Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Hungry Tide

Book Title – The Hungry Tide
Author – Amitav Ghosh
Genre – Fiction
Year Published - 2004
My rating –7/10

The Story

Piyali Roy, an American with an Indian origin, arrives in Sundarbans, formed by the Bay of Bengal and located on the easternmost coast of India. She is a maritime scientist and her search for a rare species of dolphin brings her to the vengeful yet beautiful waters surrounding the Sundarbans. Her first encounter to the destination happens in a train enroute in the form of Kanai Dutt, a linguistic expert and businessman running a translation agency. Kanai Dutt is also on his way to the Sundarbans, visiting his Aunt and to claim a journal left behind by his deceased Uncle. And later, as she embarks on her mission with an unwanted government aid on a boat, she bumps into Fokir, an illiterate fisherman who not only becomes her savior in the treacherous sea but also her guide to the dolphin-rich enclave. Together, they begin a journey in the backwaters, all three from different worlds and each with their own agenda.

The Review

What happens when three people from completely different backgrounds get together on a boat and set off in search of something that takes them to precarious waters and on lands that faces the wrath of nature every single day? Many things happen. Love, attraction, danger, joy, understanding and survival. And then we ask, were they really so different in the first place? Is language the only medium of communication? Is being educated from books and getting a degree sufficient criteria for discrimination and is that the only way of being knowledgeable?  

Answers to these questions come to us one after the other as we turn the pages.

But, first I have to absolutely acknowledge and appreciate the Author’s command and control over those English words. Having read Chetan Bhagat, I tend to take Indian Authors lightly (very presumptuous of me and I apologize for that) but just 5 pages into “The Hungry Tide” and I was forced to Google for more on the Author. And as I read into his credentials, his words ceased to surprise me anymore.

Amitav Ghosh’s research into the land and water he writes about is another thing that is superlative about the book. 'The Hungry Tide' is as much about the Sundarban archipelago and the fragility of life on them; changing everyday with the tides, as it is about the people who dwell there.  The Author creates a lush green world full of trees, tigers, deities and dolphins, right in front of your eyes and all with his words.  Like my friend Sejal Shah, who recommended this book in the first place mentioned “I felt like I have visited Sundarbans”. Environment also plays a significant role in the story as we witness a mortal combat with the superior power of nature, to protect his beloved.

The Book seamlessly alternates between past and present, nature and humans, water and land; never losing grip. While the story appears to be principally about Piyali, Kannai and Fokir, there are many other characters and incidents that weave in and out giving this novel the necessary muscle and background to become a compelling read.

A historical event moves along in the novel as the Author gives an account of the siege of Morichjhapi which took place in 1979, aimed at driving away the refugee settlers through the eyes and words of Nirmal. Its deep impact on him and his wish to confide in Kannai sets the pace for bringing about the characters of the story together, at one place.

Women in 'The Hungry Tide' have been portrayed as strong, ambitious and survivors irrespective of the time, education and place. Nilima, Kusum, Moyna and the protagonist Piyali, all possess a common trait – each of them knows what she wants and is not willing to give it up without a fight. They are also all women who bring about a change, in their own ways.

And in my opinion, that automatically makes their respective counterparts weaker. Maybe it wasn’t the author’s intention, but the way I see it, Nirmal only talks about a revolution for most of his life; Nilima actually brings about one by her social service.

Kusum, having faced such deep personal tragedies, still chooses who to love.

Moyna pursues her ambition to be a nurse and provide for a better life to their son Tutul, despite Fokir’s impudence. Fokir, with all his knowledge of the sea and the perils that surround its land, stubbornly refuses to see why his wife wants a different future for their son.

Piyali possesses all three, courage, persuasiveness and patience required to go looking for nature’s rare specimens. Kannai on the other hand thinks highly of himself and is quick to judge people based on their appearance and social relevance.  

You could say the strength of these women and the author’s vast vocabulary are the book’s highlights. Other than that, 'The Hungry Tide' is not an unusual story. Laced around love, jealousy, fear and ambition; its ingredients are ordinary, but the metaphors, extraordinary and that’s what makes it interesting enough.   

Significant Specifics

This book won the “Hutch Crossword Book Award” for fiction. The Author has been awarded the “Padma Shri” in 2007 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2009. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Conversations with God

Review by Shazneen Gazdar Pathak

Conversations with God   (CwG Series)
By Neale Donald Walsh

There are nine books in the Conversations with God series and each of these books is transcript of dialogue between 2 beings, Walsch and God.
The first 3 books are often called as CwG trilogy.

BOOK1 ( 1995 )

During the low period in his life Neale Donald decided to write a letter to God asking why his life was such a disorder. He was venting his frustrations and was not expecting any response. But to his surprise his hand started writing the answers down, the thoughts which were not his but God's.

The book, brings about multifaceted paradoxes which make sense, logic which is insightful and truth which is beyond belief, surprising amazing whatever you want to call it

The basic laws which the book states are:
ü  You can do and have whatever you can imagine.
ü  You attract what you fear.
ü  God describes himself without any needs, but only desires.

BOOK 2 ( 1997 )

In this book, Neale deals into more specifics and social implications of awareness of God in oneself and their lives. It mentions certain issues of the previous volume, which the author (Neale Walsch) is unclear and has not understood.

In the book God wants to address certain issues concerning our world and hence there are very few questions asked by the author.

BOOK 3 (1998)

This is the last and final volume of the Conversation with God and in this God good speaks about the universal as well as personal issues. It’s again written in the question answer form, but the material is useful for the mankind.

Interestingly God mentions our civilization to be one of the least developed ones, and it’s on the evolution stage. According to the book we are still on the awareness level, which is a bit difficult to accept.

Neale has presented the revelations by God, in a way as if God is giving us the solutions of our problems and as if the author is a mere medium / messenger through which answers come.

The other spiritual books which deal with the aspects of life and it might appeal to our intellect but are not useful in daily life, the CwG books are different. It deals with the small issues in the day to day life which we are not able to resolve and manage, which ultimately accumulates making the life miserable.

The books definitely would bring in a change in the living and might give insight which might help improve the quality of life.

All the books are strongly recommended for everyone, believers and non-believers, men and women, young and old, as it offers a new understanding to the age old question

Who am I and what is the purpose of my life?

About the Reviewer

Shazneen, a busy homemaker these days, absolutely treasures the time spent with her wonderful husband and 6 year old son. Yoga, green tea and quality time with family are top priority on any given day and she feels blessed to have been able to achieve what she did in her professional and family life. Reading and writing are hobbies she likes to pursue in her spare time. 

Her writings on capture the enthusiasm to self challenge and rediscover hidden traits.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Unaccustomed Earth

Book Title – Unaccustomed Earth
Author – Jhumpa Lahiri
Genre – Short Stories
Year Published - 2008
My rating –8/10

The Stories

Divided into 2 parts, the first part of the book has 5 short stories and the second part is a novella in itself.


Unaccustomed Earth

The Book starts with its title story. This story involving 3 generations revolves around a father’s visit to his daughter’s home and his bonding with the grandson during that time. Ruma has given up her successful legal career to stay at home with her son Akash and has another baby on the way. Married to an American, she has recently moved to Seattle with her family. A recent widower, this is her father’s first visit all by himself. Ruma has a lot of apprehensions about her father’s visit because of the lack of communication over the years. Nevertheless she does feel responsible for his care now that he is alone, a sentiment she can’t expect her husband to understand. But her father has no plans to move in with her. He is in fact enjoying his new found freedom and companion.

During her father’s brief stay, both parent and daughter are able to reach a certain level of comfort which was absent before. In his own way, Ruma’s father puts himself to use in the house and gives her the much needed break. The most amazing transformation was the bonding of her son Akash with his grandfather.

Towards the end, both Ruma and her father accept in silent understanding that bit by bit they have both embraced the new culture and forgone some of their own, like how one treads on new grass slowly and then gets comfortable with it.

Hell- Heaven

Loneliness is the start to many unhappy feelings that follow. This story talks about intense feelings of jealousy in love and the acute sense of betrayal when people change. The words we read are those of Usha, a little girl who is with her traditional Bengali mother, Aparna when befriended by  Pranab, a graduate student at MIT Boston who is homesick and on the verge of going back to India. Aparna, feeling lonely herself, being so far away from home, opens the door to her home to Pranab and welcomes him. Over time, she develops a kind of unique attraction and love for Pranab (kaku) as she waits for him, dresses up for him and cooks up his favorite meals, even though he calls her Boudi (elder brother’s wife). Her husband’s silent and detached attitude only adds to her growing affection for Pranab. Pranab falls for an American woman named Deborah and brings her to Aparna’s home stirring a deep envy inside her. He eventually marries Deborah and inches away from Aparna and her family little by little. Aparna always blames Deborah for the distance and Pranab’s absence from their life and predicts that the marriage won’t last forever and that one fine day Deborah would leave Pranab.  She is proven correct but only partly so and the divorce does happen after 23 years of marriage between Pranab and Deborah.

Aparna and Usha’s relationship flows parallel in the story as it documents the changes that develop in the mother daughter equation and how it gets better with age and acceptance.

A choice of Accommodations

Amit works as a managing Director of a medical journal and is married to Megan, who is now in her last year residency and on her way to become a doctor. Together they have two daughters. The story unravels in the form of their weekend trip to attend the wedding of Pam Borden, Amit’s friend from college and someone he had a huge crush on during that time.  Amit and Megan decide to skip the accommodations provided by the bride’s family for the guests and splurge on a fancy inn hoping to spend some quality time without the kids and bring back the magic in their otherwise busy married life. But things don’t turn out as planned. Amit finds himself talking about how his marriage has “disappeared” after the birth of their second child at the wedding party and Megan can’t help feeling insecure about what Amit might have felt for Pam at one point of time. Their stay at the inn never materializes into the kind of  getaway they had hoped for but was that a good thing after all?

Only Goodness

The fourth story on the index beautifully words down how parents refuse to see the vices of their children and when things go beyond repair, they succumb meekly and accept defeat without a fight. Rahul and Sudha are children from an American Bengali family. Rahul takes his first drink in high school when he visits Sudha at college. What was supposed to be an occasional fun thing to do turns into a habit and by the time Rahul is dismissed from college, he is an alcoholic living off his parent’s support in their house. Sudha finds herself taking charge every time Rahul lands up in trouble including going to the police station when he gets arrested for drunken driving while her parents turn a blind eye and blame the American way of life for the disappointment their son has become for them. 

As time passes, Sudha settles down in London with her British Husband and by then Rahul who creates a huge scene at her wedding, is estranged with the family and lives with his American girlfriend. One day, Rahul gets in touch with Sudha and expresses his desire for reconciliation. He looks like he has seriously given up on his drinking and they spend some wonderful days together during Rahul’s visit to London at their home. Things take an ugly turn when he offers to babysit his infant nephew while Sudha and her husband go out for a movie and come back to find the baby in their bathtub and Rahul passed out in bed. The story makes a very strong statement as it concludes.

Nobody’s business.

The content of this story is really short regardless of the number of pages it spreads over. It is the story of a young girl called Sang (Sangeeta) who is foolishly and madly in love. Her family is looking for an eligible alliance and she makes fun of all the suitors who call her, blindly unaware of the utterly wrong choice she has made for herself. Her roommate Paul, who finds her extremely attractive, tries to open her eyes but cannot save her from the heartbreak that completely shatters her.


Hema and Kaushik

The first section of this novella is through Hema’s eyes. She is a small girl when Rahul’s family leaves Boston and returns to India for good. A couple of years later, they return and stay with her family for a while. Hema silently observes the peculiarities of Rahul and his family and the stories her parents’ always told about Rahul’s parents which no longer match up. She is also the unwilling recipient of the information and the only one in her family to know about the real reason behind their arrival back to America.

The second section is a continuation of the story from Rahul’s point of view. An adult now, he is shocked to be informed about his father’s second marriage to a girl closer to his own age. He also learns that he has two step sisters and initially he does try to be nice to them. But staying in the same house where his mother made home stirs his emotions and brings out a strong reaction.

The final section is the story of Rahul and Hema together, how they meet in Rome, the connection between them and the final destiny of their love.

The Review

With her third book, Jhumpa Lahiri goes back to the short stories. And just like her debut collection, she doesn’t disappoint. The stories in “Unaccustomed Earth” are poignant, sensitive and insightful to the world of immigrants and how some of them adapt and some don’t. The stories talk about different sensibilities, second generation immigrants and the American citizens they raise and the inevitable clash of lifestyle and beliefs. 

Jhumpa Lahiri starts with an elevating story (Unaccustomed Earth) and gradually slips into melancholy as she plunges deeper to uncover the innermost sentiments of people who left their motherland years back never got over it and their children who ultimately grew up confused and rebellious. But there is a beauty in sadness and this book is a perfect example. Don’t get me wrong, it is not a “sad” sad piece of writing where tears don’t stop while reading. It is the kind of sadness that comes from loneliness and the emotions of not belonging experienced by some of the characters that linger after you finish.

Many reviewers while acclaiming the stories accuse the Author of two things: one, she writes in a simple language (in a very “non-author” type language) and two, she always writes about migrants and cultural differences lived through by them. And to both the points of criticism I say “So what?” Her writing maybe simple but it touches your heart. Her words maybe nothing fancy but you can relate to them. And finally her stories maybe about Indians who migrated to the Unites States and their struggle with such a major transition in life but that doesn’t make for a limited readership. Anybody who ever tried to fit into a particular place or culture or tried to belong anywhere can relate to this book. Anybody who questioned their own upbringing because their children developed a completely different set of values influenced by the surroundings can understand and enjoy this book. The relationships and their intricacies she explores in her stores are universal. I do agree that there is an underlying sadness in all stories, even the ones with happy endings; maybe it has something to do with never really “fitting in” completely. 

She obviously takes inspiration from her Bengali heritage and goes back to her roots in her writings.  Her culture it seems touches her life significantly even thousands of miles away and that shows. She writes about what she knows and that too very well.

Significant Specifics

Unaccustomed Earth had the distinguished honor of topping the New York Times Book Review list of “100 Best Books of 2008”. For the same year, it won the Frank O’ Connor International Short Story Award.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Old Man and The Sea

Year published – 1952
Genre – Novel/Novella
My Rating – 10/10

Review by Dhvani Joshi

            This canonical work of Ernest Hemingway that barely runs into a 100 pages is at the pivot of modern American literature. Generally referred to as a 'novella', this work of Hemingway is that oeuvre d'art that won him the Pulitzer Prize as well as the Nobel prize.
            A tale of tryst with destiny, this short read is written in simple language that is colloquial yet direct. In spite of the simplicity of the prose, one can dive straight into the deepest recesses of the protagonist's mind. Widely recognized as a parable of struggle between man and nature put simply, this novel is a story of an old man, a young boy and a giant fish.
            Set in the Gulf Stream, it is a story that moves steadily with a simple plot. An old fisherman has gone 84 days without having caught a single fish. The young boy who has been his apprentice loves and respects him but dare not go with him anymore for the fear of his father. On the 85th day the old man sets out into 'la mar' (the sea). He hooks a giant marlin onto his fishing line that tows his boat further into the sea. After having gone 2 days and 2 nights after the fish, the old man is reluctant to let it go.
            The famished old man puts up a courageous fight against the power of the giant fish (man against nature) and manages to haul him.  The mutilated dead marlin that he catches is then hunted by the prowling sharks and all that remains of the marlin is it's skeleton.
The old man is still not defeated.  Hemingway's best lines, " A man can be destroyed, but not defeated" at this point convey immensely what it really means to be alive.
            The character of the old man is etched quite interestingly. He is a man of great mental endurance, yet at times, seems to give in to fate. He loves the fish but realises that still he must kill the fish or the fish will kill him. This is a story of grief and the beauty. What you choose to see determines your end, whether you choose to see the grief or the beauty of life that the grief brings with it.
A must read.

About the Reviewer

Dhvani Joshi is a doctoral student who loves being in the classroom whether teaching or being taught!  When she is not studying or teaching, she is in her kitchen experimenting! Dhvani blogs about her cooking adventures at Crumpled Chillies. Dhvani will forever be inspired by a beautiful thing called marriage that happened to her. She is a dancer and a crazy child at heart!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Alchemist

Book - The Alchemist
Author - Paulo Coelho
Genre - Allegorical/Psychological Drama
Year Published - 1988
My Rating - 9/10

Review by Priya Sreeram

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho's books have always held a mystical allure transporting me in to a magical realm. Calling out to the gypsy in me, his books cast a spell. Be it Veronika decides to die, The witch of Portobello or Brida, Coelho breathes life in to his characters; makes sure that the story stays with you for a long time.

The Alchemist raises a few notches than the other books by instilling positivism; making people believe in self. For he says that's the only way to realize one's destiny and true calling !

Story :-

The story is about an Andalusian Shepherd boy named Santiago setting out to find what his dream is all about. His recurrent dreams of a hidden treasure near Pyramids in Egypt forces him to sell his flock and explore the path that would enable him to not only find the treasure but also leads to self-realization.

What sets him on the journey is the encounter with a wise old man, who calls himself Melchizedek, the King of Salem. It is this man,who imparts many a valuable lessons and advices him to stay grounded with the soul purpose of realizing his destiny.Spurred on by the old man's words, the boy leaves his home and crosses the colourful Tangiers market en route to Egypt. On the way he experiences a whole lot of memorable moments, meets interesting people and gathers wisdom that further propels him in to finding his true-self. He begins to understand the signs of omens, listens; interprets his heart's messages and follows unflinchingly towards his goal.

And in the desert, Santiago meets his soul-mate, the love of his life who further motivates him to follow his dreams.And finally he meets the Alchemist who empowers him to realise his destiny. The boy discovers the truth behind the treasure as well as his personal legend, he understands that the true treasure is not the destination itself but the journey made, the wisdom,experiences & the knowledge gained !

The book strikes a chord with us because Coelho reiterates that it is the simplest things in life which gives us profound lessons on life as well as immense happiness.The review would be incomplete without mentioning a few quotes that buoys us up and resonates even after finishing the book :-
  • If a person really truly wants something, all the forces on universe would conspire in making sure that he gets it.
  • When you play your cards for the first time, you are almost sure to win, because there is a force that wants you to realise your destiny; it whets your appetite with a taste of success.
  • It's not what enters man's mouth that is evil, it's what comes out of the mouth that is
  • There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve - the fear of failure !
Final Word :-  The book is so beautifully written and reveals so many insights; it's an experience that is best read, re-read & savoured. It comes as no surprise that the book has been translated in to so many languages. Go ahead and revel in this magical journey !

About the Reviewer

Priya Sreeram is a SAHM for her 2 dumplings and is blessed to have a loving,wonderful and supportive spouse who is her back-bone. A passionate foodie, she chronicles her hearth & heart adventures in the food blog BON APPETIT . Also a  voracious reader & travel enthusiast, her travel footprints and musings find voice in her blog Straight from my Heart !! .   

Monday, February 13, 2012

Revolution 2020

MY RATING – *****/10

Review by Shazneen Gazdar Pathak

The Story

The tagline  (Love. Corruption. Ambition.) , Refers to the key themes of the book. 

Revolution 2020 is the story of three childhood friends: Gopal, Raghav, and Aarti. The story is set in the holy-city of Varanasi.

Gopal comes from a poor family the son of a debt-ridden, suffering retired teacher, whose land is under litigation and who has a mysterious ailment for which he needs an operation. Raghav is from an almost well to do family exceptionally intelligent and is expected to crack the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE) and the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) examinations, where as Aarti comes from a kind of bureaucratic and political family. Pretty daughter of a well-off District Magistrate and she has a grandfather who was once a Chief Minister of the state.

Three of them have their own ambitions in life. Gopal wants to be a rich man, Raghav wants to change the world and Aarti wants to become an air hostess.

Aarti is Gopal's closest friend, and Gopal loves her since the day he decided to steal a slab of the chocolate cake she had brought for lunch. The friendship that started in the fifth standard through the incident gradually took its own course over the Ganga over innumerable boat rides and unspoken ballads of love, one sided of course.

As the story progresses, Raghav crack JEE and join IIT-BHU, Gopal is unable to get through, is forced to move to Kota to prepare and reappear for those exams. As Gopal being away for a long time , gives opportunity to Raghav and Aarti to be together and seal their relationship, There at Kota he receives the biggest shock of his life when he learns that Aarti has now become Raghav's girlfriend and thus he fails again in the AIEEE. His father cannot bear this and dies, leaving behind debts, which he had taken for the education of his son.

Gopal makes a deal with MLA Shukla to create an engineering college on his disputed land. With the blessings, the clout, muscle, and the money of the MLA, Gopal embarks on a road that leads to the building of GangaTech — a private engineering college He became director of the new college and learns about the corrupt system and starts living with it. 

Raghav, who graduates as an engineer from BHU, takes up a job as a reporter for a newspaper, he who has all that life can offer him along with academic success and even the girl of his and Gopal’s dreams, strives to make a difference in the society instead of finding work as an engineer after having passed out with excellent grades, a degree millions of students only dream of attaining in the country. He dreams of bringing in a revolution that will change the country by the year 2020 and is prepared to face any hardships to make sure this dream comes true

He starts publishing all the wrong doings of Shukla which causes harm to Gopal's college. Illegal rezoning of land controversy causes some demolition to Ganga- Tech College. Shukla gets Raghav sacked but Raghav starts his own paper called Revolution 2020. He publishes stuff about the wrong doing of the MLA and proves that Shukla is a corrupt man. Shukla is forced to resign.

Aarti, all this time had been lonely as Raghav had no time for her when she realizes that she will be always second to his revolution, decides that she after all did actually love the corrupt engineering college director who is also her best friend. 

The story is all about who wins – the girl and in life; the boy who has everything after having sold all he believed in or the boy who has limited means but stands up for what he knows is right.

(I have been a spoiled sport by telling the entire story but, purposefully have not revealed the end!!!!!)

The Review:

Revolution 2020 sets out to do something else. The book throws the dice by asking the question, ‘Are You Ready for the Revolution’, on its back cover.
By doing so, it takes a high moral ground and you begin to imagine this could be the book version of movies like “YUVA “or “RANG DE BASANTI “

I’m afraid the book is none of that. As a reader, I felt the story is boring, it is a typical stuff which each one of knows and I believe has seen many a times in our Bollywood movies or even T.V Serials. Chetan Bhagat has successfully been able to portray the love triangle in his book.

Following the tradition of the latest Bollywood movies, you can find few swearing words which start with letters b and a and f. The grammar yet again is nothing that can be applauded about. It has its loopholes. Yet it is the grammar that would probably be understood by the masses. It has slangs and a jargon that the Indian youth use today. And something that sells. The language of the book is best suited for people who have just been introduced to the world of reading but will probably choke a refined reader. It is a breezy read that will leave no impression in the minds of the reader.

It is dramatic in a garish way, idealistic without the backing of reason and sadly self indulgent.

The details of Ghats of Ganges makes the atmosphere live. At 4.00 am a ride on a loan boat thrills and it could have been romantic if "the one you love had loved you back”. This story is character centric rather than based on a plot. 

To sum it up the author has come up with a complete package of relationships like love, jealousy, turning of relations from boy-girl to man-women, system loopholes of corruption and power misuse and Education system.

If it nails one thing, it is the systemic corruption in the education system but pity that the pointless love story gets in the way of what could have been a great read.

About the Reviewer

Shazneen, a busy homemaker these days, absolutely treasures the time spent with her wonderful husband and 6 year old son. Yoga, green tea and quality time with family are top priority on any given day and she feels blessed to have been able to achieve what she did in her professional and family life. Reading and writing are hobbies she likes to pursue in her spare time. 

Her writings on capture the enthusiasm to self challenge and rediscover hidden traits.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Loving Frank

Book Title – Loving Frank
Author – Nancy Horan
Genre – Biographical Fiction
Year Published - 2007
My rating – 6/10

Spoiler Alert!
Some parts of the review may give away the ending of the novel.

The Story

In the year 1903, Mamah  Borthwick and Edwin Cheney  hire an Architect Frank Llyod Wright to build their house. By the time the house is ready, Mamah and Frank are having an affair. They separate for a while when Mamah becomes pregnant with her husband’s second child, but soon find themselves back in each other’s lives. Mamah takes a determined and an irreversible step of leaving her children and husband to follow Frank in Europe. While she does manage to get a divorce from Edwin few years down the line, Frank’s wife Catherine doesn’t oblige. Together, Frank and Mamah build a house “Taleisin” in Wisconsin, a home they occupy in great delight for a short period of time before fate intervenes. Loving Frank is a fictionalized account of their clandestine and subsequently notorious public affair; from the time they first met till the end of their stay together, spanning nearly 11 years.

The Review

The book had the feeler of “Anna Karenina”, the Leo Tolstoy classic and honestly that’s what made me pick it up. Both speak of adultery and both conclude in  tragedy, but that’s where the similarity ends, for Mamah is no Anna.

As is obvious from its opening line, it is Mamah’s internal conflict about the various roles she plays in life and her choices that make for majority of the pages of Loving Frank.

It is always difficult to make a story out of facts. To write about a historic figure needs a lot of research and weaving a story around it even more. Frank llyods Wright is a famous name and somewhere at the footnote lays the name of Mamah Borthwick, someone he had an extra marital affair with. The Author picked up that name in the small print and came out with most interesting account of their years together. Apart from the attraction between them, their influence on each other is strongly noted in the novel.

A lot is at stake when they decide to follow their hearts. And once Mamah leaves home there is no looking back. Colorado, Europe and finally Wisconsin, she travels with a lot of internal baggage but never gives in. Her actions are of course debatable since a mother who virtually abandons her children may not gather a reader’s sympathy, let’s just say she did what she thought was right for her individual self. She chose to remain faithful to her own self first and then to her children, husband and worldly commitments.

Mamah’s admiration for the revolutionary feminist writer Ellen key and the feeling of subsequent let down is an important part of the book. Mamah travels a long way in life before she learns that to preach and to practice are two different things.

Nancy Horan takes us into an artist’s mind through this novel as well. Eccentric, Egoistic, cocky, brilliant and a visionary; Frank Wright is all of these and more. The human mind may have evolved but probably not as much because even today the quirks of an artist remain the same.

Frank is also extravagant, imaginative and capable of deceit, but Mamah seems to be able to overlook all of that and still love him. She inspires him and he supports her in her career pursuits, barring a few occasions. It is this understanding and connection between the two of them that holds the book together.

But without a doubt, the book belongs to Mamah Borthwick, the woman, who in history is worth just a mention in writings about the famous Architecht Frank Wright. In “Loving Frank”, Nancy Horan rearranges the pieces of history and knits a story that indicates Mamah was much more to Frank than just that.

It is refreshing to read about a feminist in existence, a woman with a mind of her own, way back in early 1900s. The author does a very good job of bringing out Mamah’s anguish, confusion, guilt, loneliness and ambition throughout the book.

Mamah was a feminist and an intellectual; a combination not many approved of in a woman in those days. And yet, after a passage of hundred years and a great deal of liberalization, the conflict of a woman doesn’t seem to feel any different and it is in that portrayal where Nancy Horan scores the most. 

Significant Specifics

Loving Frank is the debut novel of Nancy Horan.

The Author was awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for best historical fiction in April, 2009 for her published works in the previous two years.