Growing up in an extremely cramped one-bedroom apartment on the bottom floor of a multi-rise building in Mumbai, I was looking for one thing -- escape. And while India had been independent for just around 25-odd years at that time, the vestiges of colonialism remained. Try as we might, my friends and I could never bring ourselves to call Mumbai's fantastic train station Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. It would always be Victoria Terminus to us -- in fact, even the name Mumbai took a while to sink in. Growing up, it had always been Bombay.
These colonial aftereffects showed themselves most readily in the English fiction my friends and I read. We grew up on a steady diet of Enid Blyton books in elementary school. The images of endless feasts with scones and crumpets and clotted cream were enough to get us through the dreary Mumbai monsoons. I was introduced to the world of P. G. Wodehouse when I was in eighth grade, and these books completely took over my every waking moment. I devoured every Wodehouse book I could get my hands on, including many from the Bertie and Jeeves series. Most of Wodehouse's work is set around or before World War I, and portrays a deeply class-based British society. In Jeeves and Wooster's world, the worst that can happen is Wooster getting himself into a comedy of errors with a person of the opposite sex. There is no war. No unhappiness permeates this idyllic landscape.
Wodehouse has been faulted at times for creating a world too removed from real-life events. When war broke out in 1939, Wodehouse was living in northern France. He had taken up residence there a few years earlier to avoid double taxation on his earnings by both the USA and UK, as he had split his time between the two since 1914. He and his wife chose to stay in France, and he was subsequently arrested and interned as an enemy alien when it was occupied by Germany. He was released about a year later, at which time rumors surfaced in Britain that he must have done a deal to get out early. This was actually not the case, as he was released on schedule as per the Geneva Convention. After his release he lived in Berlin before moving to occupied Paris. During this time he made the extraordinarily naive decision to broadcast some radio recordings for American audiences (who, at that point, were not in the war) that joked about his captors and poked gentle fun at his situation. His fellow Englishmen were livid. They accused him of sympathizing with the enemy, and even of treason. Eventually Wodehouse's name was cleared, but the incidents scarred him enough that he chose to settle permanently in the United States, becoming an American citizen in 1955.
It is true that the "Wodehouse world" seems unreal, naive and, worse, completely out of touch. But I would argue that with its grand visions of a pristine and green English countryside, where everyone sits down to spectacular banquets, it was necessary escapist fodder for a middle-schooler growing up thousands of miles away.
Shortly after I was done with my Wodehouse "phase," I re-read my worn copy of The Diary of Anne Frank given to me by my father on my 11th birthday. It was a reminder to myself not to be naive, but, instead, to be wary; to acknowledge that life can be horrific, and that the world can be plagued by real evil. It was a perfect counterbalance to Bertie and Jeeves, and my rose-colored glasses came off soon enough. Yet, while it lasted, my Wodehouse phase sure was fun. Even today, I am a fan.
Right Ho, Jeeves was well worth the detention I received in eighth grade for "reading unwanted materials." I remain convinced that Mrs. Tandon confiscated my copy just so she could go home and curl up with Bertie and Jeeves. I don't fault her for it, but I do question her methods.
by Poornima Apte
First image of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus by Joe Ravi
Second image of Wodehouse
Third image from Very Good, Jeeves! published by Penguin
This article first ran as the "beyond the book" article for BookBrowse's review of Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks
In addition to reviewing books, BookBrowse goes "beyond the book" to explore interesting aspects relating to each book we feature. Here is a "Beyond the Book" feature for Tim Winton's Eyrie:
Tim Winton, the author of Eyrie, is that rare thing: a literary best-selling writer. While most American readers might still be getting to know this prolific author, he is as close to a national monument as person can get in his native Australia.
Born in 1960, Winton started work on his first novel at the age of just 19 when he was enrolled in a creative writing course at Curtin University in Perth. That first work, the novel Open Swimmer, went on to win theVogel Australian National Literary Award. Since then, Winton has written dozens of books: novels, short-story collections and books for children. His work has received close to two-dozen awards including the prestigious Miles Franklin award. Two novels, Dirt Music andThe Riders have been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize.
Despite his early literary acclaim, Winton and his family had many financial struggles; his wife, Denise, had to plead for a $150 bank loan to buy food and presents one Christmas. It wasn't until 1991, with the publication of Cloudstreet, that Winton began to enjoy commercial success.
Australia, with its wide open spaces, is a vibrant part of Winton's stories. He lives in a small town a few hours' drive from Perth in Western Australia and is fiercely protective about his privacy: "It's just a little cray-fishing town in the central west. There's nothing there, just 600 people and 450 dogs," Winton says about his home town. "It's that small that there'd be nowhere to hide once people knew. And it's great, because no one gives a toss who I am up there; I go surfing with people who don't read my books and couldn't give a rat's."
In 2013, when a rise in water temperatures lead to a massive die-off of the local abalone population, Winton saw it as cause to write a play, Signs of Life, that addresses environmental issues. In Eyrie, the protagonist, Tom Keely, is a disillusioned environmentalist, leading some to wonder if he isn't modeled, in part, after Winton himself.
In 1993, Winton set up the Tim Winton Award for Young Writers to encourage writing in kids aged five to 18 in Western Australia. It is hosted by the city of Subaico, and 2014 marks the 22nd year of the award. Active in the environmental movement in Australia, Winton has been named a Living Treasure by the National Trust, and awarded the Centenary Medal for service to literature and the community. Perhaps he truly is a national monument.
2013 Shrine play
2012 Signs of Life, play
2011 Rising water 2008 Breath
2006 Small Mercies, novella
2005 The Turning
2001 Dirt Music
1999 Down to Earth, with photography by Richard Woldendorp
1998 The Deep (Children's)
1998 Lockie Leonard, Legend, (Children's)
1995 The Riders
1995 The Collected Shorter Novels of Tim Winton
1995 Lockie Leonard (Children's)
1994 Local Colour, photography and text by Bill Bachman; additional text by Tim Winton
1993 Land's Edge
1993 Blood and Water: Stories
1992 Lockie Leonard, Human Torpedo
1991 The Bugalugs Bum Thief (Children's)
1988 In the Winter Dark
1987 Scission and Other Stories
1986 That Eye, the Sky
1985 A Blow, A Kiss
1985 Minimum of Two
1982 An Open Swimmer
Photograph of Tim Winton, courtesy of Penguin Books Australia
High Street, in Fremantle, the town in which Eyrie takes place, courtesy of Mitch Ames.
Ningaloo Reef. In 2003, Winton was awarded the inaugural Australian Society of Authors (ASA) Medal for his work in the campaign to save the Ningaloo Reef. Image courtesy of womangoingplaces.com.au
BookBrowse's Top Ten Debuts For August 2014
Each year we search through thousands of books and book reviews in order to shortlist the most notable 80-100 publishing each month. Then we gather together all available reviews for each book so our members know about the best and most interesting books well ahead of the crowd.
Here are 10 notable debuts that we think you'll want to know about - all publishing in August.
BookBrowse is a guide to exceptional books. As such, we only feature those that our reviewers hand on heart believe to be best in class. Because the books we select go through a rigorous selection process before we even assign them for review, the majority do make the grade - but some, despite good reviews elsewhere, just don't resonate with our reviewers' and get turned down. In these cases we usually post a short review on the book's page on BookBrowse but do not feature it as a lead book.
For all our readers, but especially any who think that because we only feature positive reviews we've never met a book we don't love, here are a handful of the recently published books that our reviewers felt did not make the grade for BookBrowse recommendation. If you would like to express your own opinion on any of these books, please do write your own review by clicking on the reader reviews link on the book's page.
The Zhivago Affair The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn
I zipped through the first part in one evening and read with interest about Stalin's murderous ways but, sadly, the details of CIA involvement and the crux of the book are much less engrossing.
The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner
Woody and his three daughters allow for references to King Lear, which seem forced after a while. Just as he did in his debut, Touch, Alexi Zentner works ample touches of magical realism in this novel as well. Unfortunately these little inspired flashes are not enough to rescue the story that borders on melodrama.
Snow in May by Kseniya Melnik
I had high hopes for Melnik's debut, not least because the back cover compares this collection of linked short stories to Chekhov. After reading the entire book, I'm sorry to say I can't recommend it. Some of the stories are compelling but, overall, in too many places the writing is disjointed and makes for a frustrating read.
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
Maggie Shipstead is a solid writer but Astonish Me lacks the juiciness the story of a ballerina's love affair would require in order to be interesting. It's difficult to care about any of the characters. Seating Arrangements was delightfully juicy, as well as deftly crafted and well written. This one's just...well written.
John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire by Kim Heacox
I found John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire to be quite a disappointment. It was too disorganized and incomplete to be a biography; the travel sections were too sketchy for a book about exploration; it contained far too little information on the nature of glaciers for a scientific work; it relayed some information about the history of the conservation movement, but not enough to satisfy someone interested in the subject; and finally it touched upon how Muir shaped North America's natural places and the country's appreciation of nature, but again, without painting anything close to a full picture. Because the author tried to cover so much territory in so few pages, I felt he never fully explored any of the subjects he mentions, with the end result that those interested in the topics presented here will find it lacking critical detail, while those knowing little about them will find the book too dull and haphazard to finish.
The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones
Wilfred Price is a cute story but I feel like I've read it too many times before. Sadly, it is derivative, even bordering on trite.
The Lie by Helen Dunmore
Though there are strong points in the novel's favor - language, atmosphere, evocative portrayals of shell shock, character description - it is not a convincing, enjoyable read... Though Dunmore's portrayal of a man recovering from the traumas of war is occasionally vibrant and evocative, the novel does not function as a believable, cohesive whole. Other critics have described the novel as "elegantly plotted" and "exceptionally good," but these observations read like throwaway lines in reviews that appear more interested in Dunmore's exploration of shell shock than whether her novel works as an organized unit. There are certainly (a few) elements here to recommend this novel, but I wasn't overwhelmed by them, and the novel just simply does not hold together enough in my opinion.
Here is Part 2 of our 2014 top recommendations for book clubs (in date order). All have already published in hardcover and ebook, and all have published or will publish in paperback between May and August.
In order to decide which are right for your book club, you can browse an excerpt of each and a range of review opinion. In addition, most have a handy printable reading guide.
Very sad news for World Book Night fans in the USA. After three years World Book Night in America is to cease. In a statement, executive director Carl Lennertz cited lack of outside funding as the main reason for ending the book-giving project that, through a veritable army of volunteers, aimed to put books directly into the hands of reluctant and non-readers.
"The expenses of running World Book Night U.S., even given the significant financial and time commitment from publishers, writers, booksellers, librarians, printers, distributors, and shippers, are too high to sustain without additional outside funding," Lennertz wrote.