Monday, February 22, 2010

Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop

It is curious that the author was inspired to write this very tender, coming-of-age story during a camel excursion in Rajasthan. India, however, is not featured at all in the story and serves only as the catalyst for the author, George Bishop, to dream this compelling novel. The North Carolina educated author, who has spent many years teaching abroad in countries such as India, Turkey, and Japan, has written a heartfelt and honestly open story about a mother reaching out to her 15-year-old daughter. Bishop's talent is even more evident in this story because it is about the heartbreak felt as a girl transforms into a young lady. Since the author happens to be a man, it might show that feelings during adolescence and middle-age are probably universal among males and females. Bishop has captured a believable essence of a mother who realizes that a generational divide is inevitable, even when you think you are the most understanding and open-minded. He also describes a daughter's feelings as she navigates life during high school with simple, yet heart-breaking detail.

The story begins when teenager Liz storms off with her parents' car after an argument with her mother, Laura. As Laura worries about Liz's whereabouts, she laments at the lack of communication between them, and begins writing all of her thoughts in a letter. The process of pouring her feelings out onto paper calms the worried mother, and helps her share details of her own teenage years that she has yet been unable to share with Liz. Laura's own story consists of high school life during the early 1970s, in a conservative family with strict expectations, and her teenage rebellion during the era of public protests. Laura writes about her first love, her parents' disapproval, being sent away to boarding school, getting a tattoo, and the precious years in which she left her adolescence and innocence behind to become a young adult. The story describes her feelings as she deals with social peers in a high school, gets involved with an older boy, and becomes the source of gossip. The change in Laura's thinking and the physical changes in the world around her as she transitions from being a freshman to a senior are well written.

The trials of teenage years, high school life, and college days can be difficult for parents to face themselves, yet alone share their own experiences with their children. The line between sharing too many details, and keeping some things private between parents and children can sometimes be very thin. Bishop walks that line very gingerly, and it seems clear that any parent would have difficulty sharing some of the details in the story with their own children. Bishop illustrates how Laura is able to spill her heart into the letter, as she longs to see her daughter come back home, and worries for her safety.

The engaging story of Laura's American childhood with rebellion and maturity, joy and loss, keeps the reader engaged, whether you agree with Laura's choices or not, and curious about the outcome. The honest storytelling by Bishop pulls the reader into the emotion of the story from the parent's perspective as well as the teenager's. The complicated feelings between mothers and daughters, and the pain of growing up too fast is captured in a beautifully written, simple, yet difficult-to-put-down book.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

2 States by Chetan Bhagat

The concept of a "mixed marriage" in the western world usually refers to a marriage between partners of different ethnic backgrounds or races. However, among most Indian-Americans, a mixed marriage can also easily refer to Indian couples from different parts of India itself (with differing regional languages), or different religions (Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Muslim, etc.), or different castes, or all of the above. Chetan Bhagat, an IITD/IIMA graduate and bestselling author, based his latest book, "2 States," on his own experience of attending college, meeting a girl from a different Indian region than his own, and of their ensuing relationship, family troubles and resulting "mixed marriage." Bhagat's previous books have inspired movies, with the most recent one being the movie "3 Idiots," based on his book, "Five Point Someone" that draws upon his IIT/IIM experiences.

In "2 States," Bhagat's style is direct, straight to the point, and one in which he takes numerous liberties with stereotyping North and South Indians (both areas now representing his own family) making for a hilariously good read. Anyone having read Bhagat's previous bestselling books such as, "One Night @ a Call Center, or "Five Point Someone", knows that the author speaks to a contemporary Indian audience and does not hold back in his often blunt, yet honest, writing style. The college crowd, recently graduated, and those young-at-heart can relate to many of the issues, some of them controversial, that Bhagat raises in his stories. Bhagat is not afraid to speak out and write about social issues he sees happening among the new 'upwardly mobile' young adults of today's India. Issues such as rebelling against religious upbringing, drug use, relationships prior to marriage, pressures of school, family, and society on today's youth have caused controversies and will spark many interesting conversations.

The story, "2 States," is about a boy, named Krish, who meets and falls in love with a girl, Ananya, in his Economics class in MBA school. The details of their lives at college and the sometimes shocking but outrageous anecdotes of college life, are mixed in with sensitivities of ancient customs, cultural norms and the timeless angst felt by young adults finding their way in the world. Bhagat's characters, especially the descriptions of Krish's parents and of his relationship with each, are developed well enough to get the reader to understand the nuances of the story. The relationships are not always simple, and we see Krish struggle with the complications in his life, especially as he wants to start a life of his own. Bhagat is keenly aware of the issues that divide Krish and Ananya's respective families. Both sides hold stereotypical views about each other without first getting to know one another. Bhagat points out the differences and opinions in a funny and direct approach. Some of the blunt, one line, comments make the reader laugh out loud.

Bhagat succeeds in presenting the points of view from both sides of the drama. Krish's character has qualities of rebelliousness mixed with a hunger for parental approval, which make his character all the more believable. Ananya is portrayed as a strong, intelligent, modern woman who knows how to get what she wants, yet has vulnerable aspects as well. Bhagat spares us from a typical melodramatic story by making it young and fresh with current issues faced by today's youth, and by throwing in humor as much as possible.

Many Indian authors whose books I have recently read have been women. Bhagat brings a relevant, young, male voice to the mix. Bhagat's "2 States" was a quick read that was fun, enjoyable, and something to read without a serious attitude.