Belonging – Umi Sinha

imageMy entire being wants to condemn this book for shoehorning every conceivable sadness into its pages, for representing India through the eyes of the empire and for being yet another book about one of the world wars. But I learned a lot. It was refreshing to see the Allies portrayed more realistically than just the glorious victorious and to highlight the racism, perpetuated by history’s omission, against the commonwealth countries that fought and died alongside the UK, USA and ANZAC forces.

It also felt important to have the hazy days of the empire cut through with the reality of a rule that could be brutal. That there was savagery on both sides was no mitigation of the atrocities committed. A recent survey about our attitudes to colonialism (will hunt down the link) shows that there is still so much ignorance in the UK on the subject and hopefully this book will encourage people to find out more.

As a novel, this is captivating writing and the characters are very real and their many flaws and terrible thoughts seem to make them all the more human and even a bit more likeable. I did spend the entire book going ‘really, more suffering? Seriously?’ and I had to put the book down and walk away for a bit when there was mention of ‘mixing races giving bad blood’. I know this may have been to highlight how ingrained prejudices were, but it makes for very difficult reading – perhaps all the more so because of it being not yet totally eradicated from society. The book served as a haunting reminder of how quick we are to trample each other for survival and forget that the ‘enemy’ is probably not the person we are facing (Mina’s character was a good example of this).

In short, it is a thought provoking but tough read. It was mercifully quite a quick read and probably worth it if you can stand the perpetual misery and have something cheerful lined up next or a lot of chocolate on hand.

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From: Heathrow Terminal 5 on the way to NYC

Read: Jan 2016 in lunch breaks and through stormy evenings

Felt: Horrified, frustrated

Liked: that neither the people or the regimes were seen as flawless or wholly good or bad.

Would recommend: tentatively to those who don’t mind a grisly read

1984 by George Orwell

Just a short note since most people have heard of or read this already but, having hated it first time through and rediscovered it some years later, I thought I’d put down a few words in its favour.

Yes, this is a classic, but being a classic does not always mean being gripping, thought provoking and possibly even more relevant today than when it was written (here’s looking at you CCTV, GPS tracking and mega corporations that follow every online move). This is not some dusty old tome, nor is it simply a political manifesto. The book follows a man trying to survive, humanity intact, in a world where every movement and thought is watched and the past can be rewritten. Orwell captures human emotions and failings with frightening accuracy in an inhuman environment.

Personally, his greatest acheivement was not the brilliant foresight or captivating plot but managing to keep the book fairly easy to read and even finding room to be funny! Definitely one for the read and reread pile.

 

 

Patience by John Coates

This is a glorious book. It was such a magical read and I think it’s my favourite, a bold statement from someone who is too indecisive to decide on a morning cereal, let alone a favourite anything. Adopted from an Oxfam shop purely for its sleek style and beautiful 1950s patterned endpapers from Persephone, this book was one wonderful surprise after another.

Beyond a delightful heroine who sees the world in a dreamy detached way, this is a frank commentary on feminism, religion, sex and social expectations that is still fresh and really very funny. Patience’s self discovery, her wonder at life and her straight forward perception of the world that was often mistaken for ignorance resonated so strongly with me that I was stunned to see it was written by a man, and a man in the 1950s at that! It felt like a small miracle. Please don’t think I’m under any impression men can’t empathise, I was just delighted to find that someone had done, and with such clarity, so far ahead of their time (and no I didn’t clock the name on the cover, I tend to get a bit over excited and just dive headlong into books!).

There is a great and much more articulate review over on Yasmine Rose’s book blog that puts all my feelings about it into words, while I’m still waving my arms about and exclaiming ‘fabulous’, ‘incredible’ and ‘you simply must read it’.

Reading it for the second time, it was just as funny, I had slightly forgiven it for the whole orgasmic mountains and violins metaphors and really enjoyed the forward by Maureen Lipman that gave me the confidence to start waving the book under friends’ noses and insisting they sit down and enjoy it immediately.