August 30, 2007

"Tolstoy Lied " by Rachel Kadish - Chic Lit Redeemed?

Rachel Kadish's novel, Tolstoy Lied proved to be quite an eye opener for me. Kadish describes it as " an existential romantic comedy... a book about love, and how a thinking woman (an American Literature professor) finds it and metabolizes it and struggles with it and nearly loses it and learns how much work happiness really takes". It certainly made me rethink the 'chic lit' genre. I was reluctant to pick up this novel because of how it was classified, and yet, I am now glad I picked it. In fact, I am now pondering over my dislike and near disdain for this genre. What is so wrong about chic lit that articulates the contemporary woman's plight: her choices, her dilemmas, her daily routine? Why is the woman's story less worthy of literature than that of her male counterpart?

The eye-catching title is an allusion to the opening lines from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina that refer to 'happiness' , a concept that both Ms. Kadish and her protagonist Tracy Faber, a Literature professor, delve upon and agonize over. Rachel Kadish, a Princetonian with a Masters Degree in writing from NYU professes "there in the first line (of Anna Karenina) staring the reader in the face, is a lie. Nothing against Tolstoy. I'm an admirer. I simply happen to believe he's responsible for the most widely quoted whopper in world literature: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Literary types swoon over that line ...but have they considered the philosophy they are embracing?"

Reading this novel made me ponder on this as well; the human obsession with sorrow and how that translates into art. Why is literature in general driven by tragedy and suffering? Why can't happiness be fodder for great writing?? It is ironic that human beings spend a major part of their lives in the pursuit of happiness, and yet when they produce art, which apparently imitates life, it is only the tragic and the sorrowful parts of life that become worthwhile subjects for man's creative outpourings. Literature, in general,has a soft corner for suffering, yet in real life, man mourns his sorrows and celebrates happiness. Does that mean that literature falsifies life? Is it, in the most part, masochistic outpouring, or then a cathartic outlet for troubled and tormented minds? That's somewhat similar to what plagues the protagonist in the novel, and she decides to research it, and takes the reader with her on this fortuitous journey; one that I quite enjoyed.

If you have a literary bent of mind, yet are not irrationally averse to chic lit (hehe), and don't mind indulging in a bit of romance, this is a novel that'll entertain while it shakes up and probes into some age old traditions in Literature.

August 26, 2007

"Female bar ban 'should carry on'" - An unfair outcome?

Female bar ban 'should carry on'
By Jyotsna Singh
BBC News, Delhi

The government in the Indian capital, Delhi, has said a ban on women serving alcohol should continue because of the negative attitude and behaviour of men.

Last year, the Delhi high court struck down parts of a 92-year-old law that prohibited women from serving alcohol in bars and restaurants.

The ruling was welcomed by several aspiring female bartenders as well as India's Hotel Association.

But before the ban could be withdrawn, the case was back in the courts.

'Rogue city'

And this time, the Supreme Court is due to rule on the issue.

The Delhi government argues that the city's men cannot hold their drink and that is why it is unsafe to allow women bartenders in pubs and restaurants.

The government cited several examples, including the killing of the model Jessica Lal, in 1999.

She was shot dead by a group of men at a restaurant after she allegedly refused to serve them drinks.

Delhi has a very high crime rate, but not many are buying the government's argument in this context.

"The men in this city are as good or bad as men anywhere else in the world. There are female bartenders everywhere in the world so the government's argument does not seem justified," said social commentator Kamna Prasad.

Lifestyle commentator Suhel Seth held similar views.

"I think it is silly - this is a government which can't basically enforce law and order and wants to create gender division by saying that Delhi men can't hold their drinks. It defeats logic and intelligence," he said.

The government is supporting a public-interest petition filed by five concerned Delhi residents in the Supreme Court last year who want the ban on female bartenders to continue.

The petitioners have said Delhi is a "rogue city", and not mature enough to have pubs and bars with women bartenders.

Story from BBC NEWS: Published: 2007/08/22 16:47:37 GMT © BBC MMVII

How is it that in a democratic country like India the victim gets slapped with a 'ban' and the wrongdoer goes about his life unaffected? The next thing you know is that the woman in India is forced to go into purdah to hide her body so that a frustrated and desperate male does not physically assault her!

August 23, 2007

Juan de Recacoechea's "American VISA"

A Bolivian struggle to make it to 'the land of opportunities. Mario Alvarez the chief protagonist takes the reader through the colorful and 'happening' streets of La Paz, the Bolivian capital, where Mario anxiously awaits his American visa that'll enable him to join his son in Miami.

I have lotus to thank for recommending this novel, a translation, which was a major bestseller in Bolivia, and one that has also been made into a movie. It took me a while to finish this one not because it lacked the lure but that I couldn't devote enough time to it as I was travelling outside of the country; Mario's ordeal became even more poignant as a result. Without meaning to sound conceited, I have to admit that international travel with a US passport works like a charm, and it's no wonder that Mario's quest for an "American visa' was a life determining one for him. The reader will have to read the novel to find out just how this quest defined Mario, or if it did at all.