice for women of my generation. I loved her stories of warmth for her friends and mishaps. She is an honest and talented writer.

She speaks of losing her best friends to marriage or pregnancy and is brutally honest about how jealous she becomes over future spouses. I saw this when I fell pregnant and friends got married, it just falls upon you and then your cool single friends who don’t have children distance themselves and seem to carry a sort of bitterness towards you. There is this wall between you and them. So true and Dolly gives a voice to this with much love and humour.

I loved the little nuances she notes about all her dear friends close to her. She values friendship, writing and drinking above all. She parties like a man in her early twenties, sleeping with whom she wants without offering a pardon. She is a hot blooded female at a time when society welcomes individuality. She battles alcoholism, depression and making ends meet as a writer while wittingly describing visiting married couples who can afford wall-paper. She is somewhat peeved at their exorbitant wedding-gift requests.

One of my favourite scenes just to show you the kind of empowered woman Dolly is:

“‘You can’t own me!’ I shout for no reason in the Mayfair restaurant he has chosen, three bottles of wine to the good. ‘I’m not a possession for you to own – I won’t guilt myself into getting all dressed up just so you’ll buy me lobster! I can buy it myself!’

‘Fine, darling, buy it yourself,’ he slurs.

‘I will!’ I squawk. ‘And not going Dutch – the WHOLE thing.’

The waitress comes over with the bill for $300. I go to the loo to text my flatmate AJ, asking her to lend me $200 and to transfer it into my account immediately.”

The Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary

Transforming Ourselves, empowering our children

I’ve read bits of this on Amazon and it has already influenced the way I parent, especially with handling tantrums and disappointments in what you expect from your child or yourself. I finally got a copy to add to my bookshelf after a year long wait. It is not “a guide to” but a philosophy on parenting. Someone said they felt like they went on a meditative retreat on parenting after reading this.

The core theme is to accept your child for who they are, allow them to be and help them to develop into the being they’ve come here to be and to help them to share their unique gifts with the world.

The main idea is to always stay present for your child and acknowledge what they are feeling, teaching them to embrace their feelings and not run away from them (similar to Dan Siegel’s “Mindfulness” – next on my list).

Another review said that every parent and caregiver should read this. It is one of the books of course on Oprah’s recommended list as well. It brings together parenting and consciousness – two themes I love. An important book ❤ (You could actually apply this to any of your relationships.)

Kudos: A Novel by Rachel Cusk

A Conversation with the inner world of a writer

I’m reading Rachel Cusk’s ‘Kudos’ (the third book in her Outline trilogy), I’m so glad I discovered her, I still need to read the first two books in the series and anything else she has written. Her book is filled with fascinating uncensored discussions between her and other writers and artists although it’s written like fiction. It’s the kind of discussion one would have with another person if you could read their thoughts. I love Cusk’s observations of her characters and their life circumstances. These dialogues are deep the way I wish everyone would have discussions about life with me. I love Rachel, a true observer of the world around her. She’s my new favorite writer.

This Charming Man by Marian Keyes

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The great thing about reading a Marian Keyes novel is that she gives you your happy feel good ending. To be honest I really struggled to finish “This Charming Man”. I really hated some of the characters and maybe that’s what made the ending ever so bitter-sweet and satisfying. She knows how to please her audience.  At one stage I was going to give up but my philosophy is that every book has a story to tell and I couldn’t judge it fully until I had reached the last page. Marian’s character’s have depth and we see how they evolve through the ups and downs of life. I’m glad I stuck with it because some of the characters will stick with me.

My favorite character was Lola Daly who can be seen as a sexy Bridget Jones. Her monologues and banters with her love interests and friends were even a bit like a Bridget Jones’s diary insert. Lola’s heart is crushed (metaphorically) by the “Charming man” Paddy de Courcy, a charismatic politician. She finds out in the news that he is to marry another woman while she is dating him. She flees to the countryside to recuperate where she has mini comedic adventures and meets some interesting characters. And yes, you guessed it -is seduced by some other charming or not so charming men.

I loved Paddy’s dry description of Lola, “Who’s going to believe that fashion flake with the purple hair?” And that’s what I love most about Marian is her dry observations of people.
From that short sentence you can tell that Paddy is not a very nice person, that and the fact that he leaves Lola for another woman. He is actually a very bad man. Marian  researched political parties in Ireland while writing this book. She looks at the dark and twisted world of politics. We meet people who may appear “charming” to the public eye and get to see the real them behind closed doors. There may be some truth here. And by the way Lola’s hair is not “purple”, it’s “Molichino” as she likes to inform everyone.
Lola is a successful stylist with a fun job until her world is turned upside down. She has the kind of job most woman want I presume or maybe even some gay men or hey!- maybe even some straight men. That’s also what I love about a Keyes novel, the way she is able to explore the glamorous world of publicity, the media and fashion. She is able to successfully describe the ruthless and funny obsessive characters who inhabit those worlds.
Being the charming man that Paddy is, he has had a succession of dating several woman and we meet those woman who make up the other main characters of the book.
I’m not going to describe them all but one that sticks out is Marnie, a very pathetic alcoholic who I loathed at times and who made me want to stop reading. I thought, “Do I really want to read a sappy story about a self-obsessed feel sorry for me alcoholic?” Keyes successfully shows the gritty and dirty side to drinking and is able to take you to that low point. After all, she herself once suffered from alcoholism and has spoken openly about it. I’m aware that she also suffers from depression so most probably knows that world all too well.
Like most Marian Keyes novels, everything crumbles in unexpected ways but is resolved beautifully in a triumphant ending. Enjoyable read, great characters and good feels. Four stars ****
I have to share some of Marian’s dry wit. Here Lola speaks of an overweight friend who once was encouraged by most people to loose weight until she looses the weight and looks gorgeous: “People who had urged her to be thin had to swallow hard. Taken aback. Wrong-footed. Unhappy. Kept her away from their boyfriends.” – tears!

 

Entering the Castle by Caroline Myss

hqdefaultI am so addicted to Caroline Myss media. I watch her videos, I listen to her audios and I read her books. Her messages are profound and not for the feint hearted. She is ruthless in the manner in which she encourages us to change and heal our lives.

She refers to herself as a “medical intuitive” and “mystic”. She also has a strong background in Catholicism and speaks fondly of her “gurus”, nuns who taught her to meditate and played an active role in her life.

A life coach introduced me to Caroline Myss back in 2009. I was not originally drawn to her books but she highly recommended Sacred Contracts. Sacred Contracts teaches us to look at the different archetypes who play roles in our lives and how to work with them for healing.

Entering the Castle is not about that and will not appeal to maybe even her mass audiences. It is not easy reading. Not because it is written in complex language. It is written very simply and each chapter is well structured and introduces us to the different levels or parts of our soul. It took me about 8 months to read because there is so much to think about and absorb and also I had a new born baby to care for at the time.

Caroline goes deep and encourages us to look at ourselves with honesty. It is a book about introspection. To look at our actions and the reasons behind them.

Much of her inspiration comes from Teresa of Avila who referred to the soul as a “beautiful crystal castle” with many mansions and many rooms. The crystal castle is an entry point to God or the universe or whatever you imagine your soul to be. And as Caroline says the point of life is to meet your soul and God. It may sound deeply religious but is is a very spiritual book for those who are not afraid to dig deep and face the illusions of life in order to meet their soul.

I can quote many teachings from this book but some of my favorite are, “Life owes you nothing, everything is a blessing.” “Intention without discipline is useless.” “of God in my life. I surrender my mind, my heart, my need for safety, and my need for rational explanations and orderly instructions to God’s will for me. I trust that all that is in my life is as it should be. I release”

A beautiful book to be treasured by everyone willing to be quiet and to sit with the divine. This is my favorite book by Caroline and something that is very close to her heart too.

The Toltec Art of Life and Death by Don Miguel Ruiz

toltec-art-of-life-and-death

I could not wait for this book to be released. My sister pre-ordered it on Amazon as a birthday present for me. I waited three whole long months before it arrived by post. It arrived and I plunged in but it was not what I was expecting. From what I read of the reviews, Don Miguel Ruiz had gone into a coma and goes into the afterlife where he discovers ‘the Toltec art of life and death’. I was expecting secrets on the laws of the universe, instead I was greeted by an autobiography on Ruiz’s life.
We visit major events in his life as seen through the eyes of his mother. While Miguel was in a coma, his mother whose fierce love for him is made clear in the book goes into a trance to meet him in the afterlife. Mother Sarita is a healer and trained in the art of meditation, she is able to access  the other world while her family of healers watch over her. She is met by an apathetic Miguel whom she tries to convince to come back and return to his body and life.
The journey is accompanied by an attractive and stubborn female figure known as Lala who represents knowledge. The theme of knowledge and its role in our lives is also discussed in his book  ‘The Voice of Knowledge’. (see my review here: The Voice of Knowledge by Don Miguel Ruiz) We visit quirky family members and personal love stories.
Ruiz’s nine week long coma impacted on him spiritualy as he observes his life and comes to certain realisations. This is an intimate look at the guru behind ‘The Four Agreements’ as well as a look at his heritage of family and healers. The book is simply told and observed with love and humour.

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by T.E. Carhart

41WCMK9QKGL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_T.E. Carhart writes in such a way that you can feel the wood and vibrations and see the mahogany hues of the piano which gets your heart racing and stirs up passions to run and pick up an instrument.

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank is a bit of a slow but dreamy read like taking a Sunday stroll along the French ravine.

Carhart, an American spent some of his childhood in France going for piano lessons. He speaks of his love for playing in private but also of his fear for playing in public. He reminisces on strict piano teachers and piano repair men who take their trade very seriously.

The book starts off with an adult Carhart now living in Paris taking a pleasant afternoon stroll through his neighborhood  when he comes across an unusual but private piano shop. This piano shop is so special that it requires initiation for one to gain entry into.

This book is not for everyone, lovers of classical music and piano fundis will appreciate it or for anyone wanting a sensual experience of Paris and the piano. For me, I was reminded of my childhood ballet classes while moving to the sound of the piano.

 

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

3_450211bA Hello Kitty lunch box, Proust and the hidden diary of a teenage girl…

”Right now I am sitting in a French cafe in Akiba Electricity Town, listening to a sad chanson that is playing sometime in your past, which is also my present, writing this and wondering about you, somewhere in my future. And if you’re reading this, then maybe by now you’re wondering about me, too. You wonder about me. I wonder about you. Who are you and what are you doing?”

Ruth lives on a small community island with her husband Oliver.  Walking along the beach she picks up some rubbish and takes it home, only to find a Hello Kitty lunch box. Inside the lunch box is Proust’s book A La recherche du temps perdu. Things are not what they seem – inside Proust’s book is the hidden diary of a Japanese teenage girl.

Ruth wonders, was this a diary that was washed away in the 2004 tsunami disaster and is the girl still alive?

This was my favourite book for 2013 and when I read it again this year, most probably for 2015 as well. It was short-listed for the Booker prize in 2013 and if that doesn’t make you rush out and buy it, take it from me – go and read it now!

I don’t want to give too much away, but there are stories hidden within stories. The characters will break your heart and stay with you long after the book is over. The book is a gem.