And just like that, the shortest month of the year blew through with a breeze and has even brought us some taste of delicious spring weather! To give myself some reprieve in a short month, I decided to only tackle three books in February. I knew in March I was going to be tackling some long tomes so I wanted to really make sure February had some short fair but with plenty of variety. I think I accomplished just that with some light but engrossing modern satire, some older poetry fused in history, and some light political fan fiction to round it out.
Check out my reviews of all 3 books below and follow me on Goodreads to see what other books I have on my list … maybe you’ll find your next good read!
Twilight in Delhi by Ahmed Ali
This book has traveled with me from the NYU Bookstore where I purchased it used as part of my course reading list for South Asian Diaspora Literature class, all the way through undergrad, through law school and through countless NY apartments. While the notes in the margins and the bent pages surely tell me I read this book at some point (and definitely did not cliff note it just to get through class), I actually couldn’t really remember a single thing about it. I doubted it had really anything to do with the forgettable writing or topic, but rather much more to do with a self absorbed college kid who had much more frivolous things on her mind than actually, you know, learning the material. In any event, sitting on my carefully alphabetized bookshelf where I had just placed Brick Lane from last month’s reading, I decided to take this up and give it another go. I figured either I’d remember what I had read before and quickly move through it to fill in the gaps, or it would be like reading it anew and I could perhaps get some new appreciation or insight from it.
The Short: Beautifully and poetically written narrative but no real action or development to the story.
The Long: As it turns out, reading through the entire book cover to cover, I could not jog a single memory of having read it before (I’ll not comment on what that says about my very pricey minor in Literature…). I can absolutely see now why this was included in that particular course on South Asian Literature in the Diaspora and I am absolutely kicking myself that the appreciation and insight this novel gave to me in that context now, was probably totally lost on me back then. C’est La Vie I suppose.
The Prologue for the book, written by the author is probably one of my most favorite parts of this book. In just a handful of pages, a succinct summary of India’s vibrant history is provided, insight into the political and cultural context of the British Empire’s conquer of and subsequent expulsion from India resulting in the division of India and Pakistan is truly a work of poetry in and of itself. I might recommend this book simply for the prologue alone.
The entirety of the novel reads like a series of poems and essays, carefully and artistically cataloguing the everyday life of Delhi Muslims living in the time before British expulsion. There is the faintest thread of a real story line that draws the whole book together but that narrative and the characters are really the blank canvas. The real poetry, the art, is in the authors layered and intricate descriptions of the lives of this community, their arguments, their practices, their hobbies, their loves and their losses. There is beauty in the authors precise description of the veil gently separating the women from the men, or the pigeons in flight being trained by their master for sport.
In describing the mundane or seemingly inconsequential events of the family of Mir Nihal, the novel is brimming with symbolism and thematic imagery that captures the social, political and cultural upheaval about to grip all of India in coming fall of British colonialism.
Verdict: Perfect for scholars (amatuer or otherwise) of South Asian history and culture with a strong appreciation for poetry. The narrative however, is inconsequential and not for someone looking for action to move the story along.
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Well I’m obviously NOT going to start a trilogy and not finish it!
The Short: This felt like the transfer shuttle to get us to our connecting flight, Book #3
The Long: While this probably isn’t going to be my favorite of the three books, I found myself probably rolling my eyes a little bit less this time. I like that an air of mystery was added to the cast of characters in this book. I think that was almost necessary to keep the momentum in this book. What would have otherwise been a reprisal of the parade of materials and brands I quickly lost interest in in the first book, became a bit more purposeful so there was a sense of urgency to see what was lurking behind all the opulence. Without that added piece of intrigue and suspense, I honestly think I would have just skipped whole chapters to get through the tedium of labels, brands and market value litany.
One aspect that I really disliked about this book and I hope gets summarily corrected in the next one was Rachel and Nick’s flatness. The chapter that contained Rachel’s diary entries was just stupid. I really hope an economics professor at NYU isn’t so vapid in their personal diary entries. But overall, it was a total non sequitur to have Nick who, albeit naive about his own wealth in book 1, is actually no stranger to opulence and wealth of the society he grew up in, spend almost the entire book slack jawed and awestruck at the opulence and richness of the Baos and Bings. Rachel too, for all her, “money doesn’t matter” pragmatism in book one, just seemed way to in awe of everything. Rachel and Nick for most of the book seemed totally stripped of any real personality except to serve as conduits for this amped up show of extravagance from the new characters.
One subplot that I was 100% here for was the Michael, Astrid, Charlie triangle. I’m just going to say it, the real main characters in this entire trilogy are these three. Astrid and Charlie in particular seemed to be the most developed and real characters in the novel. Their thoughts and feelings made total sense and their actions seemed perfectly in line with who they were as characters. In the end, they just seemed like real people having real struggles in this totally unreal world their lives are encompassed in. Basically, I could care less about Rachel and Nick, I’m here for the Astrid Leong story.
The Verdict: A perfect light read to make it through the lingering cold of the final days of winter.
Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
This was a quasi joke gift I got from a friend a few Christmases ago. Seemed fitting in 2020 to delve into a little humorous political fan fiction
The Short: If you are in any way sensitive about the impending election, this might be a tough read.
The Long: This book should not in any way taken seriously. It was a great, not overly deep buddy cop-esque/murder mystery. Overall, the story could easily have been written for any two endearing characters with a built in fan base. There was definitely a slight over abundance of token Obama/Biden dialogues that were most assuredly pulled straight from campaign trail speeches.
Interestingly, I think if you are a die-hard Obama/Biden fan, and you’re desperately longing for the days before 2016, I don’t think this book would be for you. Unless of course you can separate the men from the myth. This book is settled very deeply in the myth and paints a caricature of both Obama and Biden that is at once wholly exaggerated and almost certainly far from the actual men behind the myths.
With politics so volatile and vitriolic these days, it seems almost impossible that this book can exist (and hasn’t been burned by fanatics on either side for its sacrilege or disrespect). It is not actually either of those things but if the twitter battles and facebook fights are any indication I am surprised that a book like this isn’t fodder for one side to point out the evils of the other. Thankfully, it does exist and for those of us that can detach at least a little from the current political climate and separate our personal values and politics to enjoy a light exercise in “can you imagine if…”, this book is a perfectly delightful romp through “can you imagine if Barack and Joe solved crimes?!”
The Verdict: I liked it, I don’t know that I’ll ever read it again and I’ll be extremely careful in who I recommend/loan it to, but I’m happy I have it in my library.