#CBR7 Review #21: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

My friend C and I exchange a lot of book ideas. We started our PhDs in the same class, we ended up choosing the same literary subfield, and we have the same dissertation director. She’s read some of my primary texts, and I realized I’ve not read all of hers. The White Tiger was in her list, plus I needed to up my Anglophone game. So I decided to give it a try.

Balram Halwai, the White Tiger of this book, is a young entrepreneur in Bangalore, who is writing a letter to the President of China. Over the course of seven nights, Balram shares his rise from sweets-making caste to that of his current position, and in it we learn of an India that few have ever learned to travel. It’s not the magical land of food and the Taj Mahal, but an India of corruption, poverty, and exploitation. He becomes a driver to a wealthy family and there, when he has earned the trust of his boss, an incident occurs that will turn and twist the story into the eventual denouement.

I really, really want to teach this novel. If you’re thinking about narrative voice, Balram’s is unique and unforgettable. He’s in awe of the Chinese President, but not obsequious. He’s honest and untruthful at the same time, so the discoveries he reveals are both thrilling and suspicious. It’s the kind of novel that captured my interest immediately and intrigued me till the very end. It’s also got a delightfully dark vein of humor that I appreciated immensely. While this is definitely a literary debut, I actually find it a lot more accessible than other novels that qualify as literary. Check it out!

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#CBR7 Review #20: Angels in America by Tony Kushner

Two or three years ago, The Chancellor showed me the HBO film Angels in America, and I was intrigued, saddened, and deeply moved all at once. And then PBS aired a special of the UK’s National Theatre performances, which included a scene of Dominic Cooper and Andrew Scott (Moriarty!) performing a scene from the play.


The special made me really curious about all the contemporary American and British plays out there–we’ve all read Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill and Tom Stoppard, so I thought it time to update my theater knowledge. So, I borrowed a lot of plays from the library. Angels in America is my first foray into contemporary theater.

It all starts with a discovery. Longterm couple Louis and Prior are at Louis’s grandmother’s funeral when Prior admits that he has lesions. It means an HIV-positive diagnosis and the subsequent slide into a slow, agonizing death from AIDS.


Louis is devastated, but his self-preservation kicks in, and he abandons Prior. Meanwhile, Mormon couple Harper and Joe are struggling. Joe’s been offered a job that would transfer him from NYC to Washington, D.C. He’s also a closeted gay man, which Harper seems to suspect. She is addicted to painkillers, and trying to maintain a sense of sanity, even as their marriage crumbles around her. Meanwhile, Joe’s boss, Roy Cohn, is deep in denial about his own sexuality and sexual practices. Joe’s mother Hannah decides to come to New York to save Joe and Harper. And an angel visits Prior one dark, lonely night.

Kushner really meshes the surreal with the all-too-real in this unforgettable play. It’s a blend of dark, AIDS comedy with glorious camp. I mean:


I would love to see it performed sometime, because it’s really spectacular. I will say, though, if you’ve never seen the HBO film, you are missing out. It’s quite interesting.

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#CBR7 Review #19: The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

My friend M has been at me to read Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World for a few months. She even texted me at 8 am on a Sunday morning, “You really need to read this book. The fact that I am texting you this early is a sign.” I had read The Summer without Men two years ago and loved it, so I was willing to be indulgent. Boy, I am so glad I finally cracked it open. I devoured it in less than three days.

The novel is dense, rich, and complex, twisting with multiple narratives and genres and testimonies. The story itself goes like this: Harriet Burden is an artist in New York but tired and resentful of the slights to her craft because of her gender. Therefore, she devises a plan: she creates a show and then has a male artist pose as the artist in order to gain the recognition. She does this three times with three men and three separate results. After her death, fictional academic I.V. Hess tries to sort through her papers and notebooks, written statements by friends, family, and the artists, in order to find out what “really” happened. The whodunit and “truth” aspect is irrelevant–it’s all about how this life and artist were perceived, and that’s where the beauty of the story emerges.

I’ll be honest: this novel is probably not for everyone. Unless you’re an academic and read Margaret Cavendish for a Renaissance English seminar, you’re probably not going to appreciate the comparisons drawn to Cavendish (I ate them up *because* I read The Blazing World of Margaret Cavendish for my English Renaissance lit seminar). The tone itself is academic, and interested in art and feminism, particularly when addressing institutional and social sexism. But I thought it was beautifully written and rendered, and very imaginatively drawn. So that’s why I give it five stars. But if you’re not sure this book is for you, then definitely check out The Summer without Men. It’s more approachable and a delightful read.

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#CBR7 Review #18: Lock In by John Scalzi

I follow Patrick Rothfuss on Goodreads, and I notice that his tastes in books tend to the sci-fi and fantasy, whereas I’m more selective in those genres. Yet some of his high recommendations catch my eye, and John Scalzi’s Lock In was one of them. I was curious by the premise, and it seemed to go along with my reading of dystopian and survival literature.

The setting and premise are complex but highly interesting. A virus/pandemic has swept through the United States (of course) and it can cause either of two responses: the first locks you in your body and leaves you completely unable to function outside your skin, unless you have a Personal Transport that allows your brain to control an android and perform daily functions or your job; or it changes neural pathways and leaves you able to host a locked-in individual for a period of time. The former are known as Hadens (because the FLOTUS contracted it), and the latter, who survived and can host another’s body, are called Integrators. And this is just the premise. Chris Shane is a Haden and just starting the FBI, when a mysterious case of an Integrator’s murder causes a series of scandals to emerge. The novel hinges on being able to piece apart who is in whose body, as well as the problems of living in a mechanical body but being locked in a paralyzed physical form.

Once I got the main idea, I was hooked. It’s an interesting story, and Scalzi develops his world really well. There’s definitely room for more novels in this world. What I really liked is the fact that Chris as a protagonist is of indeterminate gender. Man or woman? Genderqueer? There’s room to imagine. I projected Chris as a genderqueer woman, and thought that reading was really interesting. But reading Chris as a man would also be highly plausible. It’s cool to be able to write a complex protagonist in a way that you can decide which gender he or she is, or what you think is the most likely, based on your reading. My sister told me that if you were to download the audiobook, there are two choices for narrators: Wil Wheaton or Amber Benson. Very cool.


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#CBR Review #17: Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I read One Hundred Years of Solitude when I was 19, because it was on the Oprah list, and I was still fairly new to adult fiction (true story). Becoming an English major unleashed me in college, and though I was not quite “mature” enough to really grasp the book, it’s stayed with me in the last eleven years. So I was delighted when A’s husband B choose Of Love and Other Demons as our February selection for my book club. We tend to read a lot of nonfiction, so I’m excited to bring something new into the mix. I’m especially curious to see how the hardline nonfictioners are going to respond to the magical realism in the book.

The novel focuses on young Sierva Maria, who is bitten by a rabid dog on her twelfth birthday and subsequently believed to be possessed. She comes from a crumbling aristocratic family who ultimately shunts her off to a convent to be isolated. There, she meets the priest Cayetano Delaura, who has been assigned to her exorcism. But as he gets to know her, he is drawn to her, obsessed by her magnificent copper hair, finding himself drawn deeper into the misery and passion of love.

If you like vivid imagery, evocative language, and slowly-building stories that crescendo to a dramatic conclusion, then you will probably like this book. I didn’t like it as much as One Hundred Years of Solitude, but Marquez is a fantastic writer who knows how to create an image with words. Of Love and Other Demons is certainly an interesting short novel, and I’m glad I read it.

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#CBR7 Review #16: Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Grant

You Cannonballers know how much I love me some Veronica Mars. I love the TV series, the film, and the first book, which I reviewed for CBR6. I have eagerly awaited the arrival of the second book, and it finally showed up at my library! I tore into it and devoured it in a large gulp this afternoon.


Mr. Kiss and Tell picks up a few months after The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, where Weevil is awaiting the results of his criminal trial, and Veronica is trying to think of a new case. It arrives in the form of a young woman raped and left for dead outside Neptune–she’s accused a laundry employee at the Neptune Grand, and the hotel insurance is trying to clear the business from all wrongdoing. As Veronica digs into the mystery, someone from her past shows up and comes back to haunt her. The mystery builds alongside Weevil’s case, as well as Keith’s suit against Sheriff Dan Lamb and the police department in Neptune.

To say that I greatly enjoyed this novel is an understatement. Last novel, my biggest complaint was simple: Not. Enough. Logan. Thankfully, Mr. Kiss and Tell rectified that situation. I mean, I spent years and years waiting, and after the wish-fulfillment of the movie, I was desperate to be fed:


Thomas and Graham delivered. My one complaint now is simple: Not. Enough. Wallace. He does feature in a hilarious scene, and next book, I demand an even balance with all sorts of Logan AND Wallace. I mean:


However, there is one excellent joke that enters the series, one that I’d sorely missed. I’ll leave you with one hint:


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#CBR7 Review #15: California by Edan Lepucki

I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian fiction these days. I think the sense of impending doom surrounding academia, plus my graduation with no immediate job prospects in sight has me retreating to dire fiction to be comforted. Or maybe that’s what I’m telling myself? Either way, I’ve got a lot of reading in my stack, and Edan Lepucki’s California has been on a lot of 2014 lists. I thought I would give it a shot.

Cal and Frida are a married couple who have left Los Angeles and find themselves trying to eke out a living in a post-digital, post-apocalyptic world. His family has died, and hers has gone to live in a Community, where she has never seen them again. Her brother Micah died when his extremist group sent him on a mission as a suicide bomber. They spend their days trying to find food and recollecting their time with their neighbors, the Millers, who died mysteriously. And then Frida discovers that she’s pregnant. Spurred by the rumor of a community beyond a set of constructed spikes, they decide to find a safer life for their child. But they’re unaware of the dangers ahead.

This book started out very promisingly. I was really interested in the depiction of marriage isolated from society and the idea of trying to eke out a living alone (just as in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake). But the second half of the book drooped significantly for me. The reveals became increasingly silly, and the character motivations were unclear. And then, the book ended stupidly. I don’t want to say how, but I slammed it shut. It was a dissatisfying experience altogether. Boo.


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